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Sep 21, 2009

Book Review: "The Tudor Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York" by Margaret Campbell Barnes

"The Tudor Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York" by Margaret Campbell Barnes
This Reissue by Sourcebooks October 2009
Original Publication 1953
The Burton Review Rating:3.5 Stars

"One woman holds the key to England's most glorious empire in this intimate retelling of the launch of the Tudor dynasty.
A magnificent portrait of Elizabeth of York, set against the dramatic background of fifteenth century England. Elizabeth, the only living descendant of Edward IV, has the most valuable possession in all of England—a legitimate claim to the crown. Two princes battle to win Britain's most rightful heiress for a bride and her kingdom for his own. On one side is her uncle Richard, the last Plantagenet King, whom she fears is the murderer of her two brothers, the would-be kings. On the other side is Henry Tudor, the exiled knight. Can he save her from a horrifying marriage to a cut-throat soldier?
Thrust into the intrigue and drama of the War of the Roses, Elizabeth has a country within her grasp—if she can find the strength to unite a kingdom torn apart by a thirst for power. A richly drawn tale of the woman who launched one of the most dramatic dynasties England has ever seen, The Tudor Rose is a vibrant, imaginative look at the power of a queen."

Elizabeth of York is the eldest daughter of Queen Elizabeth Woodville and King Edward IV who seems to be of a strong character based on all accounts of her life. She was ultimately used as a pawn in the ongoing political struggles caused by the Wars of The Roses but was instrumental in uniting the two different parties of the wars. Elizabeth's younger brothers Edward and Richard were the infamous Princes in the Tower who disappeared at some point in 1483, which the novel paints a depressing but realistic picture of what is probable to have happened. Her uncle Richard, who had made himself King of England after conveniently declaring Elizabeth's parents' marriage invalid, is portrayed as a sinister man in this novel. He even goes so far as to entertain the idea of marrying Elizabeth himself, but luckily for her the Londoners have too much respect for their daughter of York and force him to deny the prospect.

Elizabeth, usually called Bess in the novel, is seen as a sacrificial lamb for the sake of England as she sets her hopes on Henry Tudor. Her motto as queen was Humble and Reverent, and she seems to be so in every sense of the phrase. We slowly go through the events that lead up to the decision that Elizabeth is forced to make between her Plantagenet relations or for the future hope for England. After England's years of the Wars of the Roses, Henry Tudor ends the Wars with his defeat of Richard at the Battle of Bosworth. Eventually, Elizabeth and Henry are married which united the red rose of the Lancastrians with the white rose of the Yorkists, forming the red and white Tudor rose.

Henry Tudor was a change to the Yorkist upbringing that Elizabeth was used to, and the novel meanders through Elizabeth's thoughts as she is finally made Queen of England. We are made to wonder why Henry took years to crown Elizabeth, it was only after she gives birth to the Tudor heir that it is done for her. Even though Henry was always a frugal man and did very little to support the pageantry known to previous Kings and Queens, he does offer a grand coronation for Elizabeth which is one of the few nice things he seems to do for her.

We see more than a glimpse of Henry's politics and his coldness towards Elizabeth. The novel seems consumed by it. There is also always the back story of the lost princes and the possibilities of their demise. The pretenders or impostors are also featured here and show us how Elizabeth was affected by the loss of her little brothers, in particular young Dickon, which made Elizabeth's character a bit more real. On the other hand, Elizabeth's mother is portrayed as having no scruples as to the whereabouts of her boys, she has no hope for their survival and is portrayed as a cold woman without much to live for. I would have preferred a bit more insight into the old Queen's character, but she was not the main character. Instead we see everything through her daughter Elizabeth's eyes, as we see her through her younger days, then through her child birthing and we are privy to her many thoughts regarding the passionless husband of hers.

Contrary to popular (factual?) belief there is a loving relationship between Margaret Beaufort, Henry's mother, and Elizabeth portrayed throughout. Although fitting neatly with the novel, this bothered me since I have always heard of the way Margaret went out of her way to make Elizabeth uncomfortable. I look forward to some upcoming works regarding Margaret Beaufort so that I can determine the validity of the claims of Beaufort's harshness.

The novel continues its story to the upbringing of the four surviving Tudor children, to the death of the firstborn Arthur Tudor in 1502 who was betrothed to Catherine of Aragon. The span of about twenty years is covered in this novel, and in the last half of the book is mostly comprised of Elizabeth's reactions to Henry's political decisions. It is not a fast paced and thrilling read, but still holds the reader captive for its substantial subject matter. Elizabeth of York, a proud Plantagenet, along with her Tudor husband, helped to bring England to a time of prosperity that was not known for a very long time. Their children included Margaret, who became Queen of Scotland, and the infamous Henry VIII who had six wives, and Mary who was briefly Queen of France. Elizabeth and her younger son Henry had a loving relationship, and with its portrayal in the novel it was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book as he was one of the few that showed love to Elizabeth. The major events and intrigue that occurred around Elizabeth of York make this a worthwhile read for those interested in the formation of the Tudor dynasty and although it seemed slow going at times I still recommend this to those interested in Elizabeth's point of view.

Edited to add on October 2:

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