Elizabeth Of York: A Tudor Queen And Her World, by Alison Weir
There are a lot of relatively recent books being written about female royals in the Tudor period, and I have mixed feelings about these books. On the one hand, I can recognize that there is a market for books which present the point of view and discuss the lives of women that are often neglected or taken for granted in many previous histories, as little as I enjoy the sort of feminist perspectives that these books are written with. By and large I think it is good to pay attention to that which has been neglected, to the extent that we can come to an understanding of it. All too often, though, and that is certainly the case here, an author writes more about their own perspectives and point of view than about the subject that they are writing, and often infuse into their discussion of sources their own biases and their own suppositions, turning works of history into solipsistic examinations of what is inside of their own heads and how they wish people had been viewed or treated. This book at times says more about Alison Weir than it does about Elizabeth of York, and that is a shame because Elizabeth of York is a lot more interesting of a figure than the author is.
This book is almost 500 pages long and divided into 19 chapters that cover the chronological spread of Elizabeth of York’s life and some information of England after her death. The book begins with a discussion of her own early childhood as one of the daughters of King Edward IV of York and his parvenu wife (1). After that the author discusses the proposed marriage that was arranged between her and the heir to the French throne (2), the troubles that resulted from the usurpation of her uncle (3,4), the attempts of that uncle to marry her (5) which were abhorred by his counselors, and the conspiracy she was involved in to escape her uncle’s clutches and marry Henry Tudor (6, 7). After that the author talks about her marriage (8) and having plenty of children (9) as well as the conspiracies that damaged her husband’s reign (10, 14) and the love that he supposedly had for her and the respect she was held in (11, 12, 13), as well as her attempts to marry her older son to Infanta Catherine of Spain (15), his death (16) and that of other relatives of hers, and her own increasingly ill health and death after giving birth (17), after which the book ends with a discussion of her legacy (18, 19).
Even so, despite this book’s considerable flaws and the sad lack of information that many historical figures like this one have, there is something worthwhile to examine here. If this book is longer than it needs to be or way more speculative than it has any right to be, and both of these are certainly true, it is about a neglected figure who had an important role in English history in a variety of roles. Elizabeth of York was a daughter of a king who was seeking to establish a new dynasty and had been engaged to the French Dauphin before geopolitics got in the way. She was the sister of the princes in the tower, whose cruel deaths at the hand of her uncle was a reminder of the vulnerability of her position. That same uncle appears to have had incestuous designs on her in order to further his own dynastic plans. She then married his replacement as king in order to bring harmony to England, but found England roiled with imposters during the reign of her husband and found her husband to be an immensely suspicious man. She happened to give birth to seven children, as history has recorded, and through them she is one of the ancestresses of all following English and Scottish and British monarchs. On those grounds alone she is certainly worth knowing about.