Book review: First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson
But there was another equally determined player rooting for the young would-be Lancastrian king… Jasper Tudor, Henry’s uncle and a man hell bent on nurturing a dynasty that would become one of the most famous in English royal history.
Fresh from The Agincourt Bride and The Tudor Bride, which explored the life and loves of French queen Catherine of Valois, Henry’s grandmother, much-loved historical novelist Joanna Hickson continues her Tudor odyssey with a fascinating foray into a new branch of the family tree.
Brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor, sons of Queen Catherine by her second, secret marriage to lowly Welsh squire Owen Tudor, grew up far from the intrigue of the royal court but their connections to the throne would thrust Jasper into a dangerous political maelstrom and a decisive role in the Wars of the Roses.
Jasper’s rollercoaster journey from Welsh backwater to the frontline of English history is a thrilling ride… a refreshing new perspective on the early Tudor family, and a compelling portrait of the young Henry Tudor who would carry the weight of destiny on his frail shoulders.
Edmund and Jasper Tudor can barely remember their late royal mother, Queen Catherine, who married their father Owen Tudor when she was left a widow and a mother following the death of her husband, the warrior king and Agincourt victor Henry V.
But the two young men have a close link to the court being half-brothers to Henry VI, the monkish monarch more interested in his soul than his earthly responsibilities.
Having no immediate close family and as yet no children from his marriage to domineering French-born Queen Marguerite of Anjou, Henry turns for loyalty to Edmund and Jasper, summoning them to London and promoting them both to royal dukedoms.
Henry also gives them the wardship of wealthy young heiress Margaret Beaufort who herself has close ties to the Lancastrian dynasty. Although she is still a child, Jasper becomes devoted to the graceful and intelligent girl and is devastated when Henry agrees to her betrothal to Edmund.
Jasper seeks solace in his estates and in the arms of Jane Hywel, a young Welsh woman and a distant relative who offers him something more meaningful than a dynastic marriage.
But the York branch of the Plantagenet family have ambitions of their own and passion turns to jeopardy for both Edmund and Jasper as the Wars of the Roses wreak havoc on the realm. Closest kin to a fragile king and his belligerent queen, Jasper must draw on all his guile and courage to preserve their throne… and ensure the survival of the Tudors.
Hickson is an exciting and imaginative writer, digging deep into the shadowy corners of history to lift pivotal and sometimes forgotten characters from their centuries-old obscurity and to reimagine the drama of their turbulent lives.
By shining new light on principal players like the charismatic Margaret Beaufort, her enigmatic son Henry Tudor, the ‘sleeping’ king Henry VI and the doggedly loyal Jasper, Hickson offers readers a vivid glimpse of the perilous power politics that tore apart 15th century English society.
Brimming with the horrors of internecine warfare, grief, loss, romance and betrayal, this is an enthralling tale told by a master storyteller.
(Harper, paperback, £7.99)