The Wars of the Roses was a time filled with dynamic figures who fought for the right to restore order to England. We often think about the strong warrior men who marched into battle, facing their inevitable doom just for the chance to wear the crown and rule the land. The women who stood by their husbands’ and sons’ sides were just as strong as their male counterparts, even if they did not wear armor. They were on the sidelines, ensuring that they could create alliances that would prove helpful in future conflicts. The most famous examples of strong women during the Wars of the Roses are Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort, and Elizabeth Woodville. Yet, there was another woman who stood firmly on the side of the Yorkist cause. She was known as the Rose of Raby and the wife of Richard, Duke of York. Her name was Cecily Neville, and she is the protagonist of Annie Garthwaite’s brilliant debut novel, “Cecily.”
I have been a fan of Wars of the Roses historical fiction for a while now, and so when I heard about this novel, I knew I wanted to read it. I usually don’t comment about the covers of books, but this particular cover was simply gorgeous, which added to my desire to read it. Cecily Neville is one of those characters that is rarely given a chance to shine, so this book was a treat to see how Garthwaite would portray her.
Garthwaite’s novel begins with the execution of Joan of Arc, which was an event that Cecily Neville witnessed with her husband Richard Duke of York. It marked a turning point for the English campaign in France as the young King Henry VI was crowned King of France. Richard Duke of York is a cousin of the young king and is considered next in line to the throne until Henry VI has a son. Richard is given command of the French campaign, with his beloved wife by his side. Cecily and Richard have known the sorrow of losing children, but eventually, their family begins to grow with the birth of their eldest son Edward. More children will follow, including Edmund, George, and little Richard often referred to as Dickon.
The campaign in France does not end well, so Cecily, Richard, and their growing family go back to England. Along the way, Henry VI decides to take Marguerite of Anjou as his bride; Marguerite and Cecily start as friends and allies, but their relationship will eventually sour and turn into rivals. Richard and Cecily will travel to Ireland to help their king to show their loyalty. Still, when Henry VI falls ill, Richard believes that he must protect his king and country from men like Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who is a favorite of Queen Marguerite.
It was during this conflict that Cecily’s true strength shines through. She not only has to be a mother to her growing family, but she has to act as a political advisor and confidant to her husband while staying loyal to her king and undermining the queen’s authority. It was not a rebellion that Richard and Cecily wanted, but they felt that it was a necessary evil to protect their family and their kingdom. To see Cecily protecting her young children from the Lancastrian as her husband and oldest sons flee to fight another day. When Richard and their son Edmund tragically died at the battle of Wakefield, to see Cecily go through her grief while fighting to give Edward a chance to defend her family’s honor was inspiring.
This novel was a delightful read. Garthwaite portrayed Cecily as a strong, independent wife and mother who would stop at nothing to protect her dear ones. For a debut novel, this is a smash hit. It is unique and tells an engaging story that every fan of the Wars of the Roses will love. I cannot wait for Garthwaite’s next novel. If you want a new book with a heroine that you will adore, check out “Cecily” by Annie Garthwaite.