Book Quote:

“Elizabeth of York’s role in history was crucial, although in a less chauvinistic age it would, by right, have been more so. In the wake of legislation to give women the same rights in the order of succession as male heirs, it is interesting to reflect that England’s Elizabeth I would not have been the celebrated Virgin Queen but Elizabeth of York. But in the fifteenth century it would have been unthinkable for a woman to succeed to the throne. Elizabeth lived in a world in which females were regarded as inferior to men physically, intellectually, and morally. It was seen as against the laws of God and Nature for a woman to wield dominion over men: it was an affront to the perceived order of the world. Even so, Elizabeth of York was important.”

Book Review:

Review by Jana L. Perskie (JAN 13, 2014)

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World is not historical fiction, rather a work of history researched and well written by Alison Weir. Here she documents the life of an English Queen Elizabeth – not as well known as Elizabeth I, “The Fairy Queen,” nor Elizabeth II, England’s modern day monarch. Our protagonist is Elizabeth of York, whose obscurity belies the high profile of her connections.

I have read almost all of Ms. Weir’s works, including The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Princes in the Tower, Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings. She has twelve histories to her credit, and four novels, all related to the medieval monarchs and the Tudor royal families. One thing which all the author’s books have in common is that they are very readable – so much so that many of her books seem almost like historical fiction – rather than the historical non-fiction that they are. So, don’t be put off if you are a lover of the York and Tudor periods in history but are wary of tackling a history book. This is not a difficult book to read. I found myself quickly absorbed.

In English history, the War of the Roses was a series of dynastic civil wars over the right to occupy the English throne. The two families with rival claims to the throne, were the Yorks and the Lancasters. This feud brought on a series of cruel civil wars in England in the years 1455 to 1485. The emblem of the Yorkists was a white rose and that of the Lancastrians a red rose. Hence, the “Wars of the Roses.”  Elizabeth was very much a “White Rose of the family York.”  Ultimately, the entire Plantagenet line, which had ruled England for over 300 years, was brought to an end. In terms of convoluted plot twists, reversals, treachery, shifting alliances, military setbacks, and “surprise” endings, it has few parallels in history.

These thirty years of warfare were even more destructive than the Hundred Years War had been in the previous century. Much of the fighting in the Hundred Years war took place in France, which meant the military damage effected the French peasantry rather than the English. In the War of the Roses, most of the fighting occurred in England. and thus loss of life and property was far greater for English citizens. The last Angevin ruler, King Richard II died without an heir. He had been overthrown and murdered by Henry IV, Henry Bolingbroke, the first Lancastrian king through his father John of Gaunt. Henry’s descendants and their supporters were the “Lancastrian faction.” The other branch, descended from Edward IV, were associated with families in the North of England, particularly the House of York and Richard, Duke of York. They are called the “Yorkist faction.”

After a huge Yorkist victory at the Battle of Towton in March 1461, Edward IV proclaimed himself king. King Henry VI, his queen and their son fled to Scotland for nine years. When they returned trouble followed…but that is another story. On June 28, 1461, Edward was formally crowned king at Westminster. He ruled England until his death in 1483. This is a very brief synopsis of the war, one of the more fascinating periods in English history.

Elizabeth’s father, King Edward IV, married for love, not political alliance, which was something of scandal and caused endless problems during his reign. Elizabeth’s mother, the former Elizabeth Wydville, (also spelled Woodville), was Queen consort of England as the spouse of King Edward IV from 1464 until his death in 1483. Her marriage to Edward was her second. She had previously married Sir John Grey of Groby, a Lancastrian, who was killed at the Second Battle of St Albans, leaving Elizabeth a vulnerable widowed mother of two sons. Her second marriage, to Edward IV, was a cause célèbre of the day, thanks to Elizabeth’s great beauty…she certainly lacked great estates as a war widow of the opposing faction. Edward was only the second King of England since the Norman Conquest to have married one of his subjects, and Elizabeth was the first such consort to be crowned Queen – to the dismay of Edward’s family, and supporters, although the English people celebrated that the new Queen was “one of them.” Elizabeth and her Woodville family’s advancement was the cause of much strife in the country and resulted in at least three attempts to take the crown from Edward. The Wydville family’s great influence, while Edward lived, including care of the future king, Edward’s son, Prince Edward V, and also lead to the familys’ ignominious downfall after his death.

Elizabeth of York was born at the Palace of Westminster, February 11, 1466, the eldest child of King Edward IV and his Queen. As the infant Elizabeth had no brothers or sisters, she had a strong claim to the throne in her own right – and, even though a woman, she may have been the rightful heir to the throne after the death of her uncle Richard III – but she did not rule as queen regnant, (such a convention would not truly come to England for another sixty-seven years with the ascension of her granddaughter, Mary I). However, she was certainly party to several kingly conspiracies and mysteries in her lifetime.

