April 3, 2008
The Reluctant Queen by Jean Plaidy
In 15th century England, Lady Anne Neville is the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, a wealthy, ambition man with the influence to determine kingship. The War of the Roses, a war between the houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England has ended. The Lancastrians demand to reinstate the elderly and insane King Henry VI lost. Anne’s father’s support won the throne for the young, charismatic King Edward IV, a man the Earl of Warwick is confident he can influence.
To secure his power over King Edward, Warwick marries his eldest daughter Isabel to King Edward’s brother, George, the Duke of Clarence. When King Edward’s younger, more serious brother, Richard, is sent to Middleham, Warwick’s family home, to train, Anne falls in love with him and he with her.
King Edward is an independent man and he proves to be uncontrollable by the wily Warwick. The entire country is aghast when Edward marries Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner and widow with two young children. Rumours abound that Elizabeth bewitched the king in a wood. As queen, she is anxious to raise the status of her family and ambitiously arranges political marriages and secures positions and estates for them. Before long, the Woodvilles are in power, not King Edward and certainly not the Earl of Warwick.
Angered, Warwick shifts his loyalties to the Lancastrians and betroths his youngest daughter Anne to the son of the insane Henry VI, also named Edward. Anne, who has only ever known the Lancastrians as the enemy is now sent to France with her future mother-in-law, Henry's wife, the strident and voracious Margaret. Together, the two women wait as Warwick and the Lancastrians battle to overcome King Edward and reinstate Anne’s betrothed as the rightful king.
The Lancastrian’s lose the battle and Anne’s betrothed is killed. King Edward places her under the guardianship of her brother-in-law, Clarence, and she is returned to England.
Misfortune strikes again however. Clarence is ruthless and has always wanted to usurp the crown from his elder brother, King Edward. Anne and Richard are reunited and they pledge their hearts to each other and await approval for marriage. Clarence is determined to keep his hands on Isabel’s and Anne's fortune and does not wish Anne to marry Richard. He is behind a treacherous plot that not only rips the two lovers from each, but removes Anne from all that she has known and loved. Poor Anne, all she wants from life is to live quietly with her family. Instead, circumstance after circumstance plunge her into turmoil until ultimately she is adorned as queen, a position she never desired.
Jean Plaidy has successfully recreated a highly complex period in English history. The author did an excellent job of explaining the complicated inter-relationships between the characters which made the story easy to follow. She made it easy to understand how the Lancastrians came to be enemies of the house of York and how their different claims came about.
Jean Plaidy manages to keep readers' interest throughout while bringing this rich story to life. The novel highlights a very critical era in English history and Jean Plaidy made it fun to learn.