This book was Book of the Month for June over at Historical Fiction Forum. I haven't gotten around to May's book yet, so I thought I should probably read this month's book, and I am certainly glad that I did!
AN UNFORGETTABLE HEROINE,
A KING MISUNDERSTOOD BY HISTORY,
A LOVE STORY THAT HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD
In A Rose for the Crown, we meet one of history's alleged villains through the eyes of a captivating new heroine -- the woman who was the mother of his illegitimate children, a woman who loved him for who he really was, no matter what the cost to herself.
As Kate Haute moves from her peasant roots to the luxurious palaces of England, her path is inextricably intertwined with that of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III. Although they could never marry, their young passion grows into a love that sustains them through war, personal tragedy, and the dangerous heights of political triumph.
Anne Easter Smith's impeccable research provides the backbone of an engrossing and vibrant debut from a major new historical novelist.
Richard III is known as one of the most villainous kings of England, mainly because whilst in his care the two princes in the Tower, his nephews, disappeared without a trace. He was the last Plantagenet king, and had his throne taken from him by the first of the Tudor kings, Henry VII. He was portrayed in a negative way ever since the time of the Tudors, with Shakespeare especially getting in on the act. There are quite a few people out there who believe that this reputation is undeserved, and that he is a king that has had bad PR over the years. The author of this book is a member of the Richard III society and it is therefore inevitable that she would portray him in a mostly positive light, but hers is not the only one out there that portrays him in this way. One of the best books I have read with Richard III as subject is Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman...awesome book!
Before we come to know Richard, we firstly meet a young lady by the name of Kate Bywood, who is a lovely looking country lass, with the very bad habits of telling everyone what she thinks, and asking too many questions. We follow Kate for many years, getting to know her as she lives both at her family home, and then when she is given the opportunity to travel to Ightham Mote to become companion to a member of her family. She is married at quite a young age to a much older man, and widowed a short time later, making her an independent woman, with a regular income. Along the way we also meet some of the people that will become incredibly important to her, including Margaret Howard, wife of John Howard...a man on the rise within royal circles, and who eventually played a huge role in the reign of Richard III.
When it comes to be time for Kate to marry again she is delighted when she is to be married to George Haute, a very handsome young man, who is in service with the Howards. However, it becomes very clear early on that whilst Kate thinks she loves George, George's reasons for marriage are less honourable. Kate is resigned to another marriage that is less than fulfilling. Into her unhappy life comes the youngest brother of Edward IV, Richard of Gloucester, and there is an instant connection between them. As their paths occasionally cross, everything is building up to their inevitable relationship.
Young Richard of Gloucester is portrayed as a man who values loyalty more than anything, and who is valued for his own loyalty by his brother, something that is not always forthcoming in royal families (their brother, Duke of Clarence was executed for treason against Edward IV). For Richard and Kate, they cannot often be together, but when they are the time spent is precious, and even more so when Kate bears him two children. Richard is, however, a man of honour, and so when the time comes for him to marry for duty, they agree that their time as lovers has to end, but not before Kate once again finds herself with child.
Following the death of Edward, Richard is first appointed as regent to the young King Edward V, and then eventually is declared King in his own right. Kate's two older children are acknowledged by Richard and even taken into his own household by him and his wife Queen Anne, and Kate is separated by the social chasm between them as they begin their lives as young royals. She is not however ever separated from them emotionally.
The connection between Kate and Richard is a strong and loving one, and as Richard deals with the difficulties of being king, Kate is able to provide him with support in a way that no one else can, especially when his two young nephews are taken care of! She is also able to help out some of her closer friends and relatives as a result of her own influence with him.
So, what basis in fact is there? What is known is that Richard has at least two illegitimate children before his marriage that he acknowledged and had living in his own household. On the eve of his death it is thought that he acknowledged a third child as well. As to the identity of the mother(s), that is not known, so the author has taken some information found in the history records and woven her story around them. She suppposes that given that Richard was quite unusual in that he was completely faithful to his wife (quite the opposite of his older brother!), that it was likely that Richard had had such a loving relationship with someone that he was fulfilled in a way that no mistresses could compete with. How true that supposition is .... who knows, but it does make for a very solid and compelling read.
The author takes the facts that are known, along with details of daily lives across a cross section of society, and weaves them into a narrative that is compelling without being dry as some historical fiction can occasionally be.
An extremely satisfying and enjoyable read, and a recommended read to anyone interested in reading about the English royal history before Tudor times.