Luan Gaines interviewed author Sandra Worth about
investigating the first Tudor queen, Richard III's bad historical rap, and the trials suffered by the woman who would become known as Elizabeth the Good in The King's Daughter.
Interviewer Luan Gaines: What inspired you to write The King's Daughter?
Sandra Worth: The short answer is that I wrote the book on Elizabeth of York because I wanted to know more about her and couldn’t find anything except a few old novels and a biography that left much to be desired. The long answer is below.
Elizabeth of York, the protagonist of The King's Daughter, closed out the last book of the “Rose of York” trilogy in an epilogue. What I knew at that time was that this beautiful princess had fallen in love with her uncle, Richard III, and after his death had married the first Tudor king, Henry VII. She intrigued me, and I wanted to know more, but all information about her seemed to come to a halt once she was married. In fact, so little has survived that her biographer had to resort to novelistic techniques in order to fill in the gaps of her life – to my knowledge, the first time such an approach was taken.
Eventually I tracked down some novels but they proved unsatisfying. Either the accounts were too fictionalized, or they ended soon after her marriage to Tudor, or—as with Jean Plaidy’s To Hold the Crown, (formerly Uneasy Lies the Head) her marriage was portrayed as a love affair, and I knew that it was not.
I realized I had stumbled on a historical mystery, and the lack of information was my biggest clue that something weird was going on with Elizabeth. Armed with a theory, I went researching, and slowly I found the evidence I needed to explain the questions that troubled me. The King's Daughter is my answer to the mystery of the first Tudor Queen.
What roles do Edward IV, Elizabeth’s father, and her uncle, Richard III, play in Elizabeth’s formative years?
Edward IV was a warm, loving man and an adoring father, especially of his beautiful first-born daughter. Elizabeth must have reciprocated her father’s love and affection in view of her mother’s cold, abrasive and domineering personality. As for her uncle, Richard of Gloucester, she barely knew him as a child since he chose to live in the north and avoided court. After her father’s death, when Richard became Protector, she went into sanctuary with her mother. During this time he deposed her brothers and proclaimed her a bastard. It is not difficult to imagine how she felt about that.
After Edward IV’s death, Bess Woodville, Edward’s wife, tries to grab power from Richard, designated Protector of the Realm by King Edward. How does Woodville’s ambition contribute to her confinement in sanctuary and the enmity of Richard of Gloucester?
Elizabeth Woodville represents one of the most destructive forces of the period. Vindictive, avaricious, and supremely ambitious, she gave the realm ample reason to detest her. By the time of his death, Edward IV clearly knew that she had been the worst mistake of his life. He excluded her from his will and appointed Richard regent of the realm in her place. Fearing Richard would punish her for trying to set aside her husband’s will and seize power for herself, Elizabeth fled into sanctuary with her daughters. It was Elizabeth’s machinations and plots during this fragile time in England’s history that sealed the fate of her sons, doomed the valiant Plantagenet dynasty that had ruled England for nearly four hundred years, and brought the Tudors to power.
Isolation is a common theme for Elizabeth of York, years of sanctuary with her mother and siblings, virtual imprisonment as Henry’s wife in his court. Do the long years of isolation affect Elizabeth’s world view and the choices she makes?
Elizabeth understands suffering, because she has suffered herself. Loss, loneliness, deprivation – all these have been part of the formative years of her young life. She wanted peace for her country and realized that only her union with Henry Tudor could bring an end to war. Once queen, it became apparent that her role would not be a traditional one. In fact, she found herself queen in name only, her power severely restricted. Yet she did what she could to bring others the happiness that was denied her. In this way, by rising above the circumstances of her life, Elizabeth proved herself a queen for the ages.
During her formative years, Elizabeth has been told that her uncle Richard is an enemy of the family’s fortunes, and is made fearful of him by Woodville’s carping on Richard’s ambitions. How then does Elizabeth overcome her first impressions and fall in love with the man who becomes king in place of her brother?
