A royal book trail – Alison Weir


This week Alison Weir attends the Hexham Book Festival to talk about her latest historical book Elizabeth of York.

Elizabeth was of course the mother of Henry VIII – she married Henry VII and thus helped bring to an end the War of the Roses between two sides of a warring family that had plagued England for many years.

She is perhaps not the most well known figure in history – did you know she planned to marry Richard III? Even though she suspected him of killing her brothers – the princes in the tower?

The Princes in the Tower - image from Wikipedia
The Princes in the Tower – image from Wikipedia

Alison Weir calls her an enigma and reading this biography she certainly seems that way. She did what all women had to do at that time – stay in the background. And this meant that scheming and survival techniques were a key way of life.

The good thing about historical books of this nature is that it takes a book and a booktrail to really bring it to life! This book does tell us a lot about a woman’s lot in life, royal or not and sadly somethings still ring true even today  –


Elizabeth of York would have ruled England but for the fact that she was a woman. – (sexism)

It has been said that Elizabeth was distrusted and kept in subjection by Henry VII and her formidable mother-in -law Margaret Beaufort (mother in law problems)

..thus uniting the red and white roses of Lancaster and York (peacekeeper and mediator)

And all of this whilst living through the most restrictive period of history for a woman, royal or not. Even so Elizabeth of York was important. She was the daughter, sister, niece, wife , mother and grandmother of monarchs.

She was the ancestress of every English monarch since 1509 including the present day Queen.  Wife to one Tudor king and mother to another  she became a catalyst for change.

More importantly that her role as Queen consort, she lived through a remarkable period of British history – from medieval to modern and a  book trail around some of the places associated with her can open up the readers eyes even more.

Palace of Westminster

Palace of Westminster - image from Wikipedia
Palace of Westminster – image from Wikipedia

Elizabeth was born here and lived her for most of her life and you can visit here to get a real sense of where she started her life – http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/

The tower of London

The tower of London - image from Wikipedia
The tower of London – image from Wikipedia

Where at least one of her brothers – probably two were thought to have been held captive and then murdered by Richard III.  Visit this remarkable place here –http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/

Bosworth Field

Plaque at Boswoth Field commemorating its  historical importance - image from Wikipedia
Plaque at Boswoth Field commemorating its historical importance – image from Wikipedia

Where Richard III dies in battle and Henry VII is the victor who goes on to marry Elizabeth of York and end the War of the Roses.http://www.bosworthbattlefield.com/

And don’t forget to visit the author here on her website – http://alisonweir.org.uk/


Alison Weir and Elizabeth of York



Alison Weir is first and foremost a historian but when you combine this with her writing skills and ability to make us care about historical figures whether popular or less known, then you can guarantee that any book with her name on it ‘does what is says on the tin’


This is not a history book however – it is a story of intrigue and mystery A story of a woman often forgotten in history but who was right at the heart of the action during the golden era of the Plantagenets and the rise of the Tudors.


Elizabeth  has often been written about only in relation to her father, uncle husband and of course son was, but delve into Elizabeth’s story is to find out a different story altogether overlooked.


There is a lot of history covered here and for all those history buffs out there, you will love the family trees, the history of the family feuds, how the nobles of the time dressed, what they ate etc. It is a very detailed book but is not a heavy read thanks to the skill of the author. The nature of her writing, the development of her findings is impressive as are the conclusions which she comes to.


An interesting introduction to the Palace of Westminster too where Elizabeth of York was born and lived as a child  –


The Palace of Westminster

Where  Elizabeth was born in 1466 – http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/architecture/the-palace-today/ 

The royal palace of Westminster extended along the Thames shore, southwest of the City of London. A royal residence had stood on this site opposite Westminster Abbey since the sainted King Edward the Confessor had rebuilt both in the eleventh century…..

The rambling old palace was much in need of upgrading and Edward IV had set about converting part of it into new royal lodgings, which Elizabeth of Tok would come to come very well.


But for now England was celebrated as ‘The ringing isle’ because of its many churches, abbeys  and priories.


I thought I’d read everything there was to read on Elizabeth of York and her family. How wrong was I? I discovered many things and not just about the lady herself and the Tudor time period but they way in which it was written made me remember them and care and also want to read more about her.

Daughter of Edward IV, sister to the princes in the tower, wife of Henry VII, mother of Henry VIII, and grandmother of Elizabeth I: Elizabeth of York is a pivotal character in English history.

She certainly comes back to life in this book –  In the early part we see Elizabeth as a young woman unsure of her future and on her way becoming Queen. She becomes a much more shadowy character after the wedding. Weir tries to give us a picture of her life by detailing her wardrobe, the places she visited with Henry, the events she took part in, and her role in bearing the royal children.


 Elizabeth would have learned early in life that she was a very special little girl


The end of the book is much more interesting from the aspect of historical events. The pretenders caused Henry worry about the security of his throne. We do get a sense of what Elizabeth thought of all this and it goes to heighten the drama and the truth of what history has already told us but never really from a woman’s point of view – and not just any women -one at the heart of everything that was going on.


