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Carpe Librum

Reviews and bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.

If I am lost, you will find me in medieval England.

You can also find me - and my books - on my blog.

Historical Novel Society

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A Song of Sixpence by Judith Arnopp

A Song of Sixpence: The Story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck - Judith Arnopp

Judith Arnopp has done a better job with Elizabeth of York than other, inexplicably popular, authors.


A Song of Sixpence is not solely the story of Elizabeth of York. Chapters alternate between first person point-of-view chapters of Elizabeth and third person point-of-view chapters of her brother Richard. Each story taken on their own is well done and they are written to complement one another and carry the plot forward. This was a quick paced read for me because I have done significant research on these characters, and I enjoyed seeing how Arnopp brought them to life.


The focus throughout the Elizabeth chapters is on her children and devotion to her family. While it is frustrating at times to see Elizabeth fail to stand up to Henry, even as he tramples over the York remnant and treats Elizabeth poorly, historical fact backs this up. I prefer to see reality than a rosy interpretation that doesn't make sense. Therefore, while I wanted to smack Elizabeth into action at times, her portrayal was faithful to the real woman. At times, Elizabeth may have seemed a little bit too far out of the loop, but she found refuge in her children. If possible, she is a little too forgiving and complacent.


Henry VII is characterized as negatively as he usually is, but at least he's not a rapist in this account. He keeps his beautiful, devoted wife at arm's length, never seeming to show her the kind of love that was apparently demonstrated when he mourned her. And Margaret Stanley? Well, she's Margaret Stanley.


My favorite element of this book was how the author treated Prince Richard. In as plausible account as possible, if you believe that Perkin Warbeck was truly Richard, Arnopp details his life from the fateful night when he is saved from the Tower through to his disgraceful end. Richard is so like his father in everything but soldiering. Unfortunately, for a displaced prince attempting to win his throne, that is exactly the skill he most needed. Richard's portrayal took into account historical facts regarding this mysterious pretender (or was he?) and develops a personality that makes his actions seem perfectly suited to him. My only complaint with this part of the story was the references to him as "the boy." In fact, his chapters were titled "Boy" rather than "Richard" despite the fact that the reader knows from page 1 that he is truly Richard in this author's account.


I have made something of a quest of reading all that I can on Elizabeth of York, and this was one of the more satisfying and realistic portrayals of her that I have found.