Cecily

Written by Annie Garthwaite
Review by Tracey Warr

King Henry VI was nine months old when he became king of England. Shortly afterwards, he became the disputed king of France and inherited the 100 Years’ War. Major schisms at court developed during the long regency of his minority. When he came of age, Henry was a dangerously ineffective king and suffered from bouts of madness. The instability of his reign led to the War of the Roses between Richard of York, the king’s cousin, and the king’s queen, Margaret of Anjou.

Garthwaite’s heroine, Cecily, is the wife of Richard of York. Richard’s father had been executed for treason. Cecily’s husband is heir to King Henry until the king has a son. This novel vividly depicts the stress of a life lived under constant jeopardy. Cecily is forever masking her hand and wearing a poker face to survive the duress of the politics swirling around the feeble king. Garthwaite’s Cecily has the fierceness of a Valkyrie, pricking her men into battle, using eloquence as her weapon. Her eldest son, who was crowned as Edward IV after Henry was deposed, calls her “Captain Mother”. But Garthwaite also depicts the intimacy of her marriage and her constant pregnancies. She birthed 12 children, five of whom died in infancy. The reader experiences, with Cecily, the horror and pathos of the execution of her 17-year-old son, Edmund, after the Battle of Wakefield.

The novel is biographical historical fiction, sticking close to the documented facts and recounting the chronicle of a life over 30 years, a style which has been popularised by Philippa Gregory. I prefer more fiction and less faction myself, but it is obviously well-received by many readers. Cecily is an accomplished and highly readable example of this style of historical fiction writing.