Elizabeth of York (Weir)

Elizabeth of York:  A Tudor Queen and Her World
Alison Weir, 2013
Random House
608 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780345521361

Many are familiar with the story of the much-married King Henry VIII of England and the celebrated reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I. But it is often forgotten that the life of the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and Elizabeth’s grandmother, spanned one of England’s most dramatic and perilous periods.

Now New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir presents the first modern biography of this extraordinary woman, whose very existence united the realm and ensured the survival of the Plantagenet bloodline.

Her birth was greeted with as much pomp and ceremony as that of a male heir. The first child of King Edward IV, Elizabeth enjoyed all the glittering trappings of royalty. But after the death of her father; the disappearance and probable murder of her brothers—the Princes in the Tower; and the usurpation of the throne by her calculating uncle Richard III, Elizabeth found her world turned upside-down: She and her siblings were declared bastards.

As Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, was dying, there were murmurs that the king sought to marry his niece Elizabeth, knowing that most people believed her to be England’s rightful queen. Weir addresses Elizabeth’s possible role in this and her covert support for Henry Tudor, the exiled pretender who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth and was crowned Henry VII, first sovereign of the House of Tudor.

Elizabeth’s subsequent marriage to Henry united the houses of York and Lancaster and signaled the end of the Wars of the Roses. For centuries historians have asserted that, as queen, she was kept under Henry’s firm grasp, but Weir shows that Elizabeth proved to be a model consort—pious and generous—who enjoyed the confidence of her husband, exerted a tangible and beneficial influence, and was revered by her son, the future King Henry VIII.

Drawing from a rich trove of historical records, Weir gives a long overdue and much-deserved look at this unforgettable princess whose line descends to today’s British monarch—a woman who overcame tragedy and danger to become one of England’s most beloved consorts. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Westminster, England, UK
Education—North Western Polytechnic
Currently—lives in Surrey, England

Alison Weir is a British writer of histories and historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British royalty. Her works on the Tudor period have made her a best-selling author—and the highest-selling female historian in the United Kingdom.

Weir has written biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Katherine Swynford, and the Princes in the Tower. Other focuses have included Henry VIII of England and his wives and children, Mary Boleyn, Elizabeth I, and Mary, Queen of Scots, and most recently Elizabeth of York (Henry VIII's mother). She has published historical overviews of the Wars of the Roses and royal weddings, as well as historical fiction novels on Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth I, and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Early life
Weir became interested in the field of history at the age of fourteen after reading a book about Catherine of Aragon. She was educated at City of London School for Girls and North Western Polytechnic and hoped to become a history teacher. But disillusioned with what she referred to as "trendy teaching methods," she abandoned teaching as a career.

In 1972 she married Rankin Weir in 1972 with whom she had two children in the early 1980s. Weir worked as a civil servant, and later as a housewife and mother to her children. Between 1991 and 1997, she ran a school for children with learning disabilities.

In the 1970s, Weir spent four years researching and writing a nonfiction biography of the six wives of Henry VIII. Her work, deemed too long by publishers, was consequently rejected. A revised version of this biography would later be published in 1991 as The Six Wives of Henry VIII. In 1981, she wrote a book on Jane Seymour, which was again rejected by publishers—this time because it was too short.

Finally, in 1989, Weir became a published author with the publication of Britain's Royal Families, a compilation of genealogical information about the British Royal Family. She had spent the previous 22 years revising the book (eight times), finally deciding it might be "of interest to others." After organizing it into chronological order, The Bodley Head agreed to publish it.

It wasn't until the late 1990s, however, that Weir would begin writing full-time. While running the school for children with learning disabilities, she published the non-fiction works The Princes in the Tower (1992), Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses (1995), and Children of England: The Heirs of King Henry VIII (1996).

Eventually writing books as a full-time job, she produced Elizabeth the Queen (1998) (published in America as The Life of Elizabeth I), Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England (1999), Henry VIII: The King and His Court (2001), Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley (2003), and Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England (2005). Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess followed in 2007, The Lady in The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn in 2009, and Traitors of the Tower in 2010. In 2011, she completed The Ring and the Crown: A History of Royal Weddings and Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, the first full non-fiction biography of Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn. In 2013, Weir published an historical biography of Henry VIII's mother, Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World.

Many of Weir's works deal with the Tudor period, which she considers...

the most dramatic period in our history, with vivid, strong personalities... The Tudor period is the first one for which we have a rich visual record, with the growth of portraiture, and detailed sources on the private lives of kings and queens. This was an age that witnessed a growth in diplomacy and the spread of the printed word.