Her relationship with her uncle is complex. Her father loved and trusted Richard of Gloucester; her mother hated and distrusted him. As mentioned above, after her father’s death, when Richard became Protector, Elizabeth went into sanctuary with her mother. During this time he deposed her brothers and proclaimed her a bastard.
Then, suddenly, everything changed. Elizabeth’s mother abandoned sanctuary, accepted Richard III as king, and wrote her son in France that that all was well and that he should flee Tudor’s side and return to England. My belief is that King Richard proved to the satisfaction of Elizabeth Woodville that he had not killed her sons, the princes in the Tower. With her mother’s blessing, Elizabeth went to court. There, she became an intimate of Richard’s queen, Anne Neville, and saw another side of life, marriage, queenship that had to be very different from the one she had grown up with. And she saw another side of Richard. No doubt through Anne’s eyes, she came to admire the idealistic young warrior king who was devoted to family and determined to do his best for his people.
Prior to her marriage to Henry Tudor, Elizabeth has fallen in love with Richard III, living with Richard and his dying wife, Anne Neville, who gives her blessing to Elizabeth and Richard. How does Elizabeth reconcile her love for her uncle and, if he had lived, would marriage to him be possible? And legal?
An excellent question, Luan – one no one has asked me before. Had he lived. It is tempting to consider what might have been - had he lived.
Anne shows Elizabeth the way to reconcile her love for her uncle by explaining her own philosophy on matters of the heart and of faith, and by delineating examples to prove her argument. She grants Elizabeth her blessing, and assures her that the pope’s favor would be obtained. Such consent would be sufficient to confer legality in the eyes of the church, and since Richard was the head of state, this would extend into law.
Anne then sets out to persuade her husband to the match she deems so vital to Richard’s well-being. Some accounts report that Richard gave serious consideration to marrying Elizabeth after his wife’s death, and that it took the testimony of twelve bishops to persuade him the pope would never grant permission. Complicating such a union was a political quandary. Elizabeth’s illegitimacy would have had to be reversed - and if she were legitimate, then so were her brothers, making Richard a usurper.
Therefore, in all likelihood, had Richard lived, he could not have married Elizabeth. Certainly her happiness would have been paramount with him, and he would have ensured her marriage to the knight who had been her first love.
As for Richard himself, in all probability he would have made a match beneficial to England. He would have devoted himself to his people and gone on to be a great Renaissance king - but one nurturing a vast emptiness in his heart.
Can you describe a brief history of the War of the Roses and why Elizabeth seeks to bring peace to England by marrying Henry Tudor, Henry VII?
The Wars of the Roses was a dispute between cousins over the crown of England. Both sides chose the rose as their emblem: York chose the white, and Lancaster the red. The conflict lasted approximately thirty years, and sometimes Lancaster was ascendant, and sometimes York. By the time it was over, all the claimants on both sides lay dead, and only Henry Tudor was left standing.
The reason Tudor survived is that he remained on the sidelines in this conflict. He wasn’t a legitimate contender for the crown because his lineage was tainted by bastardy on both his maternal and paternal sides. His strongest claim derived from his maternal side, the Beaufort line, but they had been barred from the succession by an act of parliament nearly a hundred years earlier. So no one had taken Henry Tudor seriously until he suddenly emerged as the only Lancastrian leader left alive, albeit with a tenuous claim. With the disappearance of her young brothers, and her uncle dead, King Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth was now the legitimate Yorkist heir. By her marriage to Henry Tudor, she united Lancaster and York, and ended the Wars of the Roses.
In what aspects is Henry’s rule significantly different from that of Edward IV and Richard III? How does the country respond to Henry Tudor? To his queen?
The Plantagenets ruled by a completely different set of precepts than Henry Tudor. With Richard’s death at Bosworth Field, the Age of Chivalry ended and the Renaissance dawned, ushering in the notion that “the end justifies the means.” From this point on, the old rules no longer applied. Most of the differences between Tudor and Plantagenet rule had their roots in the way the first Tudor came to the throne.
