Book Review – Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville; A True Romance by Amy Licence

Author Amy Licence notes in her introduction that Edward IV has been somewhat overlooked in the annals of British history, noting that he was ‘a king who has been damned with faint praise’. This may at first seem surprising to those that study the fifteenth century over which his sizable figure looms large. Edward was tall and handsome, a courageous soldier on the battlefield who had been blessed an irresistible charm around his subjects. Yet when one takes a step back and looks at medieval England objectively, the author has a point; Edward IV has been overshadowed, if not by his brother Richard III or grandson Henry VIII then certainly by other monarchs like Henry V and Edward III.

Licence endeavours to bring this first king of the House of York out of the shadows of his illustrious relations, a task in which she succeeds with this book, the first non-fiction work about their relationship. The story of Edward is principally the story of his scandalous, kingdom-dividing marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, a topic Licence examines in detail in an attempt to uncover the significance of their controversial nuptials in 1464. It is a subject the she feels continues to fascinate ‘as an enduring love story set against the most turbulent of times’. She’s right.

Edward could have chosen any woman in Europe to have been his wife; after valiantly winning his crown on a battlefield at the age of only nineteen, he was every inch a stereotypical fairy tale prince. Tall, handsome, athletic, rich and young, he possessed ‘princely and knightly courage’. Edward IV was the most eligible bachelor in the western world. It was therefore inconceivable that he took for his wife the widow Elizabeth Woodville, five years his elder and allied to the Lancastrian affinity. It was unpopular with his nobles, his subjects and his family. Perhaps the fact she was considered ‘the most beautiful woman in the island of Britain’ had a bearing, but as the author points out, there was much more to Elizabeth than her looks. That Edward persevered with Elizabeth is an indication of his genuine love and attraction for his wife.

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The first part book provides ample background information on both Edward and Elizabeth, focusing on their childhood and early adulthood, culminating in their fortuitous meeting, some say, under an oak tree. Particularly welcomed is the detail Licence provides about the early years of Elizabeth, not a topic often covered in most works which tend to concentrate on those of royal birth. Personally I was intrigued to discover that, prior to her first marriage, Elizabeth was courted by Sir Hugh Joneys of Swansea. I was aware that Joneys would later be entrusted with tutoring the young Henry Tudor in martial arts during the 1460s and was pleased to discover this other, lesser-known, event in his life. Such small detail is a credit to the research Licence has undertaken.

No book about Edward IV and Elizabeth is complete without covering the latter part of their relationship, the demise of the king due to his excessive lifestyle and the subsequent tragedy of the Princes in the Tower. Unlike many writers who may feel the temptation to do so, Licence doesn’t dwell on history’s most famous ‘whodunit’ other than to discuss the events from the viewpoint of her subject, the desperate Elizabeth, again an often underdeveloped perspective of the period.

It is difficult to cover such a broad topic as the Wars of the Roses and the multitude of characters without confusing a reader new to the subject, but Licence succeeds in simplifying the era and in particular the complex genealogical aspect of the conflict. To do this without omitting any vital detail is applauded. Another welcome aspect of the book is Licence’s regular usage of extended sourced material as part of the main text rather than footnoted, for example the letter of Edward as a child to his father in 1455. Whilst on some occasions this may interrupt the narrative, it is utilised to such effect by the author that in this instance that it helps the reader’s understanding of the period as well as perhaps formulating their own interpretation of the source along with Licence’s.

Overall the book is well researched and engaging piece that offers a fresh view of a well-told subject, a talent which Licence has shown numerous times in her previous work. At one point Licence poses the question – ‘What was it about this woman that so captivated Edward that he was prepared to take such a risk?’. Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville, a True Romance goes some way to helping answer that question.

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Amy Licence is the author of several books on the Tudor dynasty and the Wars of the Roses, including In Bed With the Tudors (‘A fascinating book examining the sex lives of the Tudors in unprecedented detail’ Daily Express), Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York and The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, all published by Amberley. Amy has written for the Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and BBC History Magazine and has appeared on BBC radio and television. She lives in Canterbury with her husband and two children.