Weir wrote historical novels while a teenager, and her novel in the genre of historical fiction, Innocent Traitor, based on the life of Lady Jane Grey, was published in 2006. When researching Eleanor of Aquitaine, Weir realized that it would "be very liberating to write a novel in which I could write what I wanted while keeping to the facts." She decided to make Jane Grey her focus because she "didn't have a very long life and there wasn't a great deal of material."

Weir said she found the transition to fiction easy:

Every book is a learning curve, and you have to keep an open mind. I am sometimes asked to cut back on the historical facts in my novels, and there have been disagreements over whether they obstruct the narrative, but I do hold out for the history whenever I can.

Her second novel, The Lady Elizabeth (2008) deals with the life of Queen Elizabeth I before her ascent to the throne. Her third novel, The Captive Queen (2010) is about Eleanor of Aquitaine, also the focus of a non-fiction biography Weir had written in 1999.

Writing style
Weir's writings have been catagorized as "popular history," a genre that has attracted criticism from academia. According to one source on sound academic writing, it's purpose is...

to inform and entertain a large general audience. In popular history, dramatic storytelling often prevails over analysis, style over substance, simplicity over complexity, and grand generalization over careful qualification. (Hamilton College)

Weir, however, argues that...

History is not the sole preserve of academics, although I have the utmost respect for those historians who undertake new research and contribute something new to our knowledge. History belongs to us all, and it can be accessed by us all. And if writing it in a way that is accessible and entertaining, as well as conscientiously researched, can be described as popular, then, yes, I am a popular historian, and am proud and happy to be one.

Kathryn Hughes, writing in The Guardian, said of Weir's popular historian label, "To describe her as a popular historian would be to state a literal truth—her chunky explorations of Britain’s early modern past sell in the kind of multiples that others can only dream of."

Reviews of Weir's works have been mixed.

  • The Independent said of The Lady in the Tower that "it is testament to Weir's artfulness and elegance as a writer that The Lady in the Tower remains fresh and suspenseful, even though the reader knows what's coming."
  • On the other hand, Diarmaid MacCulloch, in a review of Henry VIII: King and Court, called it "a great pudding of a book, which will do no harm to those who choose to read it. Detail is here in plenty, but Tudor England is more than royal wardrobe lists, palaces and sexual intrigue."
  • The Globe and Mail, reviewing the novel, The Captive Queen, said that she had "skillfully imagined royal lives" in previous works, "but her style here is marred by less than subtle characterizations and some seriously cheesy writing"
  • Roger Boyle in The New York Times said of Elizabeth of York, "Weir tells Elizabeth's story well…she is a meticulous scholar. The everyday minutiae of life are painstakingly described…Most important, Weir sincerely admires her subject, doing honor to an almost forgotten queen."

Personal life
Weir now lives in Surrey with her husband and two sons. She has called "Mrs Ellen," a fictional character from her novel about Jane Grey, most like her own personality and commented that, "As I was writing the book, my maternal side was projected into this character."

Weir is a supporter of the renovation of Northampton Castle, proclaiming the estate a "historic site of prime importance. It would be tragic if it were to be lost forever. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 12/09/2013.)

Book Reviews
Weir tells Elizabeth's story well…she is a meticulous scholar. The everyday minutiae of life are painstakingly described…Most important, Weir sincerely admires her subject, doing honor to an almost forgotten queen.
Roger Boylan - New York Times Book Review

[A]s a royal princess, Elizabeth was a pawn in the dynastic ambitions of England’s rulers: her father, Edward IV; her uncle, Richard III; her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort; and her husband, Henry VII.... Elizabeth’s life...[is] portrayed in great detail, from marriage ceremonies and royal itineraries to the food, books, gifts, and clothing of her day. Weir argues her positions clearly...balancing the scholarly with emphases on Elizabeth’s emotional and psychological life.
Publishers Weekly

We know all about Henry VIII's famous wives and daughters. But what about his mother, who legitimized the new Tudor dynasty as the only living descendant of Yorkist King Edward IV? The popular Weir...takes on Elizabeth of York in what appears to be the only biography currently available for lay readers.
Library Journal

[A] serious work definitely not aimed at a bodice-ripper audience. This Tudor Elizabeth (1466–1503) lived a century before her much better-known granddaughter, but she was important: the daughter, wife and mother of kings, including Henry VIII.... Weir portrays Elizabeth as a passive observer or victim and often ignores her entirely as she delivers an intensely researched... history of Britain during the turbulent last half of the 15th century.
Kirkus Reviews

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