The Plantagenets had been warrior kings, secure in their right to the throne. Not so Henry Tudor. Since he had no claim to the crown except by right of battle, suspicion dominated at his court, and judicious murder became the norm as men with stronger claims were slowly rounded up and put to death on trumped-up charges. A guard was thrown up around Henry VII to protect him from assassination, and the monarchy became less accessible to the people. The king was no longer primer pater pares –first among equals—but something remote and semi-mortal, addressed now as “Your Majesty,” instead of “Your Grace” like a mere duke.
In the eyes of the people, Henry VII’s legitimacy rested solely on his marriage to Elizabeth of York, but he spurned to make that a legal claim. While the people loved Elizabeth for her kindness and charity, and for reminding them of her beloved father, Edward IV, they hated Henry Tudor for the terror he brought to the land in his effort to cement his hold on the crown. But Henry’s methods proved successful, and his dynasty prevailed, though the succession question would not go away and continued to throw a shadow over the four reigns of the Tudors.
Two women are significant in Elizabeth’s life: her mother, Bess Woodville and her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort. Explain how each of these women dominates Elizabeth during critical years of her life.
All indications are that Elizabeth had a gentle, peaceable and submissive nature. In this, she couldn’t have differed more from her mother and mother-in-law, who were both overbearing, manipulative, confrontational and perhaps even emotionally disturbed. In modern parlance the most polite and delicate term for them would be “bullies.” Elizabeth’s mother bullied her during her formative years, and her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, bullied her as queen. Both these women — Margaret Beaufort and Bess Woodville - were reviled by the people.
In particular, Margaret Beaufort exerts great influence over her daughter-in-law’s daily existence, a fact that cannot be understated. Between Henry and Beaufort, Elizabeth is literally a prisoner during her marriage. Why does Beaufort exert such remarkable influence, and how does she manifest her obsession with Elizabeth?
Margaret Beaufort was the prime reason Henry Tudor won the crown. Simply put, he owed her. Astute, brilliant and unconscionable, she played a large role in securing his dynasty and served as his most influential advisor through most of his reign. She demanded and got her way in most things mainly for this reason, but also because she was not one to go quietly if she was denied it.
Margaret Beaufort seems to have regarded herself as a de facto queen. She signed herself “Margaret R” on her correspondence and dressed herself like Elizabeth for all state occasions, the only difference being that she could not wear Elizabeth’s crown, so she wore a circlet instead. But wherever Elizabeth was seen, there was Margaret Beaufort, breathing at her side, and she won herself the title “Usurper Queen” for the airs she assumed.
Margaret Beaufort ran Elizabeth’s household with an iron fist, and was the one who decided who could have access to her. She issued detailed instructions on many aspects of household affairs, including how to make the royal bed and fluff up the royal pillows, and how the children would be raised. In her “ordinances” she comes across as an ugly figure: petty, insufferable, opinionated, and abusive of her power over others.
Elizabeth bemoans her reticence to create conflict, “All my life I had avoided confrontation so much that I rarely voiced thoughts when they were unpleasant.” Given her environment, could Elizabeth have done anything differently to alter the course of her life or her choices?
Elizabeth’s choices were always very limited. Not only was she a medieval woman, but a medieval princess who was expected to live and marry for the realm. It’s hard to imagine that she could have done other than she did — except, perhaps, on one all-important occasion.
Had she fled to her aunt in Burgundy after Richard’s defeat at Bosworth, much would have gone differently for her personally. However, it would have meant that the civil war in England would have continued. Given her devotion to her country and her sense of duty, it would have been difficult for her to choose such an option. In remaining at Sherriff Hutton and waiting to be captured by Henry Tudor, she met her destiny head-on. It can be said that Elizabeth sacrificed her heart to unite her country.
Who is Perkin Warbeck? What is this man’s significance to Henry VII and to Elizabeth of York?
Perkin Warbeck was the name given to the Pretender who claimed to be the younger prince in the Tower - Richard, Duke of York. He challenged Henry Tudor for the throne and caused him a good deal of unrest for seven years. Once the Pretender was captured and brought under Henry’s will, Elizabeth must have agonized over his true identity. If she came to the conclusion that he really was her brother, Dickon, her anguish and torment at his suffering is almost unimaginable.
