Nonfiction — print. Ballantine Books, 2013. 572 pgs. Library copy.
The mother of the infamous King Henry VIII of England and grandmother of Elizabeth I, the life of the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, spanned one of England’s most dramatic and perilous periods. Her birth was as much pomp and ceremony as that of a male heir; proof that King Edward IV was the true and lawful King of England. But the Lancasters and those aligned with them continued to make claims to the thrown and her uncles moved to seize the crown after her father’s death with the disappearance and probable murder of her brothers, the Princes in the Tower, and the crowning of her Uncle Richard III.
Elizabeth of York and her sisters are declared bastards but the threat they pose to Richard’s claim to the throne mean they are under the constant threat of murder and as Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, was dying, there were rumors throughout the country that the king sought to marry his niece Elizabeth, knowing that most people believed her to be England’s rightful queen. Weir addresses whether or not Elizabeth herself was pushing for this alliance contrasting it with the support Elizabeth covertly showed to Henry Tudor, the exiled Lancaster 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 finally ending the Wars of the Roses, which began even before her father’s reign. For centuries historians have asserted that as queen Elizabeth was kept under Henry’s firm grasp, but Weir shows that Elizabeth enjoyed the confidence of her husband, exerted a tremendous influence both on court and on Henry, and was revered by her son, the future King Henry VIII. A difficult feat considering how little documentation is available about Elizabeth and her life. Much of her life after marriage is written by Weir in relation to what was known about Henry and some of Weir’s conjectures were a stretch given how often she stated “Elizabeth must have felt” in the text.
But, overall, it is an encompassing tale for the entirety of Elizabeth of York’s life with the focus not only on the impact her father, husband, uncle, or brothers’ disappearance had on her life but also the influences of her Wyderville relatives, particularly the strong nature of her mother, and her relationship with her eventual mother-in-law, Margret Beaufort. The focus on Elizabeth rather than her as a periphery player finally gives voice to this rather quiet queen and helps better illuminate the period before England’s two most famous monarchs.