Myrna Smith, Ricardian Reading Editor, writes a review of the Cicely Plantagenet Trilogy by Sandra Heath Wilson…

Cicely Trilogy 

Princess Cicely (an alternative spelling of Cecily) is 16 as her love story commences in this trilogy, 18 at the end of the third book. During that time, she has cut quite a swath at the English court. Her lovers include two kings and three jacks. That is, three men named John, whom the author differentiates by calling John of Gloucester John, John de la Pole Jack, and John Welles Jon.  At the end of the third book, she has also met her last husband, Thomas Kymbe, but so far their relationship is still platonic. I’m sure he will wind up being aces with Cicely.

Cicely explains herself: “I am the way Almighty God made me.” Well, her creator (small c) has put plenty of spice in the mixture. The men in her life each have a signature scent: Richard’s is costmary, Henry’s cloves, Jack’s thyme. We are not told what Cicely’s perfume is, but it must be pretty heady. “I cannot help it that men seem to find me so desirable, but they do…” No wonder her big sister wants to hit her upside the head, and does, once. And she is not the only one. Not only that, but both men and women confide in her, and she rather wishes they wouldn’t.

Is this just a picaresque and picturesque recital of Cicely’s bedroom adventures, a bodice-ripper verging on soft porn? More than that, I think. There is a lot of action and derring-do, as well as many quieter and more poignant scenes, such as Henry VII unknowingly holding Richard’s unacknowledged son, and letting the child chew on his finger, as teething babies will.  There is witty dialogue. And there is adept characterization, although some may be controversial. Particularly that of Henry Tudor. He admits that he is “not virtuous,” but damn, he’s sexy!  Says the author: “This aspect of Henry’s character is yet more invention. He may have been a great lover, or he may have been very dull between the sheets…So, I have fashioned him as I wish. Such is the power of a writer of fiction.” Not to mention that without this invention, the trilogy would not be a trilogy.

Another way of stretching out the story (but not unduly) is having Richard III appear after he is dead. This is nothing paranormal, Ms. Wilson assures us. He is just a figment of Cicely’s imagination. “Through him she can talk of things that she already knows or thinks for herself.” Or would think, if she were using the organ intended for that purpose. At times, he can be a very real figment. He has to remind Cicely. “I am not real…I am within you….I made a mess of a lot of things. And look where it got me. In my makeshift grave at thirty-two. Please allow me down from the pedestal upon which you are so determined to place me.”

Ms. Wilson even pokes gentle fun at Ricardian hagiography in the words she puts in Lord Welles’ mouth:  “How can anyone compete with him, hmm? Young, handsome, tragic, brave, betrayed, bereaved, beloved, cultured, powerful, just, loyal, intelligent, sensitive….endowed with more attraction in his big toe than I have in my entire body…he could fight like a warrior, converse like an archangel, negotiate like a king, and dance like a courtier….He did not only wear a crown, he wore a damned halo!”

One or two small quibbles before I get to the summing-up: Henry employs a spy who is deaf (“not from birth”) and reads lips. I have reason to know that the art of lip-reading depends a lot on educated guesswork and knowing what the conversation is about, and it is increasingly difficult with greater distance. Also, how does one “kneel up?” (SHW: Regarding ‘kneeling up’. If one kneels and then sits back on one’s heels, one is kneeling, but not kneeling up. If one straightens from that position, without standing, one kneels up.)

The test of any multi-book series is, does the reader look forward to the next book? I do. In the next, Cicely’s Sovereign Secret, we will learn the identity of the woman who taught Henry Tudor the art of lovemaking. We will possibly learn the significance of Richard of York’s (Cecily’s little brother) small scar, and Edward of Warwick’s birthmark.  And although Henry tells Cicely, “I can no longer hoist anything with [Elizabeth],” they will eventually have six more children. Apparently someone was doing some hoisting. Maybe they will be reconciled in a future book. I just hope my eyes will hold out until Cicely gets to the Kymbe chapter in her life.

