Why Lancaster DID have a better claim than York – at least according to Edward III

Loyal readers will know that I’m something of a ‘Wars of the Roses’ fan.  I mean, obviously I’m not actually a fan of any war – but you get what I mean.

Some argue the wars ended in 1471, others in 1485.  In reality they are still bring fought today – just on social media rather than the battle field.

Or, to be less dramatic, it is fair to say that the debate around which Royal House – York or Lancaster – had the best claim to the throne is still hotly debated.

Choosing the Red and White Roses.jpgThe Wars of the Roses saw the houses of York and Lancaster fight for the throne
between 1455 and 1470

The argument – with respect to my fellow geeks – is not always at the most sophisticated level.  A slightly flippant summary would go along the lines of ‘I’m a Tudor geek so Lancaster had the best claim’ to be retaliated with ‘York had the moral high ground because I fancy Max Irons.’

Up until recently, my more moderate view was that ‘York probably had the best claim’ while accepting it wasn’t a black and white issue.  I even created some quite hilarious memes to that effect.  But there’s a reason I decided to pick up my virtual biro and pen this post.  That’s right super cool readers…following a bit more research, I have changed my mind.

Let’s have a quick recap. In 1399, Henry Bolinbroke deposed his cousin Richard II and established the house of Lancaster on the throne of England.

Henry IV – as Bolinbroke became – was the eldest boy of John of Gaunt – third son of Edward III.

The Lancastrian crown then passed safely down the dynasty for three generations until in the late 1450s people got fed up with the well meaning but weak Henry VI who was probably mentally ill.  He was challenged for the throne by his distant cousin Richard, Duke of York – a descendant of Edmund of Langley, Edward III’s fourth surviving son.

On the face of it therefore, York’s claim seems pretty weak; Langley was certainly the younger brother to Gaunt.  But here’s the snag.  Richard was also descended from Philippa of Clarence, the daughter of Lionel of Antwerp – Edward III’s second son.  So, if you accept that women can transmit their claim to the throne to their male descendants, York really did have a claim worth taking seriously.

Richard, Duke of York claimed the throne as a descendant of Lionel of Antwerp,
Edward III’s second son

By the end of the end of the 15th century, descent through the female line was broadly accepted as a legal basis for succession.  Henry VII loosely claimed the throne through his mother, Margaret Beaufort and his son had a far greater claim through descent from Elizabeth of York.  Perhaps because my interest in history began in the Tudor era, I have always been tempted to read this mindset into earlier generations and this might be why I had always assumed York’s claim was slightly superior, despite recognising it was complicated.

However, the more I’ve researched the politics, law and conventions of the 14th century, the more I’ve begun to question my thinking.  I’ve discovered that- while Salic law, which prohibits women from inheriting the throne was never formally introduced – the trend toward male-only inheritance was gaining currency.  Many nobles were entailing their estates so that only sons could inherit.

It would seem that the great Edward III has similar sentiments.  Disaster struck the Royal House when Edward the Prince of Wales (known to history as the ‘Black Prince’) died prematurely leaving one surviving son behind.  In a world of high mortality, the succession was far from secure.

To the political classes it was unclear whether the next heir after Prince Richard (the future Richard II) was Roger Mortimer, son of Philippa of Clarence (the heir general) or John of Gaunt and his son (the heirs male).

Essentially, because the Duke of York inherited the Mortimer claim via his mother, it is this question that legitimised the Wars of the Roses.  But, little did I realise until recently, it is actually one that Edward III had decided to answer.  In 1376 he created a document that made clear his intent to entail the throne through the male line.  Should Richard II’s line fail, his intent was that the crown should pass to Lancaster.

Early modern half-figure portrait of Edward III in his royal garb.

The mighty Edward III wanted his throne to pass only
through the male line

Legally, the only thing that could really override this would be if Richard had nominated a successor – but he appeared to leave the question open, possibly for political leverage.  However he did ultimately name Henry as his successor by the handing over of the ring – admittedly under some duress.  When Parliament accepted Henry IV’s sovereignty in 1399 it was probably not because of the size of his army – and indeed there is much to suggest that his ‘coup’ was relatively bloodless – and more to do with the fact that,  once a case could be made to dispose Richard, a Lancastrian succession was legally appropriate.

