#BookBingo – Theme of Inequality

Virgin Widow by Anne O’Brien

Heiress. Princess. Virgin Queen.

Anne Neville is the heiress and daughter of the greatest powerbroker in the land, Warwick the Kingmaker. Trapped in a deadly tangle of political intrigue, she is a pawn in an uncertain game, used by the houses of Neville, York and Lancaster alike.

In England’s glittering, treacherous court, not all wish to see the Neville’s raised high. The Earl of Warwick’s ambition and pride lead him into an attempt to depose the Yorkist King; his treason forces his family into exile.

Humiliated and powerless in a foreign land, Anne must find the courage and the with to survive in a man’s world.

Politics, intrigue and passion entwine in this rich portrayal of events during the reign of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

Anne Neville, Princess of Wales, Queen of England 

Anne Neville (1456-1485) was the second daughter of Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick, also known as the Kingmaker. After their family was forced into exile, her father married her off to Edward Westminster, the only son of King Henry VI. Edward and his mother, Margaret of Anjou were also in exile. Anne was only about 14 when she married Edward and became the Princess of Wales. 

In Virgin Widow, the marriage is never consummated. Margaret of Anjou has extraordinary influence over her son Edward and there is even the suggestion of an incestuous relationship. Presumably Margaret wanted to leave the option of a future annulment open so that she could arrange a more desirable match. On returning to England, Edward is killed in battle and so Anne becomes a virgin widow.

The story gets a bit interesting as Anne’s brother-in-law tries to prevent her from remarrying, suggesting that she might prefer life in a convent. This is all a ploy to prevent Anne from receiving her inheritance from her father. At this time women could not exercise the office of Lordship in their own right. Anne’s sister’s inheritance was exercised by her husband and he wanted all of it. Fortunately the Duke of Gloucester was in love with Anne and tracks her down. 

In 1472, aged 16, Anne marries her second husband, the Duke of Gloucester. In Virgin Widow Anne is already pregnant when they get married, although the official record suggests their one and only child was possibly born in 1476. In 1483 the Duke ascends the throne to become Richard III and Anne becomes Queen of England. Anne was crowned alongside her husband, the first time in about 175 years that there had been a joint coronation. Sadly for Richard and Anne their son dies in 1484, aged 8, and Anne falls ill not long after. She died in 1485, possibly from tuberculosis, and was buried in an unmarked grave. It wasn’t until 1960 that a memorial was finally erected for her.  

Incidentally, after her brother-in-law died, her sister’s inheritance passed to Anne’s husband, Richard.

Virgin Widow was an enjoyable read but these stories about the royal families slugging it out really highlight the inequality of women. They had very little control over their lives, married off for political and financial gain, they were expected to wed, bed and breed. The book also shows how greed, ambition and the lust for power can destroy families and turn siblings into bitter enemies. Not a great time to be a woman. 

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