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4.0 out of 5 stars
Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
At what stage does biography become pointless? I would suggest that the answer to that question is when the historical record doesn't provide enough information to allow for any real insight into or knowledge of the subject. And that, in a nutshell, is why I have abandoned this book at the halfway point.

Elizabeth of York probably had a fascinating life. She may have been in love with her husband, Henry VII. On the other hand, she may have been cruelly treated and suppressed by him. Or perhaps he loved her. Maybe she was seriously affected by the probable murders of her brothers. Or perhaps she was so ambitious for the throne that she tried to persuade Richard III, the probable murderer, to marry her. She may have conspired against Richard to bring Henry to the throne - a ballad written during Henry's reign suggests so, though that hardly seems like substantive evidence. Or perhaps she had nothing to do with it at all. She may have been influential on Henry in many ways following her marriage. Or she may have done little more than breed heirs. Interesting questions, and I was hoping for interesting answers - but there are none, as Weir freely and repeatedly asserts.

Weir has, I assume, done her best with the available material, but I'm afraid that still leaves Elizabeth as an unknown entity. In fact, I felt I knew her better from reading Thomas Penn's Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England, than I do now after reading chapter after chapter of lightly supported and indecisive speculation. It's good that Weir has made clear the lack of information rather than making assertions about her own beliefs as if they were truths. Admirable - but makes for a dull and rather pointless read. And I'm afraid Weir's writing style is not sufficient to carry the book - she writes in a dry academic fashion that, for me at least, fails to bring the characters to life and makes even the most dramatic episodes into a tedious recounting of conflicting sources, including extensive quotes; much of which I felt could happily have been relegated to the notes at the back for the use of any serious historian. As a casual reader, I hope for the historian to plough through the sources on my behalf and then present me with a well argued and convincing hypothesis.

The final point where I decided that I couldn't take any more was when Weir suggested that Elizabeth 'may have been influential in the development of royal pageantry'. The 'evidence' for this is that she would have seen the Burgundian-influenced pageantry at the court of her father, Edward IV. It's that crucial word 'may', with its unspoken implication of 'or may not'. I could as easily say 'Elizabeth may have been one of the world's foremost acrobats' and bring just about the same amount of evidence to bear - i.e., she doubtless saw tumblers and fools at her father's court too. And I'm afraid 'may' is one of the words most used in the book. (338 times, according to the Kindle search facility.)

So in conclusion this book 'may' be of interest to some people - in fact, clearly it is since it is garnering positive reviews. But I'm afraid I'm not one of them. Perhaps at some point I'll try one of Weir's books about a later period in history where enough evidence exists for the word 'may' to be replaced by something a little more substantial. In the meantime, I will assume, based on the evidence of this book, that Elizabeth of York may have to remain an enigmatic figure about whom too little is known to allow for an interesting biography to be written.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House.
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 7 November 2013
As a general reader of history, the books I read need to be accessible and interesting but I need to be sure that they are based on sound scholarship. I've read many of Alison Weir's factual history books and have always found them informative and readable. (I'm not fond of historical fiction so haven't read those although I am sure that they are equally good). I was delighted to be offered an advance copy of this book by the publisher and it certainly lived up to my expectations.

Elizabeth of York was the daughter of a king, betrothed to a king, sought after by another king, sister to a king and bore to the king she married a future king and two queen consorts. She was at the heart of the Wars of the Roses and was a fugitive, a captive and a marital pawn. With the death/disappearance of her two brothers (the Princes in the Tower) she was actually the heir to the throne and was seen to legitimise the reign of her husband Henry VII, something which made him very nervous. Her life was in danger more than once, and close members of her family were murdered with others being the subject of suspicion and plots.

By concentrating on Elizabeth's life the author steers the reader through the events of the Wars of the Roses and makes them understandable. I struggled with Alison Weir's previous book devoted to the Wars because I found it rather dry, in this book she links the events to the people and shows their connections with Elizabeth. This made it much easier to follow. The story clearly shows the lust for and danger of power, and the often tragic effects on the bystanders - the story of the hapless Earl of Warwick is heartbreaking. Surrounded by danger, plots, and power hungry and ruthless men Elizabeth had to steer a path to preserve herself and her family.

