Friday, March 18, 2011

Why I think the Plantagenets Trump the Tudors by Anne Easter Smith

A bit of background before we get to the post proper! A few days ago, C W Gortner posted for us on Why We Love the Tudors. On Facebook, Anne Easter Smith mentioned that she would like to offer up an alternate view! Of course, having loved her first book, and having a really soft spot for the Plantagenets myself, I wasn't going to say no!


Aren’t we sick of the Tudors yet? Of course, when I say that I run the risk of offending many readers and author colleagues, including my friend C.W. Gortner! But, let’s face it, how many versions of Henry VIII and his wives, beheadings and burning of the monasteries, or the Virgin Queen’s penchant for handsome young earls, naval heroes and white powder does it take to say “Enough, already!” I know I said it long before Philippa Gregory saw the error of her ways. Much to my dismay, she cast her eye upon the 15th century Plantagenets, whose crown the first Tudor king snatched from Richard III’s head, and when she got a contract to write about a series about “my” characters, including Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Jacquetta of Bedford, I found myself whingeing: “What a cheek, she’s coming into my period.” When I complained to our mutual editor at Simon & Schuster, Trish Todd, she wisely admoninshed me: “A rising tide floats all boats, Anne. If Philippa’s readers fall in love with your period through her, they’ll find your books, too.” So, thank you Philippa for joining our 15th century ranks: Sandra Worth, Vanora Bennett, Susan Higginbotham take heart!

From the political machinations that made up Henry II’s reign (the first Plantagenet) and his life with his always readable Eleanor of Aquitaine (see Sharon Kay Penman’s masterful Time and Chance), to Edward II, whose fling with Piers Gaveston almost brought down the monarchy and did cause his untimely and rather grisly end (Susan Higgingbotham’s The Traitor’s Wife), and Edward III whose mistress, Alice Perrers, has been the subject of many a novel (Emma Campion’s comes to mind), and on to flamboyant Richard II, who almost went the same way as his ancestor Ted II, and not forgetting Harry V of Agincourt fame, and on to Richard III who did not murder those adorable little nephews in the Tower (IMHO--see my A Rose for the Crown), the Plantagenets have given us 330 years of fascinating stuff to write and read about. The Tudors? A paltry 118 (and really only 100, because who wants to read about boring Henry VII?)

When I set out to tell Richard III’s story, I thought it would be my one and only book, but once I began researching the Wars of the Roses (the cousins’ war between Lancaster and York, two branches of the Plantagenet family who each thought their claim to the throne better), I became totally engrossed in the period and knew I could not resist telling the whole of the York story once I got started.

My fourth book, which I hope you will consider, is Queen By Right and takes us back to the end of the Hundred Years War (don’t ask!) and right into the Wars of the Roses. Cecily Neville married Richard, duke of York, and bore thirteen children--two of whom became king: Edward IV and Richard III; and a daughter, Margaret, who became the most powerful woman in Europe at the time when she married the duke of Burgundy. One of the most compelling episodes in Cecily’s long life (she lived three weeks past her 80th birthday) was the trial and execution of Joan of Arc. Richard and Cecily of York were in Rouen with King Henry VI’s entourage during the four-month trial. It is probable that Cecily was one of the noble ladies present in the Old Market Place of the Norman capital on May 30, 1431, when Joan was burned at the stake. As the two women were housed in the same castle during the ordeal, I could not resist having them meet briefly. A little dramatic licence is allowed in fiction, isn’t it?

And we must not forget one of the most intriguing of all the Plantagenets: Richard the Lionheart, Henry II and Eleanor’s crusading son, and the subject of Sharon Penman’s next book. I can’t wait!

Have I convinced you to discover a world other than the Tudors’? I do hope so. Try the powerful, passionate world of the Plantagenets for a change; you won’t be sorry.

Anne Easter Smith is the author of four books about the York family during the Wars of the Roses. She is a native of England but makes her home in Newburyport, MA. She is proud to be the aunt of Nick Easter, No. 8 on the England rugby team.


  1. I agree with you completely! The Plantaganets are so much more interesting than the Tudors. There is no comparison between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Elizabeth I. Great post. :)

  2. I will admit, I know little about the Plantagenet. But, that just means I must roll up my sleeves and read!

  3. Great post! While I love the Tudors, I have been branching out and have been thoroughly entranced with Eleanor of Aquitaine of late. Fascinating woman!

    On a side note, my friend is sending me Anne's book, The King's Grace. Can't wait to get it!

  4. I agree with you entirely. having been taught English history by Irish nuns, I didn't have much interest in the period when I was young. My interest was ignited when I spent three weeks researching in and around Westminster Abbey in 2007 for a children's novel I was planning which involved the ghost of Edward V. Now I am teaching a course on the War of the Roses.


  5. Meredith WhitfordMarch 18, 2011 at 6:13 AM

    I too was thoroughly annoyed when Philippa Gregory started trespassing on 'our' territory. Her "The White Queen" was a real potboiler, obviously written with a text book and Rosemary Hawley Jarman's "The King's Grey Mare" propped in front of her. But it is encouraging that even Gregory is obviously sick of the boring, boring, overdone Tudors. Plantagets rule!

  6. Here here. Plantagenets rule, Tudors drool! I'm so tired of how the Tudors have hijacked historical fiction over the past few years. Now it seems that the Borgias are the new Tudors. I can only hope the Plantagenets will stage a come back.

  7. I only recently started to read about the Plantagenets - because I am on Tudor overload. They have quite the fascinating stories too!

  8. Anne, I fell in love with The Plantagenets a long time ago when I first saw The Lion in Winter. I've read a great deal of fiction and non-fiction about them every since. I'm a card carrying Ricardian, and I would much rather read about Henry III's sister Eleanor and Simon de Montfort than Henry Tudor any day. I'm glad that other authors and readers are discovering them as well. After all The Plantagenet dynasty lasted a heck of a lot longer than The Tudors. Heck they even inspired Shakespeare!

  9. I love Anne Easter Smith's books and I credit her for making me fall in love with Richard III. I read "A Rose for the Crown" 2x's and then passed it on to a friend, but I may have to snatch it back because I love reading it so much. I am reading "The King's Grace" right now and can not put it down.

  10. And lest we forget, Josephine Tey's wonderful "A Daughter of Time," which first convinced me Ricky Three got a bum rap!

  11. You have nothing to fear from Gregory. Her writing is formulaic. Her first book was fine - though I personally feel she took a little too much artistic license with history...
    However, everything that followed her first success was scripted and dull.

  12. Ironically my favourite Plantagenets, are the unpopular ones (though I do find most of them interesting, such as Edward I & III, Henry V and Richard III) but my favs are Matilda, Henry II and John I, with Richard I being someone I am truly repulsed by and finding rather tedious and pathetic/pitiful as a monarch.
    I find the founders of the Plantagenet household to be the most fascinating, and would love to see them on the big screen, in particular Henry II and John I, whom were two of the most prominents monarches in English history, with Henry creating the Norman empire and the basis for France, and John creating the administration system, the naval system and the judicial system in some ways of England. I would love to see these men and women on the big screen (even if it means seeing Richard or Eleanor of Aquitaine), they have so much more to offer than say Henry VIII's mindless tantrums or more crap being piled on the Borgias (who were no worse and no better than their predecessors and successors).