Prolific, best-selling author Weir (Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings, 2011, etc.), who specializes in female royalty, presents another popular biography, a serious work definitely not aimed at a bodice-ripper audience.
This Tudor Elizabeth (1466–1503) lived a century before her much better-known granddaughter, but she was important: the daughter, wife and mother of kings, including Henry VIII. England’s bloody War of the Roses seemed to end in 1461 when Edward of York defeated his Lancastrian enemies and took the throne as Edward IV. This proved illusory when he offended powerful allies by marrying an obscure subject, Elizabeth Woodville, and promoting her family. When he died in 1483, no law prevented Edward’s 12-year-old firstborn, Elizabeth of York, from inheriting the throne, but no one considered women fit to govern if men with reasonable claims could be found. There were plenty at the time—and none a century later when Henry VIII’s son died, allowing his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth I, to rule. There followed two chaotic years during which her uncle, the Duke of York, murdered Edward’s two sons, threatened his widow and daughters, seized power as Richard III, and fended off rivals until killed in battle in 1485 by Henry Tudor, who married Elizabeth, uniting two families whose factions had fought bitterly for 50 years and launching the modern British monarchy as Henry VII. “Elizabeth of York’s role in history was crucial,” writes the author, “although in a less chauvinistic age it would, by right, have been more so.”
Admitting that she was not a dynamic figure, Weir portrays Elizabeth as a passive observer or victim and often ignores her entirely as she delivers an intensely researched, opinionated, almost blow-by-blow political history of Britain during the turbulent last half of the 15th century.