“Sometimes it is an exceedingly sad thing to be a queen.” These words are spoken by Anne Neville, wife of Richard III, halfway through Maureen Peters’ Elizabeth the Beloved, but they are words which could just as easily be attributed to any number of England’s other queens, including the title character of this novel – Elizabeth of York. Born in 1466, Elizabeth was the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville; she later married Henry VII and became mother to another king – the future Henry VIII.
Beginning with her childhood, this novel follows Elizabeth through the years, covering some of the key moments and events of her life and her time as queen. Growing up during the final years of the Wars of the Roses, things were not always easy for Elizabeth. As the elder sister of the Princes in the Tower who disappeared and were believed to have been murdered, she then had to endure the appearance of several ‘pretenders’ claiming to be her younger brothers. One of these pretenders, Perkin Warbeck, is given a lot of attention in the second half of the book as his story becomes entwined with Elizabeth’s.
Maureen Peters was a Welsh historical novelist who, like Jean Plaidy, wrote a large number of novels covering the lives of famous historical figures. Elizabeth the Beloved was published in 1972 and is the third of her books that I’ve read – the first two were The Queenmaker and The Virgin Queen, about Bess of Hardwick and Elizabeth I respectively. I had some criticisms of those other two books and was hesitant about trying another one, but I’m glad I gave this one a chance as I thought it was better written, more interesting and much more enjoyable.
This novel is written in the third person from the viewpoints of several different characters and at first there was so much jumping around from one perspective to another that it made my head spin. After a while, though, things settled down and the narrative began to concentrate on Elizabeth herself. I liked the way Elizabeth was portrayed as a warm, caring, sensitive woman but also an intelligent one who would have liked to have played a bigger role in politics and the running of the country if she had only been given the opportunity.
I had no major problems with inaccuracy, although Peters does stick faithfully to the traditional legends surrounding the Wars of the Roses, such as the Duke of Clarence being drowned in a butt of malmsey, for which there’s no real evidence one way or the other. She also suggests that Elizabeth and her uncle, Richard III, were in love and may have been considering marrying when it became obvious that Richard’s wife, Anne, was dying. I’ve come across this theory before in other books, but as far as I know there’s not much evidence for this idea either; it seems to be based around a letter allegedly sent by Elizabeth to the Duke of Norfolk in which marriage is referred to. If you want to know more about this, I found an excellent, thorough article on the subject.
Of course, one of the reasons I love reading about this period so much is that there are so many mysteries and controversies: things like the fate of the Princes in the Tower and the nature of the relationship between Richard and Elizabeth are open to interpretation by each individual author or historian. Like the other Maureen Peters novels I’ve read, however, this is a fairly short novel and I think the author’s aim was probably to give an overview of the period suitable as an introduction for readers who have never read about Elizabeth of York before. She doesn’t go into a great amount of detail and some of the people and events which usually appear in books on the Wars of the Roses are entirely omitted here.
Although I can’t really say that I learned anything new, I found Elizabeth the Beloved a quick and entertaining read and enjoyed immersing myself in my favourite time period once again!
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review.