Elizabeth’s brothers are the famous “Princes in the Tower.” Some historians suggest Richard III may have been responsible for their fates. He is also described as a hunchback. In fact, Richard is much maligned by history. Do you agree with these assessments? If not, what is your perspective on Richard III?
I believe Richard III was innocent of all the charges against him. He was a popular king who cared deeply for his family, his people, and his country. He was a loyal subject to his brother, King Edward IV, and as king, he sacrificed his base of political support to bring justice to the common man. If the definition of a hero is someone who sacrifices himself to benefit society, then Richard III was a hero. He is known as a villain only because the victor writes history, and Henry Tudor, the victor of Bosworth, vilified him for his own political ends—much as Hitler would have rewritten Churchill’s reputation, had Hitler won Word War II.
Elizabeth bears two sons, Arthur and Harry, who will be crowned Henry VIII. In fact, Elizabeth worries about her younger son: “For him, life was a war he had to fight daily.” What circumstances contribute to her sons’ very different natures? In her heart, does Elizabeth prefer Arthur over Harry? Is she justified in her fears for Harry?
Elizabeth is acutely aware that both environment and heredity play a part in shaping her sons. Elizabeth is concerned about her younger child, Henry, for many reasons. Competitive and jealous, spoilt, flattered and indulged, Henry displays little conscience as he rampages through childhood. To make matters worse, he chafes visibly against his second place in life, believing he would make a better king than his brother, Arthur, who was born to the crown. Elizabeth sees resemblances to both her mother and mother-in-law in Henry, whereas Arthur has inherited the more admirable traits of the Plantagenet side of the family. Raised in Wales, far from his grandmother Beaufort’s influence, and trained to be a king since the age of three, Arthur displays a wisdom and dignity far beyond his years, and gives promise of becoming a great, fair-minded ruler. Elizabeth cannot help but prefer Arthur’s more loveable disposition and worry about her second son. History proves her concern well founded.
Elizabeth is a unique character, “daughter of a king, sister of a king, wed to a king and mother to a king.” She is also ultimately beloved of her people. How does history remember Elizabeth of York, The King's Daughter?
Elizabeth shines in the pages of history. Not a word is spoken against her, and what survive are accounts filled with praise of her grace and dignity, and her acts of kindness and generosity. Though little is known about Elizabeth after she married Henry Tudor, two accounts are often repeated. She wore tin buckles on her shoes instead of silver in order to save more money to give away to the poor, and her husband, Henry VII, one of the most unlovable of English kings, was so distraught at her death that he shut himself up in his privy chamber and demanded not to be disturbed in his grief. By the time of her death, King Edward’s beautiful daughter was so revered and beloved by her people that they called her “Elizabeth the Good.” It is an appellation not given to many English rulers.
Despite ample records of the period you write about in The King's Daughter, there is a precious little information on this particular historical figure. How then did you create your characterization of Elizabeth of York?
As Publisher’s Weekly noted in their review of The King's Daughter I went about it like an investigative reporter:
“Worth vividly brings one of England’s lesser-known queens to life in this luminous portrait of “Elizabeth the Good,” wife of Henry VII and mother of the notorious Henry VIII… [She] examines Elizabeth’s life with a journalist’s eye, an impressive feat given that her subject left little behind for study.”
While it sounds like a contradiction, the lack of information is what intrigued me most about Elizabeth. How could this be? Sister to the Princes in the Tower and mother to Henry VIII, the first Tudor queen lived at the epicenter of momentous events, so why does she hover unseen in the thick of things? When you think about it, the question is downright strange. Why is so little known about Elizabeth when so much is known about everyone else around her—her husband, her children, even her mother-in-law?