For a history lesson and a fascinating read – Elizabeth of York is THE place to start. One to add to the growing pile…..

Alison Weir writes about some fascinating time periods, people and places in the UK
Alison Weir writes about some fascinating time periods, people and places in the UK





Hever Castle, Kent, England

On my history trail, I have recently made the journey I have wanted to make for a long time

– to Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.

To enhance this trip with books as I an prone to do 😉  I read two books – one fact and one fiction, each of them playing their part in the great historical literary trail:

FACT – lady-in-the-tower

Alison Weir – The lady in the Tower. The Fall of Anne Boleyn

Alison Weir’s books really add to my understanding in a way that other books don’t as much. This was a fascinating read and clear and interesting all throughout. I thought I knew quite a bit about Anne Boleyn but boy how wrong was I?

Most of us will know that she was beheaded for failing to produce a male heir – but I discovered a whole new hidden side and many hidden depths to Anne and her story, making me want to get to know even more about her.
Weir is a very thorough but very clear researcher, and she presents what could be confusing information in a very easy to read and very enjoyable narrative. I got a sense of Anne’s family, their motivations, their background and lots lots more.

The history just leaps off the page and I read, fascinated with Anne and the clever way the author leads us through what we thought we knew but manages to make it all sound new and fresh.

FICTION – Phillipa Gregory  – The other Boleyn Girl


This is a story about Anne Boleyn, the notorious woman who charmed Henry VIII into divorcing his wife, break from the Catholic Church in Rome, and marry her. But the book is not told through her point of view, but through the eyes of her sister, Mary. The portrayal of the family at Hever castle is again of interest and the trials and tribulations of not only Anne’s but Mary’s growing up and their involvement with the court and King Henry VIII  is very well done. Of course,  some events are elaborated or fabricated for the book as they were for the film, but Hever castle is a character in this book in its own right and explains what Anne must have experienced when she lived there with her domineering family.


All of this led me to visit Hever Castle – the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. I can’t describe how I felt when I walked through the doors and wandered in the gardens as I imagined Anne Boleyn having been in these actual places many many years ago. Words can’t do my emotions justice. I am so fascinated by her and her role in history that it was a real insight and privilege to visit such a well preserved castle.

The gardens are beautiful and the whole place has an eerie presence to it as modern day visitor mull around the stunning grounds and castle, mingling with the ghostly figures of the turbulent past. I found it haunting in a surreal way as the pictures seemed to  whisper to me  as I passed by. If only walls could talk is a phrase that has never been more true.

And then I saw her, amongst all the pictures of her and her signature in the prayer books, I swear I saw Anne herself out in the garden through the ornate windows. And I imagine that she would have turned and smiled at all the visitors inside unaware that she was witnessing her own popularity and fascination which is still very much in evidence.

I wonder what Anne would have made of all the attention still heaped on her. What I do know is that it was a shame she lead such a turbulent life and only hope that she would have appreciated at least some of the beauty of Hever and its surroundings.

Visit the castle’s website here: http://www.hevercastle.co.uk/


Richard III, England

Lots of history to go back into!
My lovely collection of historical fiction – well some of it. Too many books to fit on one photo!

The news that the skeleton of Richard III has been found recently is a very exciting discovery in my opinion. Since I read a lot of historical fiction, I have recently read a lot on this infamous character from the past.

Many people will think they know a lot about him whether by history lessons or from reading Shakespeare.  However, a book I recommend in order to find out about him further, and his role in perhaps one of the biggest mysteries of all time: is ‘The Princes in the tower’ by Alison Weir.

The book reconstructs the entire chain of events leading to the double murder. I’ve read a lot of her books and particularly enjoyed her historical novels. But since meeting her on her book tour where she was presenting her book  ‘Mary Boleyn the Great and Infamous Whore‘,  I bought several of her fiction and non fiction titles which I have been working my way through ever since.

As both an historian and a writer of historical fiction, I admire her writing and writing style. And I was no less impressed with her research behind the murder of Edward IV’s two young sons, Edward V and Richard, the Duke of York, at the hands of Richard III – who usurped the English throne during the War of the Roses.

She reaches her verdict that Richard is solely responsible for ordering the two princes deaths while locked up in the Tower of London. However, she does provide thorough evidence against Richard. She also manages to really describe the  life in pre-Tudor England, by explaining how anti-Richard sentiment was often exaggerated for the benefit the Tudor rules who followed the Plantagenets.
In hindsight, Richard III will always be the wicked and power-hungry hunchback as depicted by Shakespeare. But what this book gave me was a insight into a remarkable figure in history. One whose remains I have seen discovered on ‘The King in the Car Park’ programme on Channel 4 as well as my rediscovering of him through Alison’s book.

For true history buffs like myself, I recommend travelling down to Bosworth field where Richard III was killed in battle in 1485. The modern landscape differs markedly in appearance from that of 1485 as the former open fields have been enclosed by straight hedges for example and there is now a  canal which was opened in 1804 and a railway in 1873.

Nevertheless, to really appreciate the life and the man that Richard 3 was, reading this book and visiting Bosworth field is to take a step closer to the past.