Harry (Hal) Percy is the grandson of the first Earl of Northumberland and son of Harry Hotspur. When the book begins in 1414, Hal is a *guest* of the Scots whilst they sort out his ransom, and he’s been waiting many years for that to happen. In the meantime, the Nevilles have been making out quite well taking over the sequestered Percy holdings in Hal’s absence. Henry Bolingbroke is dead, his son Henry is in a forgiving mood and Neville’s scheming wife Joan Beaufort (you know, one of those Beauforts), suggests they marry their daughter Alianore off to Percy so’s when the goods are returned to the rightful owner they’ll still have their finger in the familial pie. Everyone seems to love the plan but Hal, who might hold a wee bit of a grudge against the man who killed his grandfather, hacked off his head and hung it as a trophy.
“Well, I resent the fact that your father holds land that should be mine. I resent the fact that he hacked off my grandfather’s head and kept it on London Bridge for ten years. And most of all I resent the fact that I was forced to marry you to get back what was already mine.”
What. A. Family.
Needless to say, although Hal is willing to swallow any bitter pill to get home and get his properties back, he’s none too happy with the wife he’s saddled with and she’s left to mildew in the country whilst he goes off to play at being a courtier and soldier in Henry V’s service. Hal eventually comes home and he and Alianore come to terms (and a very happy marriage), but when Henry dies leaving a mere baby as heir, those old rivalries that have been simmering since the deaths of Edward III and Richard II start heating up again – and they get even hotter when Henry reaches adulthood and appears to have a few screws loose.
Might there be another, more capable person with an equally good claim standing by waiting to snatch the throne from Henry? Learning from his grandfather’s mistakes, Hal is determined to support his anointed king, but since his in-laws the Nevilles have other plans that really makes the family relationships sticky. Well, you know what happens next, Richard of York makes his run for the throne supported by the Nevilles and what is now known as the Wars of the Roses begins. Can the Percys hold firm in their loyalty to the king, or will they be swept away in the tides of war?
I knew there were strong family ties in this dispute, but I had no idea how closely related so many of the northern families were. Alianore’s sister was Cecily Neville (married to Richard of York) Hal’s mother Elizabeth was a Mortimer (thus closely tied to Richard of York), and the list goes on and on. What do you do when you prepare to face your brother or cousin on the battlefield?
“I should hate you but I don’t. Being a Percy just doesn’t seem a good enough reason. A man must be judged by what he is, not his blood, and I’ve enough of yours and you’ve enough of mine for me to be confused…But Beaufort blood. That’s another thing.”
Well, you know those Beauforts 🙂
While not quite as unputdownable as the first book in this trilogy, I enjoyed this a lot. The author does an amazing job of taking a highly complicated cast of characters and not only making it all understandable but entertaining as well. The characters are well drawn, and no one is completely bad or good – they are people of their times and class and behave accordingly. Two thumbs up, and I’m now off to work on book #3, Lion Invincible. I loved how she portrayed nutty Henry VI and can’t wait to see what she does with those grasping Woodvilles. 4/5 stars.