Out of all the books in The Cousins’ War series so far, The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the one I have been most looking forward to read and it did not disappoint.
Anne Neville and her sister Isabel are the richest heiresses in England. Their father, the Earl of Warwick, is known as ‘the kingmaker’ because he put King Edward from the House of York on the throne. When their father becomes disillusioned with the ascendance of the Rivers family, Anne and Isabel have to change their loyalties and fulfil their duties. At fourteen, Anne becomes widowed, loses her father and is abandoned by her mother. With her inheritance taken away, she is held at her sister’s house and isolated. Anne manages to escape and secretly marries Richard Duke of Gloucester. The York court, however, is full of intrigue and the Queen of England turns into Anne’s enemy. Although she tries to fulfil her late father’s ambition, Anne finds that at the royal court there is little to gain and much to lose, and she must guard herself and her only son from danger.
My review – contains spoilers!
Just like Margaret Beaufort, Isabel and Anne Neville are used as pawns by their families. Anne’s father wanted power and Anne had to change her allegiance a few times – she never had a say in it. I felt sympathetic towards Anne because she has to obey the male characters ambitions, namely her father, then her husband Edward, and then Richard. Women’s rights were virtually non-existent at this time. George and Richard steal Isabel and Anne’s rightful inheritance for themselves. How is that fair? Even worse is how their mother is treated. She is declared as legally ‘dead’ and kept a prisoner in her own house. For some reason, Anne and Isabel did not fight for their mother’s rights to her lands and inheritance. Later, Richard at least redeems himself by telling Anne her mother can be released from their care.
Anne is depicted as a heroine who bravely escapes from her sister’s house. When Anne agrees to marry Richard, she thinks she is taking her life into her own hands. Later, when her mother tells her about a new law, Anne has a shocking realisation:
All this time I thought that I was playing myself, both the player and the pawn, and yet I have never been more powerless, never more of a piece in someone else’s game.
Did Richard marry Anne partly for her fortune? This was at the back of my mind when he courted her in the novel, and to be fair, Anne did have some doubts about him at first. It’s strange because Richard is like Anne’s knight in shining armour: he rescues her from her sister’s house. Yet, he did not apply for a papal dispensation before or after their wedding. Richard could cast Anne aside if he divorced her, and he would be entitled to all her inheritance. The irony is that Richard is regarded as the chivalrous York brother! I was surprised to learn Richard took these measures. I don’t think they mentioned it in The White Queen television series. With that in mind, I agree with Philippa Gregory’s view that Richard did not kidnap Anne from her sister’s house and force her to marry him. If Anne did not like him, she could have refused him. In my view, it appears as though they genuinely loved each other.
As this novel is told from Anne’s point of view, Elizabeth Woodville appears in a different light to the way she was presented in The White Queen. In The Kingmaker’s Daughter, Elizabeth appears cold and cool. She controls her husband and everyone around her. She sends a spy to Isabel’s household because she feels she can’t trust anyone. When Isabel dies in mysterious circumstances and George is murdered by politics, Anne begins to suspect Elizabeth and fear her. There is also a twist in this novel, as Isabel tells Anne that both their names are written in blood and kept inside an enamel box by Elizabeth.
Isabel and Anne have a complex relationship. As children growing up, there is a rivalry between them for their father’s love. At one point, they are on the opposing sides of York and Lancaster. When they both marry one of the King’s brothers, their sisterly rivalry increases. Isabel and Anne must have been torn as to how they should remain loyal to their husbands and to each other. However, once they become mothers their love for each other is restored. On a minor note, as this is a historical novel, set in medieval England, it’s doubtful the Neville sisters would have called each other by their respective nicknames – Izzy and Annie.
Anne and Richard’s relationship changes after the death of their son. I felt sorry for Anne because she suffers much heartache in this novel:
The Elizabeths, mother and daughter, can do no more against me. Everyone whom I have loved has been taken from me by the two of them; the only person left to me in the world is my husband, Richard. Will they take him too? For I am so swaddled in sorrow that I no longer care.
Anne grieves for the death of her son and becomes numb. Her enemy is not only Elizabeth, but the princess Elizabeth who she has to compete with. There is a love triangle between Anne, Richard and the princess Elizabeth. Richard confides to Anne that he wants Henry Tudor to be shown up as a fool. Richard will therefore make the court think that the princess Elizabeth is his mistress. Very sneaky! Anne suspects Richard is cheating on her but she can’t do anything to stop it. When she asks Richard if his relationship with the princess Elizabeth was a courtship or a charade, he says ‘Both’. I was slightly disappointed that Richard treats Anne in this way, especially since they have lost their only son. He acts in an insensitive way, even if it is a political move. I’m not sure whether the implied relationship between the princess Elizabeth and Richard is historically accurate, but it makes for a good read.
Although Anne does eventually becomes Queen, like her father wanted, it is bittersweet for her:
Once I was the kingmaker’s daughter, raised in the knowledge that I would be one of the great ladies of the kingdom. Now I am queen. This should satisfy my father and satisfy me, but when I think of the price we have paid, I think that we have been cheated by fate itself.
Ambition and royal power comes with a cost. The other books in The Cousins’ War series have ended in hope or a cliff-hanger. This book, however, ends sadly and Anne has a poignant and sombre dream which gives her some comfort. One thing I wondered was that if Anne knew she was dying, why didn’t she ask for her mother? It’s sad that she dies alone. At least Anne gets some closure towards the end of the novel when she speaks to the young Elizabeth. She gains a sense of relief that Elizabeth Woodville did not curse Isabel, her son or herself.
In The Kingmaker’s Daughter, Anne Neville is an interesting character and a captivating narrator. Although Anne was initially used as a pawn by her father, when the odds are against her, she refuses to give up and is determined to achieve her father’s wishes. Anne is not presented as a victim of history, but rather a brave woman who decides to make her own choices. This novel also has a refreshingly different portrayal of Richard III. He is not shown as a hunchbacked villain, but rather someone who is both a romantic lover and a shrewd, pragmatic man. This has been my favourite book in the series so far.
My rating: ★★★★☆