“First of the Tudors” is a novel about Jasper Tudor. I assume that the title is meant to refer to the early Tudors in general, though. My history A-level teacher always used to refer to Jasper Tudor as “Uncle Jasper”, in the same way that tennis commentators always refer to Toni Nadal as “Uncle Toni”; and that says a lot about how history sees Jasper. First and foremost, he’s known as Henry VII’s uncle. His wider role in the Wars of the Roses, before anyone could have seriously imagined that Henry would one day become king, tends to be overlooked. So it’s nice to see a book focusing on Jasper from the early 1440s to the early 1470s.
In this book, Jasper has a mistress, by whom he has several children. Jane Hywel, the mistress, was actually a real person – the future Henry VII’s governess and – but there’s never been any suggestion that the real Jane was Jasper’s mistress, although it’s known that Jasper had at least one, and maybe two illegitimate daughters. So a lot of this book is pure fiction, but, to be fair, the author explains that; and the fictional characters fit in with the real historical characters and the real historical events. There’s also a sister, brought up in London by adoptive parents – although I’m not quite sure why Joanna Hickson invented her, because she doesn’t really play much part in the story.
Nearly everybody is really good fun in this book! Margaret Beaufort, usually seen as overly-religious and overly-disciplined, appears as a lively young girl who’s genuinely keen on Edmund Tudor. The future Henry VII, who, however admirable as a king, never comes across as being particularly likeable, comes across as a very nice lad. Margaret of Anjou, who usually – and unfairly – gets a very bad press, isn’t bad at all, and her horrible son Edouard comes across quite well too. Henry VI, who’s usually dismissed as being too out of it to do anything, gets plenty to say. Owen Tudor, who usually gets portrayed as a rather dreamy, romantic figure, is an old rogue with a twinkle in his eye and a fondness for the ladies. The only person who is shown as being a real baddie is the Earl of Warwick, and he deserves to be shown as a real baddie!
There’s a lot in this book that’s fictitious rather than being historically accurate, but there’s very little in it that’s not historically accurate. And, whilst the portrayal of the characters might be open to question, personalities, unlike facts, are open to interpretation, and I rather like Joanna Hickson’s. It all makes for a rather entertaining read about a character whose important role in important events is rarely given the credit that it should be.