Book Review: Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir

  • Method of Obtaining: My copy was provided by th epublisher.
  • Published by:  Ballantine Books
  • Release Date:  12.03.2013

Many are familiar with the story of the much-married King Henry VIII of England and the celebrated reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I. But it is often forgotten that the life of the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and Elizabeth’s grandmother, spanned one of England’s most dramatic and perilous periods. Now New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir presents the first modern biography of this extraordinary woman, whose very existence united the realm and ensured the survival of the Plantagenet bloodline.

Her birth was greeted with as much pomp and ceremony as that of a male heir. The first child of King Edward IV, Elizabeth enjoyed all the glittering trappings of royalty. But after the death of her father; the disappearance and probable murder of her brothers—the Princes in the Tower; and the usurpation of the throne by her calculating uncle Richard III, Elizabeth found her world turned upside-down: She and her siblings were declared bastards.

As Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, was dying, there were murmurs that the king sought to marry his niece Elizabeth, knowing that most people believed her to be England’s rightful queen. Weir addresses Elizabeth’s possible role in this and her covert support for Henry Tudor, the exiled pretender who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth and was crowned Henry VII, first sovereign of the House of Tudor. Elizabeth’s subsequent marriage to Henry united the houses of York and Lancaster and signaled the end of the Wars of the Roses. For centuries historians have asserted that, as queen, she was kept under Henry’s firm grasp, but Weir shows that Elizabeth proved to be a model consort—pious and generous—who enjoyed the confidence of her husband, exerted a tangible and beneficial influence, and was revered by her son, the future King Henry VIII.

Drawing from a rich trove of historical records, Weir gives a long overdue and much-deserved look at this unforgettable princess whose line descends to today’s British monarch—a woman who overcame tragedy and danger to become one of England’s most beloved consorts.

I also recommend:

  • Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
  • The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
My Review:

I have a fascination with King Richard III.  As many people know, his skeleton was recently found (near a parking garage) and, as a result, we are able to know more today about what this famous man looked like – in addition to knowing more about his deeds.  Richard III was the monarch connected with the two princes, if you have heard that story.  He’s also known as the “Evil Crouchback,” due to his having scoliosis, we have since learned.  Richard III was the last monarch before the uniting of the York and Lancaster Houses – two houses who had been at war for 100 years in the War of the Roses.  But Elizabeth of York is clearly not about Richard III – it’s about Elizabeth.  However, Weir understands that in order to fully understand Elizabeth we have to understand how she grew up, what influenced her, and most importantly, what the evidence has indicated about the person she was.

Elizabeth of York holds a place by proxy to some of the most famous figures in British history.  Her son was Henry VIII.  Her brothers were the famous princes who were murdered (allegedly) by Richard III.  Her mother was the famous Elizabeth Wydeville, the “Slandered Queen,” who supposedly “seduced” Edward IV.  Elizabeth I was also the grandmother to the beloved Queen Elizabeth, the “Virgin Queen.”  Add on top of that, Elizabeth’s part in uniting the houses of Lancaster and York, as well as having a powerhouse of a mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, and you have quite a group of people surrounding this queen.

But that’s all of the people around Elizabeth.  What about Elizabeth herself?  Her teenage years were fraught with fear, yet she ended up in a marriage that, for all accounts, was not only amiable, but also one of fondness, if not love.  She gave birth to a brood of children, as all good Queens were expected to do, and she managed to be a favorite of the people, placing a face of kindness on the monarchy in spite of her husband, who – while a good King – was also distrustful of most people due to his own upbringing.

Alison Weir does a fantastically thorough job of pulling together all of the research and arranging it in a way that not only makes sense, but lays out a great story in the process.  At times, Weir gets a little wordy and at times a little forward with her assumptions of how certain figures might have felt, but it never goes too far overboard for me and her assumptions make sense.

I loved reading Elizabeth of York and I loved seeing Elizabeth I finally pushed to the forefront.  As a Queen, she was the epitome of grace and beauty and she was able, even while submissive and dealt some really crappy cards in life, to pull off a life that is worth admiring.

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