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Review | Cecily

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

by Annie Garthwaite

Published : 29th July 2021

Publisher : VikingBooks

Format : Kindle, Audio, Hardback

Genre : Historical Fiction

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* All words highlighted in Grey are affiliate links to either purchase from a range of sellers or links to the authors sites. Where ever possible I will try and provide different versions of the book on all purchase sites.


The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.

She chooses to start a fire.

You are born high, but marry a traitor's son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.

You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.

You are Cecily.

But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?

Loyalty or treason - death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.

Told through the eyes of its greatest unknown protagonist, this astonishing debut plunges you into the closed bedchambers and bloody battlefields of the first days of the Wars of the Roses, a war as women fight it.

Thank you @VikingBooksUK for this beautiful historical read.

My Review

โ€˜Women have no swords, brother. We do our work by talking.โ€™


The book opens in 1431 as a young teenage Cecily witnesses Joan dโ€™Arc being dragged out and burned on the pire, followed in succession with the crowning of the young boy King Henry VI of England as King of France, although his kingdom does not reach to the whole of France and because of such King Charles of France is fighting to claim the title to all of France and take back what England are holding as their own.

Cecily Neville story begins in 1424, at just age nine she is betrothed to Richard Plantagenet, the disgraced 3rd Duke of York thanks to his father. Born with royal blood yet left alone when his father died a traitor to the king, Richard was given to Ralph, Cecily's father to be his ward. Cecily has a very strong willed mother and is taught to be strong herself and to raise herself, her husband and all of her future children as high as she possibly can within the circles of power that they live in to secure their future.

As the Duchess of York, Cecily uses her power and wisdom from her mother to secure marriages for her children into Duke's homes and to befriend members of powerful French allies to support their peaceful negotiations, all whilst under the misconception of a woman's suggestion made at the appropriate timing, an idea that was hers but made to believe that it came from the men she was around. Richard, her husband is very supportive and they love each other dearly, strange for the times their marriage is one of mutual, equal respect and he takes his wife's advice regularly.

When the couple are sent to France to keep peace under the guise of keeping French lands English but this doesn't go to plan as the young king does not know how to govern a country and is strongly, yet sneakily manipulated by who ever is closest to him at the time.

This proves to be a very delicate balance for Cecily and Richard to manage, especially living so far from court but when the King is married to King Charles's cousins daughter she manages to persuade him to give up the hold on France and once again Cecily, Richard and their children are brought back to London and Richard finds himself back fully in the twists and deceptions of Court life.

Why I Loved It

Wow, what a historical treasure this book is.

Cecily is quite literally a force to be reckoned with. She dominates every page of this book with her supreme assertiveness. Raised by her mother who was strong, shrewd and extremely intelligent, Cecily not only directs her husbands life and the life of her children for the better but she does it all with the clever and subtle suggestions that only a woman can give in the 1400s.

Not only do we read through her grief of losing many children ( she carries twelve in all) but also get to read the expert in which she handles the restrictions of the times for women in general.

Cecily is a powerful historical story, telling of an incredible woman from English history, A vividly female perspective from the Wars of the Roses.

A fascinating historical read, this one had me reading late in to the night, totally unable to put it down.




Buy from

๐Ÿ›’ Waterstones

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๐Ÿ›’ Bookshop

Meet the author

Annie Garthwaite grew up in a working class community in the north-east of England.

A schoolgirl interest in medieval history became a lifelong obsession with Cecily Neville, so, at age fifty-five, she enrolled on the Warwick Writing MA programme. Her extraordinary debut novel Cecily is the result.

During a thirty-year international business career she frequently found herself the only woman at the table, where she gained valuable insights into how a woman like Cecily might have operated.

Today she lives with her partner โ€“ and far too many animals โ€“ on the side of a green Shropshire hill close to the Yorkist stronghold of Ludlow.


Connect with Annie




Here is some factual information on Cecily, taken from the authors website...


