A Tapestry of Treason
Anne O’Brien’s books seek to give voice to the forgotten women of history, and in A Tapestry of Treason she does just that. Her protagonist, Constance of York, was the granddaughter of Edward III, and cousin to both Richard II and Henry IV. If O’Brien’s novel is any model, she was also a formidable power in her own right, even if she was constrained by the expectations of her time.
The book follows Constance as she navigates the dangerous waters of the Plantagenet court. As part of the royal family, honour and power mean more than love or family affection. Constance, with her brother and husband, embarks on a dangerous plot against the new king, Henry IV, believing that they will be more influential if Richard II is returned to the throne. When this goes disastrously wrong, Constance begs forgiveness of the king, but cannot bring herself to stay away from power and continues to scheme against him, even where it threatens her new-found happiness.
Constance is at first an unsympathetic protagonist, claiming her dislike and lack of affection for the people around her. On the surface she is driven by dynastic ambition and little else. And yet she is incredibly loyal, including to a brother who betrays her. As the novel goes on, Constance also allows herself to open up to the possibility first of friendship, then of love. When she, in her turn, is let down, she must decide whether to forgive or to allow bitterness to consume her. In showing these different facets of Constance’s character, how her motivations change over time, and how these open her up to vulnerability, O’Brien has painted a nuanced and fascinating insight into the life of a forgotten Plantagenet princess.