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.