Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien

‘Who was I, Elizabeth Mortimer?’

In 1399, King Richard II of England is barely clinging onto power. He’s angered many nobles by his ruthless taxation and his attempts to curb their power. So, when John of Gaunt’s exiled son Henry of Bolingbroke returns to England while Richard is visiting Ireland, he can rally support to replace Richard as king. Richard II abdicates, Henry of Bolingbroke becomes Henry IV.
But for Elizabeth Mortimer and her family, there is only one rightful King – her eight-year-old nephew, Edmund. Edmund is descended from Edward III’s second surviving son, Lionel. Henry of Bolingbroke is descended from Edward III’s third surviving son, John of Gaunt. But there is little support for another child king: Richard II had been king since he was ten years old, and Henry is an adult.

Elizabeth’s husband, Henry Percy (Harry Hotspur) and his family, pragmatic and powerful, support Henry IV. But what of Elizabeth? Can she reconcile her divided loyalties? At what cost?

Told in the first person, from Elizabeth’s perspective, Ms O’Brien brings the intrigues of this period to life. The novel is set between 1399 and 1408 and follows the ambitions and fortunes of the Mortimer and Percy families while Henry IV struggles against plots and rebellions.

‘Once you were Queen of the North. What would be your ambition now?’

I knew next to nothing about Elizabeth Mortimer before reading this novel. I’d heard of Harry Hotspur and was aware of how Henry IV became king, but I’d not focussed on the detail. Reading this novel gave me more insight into the competing claims for the throne at this time. It also gave me more background into the later struggles between Lancaster and York.

If you are interested in this period of English history, you may also enjoy this novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith