Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The White Princess

The White Princess follows after The White Queen in the Cousins' War series, and tells the story of Elizabeth of York.  Henry Tudor has picked up the crown off the field and has won the battle of Bosworth.  Richard III, her king and lover, has been killed.  She is commanded to marry Henry Tudor to unite the Yorks and Lancasters and end a war that has divided the country for two decades.  He is her enemy, it does not start as a happy marriage.  Henry refuses to marry her until she has proved to be fecund, and so until she is pregnant he does not marry her.  Elizabeth's mother still dreams of a missing heir, her son Richard of York.  Elizabeth's brothers were sent to the Tower by their uncle Richard, and from there had either been murdered or had disappeared.  This sets the tone for much of their marriage; Elizabeth will always be divided between love for her family, country, her dead lover Richard III and her brother who could still be alive somewhere; and her new husband.  Elizabeth is now a Tudor, and under the rule of her husband King Henry VII and his very imposing Lady Mother.

Much of their marriage and Henry's reign, he is constantly looking for shadows and plots of a boy of York that would come back to claim his throne.  Since no bodies were found, no one can be sure if the boys are dead or not.  Elizabeth is patient and queenly, bearing her burdens for the most part quietly.  She has three sons and three daughters, one daughter that dies in infancy.  Many plots arise with pretenders to the throne, and King Henry is able to squash them one by one.  He can't always trust those around him, as many change sides.  His own mother in law, Elizabeth's mother, is always quietly conspiring with Margaret of Burgundy.  Her mother is placed in Bermondsey Abbey after being found complicit in an uprising, but she continues to plot and reign there like a Queen until her death.  Elizabeth misses her mother greatly and now has to face the court without her.  There comes word of a pretender that has already been called Richard Duke of York and has been housed in Ireland and then France.  Henry sends spies everywhere to watch for this man and to report back to him.  He is said to be married with a son and to already have the approval and recognition of many of the other monarchs.

This new pretender, yet another, has put incredible strain on King Henry and Elizabeth.  He is always suspicious of those around him, even her, and stressed and impatient.  His mother is constantly praying for their cause, the cause that she had worked her entire life for.  To put her son on the throne and see him reign peaceably.  Many at court leave to follow this pretender, to support him.  Henry has not the York charm of Elizabeth and her family; he does not make the people easily like him.  He also taxes them heavily to support these plots and his armies.  He is willing to forgive the traitors at first, but then becomes more vengeful as time goes on.  Elizabeth finds this hard to watch in her husband, his bloodthirstiness and suspicious nature.  She is tired of being questioned about her loyalties and hearing about pretenders.  Her son Arthur will be the next King of England, so she fights with her husband the King, and for her son.  She is not even crowned Queen until after she has Arthur, and even then her mother in law always keeps the best rooms. 

By this point, this boy, this pretender, has fooled his aunt the Duchess of Burgundy, the Holy Roman Emperor and the court in Portugal as well as Scotland and France.  He knows how to read and write in four languages, he has good penmanship, dances well and knows how to hunt and joust and hawk.  He has an easy grace and charm about him, much like the York family.  When Elizabeth learns of this, she begins to believe he could really be her brother.  Eventually he makes his way to England, and is captured by King Henry's men.  He is brought to court as the King's friend and companion, not as a traitor.  Elizabeth soon discovers why, because Henry has fallen in love with this pretender's wife, Katherine Huntly.  Elizabeth is threatened by the King that if she should recognize or acknowledge this boy in any way, she will be declared a traitor along with her family.  Elizabeth has to watch this boy come to court and not even blink.  She has to watch her husband fall in love with another woman.  When Henry sees how the people receive him, lovingly and not as a traitor, he sets a fire to try and kill him.  When that does not work, he sets a trap for him to escape.  Then he has the reasons to arrest him in the Tower.

From there it isn't long before Henry has entrapped him; he has him beat so badly his good looks are no longer there or familiar.  He has lost his charm and the people will forget him, another pretender.  He is housed in the Tower above Elizabeth's cousin Teddy, who has been there a long time.  Henry lets them say and go about as they please, and let anyone visit them.  In so doing this, people start to tell the men they will help them escape.  They take the bait, and both pay with their lives.  This pretender, named Perkin Warbeck or the boy, is hanged until dead.  Elizabeth is almost positive he is her brother, but she can do nothing for him.  She cannot jeopardize her son Arthur's throne.  He is already betrothed to Katherine of Aragon, and the Spanish monarchs demand this pretender be killed before they will send their daughter.  Elizabeth mourns quietly along with Perkin's wife, Katherine Huntly.  Both men were killed for the crime of being a son of York, and her mother's hope is now gone.  The book ends with Henry asking for Elizabeth's forgiveness.  For killing her brother, for imprisoning her mother, for loving Katherine Huntly and much more.

My Thoughts:  I enjoyed this book and read it very quickly.  I always enjoy her books and I wanted to read more about Elizabeth of York.  History seems to have pushed her behind King Henry VII and his formidable mother.  Since she didn't seem to be quite so outspoken or as ambitious as her mother, history seems to let her fade.  Even though she may have been poised and quieter, doesn't mean she didn't have that ambition burning inside her.  I can't imagine what it must have been like to marry her lover's enemy, to wonder if he or his mother had killed her brothers.  To be divided between her mother and husband, always trying to keep the peace.  To behave well so her son Arthur could inherit the throne, while also hoping her brother Richard was still out there alive and well.  She sounds like an incredible woman, one of strength, poise and dignity.  Of course I wonder if she really was Richard's lover, her uncle.  That is hard to swallow, but is possible.  I believe these books are so popular because it is about a cousins' war, about families divided.  And the great mystery of whether the pretender Perkin Warbeck was really Richard Duke of York after all.  Elizabeth was mother to Arthur and Henry, who would one day be King Henry VIII.  Grandmother to Queen Elizabeth, a woman monarch.  An incredible start to the Tudor generations.

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