Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose by Alison Weir: Another unmissable blockbuster – book review –
As the first born child of Plantagenet King Edward IV and his beautiful queen consort Elizabeth Wydeville – one of England’s most charismatic royal couples – young Princess Elizabeth of York seems destined for a prestigious marriage and a golden future.
But with her powerful father prematurely dead, her heir and ‘spare’ princely brothers believed murdered in the Tower, and her usurper uncle King Richard III on the throne, the teenager’s dreams of one day becoming an influential queen rapidly turn to dust.
Following hot on the heels of her outstandingly successful and groundbreaking Six Tudor Queens sequence of novels, author and historian Alison Weir returns with the tumultuous story of Elizabeth York, the first Tudor queen and first leading lady of a thrilling new Tudor Rose trilogy.
Using her vast historical knowledge, in-depth research, a tantalising slice of artistic licence, and her spellbinding storytelling talents, Weir brings us an enthralling account of the beautiful and cultivated Elizabeth whose marriage to founder of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII, ended the bitter Wars of the Roses.
Elizabeth’s bloodline lives on in every English monarch since 1509, every Scottish monarch since 1513 and every British monarch since 1603, including the current Queen, but her life was notoriously tragic and turbulent.
Born in 1466, she was raised as a loved and pampered princess but, relegated to an illegitimate fugitive by the future Richard III after her father’s death, Elizabeth’s life was changed forever by the murder of her two brothers, an act which should have left her as the rightful Queen of England.
So who was this legendary and much-loved princess of York who became mother of the larger-than-life King Henry VIII, and how did she manage to manoeuvre so successfully and so gracefully in the brutal and perilous male politics of 15th century England?
Filling in the ‘tantalising gaps in her story’ and fulfilling a long-held wish to write a novel about Elizabeth, Weir paints a convincing and enlightening portrait of not just her life and times but the passionate and proactive woman behind the myth, the queen respected by her husband, adored by her son, and revered by the nation.
‘It is against Nature for a woman to rule, so you cannot succeed your father as queen,’ a four-year-old Elizabeth is informed by her mother in 1470 and even at that tender age, she feels cheated. After all, she is the eldest child of the handsome and powerful Yorkist King Edward IV.
Flame-haired, beautiful, and sweet-natured, the precocious Elizabeth feels safe and secure in her family but her happy childhood is punctured by a frightening episode when the warring Lancastrians try to restore the deposed Henry VI to the throne, and she, her mother and her siblings are forced to flee to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey.
Growing up with the dream of forging a prestigious marriage and having a crown to call her own, Elizabeth’s life is suddenly disrupted once again and her destiny rewritten when her beloved father dies in the prime of life and her family’s enemies close in.
Once again, Elizabeth and her royal siblings are forced into sanctuary at the Abbey while her uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who hates her mother’s power-grabbing Wydeville family, takes advantage of King Edward’s death to grab the throne and imprison Elizabeth’s two younger brothers, Princes Edward and Richard, the rightful royal heirs.
The boys are never seen again and Elizabeth’s world turns upside down. Richard, whose wife has recently died, is now intent on marrying his niece Elizabeth to further legitimise his claim, but from France comes exiled Lancastrian rival Henry Tudor, the upstart son of Margaret Beaufort who has her own claim to the throne.
Henry and Richard finally meet at the now legendary Battle of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire and in recognition of his victory, Henry becomes king and asks Elizabeth to be his wife, uniting the warring houses of Lancaster and York and making her the first queen of the Tudor line.
With a new golden age at hand, Elizabeth must choose her allies wisely… and fight for her own right to rule England.
Weir’s insightful and ambitious novel plucks the fascinating and resilient Elizabeth from the dusty, male-orientated pages of history books and gives her a ‘real’ and extraordinarily authentic persona, allowing readers a more human perspective on the realities of her precarious situation in the mire of mercurial, medieval royal politics.
Despite their arranged and politically expedient marriage, Henry and Elizabeth’s union unfolds here as a happy and loving relationship with Henry trusting in the ability of his wife – who was brought up amidst the trappings of a royal court – to exert a tangible and beneficial influence on his own court.
Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose is a brilliantly seductive and deeply moving portrait of the intelligent, strong, proud and fiercely loyal Elizabeth. Exploring the trauma and distress of the notorious disappearance of Elizabeth’s brothers, and the weight of expectation on her young shoulders when she became Henry’s queen, Weir’s story brings new worth, wisdom and personal insight to her remarkable life.
Offering an intriguing and credible explanation for the mystery of the princes’ fate, and blending her extensive knowledge of English history with a remarkable ability to breathe exciting life into royal history’s most famous players, Weir’s fresh and absorbing new Tudor series promises to be another unmissable blockbuster.
(Headline Review, hardback, £20)