HarperCollins | 2018 (31 May) | 531p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is 1471. The Lancastrians have been defeated in battle. Edward IV of York is back on the throne once more and his great rival, Henry VI, is dead, presumed murdered in captivity while Henry’s queen has fled. The last hope and heir of the Lancastrian cause, Henry Tudor, must do likewise and so, in September 1471, Henry and his uncle Jaspar, the Earl of Pembroke, run for their lives, setting sail from south Wales for the continent. Their ship is hit by storms and they barely survive the crossing, arriving destitute on the shores of Brittany, an ignominious start to Henry’s exile. And there he must bide his time, coping with the absence from his mother and friends, dependent on the animosity between Brittany and France for his safety and upkeep.
Margaret Beaufort, Henry’s mother, must endure as best as she can in the court of her enemy, Edward IV. A widow, relatively young still, she is too valuable and noble a prize to be left to her own devices. Edward marries Margaret to his advisor Lord Stanley and keeps her close where he can keep an eye on her. Margaret swears to obey her king but she walks a tightrope – she never stops manoeuvring for the return of her son, Henry. Both Margaret and Henry must be prepared to sacrifice everything for their cause. They know their time will come.
In The Tudor Crown, Joanna Hickson picks up where the marvellous First of the Tudors left off. You certainly don’t need to have read the earlier novel first (although I think you’d want to anyway as it’s so brilliant) because The Tudor Crown begins afresh with Henry’s story, covering his years of exile, his journey from boy and squire to knight and diplomat, through to 1485 and that most famous of battles, the Battle of Bosworth. It’s hard to imagine a more fascinating period of British history – the close at last of the Wars of the Roses and the rise of that new dynasty, the Tudors. The end of the medieval world, perhaps, and the beginning of the modern age.
I love how Joanna Hickson tells the story of these remarkable fourteen years. The chapters alternate between Henry and his mother Margaret, each speaking in the first person (and, happily, in the past tense) and the result is a vivid and immediate tale of lives lived in such perilous circumstances. I couldn’t tell you which narrative I preferred because I think they’re both equally good. I enjoyed watching Henry grow into manhood, his ambition growing alongside his increasing realisation of his potential significance. This isolates him in many ways but it makes him strong, which is just as well as he has much to deal with in this war zone that is late 15th-century Brittany. We meet so many fascinating people in these exile sections and each has to decide whether to help or hinder Henry in his cause.
Margaret’s story is just as intriguing, with the added appeal of observing the court of Edward IV and his infamous queen. This is an unhappy place. Never has a royal family been so divided. It’s enthralling, it really is, and there’s Margaret in the middle, viewed with suspicion by all and paying the price for it. The relationship between Margaret and her husband Lord Stanley is so well portrayed. It’s hardly a domestic paradise but both Margaret and Stanley know the rules of how to make an arranged marriage palatable.
Scattered throughout are letters between Henry and his mother, their only form of contact for so many years. I love what these added to the story and to our feel for their relationship.
I really enjoyed the shifting focus of The Tudor Crown – we’re well aware of the significance of Henry and of his mother’s plotting for the future of England but we’re also shown them as fully rounded people, albeit people who know that they are far from ordinary. They must deal with their absence from one another, their enforced relationships with people they don’t trust, and their precarious positions. Henry is left almost friendless while still just a boy. His resilience is extraordinary. He is most certainly a king in making.
Henry’s destiny hangs over the novel from the beginning and when it finally arrives I couldn’t read these pages fast enough. This is a fantastic telling of the Battle of Bosworth. Respect is given to all sides, including Richard III whose courage on the day is not in doubt.
The Tudors are the most famous family in British history and their story is an extremely familiar one. But in The Tudor Crown the origin of the Tudor dynasty is explored with such colour and warmth. This is a complicated story but it’s brought together very well and Joanna Hickson demonstrates how the success of Henry VII was every bit as dependent on cunning as it was on victory in battle. And Henry was certainly in debt to his mother whose influence was crucial for his success.
I’ve always enjoyed Joanna Hickson’s novels but I suspect The Tudor Crown could be my favourite. It’s such a wonderful story and Joanna Hickson does it full justice with her engrossing, lively and engaging prose. I wonder if she will return to King Henry’s story – I do hope so.