Mastodon The Writing Desk: Guest Post ~ Virgin Widow: A Reappraisal, by Anne O'Brien

10 February 2016

Guest Post ~ Virgin Widow: A Reappraisal, by Anne O'Brien

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Anne Neville, daughter of the powerful Earl of Warwick, grows up during the War of the Roses, a time when kings and queens are made and destroyed in an on-going battle for the ultimate prize: the throne of England. As a child Anne falls in love with the ambitious, proud Richard of Gloucester, third son of the House of York. But when her father is branded a traitor, her family must flee to exile in France. As Anne matures into a beautiful, poised woman, skillfully navigating the treacherous royal court of Margaret of Anjou, she secretly longs for Richard, who has become a great man under his brother's rule. But as their families scheme for power, Anne must protect her heart from betrayals on both sides-and from the man she has always loved, 
and cannot bring herself to trust.

On balance, medieval women, even royal and aristocratic women, have very little to say for themselves in the pages of history, often no more than a few lines or a paragraph to their name.  Apart from a few notable females, they are remarkably silent. 

Why should this be?

Because medieval history was primarily a man's world of politics and battles, family manoeuvring and power-brokering, written by men about men.   A woman was dominated by the men of her family throughout childhood, betrothal and into marriage.  Obedient to father, brother and husband, her role was to ensure an alliance with an equally powerful family.  When she does appear in history she is written about in the context of her relationship to men: daughter, sister, husband, unless she took the veil.

We may not expect to hear much from a woman of the lower classes, but surely a woman of the court had an opinion of the people and the political events around her, and a strong one when the direction of her life was changed at the dictates of the men in her family.  I cannot believe that she has nothing to say. I am sure these frequently intelligent, well-educated women made their opinions known - as all women do.

Anne Neville was the first of the medieval women I chose to write about in Virgin Widow, to bring her from the shadows of history to stand beside the famous men of her family.   Anne was Queen of England, daughter of the most powerful man in England and wife to one of the most notorious Kings, and yet we know so little about her.   History records the dates of her life and a sparse outline of her two marriages.  Her family of course is well documented.  The Earl of Warwick, her father, figures prominently in the history of the Wars of the Roses, a dominant force in the making and unmaking of kings, whilst Richard III, her second husband, needs no introduction.  But Anne appears a figure without form or depth.

It seemed to me that, surrounded as she was by strong female characters, Anne too might have been a young woman of considerable spirit.  Her mother, Anne Beauchamp, an heiress in her own right, was perfectly capable of running the Warwick household in her husband's many absences.  Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, proved to be a formidable women at the centre of her equally formidable family.  Elizabeth Woodville rose from relative obscurity to be Queen of England, holding her family together through death and imprisonment.  Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife to the ill-fated Henry VI, had no qualms about taking control of the reins of government during her husband's mental difficulties.  None of these contemporaries of Anne could be considered to be shrinking violets.

Given this background, Anne seemed to me to be a gift to an historical novelist.  How could I resist the opportunity to put words into Anne’s mouth and encourage her to emerge as a living entity with the bloody event of the Wars of the Roses as a backdrop?  Equally hard to resist was the possibility of a romance between Anne and Richard, raised together as they were for some years at Middleham Castle.  There is no evidence that there was ever a childhood affection between them, but equally there is nothing to suggest that there was not. 

Without doubt, Anne was used as a pawn in the unscrupulous political dealings of the Wars of the Roses, making and unmaking alliances, as would any young girl of similar status.  But what if she had inherited all the self-will and pride of her Neville and Beauchamp ancestors…?

I was inspired to recreate her.  So Virgin Widow was written.

Anne O'Brien
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About the Author

Anne O'Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a B.A. Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Masters degree in education at Hull, she lived in the East Riding as a teacher of history. Always a prolific reader, she enjoyed historical fiction and was encouraged to try her hand at writing. Success in short story competitions spurred her on. Leaving teaching, she wrote her first historical romance, a Regency, which was published in 2005. To date nine historical romances and a novella, ranging from medieval, through the Civil War and Restoration and back to Regency, have been published internationally. Anne now lives with her husband in an eighteenth century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales. Since living there she has become hooked on medieval history. Virgin Widow, published in 2010 was Anne's first novel based on the life of an historical character, Anne Neville, wife of Richard Duke of Gloucester. Her second novel tracks the early life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, through marriage, crusades and divorce, not to mention scandal, as Devil's Consort (In the USA published as Queen Defiant.)  Other novels depict the scandalous life of Alice Perrers, mistress of King Edward III, who broke all the rules as The King's Concubinefollowed by Katherine de Valois as The Forbidden Queen and Elizabeth of Lancaster as The King's Sister. Anne's latest book, The Queen’s Choice, about the life of Joanna of Navarre, was released in the UK on 14th January 2016.  Find out more at Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien.

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