That said, there were those in the reign of Henry IV who always believed the Mortimer claim to be superior – although usually because they had something to gain from thinking like that.   I accept this is not a closed conversation.

But what you can’t do, is start applying attitude changes retrospectively.  By the 1460s, people were more open to female succession in the 1460s.  To an extent, even Lancastrians had to be.   Henry VI’s unimpressive efforts in reproduction were leaving Margaret Beaufort as one of the talked about candidates for the crown.  But you can’t wind the clock back and uproot a dynasty and this is why no one took York’s claims particularly seriously until he made them good on the battle field.  When changes in attitude take place and the rules of succession evolve, it is generally accepted that these apply only to future generations.

Lady Margaret Christ's College Library.jpg

In her youth, Margaret Beaufort was talked about by some Lancastrians as the
potential heir to the throne

I’ve had blogged previously about why Edward IV must be deemed a usurper; this post reinforces my views.  The House of York did not have a superior claim to the throne than Lancaster; instead they did what other usurping dynasties before them had done – they allowed might to make right and came up with a justification to rubber stamp it.  Lancaster had done the same in 1399 by attempting to claim senior descendants from Henry III.  It just so happens that York’s claims had a little more credibility to back up their military antics.

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Who would win ‘Tudor Big Brother?’

Image result for Tudor roseImage result for big brother

As I was watching the Celebrity Big Brother Final on Friday, a strange thought occurred to me.  In a house full of contestants from the Tudor era who would emerge victorious?  Would Thomas Cromwell calculate a winning game plan?  Would Anne Boleyn see off Katherine of Aragon, even though she didn’t have seven years in which to do so?  Who would Catherine Howard hook up with, and how many minutes would it take her to do so?  In other words ‘who would win Tudor Big Brother’?

For a #BitofFun I decided to bash out a blog post with #NoHistoricalValue to explore this very question.  Here we go…

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WEEK ONE
Up for eviction: Catherine Howard, Henry VII, Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleaves
Evicted: Anne Boleyn

It is perhaps no great surprise that the Lady Anne becomes the first housemate to leave the Tudor Big Brother House.  Having made no secret of her brazen game plan to win at any cost, she quickly earnt the disdain of her female housemates, every one of whom nominated her for eviction.  While she held a ‘fascination’ for some male members of the house, her brittle manner clearly grated with the English public who have sent her to the block at their first opportunity.  For many, the final straw was her guns-a-blazing row with fellow housemate Jane Seymour, which earned her a reprimand from Big Brother for ripping a locket off the ‘little wench’s’ neck.

“No one minds a girl on the make,” comments TV Vicar Rev.Thomas Cramner, “but it’s the 16th century people – we expect some subtlety!”

WEEK TWO
Up for eviction: Catherine Howard, Henry VII, Mary Tudor (The French Queen), Thomas Wolsey
Evicted: Henry VII

After two weeks and two evictions in the Tudor Big Brother House, there have still been no surprises.  Despite Catherine of Aragon’s spectacular fall out with Thomas Wolsey (which saw the former punished by Big Brother for orchestrating a nominations campaign against the latter) there was never any real doubt that it was Henry VII that would incur the wrath of housemates and the public alike.  While a few boundaries here and there might be helpful, the contestant’s obsessive need to impose fines on fellow housemates for the slightest misdemeanour was never likely to ingratiate him with others and once you’ve charged Charles Brandon £100 for not doing the dishes seven times, it quickly ceases to be gripping viewing.

“He spent his early years in France,” his mother, Margaret Beaufort told sister show ‘Big Brother’s Wench on the Side’, “and it’s possible he picked up one or two bad autocratic habits over there.  But at the end of the day I just wish everyone saw him like I do – after all, he is my dear King and all my worldly joy!”

