A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

It is has always difficult, even dangerous, to be a woman. You had no rights. You were at the disposal of men, first your father, then your husband, and then, possibly your son. Childbirth was dangerous. This was the case until recently in the western world. Even today many of women’s health and well-being issues depend on the beneficence of men.

It was particularly precarious to be of royal blood. Such a woman was a pawn to be betrothed and married for political reasons, all before you were ten years old. And those politics could change in the blink of an eye.

 A Dangerous Inheritance is an historical novel that concerns two such girls, separated by eighty years, related by blood, who find themselves in somewhat similar situations. These two girls, Lady Katherine Plantagenet, the illegitimate daughter of Richard III, and Lady Catherine Grey, the younger sister of Lady Jane Grey, known as the Nine Days’ Queen. Neither played major roles in the history of the time, yet their lives are fascinating, tragic, and illustrative of the lives to be had by women of their time and status.

One thing that had would have been helpful on the Kindle edition, which NetGalley kindly provided me, was a family tree. Everyone back then had the same name, and they were all related. Without a family tree, I resorted to Wikipedia. Wikipedia may not be always accurate, but I found myself referring back many times to the family trees on the websites. I was also there (at Wikipedia) a lot, reading the biographies of the characters, reminding myself of what I had read in the past of these times.

One issue that both girls are concerned about is the fate of the famous princes, the sons of Edward IV, who were supposed to have been murdered by their uncle, Richard III. The villainy of Richard III was immortalized in Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. (Remember that Shakespeare was writing during the reign of Elizabeth I, who was the granddaughter of Henry VII who overthrew Richard III. Remember: history is written by the victor.) A classic murder mystery, by Josephine Tey, Daughter of Time, is about a detective, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with Richard III and sets out to solve the murder of the princes (from his hospital bed). He proves, to his satisfaction at least, that Richard III was innocent of the crime; Henry VII did it. Henry VII certainly had as good a motive as Richard III to remove these princes from this earth.

This was an excellent read. Even though I knew, thanks to Wikipedia, what happened to these young women, I kept reading to see how Alison Weir would handle their stories. Actually, it is not certain what happened to Lady Katherine Herbert, née Plantagenet. The best guess is that she may have been dead by 25 November 1487, the date of the coronation of Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII).  http://www.richardiii.net/r3_detail_children.htm This lack of information is not surprising; in history, the fate of women is often obscure. Men wrote the histories, and they were the victors.

Now I have to go back and read all my Weir and Fraser biographies. So many books, so little time.

Alison Weir is a British writer of history books and historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British royalty. Her works on the Tudor period have made her a best-selling author. She finds that she considers the Tudor period “the most dramatic period in our history, with vivid, strong personalities… The Tudor period is the first one for which we have a rich visual record, with the growth of portraiture, and detailed sources on the private lives of kings and queens. This was an age that witnessed a growth in diplomacy and the spread of the printed word.”

Weir’s writings have been describing as being in the genre of popular history, which seeks to inform and entertain a large general audience. Weir believes that popular history, despite academic attitudes,  “history is not the sole preserve of academics, although I have the utmost respect for those historians who undertake new research and contribute something new to our knowledge. History belongs to us all, and it can be accessed by us all. And if writing it in a way that is accessible and entertaining, as well as conscientiously researched, can be described as popular, then, yes, I am a popular historian, and am proud and happy to be one.” Lucinda Byatt said of Weir’s popular historian label, “To describe her as a popular historian would be to state a literal truth – her chunky explorations of Britain’s early modern past sell in the kind of multiples that others can only dream of.” Weir’s best-selling works have focused on strong women, and she has been compared to female historians such as Antonia Fraser. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alison_Weir

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