Written by Samantha Wilcoxson
Published by CreateSpace
Review by Charlie Britten
Elizabeth of York, daughter of Yorkist Edward IV of England, was married to Henry VIII, a Lancastrian, in 1486, as a peace-offering, following the Wars of the Roses. The Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen (published August 2015) chronicles Elizabeth’s life, from six years old until her death aged thirty-seven, after having borne Henry eight children, five of whom predeceased her, including the last, baby Katherine Tutor, to whom Elizabeth had given birth nine days previously. Elizabeth lived in turbulent times. She grew up amidst constant internecine war, battles, hostage-taking, rebellions and political executions – the stuff of Shakespeare’s history plays – and King Henry, whose claim to the throne was tenuous, was under constant threat of insurrection. Her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, whom she called ‘Lady Mother’, was a social climber and the canniest political schemer of her age; she carried on plotting for the Yorkists long after her daughter had become queen, until she was sent away to Bermondsey Abbey – and even that didn’t stop her. Elizabeth of York’s brothers were the Princes in the Tower, murdered – allegedly – by King Richard III, although, according to Wilcoxson, Elizabeth had a brief fling with Richard prior to her marriage and never could believe in Richard’s guilt. (I suspect the author herself of being a Richard III-er.) So, lots and lots of conflict here, and great potential for a sensational blockbuster.
This, however, was not Samantha Wilcoxson’s style. The Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen is a biography, not a novel and not Hollywood fodder. Wilcoxson did her research well in that she managed to get under the skin of the age, how people thought and behaved, particularly women. The fifteenth century was an overtly religious age, a Catholic age. Wilcoxson never demurred from showing us how Elizabeth, her ladies and her sisters, prayed in every situation, kneeling before an altar in church, before they took any practical action, even as a substitute for practical action. The author enters into the expectations of fifteenth century women, having Elizabeth’s sister, Cecily, say, in so many words, that she wanted to know who she was to marry and could Henry please let her know. Elizabeth has to make some compromises, the biggest concerning her simple-minded cousin being a prisoner in the Tower. Wilcoxson shows Elizabeth, who was known not to be interested in politics, to be ladylike in an old fashioned sense, a devoted wife and mother.
Wilcoxson does not attempt to write the dialogue in Tudor English; if she had, the book would have been very difficult to read, although she might have thrown we readers a passing contemporary word or phrase. Instead, she wrote the whole biography in modern idiomatic American English, including Merriam-Webster spellings and words such as ‘fall’ and ‘normalcy’ (ouch!). ‘Autumn’ and ‘normality’ would have been much more appropriate for the biography of an English queen.
My other issue is Wilcoxon’s unusual perspective on child development. Whereas one appreciates that children behaved and thought differently in the fifteenth century, Elizabeth’s appreciation of the political situation at the age of six is not believable, nor is her recourse to prayer at that age, whatever may have been written by chroniclers and other primary sources. This misunderstanding manifested itself throughout the book, in three year old’s Arthur’s regal bearing during his investiture as Prince of Wales, for instance.
Overall, however, I recommend this biography, of an important, but overlooked, character in English history.
Charlie Britten has contributed to FictionAtWork, The Short Humour Site, Mslexia, Linnet’s Wings, CafeLit, and Radgepacket. She writes because she loves doing it and belongs to two British online writing communities.
All Charlie’s work is based in reality, with a strong human interest element. Although much of her work is humorous, she has also written serious fiction, about the 7/7 Bombings in London and attitudes to education before the Second World War.
Charlie Britten lives in southern England with her husband and cat. In real life, she is an IT lecturer at a college of further education.