Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Virgin Widow

Anne O'Brien wrote The Virgin Widow, set in 1462 in England.  The War of the Roses divided York and Lancaster against each other.  King Edward and his wife Elizabeth Woodville rule, with the help of the Earl of Warwick.  He is called the Kingmaker and helped Edward to the throne.  This book follows Anne Neville, Warwick's second daughter, as her father's amibitions change her life.  When King Edward married the Woodville woman, many were not pleased.  Particularly Warwick.  The Woodville family was numerous and began getting positions at Court that made him unhappy.  Warwick felt he was owed more loyalty since he had helped put Edward on the throne.  Warwick's descent had some royalty in it as well- from John of Gaunt, King Edward III's third son.  When the Woodvilles replaced the Nevilles, Warwick became displeased.  With much wealth he was able to do much.  His wife, the Countess, was immensely patient with him, as he was often away.  Anne was raised at Middleham with her sister Isabella, and one of the wards that was brought there to stay was Richard of Gloucester.  He was brother to the King.  They were arranged to be married at one point but that was put aside when a rift developed between Warwick and the King.  When Richard was a bit older he was sent back to Court.  Anne knew then their friendship would be unlikely as they were on different sides.

Warwick decides to pin his hopes on the King's brother Clarence, and has him marry Isabella his eldest daughter.  His plan is to depose the King and put Clarence and his daughter on the throne.  The family is forced to leave England when Warwick has so displeased the King and even rejected his offer of a truce, and they set out to sea with Isabella ready to go into labor.  They are at the mercy of the King of France, Louis.  Exiles, waiting for their fates to be decided.  Her father, the Earl, decides with King Louis to wed Anne to Margaret of Anjou's son Edward.  King Louis works to persuade Margaret to help them in their cause.  They had decided against putting Clarence on the throne, as he isn't as popular as they would need to win against the King, and so they strive now to put Edward on the throne with Anne at his side.  Drama ensues in the family as Isabella is jealous of her sister for now possibly being Queen instead of her, as the Earl's ambitions consume the family with Anne as the central pawn figure.  Anne is forced to marry Edward, knowing that his mother despises her and her family.  Her father, the Earl, had once humiliated her and she would never forget it.  An unlikely alliance, they are all thrown into it together.  Clarence ends up turning his coat in the battle and rejoins his brother, the King, because Warwick was not putting him on the throne.  This leaves him on the side with the King and Isabella against the rest of the family.  The Earl of Warwick is cut down in battle and slewn.  The Countess enters a convent to protect herself.  Isabella and Clarence are in the King's good graces because he had turned his coat.  Anne is left alone, with a mean husband and a wretched mother in law.

The unhappy couple is not able to consummate their marriage, so Margaret could annul it if needed because of lack of consummation.  But Edward, the Prince of Wales, is also killed in battle.  By none other than Anne's once betrothed, Richard.  After the unhappy marriage and almost imprisonment, after the loss of her father and her mother shut away, Anne is put into the keeping of Clarence and her sister Isabella.  Seeing Richard again at Court, Anne begins to love him again.  He seems much changed and she isn't sure where his mind lies.  Because her mother is shut away and their father dead, the Neville inheritance would be divided between the two daughters.  Clarence and Isabella try to persuade Anne to enter a convent, and when she refuses, they hide her in their kitchens as a slave where she can never be found.  She can never remarry and so gain her half of the inheritance.  Richard, the King's brother, has always loved her and eventually he finds her.  With the King's help and his own contrivings, and after much trial they are wed.  Even when wed, Clarence still tries to work against her and his own brother.  The King is caught in the middle of the fued between both brothers.  He tries to divide up the inheritance evenly to make both parties happy.  Richard helps to free Anne's mother, where she rejoins her.  Isabella had changed sides before the big battle, even knowing it would mean her own father's demise.  She had used her sister horribly and never tried to help her own mother. 

My Thoughts:  I tried to be brief in my review which is always hard with so much information.  I liked the love story that kind of tied it all together.  I was rooting the whole way through that Anne would end up with Richard.  I was appalled at her sister Isabella's treatment of her and the greed of Clarence.  I despised Edward of Wales and his mother Margaret of Anjou (who were said to be incestuous).  I couldn't believe the patience of Anne and her mother the Countess.  It is too bad that the Earl's ambitions led to such sadness and tore the family apart.  The War of The Roses pit family against family.  I find it interesting that Anne called her parents the Countess and the Earl, not by their first names.  A certain disconnect but also respect there I imagine.  I liked the book becaues I didn't know much of Anne Neville.  I knew she was married to Richard III, who becomes King after his brother passes away.  I knew of his rivarly with his brother Clarence.  I also knew of Warwick as the Kingmaker, so it was great to learn more of his daughter.  I love the way Anne O'Brien writes, it just flows so smoothly and is easy and addicting to read.  She is very tasteful with her love scenes by not elaborating.  I recommend the book to the history lovers.  A background in the War of the Roses would help before reading this.

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