We are delighted to welcome Joanna to our blog today. Her new novel, Red Rose, White Rose focuses on Cicely Neville and her half-brother, Cuthbert. It was released by Harper on 4th December 2014. Joanna talks to us today about what inspired her to write Red Rose, White Rose.
Red Rose, White Rose: It only takes one little fact to set off a chain reaction…
When people ask what inspired me to write a novel about Cicely Neville they are surprised when I say it was the discovery that she was the youngest child in her family. Nothing very unusual about that you may think but when I add that the family consisted of no less than twenty-two children perhaps you might begin to understand why my curiosity was piqued? Then consider the following additional facts; that fifteenth century England was about to plunge into the Wars of the Roses, that the Nevilles were staunch Lancastrians (Red Rose) and that Cicely married the Duke of York (White Rose) and I think you might appreciate that this struck me as the framework for some fascinating historical fiction.
Cicely’s father was the Earl of Westmorland, which used to be a county in north-west England but has now been subsumed by the county of Cumbria and no longer officially exists, except in the name of a local newspaper and a motorway service station on the M6! However, in the fifteenth century it was the heartland of one of the kingdom’s most powerful families, the Nevilles. Ralph Neville was granted the Earldom of Westmorland by King Richard II towards the end of the fourteenth century but when Henry of Lancaster usurped Richard’s throne in 1399, Ralph had recently taken Henry’s half-sister Joan Beaufort as his second wife and therefore felt obliged to support his new brother-in-law. It turned out to be a good move because the new king heaped honours and wealth on those lords who had backed his seizure of the crown.
Ralph Neville’s first wife had given him seven children and then died giving birth to the eighth. We might think today that he didn’t really need any more children but he obviously decided he needed another wife and Joan was very beautiful. She had also just been declared legitimate after her father John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster married her mother, his long-term mistress Katherine Swynford, making Joan a trueborn Lancastrian princess. Not only was she a good catch, she was also extremely fertile and went on to provide her new husband with fourteen more children, of which Cicely Neville was the last. No contraception in the fifteenth century – or at least none that worked!
Having the ear of the king, who controlled all marriages among his nobles, the Earl of Westmorland managed to arrange increasingly advantageous matches for the children of his second family and one of his last acts before he died was to betroth nine-year old Cicely to the richest heir in England, young Richard Plantagenet. At age thirteen this lucky Richard had not only inherited the dukedom of York from his uncle but also the vastly wealthy earldom of March from his cousin, both of whom had died childless. Her marriage made Cicely one of the highest-ranking and wealthiest women in the kingdom but, as a granddaughter of the first Duke of Lancaster, it also landed her in a very awkward position when the White Rose of York challenged the Red Rose of Lancaster for the throne. Also, being the youngest of twenty-two children, she did not know the offspring of her father’s first marriage when she chanced to meet one, nor was she aware that his intentions may not be entirely honourable… I hope you agree that the plot thickens!
To find out more about Joanna and her novels, click here to visit Harper Collins.
You can also follow Joanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/joannahickson
Click here to read our review of Red Rose, White Rose.