Historical fiction presents a unique opportunity for the melding of fact and imagination, events fleshed out by an array of characters in each act of the Machiavellian play that is England’s political evolution. In this act, Henry VII has vanquished Richard III and wed Elizabeth of York as his queen, yet his mother, Margaret Beaufort, “the impostor queen,” remains of inordinate influence on her son. Enter “the Pretender” - Perkin Warbeck, or Richard, Duke of York, heir of Edward IV and the surviving Prince in the Tower, arguably one of the most enduring mysteries of English history.
Richard’s pregnant Scottish wife, Lady Catherine Gordon, refuses to wait patiently behind while her husband reclaims the crown of England, so sincere in her belief in the rightness of their cause that she brings along their baby son, Dickon. Alas, history proves meddlesome: Henry captures the man referred to as Perkin Warbeck, demanding a recanting of all claims and holding Catherine hostage to her husband’s acquiescence, although Dickon is forcefully torn from her arms and the unborn child lost prematurely. Dickon’s unknown fate resonates throughout Catherine’s life, an uncertainty that ties Catherine to England and Henry’s unwavering interest.
In the ill-fated attempt to rally England behind Richard’s cause, Catherine becomes Worth’s witness to history’s grave error - the imprisonment, cruelty, humiliation and ultimate death of “Perkin Warbeck” - as well as the object of Henry’s enduring obsession with his coveted Scottish prize. This hostage to fate of whom little is written, save the ten words recorded for posterity: “It is the man, and not the king I love,” Lady Catherine offers a unique perspective into Henry’s dilemma. Faced with the political threat of Richard’s claim, Henry’s putative rival is defeated without a significant army to support his efforts and win the hearts of English citizens: “You shall be known to the ages as the false prince who would be king.”
With the natural grace of royalty and the physical traits of his Plantagenet ancestors, there is an argument to be made for Richard’s authenticity, not the least of which is Henry’s inhumane treatment of his captive, his reluctance to pardon the Pretender and Richard’s death at Tyburn, the sly advice of Morton and Margaret Beaufort no doubt coloring Henry’s decision. Given the fascinating mystery of the fate of the Princes in the Tower, the assignment of blame for their murders to Richard III and various historical coincidences that suggest at least one of the sons of Edward IV may have survived, Worth builds her novel not on mere speculation nor the invention of romance for color but on a legitimate line of inquiry that likely will never be resolved.
Though little is known of Catherine but her reply to Henry Tudor’s suit and a love letter from Richard, much is recorded of Henry VII, his reaction to Perkin Warbeck’s arrival in England, and his need to keep Catherine nearby while Richard languishes in prison, suffers heinous torture and ultimately forfeits his life. The once unbowed Catherine survives Richard by twenty years, remarries three more times and witnesses the inexorable randomness of time, including the beheading of Sir Thomas More and Anne Boleyn. Caught in the juggernaut of a Tudor king’s insistence and her husband’s claim to the crown, Catherine’s character is forged in the crucible of her pain as portrayed by Worth, a reliable chronicler of the era and the Yorkist cause.
The result of deliberation, imagination and thorough historical documentation, Worth has created a provocative scenario, her work buoyed both by research and an appreciation for the idiosyncrasies of human behavior. While historical fiction wears many hats - some of them decorated with an unfortunate paucity of fact - Worth consistently delivers novels grounded in plausibility, true events smudged with the fingerprints of those swept up in history’s path.