While Richard III lost the Battle of Bosworth, he has arguably won the battle of historical fiction. It’s rare to find a recent historical novel where he’s not depicted sympathetically, and it’s equally rare to find a novel where Elizabeth Woodville is depicted sympathetically. Even in the novels where she’s the heroine, she’s cold, calculating, and unscrupulous, and if the author can toss in a dash (or more) of sorcery, so much the better.
But with The Stolen Crown, I came out of the closet, so to speak: I am a Woodvillian. Not only do I love Elizabeth Woodville, I love her large family.
Now, a Woodvillian doesn’t get that way overnight. Having first gained an interest in the Wars of the Roses through Shakespeare, I naturally gravitated toward novels set during that conflict when I became a voracious reader of historical fiction. As I read novel after novel depicting the Woodvilles in a negative light, I began asking myself, were they really that bad? My curiosity soon led me to the history shelves of the local university library and to my answer: No.
We “know,” for instance, that Elizabeth Woodville procured the Earl of Desmond’s execution because he spoke slightingly about her marriage to Edward IV. But do we? No contemporary source links Elizabeth to his death, and none of her enemies made such an accusation against her, despite the great advantage to which such charges could have been put to use as anti-Woodville propaganda. We “know” that the greedy Woodvilles accused the unfortunate Thomas Cook of treason just so they could despoil him of his goods. But the Lancastrian plot that Cook was convicted of concealing was very real; some of the actual plotters paid with their lives, whereas Cook got off with a large fine and remained a wealthy man nonetheless. We “know” that Elizabeth Woodville and her mother, Jacquetta, were practicing witches—but the accusations against them, made by their enemies, were never proven.
What, by contrast, do we know about the Woodvilles that can be substantiated? We know that Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, married a handsome young man far beneath her social station without royal license, risking the king’s disfavor, and that this shocking match produced twelve children who lived to adulthood (including Kate, the heroine of The Stolen Crown). We know that Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, was an expert jouster, that he was one of the earliest patrons of the printer William Caxton, and that he spent the night before his execution writing poetry. We know that Edward Woodville charmed Ferdinand and Isabella and died gallantly fighting for a lost cause. We know that Edward IV, King of England, could have had a wealthy, well-connected foreign princess as a bride, but instead risked the anger of his advisors and married Elizabeth Woodville, a widowed commoner with little property and two young sons.
An interesting lot—and, I think, a lovable one. My hope is that when you read The Stolen Crown, you’ll come to love them too—or at the very least, to realize that far from being cardboard villains, the Woodvilles were a lot like most of us, neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but somewhere along that vast spectrum that lies in between.