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First Modern Biography of its Subject,
This review is from: Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen (Hardcover)
ELIZABETH OF YORK: A TUDOR QUEEN AND HER WORLD is a nonfiction treatment of the life of the English Queen Elizabeth, wife of King Henry VII, by popular New York Times best-selling historian and historical novelist Alison Weir. It is billed by its publishers as the first modern biography of its subject, and the only non-academic one. Its subject, though little remembered today, is generally considered to have had the most successful, stable, and productive of the Tudor marriages, though, certainly, that field is thin, being comprised as it is of the six unhappy marriages of Henry VIII, the son of this marriage, and the disastrous marriage of Henry VIII's elder daughter, Mary I: Henry VIII's younger daughter, Elizabeth I, memorably did not marry at all. Many historians believe that Henry VIII's wives suffered by his comparison of them to what he saw as the perfect union of his parents.
The Tudor courts were certainly rife with intrigue, rivalries, jealousies, ambitions, romances. The Tudor period of English history is essentially dramatic, an age of international warfare, uncontrolled fatal illnesses, and social unrest. So it's no surprise that today this period is extremely popular, often treated in literature, theater, and film. Therefore, many readers will be familiar with the story of the much-married King Henry VIII of England and the reigns of his daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I. But the importance of the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry's mother and Elizabeth's grandmother, should be remembered. Her lifetime spanned one of England's most dramatic and perilous periods. And while Elizabeth is now overshadowed by her issue, she is also often compared, to her detriment, to Margaret of Angouleme, a consort who ruled before her: Margaret being more proactive politically. But, while Elizabeth does not seem to have been politically active, she was beautiful, generous, kind, religious, and widely loved; and in her marriage, she united the English kingdom, ended the Wars of the Roses, tied together the houses of York and Lancaster, and preserved the royal Plantagenet bloodline.
So happens I was a Renaissance history major at Cornell University, which I like to think gives me some more familiarity with this material than most people have. Still, when I read this book as most people must, picking it up when I could, I had difficulties reacquainting myself with the material. Seems that all Englishmen of the time were named Tom, Dick, or Harry. And all Englishwomen, Katherine, Anne, Margaret or Mary. To make comprehension even more difficult, the author follows the practice of the time, and refers to each of her characters by their most recently given titles. The book really needs the timelines and family charts that accompany it. I also considered it to be a great deal longer than it needed to be, with extensive expositions of what the royals wore, what they ate, and with whom they kept company. I nearly didn't get through the opening pages, which were a tedious recital of all the ceremonies the young princess Elizabeth attended as a child and what she wore to each. The author clearly did a laborious amount of research, and, I suppose wanted to share the fruit of her labors. But, like most other readers, I imagine, I never doubted that the young princess would have been present, finely-dressed, in her father's court.
Luckily for the reader, and unluckily for the little princess, her father, Edward IV, died while she and he were rather young, ushering in one of the most famous, dramatic periods of English history, greatly mined by the world's preeminent British playwright, William Shakespeare, in his historical plays. In this period, Elizabeth's uncle, Richard of Gloucester, seized the throne, ruled the country as Richard III, and, apparently, commissioned, among many unjust deaths, the famous murder of the two little princes in London Tower, Elizabeth's brothers, the legitimate heirs to the throne. Richard ruled until defeated and killed at Bosworth by Henry Tudor, whose own claim to the English throne was weak. But, as the husband of Elizabeth, Henry's claim was greatly strengthened, as she was widely considered the rightful heir to the throne, and beloved in her own right.
The Surrey-based author has built herself a reputation as a hard-working, trusted historian. Her nonfiction books include her last, the New York Times best-selling The Lady In The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn , and Mary Boleyn: 'The Great and Infamous Whore', the latter of which I have read and reviewed in these pages. Some of the author's other important nonfiction titles are THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII, ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE, QUEEN ISABELLA and MISTRESS OF THE MONARCHY. Some of her historical fiction titles are CAPTIVE QUEEN, INNOCENT TRAITOR and THE LADY ELIZABETH. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this work to anyone without an overwhelming interest in English history and this particular period.