Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose by Alison Weir

When Alison Weir’s Six Tudor Queens series came to an end last year with Katharine Parr: the Sixth Wife, I discovered that she would be moving further back in time for her next novel, The Last White Rose, which would tell the story of Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth lived through – and played a role in – one of my favourite periods of history, the Wars of the Roses, so of course I wanted to read this one!

Born in 1466, Elizabeth of York is the eldest child of King Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville. With plans for a marriage to the Dauphin of France, Elizabeth’s future looks bright – until her father’s sudden death in 1483 sends everything into turmoil. Her younger brother, now Edward V, succeeds him, but before he can be crowned he is deposed by their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, who reigns in his place as Richard III. Along with Elizabeth’s other brother, Richard of York, Edward soon disappears from public view completely. With marriage to the Dauphin now out of the question, Elizabeth discovers that Richard III is thinking of marrying her himself – something she is prepared to consider, despite the possibility that he may have been responsible for the disappearance of her brothers.

Then comes the Battle of Bosworth and another change of monarch; Richard is dead and Henry Tudor – Henry VII – has taken the throne. Henry is keen to unite his house of Lancaster with Elizabeth’s house of York by taking her as his wife, which means Elizabeth becomes queen at last! The years that follow will continue to be eventful, however, as she and Henry face rebellion from the Yorkist noblemen, the threat of various pretenders to the throne – and the birth of another future king, their son Henry VIII.

I enjoyed this book, with a few reservations which I’ll mention below. It’s very similar, of course, to the non-fiction book Alison Weir wrote several years ago (Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World), which is not surprising as most of the source material will obviously be the same. If you’ve read one you may feel that you don’t need to read the other, but I’m happy to have read both as this is a period of history that particularly interests me. I do think that as factual information on Elizabeth is quite limited, her story perhaps works better in fictional form where it’s more acceptable (in my opinion) for the author to put forward personal theories, interpretations and assumptions.

My main problem with this book was the bias towards Henry VII and against Richard III – although I was expecting that, as Alison Weir hasn’t made any secret of her views on this subject in her previous books! Just to be clear, I’m happy to keep an open mind on the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, in the absence of any real evidence, but I certainly can’t share Weir’s absolute conviction that Richard was definitely the culprit. Loving The Sunne in Splendour as I do makes it hard to think of him in a negative light, I suppose! And to be fair, I was impressed by the way Weir writes about Elizabeth’s feelings towards both Richard and Henry in this novel – her uncertainty over which of them, if either, has killed her brothers and how she reconciles that with the idea of first one, then the other, as a potential husband. I would have preferred the matter to have been left like that, but instead, developments towards the end of the book take away all the doubt and ambiguity.

I found Weir’s portrayal of the Woodville family interesting; Elizabeth clearly loves her mother and her Woodville aunts and uncles, but is not blind to their faults, questioning whether some of their actions, such as her mother’s decision to flee to sanctuary immediately that Richard took control of the young king, may have made things worse rather than better. This is such a long book, though! I read the ebook version but the print copy has over 600 pages. It gets off to a slow start with a lot of time spent on Elizabeth’s childhood, but by the middle of the book the pace picks up and it becomes much more compelling.

Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose is the first in a planned trilogy. The second book will be about Henry VIII and the third about Mary I. I’m looking forward to the one on Henry, as it should provide a very different perspective on the stories told in the Six Tudor Queens series!

Thanks to Headline for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

This is book 35/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.

26 thoughts on “Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose by Alison Weir

  1. Shellie says:

    I’ve been excited to read this. I also relate to loving The Sunne in Splendour and it changing my view of Richard III. Thanks for such a thoughtful summary and review!

    • Helen says:

      I think once you’ve read The Sunne in Splendour it makes it very difficult to believe Richard was guilty! My problem with Alison Weir is that she never considers any other possibility. Other than that, I really enjoyed this book.

  2. mallikabooks15 says:

    Sounds a wonderful read. I’ve read some of Weir’s nonfic but still not her fiction though I have a couple waiting on my TBR. I do agree though that when there’s limited information, fiction might work better to put the story together more completely.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, in Weir’s nonfiction book on Elizabeth of York, I thought she made too many guesses and assumptions about how Elizabeth may have thought or felt. I didn’t mind that in this book, as with fiction you expect the author to use their imagination!