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Book Review – Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle

Watch the Lady is the latest release by acclaimed fiction author Elizabeth Fremantle and focuses upon the intriguing yet captivating figure of Penelope Devereux, a legendary beauty of the Tudor court who possesses a smile that could ‘light up the shadows of hell’. Watch the Lady is the third book in Fremantle’s Tudor series and is the story of political intrigue and romance in the court of Elizabeth I. The story almost instantaneously leaps back and forth between plotting and love, both seemingly entwined with one another as various plans and strategies between the key characters gradually unveil themselves with absorbing results.

The real life Penelope Devereux was an Elizabethan noblewoman who was related by blood and marriage to some of the heavy-hitters of the late sixteenth century. Her father was Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex and her mother was Lettice Knollys, the woman who later married Robert Dudley. She was born in 1563 and married firstly Robert Rich, 3rd Baron Rich and controversially afterwards to Charles Blount, 1st Earl of Devonshire. Through her Boleyn ancestors, she was a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth. She was a golden-haired beauty, acknowledged to be a talented dancer and singer whilst also possessing the ability to converse in French, Italian and Spanish.

With this historical basis Fremantle’s Penelope is solely dedicated to securing her family’s future, even at the risk of committing treason against her godmother, the Queen. Penelope holds the queen responsible for the death of her father, the exile of her mother and her own failure to marry her true love. Penelope’s mother was Lettice Knollys, despised by the queen for marrying Robert Dudley, Lord Leicester. Although the queen gradually looked upon young Penelope as a surrogate daughter of sorts, the affection is not reciprocated.

After Leicester dies, the aged queen becomes infatuated with Penelope’s handsome if hasty brother, Robert, Earl of Essex. Indeed, Robert Cecil, a key adversary of the Devereuxs, refers to Penelope as ‘perfection had she not that brother, Essex’. Essex’s tumultuous career in an age of foreign threats and religious turmoil is covered in enthralling detail, influential as it is on Penelope’s own story and scheming.

It soon becomes clear in the first few pages that Penelope not just a pretty face, itself a formidable weapon in the sixteenth century, but a skilled political manipulator adept at placing herself in the right place at the right time. Her smile, it is said, ‘hides a perspicacity, a dangerous quality in a woman’. She is the archetypal wounded woman, deeply bitter at perceived injustices committed towards her family by some at court, particularly the Queen. She grows into a proud and astute noblewoman, outwardly a respectable jewel of Elizabeth’s court but silently plotting to influence any situation to the benefit of the Devereux family.

Yet she is a sympathetic character, eternally heartbroken and at times a cruel victim of late sixteenth century gender inequality. Her desire to ‘win’ at all costs is an admirable trait, but doesn’t make her an unpleasant character. This is to Fremantle’s credit that she has produced a complex multidimensional character. Her Penelope plays the game as capable as any noble duke or earl, her life at risk with every covert action or secret letter. Her every step is alluded to in the title of the book, monitored with elaborate detail by Cecil.

The book is an impressive weight and is a hefty 496 pages, plenty of stimulating content to keep the reader occupied and engaged. Although Watch the Lady is far from the first book which focuses on the themes of political intrigue, romance and treason in the Tudor period it is nonetheless a welcome addition to the genre and worth delving into.

The historical research behind the fiction is detailed and to be commended, with stale facts transcribed onto the page in such a way that they become dramatic markers in an ever-evolving and fast-paced story. It’s a powerfully gripping narrative that at times jumps of the page. It’s fair to suggest that Fremantle’s work is on par with any offering from writers such as Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory or Hilary Mantel and may in some cases supersede those bestselling literary giants.

