Susan Higginbotham explores the reign of Edward IV from a unique perspective, that of Queen Elizabeth Woodville’s youngest sister Catherine and her husband Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Kate and Harry trade off telling the story of their lives, from Edward and Elizabeth’s illicit marriage, to their own marriage at the ages of 6 and 10, respectively, to Buckingham’s failed rebellion against Richard III, and the aftermath Kate lives as the widow of a traitor.
Kate starts off as a naive youngest sister, ignorant of the political machinery swirling around her as her family is catapulted from relative obscurity to the highest positions in the land. Harry, a lonely boy in his grandmother’s house after his grandfather and father are killed fighting for the House of Lancaster, begins as an arrogant youth, worshipping his kinsman Richard but having his loyalty tested when Richard seizes the throne, killing all who stand in his way. Both children have the blinders pulled from their eyes as they grow into their roles.
Most accounts of that period have Harry hating his Woodville wife, but Higginbotham tells a touching tale of young love, of two young people caught in a tangle of events that they only gradually come to understand. A coming of age story unlike most, where children were married to each other, political allegiances meant life or death, and fortunes changed overnight. Married over 18 years and with five children between them, Higginbotham spins a more hopeful, if not more appealing, story of two children who grow up together, learning to love and rely on one another even during times when politics threaten to tear them apart.
Higginbotham illuminates parts of the story rarely heard – for instance that Harry’s mother was a Beaufort and therefore he was not just nephew of Margaret Beaufort through his father but also her cousin through his mother; that the dowager Duchess of Buckingham (Harry’s grandmother) was a sister to Cecily Neville (mother of Edward IV and Richard III), Richard Neville (father of the Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker), and Katherine Neville (Duchess of Norfolk) among many, many others, meaning that Harry was cousin to the kings and a distant cousin of Henry Tudor; the close friendship from boyhood of Harry and Richard III and reasons for why Harry eventually betrayed him; and the hopefulness with which Elizabeth Woodville turns her daughters Elizabeth and Cecily over to her enemy, Richard III in order to secure their futures despite the hatred she feels for him. These little-known facts add more depth to the story and give better insights into the parts these individuals played as events unfolded.
I would recommend the book over the audio book, the actress that voices Kate’s part has a particularly jarring voice, but the story is well worth it. Higginbotham excels at retelling stories from a completely different angle, giving her readers a totally new look at well-covered events. If you are interested in this time period, this is an interesting take that is well worth exploring. In the end, you have to ask yourself which person has “stolen the crown” mentioned in the title – Elizabeth Woodville? Richard III? Or Henry Tudor?
Amazon link for the book is here.