Book Review: Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York

There is something about the whole Tudor vs. York thing that sets people off like fireworks.  While the Tudors have been quite socially fashionable for some time, the Yorks (or Plantagenets for purposes of this article), have their own share of fascination for lovers of history.  The events surrounding the time these two dynasties collide, where one ends and one begins, is at the heart of the controversy – the period historians refer to as the Wars of the Roses.  It has been broadly and exhaustively studied, researched, written about, argued over.  It has even caused rifts between friends and colleagues!

Much of this attention has been focused primarily, and understandably so, on Edward IV, his youngest brother Richard III, Henry Tudor, and the host of cousins, supporters, and other wealthy noblemen of the day.  These figures are big, dynamic, and natural targets for scrutiny.  As such they also make accessible subjects for books since their lives and motives appear to be obvious and clear-cut despite the complexities that such claims seem to ignore.  However, there is one person who tends to be neglected in this fight for attention: Elizabeth of York, daughter, niece, and wife to kings.  Samantha Wilcoxson has made Elizabeth the subject of her book Planagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, a fictionalized look at this remarkable woman’s life and the role she played in the tumultuous events of the late 15th to early 16th Centuries.  I think the book succeeds for several reasons.

First, the novel is a very personal account.  The story immerses the reader in Elizabeth’s point of view.  Events are filtered through Elizabeth’s eyes, through her perspective as filtered by her own experiences and personal knowledge.  Elizabeth only knows what Elizabeth knows; she is dependent upon others for information and news of the world as it unfolds around her.  Therefore she acts and interacts with her world based sometimes on faulty information and sometimes on truth.  She is vulnerable to the whims of those with power over her, her family, and friends.  Wilcoxson does a skillful job keeping Elizabeth (and therefore the reader) firmly rooted within the world of Elizabeth’s limited first-hand knowledge.

A second success for the novel is the process of character development.  This aspect was a surprise and a true delight for me.  Elizabeth starts out as a young, naïve girl, but she grows over the course of the book.  She develops layers and complexities as her character is forged in the fire of living life with other complex and layered individuals.  As she matures, she learns that no one situation and no single person is ever simple.  And no person is perfect.  Each person has parts of their personality that is at times honest and others devious, at times constructive and others destructive.  These are most clearly seen in her interactions with her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, her uncle Richard, and finally and most compellingly with her husband, Henry Tudor.

And finally, in what is probably the book’s biggest success, is the masterful way Wilcoxson explains how Elizabeth can be the daughter of a king, experience chaotic familial trauma, then go on to make a successful marriage with the man who essentially annihilated her family.  I admit to beginning the book skeptical of how this would be pulled off.  I had no prior love for Henry Tudor, and I was wary of “what side” would be chosen.  But the book made me at varying times angry with, then compassionate towards, and finally indifferent to the man I formerly only despised.  A writer who can lead a reader through such a variety of emotions over one character has accomplished a Herculean task.  How Wilcoxson manages this is not subject to my review so as to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that the journey is highly plausible and very authentic.

Lovers of all things Tudor and those of all things Plantagenet (York) will find common ground in this book, and hopefully will even gain an appreciation for new perspectives as I did.  Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen can be found on Amazon.  To learn more about Samantha Wilcoxson, visit her website at http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/.  She is also on Facebook and Twitter.  Her newest book, Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole is out now.