Monday, April 29, 2013

To The Tower Born/ Mademoiselle Boleyn

I am on a Robin Maxwell streak- she breathes new life into stories I already thought I knew much about.  This book is about the two princes Edward and Richard, children of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville.  Upon the death of King Edward, Elizabeth was to be consort until Edward came of age to rule.  Antony Rivers, the Queen's brother, was tutor to Edward.  He was in movement as soon as word came that his brother in law the King was dead- he was to take Edward to his mother.  On their way, he was taken by Richard Duke of Gloucester, the boy's other uncle, and Buckingham.  Poor Edward had to watch his uncle and mentor taken away from him, and then ordered about by his uncle Richard whom he didn't know very well.  Eventually an act was passed that bastardized the two boys, because King Edward had had a precontract to another woman before marrying Elizabeth Woodville.  Because the boys were now illegitimate, Richard took the throne.  The people of England were wary of him because he wasn't well known.  The boys were placed in the Tower, and their mother and sisters fled to sanctuary.

As Warwick had been kingmaker of King Edward IV, Buckingham was there with Richard, likely pushing him to some of his decisions.  The story is well known that the boys were either murdered or kidnapped and taken away.  The boys were just 9 and 12 years old, Edward said to have been suffering badly from an ear problem.  Edward had been placed in the Tower first alone, then they had persuaded Elizabeth to let Richard join his brother so he wouldn't be lonely.  Two skeletons were found underneath a staircase and believed to be the boys' remains.  Many believe it was Richard III that killed them or had them killed on his orders.   Some say the boys could have been used to spread malicious gossip from his enemies against Richard, and therefore force him off the throne. While the boys are pivotal in the story, the two main characters were the eldest daughter Bessie (Elizabeth) and her friend and bookmaker's daughter, Nell Caxton.  The two remain loyal friends, even throughout the chaos that ensues after the King's death.  Nell is in love with Antony Rivers and greatly mourns his unjust death.  In the book, Bessie has a crush on her very own uncle, Richard of Gloucester.  When her brothers disappear she still doesn't believe in his guilt.

The author takes the story to an interesting spin, following Nell as she works as secretary to Margaret Beaufort.  She is married to Lord Stanley and mother to Henry Tudor who lives across the sea.  She pretends loyalty to the crown while working to place her son on the throne.  While there, Nell discovers a secret passageway underneath and finds the two boys locked up.  They are still alive; she seeks out her father and finds a way to speak to Bessie, and their release is in the works.  Margaret Beaufort is busily arranging things for her son to make way to England, and to marry Bessie.  She believes that by joining the houses of Lancaster and York, there will be peace where they have been at war for almost 100 years.  The book gets somewhat exciting as the boys are safely taken and sent off to Margaret in Burgundy, the deceased King's sister.  There are rumors in other books that they were raised there, and just one survived, later to be the pretender Perkin Warbeck.

Buckingham is killed among many others during this time, as is Richard III in battle against Henry Tudor.  He takes the throne and he does marry Bessie.  The book ends with Bessie, now Queen Elizabeth, talking to her friend Nell and her son Henry about the story of the princes in the tower.  There were parts in the book that I found new and exciting, while others just plodded along in the story.  The mystery will likely never be answered as to whether the boys were murdered or not.  I find it likely they were by someone, because too much was at stake for them to live.  For Henry Tudor to take the throne, he wouldn't have wanted the boys around either.  So I'm sure by taking the throne, he had to have known they were already dead.  And perhaps, like the author thought, his mother may have been a part of that.
I loved this book and I have to start by saying that.  I love all things Anne Boleyn- I feel like I repeat that a lot.  But I love that Robin Maxwell told a book just on her time in France.  It seems to be the least told part of her life so it was fascinating.  That is what is so exciting about historical fiction- reading a bunch of information, looking at the facts and then trying to tie it all in together with your own interpretation of what would have been said or done at that time.  I enjoyed Anne in this story, because it was before she was known to be "shrill, ambitious, etc."  She starts out young at about 9 years old, and follows Mary and soon to be Queen Marie to Louis of France.  She stays there through the death of Louis and then Francois and his Queen Claude.  She serves Queen Claude who is extremely pious and religious.  She teaches her much about being a queen and staying dignified in the face of a husband's betrayal.  Francois's sister Marguerite of Navarre comes to court with her mother, and Anne often follows the trio to learn more about court and politics. 

While Anne is gaining an education in court and politics, her sister Mary flirts her way around in Marguerite's circle.  They play cards, talk and laugh much.  Anne is eventually allowed into her circle and serves Marguerite as well as Claude.  From Marguerite she learns about religious heresies and books that are condemned but have interesting ideas.  Anne's parents are not at all central in her world, her father having sent her and only sends letters for instructions.  It hardly mentions her mother at all.  Anne starts to pen pal her brother George, and she becomes close to him while being apprised of the court in England.  She learns through him about Queen Katherine and her unhappy husband King Henry.  Mary is eventually ordered by their father to be mistress to King Francois.  Anne unhappily watches her sister be ordered about, rewarded only with jewels and silks and a room of her own.  It seems Anne is not tainted while at the French court, although I'm sure she sees and hears more than any child ever should. 

She also meets another interesting person instrumental to her learning- Leonardo da Vinci.  As a patron of the arts, King Francois had brought him at court to live.  The author assumes it is likely they met and perhaps developed a friendship, and it made for an interesting part of the book.  He teaches Anne how to remain a virgin while not appearing to be in charge.  King Francois does try to seduce her at one point but she is able to survive with her wits.  She learns how to hold a man at bay-  I can't help but think of how this later plays out with King Henry.  Anne again sees her father, mother and brother at the meeting of the two great kings in Calais.  It is known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold- an alliance was to be made to not make war.  Cardinal Wolsey was instrumental in this meeting as was Anne's father.  During this time, a few important things happen.  Anne meets King Henry, her future husband, and Henry Carey, her first love.  Mary also comes under scrutiny again by both kings.  She is now married to William Carey, but after the two kings actually come to blows over her, she is again ordered by her father to now be mistress to King Henry.  Anne has learned by now that a woman is at the mercy of her husband and father.  It isn't likely to find a marriage of love or happiness.

After all is said and done with Anne's story in England, she was instrumental in the religious teachings in England.  She had influence with Henry and was able to introduce Lutheran texts, and helped to create the divide from Rome.  Anne brought about the "New Religion" with the Protestant Reformation and fall of Cardinal Wolsey.  I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about Anne and her earlier life.  I loved the book and soaked up every word.  I very much enjoyed learning about France and its customs.  They were a court loose in morals, so something to watch for if you read this book.

No comments:

Post a Comment