Thursday 19 May 2022

Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose, Alison Weir

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This post is part of the blog tour for the book. Thanks to Random Things Tours and Headline Review for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Weir starts her new Tudor Rose trilogy with an exploration of the life of Elizabeth of York. Eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, she is brought up to rule. Her life from a young age is full of danger and disruption however, as she goes into sanctuary while her father is briefly in exile. Once he returns things don’t settle down for long with family losses, betrayal, and her father’s untimely death which throws her life into disarray. Her uncle takes the throne and there’s rumours he murdered her brothers, before plotting to marry her to make his reign more legitimate. The Wars of the Roses are a dangerous time, with the country in an almost constant state of flux. The promise of a marriage to young Henry Tudor seems to be the clearest way to get Elizabeth a crown and secure the dynasty, bringing an end to the wars between the Lancastrians and Yorkists. It’s a decision that will have huge consequences for the course of English history.

This is an expansive book, covering Elizabeth’s life from the age of four through to her death. Her life is naturally very different to that of the average reader, but there are still hints of the normal embarrassments and challenges of growing up. She struggles to come to terms with the reality of some of her relatives’ behaviour, so starkly contrasted to the way they’ve always treated her. Elizabeth and her sister Cecily are close, and they delight over beautiful gowns and comfort each other in moments of difficulty. It is her interactions with her siblings that make her feel most human, the constant desire for power and the complex games of betrothal put her at a distance.

Indeed, Weir does not shy away from the suffering caused to the family when young children die, or siblings are killed for others’ gain. Often when people think of history and the prevalence of death there is a perception that maybe the losses didn’t hit as hard as they would today. This novel counters that, with every loss being a devastating blow, every child loved deeply, despite at times appearing to be mere pawns. 

Weir centres women in many of her books, and this is no exception. Where history may have silenced them, fiction brings to life their internal lives. Elizabeth’s mother is no helpless maiden, forcefully putting across her point and influencing her husband’s decisions. Elizabeth herself plays an active role in trying to secure the throne and is willing to do what is required to get what she wants.

Personally, I found it hard to connect to characters whose main motivation was securing power for themselves, but for many history enthusiasts I’m sure this book will be a delightful dive into an important historical figure whose story is often overshadowed by the men around her. Full of historical detail and dealing with some famous mysteries from the time, there’s a lot to sink your teeth into.

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