The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory was published in 2011. It’s part of the author’s fictional Three Cousins’ War series. I decided to read it after I read her essay about Jacquetta in the book which I reviewed here.

It begins in 1430 at the Castle of Beaurevoir near Arras and Joan (of Arc) has just been billeted there as part of the houshold, which includes Jacquetta who despite just being 15 or so has been married off to the much older Duke of Bedford,  Regent of France and uncle to the young English King Henry VI. It’s a marriage in name only as the duke just wants to use Jacquetta’s gifts.

Jacquetta is supposedly descended from Melusina, the river godess and can sometimes see the future, a dangerous trait to have when women in particular can easily be accused of being witches. There’s nothing that she can do for Joan when she herself is accused of witchcraft.

With the death of her husband Jacquetta is free to marry Richard Woodville, her husband’s squire, although they end up having to pay a fine because Jacquetta shouldn’t have married out of the aristocracy.

When they return to England they’re warmly welcomed by the king and so begins their life at the court, never an easy place to be but it has its compensations. Richard is made a baron and is given an estate, mainly because Jacquetta is a favourite with the queen.  It’s the royal couples worst habit, handing out goodies to courtiers for no good reason which incenses those who might be more deserving of notice. Jealousy and anger abound, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Jacquetta seems to have been some sort of superwoman as she had at least 14 children, would hardly have had time to get over one pregnancy before she was pregnant again and still managed to pack a lot into life, supporting the king. But war was never far away and changes mean danger.

I must admit that I had never even heard of Jacquetta until recently, it’s really sad the way strong women have been overlooked by historians. Although this is a work of fiction the author has done plenty of research and woven an entertaining story around what is known.

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson – The Classics Club

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1888 and it’s one of the books on my Classics Club list. It’s set during the Wars of the Roses in the time of King Henry VI and as you would expect it’s a combination of adventure and romance. Sadly it didn’t come up to the standards of Treasure Island, Kidnapped or even its sequel Catriona.

Dick Shelton’s father was murdered when Dick was younger and now that he is grown up Dick wants to get justice for his father. Unfortunately Dick’s guardian is Sir Daniel, he’s a rogue although supposedly a gentleman. Sir Daniel buys up guardianships so that he can plunder their money before they reach maturity. He has kidnapped Joanna Sedley from her legal guardian, intending to marry her off to Dick.

Meanwhile Dick is beginning to think that Sir Daniel and his cronies are actually responsible for his father’s death and Joanna is sure of it, she persuades Dick to team up with The Black Arrow outlaws against Sir Daniel.

I really disliked the style of writing that Stevenson employed in this book, a sort of archaic English which Stevenson himself called ‘tushery’. I suppose that he thought it would help with the historical atmosphere, but it really doesn’t.

There is quite a lot of fighting and killing, as you would expect in a book which features battles and spies and a 15th century setting. I read this one for The Classics Club and I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg as my copy of the book dates from 1908 and has teeny weeny print.

Kingmaker Divided Souls by Toby Clements

 Kingmaker Divided Souls cover

Kingmaker Divided Souls by Toby Clements was first published in 2016 and it’s the second book in the author’s Kingmaker series which begins with Winter Pilgrims, the second one is Broken Faith. I hadn’t read either of those ones as I was given this book by a friend who had bought two copies by mistake (we’ve all done it) and as I had recently read Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses series I thought I would manage this one history wise anyway – which I did.

Toby Clements’s series seems to concentrate on telling the story from an ordinary person’s point of view rather than through an exalted character, so it’s all quite domestic and doesn’t have an awful lot of battles in it although there is some fighting.

The story begins just after Easter in 1469, Thomas and Katherine Everingham have built a little home for themselves on their employer’s land, but everything changes for them when their boss dies suddenly and his widow’s sons arrive to take over the running of the estate and they reluctantly have to leave their home and workplace and take to the road again with some friends, one of whom is heavily pregnant.

It looks very much like war is about to break out again with the Earl of Warwick conspiring against King Edward, mainly because of the behaviour of the king’s in-laws. The earl is scouring the countryside to gather up a large army to attack the king, but Thomas and his friends have had enough of fighting in their lifetime – not that they have much choice.

This was a really good read with adventure, intrigue and some great characters.

Ravenspur by Conn Iggulden

 Ravenspur cover

Ravenspur (Rise of the Tudors) by Conn Iggulden was published in 2016 and is the last in the author’s Wars of the Roses series which I’ve really enjoyed, although as you would expect some are better than others. This one wasn’t my favourite but it’s still a really good read and crucially the whole thing made that era of English history a lot clearer to me.

King Edward IV (York) who snatched the throne from the ill King Henry VI (Lancaster) is forced to flee the country when the Lancaster contingent gained ascendancy again. Edward had let himself go and spent his time drinking, eating and womanising. His wife, Elizabeth Woodville has had to grab her children and run to nearby sanctuary in Westminster Abbey where she hopes they’ll be safe, but she has spent years making enemies as she took nepotism to new highs, convincing the king to give all of her family money and status, to the detriment of others at court.

