QAB Book Review:
The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family
by Susan Higginbotham
In an age where class and position, dowries and negotiation, alliances and royal consent all dictated the marriage partners of the privileged, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford, widow of King Henry V’s brother, made a decision that ultimately changed the course of English history. She secretly married a common man without prior royal consent, the chamberlain of her dead husband, Sir Richard Woodville. Together, they raised a family of 14 children, who through the choice of King Edward IV to marry their common, yet uncommon daughter, Elizabeth, were afforded opportunities previously granted solely to nobility. Ultimately, the Duchess and her husband, later Baron Rivers and ultimately Earl Rivers, raised a Queen Consort, two Earls, a Bishop, a Duchess, a Viscountess, two Countesses, and three Ladies — many who themselves or their children made significant contributions to English history. In The Woodvilles, The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family, Susan Higginbotham tells their life stories, dispelling common misconceptions, and painting a compelling history rich in objectivity and insight.
Although Susan’s accounting of Queen Elizabeth Woodville and her mother Jacquetta of Luxembourg are detailed with great clarity, the richness of this book comes not necessarily from their remarkable life stories, but instead through those of their children. Readers, some of whom may pick up this book due to their interest drawn from the BBC/Starz mini-series The White Queen, will learn through Susan’s engaging prose and objective accounting the real history of the Woodvilles, the five English monarchs they were subjects to and the Wars of the Roses — which frankly is far more interesting, compelling and exciting than the largely fictional account shown on television. Myths conjured first by hostile contemporary sources and later reinforced by the colorful story spinning of well-meaning novelists are justly debunked with factual accounting and Susan’s common sense interpretation of her research.
The Woodvilles, The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family takes readers through the remarkable lives of Woodvilles rarely chronicled fully. Particularly striking are Susan’s vivid accounting of the lives of Queen Elizabeth’s brothers Anthony, Edward, Richard and Lionel. For example, readers learn of Anthony’s obvious intelligence and piety, his influence in raising the heir to the throne of England, his patronage and fostering of new technology, his athleticism and prowess on the battlefield, and his heart breaking fall from grace. Readers also are treated to coming to know the children of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Although Susan offers no opinion of who specifically was responsible for the disappearance of the “Princes in the Tower”, she lays out in detail the possibilities, leaving readers to make their own educated judgments. The life of their sister, Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort of King Henry VII, is also highlighted in detail. Perhaps most striking and interesting, however, is the knowledge Susan shares of the lesser known children of King Edward IV, as well as their half siblings born to Queen Elizabeth, Thomas and Richard Grey.
Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers highly recommends The Woodvilles, The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family to anyone with an interest in medieval English History and the Wars of the Roses. This book releases today in the United Kingdom and January 1, 2014 in the United States.