Top positive review
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An excellent and accessible biography
on 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.