It isn’t long before Edward is back in England again raising an army to depose Henry and put him back in the tower. The shock kills Henry and King Edward returns to his high living which eventually ends in his early death at the age of 40. His brother Richard sets to work to get rid of Edward’s sons who should be the next in line to the throne, albeit through a regent as the eldest is only 12 or so. Richard has Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage declared as invalid and therefore all their children illegitimate making Richard next in line. I doubt if he really relished the thought of wearing the crown however with things as they were it was probably the best way of surviving – at least for a while. Three years pass and Richard is killed in battle when the Tudors decide it’s their time to be in power.

I think this is the weakest book in the series but if you’ve read the first three then you’ll want to read this one too. Warning – there are an awful lot of Henrys and Edwards!

Bloodline – Wars of the Roses by Conn Iggulden

Bloodline cover

Bloodline – Wars of the Roses by Conn Iggulden is the third book in this series, it begins in Winter 1461 and two men have been given the scary and disgusting task of impaling the heads of Richard Neville – Earl of Salisbury, Richard – Duke of York, and his young son Edmund on spikes mounted above the Micklegate which is one of the gateways into the walled city of York. They had been ordered to do it by Queen Margaret after her troops won the Battle of Wakefield. Margaret is calling the shots as her husband King Henry VI is yet again too ill to carry out his duties as king. She’s determined to put an end to the ambitions of the rival families for the throne, but as was predicted by one of her victims – she just succeeds in making the surviving family members determined to make Margaret, Henry and their supporters pay for their actions.

If you don’t like reading about battles then this one won’t be for you as the whole book lurches from one battle to another although the descriptions aren’t usually too gory, and for me I found the intricacies of the armour, weaponry and battle tactics interesting.

This series has made the Wars of the Roses era so much clearer to me and I haven’t had to refer to the family trees at the front of the book too often. There are so many Edwards, Henrys and Richards though and of course their titles to contend with too. But I’ve already requested Ravenspur which is the fourth book in this series from the library so it won’t be too long before I’ll be reading that one.

Trinity by Conn Iggulden

 Trinity cover

Trinity by Conn Iggulden is the second book in his Wars of the Roses trilogy and it was published in 2014.

The date is 1454 and King Henry VI is still haunted by a mystery illness which has him in a vacant and sleepy state for months on end, unable to take any part in ruling of his kingdom. Inevitably this has led to those who are close to the throne casting their eyes in that direction. The actual heir to the throne is Henry’s small son and his mother Queen Margaret fears for the future, but she’s no shrinking violet and is determined to keep control of the realm while King Henry is out of commission. Men and families are taking sides, either supporting the King or Richard, Duke of York, who is supposedly the Protector of the Realm. Lancaster or York, which side are you on?

I really loved this one although there is a lot of fighting in it. I was particularly interested in the Battle of St Albans with soldiers crashing through houses and gardens to get to the enemy. It’s a place I haven’t been though and I wonder if they have interesting historical notes carved into the paving stones – as they do in Worcester where fighting went on within that town in a later time of English conflict.

I’m really looking forward to reading the last in this series.

Wars of the Roses – Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

 Wars of the Roses - Stormbird cover

Wars of the Roses – Stormbird by Conn Iggulden was first published in 2013 and it’s the first book in a trilogy. After really enjoying reading the author’s Dunstan I felt the need to go onto this series, luckily my local library had a copy on its shelves. The subject matter was something that I knew absolutely nothing about. It begins in 1437. King Henry VI is young and inexperienced, after years of there being a regency as he was too young he is now supposedly in charge. In reality he’s just about as far from being a warrior king like his father as is possible. He spends his time praying, obviously isn’t looking after his health, hardly sleeps and consequently is often ill both mentally and physically. His doctor seems determined to kill him with bleedings and purgatives. He’s desperate for a long peace with France but the territories in France that have been won in battles over the years are under threat from the French.

In an effort to keep the peace Henry decides to marry Margaret of Anjou, a very young daughter of the Duke of Anjou. Part of the secret deal brokered by his spymaster Derry Brewer and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk is that Henry gives back some of his French territories including Anjou and Maine so they will be in French hands again. This infuriates the English men who had farmed the land for years and regarded it as their own. They still remember the men who had died in battle to gain the land. They’re thrown off the land by the French and often killed by French soldiers, the surviving refugees make for England to complain about their treatment. As they travel towards London the force grows ever larger and led by Jack Cade they storm the city.

Richard, Duke of York has ambition to usurp Henry, but Queen Margaret is determined to keep herself and her husband in power, despite his shortcomings. Margaret has to take over as Henry is unfit to rule.

I really liked this one. I knew next to nothing about this era of English history and I felt that I learned a lot, there’s a bibliography at the back so hopefully the history is mainly correct. I didn’t even realise that there was land in France called ‘Maine’ which is presumably where the state in America took its name from.

I’ll definitely be reading the next one in this trilogy.

Helen of She Reads Novels didn’t enjoy it as much as I did and you can read her view of the book here.