Book Review: The York Princesses: The daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, by Sarah J Hodder

Genre: History, nonfiction
Publisher: Chronos Books
Pub date: 30 April 2021
Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

As a collective, the lives of the Princesses of York span across seven decades and the rule of five different Kings. The daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, they were born into an England that had been ruled over by the great Plantagenet Kings for almost three hundred years. Their young years were blighted by tragedy: the death of their beloved father, followed by the disappearance and possible murder of their two brothers, Edward and Richard of York, forever now known to history as the infamous Princes in the Tower. With their own futures uncertain during the reign of their uncle, Richard III, and their mother held under house arrest, the Princesses had to navigate their way through the tumultuous years of the 1480s before having to adjust to a new King and a new dynasty in the shape of Henry VII, who would bring about the age of the Tudors. Through her marriage to Henry, Elizabeth of York rebuilt her life, establishing herself as a popular, if not hugely influential Queen. But she did not forget her younger siblings, and even before her own mothers death, she acted as a surrogate mother to the younger York princesses, supporting them both financially and emotionally. The stories of the York Princesses are entwined into the fabric of the history of England, as they grew up, survived and even thrived in the new Tudor age. Their lives are played out against a backdrop of coronations and jousts, births and deaths, marriages and divorces and loyalties and broken allegiances. From the usurpation of Richard III, to the Battle of Bosworth, the brilliance of the court of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, to the rise of Anne Boleyn, the York Princesses were there to witness events unfold. They were the daughters, sisters and aunts of Kings, and this is their story. The York Princesses is a natural follow-up to Sarah J. Hodder’s first book, The Queen’s Sisters, which told the stories of the lives of the sisters of Elizabeth Woodville.

I’ve been looking forward to this since Sarah first told me about it after I read her debut book, The Queen’s Sister’s: The lives of the sisters of Elizabeth Woodville.

Sarah provides a great introduction in to the background of the York Princesses which may benefit those who haven’t read much regarding the Wars of the Roses but in short the York Princesses are the daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville and include Elizabeth of York, Queen to Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. I’m a huge fan of the Plantagenet and Tudor era so whilst the introduction didn’t give me anything new it was a great way to refresh my mind on who’s who and lead in to the main chapters.

As with The Queen’s Sister’s a chapter is dedicated to an individual each one to a single York Princess. Some chapters are alot shorter than others due to the small amount of information available on certain sisters but I liked how Sarah has included major events in the chapters and how the sisters would have been involved/present at the events and how it affected them as a family.

Of all the sisters, excluding Elizabeth, Cecily is the one I had heard most about but still I learnt quite a bit about Cecily, I never knew she’d been banished from court and suffered such heartbreak, hers is a sad story but it was also nice to read she had the friendship and support of Margaret Beaufort.

I particularly enjoyed Katherine’s chapter as I knew next to nothing about her other than she existed so it was really interesting to read about her marriage, children and eventual vow of chastity as well as her relationship with Henry VIII.

Love Katherine’s seal:

The excellent Princess Katherine, Countess of Devon, daughter, sister and aunt of Kings

The research into accounts from the households of the sisters is both surprising and interesting. One account of Katherine’s household states 499 sheep were eaten within a year and over two thousand fish! That’s incredible! At this point Katherine was a widow so this indicates to me a very generous nature, further evidenced by gifts she made to her serving staff including covering the cost of her maids wedding.

Although the book mainly focuses on the sisters there is some background and additional information provided which I found beneficial, such as what happened to the children of the sisters and who they married.

As sisters their relationship appears close it is very clear Elizabeth was very fond of her younger sisters and this is evident not only from the fact they served her but also in her accounts which evident gifts of money whenever she could to provide support as well as the education and provision of food and clothing for her nieces and nephews.

Sarah has done a wonderful job of bringing each princess to life rather than being in the background of their more famous relatives including their parents, sister Elizabeth and of course the Princes in the Tower. With relatives as high profile as those it can be easy to forget about the princesses but they lived through part of the Wars of the Roses, the deaths of siblings, parents, fleeing to sanctuary and the disappearance of their brothers. For young ladies born as princesses they certainly did not live easy lives.

It’s a relatively short book but I thoroughly enjoyed it, I like Sarah’s writing style, it’s very obvious from reading two of her books that she’s very passionate about the subject which is also evident from the research undertaken to produce this book. The referencing and select bibliography have also provided me with some future TBR books, I cannot wait to see what comes next from Sarah!

I absolutely loved the cover of The Queen’s Sister’s and I adore this one just as much, they’re just beautiful designs.

I am happy to announce Sarah will be joining me for a Guest Post next week so maybe we’ll get a hint of what’s next as well as who she would speak to if she could have a conversation with anyone from history!

The York Princesses is currently available for preorder

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