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!
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.