WEEK THREE

**DOUBLE ELIMINATION**

Nominated for eviction: Charles Brandon, Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, Thomas Wolsey
Evicted: Charles Brandon, Catherine Howard

It had all started so well for the dashing Brandon.  Charming to the ladies, eloquent in the diary room and part of a bromance with fellow housemate Henry VIII which captured the imagination of the public.  But then he broke the brother code.  What seemed like a harmless flirtation with Mary Tudor stepped up a notch this week, earning him the jealous disinterest of female housemates  and the rage of his new flame’s brother.  The arguments that followed were too much for the Tudor Big Brother House and from the pile of nominations Brandon received, it’s clear the housemates sided with Henry.  Tonight’s eviction shows that no traitor can ever keep the affections of the English people, however much he might be able to steal the heart of their Princess.

Catherine Howard on the other hand, has done well to survive as long as she has, having faced the public vote every week of the contest.  Her girlish antics including hours at the make-up station and constantly trying to start pillow fights may have amused her male housemates, but quickly earned her the chagrin of their female counterparts.

“It’s pretty obvious why she survived the first two weeks though,” says celebrity commentator Thomas Culpepper.  “She’s petite, plump and pretty – every bloke in the country’s been voting for her!  With tonight’s eviction the eye-candy quota is seriously on the slide.”

WEEK FOUR

**SHOCK TWIST – Public vote to evict two contestants WITHOUT nominations from the house**

Evicted: Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Wosley

Has Big Brother ever seen a bigger pair of game players?  By deploying every tactic under the sun and cosying up to whoever holds the balance of power in the house, as well as keeping everyone on side by taking most of the boring chores off their hands, these two strategists had largely avoided nomination.  However the public had seen what housemates had not.  The secret strategy sessions,  the willingness to throw others (including each other) under the bus and the sinister comments in the diary room.  This week, voters finally got chance to cast their own judgement and it was ‘off with their head’ for both of them.

WEEK FIVE

**DOUBLE ELIMINATION**

Nominated for eviction: Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleaves
Evicted: Henry VIII, Mary Tudor

Just weeks ago, the stunning, learned and cultivated Henry VIII had been the bookies favourite to win but as the days went by his star slowly diminished as he faced problem after problem.  First of course, was the slight irritation of other housemates when he kept stringing along Katherine of Aragon.  Then there was the bust up with Brandon, but the moment the public really began to lose sympathy with the auburn haired Tudor, was his decision last week to nominate Anne of Cleaves, purely on the basis that she ‘looked like a horse.’  It wasn’t that he was saying anything that people weren’t thinking – but this is England, and there are some things you don’t say,

“The public have no idea how hard it is to keep a trim waistline inside that house,” says Edward III, winner of ‘Plantagenet Big Brother’, “but the way Henry piled on the pounds in there was something else altogether.  At the end of the day, this is the Tudor era and image is everything.”

There is however, far less to say about Mary “the French Queen” Tudor’s eviction.  And that’s definitely not because the author of this post has yet to read a really good biography on her and has only limited knowledge, making it difficult to think of something funny to say.  Oh no.  It’s not that at all.

WEEK SIX –  THE FINAL

Finalists: Anne of Cleaves, Katherine of Aragon, Katherine Parr, Elizabeth of York.

It’s an all-girl final on ‘Tudor Big Brother’ – the lines are closed and the results are in.

Fourth place – Anne of Cleaves – In the first couple of weeks, no one expected the shy and reserved Lady Anna to last all the way to the final.  Struggling with the language and keeping herself to herself, she wouldn’t even remove her veil for the first few days.  Most worryingly, fellow housemates kept complaining about ‘offensive odours’ emanating from her direction, but suddenly things got better.  Some impressive country dancing, an emerging sense of dignity and a thirst for survival managed to endear her to housemates, saving her from facing the public vote until last week.  Loving nothing more than the rushing to the rescue of a wronged woman, the public chose instead to eject Henry VIII who had, quite frankly, been rather mean about poor Anna ever since week 1.

