Do you know who this woman is?
This woman is the daughter of Queen Elizabeth Wydeville. Granddaughter of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and Jacquetta of Luxemburg, Duchess of Bedford. Ring any bells? No?
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 is until I start listing her male relatives. Can we change that?
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?
Title: Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: History, biography
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
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