Succession is a powerfully written account of the 15th-century Wars of the Roses, when the House of Lancaster struggled with their cousins, the House of York, for the throne of England. Henry VI was the youngest monarch, at nine months old, ever to ascend the throne. Although he reigned for 40 years he was an ineffectual king, suffering from bouts of mental illness, held in place by the forceful character of his wife and by his counsellors. Livi Michael tells the story principally from the point of view of two mothers: the unpopular Margaret of Anjou, Queen to the hapless Henry VI, who fights to hold onto the crown for her own sake, and for her small son; and the young heiress, Margaret Beaufort, married three times before she was fifteen and the mother of the future first Tudor king, Henry VII.
The book employs chronicles and other primary sources to tell half the tale and is punctuated with terse accounts of battles that went one way and then the other over seven years, claiming thousands of lives. There are vivid vignettes of commoners who became entangled in the bloody soap opera playing out between their lords and ladies: the boy who saved Queen Margaret and the small prince after the Battle of Northampton, and the mad girl who lay with Owain Tudor the night before the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross and then washed his decapitated head on the following day. If you like your historical fiction full of psychological insight, emotion and romance, then this may not be the novel for you. Whilst we glimpse the inner lives of Margaret of Anjou and Margaret Beaufort, this is an event-led rather than a character-led story. Livi Michael’s Succession is finely balanced between history and fiction, and a fascinating, riveting read.