When I heard that Alison Weir was writing a biography of Elizabeth of York, I eagerly awaited its release. Having been a long time reader of Weir’s non-fiction works and knowing very little about Elizabeth of York made this book highly anticipated. And I was not disappointed!
Elizabeth of York has very much been an enigma to historians. While we still don’t know what her personality was really like, this book shines a bright spotlight on her. It starts out by explaining the circumstances into which Elizabeth was born as the eldest child of King Edward IV. The War of the Roses had been ongoing for about ten years at the time of her birth. Weir tells us of the family dynamics and how the throne of England vacillated back and forth between the members of the Houses of Lancaster and York. When Elizabeth was fairly young, her father was forced to flee the country and Elizabeth, her mother and her sisters sought refuge in sanctuary. Edward eventually came back and had a fairly peaceful reign until his unexpected death in 1483.
Elizabeth and her family’s life was thrown into turmoil as her uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, declared her and her brothers and sisters illegitimate. He set aside Elizabeth’s brother King Edward V and took the throne as king. Her mother took her family into sanctuary once again and both of Elizabeth’s brothers disappeared in the Tower of London, making Elizabeth her father’s heir. It was a very tense time. The plotting and scheming on the part of King Richard III, Elizabeth and her mother and Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry Tudor is explained in great detail by Weir.
Once Henry Tudor won the Battle of Bosworth in August of 1485 and gained the throne of England by right of conquest, he married Elizabeth. Weir explains that Henry wanted to make it clear he had won the throne and wasn’t relying so much on Elizabeth’s position as her father’s heir to legitimize his conquest. Perhaps this is why we don’t know as much about Elizabeth as we would like. Whether it was at her husband’s bequest or her own wish or both to remain in the background, we will never know.
Weir gives us a detailed account of Elizabeth’s life as queen, almost on a day-to-day basis. She tells us how Elizabeth spent her time and her money, who gave her gifts, the birth of her children and the status of her health. She has some great insights into Elizabeth’s relationship with her husband and her children. I found this to be quite fascinating. The book gives us great insight into life in the early Tudor court. It is meticulously researched and highly footnoted and has a very long list of sources. Weir has obviously done her research and is at the height of her writing powers. A thoroughly enjoyable read!