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Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir: A Book Review

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: December 3rd, 2013
Pages: 608
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Many are familiar with the story of the much-married King Henry VIII of England and the celebrated reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I. But it is often forgotten that the life of the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and Elizabeth’s grandmother, spanned one of England’s most dramatic and perilous periods. Now New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir presents the first modern biography of this extraordinary woman, whose very existence united the realm and ensured the survival of the Plantagenet bloodline.

      Her birth was greeted with as much pomp and ceremony as that of a male heir. The first child of King Edward IV, Elizabeth enjoyed all the glittering trappings of royalty. But after the death of her father; the disappearance and probable murder of her brothers—the Princes in the Tower; and the usurpation of the throne by her calculating uncle Richard III, Elizabeth found her world turned upside-down: She and her siblings were declared bastards.

      As Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, was dying, there were murmurs that the king sought to marry his niece Elizabeth, knowing that most people believed her to be England’s rightful queen. Weir addresses Elizabeth’s possible role in this and her covert support for Henry Tudor, the exiled pretender who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth and was crowned Henry VII, first sovereign of the House of Tudor. Elizabeth’s subsequent marriage to Henry united the houses of York and Lancaster and signaled the end of the Wars of the Roses. For centuries historians have asserted that, as queen, she was kept under Henry’s firm grasp, but Weir shows that Elizabeth proved to be a model consort—pious and generous—who enjoyed the confidence of her husband, exerted a tangible and beneficial influence, and was revered by her son, the future King Henry VIII. 

      Drawing from a rich trove of historical records, Weir gives a long overdue and much-deserved look at this unforgettable princess whose line descends to today’s British monarch—a woman who overcame tragedy and danger to become one of England’s most beloved consorts.

      My Review: Elizabeth of York is the only English queen to have been a daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother to English kings. She is also the first Tudor queen. Unlike her granddaughter, Mary Tudor, who is the first sovereign queen of England, the first sovereign queen would have been her grandmother, Elizabeth of York. However, in a time where women were seen as unfit rulers to the crown, Elizabeth merely became a queen consort to another English claimant and king, Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor dynasty. 

     Despite Elizabeth’s colorful and personal history, she is often shrouded in the background. Most of the attention goes to her father, her uncle, and her husband. In fact, she is unfairly most known as the mother of Henry VIII. Alison Weir’s biography makes an attempt to bring Elizabeth from the background and into the spotlight. However, doing her best to highlight her accomplishments, it is often due to lack of primary sources the Elizabeth is still in the background and is outshined by the presences of the English kings. 

     Elizabeth was born in a time of an English civil war, known as the War of the Roses. At that time, there were two kings and two queens on the English throne. Elizabeth was the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodeville, who was the first commoner queen in England. Her father Edward IV defeated the other English king, Henry VI, and there were no more claimants to the throne, except for one nominally small voice, Henry Tudor. After Edward IV’s death, Elizabeth’s brother Edward V, who was later joined by Richard, Duke of York, went to live in the Tower at his coronation. Within days, her uncle Richard III proclaimed Elizabeth and her siblings illegitimate, and crowned himself king. Her brothers mysteriously disappeared in the Tower. Eventually, at the Battle of Bosworth, Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor. Henry Tudor became king and later married Elizabeth of York, thus ending the War of the Roses.

     In spite of the lack of primary sources regarding Elizabeth of York, Weir tries her best to bring Elizabeth’s personality to light. I felt like it was a personal story for Elizabeth, one that touched her deeply because the death of her of her father, and the disappearance of her brothers in a few short months, and also with the death of her son, Arthur. Weir does a good job in trying to portray how Elizabeth must have felt and reacted to the tragic events of her life. Elizabeth is also known to be pious, sweet, and generous. Therefore, while she goes through a lot of grief, she devotes herself to her faith and trust in God.

     Overall, Weir’s biography of Elizabeth of York shows her a strong woman of faith and virtue. She is portrayed as a loving sister and devoted wife and mother. This biography is filled with romance, danger, mystery, and court intrigue. The writing can be dry at times, and sometimes read like a textbook. However, Elizabeth of York deserves some attention because she helped change England.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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