There isn't a lot known about Elizabeth's life and activities but the author is clear about what is known and where she is making a judgement based on the few facts available. Where she touches on something controversial (the death of the princes in the tower or the provenance of the Buck letter for example) she is clear about the other views generally held and about what she thinks and why. She attempts to resolve seeming inconsistencies in what we know about Elizabeth's character in her younger days when she was in fear of her life with her later behaviour as queen. I'm not completely convinced about the arguments she uses to explain the letter she may (or may not) have written desiring marriage with her uncle Richard III but she has provided plenty of material to think about.

Elizabeth of York lived her married life as a companion to Henry VII and subservient to him and his wishes. She had the better claim to the throne but never chose in any way to assert this. She could easily be portrayed as ineffectual and weak but Alison Weir has looked closely at all aspects of the Queen's life and shows clearly where she did use her influence, that her role in life was one that was in harmony with her religious beliefs and that she and Henry appeared to have an harmonious relationship. Her legacy was her children, and the fact that three of her grandchildren became rulers of England. This biography describes the difficult life of a remarkable woman and gives value, without judgement, to the choices she made.

I highly recommend this excellent book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 17 July 2015
The perfect companion for all historical fiction enthusiasts is THE ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKERCalix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker

Alison Weir's biography of Elizabeth of York is thoroughly researched and is an engaging read.

Elizabeth is famous for uniting the houses of Lancaster and York - the royal rivals from the Wars of the Roses - by marrying Henry Tudor; a Lancastrian claimant to the throne, albeit his claim was never especially strong, thus as a result many considered his right to be crowned Henry VII was owing to his wife, she being Edward IV's daughter.

As expected, much of the events that transpired during the Wars of the Roses are recalled here, as Elizabeth lived through a lot of the upsets and intrigues from the 1460s onwards.

As a person and as a queen, Elizabeth comes across as noble, genuine, and very likeable.

I would've rated this book 5 stars, only the detailed sections on clothing, plus how much someone was paid or how much something costs becomes tiresome when the information is extensive - but this is just a personal taste, not a negative criticism as such.

Well worth a read if, like me, you're interested in medieval monarchy, the Wars of the Roses, and favour Alison Weir's writing style
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2014
I was given a copy of Alison Weir's selection fo Elizabeth of York to read and give my honest opinion. Not a lot is known about this woman and Weir's book goes a long way to fill in some of the gaps. I love an historical account and Weir has taken the time to reference her work to give this story authenticity. The book can get a little heavy and it is certainly not one you can finish in a day, in fact it took me a couple of weeks of picking it up and putting down. But definitely worth the effort.

Born into a nobility, the daughter of one King and neice to another it would be expected that Elizabeth would marry well., probably another noble house. However the War of the Roses quickly saw her fortunes change. What better way to end waring over succession that to marry the two families together. Enter Elizabeth. Wife to one Tudor king and mother to another in a time of strife and machinations, she became a catalist for change.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2013
I usually love Alison Weir's books and I was excited to read this one. However, it was hard going. Alison Weir has certainly demonstrated how much serious academic research she has put into this book, but that has been at the expense of its readability. I stuck with it but I must admit that I skipped over large parts of it. I think that this reflects that even after all this research we still don't really know that much about Elizabeth of York and we never probably will. We don't even know if she had seven or eight children (Prince Edward is a mystery). However, I am sure that this book will come to be seen as THE definitive book about Elizabeth of York. I think it is probably now time for Alison Weir to move on from the Tudors and move onto the Stuarts.
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on 12 March 2015
You get a lot of research in an Alison Weir. It is like borrowing her brain for 500 odd pages and having a good delve about. You can skim read and still learn a lot or you can savour each page and hope to retain as much of it as possible to entertain friends when they say they 'know nothing about Elizabeth of York'.
Elizabeth sounds a little like a chameleon. She seemed to fit into any role expected of her - royal princess, 'dauphin of France', the possible intended for Richard III and finally the bride of usurper Henry VII. She was to go on to be a loyal wife and like most Plantagenet women - a fertile women who gave Henry the sons he desired - one who went on to be Henry VIII.
Alison Weir's research is thorough and I would refer anyone to this who still struggles under the illusion that Richard III didn't have Edward V and his brother Richard of York killed in the Tower. Weir gives great detail about the confession (fascinating that Elizabeth herself probably heard this confession and that her health failed her after) and the way that that was put together was painstaking research. This research is all cross checked and referenced and along with her dismissal of the Perkin Warbeck character makes interesting reading - fascinating.
The period detail about the life of Elizabeth and her ladies in waiting, Elizabeth's sisters and her constant shortage of money seem very current and give this women real 'light and shade'. Here is a woman loved by all who shows great kindness to her family even against her husband's approval. And she gets on with her mother in law the impressive Margaret Beaufort - who is described as 'loved by all' and that the two women had a close relationship is another revelation that maybe another fiction writer is unaware of. And her theory that Elizabeth was in fact the Queen rather than merely the Queen Consort was never something I had though about before and makes a lot of sense. Everything Alison Weir says make sense because of the detailed explanation and research. Of course we know Mary was England's first Queen but maybe Elizabeth of York paved the way for her and made people think 'we could have a queen as long as there is Plantagenet blood'.
I could go on ... and on ... but read it for yourself and savour it.
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Elizabeth of York is one of those shadowy figures in history who are known more for what they represent - the daughter of Edward IV, sister to the Princes in the Tower, mother of Henry VIII, wife of Henry VII, the woman whose marriage united the houses of York and Lancaster and ended the Wars of the Roses - than for herself alone. And yet she lived through some of the most tumultuous years in English history and played a major part in them herself, not just as a marital prize and a representative of royal blood.

