This week I bring you two book reviews on English Queens. I won both biographies via a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway, so it is possible you may have seen my reviews there. Before I present the reviews, I will say I found many parallels in the lives of Anne and Elizabeth of York. Both were born into turbulent times and saw their fathers overthrown as king, each in different ways. They then saw someone rise to the role of monarch who should not have been. Then during their reigns, one as queen consort and one as queen, there were pretenders to the throne who continually challenged their claim was greater. Lastly, each title demonstrates the politics and military history of the era in addition to biographical information about each queen and those closest to her. Now onward to the reviews of these recently published books.
Queen Anne: Passion of Politics by Anne Somerset
Billed as a biography of England’s Queen Anne, the queen who followed William and Mary after the Glorious Revolution, it is really a story of England throughout a tumultuous period. Beginning with the restoration of Anne’s uncle, Charles II, the book continues through Anne’s death in 1715. Readers gain a greater than textbook understanding of the political situation of the times. For example, the Glorious Revolution was neither glorious nor bloodless like textbooks make it out to be. Also, we see how England became embroiled in the War of Spanish Succession and how Anne’s half-brother was continuously denied his birthright, again things not really given more than a passing mention in textbooks.
The book also serves as a story of relationships. Again, this is why it really should not be called a biography. In the early part of the book, we read as much about her sister, Mary, as we do Anne. In the latter half, we learn as much about her ladies-in-waiting, Anne Hill Marsham and the Duchess of Somerset. Throughout, we read about Anne’s husband, George, and see the complicated relationship Anne has with the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough (and read about their lives).
Overall, I found the book more suited for research and not casual reading. Often, more detail was presented than was actually needed. We could easily lose 1/4 to 1/3 of the text without losing context, causing the book to be a tedious read.
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir
Ballentine Books, 2013. 608 pages, Hardcover
Sadly, Elizabeth of York is most remembered as the Queen of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. What is often forgotten is that she lived a very eventful life and that her husband and their issue owe their legitimacy on the throne of England to her. Born amidst the War of the Roses, her father won the throne and ruled during Elizabeth’s early years. After her father’s death, her brother had a short-lived reign before her uncle disposed of him and her other brother and crowned himself Richard III. In the turbulent years that filled her uncle’s reign, Elizabeth, her mother, and her sisters’ lives were constantly in jeopardy. Eventually, her distant relative Henry Tudor, who had been exiled to France, returned with an invasion force and disposed of Richard III. He crowned himself Henry VII and went on to marry Elizabeth. Their reign brought much-needed stability to England, though a pretender to the throne would surface from time to time. Throughout the book, we see Elizabeth was extremely dedicated to her family, whether that be her mother, husband, sisters, children, nieces, or nephews.
I found Elizabeth of York to be a fast-paced, well-written biography. Weir closely followed Elizabeth’s life while incorporating her family into the story when appropriate. The letters and documents Weir chose to quote were well picked and not overwhelming to the reader. She also added vivid descriptions of life in the era and the palaces Elizabeth’s family lived in. In all, it is a book that can be appreciated by the causal reader and academics alike.