If you are a history buff like myself (particularly of British history) and haven’t already read one of Alison Weir’s histories, you are doing yourself a big disservice. Author of numerous, well respected, non-fiction works, internationally best-selling author and historian Weir writes “popular history”, bringing the medieval English court to the popular presses. If you are at all interested in medieval English history, Weir is one not to miss.
Her newest book, “Elizabeth of York”, is no different. Deeply and thoroughly researched, Weir brings this “lost queen” to life. I say “lost queen” because Elizabeth of York (the mother of Henry VIII and grandmother of Elizabeth I) and her husband Henry VII are usually overlooked in favor of their more famous (mischievous) successors. Henry Tudor won the crown of England by slaying Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, but unlike his son, Henry VII was known as a merciful monarch, who was married only once and was thought to be entirely faithful to his queen. By extension, Elizabeth of York as the faithful, docile, and loyal matriarch of the Tudor dynasty, doesn’t seem to have garnered much interest either (which is understandable when you compare her to the antics of her son). But to skip over this woman and write her off as background underestimates her. In fact she was charitable, quite religious, highly educated, interested in scholarship and music, a strong advocate for her children, and a loyal and devoted wife, queen, and daughter. Elizabeth was the linchpin without which the Tudor dynasty would not have been possible. The Yorkist heir to the throne who held a greater right to the throne than her husband and a means by which he maintained his crown, Elizabeth was absolutely crucial to her husband’s success. She had every reason to be angry, distrustful, resentful, and disloyal. Elizabeth may be one of the most wronged women in history, as the sister of murdered brothers, daughter of a mistreated and slandered queen, and a means by which someone else had grabbed the throne. But to her immense credit, Elizabeth never acted on her many wrongs. She carried out her duty to her king and country honorably, without complaint, and despite the many opportunities to do otherwise.
I was dismayed to see many on Goodreads give this book a bad review, simply because Weir often used “maybe”, “possibly”, and “perhaps” in writing this book. As a history buff and writer myself, I can tell you that getting any solid information about events or persons that lived over 500 years ago is frequently difficult if not impossible. Weir has written the most complete account of Elizabeth of York I have ever found, which is admirable. That she had to use “maybes” so often is merely a comment on how incomplete information about that period is. Weir produced an incredibly detailed portrait of this woman, and so criticism about any holes that remain in her narrative (of which there are very few) is simply unfair.
I also love Weir’s balanced and straightforward presentations of the many controversies that remain from Elizabeth’s time. I think far too many historians have an agenda and like to set out facts and “evidence” that are biased, unreliable, and completely lacking in common sense. Weir clearly sets out the facts surrounding the murder of the Princes in the Tower and the many rebellions (Simnel, Warbeck, etc.) against Henry VII, for instance, and she lays out her thoughts and conclusions rationally. Many historians like to “stir the pot”, presenting cases that go against standard wisdom. There is nothing wrong with questioning the status quo (I’m sure it helps them sell more books) but when the evidence and rationales they present strain all belief, the authors instantly lose credibility. Weir should be praised for her even-handed, revealing look of the mother of the Tudor dynasty. I am eager to read her next book, “The Princess of Scotland”, publication date TBD.