Third place – Elizabeth of York – Didn’t she do well?  By instantly adopting the position of house Mum, ‘our Liz’ (as she is commonly known) was adored by the housemates who in diary room visit after diary room visit just couldn’t find a bad word to say against her.  Although her constant bragging that she was ‘young enough to have more children’ started to grate with some of the other girls, her redeeming qualities saved her from being nominated even once, handing her a place in the final without even having to face the public vote.

Second place – Katherine of Aragon – At first, things didn’t look good for the house’s only Spanish contestant.  Fawning over Henry VIII – who fluctuated between leading her on and callously rejecting her – and being bullied by Anne Boleyn, housemates, the public and commentators alike were wondering when this woman was going to grow a backbone and that’s exactly what she did.  From her vengeful gloating at the eviction of Anne Boleyn to her fierce rowing with Wolsey, the Infanta showed us all that she was nobody’s victim and has taken the fight all the way to the final.

WINNER – Katherine Parr – Surely from now on to be known as ‘the great survivor’ this lowly knight’s daughter has delivered entertainment, enrichment and excellent game-play over an entire series.  Helpful and chirpy around the house, this year’s winner was no wall flower, arguing about religion and squaring up to opponents.  She knew how to survive, even when it meant backing down.

TV psychologist Katherine Willoughby says, “Any woman who can stay up most of the night reading illegal protestant books with a torch under her covers, but is also first up for morning mass the next day is going to be complex psychologically as well as pretty hard headed.  I certainly wouldn’t want to take her on.”

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Editor’s note: Unfortunately Jane Seymour was removed from the house in week three due to ill health.

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Anyway, just some thoughts from me.  But the question is geeks – who would you want to see in the Tudor Big Brother House and what do you think would happen?

Could Edward IV have been illegitimate?

EdwardIV

The great Tudor rose.  Red for Lancaster and white for York.  A symbol that good King Henry had united the waring houses and brought stability to England.

And of course it wasn’t just a piece of empty imagery; it was a symbol of success.  He had infused his Lancastrian blood with the rival genepool of Elizabeth of York, thanks to an alliance between their respective mothers, giving birth in turn to a host of young Yorkcastrians, better known to us as the Tudors.

But what if there was a break somewhere in the chain?  What if instead of uniting his line with the descendants of Richard, Duke of York, Henry had inadvertently hooked up with the heir to a little-known French archer?  According to rumours, he had done just that.

The story goes that when they were both in France, Cecily, Duchess of York and her husband the Duke were temporarily estranged due to his military commitments.  During this separation, she succumbed to the advances of an archer named Blaybourne and fell pregnant with the child that would one day become Edward IV, hero of the house of York and father to the first Tudor Queen.

Most damagingly, it is claimed the story originates with Cecily herself.  As even the most casual observer of this era will be aware, Edward’s marriage to the low-born Elizabeth Woodville (whose family were both known as Lancastrian sympathisers and fierce social climbers) was immensely controversial.  Apparently, so enraged was she with her son, that she threatened to confess that he was illegitimate and deprive him of the throne.

It’s a serious accusation but one we should be cautious about taking at face value.  There is no record of the rumour before 1483 when it emerged in the pages of Dominic Mancini, an Italian scholar dispatched to England to serve as the eyes and ears of a continental Bishop.  It must be remembered that at this point, Richard III and his cronies were putting it about that Edward IV was a bastard, in order to bolster his younger brother’s claim for the throne.  It is likely therefore that this rumour crops up for the first time in 1483 and probably didn’t spring from Cecily’s lips.

Without being able to depend on this fundamental plank of evidence, the rest of the arguments fall down somewhat.  Let’s explore them.

