Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Queen Of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham

In The Queen Of Last Hopes, Susan Higginbotham traces the life and marriage of Margaret Of Anjou.  She leaves her French home at the age of fourteen to marry Henry VI.  The book covers their lives from 1444 to 1482, when Margaret dies.  Her life went from that of an honored queen, welcomed by the London townspeople and loved by all, to one in exile, alone and reviled by the English people.  What caused such a life change?

After eight years of marriage, Henry, never a strong man, went "mad".  Mad is the description that was given to him, and the descriptions seem to describe a catatonic state that lasted for a year and a half.  During that time, Margaret finally gave birth to their only child, a son, Edward.  Those who follow history know that power hates a vacuum, and Henry's illness started the change of events that led to the war between the House of Lancaster (Henry) and the House of York (Edward).  The fight for the crown and the ability to rule England tore the country apart for years, dividing men who had served on the battlefields as brothers, severing families and spreading death and destruction for decades.  Margaret spent years as the power behind the throne, advising Henry and finding men and money to fuel their attempts to regain the throne once it was lost.

One of Higginbotham's strengths is taking the reader into this world and letting them feel what day to day life was like.  The fate of women was not a pretty one.  Used as pawns in political powerplays in their marriages, once married they were to do nothing but produce babies.  Their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers and uncles were also pawns as they fought in wars and political maneuvers.  One day a family might be rich and powerful; the next, having chosen the wrong side in a powerplay, impoverished and subject to long years of imprisonment or even death by beheading or other barbarous methods.  Any woman who dared to step outside this stricture was subject to rumours and disgust.

This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.  It really filled in a gap in my knowledge of this period, and may do so for many other readers.  Margaret's strength and resourcefulness is now being reevaluated as the stigma of being a strong woman is being examined by historians.  The reader will enjoy Higganbotham's research and ability to bring an era and its characters to life.

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