To Hold The Crown: The Story of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

Written by Jean Plaidy
Review by Phyllis T. Smith

This novel, a reissue of Uneasy Lies the Head, published in 1982, tells the story of the reign of Henry VII and his struggle to keep the crown he won at Bosworth Field. For the most part, it is very thinly fictionalized history. The portraits of Henry, his wife, Elizabeth of York, their sons, Arthur and the future Henry VIII, and Katharine of Aragon hold few surprises. Plaidy makes her greatest imaginative leap when it comes to the disappearance of the little princes in the Tower. She does as good a job as any historian I’ve read in attempting to account for all the contradictory evidence about their demise, including the hard-to-understand behavior of their mother, Elizabeth Woodville. Plaidy’s solution to the mystery is unveiled little by little in the course of the book, and is a major source of suspense in the story.

The center of the novel is the relationship between Henry VII and his queen. Elizabeth of York comes off as a doormat. Henry likes her that way, and she finds a small place in his chilly heart. Grand passion this is not. None of the characters are capable of fully engaging either the reader’s sympathy or loathing. The good ones, like poor Perkin Warbeck, are ineffectual. The evildoers are not monstrous but have understandable motives and earnestly try to rationalize their behavior. This may or may not be an accurate take on the human condition, but in this novel it does not make for great fiction. However, the slow unraveling of the little princes in the Tower mystery kept me interested, and I did feel caught up in the broad sweep of history.