Alison Weir vividly brings to life the dangerous times that Elizabeth of York lived through from childhood to create a compelling portrait of a fascinating part of history.
It’s no easy task to want to write a novel about a historical figure particularly when there might be perhaps little written evidence of what this character is like, which might give the author a little more freedom in how to bring them to life but it has to be balanced with historical insight as well. Thankfully, given her extensive knowledge of this period of history, historian and author Alison Weir gives the reader a thorough insight into the dangerous kingdom that Elizabeth of York grew up in and eventually alongside her husband Henry VII ruled.
Given its attention to detail in terms of facts surrounding important aspects of the expansive period of history that this novel covers, it feels as though the characters themselves feel slightly overlooked in places and could use a little more depth. Of course, there are numerous characters who only make fleeting appearances – but I do feel as though some have been softened down and there is certainly a slightly more sympathetic reading of Henry VII and Margaret Beaufort’s characters then I have read before that was really surprising. Yes it is refreshing but to me it undermines some of the ruthlessness and the lengths the pair would go to establish the Tudor dynasty. Weir highlight’s Henry’s flaws as seen through Elizabeth’s eyes – but this quickly diminishes to reveal what good he did – even if he wasn’t popular.
Despite this, Weir ensures that the level of drama, fear and suspense throughout the turbulent times that Elizabeth lived through is consistently woven throughout that you get a real sense of just how strong she was a character to survive the loss of the many members of her family (including her two brothers aka the princes of the tower), that not knowing of who to trust and uncertainty of her future as her life was used in many ways as a pawn in a bigger game she had no control over. Elizabeth comes across as a strong and intelligent woman who was not afraid to stand up for what she believed in – even if ultimately it was the men in her life who made the ultimate decisions.
As the book covers such an enormous period of history filled with conflict and change, it is quite long and some moments feel like flashes of insight – which can leave the reader feel slightly disorientated (particularly if you aren’t familiar with this period of history) as to the time it is set in but it is understandably pacy in order to keep the sense of urgency up and to ensure that each important moment is given equal importance.
In a sense this book does feel like an epic, being filled with drama, betrayal and conflict as it is – but is also interesting to see how the relationships between the characters change. In particular, seeing Elizabeth’s struggle to reconcile her feelings towards her beloved uncle Richard (later Richard III) and Henry in the wake of her beloved brother’s disappearance – who should she trust. This is a question that the reader can relate to particularly as it is one mystery that seems destined to be never resolved.There are no answers to be found her – but Weir’s theories that have been carefully constructed seem to me the most plausible yet.
While it takes a while to get going, Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose is a compelling read whether you are familiar with this period of history or not. It has been written with great clarity and insight to keep you thoroughly engaged.
By Emma Clarendon
Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose is available to buy now.