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 Church..at 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