As I have mentioned a couple of times before, my grandmother’s book collection had a profound influence on me when I was growing up. My maternal grandparents raised me from the age of about three months old, which wasn’t great but c’est la vie. They weren’t keen on me reading children’s books as a child, which I found annoying at the time but am now fairly grateful for as while my contemporaries were tussling with Blyton and, well, I wouldn’t know what else, I was reading Dickens, Austen and Brontë. Well, I say I am grateful but would you believe that I’ve never read the novels of CS Lewis or To Kill a Mockingbird? I had, however, read War and Peace by the time I started secondary school…
It wasn’t all English (and Russian and French!) classics though. I also had free run of my grandmother’s huge collection of historical fiction novels, which included the works of Margaret Irwin, Norah Lofts, Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton and Georgette Heyer amongst many, many others. Being a huge fan of Richard III and his times, her preference was for books set during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and so I duly read them all, developing my own crushes on Henry V and George of Clarence along the way.
Some of these books – Legacy, Wideacre, The Sunne in Splendour, Green Darkness, The Bride, Royal Flush, A Crown by Candlelight, Brief Gaudy Hour, Pargeters and Young Bess amongst others spring immediately to mind as huge influences upon my reading and writing style as a teenager. I know that a lot of you are fans as well.
I was thinking today about another trio of books from that time that I have heard much less about – it’s a trilogy of novels by Carol Wensby-Scott about the Percy family of Alnwick Castle. I’m always amazed that so few people seem to have heard of them as they really are incredible books – very richly detailed with amazing, memorable characters and more historical intrigue than you can shake a bloody sword at.
The first book in the trilogy is Lion of Alnwick, which is about Harry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland and his passionate love for his beautiful, dusky haired wife Margaret Neville, set against a backdrop of the tussle between Richard II and Henry IV, which eventually leads to his death at the battle of Bramham Moor.
Harry and Margaret were parents to the famous Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy and rest of the book tells the story of his marriage to the gorgeous but rather sinister, Elizabeth Mortimer who is an arch schemer and has absolute control over her impetuous, handsome young husband. Of course, poor Hotspur came to a sticky end at the Battle of Shrewsbury and the second book, Lion Dormant continues with the marriage of his son, Hal and Eleanor Neville, a strange young woman with other worldly gifts.
Hal is killed in battle at Saint Albans (all the Percy heroes bar one are killed in battles, bar one who is murdered by a mob) and succeeded by his son, another Henry, who marries the beautiful and scheming Eleanor Poynings before being killed at, you guessed it, Towton.
The third and final book, Lion Invincible was my favourite and was about the son of Henry and Eleanor, who is also called, yes, you guessed it, Henry. For a bit of variety, he married the lovely redheaded (being a redhead myself, I have a preference for auburn haired heroines) Welsh Maud Herbert, who had previously been briefly betrothed to Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) and it is hinted later that he’d been a bit keen on her and rightly so. I loved this Henry Percy though – he is described as tall, dark and rather diffident in nature, mostly thanks to having been imprisoned in the Tower for five years, which would render anyone a bit gloomy really.
I adored this book – the romance of unhappy, troubled Henry and warm hearted, cheerful, loving Maud was just enchanting to me as a romantic girl and I was also rather thrilled by the fact that a lot of the book is set in the vicinity of Beverley, which is where I was sort of living at the time (by sort of, I mean that I was living in a village nearby). In fact, Maud Percy was buried in Beverley Minster, along with a candle and flint because she had told her husband that she was afraid of the dark. *wipes away a tear*
Anyway, they are all out of print now but you can snap them up for less than a couple of pounds each from Amazon Marketplace, which I absolutely recommend that you do as they really are fantastic books that cover a fascinating period of English history from a fresh and intriguing perspective.