The Yorkists: The History of a Dynasty by Anne Crawford
Hambledon Continuum, 2007
ISBN: 978 1 85285 351 8
I was excited when Anne Crawford’s The Yorkists: The History of a Dynasty appeared on my Amazon screen. Among other works, Crawford, an archivist at Wells Cathedral, has edited Letters of the Queens of England, 1100-1547 and Letters of Medieval Women, both of which are extremely useful for the researcher and novelist.
The Yorkists did not disappoint. This is a concise (less than 200 pages) but information-packed history of the York dynasty, beginning with Richard, Duke of York, and concluding with Elizabeth of York, with a brief look at the fates of those who survived into the reign of Henry VIII.
Naturally, most of the book is devoted to the male members of the dynasty, as they were chiefly the ones who wielded power. Crawford, however, includes a chapter on Edward IV’s sisters, including Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, and the lesser-known Anne, Duchess of Exeter. Anne married Henry Holand, but the marriage broke down, probably in no small part because of Holand’s fervent Lancastrian sympathies. Left for dead on the field of Barnet, he took sanctuary at Westminster but was forced into the Tower, where he remained until he was allowed to join Edward IV’s French expedition. He drowned mysteriously on the trip home. Anne’s lover and eventual second husband, Thomas St. Leger, was loyal to Edward IV but not to Richard III, who beheaded him for his participation in the rebellion of 1483. (Anne wasn’t around to intervene, having predeceased her husband.) Episodes like this make The Yorkists fascinating reading.
Crawford takes an unsparing, though fair, approach to Richard III and his actions. She notes his piety and his abilities as a ruler, but also his ruthlessness and his ultimate betrayal of the brother he had served so loyally in life. Though Crawford acknowledges that the mystery of the Princes in the Tower is likely to remain unsolved, she reminds us of the damning fact that it was shortly after Richard seized the throne that they were never seen again.
In appendices, Crawford discusses the pre-contract story and the story of Edward IV’s illegitimacy. Crawford is highly skeptical of both stories, though she spends more time on the latter and makes a number of salient points, including the fact that Cecily Neville in her will unequivocally described Edward IV as being the son of the Duke of York.
Balanced and written in a scholarly but accessible, readable style, The Yorkists will be a most useful addition to one’s Wars of the Roses library.