The Wars of the Roses provide fertile ground for novelists, and Higginbotham dives into the troubled years of Edward IV, Richard III and Henry Tudor with enthusiasm, her perspective that of Kate Woodville, youngest sister of Edward’s commoner wife, Elizabeth. When the popular, handsome Edward weds Woodville without the permission of his council or permission of the powerful Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the long-term consequences are profound.
One of the beneficiaries of Elizabeth’s marriage is Kate Woodville, wed at an early age to Harry Stafford, second Duke of Buckingham. Untainted by politics, Kate waits patiently for the consummation of her marriage and her “real life” with Harry, while her husband learns the art of statecraft and develops an abiding friendship with the Duke of Gloucester. While Kate is enamored of King Edward, Stafford finds himself on the perimeters of the court, forming a deep attachment to Richard, who takes the time to encourage Harry.
Edward’s years on the throne are not without their problems, and the marriage to Elizabeth Woodville certainly exacerbates the disaffection of certain nobles, including Warwick, the Kingmaker, and Edward’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence. In the skirmishes that ensue, Warwick will fall and the Duke of Clarence, run out of apologies for his treasonous activities, will face a sentence of death at Edward’s hands.
The politics of the era are brutal, the crown of England at stake. As Kate and Harry raise their family in Wales, events reach a critical turn when Edward dies unexpectedly. Now all eyes are focused on the heir, Edward, Prince of Wales - and who will control the boy king. As Stafford leaves his family to support Gloucester, ambition breeds heinous deeds, among them the denial of young Edward’s claim to the throne by virtue of a precontract before the marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and the murder of the boy’s trusted servants.
In this murky historical territory, Higginbotham weaves a tale of lies and ambition, opportunism and betrayal, a lifelong friendship shattered as Stafford leaves the side of his beloved friend, now Richard III. While most of the drama takes place on the political stage between Harry and Richard, Kate stakes out the moral authority, her long enmity toward Richard leading to a rift in her marriage.
Events spiral out of control, Richard facing impossible odds, the Woodvilles cast once more into obscurity. Higginbotham has chosen a particular portrayal of Richard III, revealing a more venal king - especially in Kate’s opinion - one that gives us pause amid the accolades of history. One thing is certain: no throne is secure, no man safe from ambition and those unwilling to sell their souls for power infinite: “If life has taught me nothing else, it is to be cautious around kings.”
In this ménage a trios - king, friend, lady - there is no place for ambiguity, Harry forced to take a stand and choose a side. A more unsettling tale of kingship and loyalty, Richard is likely to be either praised or vilified, the country left to bear the errors of its fallible leaders.