One of the historical mysteries—by that I mean an actual event that still provokes competing explanations more than five hundred years after the fact—that has always intrigued me is the controversy over Richard III’s role in the deaths of his young nephews, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. From the day I read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, retrieved from my parents’ bookshelf when I was still in high school, I’ve been generally sympathetic to the idea that Richard was framed.
I’m not completely convinced: decades of studying the complicated politics of the Russian court at around the same time convince me that an uncle might, in fact, murder his nephews to take the throne—no doubt telling himself he was acting for the good of the country. A similar situation, after all, forms the backdrop to my Legends of the Five Directions novels, most notably The Golden Lynx and The Vermilion Bird. But my jury remains out to the point where I’m always ready to entertain a new approach to the subject, especially in fiction.
Even so, I could never have come up with the solution proposed by Nicola Cornick in her latest novel, The Last Daughter of York, released this week by Graydon House. To discover what that is, you’ll have to read the book. But to find out more, read on for her answers to my questions.
As you note on your website, each of your novels features an old house with a story. How do you find these houses?
Since I was a small child, I have loved visiting historic houses of all sorts, large and small, ancient and less so, and I find that whenever I do they always have a story to tell—of the people who have lived there, and the things that have happened over the centuries. Each house is different and has its own individual story to tell, and I love uncovering and sharing it.
In The Last Daughter of York, that house is Minster Lovell. What do readers need to know about the house itself? What drew you to writing about it?
Minster Lovell Hall is a ruin now and a very picturesque one, standing beside the little River Windrush, with a dovecote and ancient cottages nearby. It was the ancestral home of the Lovell family for generations and the place where Francis Lovell entertained King Richard III for Christmas during his short reign. In those days it was a grand, and modern, house. What drew me to writing about it was that five hundred years later you can still stand on the spot where all these events occurred and imagine what it must have been like in the fifteenth century. Minster Lovell has a very strong atmosphere. You feel as though you can almost touch the past there.
The story opens in the thirteenth century, with John Lovell and his young bride—whose past, to borrow a modern phrase, he probably should have researched a little more than he did. This is the setup for the entire novel, so please give us a capsule description of what happens in that first scene.
The first scene is based on the legend of the Mistletoe Bride, which is a very well-known local story. John Lovell thinks he is marrying a rich and beautiful young heiress, but in fact she is a thief who has tricked her way into his affections in order to steal a priceless artifact that has been in the care of the Lovell family for generations. Known as the lodestar, it has a reputation for powerful magic, including the ability to make people disappear…. At the wedding, as everyone is enjoying the feast and celebrations, John discovers too late that his bride has cheated him and that she and the stone are gone.
We next switch to the perspective of Serena, a young woman from the twenty-first century who lives in the UK but, when we meet her, is enjoying a well-deserved vacation in California. What can you tell us about her?
Serena has my dream job, which is to run a company offering heritage tours to British historical sites! She used to have a twin sister, Caitlin, and the two of them were very close when they were younger but started to drift apart in when they got into their later teens. Then Caitlin disappeared, and Serena’s life has to a large degree been shaped by that one event and how she has dealt with it in the following ten years.
Serena’s peace is soon interrupted by news from home. What calls her away?
Serena’s parents call to let her know that Caitlin’s body has been found and that she needs to come home. This is the start of a series of events that helps Serena uncover not only the mystery of what happened to Caitlin but the very unexpected links between her own family and events five hundred years before during the reign of King Richard III.
The third perspective comes from Lady Anne Neville, whom we first encounter in 1465, when she’s just five years old. Unlike the others, she is a historical character, and hers is the “unknown woman from history” tale at the heart of the book. Why did you choose to interweave her story with Serena’s, rather than focus on one or the other?
I love writing stories where there is a historical mystery at the heart which is then solved in the present. In the case of The Last Daughter of York it’s Serena who holds the key to the mystery of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower in 1483 and it is Anne who is the heroine of that particular story. Telling their two stories together was so much fun because they are two strong women five hundred years apart but whose lives have so many parallels.
And what do we need to know about Lady Anne and her husband, Lord Francis Lovell?
Francis Lovell was the closest friend of King Richard III and is a fascinating historical figure, renowned for his loyalty to Richard and the Yorkist cause in the Wars of the Roses. His wife, Anne, was a member of the powerful and influential Neville family. Like a lot of women from the footnotes of history, there isn’t a lot about Anne in the written record, yet you can piece together aspects of her story from letters and accounts. She lived at such a tumultuous time and saw and experienced great events of history. It was amazing to be able to write those events from her perspective.
And what of you? This novel has just come out. Are you already working on something new?
I’ve just completed my next book, which is another dual-time story, this one set in the late sixteenth century in the years leading up to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. There have been a lot of books about the plotters themselves, but I was interested in exploring the stories of the women who knew them, and the book is seen through the perspective of Robert Catesby’s mother, Anne, and his wife, Catherine. The modern-day story is about a woman who uncovers a Tudor garden created by Catherine Catesby.
Thank you so much for answering my questions!
Nicola Cornick, a historian raised in the north of England, has become an international and award-winning bestseller. She now writes dual-timeframe novels inspired by the history and legends of Wessex and the Vale of the White Horse. Her latest novel is The Last Daughter of York, released in November 2021. You can find out more about her at https://www.nicolacornick.co.uk.
Image of St. Kenelm’s Church, Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire, England © Alison Rawson, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.