Queen by Right

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Bookworm

Queen by Right

Book Review:  Queen by Right

Anne Easter Smith, Queen by Right.  Touchstone, New York, 2011.  ISBN 9781416550471 (paperback)

The queen of the title of Anne Easter Smith’s latest novel is Cecily Neville, the mother of Edward IV and Richard III.  Many readers of historical fiction will shared the experiences of  her sons in novels, but this has been much less the case for Cecily.  And after meeting Anne Easter Smith’s Cecily I can only wonder why.

Queen by Right covers Cecily’s life from 1423, when she is eight years old, until her son Edward’s coronation in June 1461.  And while the events of the remaining 34 years of Cecily’s life would easily provide enough material for at least one other novel, I welcome her decision to limit this one to the earlier – and at least for me – less well-known period.

The framework of the story is set in February 1461, when a grieving Cecily remembers her life with her beloved husband Richard, duke of York, who had been killed just a few weeks previously at the Battle of Wakefield.

We first meet Cecily at the age of eight, indulged by her father.  She is lively and spirited and speaks her mind.  The reader joins her when she first meets her father’s new ward, Richard, duke of York, who is 12 at the time.  We share her experiences as they get to know each other, become friends, are married and learn to love each other. I found these early chapters of the books, when both Cecily and Richard are children, particularly interesting.

Cecily follows here young husband to France, when he is posted on campaign.  Here she meets Jeanne d’Arc, an encounter that resonates with Cecily for a long time.  As Anne explains in her Author’s Note, there is no historical evidence that they ever came face to face, but both were at the same castle in Rouen at the same time, so it might have been possible, and it certainly gives the story added poignancy.

We experience with Cecily the heartbreak of the early death of children.  I did not care so much of Cecily’s favouritism of certain of her children over others, though this is fairly convincingly motivated.

Mostly I find myself rather sceptical when I find historical couples, about whose feelings we have absolutely no idea, presented as the biggest love story ever, but in this case it might very well be true, if we consider the many children they had who were born over a wide variety of places.  If nothing else it indicates that the book’s description of Cecily determined to accompany her husband wherever possible is correct.

We experience through Cecily’s eyes how England moves to the struggles, known to us as the Wars of the Roses.  I recently read Susan Higginbotham’s latest novel, which covers approximately the same time frame.  Susan’s Queen of Last Hopes – Margaret of Anjou – describes the period from a Lancastrian point of view, while in Anne’s Queen by Right we find the Yorkist point of view, and I enjoyed the way both books complement each other.

After investigating possible Yorkist links to Hatfield, Herts I was interested to see whether Cecily’s son Henry would be born in Hertfordshire or Yorkshire.  However, Anne sidesteps the issue and Henry is born at Hunsdon, which was unquestionably a Yorkist residence, also in Hertfordshire.

It is clear that Anne researched her subject well and also includes a reading list in Queen by Right.  It is well written and entertaining and brings the period and the people to life.  I loved the book from start to finish.  Highly recommended.

Make sure to visit Anne Easter Smith on her website.

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