Book Review: Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen by Samantha Wilcoxson

Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen collage with real ones

Looking for a good historical fiction to read that is true to Elizabeth of York and the tumultuous era she lived in? Look no further, the Plantagenet Princess is all this and more!

It is very hard to find a good historical fiction that is appreciate of Elizabeth of York, without downplaying on her strengths or ignoring her weaknesses.

Many novelists think it’s better to alter their female subjects, the ones who aren’t deemed “interesting” or “strong” in order to sell more books, by marketing them as progressive or ahead of their times.

This wouldn’t be a problem if novelists were honest with their audience but as it happens, they are not. So you can imagine my sigh of relief when I read this book and found an author who honored Elizabeth by staying as true as possible to her silent -yet strong- demeanor.

There is strength in silence and that is something that Samantha Wilcoxson emphasized on every chapter where Elizabeth comes out as an observant, proud, and pragmatic young woman who is aware of her importance, and is determined to be treated with the respect she rightly deserves.

As the firstborn of Elizabeth Woodville and Edwar  IV, Elizabeth was well aware of her value. To quote from Susan Higginbotham in her biography on Elizabeth’s maternal family: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an unattached young king must be in search of a wife.”
And a man like Henry who’s claim to the throne was more tenuous than Elizabeth’s father, he needed a good marriage to keep himself in power.

Elizabeth is a caring young woman who is witty and at times outspoken, someone who has learned from her relatives’ mistake, has had to endure loss, but never feels sorry about herself. Her strength lies in knowing who to trust, her religious devotion and faith in herself. Sounds trite, but this is as close as you will get to time travel and meeting the real Elizabeth in historical fiction. The book is beautifully written, highly descriptive and character driven, with Elizabeth being not the only character that shines from this tale, but those are there with her at the end of her journey.

If you are a history buff who’s read plenty on the wars of the roses, and is fascinated by Elizabeth of York’s story, this is the book for you. If you are new to this era but wish to know more about the story behind the White Princess, this is the book for you too. Well researched, masterfully written, highly descriptive, Plantagenet Princess: Tudor Queen brings back the wars of the roses and the early Tudor era back to life, and gives justice to a figure who’s been easily discredited, altered, and her queenship dismissed.

They say that the good you do won’t do you any good. Sometimes this is true, but for a woman who had seen many kings deposed, murdered and killed in battle, and queens’ reputations dragged through the mud, sweetness and piety became her greatest strengths and her fertility a shield against anyone who’d think twice about her harming the new Tudor Dynasty.
Experiences shape us, and they certainly shaped Elizabeth but as I’ve previously pointed out, it is often our willingness to get back up despite how many times we’ve been brought down that makes all the difference. And Elizabeth never gave up. Although her weapons were invisible they were no less effective and as it happened, they guaranteed her success. She went down in history as one of the most successful English consorts, and gained a cult-like status.

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Arthur Tudor: Forever Young, the Death of the Camelot dream

Arthur Tudor (b.1486), was the Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia and he was named after the legendary Welsh and English hero. He represented the hopes and dreams that Henry had for his realm and the future of his dynasty. His death was a huge blow to everyone.
Arthur Tudor (b.1486), was the Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia and he was named after the legendary Welsh and English hero. He represented the hopes and dreams that Henry had for his realm and the future of his dynasty. His death was a huge blow to everyone.

On the 2nd of April 1502, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia died at the age of fifteen at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches. No one knows exactly what the cause of his death was, but mostly agree it was this one. Contrary to what’s shown in popular culture, Arthur Tudor was not a sickly teen. In fact, he was very sheltered, reared with a very religious and rigorous regime that included the latest Humanist books and of course,  classical texts. His tutor Andre remarked that he was a bright pupil who absorbed everything that was taught to him immediately. Clearly, he represented a dream, the chosen Prince who would herald a new era into England. A new Camelot, and would make the Tudor dynasty the most famous dynasty in history. His father was a quarter Welsh through his half-Welsh/half-French father Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond.  Through his mother (Margaret Beaufort) he inherited the claim to the throne as she descended from the eldest son of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and his mistress (and later his wife) Katherine Swynford. When Henry went into battle, he came with a red dragon as his emblem and incorporated it into the royal arms. The red dragon represented none other than Cadwalladr. It won Henry many Welsh allies, who since his birth had begun making poems of him since his father and his uncle were very loved there. Henry never forgot his Welsh roots and naming his firstborn after this legendary hero and being born at Winchester (where Camelot was reputed to have been) was a statement that he intended to make the Tudor Dynasty immortal, and like his son’s namesake, bring a new Camelot.

Sadly, this was not to be. Arthur died and with him, Henry’s dreams. He and his wife, Elizabeth of York, received the news two days later on April 4. The council deemed it appropriate to have Henry’s confessor tell him the news.

"If we receive good from the hand of God, should we not also tolerate the bad?’ It was then that he ‘showed his Grace that his dearest son was departed to God." -Henry's confessor to the King.
“If we receive good from the hand of God, should we not also tolerate the bad?’ It was then that he ‘showed his Grace that his dearest son was departed to God.” -Henry’s confessor to the King.

The news shocked Henry so much that he went into full despair. Elizabeth, equally heartbroken, but nonetheless stoic as she’d aways been; took him in her arms and reminded him of his position and that they were still young  and could have more children.

Elizabeth "did her best to comfort him as they took ‘the painful sorrow together’" writes Licence. And that "God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses" and that they were still young and could have more children. Afterwards, she went into her rooms to cry, and he comforted her as well.
Elizabeth “did her best to comfort him as they took ‘the painful sorrow together’” writes Licence. And that “God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses” and that they were still young and could have more children.
Afterwards, she went into her rooms to cry, and he comforted her as well.

Perhaps the one who took his death the hardest was Katherine of Aragon, the young Infanta who was not yet seventeen and who had come from Spain with the mindset that she woud become the future Queen of England.

Katherine of Aragon as a widow Portrait by Michael Sittow. Arthur's death left her in a political limbo for seven years.
Katherine of Aragon as a widow Portrait by Michael Sittow. Arthur’s death left her in a political limbo for seven years.

Katherine had been trained  almost as a renaissance Prince. She was taught the same subjects as Arthur and furthermore was taught canon and civic law and had been with her mother on her military campaigns. No other princess was better prepared. Arthur’s death left her in a political limbo and although her mother secured a papal dispensation before she died (1504) and made Henry VII agree to a betrothal, she was still left in despair. Her father made her into his ambassador to increase her allowance and that helped and gave her a taste of the intrigue of the Tudor court. For five more years she waited, and what seemed in vain at last took fruit when the friendship she had formed with the new Prince of Wales (Harry Tudor) convinced him that she was the only wife for him. After the death of his father, the new King, Henry VIII, told his council that he would take no other wife but Katherine of Aragon. At last Katherine fulfilled her life’s dream, becoming Queen of England.

Sources:

  • Sister Queens: The noble and tragic lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I of Castile by Julia Fox
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle