Book Review: The York Princesses: The Daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville by Sarah J. Hodder

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This book on the York Princesses is the second book by author Sarah J. Hodder and follows on nicely from her book on the sisters of Elizabeth Woodville. After taking time out of her career in publishing, Sarah decided to pick up the pen herself and become an author, following her interests and writing about Medieval and Tudor women’s history.

A new publication from Chronos Books of John Hunt Publishing, this book tells the stories of the seven York princesses, many of whom are rarely mentioned in print. Though the book is short at 144 pages, it covers seven decades and the reigns of five Plantagenet and Tudor kings. I read this book in a few days, and it was an easy to follow, yet informative read. I have studied the War of the Roses and the surrounding eras extensively, and yet I found plenty of sources and snippets of information I had never heard before and will definitely look into further, so I would say this book has something for everyone.

If you are new to late medieval history, then this book will be a brilliant introduction. Yes, it focuses on the York Princesses but also includes a wealth of background information on the Plantagenet kings and the Wars of the Roses, including a section on the first reign of King Edward IV (his second reign is covered in the chapters on his daughters’ lives also). In order to understand the lives of the York Princesses, this background information is vital as their lives followed an entirely different path to what was planned for them due to the premature death of their father, the disappearance of their brothers and the usurpation by their uncle who became King Richard III. Had King Edward IV lived or been succeeded by his son King Edward V as planned, then the York girls would have all become Queens or Duchesses throughout Europe, but instead, they were forced to live through many traumatic events until the eldest girl Elizabeth finally married King Henry VII of England and became Queen and was able to care for her younger sisters.

Due to the vast difference in the availability of sources on the York Princesses, the chapters on them vary hugely in length. The most well-known, Elizabeth, was the eldest daughter who went on to become Queen, and so her life story is much longer than her sisters. Sarah J. Hodder did comment that while she could have written much more on Elizabeth, there are already a number of great biographies on her, and she chose instead to mention a few interesting elements which are not often covered. I found the section on the possible romance between Elizabeth and her uncle King Richard III especially interesting.

Sadly, the chapters on the other sisters are much shorter, which is no fault of the author’s and is due to a lack of sources. Sarah has made excellent use of the materials she was able to find on each of the princesses and gives a good glimpse into each of their lives, however. Some of the women’s tales mainly mention what was going on in their father’s life or wider events at the time, such as the chapter on Mary of York, but others, such as the chapter on Cecily, are very informative. It is nice to see chapters on Margaret, who died at less than a year old and on Bridget, who became a nun before dying young. I enjoyed the descriptions of daily life in the priory where Bridget lived, and it was interesting to read about her possible illegitimate child that she supposedly had as a teen.

Overall, I would say that though this book is short and some of the chapters are rather brief, it has been thoroughly researched and well written. The author has provided a full bibliography if the reader wishes to dive any deeper into the subject after reading. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in Medieval and Tudor history, and this book would also make a great gift!

The York Princesses: The Daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville by Sarah J. Hodder is available now in the UK and the US.

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