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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

The Stolen Crown: The Secret Marriage that Forever Changed the Fate of England - Susan Higginbotham This book captured me with the dedication, "To those who died in 1483." I paused here considering what I already knew about this tragic year. Higginbotham uses a completely different method of sharing her theory on Richard III, telling the story from the points-of-view of Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, and his wife, Kate Woodville. Besides the fact that I am not crazy about the alternating first-person chapters, this new perspective was quite refreshing.

The Woodvilles of "The Stolen Crown" are not the grasping, scheming upstarts that so many others portray them as. Elizabeth (Bessie) is a quiet, pious woman who agrees to marry a handsome young king. It is the king who is determined to take care of her family. Henry is not forced into a loveless marriage to a Woodville spinster, but is quite happily married to Kate when they are both children. It was an eye opening read in which these characters were written so differently than what I am used to that I had to remind myself who they were from time to time. "That sweet Bessie girl? That's Elizabeth Woodville!"

Richard, Duke of Gloucester and later Richard III, is quite dastardly but in a more believable way than Shakespeare. Rather than reveling in his evilness, he does things because he feels that the ends justify the means. His manipulations and justifications go to far and he ends up turning people against him, even people who loved him.

Higginbotham makes a good case for how people are characterized in her author's notes. Maybe the Woodvilles were not really all scheming witches, maybe Richard was the creep that Shakespeare said he was, maybe the Duke of Buckingham was a basically good, but naïve, guy. If only we could truly know.

It was new to me to cry for Richard and John Woodville, cringe when Richard moved toward someone, and to feel pity and affection for Henry Stafford. This is where "The Stolen Crown" excels: in convincing the reader that the people you thought you had figured out were really entirely different. This was probably the most realistic portrayal of Richard that I have read, even if it was not the most romantic and enjoyable. A part of me will always hope that the Richard of "Sunne in Splendour" is somehow true.

Higginbotham includes a huge cast of characters that can be somewhat confusing even if you are basically familiar with the events surrounding 1483. However, she does not include the description of battles, so if that is something that you can't live without in a Wars of the Roses era novel, you will be disappointed. If you are a hardcore Ricardian, you may find it difficult. But if you are looking for a clever, fast-paced, well-written look at what might have been from a fresh point of view, you will enjoy this book.