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Elizabeth Fremantle is the author of Queen’s Gambit, Sisters of Treason and Watch the Lady. She holds a first in English and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck. As a Fashion Editor she has contributed to various publications including Vogue, Elle, and Vanity Fair. Watch the Lady is released on 11 February 2016

The Romance of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York

By Samantha Wilcoxson

Romantic is not a word that is typically applied to Henry Tudor, but there is evidence that he and his Plantagenet bride, Elizabeth of York, had a happy marriage. If you have only envisioned a Henry VII who is miserly, withdrawn, and admittedly determined, I challenge you to open your mind and picture him in private with his beautiful wife.

Elizabeth of York was the oldest child of Edward IV and his scandalous bride, Elizabeth Woodville. Though people do not agree on the extent to which Elizabeth Woodville influenced Edward’s rule, few would say that their marriage wasn’t passionate. Growing up in a large family, Elizabeth of York would have always known that she was loved, even as rebellions against her father sent them into sanctuary.

Henry, on the other hand, had spent much of this time in exile. His few drops of royal blood were enough to make him a Lancastrian focal point, and Edward would not allow him to step foot in England, despite Henry’s mother’s pleading. Without any family besides his uncle Jasper to support him, Henry grew up in an ill-defined, precarious position.

Though their lives before 1485 could not have been more different, Henry and Elizabeth would be tossed together after Henry’s surprising victory at Bosworth made him King Henry VII. A betrothal had been arranged previously, but one must wonder how much hope Elizabeth had placed in Henry ever being capable of claiming his bride.

He did. On January 18, 1486, the couple was married in a stunning ceremony that was carefully designed to draw together any remnant of Lancaster or York rebels. The peace that the couple hoped to instill in England was undoubtedly one of the things that drew them together.

Evidence of their happiness appeared a short 8 months after their marriage when their greatest hope for the future was born. Prince Arthur was likely born prematurely, possibly even conceived on Henry and Elizabeth’s wedding night. The royal couple praised God and asked his blessings on their future as they welcomed this sure signal from God that their union had His favor.

Their faith is another element of Henry and Elizabeth’s relationship that would have drawn them close together. When Henry landed at Mill Bay to begin his conquest of England, he is recorded to have dropped to his knees and quoted Psalm 43, pleading “Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause.” Upon meeting and quickly marrying Henry, Elizabeth would have done so because she saw it as God’s plan for her life and the best hope for her dwindling family.

Henry is one of the few English monarchs noted for their apparent faithfulness. Though some rumors swirl around about Catherine Gordon, the wife of Perkin Warbeck, Henry did not marry her when he had the chance after Elizabeth died. In fact, he never married again, though two of his three sons had predeceased Elizabeth. In the turbulent early sixteenth century, that is a strong sign of devotion and love.

When Henry and Elizabeth had experienced deaths of their children, Elizabeth and Edmund in infancy and Arthur heartbreakingly later, they are known to have found comfort in each other and their faith in God. Arthur’s death is particularly documented. Fifteen years old, heir to the throne, and recently married, his parents had legendary hopes for the future good King Arthur. If his birth had been a sign that their marriage was blessed, what did his untimely death portend?

While Henry and Elizabeth surely experienced the ups and downs of any marriage, the historical evidence suggests that a true love grew between them. When Elizabeth died in childbirth on her 37th birthday in 1503, Henry was crushed and ordered a lavish funeral. It is one of the few public displays that demonstrated the romantic side of Henry VII.

I greatly enjoyed delving into the personalities and relationship of this intriguing couple as I performed research for my book, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth may have been a quiet and devoted presence, but she skillfully bridged the gap between the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties, a feat that Henry may not have been capable of successfully handling on his own. With devotion to her husband, her family, and her faith as a driving force, Elizabeth set aside any future she may have been expecting and took on her role as the first Tudor queen and mother of a new dynasty.

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Samantha Wilcoxson is an American writer and history enthusiast. Besides three novels, Samantha has written on a variety of topics as freelance work for global websites. Living with her husband on a small lake in Michigan with three kids, two cats, and two dogs, Samantha has plenty of writing inspiration.Her book ‘Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen’ is available now.

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