Joanna Hickson, author of The Agincourt Bride and The Tudor Bride - novels dealing with the life of Catherine Valois, ancestress of the Tudors - continues to follow the early days of the Tudor dynasty with First of the Tudors, a novel featuring Catherine's second son, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke.
In First of the Tudors, we see the early years of the Wars of the Roses through the eyes of a semi-outsider. Half-brother to Henry VI, son of a former queen of England and commoner and a Welshman, ennobled by his royal brother's wish but holding lands in rebellious Wales, Jasper is a Lancastrian by blood, and during the early years of the wars, fiercely loyal to his brother Henry.
Though it was Catherine's oldest son Edmund, Earl of Richmond, who would marry Margaret Beaufort and father the first Tudor monarch, it was Jasper's lifelong devotion to Margaret that ensured the survival of the young Henry VII and his ultimate rise to the throne. After Edmund's death - an early victim of the political and military maneuvering that preceded the civil war between Lancaster and York - Jasper took charge of Margaret, a pregnant widow only 13 years old. As Margaret was under the age of majority, Jasper was awarded guardianship of the infant Henry, and served as the young boy's protector and advisor for most of his life, despite a long separation during his nephew's youth, when his guardianship was granted elsewhere during the first portion of Edward IV's reign. Though Margaret maintained contact with Henry, and sought to advance his claim once he became, in essence, the last Lancastrian heir, her fate as a wealthy heiress under royal wardship meant that she was a valuable marriage prize, and was never in a position to raise her son herself.
Jasper's initial period of guardianship lasted for five years, from Henry's birth to the beginning of Edward IV's reign in 1461, when he was forced to flee the country, and the young Henry Tudor's guardianship granted to one of Edward's supporters.
Jasper spent the early years of the York reign either in exile, separated from both Margaret and the young Henry, or fighting against the Yorkists whenever he managed to secure financial backing from his royal French cousins. The novel follows his story up to the brief restoration of Henry VI to the throne in 1470.
Interspersed with his story is the fictional story of Sian - Jane in English - a Welsh woman who is Henry's governess for most of his early life, and also Jasper's lover and mother of two illegitimate daughters. (There is some indication - but little actual proof - that Jasper fathered one or more illegitimate children; their mother is usually identified as Myfanwy ferch Dafydd. Myfanwy who appear in the novel, but as the lover of Jasper's father Owen and mother of his youngest child Daffyd - who was real enough, but the name of his actual mother is unknown.)
The intimate details of Jasper's imagined family life, and Jane'e efforts to keep the Tudor children - young Daffyd and her own two daughters - safe through the turmoil of the civil war and the York reign help to flesh out and humanise the events in the young Henry Tudor's life during the period of Jasper's exile. Jane is loyal, brave, loving, resourceful and devoted to a man she can never marry, and is as much the protagonist of this tale as Jasper is.
One assumes a sequel is in the works, which will cover the resumption of power by the Yorks, the long years of exile in Brittany and France for both Jasper and the young Henry, now the last living male Lancashire heir, though with a tentative claim to the throne at best, and the accession of Henry VII to the throne. I'm looking forward to its publication.