And now for something completely different! I’d like to welcome Karen D’Or to Sheli Reads for her guest post about the recent trend for Tudor fiction.
Red and White
In California’s wine country, the grape harvest starts well before fall — the fruit ripens fast during the sweltering midsummer days when our vineyards seem like magnets for the summer sun, trapping the heat between the hills and valleys that define our terroir. Those heat wave days can quickly turn into sudden thundershowers, threatening the crops with mildew and ruination.
It is turncoat weather. If grapes aren’t harvested in time a precious vintage may be lost.
As long summer days come to a close, and the erratic harvest weather sends me home earlier on Saturdays, I open a bottle of local Pinot Noir and settle in to watch BBC’s The White Queen, the poorly-reviewed ten episode production based on Philippa Gregory’s three books: The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.
Each Saturday night I turn on satellite TV to watch the small screen rendition the War of the Roses (WOTR). It is an time that historian Allison Weir calls an “unfolding pageant of treason and conflict.” I’m vigilantly watching the show because this year, surprisingly, the fictional tales of the historic conflict between the (red) Lancastrians and the (white) Yorkist roses/houses are my favorite bedtime reading: escapist, romantic, devious, epic, and always volatile.
Sure, I’ve grabbed Ms. Gregory’s popular WOTR novels, but even before The White Queen TV show landed in the U.S, I’d found other fiction authors who have tackled the pivotal century with careful plot development, thoughtful character interpretations, and insights into the mercurial relationships within, and between, the two houses. Since Sheli Reads loves good historical fiction, I’m delighted the saucy Welsh blogger invited me to guest post this week so I can share my thoughts on a few key re-tellings of this era.
Tudor Rose: the Story of the Queen Who United a Kingdom and Birthed a Dynasty
Margaret Campbell Barnes wrote Tudor Rose: the Story of the Queen Who United a Kingdom and Birthed a Dynasty sixty years ago. Tudor Rose brightly weaves the history of Elizabeth of York, the White Queen’s eldest daughter, and the most recent common ancestor of all English monarchs. Elizabeth shines through as a naturally cheerful girl who develops into a wise and warm queen. The book moves quickly, is carefully researched, and is well worth reading. However, towards the end Barnes tosses in a few strange fictional twists that seem both implausible and rushed.
Rose of York Trilogy
Written more recently, and with a stronger Ricardian slant, is Sandra Worth’s Rose of York trilogy, three books framed by the decades long love story of Richard III and Anne Neville. The author won several awards for the series including Francis Ford Coppola/Ray Bradbury/Moxie Films-sponsored 2003 New Century Writers Award. The trilogy kept my attention, and Worth writes with compassion and clarity. Although Worth’s presumption of a “love at first sight” tormented romance between Richard and Anne is rather charming, I don’t agree with the journal of the Richard III society’s reviewer that the trilogy is a “masterpiece.” Entertaining, yes, but the author may have gone a bit too far in de-vilifying Richard.
The War of the Roses
In spite of the entertainment value of the novels, for me the most compelling read is the 1995 non-fiction classic from Alison Weir. Weir is the highest-selling female historian in the United Kingdom. This is a long (496 pages) and riveting book. It is a great introduction to the WOTR era; for a historian Weir is imminently readable with a strong narrative compass. Because of her uncanny ability to make historical facts evocative and moving, Weir’s insight is often more worthwhile, and compelling, than some of the fictional accounts which often unfairly collapse years and decades into just a few words.
As the days grow shorter, I recommend that you grab some juicy WOTR reading. You might even consider breaking out of the historical novel groove to explore a renowned nonfiction guide to this unstable period by turning to Alison Weir’s War of the Roses nonfiction classic. Weir brilliantly tells the “astonishing and often grim story of power struggles that involved some of the most charismatic figures in English History.”
By all means, time travel back to the fifteenth century: get lost in and around vivid landscapes like Pembroke Castle in West Wales, or Ludlow Castle in Shropshire where Edward IV sent his son the Prince of Wales before…. well, if you don’t already know, you’ll find out!
And as you delve into these devious WOTR times, I suggest you cozy up with a glass of ruby-red wine, perhaps a 2008 Dry Creek Valley Meritage. If you aren’t yet loyal to the reds, and if your leanings are more toward a chilly, seductive, wheat-hued dry white, consider the award-winning 2010 Alexander Valley Vineyards Chardonnay.
Unlike in the volatile choices during the War of the Roses, there are no losers in this decision between Red and White.
28 September 2013
Karen D’Or (B.A. in English Literature and M.A. in Business Administration) has a 30-year career writing for corporations and non-profits. Karen is a successful grant writer and researcher in Sonoma County, California, where her practice raises millions of dollars for local social service agencies. Her college boyfriend recalls her writing as “remarkably fresh, witty, sharp, expressive and clever.” Www.musingly.me is Karen’s first blog venture launched to fulfill those lofty expectations of three decades ago. Twitter @musinglyme