The setting is The War of the Roses, but Margaret of York’s tale, albeit royal, is also personal. Novelist Anne Easter Smith pays particular attention to the psychic construct of this young noblewoman, her position as a marital pawn. Her heart elsewhere, Margaret must perform according to expectations - yet her feelings cannot be denied.
Married to the mad Henry VI, Margaret d’ Anjou runs roughshod over England, earning the enmity of the citizens. It is not until the reign of Edward IV, Margaret of York’s brother, that Yorkist pride is once more ascendant. Unfortunately, Edward’s choice of a wife is as destructive as Margaret d’ Anjou. Elizabeth Woodville promotes her family members at the expense of the Neville’s, Margaret of York but another tool in an ongoing political drama.
Uniquely positioned, Margaret’s brother is king, younger brother Richard (the Third) destined also to rule. Buffeted by the war between the Lancastrians and the Yorks, Margaret navigates a careful course, marking her own history, married to Charles, Duke of Burgundy and in love with married Anthony Woodville.
It is in Margaret’s marriage to Charles that the lengthy novel shines. Turning her back on the dreams of romance, Margaret does her best to make a successful union with an often brutal and uncompromising husband determined not to follow his father’s womanizing ways, eschewing the comfort of home and hearth for endless days of battle.
Winning the hearts of her new subjects, Margaret displays exceptional political acumen, equal to the task of her union with Charles, a boon to a man with great ambitions. It is the encroaching problems in England that weigh on Margaret, the earl of Warwick finally balking at Edward’s favoritism of the Woodvilles, brother against brother in an unfolding drama that sends Edward rushing from the shores of his country to seek temporary shelter elsewhere, the duplicity of Margaret’s favorite brother, George, causing a serious rift in the family.
Viewing Edward’s troubles from Burgundy and anxious for the well-being of Anthony Woodville, Margaret is helpless from a distance. Yet neither distance nor time diminishes Anthony and Margaret’s love for one another, passed along in secret missives. Aside from a yearning heart, Margaret develops into a skilled political partner and valued mate, attracting the respect of all who know her, including Charles’s daughter, Mary.
Torn between her country of birth and that of her marriage, Margaret endures much, honoring her commitment to both. Spending the years without issue from Charles and without an affectionate touch, it is amazing that Margaret maintains her perspective, humoring a husband with a violent temper and observing a troubled England from afar.
Easter Smith portrays Margaret as a truly noble figure, aware of her obligations as a York, her spirit married to a man who is not her husband. My only disappointment is revealed in the Author’s Note, my fragile house of cards demolished by facts.