Friday, January 21, 2011

Review and Guest Post: Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham

It would be called the Wars of the Roses, but it all began with one woman's fury...

Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England, cannot give up on her husband-even when he goes insane. And as mother to the House of Lancaster's last hope, she cannot give up on her son-even when all England turns against him. This gripping tale of a queen is at its heart a tender tale of love: passionate, for her husband, and motherly, for her only son.

Having delved into the history of Britain quite a bit recently, I was very much looking forward to reading about Margaret of Anjou and her role in the War of the Roses. I have read a version of the story from the (ficticious) perspective of Margaret Beaufort, but to get a better picture of things, you need to look at all sides involved. I do believe this was the perfect book to illustrate the struggles of the doomed Henry VI and his Queen!

Ms. Higginbotham does a masterful job of presenting characters that are likeable (or in some cases, detestable) within realistic boundaries. It must be an interesting job to research the real people involved and all the historical "truths" available to us today. But, on the other hand, it would be quite daunting to expound on these people while maintaining the overall credibility. I found that some of the those involved in this story were portrayed in a sympathetic manner, where popular beliefs may disagree with this author's view or portrayal, for instance William de la Pole. When it all boils down though, this story was the beginning of a war with factions involved, and alliances would still be argued one way or the other, even today.

I was immediately drawn to Margaret of Anjou, her innocence, her growth and her sense of humour. Unfortunately, this makes it that much harder to relive her story throughout these pages. Ultimately, one cannot change history, but what Ms. Higginbotham succeeded at in Queen of Last Hopes, was offer a compelling version with a lot of heart and no small amount of tears from me.

And now a special treat for my readers! Please give a big welcome to Susan Higginbotham, who is here today to give the inside scoop on how she was able to write this story from the perspective of the former Queen of England:

When I started writing The Queen of Last Hopes: The Story of Margaret of Anjou, I chose to tell most of Margaret’s story through her own first-person narrative. How did I find a voice for Margaret?

Margaret of Anjou was queen to Henry VI and one of the leading figures in the so-called Wars of the Roses that ravaged fifteenth-century England. She left behind a number of business letters, most from the early years of her husband’s reign. They show the young queen’s energy and attention to detail, and her interest in activities such as hunting, but they reveal very little of Margaret’s inner life.

It was the last document Margaret executed—her will—where I finally felt her speak to me. Written at her borrowed lodgings in France about three weeks before her death in August 1482, the will is a simple one, reflecting the relative poverty of a woman who had gambled and lost all. There are no expressions of regret and no reflections on past glory. There are no affectionate words or bequests to loved ones, for almost everyone who mattered to Margaret—her only son, her husband, her parents—had predeceased her. Margaret simply requests that her debts be paid and that her servants receive their wages. She then asks that the French king, her heir, pay these obligations “should my few goods be insufficient to do this, as I believe they are.”

Yet in this short will (which can be seen at, Margaret does show a spark of defiance. In the opening line, she styles herself as “reyne d'Angleterre”—Queen of England. It was a title she had lost eleven years before in the bloody field of Tewkesbury where her son perished and the Lancastrian cause seemed permanently extinguished, yet in her last written statement, she allowed herself the small satisfaction of using it. Dying and destitute, she nonetheless refused at the very last to concede total defeat.

This was the Margaret—stoic and reconciled to her fate, yet with some of her old pride remaining—who narrates The Queen of Last Hopes. This was the Margaret who lent my novel her voice.


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