I’m always up to reading a historical novel about the Wars of the Roses, especially when I can find the elusive one that doesn’t deal in the usual stereotypes (Good Yorkists, Bad Lancastrians. Saintly Richard III, Evil Woodvilles). So I was pleased to read this novel by S. R. Bridge, published by Hale in 1976.
The Woodville covers Elizabeth Woodville’s life from the death of her first husband until shortly after Edward IV’s victory at Tewkesbury in 1471. It’s told in the third person. Although Elizabeth is the focus, the action is often seen from the point of view of others as well: her brothers John and Anthony and Edward IV and his companions in exile.
What I liked best about this novel is what it’s missing. Instead of relying solely on sources hostile to Elizabeth, Bridge has taken the trouble to read widely. The result is that the usual slurs about Elizabeth–her supposed role in the execution of the Earl of Desmond, her supposed involvement in witchcraft, her supposed greed and haughtiness–aren’t regurgitated here. The rest of her family is also portrayed sympathetically, though not romantically. (And Bridge gets the age of Elizabeth’s sister Catherine right! She’s portrayed here as a somewhat bratty little girl.)
This novel does have its faults. Like some other Hale novels I’ve seen from this era, proofreading seems lacking. The characterizations don’t go very deep, and the narrative sometimes feels rushed, as in one chapter where several years pass by in the flash of a couple of paragraphs. The events behind the turmoil of 1469 to 1471 could have been explained a lot better for the reader. On the other hand, there’s some good dialogue and some vivid scenes, such as when Edward IV and his companions flee overseas.
The young Richard, Duke of Gloucester, makes a few appearances in the novel but doesn’t have much to say for himself. It’s a pity the novel stops in 1471; it would have been interesting to see what Bridge made of him (though the epilogue suggests it wouldn’t have been a favorable portrait).
All in all, if you’re fond of reading novels set in this period, this is a worthy addition to your library–if you can find a copy, which may be difficult outside of the UK. Mine came on loan from the American Branch of the Richard III Society; I don’t see a copy for sale anywhere on the Internet.