Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Stolen Crown

Sorry about the absence last week, folks - I had a kid in the hospital.  With PNEUMONIA.  Who the heck gets pneumonia in August?  My 8 year old, that's who.  So that's how we spent our last week of summer - sitting in a hospital room watching an IV drip drugs and fluid into my kiddo.  Not so much fun. 

But he is healing and I am back!


Did Richard III kill his nephews in order to seize the throne?
Why did the Duke of Buckingham rebel - unsuccessfully - against Richard?
Was Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville legitimate or bigamy?
Am I a total and complete history geek? 

(The answer to that last one is yes, and I am ok with that.)

If you are an average American, you have never once pondered the top three questions.  However, if you are an Anglophile who reads books about the Wars of the Roses for fun, like me, then they are questions you have seriously wondered about.  This period of English history is a particularly controversial one.  There was so much intrigue at the time that it is hard to determine what was fact and what was slander. 

This makes it a great era for historical fiction writers to take apart and examine. What really happened and why did people do what they did?  We know some things for certain, but the rest is up to which theory you believe.  What really happened before, during, and after the reign of Edward IV in the England of the 15th century?

The Stolen Crown  by Susan Higginbotham takes us back to this period and explores the events of the time through the eyes of two real-life characters - Katherine Woodville Stafford, Duchess of Buckingham, and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.  Katherine was the youngest daughter of Elizabeth Woodville, whose secret marriage to Edward IV rocked his government and was the source of yet another rebellion during a time when the crown bounced back and forth between two feuding branches of the same family.  Katherine was married off to Henry at the age of eight, and the two were raised in King Edward's household.  They eventually had four children together, and the Duke went on to be a key member of King Richard III's government after Edward's death.  However, in one of those moments of history that historians cannot agree about, the Duke suddenly turned on Richard and led a rebellion trying to put Henry Tudor on the throne.  The rebellion failed and the Duke was executed...and in an ironic twist of history, Henry Tudor went on to mount another sucessful rebellion and became King Henry VII. 

Did you follow all that?  Probably not.  I had to read, like, eight books on the Wars of the Roses before things started to make sense, and I still get confused.  It doesn't help that every male is named Richard, Henry or Edward, and every female is named Elizabeth, Anne, or Katherine.  It also doesn't help that, due to titles, everyone has about three different names.   

But I digress.

The Stolen Crown was interesting to me because Higginbotham took me to a perspective I'd never read before, that of the Staffords.  I didn't know much about them before reading this book.  The Duke of Buckingham is usually presented in novels about this period as a true bad guy - evil and scheming and such.  This story presented an entirely different perspective on who Henry Stafford might have been.  Since there is no way of knowing, it's fun to read novels that speculate, and this gave an entirely different viewpoint than that I have read before.

I also enjoyed the back-and-forth perspective between Katherine and Henry.  Higginbotham refers to the same event seen through both sets of eyes, and this makes for a fascinating read.  It keeps the story moving and gives the reader much to think about as they read.  It allows for different perspectives on history to be shared and different theories to be offered.

Along those lines, I will say that I do not agree with Ms. Higginbotham's stance that Richard III killed his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.  After doing my own research, I came to my own conclusion years ago that he was innocent of that crime.  This did not, however, keep me from enjoying this novel immensely.  I like reading perspectives that differ from my own.  It's good to challenge your own ideas, even if it's just theories on 15th century mysteries.  It's a good thing for your mind and character to take your own ideas out for a walk and see how they hold up to others.  It can solidify your own stance or help you see things in a new way. 

The Stolen Crown was a good, fun, quick read, a great little break from the non-fiction I have been tackling lately.  For anyone who is a fan of this genre - and really, even if you've never tried it - it's a good solid venture into the tumultuous Wars of the Roses and a fun, different perspective on the lives of the people of those times. 

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