Over the last couple of years, Anne O’Brien has become one of my go-to-authors when I want my historical fix, with her wonderfully researched novels told from the perspective of the powerful, often overlooked, women of history. This summer just passed, I threw myself into O’Brien’s 2019 release A Tapestry of Treason, the fifth novel of hers I’ve read, and which I finished in record time, considering its length!
In A Tapestry of Treason, O’Brien again sweeps us back to the great upheaval of 1399, where we were introduced to the fascinating Elizabeth Mortimer in Queen of the North. This time however we are to focus on Constance of York, Lady Despenser, who made a small, but starring appearance in the previous novel, so I was intrigued to see her character and life fleshed out more fully.
Constance was the only daughter of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York and his wife Isabella of Castile, and so, just like Elizabeth, she was a great-granddaughter of Edward III and cousin to both Richard II and Henry IV. At a young age she was married to Thomas le Despenser, 1st Earl of Gloucester, a powerful alliance that brings her very close to the weak and indolent, Richard II, but it is certainly no love match.
So when Richard is overthrown by their cousin Henry Bolingbroke, Constance and her family have a dangerous line to tow and some momentous decisions to make. Being members of Richard’s inner circle, they are deemed traitors and have many of their lands and titles stripped from them. So do they take the new Henry IV’s generous and magnanimous pardon or do they keep on fighting to regain what they’ve lost?
O’Brien portrays Constance as a beautiful, vain, and calculating woman, who having grown up surrounded by power-hungry men – including her aging father, self-centred husband, and ruthless brothers Edward and Richard – has proven herself more than a mere observer in their devious intrigues. That will ultimately place her at the heart of two treasonous plots against Henry, trying to restore either Richard II or place the precarious Mortimer claimant on the throne instead.
Although the execution of these conspiracies will place them all in jeopardy, Constance is not deterred. I had to admire her conviction and bravery, but also shake my head in dismay as she throws away chance after chance of a way out of this vicious loop of failed revenge. It was also awful to see the men she loves forsake and betray her, one bye one. Again O’Brien has been able to paint a realistic story and bring this woman’s personality back to life, even if I didn’t particularly like her, Constance was a fascinating woman to learn more about.
Overall, I thought A Tapestry of Treason was a gripping tale of tragedy, treason, heartbreak and betrayal that I sped through, about a woman ahead of her time, fighting for herself and her family in a world of men. While I didn’t quite love it as much Queen of the North, it was still a very… Good read ⭐⭐
(Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion. I am also counting this towards my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2021 and my 10 Books of Summer 2021 reading)
Have you read this or anything else about Constance of York? Have you enjoyed any of Anne O’Brien’s other novels? Please let me know in the comment below!