Again, this was my first clue that something weird was going on. I love mysteries, and this was a mystery. I already knew some things, such as her relationship with her uncle, Richard III, but there were others questions that troubled me — why, for example, does she disappear from the historical record once she marries Henry Tudor? Could the Tudors have kept her captive? If they did, what was the nature of the threat she posed to them? Did Elizabeth believe the Pretender, Perkin Warbeck, was really her lost brother, Richard, Duke of York? Around these questions whirl other curious ones. Did Henry VII rape Elizabeth? Was he in love with the Pretender’s wife? What were his real reasons for subjecting the Pretender to the extraordinarily brutal torture that he used?
I pondered the evidence with a medievalist friend and began to notice things in historical texts that hadn’t meant much to me before. I realized these were clues—hints, little details in the body of research, new and old, that I’d read before, and whose significance I’d missed. The blanks in Elizabeth’s life slowly began to fill, and the pieces of her puzzle took shape. All at once — voila! There she was for me. I had her story. And what a story it was — a real brew of forbidden love, ambition and murder!
As an historian, how do you bridge the facts with the creativity to bring your characters to life? At what point do they become real to you? By the time you have begun writing, or later, as the novel takes on its own life?
It’s a challenge, for sure. Facts can get in the way of creativity, and accuracy is my “brand.” That makes it harder to write the story, since sometimes I want to place the character here or there, and I can’t, because they were really some place else. So, if you plan to stay true to the facts, there are barriers to leap over when telling a story based on real history.
Nevertheless, there are areas where an author like me can use her imagination. The interpretation of the facts is one. Also, the blanks that exist in the historical record, particularly in this period of the Wars of the Roses, need filling in, and that’s another facet of story that allows for creativity. Yet another is motivation--what was in the mind of that person when they did such-and-such? Unless they recorded it themselves, no one knows for sure why they did what they did. I try to make sense of events, and to shape a viable theory as to why things happened as they did.
While every book is different, my historical figures are real to me before I even delve into research. The fact that they captured my attention in the first place means they touched me at some deep level. It’s a lot like making a friend – you meet someone and strike up rapport right away, but it takes time to get to know them. Once I start my research, I keep discovering things about them that bring them into even sharper focus. Take Isobel from Lady of the Roses, for example. Very little is known about her, so I didn’t have a strong idea of what she was like when I first began to write about her, but I knew she had to be very special to have been loved by such a valiant knight as John Neville. As I wrote her book, she developed herself and came to life in ways that surprised even me.
Elizabeth of York was one who required more forethought before I sat down to write about her, but once I did, she just poured out. She was very well formed and real to me from the moment I put pen to paper, and her book came quickly and effortlessly.
In short, my characters live and breathe in my mind, and as I research them I start hearing snatches of their conversation. I believe writers are the only people in the world who hear voices in their head that aren’t there and think its okay!
What did you find most difficult when writing about the enigmatic Elizabeth of York in The King's Daughter? The most rewarding?
Of course, losing her beloved son, Arthur, was the hardest thing to write, because this was the blow that killed her, and it hurt to see her suffer. The most rewarding part of writing Elizabeth’s story came at the end, when it was evident how much good she had accomplished with her life. She’d had little money and even less freedom, yet she eased a great deal of the suffering around her, and even managed to secure happiness for those near and dear to her. When she died, she was deeply mourned, because everyone sensed that a bright light had gone out in the world.
Can we expect another novel from you after The King's Daughter? If so, can you share something about it with us?
Thanks for asking, Luan. In contrast to my other historical figures, the one I’m writing about now is proving elusive and the most difficult I’ve tackled so far. Her tale promises as much drama, pathos, and triumph as the others, if not more, but though I know her story, she’s demanding much more time with it. I have a great deal of blanks to figure out with her because nothing has survived except the broad outlines of her life. Fortunately, I’m not under deadline, so I can take my time. But when this book will be out — that I can’t say—except that it definitely won’t be next year!
Sandra Worth is the award-winning author of four previous historical novels. She is a frequent lecturer on the Wars of the Roses and has been published by Ricardian journals in the United States and England.
Luan Gaines is a contributing
editor of curledup.com. Her interview with Sandra Worth was written in conjunction with her review of The King's Daughter. © Luan Gaines/2008.