Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Anne O'Brien, Author of The Queen’s Rival

21 August 2020

Special Guest Post by Anne O'Brien, Author of The Queen’s Rival

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1459: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Where to Start Writing? 

The scope of the Wars of the Roses is vast; so is the life of Cecily Neville.  Where would I begin to write my story of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York?  I chose the events in the town of Ludlow, the Yorkist fortress in the Welsh Marches, in October 1459.

Why chose this place and time?  By now Cecily was forty four years old.  She had been married to Richard, Duke of York, for thirty years, spending time travelling between England and France, living in Rouen and Dublin when Richard was on campaign. 

She had seen all twelve of her children born by 1459 and had watched five of them die premature deaths, the last one Ursula in 1454.  She had already experienced the dangerous politics of the day, with a weak king allowing the battle for power between York and the Beauforts to rage.  She knew prestige as wife of the Lord Protector, and also fear when he was ousted by the Beaufort Duke of Somerset.  

Why, then, with so much going on in her earlier life, choose Ludlow in 1459 to begin her story?

Because this was the occasion when Cecily stepped out from the shadow of her family, both Nevilles and Plantagenets, and made an impact on history.  It was not her choice to do so.  Circumstances forced her into it.  But what a dramatic event it was.  And from that point Cecily remained one of the movers and shakers.

The circumstances are well known.  The Yorkist army led by York, Salisbury and Warwick were camped on the fields by Ludford Bridge, just across the River Teme from Ludlow.  The royal army approached and faced them.  Stalemate.  Until one of Warwick's captains, Andrew Trollope, refused to raise arms against his King and defected, taking his  soldiers and knowledge of the Yorkist earthworks with him.

Ludford Bridge with the Teme in spate (Anne O'Brien) 

The result was that on that night, 12th October, York, Salisbury and Warwick left the camp and returned to the castle in Ludlow, abandoning their army with no intention of returning.  Salisbury and Warwick, taking the young Earl of March with them, fled to Calais.  York and his second son Rutland made haste to Ireland.  This left a Yorkist army in disarray and Ludlow at the mercy of the Lancastrians.  

What of Cecily?  She too was abandoned, left in Ludlow with her three younger children, Margaret, George and Richard.  Her now absent family was attainted for treason by the parliament that met in Coventry, their estates, titles, and possessions all declared forfeit.  If anyone remained to be taken prisoner and suitably punished for York's treachery by the vengeful Queen Margaret, it was Cecily.  If she ever had to grasp her courage and show bravery it was here.

After the battle that never happened at Ludford Bridge, the Lancastrian army was allowed to run amok and despoil the town of Ludlow.  Cecily stood witness to the attack on her home and against the people of Ludlow when the houses and taverns were sacked and women defiled.  The streets ran with spilt ale and wine and vomit.  Tradition says that Cecily left the castle and stood at the market cross with her three children when all was laid waste around her.  Was she afraid?  The vulnerable little family was not harmed but it was surely a moment of sheer terror as Ludlow was 'robbed to the bare walls'.

Gateway from Ludlow Castle into the town where 
Cecily must have walked with her children.
 (Anne O'Brien) 

I can think of no better place to begin a novel about Cecily Neville than here.  She is at the forefront of events.  She is not over shadowed by her menfolk.  She showed courage and strength of character beyond any that could be expected of her.  She did not hesitate to go out into the town to make a Yorkist presence when all around was chaos and violence.  She was also, another difficult issue, forced to come to terms with being abandoned by the Duke of York.

My choice was made.  This is where The Queen's Rival begins.

Anne O'Brien 

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About the Author

Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history. She 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, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life. Find out more at Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien

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