Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book Review: The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham

When six-year-old Kate Woodville’s beautiful sister Elizabeth makes a shocking—and secret—marriage to King Edward IV in 1464, Kate and her large family are whisked to the king’s court. Soon a bedazzled Kate becomes one of the greatest ladies in the land when she marries young Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. But Kate’s fairy-tale existence as a duchess is shattered when the ongoing conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York engulfs the Woodville family.

As Edward IV fights to keep his crown, Harry’s relatives become hopelessly divided between Lancaster and York. Forced constantly to struggle with his own allegiances, Harry faces his defining moment when his dear friend Richard, Duke of Gloucester, determines to seize the throne for himself as Richard III. With lives in jeopardy and nothing less than a dynasty at stake, Harry’s loyalties—and his conscience—will be put to the ultimate test.

Synopsis courtesy of

My Review

4 Stars

Set at the end of the Wars of the Roses and spanning the reigns of Kings Edward IV and Richard III, The Stolen Crown brings to life a tumultuous period in English history from the perspectives of two of the people who witnessed many of its defining moments first hand - Katherine Woodville, younger sister of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV's Queen, and Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, one of England's preeminent noblemen.   When her sister marries the king, Kate goes from being the mere daughter of a knight to the sister-in-law of the king, a situation that greatly improves her marital prospects.   As a result, it is not long before Kate is married to the young Duke of Buckingham, a ward of the Queen's whose family has ties to the Lancasters.  Although married very young, Kate and Harry's union is a successful and, despite a somewhat rocky start, loving one.  When Edward IV suddenly dies, leaving a young son as his heir, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, takes the governing of England into his own hands and names himself king.  When Harry, who has idolized the Richard since childhood, joins Richard's cause, it tears his relationship with Kate apart.  In the end, Kate must fight not only to save her marriage, but also to help bring down the man who stole the crown from her nephew.

Higginbotham's attention to historical detail is one of the greatest strengths of The Stolen Crown.   As a result, the reader is immersed in a novel that gives a great sense of both time and place, two elements very important to the success of a work of historical fiction.  Higginbotham's attention to historical detail is complemented by her well-drawn characters.  I particularly enjoyed the development of both Kate and Harry, not only as individuals but also as a couple.  Elizabeth Woodville, who is often vilified in fiction, comes across in a positive light and I liked how Higginbotham chose to portray her.   I also enjoyed her characterization of the formidable Margaret Beaufort, whose appearances in the novel are brief but memorable.   The only issue I have with The Stolen Crown lies with Higginbotham's depiction of Richard III.  While there is much debate over Richard's character, his rise to the throne and the fate of the princes in the tower (Edward IV's sons), my views of the much maligned monarch do not mesh with how he is characterized in this novel.  As such, I was a little put off by his portrayal, at least in the second half of the book, as nothing but a power hungry tyrant willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his own ends.  Although I take issue with Higginbotham's portrayal of Richard III, this fact did not diminish my enjoyment of the novel.   Higginbotham's excellent Author's Note presents the case for her portrayal of all the characters featured in the book.    

Overall, The Stolen Crown is a great novel and is highly recommended to fans of historical fiction, especially those set in England. 

Note: The novel comes from my own personal collection.