  • The absence of the Duke of York at the time of conception – When you look at Edward’s birthdate (in late April 1442) and work backwards, it appears as if the Duke of York was away from home at the time of conception, but the truth is, we just don’t have enough evidence to read too much into it.  The couple resided in France at the time and while the Duke was away, he wasn’t so far that the Duchess couldn’t have joined him for some of this time.  Of course, the future King could also have been slightly premature or even a little late – there isn’t much time in it.  All of these seem more likely than the Duchess secretly ‘liaised’ with a man of such lower rank, that tongues would surely have been set wagging.  We should remember that no rumours of Edward’s paternity are recorded before a time when they were politically advantageous to someone.
  • A low-key baptism – It has been suggested that Edward’s low-key baptism (in the corner of the church), which contrasted a year later with a more lavish christening for his younger brother, indicate that the Duke of York was not going to splash out for a baby that he didn’t think was his.  However, this is counter-intuitive; if the Duke of York had decided to raise this child as his heir, even if he was suspicious of paternity, surely he would have gone out of his way to maintain a pretence of legitimacy rather give the world a sign that his wife had so embarrassingly betrayed him.  Besides, the Duke and Duchess had previously had a son who died very soon after birth; their decision to go for a low-key baptism was probably a sign that they had concerns for his health and wanted to make sure he was dedicated to God before anything went wrong.  Incidentally, this somewhat backs up the suggestion that he was premature.
  • A lack of physical resemblance between father and son – This is a bit of a non-starter.  Yes, Edward was tall and strapping (which his father was not) but there are plenty of obvious people in his blood line (on both mother and father’s side) where he could have got this from.  Family resemblance is tricky and for those of us analysing today, we don’t have an awful lot to go on.
  • Both his brothers accused him of being a bastard – Yes they did.  Both had a political motive for doing so.  Others made such accusations as well, but not until long after he was born and crowned.  Besides, when a noble was born in another country, away from the glare of the commentators of the day, rumours often surrounded the circumstances of their birth.  John of Gaunt is an example of this.

Aside from all the above there are other points worth mentioning.  Cecily was outraged by such rumours (suggesting, again, that she didn’t start them) and it seems hugely out of character for her to have committed adultery, especially with someone of low-birth.  I think it is also reasonable to assume that Richard, Duke of York believed that Edward was his; he is unlikely to have claimed the throne for his descendants and willingly passed it on to another man’s son.

All this said, I have only had chance to #digalittledeeper into this topic.  One day I would love to research it more thoroughly and am certainly open to changing my mind.

Was Margaret Beaufort the ‘mother-in-law’ from Hell?

elizabeth_of_york__henry_vii_and_margaret_beaufort_by_tffan234-d4pap4f

Mother-in-laws.  Who’d have ‘em – am I right?  (Actually mine’s very nice, so yes I would).

They’re the butt of the joke of countless comedians – and that’s hardly a modern phenomenon.  Perhaps it’s no wonder then, that as we trawl through the records of history, we assume that it’s always been the case.

Nowhere does this assumption seem to let us down more than when we talk of the relationship between Elizabeth of York and her legendary mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort.  In fact countless blog post on the internet and many history books, tell of infamous conflict between the two Tudor matriarchs and accounts of bullying and dominance by the elder to the younger.

However, there’s little evidence to support it.  Most of it, I understand, comes from the report of a foreign ambassador who noted that Margaret dominated her daughter-in-law  but, others have argued it is ridiculous to judge their entire relationship based on one comment from an outsider.  Alison Weir also suggests that this particular incident may have been the result of Margaret feeling over-protective of Elizabeth, believing her to be pregnant.

Besides which, there are several indications that the two women got on well.

  • When Elizabeth’s daughter and Margaret’s name sake, Margaret Tudor, was pledged in marriage to the much older King of Spain, both women were worried that the teenage girl would be ‘harmed’ by her husband who ‘would not wait.’ Clearly Elizabeth was motivated by maternal concern and Margaret by her own bitter experience of the medieval marriage market.  The records show that grandmother and mother teamed up to save the young Princess and thanks to their combined efforts Henry VII listened.
  • Similarly, there is evidence that when Elizabeth’s younger sister, Cecily of York, fell from the King’s favour following an unauthorised second marriage, it was Margaret who interceded for her. Whether this was out of direct affection for Cecily or in partnership with Elizabeth is not certain but, it is hardly an act of a woman who despised her Yorkist in-laws.
  • They spend an awful lot of time in each other’s company. This of course, may have been unavoidable but, it seems unlikely that two powerful woman who hated each other couldn’t have worked harder to ensure a greater distance.

