Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Book Review: The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Two princes battle to determine England's destiny: whoever wins will take Britain's most rightful heir as his bride and her kingdom for his own. On one side is her uncle Richard, the last Plantagenet King, whom she fears to be the murderer of her two brothers, the would-be kings. On the other is Henry Tudor, the exiled knight. Can he save her from a horrifying marriage to a cutthroat 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.

My Review:
Frankly, I went into this book not expecting to like it. When I got interested in the Tudor books, the owner of our second hand bookstore told me that I should read Margaret Campbell Barnes who she regarded as the best Tudor author. Being a book published in 1953, I expected it to be old fashioned with a lot of over descriptive waffle and wasn't really keen to look for it. However recently a copy came my way and I read it last month.

I really enjoyed it! It was not old fashioned or over descriptive. In fact it had a much more modern feel to it like Philippa Gregory, with less description of every piece of clothing or building, which I found quite refreshing! Our heroine here is Elizabeth of York, oldest daughter of King Edward IV, who becomes a pawn for control of England between Henry Tudor and King Richard III. I loved Elizabeth, who is constantly fearing for the safety of her brothers-The Princes in the Tower, fearing what her uncle Richard III has in store for her and unwilling to marry a rebel from the house of Lancaster. However, when she hears the story of her brothers being murdered, she is determined to join the rebellion on the side of Henry Tudor and bring down Richard III.

The Tudors fascinate me because you could not make up a story as juicy as what they really got up to! The book is full of backstabbing, betrayal, intrigue, murder, dangerous obsessions, plotting, war, rebellion and child murder. Seriously, why wouldn't you want to read it! There is a lot of detail about the wretched life that Elizabeth's family endured in sanctuary while her brothers were sent to the Tower, which a lot of books gloss over. This book also goes into Richard III incestuous interest in his niece and her confused reactions to his interest. What I liked here is that Richard isn't painted as just being a bad guy-he has a lot more depth to him which is explored in his devotion to his wife Anne and their son. Richard has always been a character that fascinated me and part of that was his enduring love for Anne Neville. It was nice to see those flashes of his nature in amongst the story of the murdered Princes. There was some good tension with Elizabeth getting involved in the rebellion plots and a wonderful scene where she becomes convinced of her uncle's guilt.

The second half of the book focuses on Elizabeth's life when she becomes the Queen of King Henry VII, stuck in a loveless relationship with a husband who shows little interest in her. Her children become her solace and you can't help feeling sorry for her. The relationship with Richard would have been incest but it was based on genuine affection and you can see why she thinks back to whether she picked the right side. 

The most fascinating part of this book is the arrival of Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be the presumed dead Duke of York, Elizabeth's youngest brother. The story leads us to believe in Henry that the man is a wicked imposter but Elizabeth wants to meet him herself to be convinced that her brother is truly dead. This part of the story was brilliant. The meeting between the two was so well written and I was on the edge of my seat trying to decide if he was an imposter or not! Even when Perkin has been executed, it is not the end of the matter and Elizabeth discovers a few startling things about her husband. I was riveted by this storyline and I loved the way the author chose to end it. In amongst this drama we have her own son Arthur and his ill fated wedding to Catherine of Aragon and his sudden death. How much more drama can you have in one book?

This was an excellent Tudor novel and without doubt it is the best of the War of the Roses era books that I've read. I hardly put the book down in two days and I recommend it to everyone who is fascinated by this period of history.  
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