Having followed the stories of Margaret Beaufort and Margaret of Anjou throughout the early stages of the Wars of the Roses in Livi Michael’s Succession and Rebellion, we come at last to the third book in the trilogy, Accession, which covers what is, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the period – Edward IV’s final years, the troubled reign of Richard III and Henry Tudor’s victory at the Battle of Bosworth.
The novel opens in 1471, shortly after the Battle of Tewkesbury which has secured the throne of England for the Yorkist king, Edward IV. Despite her best efforts, the Lancastrian queen, Margaret of Anjou, has had to admit failure: her armies have been defeated, her husband – the late King Henry VI – is dead, and her son, the Prince of Wales, on whom all her hopes rested, has been killed. Margaret, whose role in our story is almost over, is placed in the custody of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk, where she will remain for the next few years.
For Margaret Beaufort, however, all is not lost. Although her son, Henry, the remaining Lancastrian heir, is still in exile in Britanny with his uncle, Jasper Tudor, Margaret is slowly preparing the ground for his return. The first stage in her plan is to marry again and the husband she has in mind – her fourth – is Thomas Stanley, a man who has become an expert at navigating through dangerous political waters and who has no qualms about changing sides between York and Lancaster whenever he believes the time is right to do so. Just the sort of man, she hopes, who has the power and the influence to help turn her dreams into reality.
I think Accession is probably my favourite of the three books in this trilogy. Although the writing feels a little bit dry on occasions – more like non-fiction than fiction – the story is still compelling, even for someone who has read about these historical figures and events many times before! As in the previous two books, Livi Michael incorporates excerpts from contemporary chronicles of the period to tell part of the story, which is a method I have found both unusual and very effective. The use of the chronicles helps to set these novels apart from others that I’ve read on the Wars of the Roses.
Another thing I appreciate about this trilogy is that Livi Michael has avoided making her characters into heroes or villains, instead giving each of them a mixture of good points and bad points – and that includes her two protagonists, neither of whom are very easy to like. Margaret Beaufort in particular is portrayed as ambitious, scheming and manipulative – but always with the best interests of her son at heart. Almost everyone in this novel appears to be out for what they can get…and yet there are little touches of humanity too: Margaret Beaufort feeling sorrow at the death of Queen Anne, for example, despite having secretly been working against Anne’s husband, Richard; or Henry Tudor recognising the sacrifices made for him over the years by his uncle Jasper.
As for Richard III, he is no more of a hero or a villain than any of the other characters in the novel. Whenever I read a book which covers Richard’s reign, I look forward to seeing how the author will choose to tackle the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, and I’m pleased to say that I was happy with the approach taken in Accession! It wasn’t quite what I’d expected, but I found it convincing and a little bit different from the theories given in other novels I’ve read.
I’ve enjoyed reading all three books in Livi Michael’s trilogy and will continue to read about this period of history as I never seem to get bored with it!
Thanks to Penguin for providing a copy of this book for review.