"I was a penniless, landless petitioner, my Neville blood a curse, my future dependent on the charity of those who despised me ..."
As soon as Anne O'Brien talked to me of her first book on Anne Neville, VIRGIN WIDOW, while we were arranging her interview at Fly High to present her second historical novel, Queen Defiant, I wished I could read it. After Sharon Key Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, and Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time , I wanted to know more about those events linked to the War of the Roses and to King Richard III's personal story. I was curious to see those known facts from a different point of view, from Anne Neville's eyes.
She lived for only twenty- eight years and left little imprint of herself in history books so, maybe, this is what makes her an intriguing enigma. Such a fascinating character, whose personality may be freely created through imagination- since other than the date of birth and death and a minimum record of the significant events in her life, we know nothing about her likes, temper, wishes, personal reactions - couldn't go on ignored by historical fiction. This is the blank Anne O'Brien tried to fill in writing VIRGIN WIDOW.
This novel is first of all a romance, following the legendary love story between Anne Neville and her cousin, Richard Plantagenet; then it is an adventure story full of action, conspiracy, battles, horseback journeys, dangerous crossing the Channel, lots of twists and turns; it is also a formation novel following Anne's growing up and turning from a very young, arrogant, proud girl from a powerful and privileged family to a mature, determined and even stoic young woman; finally, it is a thorough accurate narration of historical events.
The narrative opens in medias res, with the Nevilles and Clarence leaving England for France on exile. We follow Anne Neville's memories and witness the present events through her first person narration. We follow the story of her young years as the heiress and daughter of the Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, is trapped in a deadly tangle of political intrigue, used by the houses of Neville, York and Lancaster alike. Then, her fall into disgrace, her struggle through the most terrible, humiliating experiences both in France, as the wife of Edward of Lancaster, as well as in her country, where she must defend herself from her own sister's and brother-in-law's plot.
Anne herself is a rather gripping character, for her strength and bravery, but also for her human imperfection, especially in her relationship with Richard, where she shows all her frailty and vulnerability.
There are some differences of opinion among historians : did Anne remain a virgin throughout her first marriage? Did the birth of Anne and Richard's son's - the date is uncertain - suggest his conception before their marriage? There is no evidence of an attraction between Anne and Richard during their upbringing at Middleham - but there is no evidence it did not exist.
Anne O'Brien works on these speculations creating a convincing plot, a compulsively readable novel, supported by her vivid prose and accurate knowledge of the historical background. We leave Anne and Richard at the apex of their happiness. Their son has just been born, they are young and both deeply in love. The worst moments in the past are dark memories. The future yet unknown to them. Alas, not to us.
"Richard smiles at me.His eyes are dark with pride and love"
Further readings about Anne Neville:
1. Anne Neville, Queen to Richard III by Michael Hicks