Book Review – ‘Princess of Thorns’ by Saga Hillbom


Thank you to the author for giving me a copy of this to review.

I really enjoyed this quite unique take on the Wars of the Roses and the reign of Henry VII. Told from the point of view of Cecily of York, daughter of Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII) it gives a different view almost from the outside in. It also offers a fictional account of a woman at the centre of the warring factions, essentially Yorkist but forced to marry a staunch Lancastrian.

This novel has certainly made me more interested in the other York sisters and following their lives a bit more closely. I know a bit about Elizabeth of York having studied the Tudors and been introduced to her through Henry VII, but the others seem to have led interesting lives as well, so I want to read more around them.

The writing is concise and the descriptions clear, making you believe that you can see the pieces of jewellery described or be in the places that the characters are in, picturing those same characters clearly in your head though, for me at least, influenced in part by historical TV dramas like ‘The White Queen’ (eye roll). The book is quite fast-paced, but sentimental in places, and the balance between the two is exceptional.

The sibling rivalry between Cecily and her eldest sister, Elizabeth, was brilliantly done, and echoes squabbling siblings across the ages, only this was a more high-stakes environment. The jealousy of what could be perceived as the less successful or powerful sibling (Cecily) juxtaposed against the more powerful and influential queen (Elizabeth) exacerbates what I’m sure siblings today will recognise. That gives a touch of the familiar into this otherwise unrecognisable world compared to today.

If there are any lovers of historical fiction based in the Wars of the Roses or early Tudor period I would thoroughly recommend this book as it offers something unique, being written from the point of view of a woman often overlooked in history, but who at the same time was at the centre of events and who suffered many personal tragedies in her life. Saga Hillbom tells her story with sensitivity and demonstrates just how perilous life and ambition could be.

This review is also published on my sister blog BookBloggerish | For Everything Bookish (wordpress.com).

Saga Hillbom has also written a guest post for this blog on the marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville, which can be found here.

The Marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville


Today we have a guest post by Saga Hillborn, a historical fiction writer. Her new novel, ‘Princess of Thorns’ follows the story of Cecily Plantagenet, daughter of Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York.
Saga Hillborn has very kindly contributed a post about two people who play a big role in Cecily’s story – Richard III and Anne Neville.
Her novel, ‘Princess of Thorns’ will be released on 1st March 2021.

Richard III is obviously one of western history’s most controversial figures. His relationship to his wife Anne Neville is still being both romanticised and portrayed in a negative light painting him as having taken advantage of her. In my upcoming historical novel Princess of Thorns, both Richard and Anne feature as characters; in this guest post that Helene was kind enough to let me write, I will take a closer look at their marriage.

After Edward IV had taken the throne, he placed his much younger brothers George and Richard in the household of his cousin the Earl of Warwick. Richard, who was roughly nine years old, likely met five-year-old Anne Neville for the first time at Middleham Castle. Although they would have undergone entirely different educations, it is reasonable to assume that Anne and Richard were often in one another’s company, as were the other young nobles who grew up at Middleham. It is possible that the Earl of Warwick was already planning his daughters’ eventual marriages to the King’s brothers at this point. Hence, Anne and Richard would have become accustomed to the idea.

In 1465, perhaps slightly later, Richard left Warwick’s household and spent more time at his brother Edward’s court. When Warwick and George, Duke of Clarence, rebelled for a second time in 1470, Richard fled with the King into exile in Flanders. Meanwhile, Anne was married off to the Lancastrian Edward of Westminster. What either she or Richard felt about this match is of course not recorded, but suffice to say that Edward of Westminster was a stranger and an enemy who was described by an ambassador as talking of nothing but cutting off heads.

Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Continue reading “The Marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville”

Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: York’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


In the ancient city of York, something sinister is stirring… What do a highwayman, an infamous traitor, and two hardened soldiers have in common? Centuries of friendship, a duty to the town, and a sense of mischief – until they realise that someone is trying to bring chaos to their home. Joining forces with local Vikings, the four friends keep an eye on the situation, but then, disaster strikes. Can peace be restored both inside and out of the city walls? [Description from Amazon UK]

This one was definitely darker than the previous books in the series, but I thought it was really good. It was quite nice to see a different side to Wilson’s writing, though I still insist that ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’ was my favourite! Not your typical ghost story or historical fiction, but really interesting to read in the way that it was written and the conception of the story as well.

The previous books in the series never really tackled how a new ghost is accepted into the ghostly community and how that is dealt with, so that was interesting, as was the method of her death (without giving too much away!). I also liked the idea that ghosts could still be harmed and fade out of existence, I hope that’s dealt with further in other books in the series. I think this one marked a turning point in Wilson’s writing, combining the historical fact and legends with living fictional characters, which has never really happened in any of her previous novels.

I loved the camaraderie between Richard Duke of York, Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes – characters that I wouldn’t have put together but provided a lot of the drama as well as comedy in this story. They all come from different periods and wouldn’t have known each other in life, so to see the way they banded together in death was totally intriguing, and I think that’s what draws me back to this series in general – it is so unexpected but it manages to work!