  3. margaret21 says:

    … and if you want the backstory, have you read the wonderful ‘Cecily’ by Annie Garthwaite?. Cecily was Richard’s mother, and the next book, when it appears, will include, apparently, more of Richard’s story

  4. Janette says:

    It’s so true about the Sunne in Splendour. Once you’ve read that, it’s really hard to be impartial. I just felt that this book was a bit dry and I never got to feel that I knew Elizabeth in the same way that I got to know Katherine Howard for example.

    • Helen says:

      I think Alison Weir’s writing can be quite dry at times, maybe because she started out writing non-fiction. I agree that Elizabeth didn’t seem to have the same emotional depth as some of the characters in the Six Tudor Queens series.

  5. whatmeread says:

    OK, I’ve been up in the air about Richard III for a long time, so I might read The Sunne in Splendour. I’ve been staying away from Sharon Kaye Penman ever since I read a book of hers long ago that I didn’t like, but she’s had a lot of time to improve.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Penman, but obviously her style won’t appeal to everyone. The Sunne in Splendour was one of the first books I read about Richard III and I loved her portrayal of him so much it’s difficult for me to think of him as guilty.

  6. Elaine Thompson says:

    Sunne in Splendour was an early work. I don’t like her later stuff, so maybe it will work for you.

    My take on Richard III is, nuanced, I guess. On the one hand, his nephews, even if bastards by the laws of the time. (I do blame Edward IV for not keeping it in his pants and making sure things were legal long before his death.) On the other, he saw up close and personal the trouble leaving a line of different claimants to the throne alive. I usually come down on he imprisoned them while he thought and then politics and civil war, and everything hit the fan.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, everything seemed to start going wrong for Richard almost as soon as he took the throne and I agree that if he did have them killed, it probably wasn’t planned from the beginning. I’ve always thought that Henry VII had just as good a motive for wanting them dead, though.

  7. GoAnnelies - In Another Era says:

    I still have five more of Henry’s Queen’s to go before I’d start this one. I don’t think Elizabeth is the most interesting queen, but she lived in troubled times. I’m now, however, looking forward to Weir’s book about Henry VIII himself!

    • Helen says:

      No, Elizabeth is not a particularly interesting queen to read about, but the period she lived in was fascinating. The Henry VIII book should be good – and unusual, as Alison Weir usually writes from a female perspective.

  8. Carmen says:

    Dan Jones, too, thinks that Richard III offed his nephews, but I’m inclined, since I read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, to think that it was Henry VII who did it. Anyway, I enjoyed your review and makes me interested in reading it and potential sequels as well.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I read Dan Jones’ book on the Wars of the Roses and remember finding it disappointing that he blamed Richard without ever really discussing any of the other theories. I tend to think it was Henry VII too.

      • Carmen says:

        I have Dan Jones’s book on the War of the Roses (and most of the others) but I haven’t read it; however, in his Plantagenet TV series he explained his reasoning behind that theory. I just think that Josephine Tey made a compelling case against Henry VII. By the way, isn’t Alison Weir a historian? If she isn’t I thought she was.

        • Helen says:

          Yes, Alison Weir is a historian. She has written a lot of non-fiction books, mainly on the Tudor and Plantagenet periods, although I’ve only read two or three of them.

  9. marietoday says:

    I have read some of Weir’s nonfiction, but not her fiction. I’m always wary of historical fiction based on real characters, because I’m worried about fictional details working their way into my head and getting confused with the real ones – but I trust Weir to do her research!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, that can sometimes be a problem with historical fiction. If a subject really interests me, I try to read some nonfiction as well to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. I think Alison Weir is an author we can usually trust to get things right!

  10. jessicabookworm says:

    I also have a e-review-copy of this to read – Not sure I will get to it that soon, especially with that epic length! However I am currently reading Katherine Parr: The Sixth Wife and loving it. 😊

    • Helen says:

      I thought the Katherine Parr book was one of the best in the series – I’m glad you’re loving it so far! I hope you enjoy this one as well, whenever you eventually get to it.

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