Please welcome Susan Higginbotham, author of the new historical novel, The Queen of Last Hopes!
by Susan Higginbotham
One of the periods of history that has intrigued me for some time is that of the Wars of the Roses, the collective name given to the series of civil wars that rocked England during the fifteenth century. Naturally, when I began to read—and to write—historical fiction, I soon gravitated toward this era.
As I read more and more Wars of the Roses novels, I began to notice that certain characters were almost always treated in the same manner, whether or not there was any historical basis for their characterizations, and that others were generally either idealized or demonized. One of the characters almost always demonized was Margaret of Anjou, queen to Henry VI. In novel after novel, she’s a sexually promiscuous, insanely vengeful, power-hungry harpy, with no redeeming characteristics except for courage, if she’s allowed even that much.
Popular history has been scarcely kinder to Margaret. In Paul Murray Kendall’s still-influential biography of Richard III, for instance, Margaret (along with Elizabeth Woodville, another Kendall bête noire) is the Evil Queen of fairy tale, as cruel, vicious, and depraved as her enemy Richard, Duke of York, is selfless, principled, and upright. No bad act is beneath Kendall’s Margaret; no good act is within her capacity.
[amazonify]1402242816[/amazonify]As I read further, though, I found that some modern historians, less inclined than Kendall to see historical figures, and especially historical women, in terms of black or white, had dug beneath the caricature to reveal a different Margaret, one who like the men of her times had to deal with problems to which there were no simple or satisfactory solutions. Thanks to them, I could at last see Margaret the human being, not Margaret the stereotype—and when I did, I wanted to tell the story of a woman I had come deeply to admire.
Neither saint nor she-wolf, the historical Margaret of Anjou was faced with a mentally ill husband, conflicting claims to the throne, a war with her native France that had begun decades before she was born, feuding nobles, and her difficulty in giving her husband a royal heir. Any one of these problems would have been daunting: Margaret had to cope with all of them. It was her courage and tenacity in doing so, even when her cause appeared hopeless, which inspired me to make her the subject of my new novel, The Queen of Last Hopes.
I consider my many, many books necessities, to the point where they have taken over my kitchen. But if I ever build my dream house, I will have a bookshelf that swings open to reveal a hidden room—lined with even more bookshelves. Luxe!