You can tell that Wilson has spent time in the locations that she bases her novels in, as well as speaking to those who live there, because there are little snippets of detail that most people wouldn’t know or wouldn’t see. She weaves historical fact into the myths and legends, so you know that there has been a lot of research before pen even got close to paper. Maybe that’s why the ghost side of the story seems logical; because you know the locations are real you can imagine the rest.

This series is so good, and I would recommend it to anyone. The interactions between characters that you wouldn’t normally see in the same book alone make it worth reading, whether you are interested in history or ghost stories or not! More please, Jennifer!

Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


On hallowed ground… With over three thousand burials and memorials, including seventeen monarchs, life for the ghostly community of Westminster Abbey was never going to be a quiet one. Add in some fiery Tudor tempers, and several centuries-old feuds, and things can only go one way: chaotic. Against the backdrop of England’s most important church, though, it isn’t all tempers and tantrums. Poets’ Corner hosts poetry battles and writing workshops, and close friendships form across the ages. With the arrival of Mary Queen of Scots, however, battle ensues. Will Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I ever find their common ground, and lasting peace? [Description from Amazon UK]

Kindred Spirits #3

Another great novel from Jennifer Wilson. I absolutely adore this series, and I’m really hoping for a book eventually set around Windsor with Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. I think that would be great. I did thoroughly enjoy this installment in the series though because there were so many different characters from different periods coming together and it was interesting to see how those relationships developed.

This one focuses on the kings and queens, and literary and scientific minds buried or commemorated at Westminster. I loved the developing relationship between Richard III and Henry VII and I understand that this is explored more in the fourth book in the series based in York. As for the relationship between Mary I and Elizabeth I, I can imagine that this is actually how the two would have been in real life had they been raised as siblings rather than rivals for the throne. All siblings argue and fight, but these two took it to the next level.

It’s history but not as we know and Wilson’s knowledge of and passion for medieval and early modern history is obvious as she brings historical figures into the present, without losing the sense of who they were in their own time. One of my favourite moments was when Anne of Cleves snuck onto the Abbey computer to alter her Wikipedia page and any references to ‘Flander’s Mare’, and the reappearance of Richard III, who I loved in ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’.

This series is so unique, and very cleverly done. You can tell that a great amount of research has gone into the book, as there are little titbits of historical fact, as well as the ghosts trying to dispel, or arguing about, rumours swirling about their lives. It’s really interesting to read and imagine what these historical figures would think about how we view them today, and what they would make of today’s world, incredibly distant from what they knew in their lives. I want more, please, Jennifer!?

Another bonus is that is was written by an author who lives in the same area as me! Well-written and worth a read for anyone with an interest in historical fiction, or historical ghost stories, rumours and a bit of humour thrown in!

Book Review – ‘Richard III: Fact and Fiction’ by Matthew Lewis


Matthew Lewis 'Richard III Fact and Fiction'

Matthew Lewis, Richard III: Fact and Fiction (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2019) ISBN 9781526727978

Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I really enjoyed this book. I liked the way that it was set out in sections so you could easily dip in and out of it, perfect for those who want to know more but don’t have the background. If you’ve watched ‘The White Queen’ and want to know more about Richard, I’d recommend this book as it clearly separates fact from fiction without assuming the reader is a complete ninny. Some books, in trying to set things out clearly, simplify the facts too much, but Lewis doesn’t make this error.

Each chapter is split into sections and each section asks a different question that is contentious over Richard III – did he kill the Princes in the Tower? Did he and the Woodvilles have a running feud? Was he betrayed at Bosworth? These and many others are explored in this book. It is written chronologically, starting with Richard’s birth and child, his time as Duke of Gloucester, his reign as King of England, and then his tragic end at the Battle of Bosworth. It also looks at how accurate or otherwise Shakespeare’s portrayal was, and what we’ve learned from the discovery of Richard III’s bones in Leicester.

Some of the things that Lewis brings up are really interesting and I hadn’t really thought about them before, but most of the conclusions he draws make sense. Lewis examines the evidence that exists, and puts forward his own opinions. I like that he doesn’t force his conclusions on you either, but gives you the evidence and allows you to make up your own mind. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Richard III: Fact and Fiction’ by Matthew Lewis”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Kingmaker’s Daughter’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory 'The Kingmaker's Daughter' 2012
Philippa Gregory ‘The Kingmaker’s Daughter’ 2012