Other arguments peruse that Margaret only walked one step behind Elizabeth, that Henry’s mother had Elizabeth’s banished, yet none of them are as illuminating as people might like.  When researching this topic I came across an interview with author Amy Licence, who I think puts it better than I ever could:

If Elizabeth did find her  [Margaret] at all “overbearing”- and this is a modern reaction- she may well have accepted that, as it was balanced by the assistance Margaret was able to offer. Having an experienced older woman at her side, particularly when she was pregnant or in Henry’s absence, may well have been reassuring. As for being “close,” again, this is subjective and perhaps, a bit of a misnomer; in terms of the late medieval impulse for survival and the need to forge alliances, Elizabeth and Margaret found a sort of equilibrium that allowed them to be allies. I think their mutual interest bound them together.

The personal feelings of the two women are unknown to us and, as stated above, that is not the paradigm which would have shaped their thinking.  Ultimately both had made the decision to throw all their resources, not to mention their respective claims to the throne, fully behind project Tudor.  They were both wise enough to know that any other considerations had to be left at the chamber door.

What do you think geeks?  Have I missed any evidence?  Am I too flattering to the characters of both women?  Was Margaret actually the mother-in-law from Hell?  I want to know what YOU think!

Book review: Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty

NortonBeaufort

Margaret Beaufort is a character that features heavily in the story of others.  Henry VI, Richard III, Elizabeth of York and of course, her treasured son, Henry VII.  But tracking down a book devoted solely to her is no easy task.

The 1992 offering by Jones and Underwood is generally seen as the definitive guide.  I’ve read it and its excellent – but pretty academic and heavy going.  If you’ve got a full time job, and not so well versed in academic reading, it takes a while to wade through.

Therefore it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that when Elizabeth Norton published her account of ‘Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the Tudors’ it caused something of a revolution amongst fans of the medieval matriarch.

Readable, well researched and accessible, the book gives the most appealing reconstruction of the Countess of Richmond and Derby.  While it lacks the high story telling of an Alison Weir or David Starkey offering, it is easy to follow and accessibly referenced.  The inclusion of letters written by Margaret herself in the appendix is an unexpected treat that gives readers a first-hand glance into the mind of the woman herself.

Understandably, there is a heavy focus on Margaret’s later life, when she was in a position of prominence that generated a wealth of surviving historic records.  But the picture of her early years is painted as well as possible.

The front cove tells us that this is the ‘true story of the Red Queen’ – a nod to how popular fiction has slightly distorted Margaret’s reputation in recent years.  Perhaps because of this, the biography does not massively dwell on the empathetic and speculation.  But it does gives readers the intellectual framework to safely speculate.

If you are a fan of Margaret, the Wars of the Roses or the Tudor era, then this is worth getting your hands on.  Despite the book being quite long, and me being a slow reader with a full time job, I finished it in days.

Margaret Beaufort, Mother of the Tudor Dynasty, by Elizabeth Norton, was published by Amberley Publishing Plc in 2010.  At time of writing it was available for purchase on Amazon for £52.17 (hardcover) and £9.98 paperback)

Introducing Margaret Beaufort week

Dan Jones Margaret Beaufort

There are a few things on TV really worth watching.  Dan Jones’ ‘Britain’s Bloody Crown’ (which should probably be called ‘England’s Bloody Crown’) is one of them.

Not only is it a well-researched yet entertaining docu-drama (which can be something of a rarity), last week he even managed to achieve the near-impossible and present a moderate, reasoned and non-partisan picture of Richard III which still made it clear that he almost certainly killed his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.

But it was the trail for this week’s episode that really got my ears pricked.  This Thursday, Jones is to devote an entire episode to the legendary Margaret Beaufort, mother of the Tudors and one of my historic heroines.

In excited anticipation of this, I have decided to declare this week MARGARET BEAUFORT week on Royalhistorygeeks.org.  During the week I will flood the site with content of Henry VII’s illustrious mother, inviting comment, dialogue and discussion as I do so.