In another time and place perhaps Elizabeth would have been Queen of England in her own right, as her granddaughter Elizabeth I became, had the minds of men been more attuned to a Queen Regnant, rather than her blood endowing her husband with the crown. As it was, a large proportion of Henry VII's claim to the throne lay through Elizabeth and her role as Edward IV's heir and her popularity with the people of England. One can quite conceivably speculate that the lack of major support for any of the rebellions and claimants that occurred at regular intervals throughout Henry VII's reign was more a testament to her popularity and continuing link with the House of York than it was to Henry VII himself, who was little mourned by his people at his death.

Elizabeth has traditionally been viewed by historians as a very acquiescent, passive figure, passed from male relative to male relative, little more than a prized pawn in royal politics. Alison Weir depicts her as more proactive than that - a woman who had her own ambitions, who may have schemed to be married to Richard III, who may have plotted behind the scenes to help Henry VII. It is all speculation, of course, as is so often the case with Alison Weir's books, but it is interesting and plausible, none the less.

I always take Alison Weir's books with a healthy dosage of salt - she is certainly no impartial historian and relies on speculation and informed guesswork a bit more than I find comfortable. But she excels at painting a portrait of a time and a place in history - she has an eye for the detail, the clothing and fabrics, the buildings, rooms, furniture, the jobs and positions at court, the ceremonial and the pageantry, all of which really serves to bring the period to life. It makes her books a pleasure to read, as long as one bears in mind that she sets out with a very decided eye on certain issues.
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on 24 July 2014
As someone who knows this period of history really well I was looking forward to reading this having enjoyed Weir's other books. I did think it was a good historical read and was interesting however I thought it was too long. The beginning section of the book where she concentrates on Elizabeth growing up was particularly lengthy and told the life of her father and other relations rather than her and I felt this was unnecessary as it was a book about her. Once Weir reached the part of her life where she is married then it became more about her and the family that Elizabeth of York created. There a lot of unanswered questions, but as there is no evidence they have to be left unanswered and I felt that Weir did a good job in writing a believable biography of Elizabeth of York that had a lot of fact in it and the sections that could not be definitely answered were handled well. I did not read about anything ground-breaking however it did manage to hold my interest throughout. If you are interested in this period of history or would like to read more about it then I would recommend this as a read just not a spectacularly good one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I have enjoyed all of Alison Weirs book and recommended them to other people countless times. Although I haven't finished reading Elizabeth of York I know that Alison Weir has done it it again, a fantastic book in every way. This is one author who has kept a constant high standard in her work, thank you Alison Weir, I already look forward to your next book, whatever it will be.
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on 28 August 2014
A long book but interesting, though there are so few facts from this period that some of the book is based on heresay. The author maintains that Elizabeth and Lord Stanley conspired to help Henry Tudor (Henry VII) win the battle at Bosworth Field. I have not heard this theory before but it is apparently not based on fact. It also throws out of the window the popular theory that Elizabeth was in love with her Uncle Richard III. Just another theory that we will never be able to prove or disprove! Found the book in some areas to be biased, with the author asserting her own interpretations. Henry VII never claimed that Richard had murdered the "princes in the tower" and there is no doubt he would have done so if he had felt this to be the case. He had Edward, George of Clarence's son locked up in the tower without company or contact with anyone, for years and then had him executed on a trumped up charge, and we know this to be fact. Felt sorry for Elizabeth by the time I had finished reading the book.
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