A window into the life of a professional geek, wife and mother (and nonni), stitcher/designer, bibliophile, old-school gamer, and whatever other roles she finds herself in.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A Rose by any other name...

Book Review: Rose series by Eleanor Fairburn

Titles: The Rose in Spring, White Rose, Dark Summer, The Rose at Harvest End, Winter's Rose
Author: Eleanor Fairburn
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Data: Robert Hale & Co, London. 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976. Out of Print (and hard to find!)

This quartet covers the life of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York (1415-1495), and many of the events surrounding the English Wars of the Roses (1452-1497). The first two books, The Rose in Spring and White Rose, Dark Summer, follow the lives Cecily and her husband Richard, 3rd Duke of York, through their life together as they struggle with an increasingly hostile political situation created by the early death of Henry V, and long minority of his son Henry VI. One sympathizes with the Yorks as the political machinations of the Lancastrian Beauforts and Margaret d'Anjou, Henry's queen, drive Richard to reluctantly press a claim to the throne for the sake of their country.

With Richard's death in battle in December 1460, and the coronation of the Yorks' eldest son Edward in June 1461, the tone of the series begins to shift in The Rose at Harvest End, focusing more on Edward IV and the events of the Wars as Cecily begins to withdraw from political life. Although her son is now King, Cecily is still concerned both with Lancastrian uprisings, and a new set of problems caused by Edward's womanizing and his patronage of the large family of his new queen, Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of a Lancastrian leader.

When Edward's dissolute lifestyle sends him to an early grave at the beginning of Winter's Rose, Cecily's youngest son Richard is named Protector, and later King. Unlike more well-known but historically suspect portrayals (Shakespeare comes to mind), Fairburn portrays Richard III in a positive light - an honorable man, beloved by his family and countrymen, who tried to make the best of an unexpected and unwanted kingship while trying to counter further intrigues by the Woodvilles and uprisings fomented by the Lancastrian faction.

The main story itself ends in 1483. The deaths of Richard III's son and wife, Richard's own death at Bosworth in 1485, the ruthless tactics of Henry Tudor's regime and the campaigns of several pretenders to the English throne are mentioned in flashback in the epilogue as Cecily lies on her deathbed.

I personally found these books a quick and engaging read - I was able to get a feel for how historical events both in England and in Europe were interrelated, and how they affected the lives of people during that time. I'm admittedly not much of an expert on the Wars of the Roses, but for the most part the story seemed to fit with the information I did have. The portrayals of Cecily and of her husband and sons are favorable, but they are also human, with their own motivations and issues. Margaret d'Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville both come across as cold and scheming, but still human for that.

They're well worth a read...if you can find them. Good luck - it took me 5 years to get Winter's Rose, and I'm not selling!

If you're interested in Wars of the Roses historical fiction, an excellent book to start with is Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendour. That one got me interested in Richard III and the Wars of the Roses, and I've been there ever since.

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