The English conflict known as the Wars of the Roses is filled with dynamic figures whose stories are those of legends. None more so than the wife of Edward IV and the mother of Elizabeth of York and the princes in the Tower, Elizabeth Woodville. She has been known in popular culture as the commoner turned “White Queen” consort, but do we really know the true story about her life? Was she really Edward IV’s wife? How much influence did she actually carry? These questions and more are tackled in Dr. John Ashdown-Hill’s latest book, “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’.
I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have had my eyes on this particular title for a while since I like learning about the women of the Wars of the Roses, and because I have never read a book by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill.
Since I was not familiar with Dr. John Ashdown-Hill and his work before I read this book, I decided to look into him in order to understand the position he might take on this particular topic. He is a medieval historian, who mainly focuses on Yorkist history. His main claim to fame was when he helped find the location where Richard III’s remains were buried. He also traced the female-line descendants of Richard III to his sister, which established the mtDNA haplogroup that was necessary to identify the remains found in the Leicester parking lot as Richard III. For this important research, Dr. John Ashdown-Hill was awarded an MBE in 2015 but sadly passed away from motor neurone disease on May 18, 2018. This was one of the last books he had ever written.
Knowing this information about Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, it helps to understand that he knows this subject rather well. He does show his knowledge through the family trees, the letters, and the tables that he does include. These sources give the reader an understanding of where Ashdown-Hill is coming from and a different perspective on Elizabeth Widville’s life and times in the courts of Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. Ashdown-Hill does use his own books quite frequently as sources, which can come across as braggadocious at times.
Ashdown-Hill refers to Elizabeth Widville as the ‘Pink Queen’ because, at different times in her life, she was supporting the Lancastrians and the Yorkists causes. I do agree with this terminology because it does tell her story in a colorful way. However, it is his calling Elizabeth Edward IV’s ‘chief mistress’ where I do have an issue. Personally, I believe that Elizabeth was Edward’s wife, but Ashdown-Hill believes that Edward’s pre-contract with one Eleanor Talbot was valid and that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was bigamous. This is a central point in this book, but he does not really go into the depth that I wished he would have gone into to explain his point of view.
Another part of his book that I do not exactly agree with is his assessment of how many deaths Elizabeth was associated with, including possibly poisoning George Duke of Clarence’s wife and young son. He does not take into account illnesses as possible causes of death and jumps straight into malicious intentions, mostly by Elizabeth herself. Ashdown- Hill can come across as either passionate or brash in his writing style, which can be a bit off-putting at times. It feels like, at least to me, that Elizabeth was either treated as a villain or was in the background for this particular biography, instead of in the spotlight, which is something one would expect in a biography about a certain person.
Although I do not entirely agree with Dr. John Ashdown- Hill’s assessment of Elizabeth Widville’s life, I do respect the amount of research he obviously poured into this book. It is meticulously researched and I found it a unique experience to read a different perspective from my own. I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of this book, as I did have to stop reading it and come back to it several times to get my head around what he was saying since it was different than what I accept as fact about her life. However, I do believe that it is important to read books and authors who you don’t agree with in order to expand one’s knowledge about a topic. If you are a fan of Dr. John Ashdown-Hill or you would like to read a unique take on Elizabeth Widville’s life and times, I would suggest you read “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’”.
Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’ by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill will be published in the United States on November 2, 2019. If you are interested in pre-ordering this book, you can follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Widville-Lady-Grey-Mistress/dp/1526745011/