Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Red Rose of Anjou by Jean Plaidy

The Red Rose of Anjou is a wonderful story of the life of Margaret of Anjou who marries King Henry VI of England.
 It gives a fascinating account of the life of Margaret in her early years at the castles of
Saumur and Angers and her visits to the French Court during the reign of Charles VII of France. The story of Charles VII, his life as the Dauphin and his subsequent crowning at Rheims Cathedral by Joan of Arc all comes alive in this wonderful story of the times. As a Dauphin, Charles VII lacked confidence but gradually he became a strong king over time.

Margaret was the daughter of Isabelle of Lorraine and King Rene of Naples and Sicily and grand-daughter of Yolande of Aragon. Margaret did receive the title of princess which was beneficial for her when arragements for her marriage were being made. Her parents were a king and queen in title only and not in possession of their kingdom. Her mother was the daughter of the duke of Lorraine but because of the Salic law she was unable to inherit her father's castle or title and the dukedom went to a male relative. This did not occur without hostility from both sides of the family and whilst in battle King Rene was taken prisoner.

The Duke of Burgundy, who was a powerful ally for the Vaudemont family which was claiming the inheritance and title of the duchy of Lorraine, had disapproved of Rene and Isabelle succeeding to the duchy of

Lorraine. They were already in possession of the castle and duchy which greatly improved their standard of living and Margaret's childhood had been quite impoverished. Rene (subsequently known as Good King Rene, who had a love of painting, poetry and the arts) had shown himself to be loyal to King Charles VII of France previously and not shown his loyalty to the Duke of Burgundy. After a lengthy time of imprisonment, in which he had occupied himself by painting beautiful portraits and stained glass at Dijon Castle, he finally was granted his freedom on the condition that he allow his elder daughter, Yolande, to marry a son of the family,

whom Yolande ended up growing up with, befriending and eventually wishing to marry. It was very sad for all concerned when Rene's daughter, Yolande, left the family home. Rene always stalled the marriage until at the time of Margaret's wedding, of which the celebrations were arranged by Charles VII, that Yolande and Ferri de Vaudemont made it be known that they did wish to marry.

The processions through France and the magnificent pageantry are described in great detail when
Margaret eventually makes the journey to England to become the new queen. An English party come to France to escort her on her journey and she befriends the Marquess and Marchioness of Suffolk,

who become loyal allies for her and the king. It is interesting to read of the customs at the time and what was expected of a queen on a royal procession.i.e. to look like a queen and to give dresses and shoes away for the number of years of her age in one town as was a tradition. Margaret was grateful for the kindness and assistance shown her by the Marchioness of Suffolk in these matters.

I love the descriptions of old towns of England where the sense of history gives an added measure to the story, as for example, the descriptions of Coventry, which was an old town named for a convent which had been destroyed before the time of William the Conqueror and the Norman conquest. However the earl of Leofric and Lady Godiva had founded a Benedictine monastery. Henry VI enjoyed and loved this city and was responsible for various of the buildings there, as for example, St Mary's Hall with its fascinating style of carvings and figures and a beautiful coloured tapestry. There was also a St Michael's Church which had dated to the time of the first Henry and had been given to the monks of Coventry by Earl Randulph. It was a wonderful peaceful time at Coventry in which Henry VI recovered from his debilitating illness. His
new born baby, Prince Edward of Wales, was also brought to him at the castle of Coventry.

The book gives vivid and compelling descriptions of the times, the politics and the family of Richard, Duke of York and his wife, Cecily, the Duchess of York, the parents of the future Edward IV. The characters represented in the story are quite fascinating in themselves and the author has written of riveting times. The story flows with characters of history written as though the writer had an inside knowledge. Many of the chracters are likeable in their own way and the story is set amongst a background of conflict and aspirations, belief of a true claim to the throne of England which of course causes controversy, resulting in the wars of the Roses.

For aficionados of the genre of historical fiction this book is a gem.

The stories of kings, the history of the conflicts in France, the wars of the Roses and settings in historical towns of England make for a fascinating tale. In all of this Margaret is a compelling character of strength and tenacity in her role as the queen, often having to take matters into her own hands when the need arose because of the recurring illness of Henry VI. In this she had her role models in her own mother and grand-mother who were also strong women. The story is quite compelling and well recommended.

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