The York King by Amy Licence
A historical novel which opens in 1464 is always going to be a lively read, if only because it is set in the reign of Edward IV, who represented the house of York in the “Wars of the Roses”. This is the second book in a trilogy, but it reads well as a standalone book which is how I read it. Edward is a young if experienced king, victor of battles and a generous leader surrounded by friends. His relationships with family, friends and most crucially women forms the underlying theme of this well written book. The author is obviously very familiar with this period in history; there is a lot of research behind this novel but it is never allowed to interfere with the strong narrative. This is far from a novel of battles and military matters, but it looks at the cost of loyalty and some of the complexities of a situation where a king is too unwell to be on the throne, but is manipulated by various determined opponents to Edward’s rule. Part of the story is told from the perspective of the women that are close to him in this period, most especially the determined Elizabeth Woodville and her family. With the powerful and volatile Earl of Warwick on the scene, the marriage awakens jealousies and ambitions that will rock the country and make everyone reassess their allegiances. This is a powerful book which is an enthralling read, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
The book opens with Edward and his friends arriving at the house of the new Duke of Norfolk. This is not a social call however; as the Foreword informs us, Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, has recently abandoned the king’s close company and travelled north, seemingly determined to lead another rising against Edward. This is a violation of the close friendship that Edward felt he had enjoyed with the other young man, but Beaufort’s father had always opposed Edward’s, and memories are significant at this turbulent time. Edward encounters relatives of his mother Cecily, and one in particular takes his interest. Eleanor is a young widow, dispossessed of her late husband’s lands, and holds attractions for at least one man. Edward’s style of kingship is generous, even to those who are not wealthy, powerful or influential, which deeply annoys his cousin Warwick, who insists on seeing the bigger picture and trying to ensure political alliances, especially in terms of securing Edward’s marriage to a royal bride from France. Edward is aware that he must marry and ensure a male heir for the York interest, but is not keen on an arranged match. This is especially so when he encounters Elizabeth of the Woodville family, another young widow whose two sons have not inherited their father’s lands. A simple plea for her boys’ interests becomes a mutual attraction that will change many people’s plans, and indeed change history.
This book covers a period of time where Edward’s reign is threatened on more than one occasion, and where women have to act decisively even though they are limited in many ways. As with any novel set in this period there are many characters who share the same first name, but Licence elegantly uses titles and other ways of avoiding confusion. This is a fascinating book of an exciting period in English history, seen from a very human perspective, and I recommend it to those who enjoy historical novels.