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Book review of ‘The King’s Daughter’ by Sandra Worth: The do nothing queen

Using cat image because Examiner would not upload book cover
Using cat image because Examiner would not upload book coverPhoto by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Elizabeth of York was the eldest child of King Edward IV and his queen consort Elizabeth Woodville Grey. Caught between the forces fighting the War of the Roses she ended up married to Henry the VII thus ending, at least from a historical point of view, the York versus Lancaster conflict. In regards to Elizabeth’s betrothed, if life was a medieval version of the game Mystery Date, Henry Tudor would be the dude who showed up at the door with the bowling ball (not as bad as the bum but yet not as thrilling as the tuxedoed prom date). All and all despite Henry VII’s despot tendencies, I still say he was a better match for the young beautiful Elizabeth over her Uncle Richard. I mean do you really want to marry your uncle who may have killed your two younger brothers?

Sandra Worth contends, and she has a lengthy bibliography to back her up, that she did her homework on the life of Elizabeth in order to fictionalize it. Despite her research I still can’t quite buy that Elizabeth would want (nay, find extremely desirable as depicted in this novel) a marriage with King Richard III. A quick Google search of “medieval incest taboos” shows that there was a sprinkling of uncle niece marriages in the royal houses of Europe so perhaps Elizabeth was indeed hot for Uncle Dick. Interestingly, back in that day any proposed marriage where questions of incest arose could be overcome with a papal dispensation. Years later a papal dispensation was granted for Catherine of Aragon to marry Henry VIII after her husband Prince Arthur (Henry’s older brother) died. Later the question of that same papal dispensation would led to the downfall of the Roman Catholic Church as the official religion of England because Henry wanted to dump Catherine for Anne Boleyn.

Another characterization I questioned was the portrayal of Henry VIII as a boy. Worth makes him seem like a pudgy dorky hat sporting Damien waiting to claim his father’s throne as his own. I would have harped on Worth about reports that Henry VIII’s fall from a horse altering his personality due to an alleged head injury, but she replied to that theory in her Afterward so thus I give her credit for covering all of her bases.

More troublesome though is that the Elizabeth Worth paints isn’t the kind of heroine a reader wants to root for. Her wish to keep the peace often resulted in her being the equivalent of a Tutor bathmat while those she cared most about were either banished from court or imprisoned in the Tower of London to later be executed. Earlier in the book Elizabeth blames her mother and other powerful female characters (Margaret of Anjou) for jeopardizing the safety of their royal personages as well as the smooth ruling of England. Elizabeth has a lot of lamentations for her mama, “If only you didn’t do XY and Z, Richard III would not have declared we children of Edward IV illegitimate. If only you gave me the password would I know if Perkin Warbeck was indeed my brother or a pretender to the throne? If only you had not practiced witchcraft, thus ticking off God, Daddy would not have eventually died in battle.” Those aren’t direct quotes, but more in the spirit of Elizabeth’s thoughts while she moped around the castle.

Elizabeth sees the silver lining of all of her suffering in the kindness and wisdom of her son Arthur, but as history plays out it was the son who needed the medieval version of medication and therapy who inherited the throne. Arthur’s death throws Elizabeth into a major depression, which is only distinguished from her other depressions because she dies from it – actually she dies after childbirth but she was feeling low and hopeless. I will give Worth credit, at least I believe this part was fictional, the best part of the novel was when a dying and delirious Elizabeth shouts the name “Richard!” when told the king (as in husband) was there to see her. My most favorite non-fictional element was how the Tudor clan managed to paint Richard III as a barely human deformed creature of loose morals as a PR campaign to distract from Henry VII’s questionable claim to the throne.

Yet despite Elizabeth not seeing her favorite child inherit the keys to the kingdom she got the last laugh, at least in terms of hereditary, because Henry VIII’s royal DNA perished when his daughter Queen Elizabeth I died without issue. It was Elizabeth’s great-grandson, King James VI of Scotland, became King James I of England thus uniting the island of Britain.

Objectively speaking this period of English history is interesting from the perspective of a frequent change of power but not so interesting when it comes to courtly romance or royal pageantry. Say what you want about Henry VIII’s villainy the man knew how to throw a party! While his father was all penny-pinching and putting down rebellions (one imagines his favorite color was beige). I do not know if Worth is correct in her assessment that when Henry Senior first put the romantic moves on his wife she imagined she was in the arms of her uncle; but for the sake of icky bemusement I kind of hope she did.

In regards to The King’s Daughter, I found the first part of the book a tad confusing. Wikipedia helped in setting straight exactly why the family was hiding out in a church for sanctuary. I thought the novel picked up after Elizabeth married Henry. Although I believed Elizabeth’s attempts at peacemaking were supposed to be looked upon readers as a positive trait, it emphasized to me the importance of making your voice heard even if that means your husband becomes cross, your mother spiteful, and your mother-in-law frets that she can’t micromanage you.

I recommend The King’s Daughter if you are interested in reading about the generation before Henry VIII. This is the third book I have read about Henry VII’s court and all three indicate that it was not a place anyone went for fun. The book left me wishing Elizabeth had at least a little bit of gumption.

Happy reading!