First of the Tudors picks up the story begun in The Agincourt Bride and The Tudor Bride. This novel focuses on Jasper Tudor and his relationship with his brother Henry VI.
The narrative is split between two characters – Jasper and Jane, a Welsh relative that Jasper brings into his household to look after his ward, Henry Tudor and whom he eventually falls in love with. The split narrative is a good technique as it gives us a look at not only court life and war but also domestic life and the childhood of Henry VII which is much affected by the Wars of the Roses.
Hickson’s version of Jasper Tudor is a wise, determined man who is compassionate and considerate. He appears humble, even when he is raised to Earldom and he treats those beneath him with kindness. His brother Edmund, on the other hand, is not a likable character at all. Vain, arrogant and always looking down his nose at people, he hates Welsh people but is half-Welsh himself. Edmund is not a nice man and Jasper’s relationship with him is strained. His attitude to his child bride Margaret is crude and uncaring and despite Jasper’s pleas for him not to sleep with her until she is older he goes ahead with the consummation anyway thinking only of the inheritance she will bring him and his own advancement. The scenes when the brothers talk about Margaret are a bit uncomfortable because not only is she only 12 (and in some scenes 9) but she is pretty underdeveloped for her age.
Hickson is a great writer, she builds tension and keeps you turning the page even though you know the story. Henry’s birth scene builds a sense of dread even though you know the outcome.
What I did find interesting is that in this novel Jasper is in love with Margaret Beaufort. In any other hisorical novel/tv programme/film I have seen about the pair it is always Margaret that is obsessed with Jasper. Also, Margaret is never really portrayed as being in love with Edmund and being keen to do her “duty” the way she is in this novel. Ususally Lady Welles is seen as a uncaring mother who forces her daughter into the marriage.
The relationship between Jasper and Jane, a headstrong, kind and devoted woman is totally believable. I was rooting for them all through the novel.
And the despicable Henry Holland is back! In Red Rose, White Rose he was a horrible character. I hated him. In First of the Tudors he is on the side of the Lancasters but is a terrible commander with no people skills whatsoever. In one scene he leaves his men outside the walls, locking them out stating that he doesn’t care what happens to them. The men are sitting ducks for the vengeful Yorkist army.
As with all Hickson’s novels I enjoyed this a lot. I enjoyed seeing characters and situations in a different light and from a different situation. There’s romance but not too much of it. I would thoroughly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction.