Daughter of Queen Elizabeth Wydeville. Granddaughter of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and Jacquetta of Luxemburg, Duchess of Bedford.
If that doesn’t tell you who she is, see also, wife of King Henry VII, mother of King Henry VIII, sister of the lost princes Edward, Prince of Wales and Richard, Duke of York, daughter of Edward IV and niece to Richard III.
When writing about Margaret Beaufort a few months ago, I realized how frequently women are referred to in relation to men—and not just in the distant past. Many people have no idea who Elizabeth of York was until I start listing her male relatives.
Authors, read this book if you need help with understanding what kind of research goes into a history book. It’s also reveals the rich background material available for historical fiction novels. I’m grateful for the painstaking research Weir must have suffered through to bring this woman’s story back to life. Reading the cryptic, chaotically spelled letters and ledgers from the sixteenth century is not easy. By digging deep into the surviving primary sources—Weir pored over account books to learn who the Queen paid for what and when—it is the one of the few ways to learn what life was actually like in the middle ages. It makes me think twice about tossing my shopping list and receipts.
Readers, read this book if you want to see a person struggle to survive through a heck of a lot of ups and downs. Elizabeth was pushed and pulled through a myriad of different roles: from a princess at court to an exile hiding in sanctuary, from a brief moment as niece to the King nearly restored to her former position, to bride of the victor of the Battle of Bosworth.
If there had been reality TV in the 1460s, I imagined it would have run along the lines of Who Will the Princess Marry? She was at one time engaged to the Dauphin of France. There were rumours she was set to marry her uncle, Richard III. Richard, however, entered negotiations for her to marry the future King of Portugal. It’s a bit like Russian roulette.
What I want to tell people about this book is this book gives women of the past a seat at the table. Weir’s account makes a solid claim that Elizabeth was Edward IV’s heiress and should have been crowned Queen in her own right, not just Queen consort to King Henry VII. Sadly this never happened in her lifetime.
I think Elizabeth is often forgotten because she sandwiched between generations of notorious and badly behaving relatives: her uncle Richard, her son Henry VIII and his six wives, and even her own mother, Elizabeth Wydville. Still, Elizabeth paved the way for her descendants to become the most famous Queens in history, and in their own right, so always look on the bright side?
Though Margaret Beaufort lived through the Wars of the Roses, one of England’s most violent and turbulent eras, she has been given little credit for triumphing in a time when life was unkind to women in terms of rights and power.
Many of you are wondering, Who the heck is Margaret Beaufort? The easy answer is King Henry VII’s mother and King Henry VIII’s grandmother. Isn’t it sad she has to be remembered in terms of the men she gave life to? Isn’t it unfair? It’s far more common than you think.
The more rich and fulfilling answer is Margaret Beaufort was a woman who successfully navigated the instabilities of the power-struggles in her lifetime, working hard for the survival of her family. Margaret’s life is actually an incredible testament to what a woman could achieve in the late 1400s.
She was a major landowner, a behind-the-scenes diplomat before her son became king, she was the first woman to be given the power to settle disputes in court, she was a negotiator, she was briefly regent for Henry VIII, she was a founder of colleges at Cambridge and Oxford, she commissioned books, and she even declared a la femme sole—she had complete control over her own estates—and thus was completely independent in terms managing of her lands and income.
It’s difficult to imagine it now, but this was a momentous step for women in the middle ages. In a time when women had no say in the major decisions of their lives (she had been married three times by the time she was fifteen), Margaret must have been incredibly resourceful and smart not only to get by but also to thrive.
I was disturbed by Margaret’s portrayal in the fictionalized accounts of her I came across—reduced to the role of villain—she wasn’t a well-rounded character, instead depicted as a conniving and ruthless woman.
Although I believe there’s some truth behind every rumor, Tallis’s well-researched biography (read the notes, they’re incredible!) fills in major gaps and brings Margaret and her life into sharper focus. She’s more than a villain and also more than a religious woman in a wimple. I wonder if she was seen as the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of her time—why are there no medieval women action figures?
I read a lot and I hope to help authors with the craft of writing. I share good examples of difficult aspects of writing: point of view, narration, world building and more.
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