Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien

I finished Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien yesterday. It took much longer to read it than I initially would have thought. I read recently The Scandalous Duchess by her, in which she tells the story of John of Gaunt, father of Henry of Lancaster, and his third wife and long time mistress. Thus I was excited to read a story where Henry will be a very important figure. I wanted to like this book, but I didn’t. I gave it 3 stars, but, comparing to the other books I read by O’Brien, it was disappointing.

The story starts in 1399, when Richard II’s reign was very unpopular. Henry of Lancaster returned from exile to reclaim his inheritance. He saw this as an opportunity to claim the throne as well. The main character in the book is Elizabeth Mortimer, another descendent of Edward III (as Richard and Henry), but she and her nephew Edmund (her older brother’s son) were from a female line of the family, so not real contenders to the throne.

Queen of the North by Anne O'Brien

She was married to Henry Percy, better known as Sir Harry Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland. King Richard made some poor decisions regarding the north, so Harry’s family was against the king. They supported Henry to take the crown. But here comes Elizabeth, eager to put Edmund, a eight year old child, on the throne. Her motivations aren’t made clear in the book. She seems more like a moody teenager than a confident woman.

In the description of the book it says: “Elizabeth must hide her true ambitions in Court, and go against her husband’s wishes to help build a rebel army.” Well, that didn’t happen. She managed to build a weak alliance between her, her brother, her sister-in-law, and the Welsh king, and that only because her brother was a prisoner of the welsh king.

King Henry and Harry had some disarrangements regarding money and Harry went on to rebel. He was killed in battle. His father denounced him, but Elizabeth is upset with her father-in-law because of that and because he doesn’t sustain Edmund’s claim. She shows no consideration regarding the safety and future of her son, who was sent to Scotland by his grandfather. Her questioning of why her son was sent away to safety makes her look a bit foolish. Harry was killed in battle and King Henry offered her two options: nunnery or marriage to someone he picked. Here the story becomes poorer still. Entering the nunnery is presented as an undesirable option, but in early 14th century, it was a great option for women of her rank, and had nothing to do with the strength of their religious beliefs or calling. Besides, Elizabeth needs persuading to accept Thomas de Camoys as a husband and they even talk about love. Oh dear, talking about love in regards to a marriage in early 1400s, for a woman of royal blood suspected of treason… I can’t see how this is plausible. O’Brien talks about how much Elizabeth loved Hotspur and how she couldn’t get over his death, but lived in a loveless marriage with her second husband. For me, the evidence suggests that she and Thomas had a loving marriage, as they are buried next to each other and they hold hands in the ledger stone on top of their tombs. Of course, that is open to interpretation and it doesn’t mean that they actually loved each other.

I didn’t like Elizabeth, she was superficial and not strong. I also didn’t like her first husband, as he is depicted as a courageous knight that was flawed by being too temperamental. It was what got him killed, got a lot of people killed in a battle he didn’t prepare for, putting everything at risk: his wife, his son, and his daughter. His (their) ambitions meant they made deals with the England’s enemies, the Welsh and the French. The only character I liked was Thomas, but he doesn’t appear too much in this book. He is part of The Queen’s Choice, another book by O’Brien that I’m going to read. As I said, I will continue to read books by her, but I wouldn’t have had if this was the first book I was reading. The whole point of historical fiction is that it has to be historically accurate as much as possible, made into a lovely story that appeals to 21st century reader (emphasise on fiction), but in this book the tendency was to go too far and it made the book less enjoyable.

Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 3/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: –
Published by: HQ
Year it was published: 2018
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Pages: 469

About the author: Anne O’Brien was born in Yorkshire. She learned History at Manchester University. After taking her Masters degree in education at Hull University, she went on to be a history teacher.
She always loved historical fiction and, after leaving teaching, she published her first historical romance book, in 2005.
Now, Anne lives with her husband in an 18th century timber framed cottage in Herefordshire, Wales. The place she lives in is an inspiration for her, with all the ruined castles, priories, and churches, among black and white timbered houses.
When she is not writing, she is gardening, growing vegetables and fruits, as well as tending to flowers and a pond.
Books by Anne O’Brien: Queen of the North, The Shadow Queen, The Queen’s Choice, The King’s Sister, The Forbidden Queen, The Scandalous Duchess, The Uncrowned Queen, The King’s Concubine, Devil’s Consort, Virgin Widow.
Website & Social Media Links: anneobrien



1 thought on “Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien”

  • I’m trying to remember what was the title of the book I read many years ago, telling the story of Elizabeth Mortimer, but so far it escapes me. It’s interesting that you didn’t rate it as highly as the other books by the same author. I haven’t bought the book, but it was on my to-read list.
    I agree with you, the nunnery was often a career choice for many noble women, especially widowed. And yes, love wouldn’t enter into the equation.

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