A 15th century woman for all time Cecily was born in the year of Agincourt, lived into the early years of the Tudors, created a dynasty, mothered two kings and led her family through civil war. For most of her life, she was one of, if not the most powerful women in England. And yetโ€ฆ

โ€œCecily who?โ€ โ€ฆ is the reaction of most people when I tell them the subject of my novel. How could such an important woman โ€“ such an extraordinary, high-profile, high-achieving woman โ€“ slip through historyโ€™s net like that? Easily, I suppose. Women have been falling through it for years. The history of the 15th century was written by men, for men. Women didnโ€™t get much attention. And Shakespeare didnโ€™t help. In his history plays Cecily barely merits a mention. And when she does appear, sheโ€™s not very interesting โ€“ no political agenda, no power, no dramatic purpose.

The truth couldnโ€™t be more different. The real Cecily was an energetic dynastic schemer and a political mover and shaker of the first rank. A strategist, politician and administrator par excellence. Whatโ€™s more, and quite simply, she was there; not just in the Wars of the Roses but at the very heart of them. In fact, she was the only major protagonist to survive from their violent beginnings to their blood-soaked end.

Cecily with her mother Ralph with his sons History has given us few visual representations of Cecily, but I found one that revealed her character to me. Itโ€™s in the French national library, in a Book of Hours Cecily commissioned, perhaps as a gift for her mother, when she was in France, the year she watched Joan of Arc burn.

She was sixteen. In it, Cecilyโ€™s parents face each other across the page, flanked by their sons and daughters. Below, a series of armorial shields displays the status of each parent and child. Though the youngest of the daughters, Cecily has placed herself in the first rank, kneeling almost on her motherโ€™s black hem. She has dressed herself in the richest colours, the finest jewels. Behind her, her sisters, countesses and duchesses in their own right, become a pale crowd, muted, shadowed, plain.

The men opposite are smart enough, I suppose. Me first, says Cecily. At sixteen she understood that to exercise power in a manโ€™s world you have to assume it. You have to look the part and turn the language of power โ€“ images such as this, in Cecilyโ€™s world โ€“ into your own propaganda.

Cecily Luton Guild. Image courtesy of The Culture Trust. In a later image, created after her eldest son became Edward IV, Cecily is shown kneeling behind his wife, Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabethโ€™s the queen here, but itโ€™s Cecily thatโ€™s cloaked herself in the royal arms of England. Sheโ€™s sending a very clear message: Donโ€™t for even a minute imagine Iโ€™m not the most important woman in the room.

Whatโ€™s not to like? So, Cecily is rich, royal and ruthless. For a novelist, whatโ€™s not to like? Itโ€™s hard to believe that, for more than five hundred years, fiction writers have largely ignored her. Can all of the blame be laid at Shakespeareโ€™s door? Probably not. As Iโ€™ve said, Cecily isnโ€™t the only powerful woman in history to have been overlooked or misrepresented. The historian and novelist, Sharan Best, describes the problem by pointing out that film and fiction too often revert to stereotypes when it comes to medieval women.

Theyโ€™re either objects of chivalry, pampered and adored, or theyโ€™re repressed, voiceless victims. So, in my novel, Iโ€™ve tried to deliver a version of Cecily thatโ€™s closer to the 15th century truth. Along the way, I realised sheโ€™s not too far from 21st century truth either. Yes, Cecily was a woman of her time โ€“ of a pre-reformation, pre-feminist, Catholic, male-dominated world. But she was also a woman we can feel kinship with today; fighting with words when swords were denied her, exercising whatever power was given to her and pushing for more. Testing boundaries, holding her own. She faced the questions women still struggle with today.

What comes first, love or ambition? Which family commands our first loyalty, the one weโ€™re born into or the one we make? How far will your courage take you?

I hope you'll enjoy her story.

Annie Garthwaite


I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on this review, if you have read this book why not drop me a line telling me your thoughts?


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