From the award-winning author of A Rose for the Crown, Daughter of York, and The King’s Grace comes another masterful historical novel—the story of Cecily of York, mother of two kings and the heroine of one of history’s greatest love stories.
Anne Easter Smith’s novels are beloved by readers for their ability “to grab you, sweep you along with the story, and make you fall in love with the characters.”
In Cecily Neville, duchess of York and ancestor of every English monarch to the present day, she has found her most engrossing character yet. History remembers Cecily of York standing on the steps of the Market Cross at Ludlow, facing an attacking army while holding the hands of her two young sons. Queen by Right reveals how she came to step into her destiny, beginning with her marriage to Richard, duke of York, whom she meets when she is nine and he is thirteen. Raised together in her father’s household, they become a true love match and together face personal tragedies, pivotal events of history, and deadly political intrigue. All of England knows that Richard has a clear claim to the throne, and when King Henry VI becomes unfit to rule, Cecily must put aside her hopes and fears and help her husband decide what is right for their family and their country. Queen by Right marks Anne Easter Smith’s greatest achievement, a book that every fan of sweeping, exquisitely detailed historical fiction will devour.
Back in my pre blogging days I read and loved Sharon Kay Penman's Sunne in Splendour which was predominantly about Richard III. Reading that book sent me on a journey through lots of Ricardian fiction and one of my favourite reads at that time was Anne Easter Smith's debut novel A Rose for the Crown. In the nearly five years since I read that book, I had intended to read more from this author. With this new book, Queen by Right, I finally got around to actually doing so.
There can be no doubting whether Anne Easter Smith is for York or Lancaster when it comes to deciding which side she would have backed had she had to pick side in the war of the Roses, or at least there isn't much doubt based on the two books I have read so far. That should be sufficient warning to expect that York is good and Lancastrian is pretty much not!
Having now read most of this book, I must say I am a little amazed that we haven't heard more about Cicely's life before now. She has always been mentioned in books about Edward and Richard, her two sons who both ruled England, but Anne Easter Smith manages to give Cicely's story depth and interest all of it's own.
The novel opens with the woman who has been known as the Rose of Raby due to her beauty and also as Proud Cis for her bearing, grace and dignity. Now though, she is deep in mourning. Her beloved husband is dead, as are several of her other family members, and now she must find a way to carry on and support her remaining children.
Looking back retrospectively we see her meet and fall in love with her husband Richard and follow their lives together through their time in France and Ireland, parenting their many children and then to the conflict that pitted the Yorks against the formidable and nasty Margaret of Anjou, known through history as a she-wolf. Whilst battling for the rewards due to a man of his stature, Richard walks a fine line between loyalty and treachery against King Henry.
Of Cicely personally we meet a devout woman who believes passionately in the Virgin Mary. Her spiritual development is affected pretty early on as a result of the interactions that the book suggests she had with Jeanne de Arc. I am not sure that there is much historical basis, but with the timing all fitting, this part of the narrative has made it possible for the reader to view some of the most famous events of the time through the eyes of Cicely. Coincidentally, today is the anniversary of the death of the saint known to most of us as Joan of Arc.
As much as I have enjoyed reading this book, there are a couple of small things that I feel that I should mention. The first relates to Cicely and Richard's sex life. Whilst the scenes are not overly graphic in nature, I am not sure that we needed to be present for the conception of practically every child she had (and there were a lot!). The second thing was that there appeared to be times where the author lost track of some of the characters, particularly the children, and keeping all of the key players straight in the conflicts later in the book was some times a little difficult. These are minor complaints though.
For the most part, we are given a fascinating glimpse into the life of a woman who is ancestor to nearly every king or queen of England since her death, was mother to two kings, and who seems to have left more of an imprint in the pages of historical fiction than a lot of other women of her time.
Luckily for me, I have two more of Anne Easter Smith's books sitting on my shelf that I can go back and read!
This book counts towards the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.
Thanks to Amy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for organising the blog tour that this post is part of and for arranging for me to receive an e ARC. Head over to Historical Tapestry for your chance to win a copy of this book!