  1. Anne, only eight years old when the novel begins, grows up over the course of the book’s twenty-year span. In what major ways does her voice change from the beginning of the novel to the end? At what point in the novel do you feel she makes a real transition from a young girl to a woman, and why?
  • Anne becomes more cynical towards the end once she has been through war, betrayal, death and everything that comes with it, losing many of the people she loved along the way.
  • The point when I feel Anne really made the transition from girl to woman was when she was forced to marry Edward of Lancaster – from that moment she experienced life in a way she didn’t want to, and that changed her.
  • Anne begins naive and thinks that everything will go right for her because she is a Neville and they are one of the greatest families in the land; this changes when her father, Warwick, turns his back on Edward IV and Anne realises that her name now marks her out as a traitor.
  • Anne becomes wiser throughout the work, but also more paranoid. Her high point is late in the reign of Edward IV when she is a happily married wife and mother, then it starts to go downhill as Richard III gains power.
  1. Consider the major turning points in Anne and Isabel’s relationship. How does their relationship progress as they grow up, marry, become mothers, and vie for power? At what point are they closest, and at what point are they the most distant? How do their views of each other change?
  • The point at which Anne and Isabel are closest is when Isabel is pregnant for the first time and they have to flee overseas with Warwick and Clarence; they both seem so scared they forget their enmity.
  • The sisters are most distant from each other after Edward of Lancaster is killed at Tewkesbury and Isabel and Clarence take Anne into their household – I think Isabel distances herself from Anne because she doesn’t want to be tainted and likes to lord it over her sister.
  • At first Anne sees Isabel as the all-knowing big sister, but I think she comes to realise that Isabel is in fact very vulnerable and puts on airs and graces to cover it; she likes seeming powerful.
  • I think in a way Isabel becomes jealous of Anne, as Anne seems to marry for love to Richard and be very happy with her husband in a stable relationship, whereas Isabel’s husband, Clarence, is volatile and unpredictable – Richard also seems to hold Edward IV’s trust, and so power stems from it, where Clarence does not.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Kingmaker’s Daughter’ by Philippa Gregory”

Book Review – ‘The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503’ by J.L. Laynesmith


JL Laynesmith 'The Last Medieval Queens'
JL Laynesmith ‘The Last Medieval Queens’

J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), Paperback, ISBN 978-0-199-27956-2

Title: The lives of the last Medieval Queens – this book looks at Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville and Elizabeth of York. However, I think it could also have done with looking more at Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Margaret Beaufort because, although they weren’t Queens, sometimes they almost had the same power as them, and definitely influenced the Queens themselves.

Preface: The introduction gives a broad overview of the lives of the women, and why these particular women are so fascinating. It gives a brief rundown of their lives, and how they link to each other. It also introduces other people who influenced the lives of the Queens and the monarchy, like the Earl of Warwick the “kingmaker”, the Duke of York, the Earl of Salisbury, the children of the queens, and the kings that the queens were married to. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503’ by J.L. Laynesmith”

Book Review – ‘The Women of the Cousins’ War: the Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones, The Women of the Cousins’ War: the Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother (London: Simon and Schuster Ltd, 2011), Hardback, ISBN 978-0-85720-177-5

Title: Although the book is called The Women of the Cousins’ War, the book only examines a few of them – Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. It doesn’t look at Margaret of Anjou or Anne Neville in a lot of detail. Nevertheless, a good study of those it does examine in detail.

Preface: The preface discusses several important questions, like why write about these women? What’s so important about them? It also goes a lot wider, looking at what history is, and what fiction is, and how they can go together. There is also a sub-section on women’s place in history. The introduction is a little long, almost as long as a chapter. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The Women of the Cousins’ War: the Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother’ by Philippa Gregory”

Book Review – ‘The Woodvilles’ by Susan Higginbotham


Susan Higginbotham 'The Woodvilles: the Wars of the Roses and England's Most Infamous Family'
Susan Higginbotham ‘The Woodvilles: the Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family’

Higginbotham, Susan, The Woodvilles: the Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family (Stroud: The History Press, 2015), Paperback, ISBN 978-0-7509-6078-6

Title: It is clearly about the Woodville family, the most popular members being Elizabeth Woodville and her mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. They were very active during the Wars of the Roses, and became infamous when the Lancastrian commoner, Elizabeth Woodville, married the Yorkist king, Edward IV.

Preface: The introduction is short and to the point, outlining the rise of the Woodville family and their time at the top. There hasn’t really been a book about the Woodville family before so this is the first of its kind. It is made clear that the Princes in the Tower won’t really be discussed because there is already a lot of literature on them already. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The Woodvilles’ by Susan Higginbotham”

Potted History of the Key Players in the Wars of the Roses


Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery
Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery

Henry VI was the son of the warrior king Henry V, the victor of Agincourt, but he wasn’t a warrior – he was quiet and pious. Later in life it is said that he lost his wits. He was deposed by Edward IV in 1460 and murdered in the Tower in 1471. He was the last Lancastrian king, married to Margaret of Anjou, who ruled in his stead.

Margaret of Anjou from an illuminated manuscript c. 1445 by Talbot Master
Margaret of Anjou from an illuminated manuscript c. 1445 by Talbot Master

Margaret of Anjou was the wife of Henry VI. Part of the marriage agreement was that the English gave up Maine in France. She gave birth to one son, Edward, who was killed in battle in 1471, and she lost her husband the same year. She was the mother-in-law of Anne Neville, through the latter’s marriage to her son, the future wife of Richard III. Continue reading “Potted History of the Key Players in the Wars of the Roses”