The Stolen Crown, by Susan Higginbotham, appealed to me because I wanted different perspective on Edward IV’s Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Higginbotham selected one of my favorite perspectives from which to craft a historical fiction novel; the selection of living people who were peripheral figures at the time and of whom the reader does not have a long entrenched opinion of how the character should develop. By using these marginal but historical figures Higginbotham focuses her reader on the story line, which she crafts masterfully.
The Stolen Crown’s protagonist is Katherine Woodville, called Kate, the younger sister of Elizabeth Woodville who secretly weds King Edward IV and becomes England’s queen. The entire large Woodville family suddenly rockets to the center of the English court and Kate finds herself a pawn in her sister’s plan to extend her influence by marrying her brothers and sisters into as many of the noble families as possible. Kate is just seven years old when she is married to nine-year-old Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, referred to as Harry, as in life. As the Duke of Buckingham, Harry is the foremost noble in the land, behind only King Edward, his children and his brothers. A coup for the Woodville’s but one of many that made the entire family many enemies.
The narrative is given through the eyes of both Kate and Harry throughout their lives, which just happen to be during one of the most tumultuous periods in English history, the Wars of the Roses. The reader follows along as Kate and Harry mature, from childhood friends to finally discovering their deep love for each other and beginning a family. The marriage however is haunted by the influence of Richard, Duke of Gloucester the one man that Harry admires above all others. Kate however does not like the Duke and finds that the feeling is mutual.
Kate and Harry’s lives take many twists and turns, first when Harry supports Richard against King Edward and then again when the young King unexpectedly dies and Harry along with the King’s brother Richard are given charge of the heir apparent, the uncrowned Edward V, during his minority. However, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, craves the throne for himself and only the young Edward and his brother, George, Duke of Clarence, stand in his way. Kate feels that not only must she save her marriage and her husband from Richard but also the lives of her young nephews.
The Stolen Crown gives the reader richly developed characters as well as vivid descriptions of 15th century England. Historians will appreciate Higginbotham’s attention to factual historical detail but it is presented in such a way that the casual reader of the genre will not be put off. I enjoyed the portrayal of Elizabeth Woodville, which is in contrast to the usual vilification found in other works and I appreciated another perspective on this dynamic and interesting woman. However, do not look to find any vindication of the character of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III. Within the pages of The Stolen Crown Richard is every inch the duplicitous power hungry murderer Tudor propagandists made him out to be. Also, important to note is that Higginbotham provides an excellent Author’s Note explaining her decisions for presenting the account as she did.
Without a doubt I enjoyed The Stolen Crown, it is not only a great novel but also a wonderful example of historical fiction. I recommend it highly and without reservation but do caution anyone with strong opinions about Richard III to be on notice that this might not be the novel for you.