She ultimately had eight living siblings, five sisters – princesses all, and two brothers, both princes – one brother, Edward, was to become King Edward V, and the 2nd male child, Richard of York, was named after Edward IV’s father, Richard, the “Grand Old Duke of York.”

On Edward’s death in 1483, the crown passed to his twelve year-old son Edward.  Richard III, Duke of Gloucester, Edward IV’s younger brother, was appointed Protector, and escorted the young king, and his brother Richard, to the Tower of London where they were settled in the royal apartments…at least for a time. The famous “Princes in the Tower” were never seen again. However it is unknown whether they were killed or who killed them if it happened. On Richard III’s orders, (betrayal), Parliament declared, in the document “Titulus Regius,” that the two boys were illegitimate, on the grounds that Edward IV’s marriage was invalid, and as such Richard was heir to the throne. He was crowned Richard III in July 1483.

Henry Tudor, leader of the red rose Lancastrian faction, seized the throne in 1485 after Richard was killed in the Battle of Battle of Boswell Field. Henry grudgingly agreed to marry the Yorkist’s white rose, Elizabeth. Weir puts down his deliberate delay to marry Elizabeth to her extremely hypothetical affection for Richard III, but she provides plenty of evidence that Henry’s was a carefully political move. He hated the House of York, and was insistent that he rule in his own right rather than Elizabeth’s. He postponed their marriage until after his own coronation and did not allow hers until she had given birth to a Tudor heir. He had the “Titulus Regius” repealed, thereby legitimizing the children of Edward IV and acknowledged Edward V as his predecessor, since he did not want the legitimacy of his future wife or her claim as heiress of Edward IV called into question. After a papal dispensation was procured, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York married on 18 January 1486. Their first son, Arthur, was born on 20 September 1486. Elizabeth of York was crowned queen on 25 November 1487. Following her coronation she gave birth to five other children, but only three survived infancy – Margaret, Henry and Mary…

As queen, Elizabeth of York did not exercise much political influence, due to her strong-minded mother-in-law Lady Margaret Beaufort, but she was reported to be gentle and kind. Weir’s Elizabeth was generous to her family, benefactors and random supplicants. She was well-read, pious and enjoyed music, dancing, as well as dicing. She came of age during the War of the Roses. As the daughter of a Yorkist king, Edward IV, and the wife of the first Tudor, (Lancastrian) king, Henry VII, she united these warring houses. For this alone, she deserves a prominent place in English history. Throughout her lifetime, she was daughter, sister, niece and wife of English monarchs – Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III, and Henry VII, respectively. She was also the mother of Henry VIII, as well as grandmother to his children Mary I, Elizabeth I and Edward VI. She is the most recent common ancestor of all English and Scottish monarchs, which reigned after James I and VI. “Elizabeth was also a renowned beauty, inheriting her parents’ fair hair and complexion; all other reigning Tudor monarchs inherited her red gold hair and the trait became synonymous with the dynasty.”

I am an English history junkie, especially interested in the period in which Elizabeth lived – medieval and Tudor. So, Weir’s documentation of the feasts and pageants that mark coronations, births, marriages and deaths with good, juicy and documented details fascinates me. While thoroughly scholarly, with pages of annotations at the end, and much time spent in the text on detailed, substantiated arguments and counter arguments of historical contention, Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World, still manages to be irresistible as gossip. It’s full of vivid descriptions of the personalities, the ceremonies, the clothes, the residences, the beliefs, and the viewpoints that made up royal life, and to some extent common life, during the time of Elizabeth of York.

Some may not like this abundance of detail, but it is almost like reading a People Magazine “literary” article of the Queen, her children, husband, and the times they lived in. My likening this history to People Magazine is not a slur on the book, but rather a way of emphasizing, once more, what an easy and interesting read this is. It is clear that Weir truly admires her subject, and does honor to an almost forgotten queen. Elizabeth, she argues, “is often unfairly overshadowed by her successors, the wives of Henry VIII, but she was more successful as queen than any of them. For this, and for her integrity . . . and her many kindnesses, her memory deserves to be celebrated.”

As with all biographies, there are times when Ms. Weir must draw conclusions as to Elizabeth’s thoughts, her knowledge of certain situations, and even her actions. Rather than drawing on popular opinion, Ms. Weir presents her conclusions methodically and carefully, documenting what other historians have said and the reasons why she may or may not agree with them. I was constantly entertained by the authors writing and method of telling this story. The author subtitles her biography “A Tudor Queen and Her World,” for a good reason. Elizabeth was extremely influenced by the tumultuous times she lived in…therefore the background history.

If you want to take a wondrous trip though 15th and 16th century England, this is the book for you.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 89 readers
PUBLISHER: Ballantine Books (December 3, 2013)
REVIEWER: Jana L. Perskie
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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January 13, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Non-fiction

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