Thursday, February 06, 2014

Review: Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York
By Alison Weir
Ballantine, December 2013

About the Book

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.

My Review

Author of numerous, well respected, non-fiction works, internationally best-selling author and historian Weir writes “popular history”, bringing the medieval English court to the popular presses. Her newest book, Elizabeth of York, is no different. With deep and thorough research, Weir brings this lost queen to life.

Henry Tudor won the crown of England by slaying Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, but unlike his son, Henry VII was known as a merciful monarch, who was married only once and was thought to be entirely faithful to his queen. By extension, Elizabeth of York, as the faithful, docile, and loyal matriarch of the Tudor dynasty, doesn’t seem to have garnered much interest either, which is understandable when you compare her to the antics of her son.

But to skip over this woman and write her off as background underestimates her. Elizabeth was the linchpin without which the Tudor dynasty would not have been possible. The Yorkist heir to the throne who held a greater right to the throne than her husband and a means by which he maintained his crown, Elizabeth was absolutely crucial to her husband’s success.

I was happy to see Weir’s balanced and straightforward presentations of the many controversies that remain from Elizabeth’s time. I think far too many historians have an agenda and like to set out facts and “evidence” that are biased, unreliable, and completely lacking in common sense. Weir clearly sets out the facts surrounding the murder of the princes in the Tower and the many rebellions (Simnel, Warbeck, etc.) against Henry VII, for instance, and she lays out her thoughts and conclusions rationally.

Many historians like to stir the pot, presenting cases that go against standard wisdom. There is nothing wrong with questioning the status quo, but when the evidence and rationales they present strain all belief, the authors instantly lose credibility. Weir should be praised for her even-handed, revealing look of the mother of the Tudor dynasty. I am eager to read her next book, The Princess of Scotland, publication date TBD.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer,

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