Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Quiet Queen: Elizabeth of York

Daughter of Edward IV, sister to the princes in the tower, wife of Henry VII, mother of Henry VIII, and grandmother of Elizabeth I: Elizabeth of York is a pivotal character in English history, but it's hard to get a sense of who she was. After her father, Edward IV, died, she, her siblings and her mother were in fear of their lives with Richard III was first guardian of the realm and later king. In spite of fearing Richard, it isn't clear that she would have rejected marriage to him after his wife Anne Neville died.

It is clear that she schemed to place Henry VII on the throne in the hope that he would marry her. This is one of the most interesting sections of the book from the standpoint of seeing Elizabeth's character. Once Henry had secured his position, he didn't want to owe his throne to his queen, they married. From that time much of the evidence about Elizabeth is by inference from her relationship to Henry. She was a wife, mother, and supporter of her husband.
She was overshadowed by Henry's formidable mother, Margaret Beaufort, but there is little historical evidence as to what she thought about it.

Weir does a commendable job of bringing this quiet queen to life. The early part of the book gives us a picture of Elizabeth as a young woman unsure of her future and capable of plotting to achieve the status of queen. She becomes a much more shadowy character after the wedding. Weir tries to give us a picture of her life by detailing her wardrobe, the places she visited with Henry, the events she took part in, and her role in bearing the royal children. However, too often Weir had to assume what Elizabeth would have thought. Unless you're fascinated by the customs of the royal house in the 1400's the middle of the book can become rather tedious with long lists of clothing and household supplies.

The end of the book is much more interesting from the aspect of historical events. The pretenders caused Henry worry about the security of his throne. This was particularly true of Perkin Warbeck. I found that section well done, but again, the emphasis was on Henry and what Elizabeth might have felt had to be inferred.

I recommend this book if you enjoy the history of the Tudor period. The book is very well researched and Weir does a good job of showing us the person, Elizabeth, but she didn't have a great deal of primary material to deal with aside from account books and a few letters. However, the book is fascinating reading particularly in terms of understanding the early environment of Henry VIII. The title is particularly apt: Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World. The emphasis necessarily is on Elizabeth's surroundings as much as it is on her.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.