Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson


Word PressThe “Rose” is Cicely/Cecily Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III, wife of Richard of York (he who gained battles in vain), the “Rose of Raby”, and the title of the book is a reminder of the fact that the Nevilles were originally Lancastrians and that Cecily’s (the author uses the spelling “Cicely”, but I’ve always preferred “Cecily!) own mother was a Beaufort.  The book focuses on Cecily’s life from just before her marriage until just after her son Edward became king.

It’s told from two viewpoints, those of Cecily and her fictional half-brother, Cuthbert.  Cuthbert is a lovely character.  He’s also fictional, so there can be no objections to be made to his story.  However, there can be plenty of objections made to everything that the author’s made up about Cecily’s life.  In this book, Cecily is abducted by a Neville cousin, becomes his lover, and marries Richard anyway but always loves John Neville and resumes her affair with him years later.  WTF?!  All right, it’s made clear in the afterword that this is all fictional, but why make up something like that about a real person, the real facts of whose life are well-known and well-documented?

It’s particularly strange given that the author goes to a lot of trouble to make it clear that she thinks that the Blaybourne story (the claim that Edward IV was actually fathered by a Flemish archer) is a load of nonsense, stressing that Edward got his height and colouring from Cecily’s side of the family and that there are perfectly rational explanations for his christening having been a low-key event.  I know Channel 4 did a programme a few years ago which claimed to show that Richard was in France nine months before Edward was born, but Cecily could well have gone there with him, and, even if there had been any truth in the story – which I don’t believe for a minute there was – then Richard would have realised that the dates didn’t match and the baby would have been fostered out at birth.  It was all just made up to try to discredit Edward after his unpopular marriage.  Anyway, that’s beside the point – the point is that the author’s made up another story about Cecily having a lover, and I don’t understand why she did that but I wish she hadn’t!   Why write “historical fiction” but make things up?  If she wanted to make things up, why not just use fictional characters?

Cecily’s a fascinating character and the book’s quite good, but I just find it really annoying when authors make things up about real historical figures, for no good reason – it’s not as if there’s a huge gap in our knowledge of Cecily, or if there are conflicting reports over which the author has to take one side of the other.  Anne O’Brien’s book about Cecily was far better.


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