I always try to review books in the spirit in which they are written. Sandra Heath Wilson gives a clue to her spirit in the last line of one of the books: “Historical fiction is for entertainment; history itself is for serious study. Never mix the two.” Entertaining it most certainly is!

Myrna Smith

Ricardian Reading Editor


Publisher: Robert Hale/ Buried River Press, UK, 2014

Paperback: ISBN-10: 071981233X and ISBN-13: 978-0719812330

Kindle: ASIN: B00L19AGQ2


Publisher: Robert Hale/Buried River Press, UK, 2014

Paperback: ISBN-10: 0719812615 ISBN-13: 978-0719812613



Publisher: Robert Hale/Buried River Press, UK, 2014

Paperback: ISBN-10: 071981362X and ISBN-13: 978-0719813627

Kindle: ASIN: B00O71JRFM

The next book in the series, CICELY’S SOVEREIGN SECRET, will be published in September 2015. ISBN-10: 191020837X and ISBN-13: 978-1910208373

Cicely's Sovereign Secret


  1. Is this trilogy meant to be a parody? It sounds pretty hilarious.

    So, I wonder who else Cicely/Cecily could have a fictional incestuous romp with? She died in 1507, future Henry VIII was 16, so old enough, hmm… if that doesn’t happen, clearly an opportunity missed by the author.


    1. No, I can promise you that Henry VIII is NOT on the menu. And Cicely only ever has one incestuous love, and he means everything to her for the rest of her life. The books do not pretend to be anything they are not, but are unashamedly aimed at being entertaining. I know, because I’m the author.


  2. I see what you mean by ‘kneeling up.’ Sort of like ‘sitting up (straighter).’ I hereby withdraw that particular criticism.


    1. Hello again timetravellingbunny. Yes, depending on the definition. I am actually referring to the ‘blood’ incest as we would define it today, not to all step-relatives, half-relatives, cousins, in-laws, first marriages, brothers, sisters, whatever. Just about everyone in the upper levels of society seemed to be within the forbidden degree of marriage, but the Pope would issue dispensation for almost all. So it was a little hypocritical of the lot of them. As was the shock! horror! about adultery. Yes, it was wrong, far worse a sin than it is now, but that didn’t stop them committing it. Men and women, highborn and low, played around outside their marriages. Wills are full of mentions of illegitimate offspring, and certainly not all were born before the marriage or after the death of a spouse.. So I’ve chosen to regard only Richard as Cicely’s incestuous love. To do anything else in what is not a heavy, book-prize aimed series of novels seemed to me to be a little OTT. As would adhering to every other small detail of medieval life and law. I don’t know every detail to start with. I’m a yarn-spinner, not a historian.


      1. Well, many people today would consider incest to extend to first cousins, even though historically it was considered OK among European nobility and royalty. But the same was the case with avunculate (uncle/niece, aunt/nephew) marriages in some countries, even if it was considered shocking in England.

        When it comes to what would have been considered incest back in the day, if Henry VII were to have an affair with Cicely, that would have probably been the most taboo one, at least as far as religion and the church is concerned, since Leviticus (which seems to be the Bible’s go-to book on sexual prohibitions – even today, the religious right likes to waive it around when they’re ranting against gay marriage) explicitly prohibits a man to have sex with his wife’s sister while his wife is alive. (Ironically, there is no specific mention of sleeping with one’s brother’s daughter, which was very useful to the Habsburgs and other European royalty when they were getting papal dispensations to marry their nieces and nephews.)


