Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson

After the Norman invasion, and before the Tudor invasion, were the Plantagenets. This was a bloody era of murder, mayhem, and the so-called (although not at the time) War of the Roses (the Cousin’s War), featuring the epic battles for political dominance between the Yorks and Lancasters. Fortune’s Wheel swung back and forth, first favoring one side, then another.
This is a fascinating, very readable novel of one of the most powerful women of her time. Cecily Neville is one of those women in history known primarily as someone’s mother, in her case Kings Edward IV and Richard III. Yet in Joanna Hickson’s hands she was so much more. Royal blood pulsed in her veins; as a descendent of King Edward III, Cicely was raised in a wealthy family and married young to a rich, powerful Duke. Richard Duke of York had enough royal blood himself to become heir to the present King Henry VI, however he died before he ever sat on the throne, leaving his young son Edward as the next monarch. Red Rose, White Rose is the story of Cicely’s life from before her marriage to the moment Edward assumed the throne. Half the book is in Cecily’s voice, and half in her warrior brother Cuthbert’s, a very effective device because we get to hear her thoughts, plus her brother’s first-person accounts of the battles fought by her husband and sons.
Hickson has a true gift for describing historical settings. Some examples: “Collegiate Fotheringhay..was the most spectacular evidence of Richard’s firm belief..would minimize his soul’s sojourn in purgatory. A dozen masons still worked on the magnificent vaulting of the choir, while in the cloistered hall alongside the church lived thirteen canons and thirteen choristers dedicated to chanting near-continuous masses and prayers in intercession for the souls of the Lancastrian kings and the dukes of York. In the windows, instead of the usual stained-glass images of saints and bible stories, coloured glass medallions showed the arms and emblems of the House of York and the families which had married into it.” And “Ludlow was a stoutly protected stronghold. Its vast outer bailey, ringed by battlemented walls, covered a wide area and contained kennels, mews and stables, a forge and workshops, butts, jousting lists and arms-training grounds. The great hall, food-stores, kitchen, dairy and bakery, chapel and privy quarters were tightly ranged around a small irregular-shaped inner bailey fortified by numerous towers and a solid four-square keep, linked by a ten-foot-high secondary curtain and accessed via a drawbridge over a dry moat. No wonder Richard had considered it the safest place to leave his two eldest sons during his absence in Ireland.” And “..conspicuous splendor..each member..wore a York livery jacket or jupon in parti-coloured murrey and blue and from every pike and lance fluttered a pennant depicting the duke’s falcon-and-fetterlock. His horse’s trappings were of heavy gold-trimmed azure silk, the bridle studded with gold medallions and the saddle hung with gilded stirrups. ..his spurs were of silver-gilt and his helmet was ringed with a gold ducal coronet.”
Was Edward IV really illegitimate? Did Cecily have an affair with an archer named Blaybourne while Richard of York was away at war? While this question is never answered, we do get to see a side to her where it would be possible. Although highly class-conscious, the Cecily we meet may also have been a physically unsatisfied wife who may not always have been faithful to her husband. Would she have “demeaned” herself to lay with a mere archer? No one knows…
Highly recommended for all histfic fans and especially Plantagent buffs like me.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review


Review: The Tapestry, by Nancy Bilyeau


Nancy Bilyeau, a relative newcomer to the historical fiction scene, has created a mesmerizing heroine with her Joanna Stafford character. Her two previous books in this series, The Crown and The Chalice, were both five-star reads, in my opinion, and this latest is even better. The story just takes off rocket-like from page 1 and doesn’t slow down until the final page. Joanna, a prospective nun about to take final vows when we first meet her in The Crown, finally makes her choice between the cloistered life and marriage in The Tapestry, but not before a series of breathtaking events almost gets her killed, not once but several times. Joanna is both fortunate and unfortunate to be a member of the noble Stafford family, niece to both the recently-hanged (for treason) Earl of Buckingham and the malevolent but high-in-royal-favor Duke of Norfolk. Against the backdrop of the glittering Tudor Court, Joanna is drawn unwillingly into a dangerous mystery and politics at the very highest level. The Tapestry includes a parade of familiar, historical characters interacting with Joanna, including the ill-fated second and fourth wives of Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, and Henry Howard Earl of Surrey. Even the (arguably) premiere artist of his time, Hans Holbein Sr., becomes a friend and confidant. I couldn’t put this book down, and neither will you.

Disclaimer:  I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review

The Tudor Bride

The Tudor Bride, by Joanna Hickson

“The Tudor Bride” does not immediately bring to mind Catherine de Valois…more like Elizabeth of York or Anne Boleyn…but the dynastic story begins with her. In the hands of Joanna Hickson, it’s a really good story. So compellingly readable that I found it hard to put down, in my opinion this is one of the best histfic books of the year.
Although “Tudor Bride” picks up where Hickson’s “Agincourt Bride” leaves off, this is a stand-alone book, starting with Catherine en route from Calais to Dover, the sea voyage from hell, with her recent bridegroom, King Henry V. The action is seen through the eyes of Mette, Katherine’s fiercely devoted servant. Mette’s story is told as well, almost as dramatic as her mistress’s.
Catherine is desperately in love with her husband, but unfortunately, the shining hero of Agincourt is almost at the end of his too-short lifespan. The grieving widow’s worst enemy becomes her brother-in-law Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, who contrives not only to take her young son, the child King Henry VI away from her, but also takes steps to ensure that she will not marry again, with catastrophic results.
Luckily, Catherine has also made lots of steadfast friends, who see her through the great romance of her life (arguably one of the great romances of history) and what happens when the two lovers are brutally separated
Many familiar names parade through these pages, and all of them are brought vividly to life by this new-to-me author. Even though we (well, many of us) know as soon as Owen Tudor makes an appearance how cataclysmic he will be, to Catherine and to history, we still eagerly keep turning the pages to see what happens next.
Not only the characters, but the clothing, the food, the countryside, are all described so beautifully that truly, we are there. The attention to detail is astounding, and I detected not even one historical inaccuracy, not counting those mentioned by the author in her notes.
The larger picture of the great events happening in France and England at the time is also an integral part of the story, including the Beaufort family’s rise to power and Joan of Arc leading the French to victory.
Highly recommended for all historical fiction lovers.