Title: The Last White Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York – Alison Weir
Series: Tudor Rose #1
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: May 10th, 2022 (Ballantine Books)
Synopsis: Elizabeth of York is the oldest daughter of King Edward IV. Flame-haired, beautiful, and sweet-natured, she is adored by her family; yet her life is suddenly disrupted when her beloved father dies in the prime of life. Her uncle, the notorious Richard III, takes advantage of King Edward’s death to grab the throne and imprison Elizabeth’s two younger brothers, the rightful royal heirs. Forever afterwards known as the princes in the tower, the boys are never seen again. On the heels of this tragedy, Elizabeth is subjected to Richard’s overtures to make her his wife, further legitimizing his claim to the throne. King Richard has murdered her brothers, yet she is obliged to accept his proposal.
As if in a fairy tale, Elizabeth is saved by Henry Tudor, who challenges Richard and kills him in the legendary Battle of Bosworth Field. In recognition of his victory, Henry becomes king and asks Elizabeth to be his wife, the first queen of the Tudor line. The marriage is happy and fruitful, not only uniting the warring houses of Lancaster and York – the red and white roses – but resulting in four surviving children, one of whom, Henry VIII, will rule the country for the next thirty-six years.
As in her popular Six Tudor Queens series, Alison Weir captures the personality of one of Britain’s most important monarchs, conveying Elizabeth of York’s dramatic life in a novel that is all the richer because of its firm basis in history.
The eldest daughter of King Edward IV, Princess Elizabeth is adored by all, but her world is thrown into chaos upon the death of her father. Her uncle Richard III usurps the throne and imprisons her two younger brothers, the rightful heirs, in the Tower of London and they are never seen again. For a time, it seems as though she might be obliged to marry King Richard to solidify his claim to the throne though common belief is that he is responsible for the murders of her brothers. But Henry Tudor invades, saving her from this fate, and following the battle of Bosworth, is proclaimed King. He asks Elizabeth to become his queen and with their marriage, the rival claims of Lancaster and York are united, beginning the Tudor line.
Whenever Alison Weir has a new book out, I know I can add it to my TBR with my eyes closed because her novels have never disappointed. Ever since the Six Tudor Queens series wrapped up last year, I’ve been really curious to see what this author would write next. This is my favorite era to read about for historical fiction, so I was super excited that this book would delve into the Wars of the Roses, the years leading up to the Tudor era. I’ve already read most of Philippa Gregory’s series, particularly the books centering around the Wars of the Roses (which I would highly recommend): The Lady of the Rivers, The White Queen, The Red Queen, The Kingmaker’s Daughter and The White Princess, so I had ample background knowledge which I was rather thankful for, because apart from the family tree, this book jumps straight into things and can turn into a complicated mix of Henrys, Elizabeths, Marys, Richards and Katherines.
Each portrayal I’ve read of Princess Elizabeth of York has been quite different and this was no exception. Weir’s version describes the marriage of Elizabeth and Henry Tudor as a rather loving one where most other books I’ve come across tend to lean towards it being political, cold and mistrustful, so this was an interesting take. The story did start to feel a little repetitive once Henry became king as the same threats to his reign popped up over and over, all centering around the unresolved mystery surrounding the fate of Bessy’s brothers, resulting in a rather paranoid Henry. However, it all felt extremely well researched and I was definitely curious to see how Weir would write this portion of the story, the legend of the Princes in the Tower, given how many theories are out there.
Told in four parts, this book was a fascinating read, as it was a detailed narrative following Bessy from a toddler princess to the queen who would unite the two warring houses and end the Wars of the Roses. The author has done a fantastic job in describing her life and the many power struggles that surrounded her family. I did find the way both Bessy and Henry’s mothers were written to be a complete contrast of pretty much every other book I’ve read about them before. For example, I’ve often seen Margaret Beaufort written as a domineering sort, sidelining Elizabeth, whereas in this book, while she was very much present and involved, she and Bessy have a good relationship.
While I am usually the last person to complain about a book being too long, especially if it’s a good read, in this case, it did feel like it could have been trimmed down a bit. The first part of the book focuses on Elizabeth’s childhood as a cherished Princess of England and spans the time from when she is around 4 all the way to 16 years old. While this portion provided useful background knowledge to the conflict that builds up, the perspective didn’t read like that of a child’s. It was at times filled with observations that were too mature for a child that age. A lot of this part of the book read like filler to me, since it was all more or less build up to when the conflict breaks out.
Overall, this was an excellent read and it beautifully brought the characters to life along with this pivotal period in history. It definitely lived up to the standards set by the author’s previous books. This is supposed to be a series that spans three generations of Tudors: Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII and Mary I – I can’t wait to see how she writes the other two. For all the notoriety surrounding Henry, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book from his perspective and I’m eager to see how she will give his character voice. I would highly recommend this for historical fiction fans, and readers of Tudor era novels in particular are sure to enjoy this book!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
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