And We’ll Never Be Royals: Cassie-la Explores “Elizabeth of York” by Alison Weir

Elizabeth of York Alison WeirElizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir (Galley)
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Genre: Nonfiction, history, princesses, the Tudors, she’s basically Sansa Stark but with more alleged incest
Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars

Summary: A historical, nonfiction look at Queen Elizabeth of York, whose spot on the throne of England and marriage to her rival Henry Tudor helped end the War of the Roses.  The mother of Henry VIII and grandmother to Elizabeth I, Elizabeth of York may not have been allowed to rule in her own right, but she would go on to help create the famed Tudor dynasty and was widely loved and revered by her people. Daughter of a King, niece of a King, wife to a King, mother to a King, but never herself a King, this is the tale of the life of Elizabeth  of York.

The mother of Henry VIII, Elizabeth of York was the first child of King Edward IV, niece and possible consort to her uncle and King Richard III, sister to nine other children (two of whom became the famed Princes in the Tower), grandmother of Queen Elizabeth I and descendent of all current royals today. Due to her charitable donations, kindness and piety, she was known as the Gracious Queen and the good Queen Elizabeth.

This in-depth look into the life of Elizabeth of York explores the much-loved Queen from her birth into a life of royalty, her teenage years in sanctuary, involvement in the War of the Roses, her eventual marriage to Henry Tudor, the birth of her own children and her sudden and unexpected death at 37.

If you’ve happened to watch the recent Starz incarnation of the Philippa Gregory novels set during the War of the Roses (“The White Queen,” based on a novel of the same name) you probably know a little of Elizabeth’s story, which continues in The White Princess. Although she most likely didn’t show up and sex her Uncle on the battlefield the night before he died or put a witch’s curse on the people who killed her brothers. Because let’s be logical here.

She is also frequently discussed, although does not have a physical role, in the Shakespeare play The Tragedy of Richard III and also makes an appearance in Sharon Kay Penman’s love letter to Richard III: The Sunne in Splendour.

This nonfiction tome is a much more accurate look at Elizabeth (although Sharon Kay Penman often has very meticulous research for her historical fiction), with Weir using numerous historical sources to fully flesh out as much of Elizabeth’s life as possible, while also exploring the various peripheral intrigues she finds herself involved in. Evil hump-backed uncles and witchcraft need not apply.

Sadly, the problem with this is that as much is known about Elizabeth (like how much she spent on her own household expenses or clothing she ordered), more is known about her male relatives than herself because she as a woman was often deemed less important. So not much is noted about her thoughts and feelings on certain events.

For example, girls were often educated to be wives and mothers and teaching them honesty and chastity were tantamount to learning as they were used to secure betrothals and form alliances. Elizabeth herself was engaged three other times before she was finally betrothed to and wed Henry Tudor. Which wasn’t the smoothest sailing either, especially since Henry was at war with the Yorks for much of the time.

Born into the middle of the War of the Roses fiasco, which pitted the York and Lancaster factions, Elizabeth of York’s father Edward IV’s marriage to her mother Elizabeth Wydeville (the spelling used in this book but known more commonly as Elizabeth Woodville) was met with resistance not only because the wedding took place in secret but because the Wydeville’s weren’t considered high-born enough.

This caused a series of problems later on. When Edward IV died, Elizabeth’s uncle Richard III took over, imprisoned Elizabeth’s brothers in the Tower of London where they would mysteriously disappear and named himself king by declaring Elizabeth and her brothers and sisters illegitimate. This decree of Titulus Regius would later be destroyed by her husband Henry VII so he could marry her (as he needed her right to the throne to secure his own spot).

Even though many only considered Henry the King through his marriage to Elizabeth, she was not allowed to rule in her own right. Which would later change when Henry VIII died only leaving female heirs, giving way to the reign of Elizabeth I.

Rumors flew that while king, Richard tried to marry his own niece, Elizabeth while his wife Anne Neville was on her deathbed (perhaps to discredit Henry Tudor during the War the Roses and make him look foolish) or perhaps because he was the villain the Tudors and Shakespeare later painted him to be. Specifically, a man who was so horrible he would imprison and later possibly murder his own nephews so he could marry his own niece and take the crown. This mystery (which included a number of pretenders showing up claiming to be said princes later in Elizabeth’s life) is covered in detail in another book by Weir: The Princes in the Tower and is an ongoing mystery to this day. Queen Elizabeth, get on figuring out who all those children bones belong to that everyone keeps finding!

Interestingly enough, Richard III’s body had been missing up until 2012 (covered extensively in The King’s Grave), when it was found under a parking garage. His wife Anne’s body is currently missing because the English are notoriously bad at keeping track of their deceased.

As if life with all your loved ones dying or being murdered wasn’t bad enough, Elizabeth lost many of her children, and of the seven she birthed (three sons and four daughters) three of them would die. She herself would pass away after giving birth to her last daughter who would die eight days later. Out of Arthur, Prince of Wales, Margaret, Queen of Scots, Henry VIII, Elizabeth Tudor, Mary, Queen of France, Edmund, Duke of Somerset and Katherine Tudor only Margaret, Henry and Mary would live to adulthood.

Arthur’s death at the age of 15 was particularly painful as he was the heir apparent. Recently married, Prince Arthur was thought to become ill because of too much sex in the marriage bed and would die shortly after becoming a husband of tuberculosis. His wife, Catherine of Aragon would later go on to be the first wife of Henry VIII after claiming she and Arthur never consummated their marriage.

And that’s not even taking into consideration her various other relatives who died because they were executed by her father, uncle or husband. Imagine if that’s how Queen Elizabeth II dealt with her problems?

In addition to giving details of her life and what royal weddings and funerals were like (side note: blue is the royal color of mourning), Elizabeth of York also contains fun little tidbits about what life was like during the Middle Ages.

For example, seal was considered a delicacy, sumptuary laws demanded people dress within their social class, the age of consent for girls was 12 (14 for boys), babies were swaddled for the first 8-9 months and midwives were only paid 10 GBP per royal baby. Or the equivalent of 5,000 GBP today.

I like that exchange rate. Someone get me a time machine! And instructions on inventing indoor plumbing! And a supply of penicillin!

THE GOOD:
-A thorough look into the life of Elizabeth of York
-Surprisingly readable for a book so full of historical information
-Introduced various historical mysteries and intrigue surrounding Elizabeth
-As is often the case, the truth is often stranger and more intriguing than fiction
-In-depth glimpse into the Tudor period

THE BAD:
-Has a tendency to be a tad dry on occasion because of overwhelming information (does flesh out world though)
-Due to a lack of focus on women, Elizabeth’s thoughts and opinions are missing, although this is in no way the fault of Weir

For books about princesses in general (who are slightly less virtuous than Elizabeth of York) check out Linda Rodriguez McRobbie’s humorous collection Princesses Behaving Badly to read about pirate and punk rock princesses.

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