Jonathan Cape, £20. Order at the discounted price of £15.95 inc. p&p from or call 0843 0600 030

Book review: Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, By Alison Weir

A royal tale describes a turbulent era – and the princes who disappeared

Alison Weir's speciality is medieval and Tudor royal families, majoring in wives and children. She has 12 histories to her credit, and four novels. In turning to Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville (immortalised by Philippa Gregory as the White Queen), she is faced with her greatest challenge yet.

Although Elizabeth lived through some of the most turbulent episodes in the dying throes of the Wars of the Roses and married Henry VII, the man who ended them, what she was like is pure surmise, for all the laudatory ballads and poems. We frequently don't even know where she was living. Her portraits, stiff and formal, give little sense of her personality, and the few letters from her that survive are conventionally formulated – except for one, that survives only in hearsay and incompletely.

So where to go for honey? Weir has a shrewd sense of what will seize the imagination of the keen historical amateur. The feasts and pageants that mark coronations, births, marriages and deaths are good for juicy details. Imagine giving birth under a mink-edged cloak of velvet on a richly caparisoned pallet bed, then being removed to an even more splendid bed of state. And when we do read about the minutiae of royal daily life in the single surviving set of accounts, we sense a living, breathing personality: fond of playing cards and the clavichord, generous to her family and random supplicants, well-read and pious.

There remains a huge question mark at the heart of the book. Everything is guesswork. Weir does her best, lingering at some length on events during Elizabeth's childhood. She sketches the background to the "Cousins' Wars", as the Wars of the Roses were known until Elizabethan times. She seems to obsess about the Princes in the Tower, returning to them time and again. She also makes a meal of Richard III's reign, fascinated by the (very thin) evidence of Elizabeth's apparent ambition to marry the man widely believed to have murdered her brothers. It seems far more likely that it was her mother Elizabeth Wydeville who was clutching at any available straw that might enable her family to survive.

The book takes off as a biography halfway through, when Henry Tudor seizes the throne in 1485 and grudgingly agrees to marry Elizabeth. Weir puts down his snail-like approach to the altar to Elizabeth's putative affection for Richard III, but she provides plenty of evidence that it was a carefully political move. Henry hated the House of York, and was insistent that he ruled in his own right rather than Elizabeth's. He postponed their marriage until after his own coronation and did not allow hers until she had given birth to a Tudor heir.

Now we feel for her. Poor Elizabeth. Having grown up surrounded by busily negotiating women she finds herself married to "a dark prince, and infinitely suspicious" (Francis Bacon) who cordially hated the House of York. She does her duty nobly, bearing slights uncomplainingly giving birth to three sons and four daughters, welcoming the Infanta Katherine of Aragon to marry Prince Arthur, heir to the Tudor throne. There's a stimulating twist to come. Weir discovers a mysterious journey to Wales that just might have led Elizabeth to the truth about her lost brothers. So that's why we hear so much about them.

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders