Tour: The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien


Book details:

Book Title: The Queen's Rival

Author: Anne O'Brien

Publication Date: 15th April 2021(paperback) September 2020 (Hardback and ebook)

Publisher: HarperCollins

Page Length: 531 pages

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England, 1459.

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

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Duchess Cecily confronts the Earl of Warwick in the lodgings of the Prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, June 1469

Did I not know exactly what it was that my powerful nephew was devising? I saw his stark aspirations; I saw the clever plotting. I determined that I might allow my nephew of Warwick to take the lead, but I would not be persuaded against my will to sign my name to his strategy.

Canterbury was ostentatiously welcoming, the journey made comfortable in every aspect by the people of Warwick’s household, dispatched to escort me. After Edward’s contentious treatment over the loss of Fotheringhay it was a sop to my dignity. Luxury and comfort were the order of the day, from a welter of damask cushions to restorative cups of ale, my small travelling household settled into the accommodations of the Prior of Christ Church. Warwick had a gift for charm and putting a much-desired visitor at ease. It would have been enough to rouse my suspicions, if they needed any rousing.

‘Welcome, my most highly valued aunt. Enter and take your ease. I am gratified that you came at my request. I trust you journeyed well.’

He offered me a full Court obeisance, hand on heart, elegant and controlled. Yet his smile and the salutation on my cheek were quite genuine of his affection.

‘I could not refuse,’ I said. ‘Such a subtle appeal to my curiosity. How could I not be here?’

‘We were not sure that you would come.’

While wine was dispensed, we sat at ease in one of the spacious chambers, discussing innocuous family affairs. The Countess and their daughters were in Calais, awaiting Warwick’s arrival. Since there were still a good few hours of daylight remaining, I suggested a visit to the shrine of the Blessed St Thomas where we knelt and offered up prayers for the King, for the realm, for ourselves. For the repose of York and Rutland. While, within the grandeur of gold and jewels of the shrine, I prayed silently for some resolution to what, in the coming hours, could be a difficult exchange of views.

In the conflict of light and shadow as we walked from the shrine, when Clarence strode ahead of me, in brief conversation with one of the priests, his figure became blurred, the edges touched by an iridescence from the deeply hued glass. The years passing, how tall and strong he had become. And his resemblance to his brother Edward struck me. If he had worn a coronet on his fair hair the priests would be falling to their knees around him.

My thoughts slid into an uneasy channel, like the turbulence of oily water after a storm. Would Clarence make a King? A good King?

Blessed Virgin vouchsafe me the words to bring my son back into the royal fold.

I decided that Clarence was on Warwick’s tight leash, like a young hunting dog, preventing him from speaking out the moment I had stepped over the Prior’s highly polished threshold.

Returned to our lodging, I was the perfect guest, making no comment on the reason for my presence. Let Warwick broach this dangerous subject, waiting until we had eaten, I sparingly, the dishes removed, the servants dispatched. Then, as Warwick filled the cups once more, I braced myself for a disturbing exchange.

‘Now, we talk.’

I allowed myself a benign smile. ‘Why am I here? Is this the point when you tell me?’

Warwick raised his cup in acknowledgement of my previous silence.

‘I would like your support.’

‘For what purpose?’

I knew. Oh I knew. Every gossipmonger in the country knew.

‘The marriage of your son Clarence to my daughter Isabel.’

There it was, spoken aloud between us.

‘Do you seek the crown for yourself?’ I asked Warwick.

‘No.’ Honesty crackled in the air between us. ‘Edward is King. I am his cousin. When I am restored to his counsels, when I have his ear, I will be the most loyal of subjects.’

‘But still you will pursue this marriage.’

‘Edward has left me with no choice. His Woodville policy has been devastating.’

‘Do you seek the crown for yourself?’ I asked.

‘No.’ Honesty crackled in the air between us. ‘Edward is King. I am his cousin. When I am restored to his counsels, when I have his ear, I will be the most loyal of subjects.’

‘But still you will pursue this marriage.’

‘Edward has left me with no choice. His Woodville policy has been devastating.’

‘I know how bitter you are.’

It was as if a flame had been applied to a smouldering log.

‘How long must I tolerate this? I made Edward King, but I can no longer control him.’

‘You are still powerful and handsomely rewarded. Edward still relies on you.’

‘I see no reward. I see no reliance. My service to your son is no longer of any account. Nor will it ever be as long as the Woodvilles surround him.’

A judgement delivered in flat, emotionless accents at odds with the fire in his eyes. The room was full to the brim with his bitterness. It positively dripped from the tapestried walls, like blood from a huntsman’s knife. I stretched my hand across the white cloth that still graced the table to touch his where it lay flat, fingers widespread. I was not without compassion.

‘There is no moving you, is there?’

‘No.’

‘I am sorry for it. I see only bloodshed.’

‘I think I am more sanguine. Edward and I can still come to terms, if he is willing to close his ears to the Woodville bellowing.’

I could not see it happening.

‘Why do you need my support?’ I asked, as I had at the beginning.

‘Because you are the only one Edward will listen to, short of facing him on a battlefield and forcing him at the point of a sword.’

‘Once that might have been true.’ A little sadness trickled through my veins, as I admitted the truth. ‘But now he has a wife whose pretty fingers have tightened on the royal reins, at the same time as they have dislodged mine.’

Which awoke a smile in my nephew. ‘We might try together to dislodge her.’

And, then, because there was a softening between us and because I thought that he might be open with me, ‘What was it that you stopped Clarence from telling me before you sent him away? What were the rumours that he was urged to tell me of ?’

The vestige of humour promptly vanished.

‘There are none. Just something Clarence has heard and mis­understood. Nothing that need disturb you.’

I angled my chin, my eyes cool on his.

‘Will you object if I say that I do not believe you?’

He shrugged, smiled briefly.

‘Will you be honest with me?’ I asked.

‘If I can.’

‘Will this non-existent rumour that Clarence has misunder­stood hurt Ned?’

‘Yes.’

‘Will it hurt me?’

‘I think it will.’

Honesty indeed. It hurt, but it was best to know the worst.

‘Will you make use of this non-existent rumour?’ I asked.

‘If I have to,’ the Earl of Warwick replied without hesitation. ‘It is too good a weapon not to bring into my armoury.’