Feb 1, 2011

Book Review: Pale Rose of England: A Novel of The Tudors by Sandra Worth



Pale Rose of England: A Novel of The Tudors by Sandra Worth
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Berkley Trade (February 1, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0425238776
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:

It is 1497. The news of the survival of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, has set royal houses ablaze with intrigue and rocked the fledgling Tudor dynasty. With the support of Scotland's King James IV, Richard-known to most of England as Perkin Warbeck-has come to reclaim his rightful crown from Henry Tudor. Stepping finally onto English soil, Lady Catherine Gordon has no doubt that her husband will succeed in his quest.

But rather than assuming the throne, Catherine would soon be prisoner of King Henry VII, and her beloved husband would be stamped as an imposter. With Richard facing execution for treason, Catherine, alone in the glittering but deadly Tudor Court, must find the courage to spurn a cruel monarch, shape her own destiny, and win the admiration of a nation.

I have all of Sandra Worth's books, but have only found the time to read The Rose of York: Love and War (review) which paints a very different picture of Richard III than my normal style of reads. Worth is evidently pro-Richard, pro-Yorkist etc. and I still have not yet defaulted to that side, though Worth has made it her mission in life as far as a writer to put a glorious light on the Yorkist line as opposed to the usual vilification of Richard III. In my opinion, Sandra Worth's first book was well written (yet it was slightly overdone with the romantic view of Richard), thus with the new Yorkist installment, Pale Rose of England, I was skeptical but ready to be open-minded. (And yes, I say this only because I have not yet read Sharon Kay Penman's Sunne in Splendour, who probably turned many Lancastrians into Yorkists with that book).

Don't let the subtitle fool you... this is not yet another look at Henry VIII and his many wives, as this novel begins before Henry VIII's rule. This novel is also an intriguing alternate history examination of what could have happened to the princes in the tower, namely, the boys locked away from their mother in terror during the usurper Richard III's rule. Their uncle, Richard III, took the throne after Edward's death, and little Edward and Richard simply vanished after being held in the Tower. Edward was supposed to be crowned in 1483 around age nine or ten, but Uncle Richard declared them illegitimate. No one can truly say what happened to the innocent young boys, but they never did return to the courts and take the throne in succession as they were meant to do after their father Edward IV. Since no one can realistically proclaim what really happened to those boys, I say alternate history because the author has used Perkin Warbeck as the Pretender who was out to take Henry VII's throne for himself in the name of the Yorkist line.

In Pale Rose of England, the author uses a popular theory that young Richard was safely stowed away as a child, perhaps by Uncle Richard himself. Later, this same Richard Plantagenet returns to England, known as Perkin Warbeck to the English who ridicule him, bringing his Scottish wife Catherine Gordon with him.

"Without exception, the Tudor is hated. All he has brought us is fear and taxes. We pray daily for the restoration of your royal father's line. When you leave here to march against the Tudor, you'll see the truth of what I say. All Cornwall with rise up to join you."

..so says Prior John to Richard. Thus sets the scene for the very high hopes that Richard, Catherine and fellow Yorkists shared, and I realize I will have to put aside my strong Lancastrian (Tudor loving) tendencies in order to root for this Perkin fella. Which is not hard, with the way Worth has written this despairing, heart wrenching, soul gripping story. Henry VII is a force to be reckoned with, and is a part of the story as much as Richard is, which is a refreshing change of pace as far as characters go.  I enjoyed reading more about him and wondering about his characteristics as a ruler, as a miser, as a man under his mama's thumb, even though I could never say he was a good guy. Lady Catherine Gordon was new to me, and she was her own pillar of strength in opposition to Henry, most of the time. Though I did want to slap her at some parts and tell her to run run run run run.. but she didn't.

Sandra Worth sets forth her theories regarding this Pretender who really could have been England's Richard IV.. who could have tossed the Tudor line off of the throne.. with as much attention to historical details as she could. This is not a piece of Tudor fluff, it became depressing beyond words and made my heart ache for Lady Catherine, a royal lady of Scotland who was kept an essential prisoner in the Royal Courts for much of the more than four hundred pages. Catherine went through one emotional upheaval after the other during her support for her husband's quest, and as we know since thereafter was only a successful Tudor rule, she lost it all. Her story kept me reading, as I hoped she would somehow be redeemed, that somehow there would be a knight in shining armor for her, somehow her years of misery would be rewarded with something.

This is not an easy read, and runs along the lines of a tragedy with political forces pulling the strings. Who is pulling the strings this time was the Tudor usurper as we he was pleasantly called. The major dimension of the story of Catherine Gordon's life is loss, torture, despair, and impossible situations and the cloud of doom hovers over the reader and Catherine throughout most of the 464 pages.

Whether or not this Perkin fella is truly Richard, Duke of York, the young "lost" prince in the tower, I cannot say. Worth certainly presents a compelling argument leaning that way.. but I am not utterly convinced, even though the major European rulers at the time seemed to believe the Pretender was not pretending. I am looking forward to reading Anne Wroe's The Perfect Prince for further insight. As far as Worth presents this tangled weave of love and deception, you really have to be ready to put your lot in with Catherine and support her emotionally as you go along. Otherwise, I see a strong possibility of some not liking the novel because of the way Catherine let things happen around her. Yes, in reality, she may not have had much of a choice, but I still think that there were other things that could have occurred to help her plight, especially since her cousin was the King of Scotland. But that's not the way history tells it, so neither does the author. Henry VII had a grip on her and the entire situation, and somehow all other major powers let Henry maintain this power. There are small quibbles I had with the plot, mainly because I didn't want Henry to have so much power, but Sandra Worth tells a compelling, poetic and romantic story that really could sway Tudor lovers into becoming Tudor lovers with Yorkist tendencies. Ahem.

A few books from my library that I can recommend regarding the mystery of the Princes in the Tower include David Baldwin's Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower and Alison Weir's Princes in the Tower as well as her The Wars of the Roses which are detailed (and conflicting) non-fiction reads. Sandra Worth has authored an interesting article regarding Richard/Perkin at On The Tudor Trail: Uncovering The Mystery of Perkin Warbeck  and she will also be the author of the month for the lovely ladies of the Historical Fiction Round Table. Be sure to watch that site for the links to the giveaway opportunities, reviews and more articles regarding the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.