First, I will kick off with a mini-series on whether the young Margaret really had a valid claim to the throne as many historians and writers have suggested.  Then I will devote a post to explaining why, despite the bizarre suggestions of some Ricardians, she, the Countess of Richmond could not possibly have killed the Princes in the Tower.  After that I will tackle another myth, that Margaret and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth of York did not get along.  I also intend to post a review of Elizabeth Norton’s excellent biography of ‘The Mother of the Tudor Dynasty’.

Finally, I will eagerly watch the episode on Thursday night and post my critique following it.  This week’s gonna be a blast guys.  Join me for the ride!

Book review: Elizabeth of York, the first Tudor Queen – by Alison Weir

ElizabethofYork

When Alison Weir’s biography of Elizabeth of York was published in late 2013, it was hailed as helping to rescue the memory of a ‘forgotten Queen.’

I never thought that was entirely fair.  I had certainly been taught about Henry VIII’s mother before I reached secondary education and I struggle to imagine that my school had a particularly outlandish curriculum.  But, it’s true to say that the image that comes down to us is deeply unsatisfying.

The almost dowdy mother.  The unthinkingly loyal consort.  The saintly persona.  The woman devoid of sexuality and of sensuality.  Could such a person have really produced the rumbustious Henry VIII, the chaotic Queen Margaret of Scotland and the daring Mary Tudor?

This is perhaps why some recent historians and fiction writers have gone too far in readdressing the balance.  Here the picture doesn’t fit either.  The White Princess.  The fearsome loyalist to the House of York.  The woman who dreams of lost brothers returning from across the sea.  The courageous Queen who fights against the power of her miserly husband and authoritarian mother-in-law.  Surely there’s a balance to be struck?

As ever, that is exactly what Weir achieves.  By revisiting the contemporary sources, she presents a reconstruction of the Queen which is well-researched, realistic and entirely human.  We start to get a glimpse – because perhaps it can only ever be a glimpse – as to what it might have actually been like to be in the presence of this fifteenth century matriarch.

To an extent, the book is counter-revisionist.  It reasserts Elizabeth’s genuine closeness to Henry VII (which many have questioned) and good relationship with his mother Margaret Beaufort.  It is clear that she was one of the key players that threw herself into making project Tudor a success.  She may not, as some have suggested, have explosively fallen out with her own mother – but she knew that her focus was the future.

No reader will be left with the impression that Elizabeth of York was a silent figure in the background.  The book is full of examples of where she used her influence, particularly for the good of others, and explores the impact she had on her own children to whom she was perhaps untypically close.

Weir also lets us have a bit of fun.  We explore intriguing theories that suggest the young Princess may have cosied up to  uncle Richard III more than we might think decent.  But she also reminds us exactly which theories we do and do not have evidence to support.  While I’m not entirely sure I believe in the genuineness of Elizabeth’s lost letter to the Duke of Norfolk – where she pleads for marriage to her uncle Richard – my huge respect for Weir, who does think it worthy of consideration, means I am going to have to think again.

Perhaps most striking is the author’s discovery that Elizabeth was present at the Tower of London at the time Sir James Tyrell – the man who had supposedly confessed to the murder of her brothers, the Princes in the Tower – was executed.  Could it be that she was brought there to hear his confession?

“Elizabeth of York: The first Tudor Queen” is not my favourite Alison Weir offering – I prefer the less one-person focused books such as ‘York Vs Lancaster’ – but it is toward the top of the list.  Quite simply, it is a must read for any fan or the era, or indeed anyone who enjoys getting up close and personal to a remarkable figure of history who might otherwise be forever misunderstood.

Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, by Alison Weir was published  by Vintage in 2013.  At the time this post was published the book was available on Amazon for £4.99 (Kindle), £15.99 (hardback) and £9.48 (paperback).

Richard III part 6: Two issues that made me think twice…

Early in my research, I started to form the view that Richard III was responsible for the death of his nephews.  However, during my journey I stumbled across a couple of road blocks that gave me more than a little pause for thought. Continue reading