      2. Anyway, I hope you don’t mind me asking – why did you give Cicely all those unlikely affairs that weren’t even ever rumored? Her love life, as much as we know about it, was interesting as it is, and she wasn’t even the York girl rumored to have had incestuous vibes with uncle Richard. And Henry VII cheating on his wife and being a guy for sexual shenanigans, let alone with his sister-in-law, seems very OOC – while there’s no shortage of English kings who were known for their affairs and sexual shenanigans, like Edward IV, Henry VIII or Charles II. (I haven’t heard of any historical fiction written about Henry I and his 22+ illegitimate children.) There’s also Jane Shore with her multiple affairs, the rumored lovers of Margaret of Anjou, and other historical rumors of highborn women having extramarital affairs. And even if you want to write about Henry VII having a thing for another woman, wouldn’t his alleged infatuation with Catherine Gordon been the most obvious (and pretty interesting and odd) thing to use?

        I mean, I understand inventing things to spice the story up, but why invent stuff when the reality was already quite spicy and strange? It makes me think of a historian’s blog about the historical fiction on TV, where she commented on the HBO series “Rome”, saying it was a superb show, but it left her baffled why they “ignored the famous historical allegations of orgies and bizarre sex, preserved in classic sources – only to substitute different orgies and bizarre sex. The original orgies and bizarre sex were perfectly sufficient!”


  3. Hello timetravellingbunny. This is a very long response, I fear, but it explains why and how I made the decisions I did about Cicely..

    I originally chose Cicely simply because she had not previously been the central character of a work of fiction. Or indeed of non-fiction. If someone has produced her in-depth biography, it is not known to me. All the other prominent women of the period have been written about, more than once, and continue to be written about. I wanted to be different. There was also More’s intiguing description of her as ”not so fortunate as fair’.

    These books are not my first excursion into Cicely’s story, because I had written about her in the early 1970s (at a time when the spelling Cicely was more acceptable). I decided to keep the spelling. After all, at the time there were so many different ways of spelling it that you could take your pick. The favoured spelling now is Cecily, but it hasn’t been carved in stone, as far as I know.

    So much more is known about her now, not least that John Welles wasn’t her first husband, that she had to be rewritten. And the way I wrote then was no longer my style now. Believe it or not, I did not set out to give her such a shocking love life. I was merely going to rewrite the original trilogy and bring it up to date (regarding present-day knowledge), but the new Cicely I created was not the same, she developed a very different character, and no longer wanted to simply bow to everything as it happened. No, she didn’t become an unlikely modern woman in fifteenth-century clothes, she simply had thoughts of her own.

    This new Cicely was bound to respond to the Richard I created, although I didn’t see it coming. All the scenes I wrote, when she was simply viewing him as a beloved uncle, led to her—and me—suddenly seeing him as more than that. Again, it was not my intention to do this. To be corny, I simply followed the characters as they developed. It does happen. The author who tries to impose a certain path upon his/her characters, when the characters as written would certainly not react that way, will ring untrue, and thus be doomed to failure in the long run. You have to be true to those you have created. They may have been real people once, but they are fictional now in your work. But they still conform to themselves.

    So the love story between Cicely and Richard came about because I followed ‘my’ characters’ lead. And as I wrote it, I saw it only as a very sad story of a deep love that both participants knew was wrong, but which they could not ignore. Various Ricardians would much rather they’d resisted, or—better still—had remained just uncle and niece. Perhaps I should have gone so far as to make Cicely and Richard antagonistic instead? But no doubt that would have offended the hidebound as well. Only Lancastrians, Henry VII and certain modern historians are allowed to react adversely to Richard. But who was writing this story? Them? Or me? I never did like backseat drivers!

    Therefore, when the circumstances and emotions in the story were extenuating to say the least, I let Cicely and Richard to turn to each other. It’s fiction, remember, as I have tried to make abundantly clear in all the books. Richard was soon to face Henry Tudor, and we all know the outcome. But he and Cicely didn’t know his death was imminent, only that nothing is certain on a battlefield. Love is the most enduring and powerful emotion of all, and these two are very deeply and hopelessly in love. And they are only human, not creatures from among the Heavenly Host.

    I did not write this story in order to be sensationalist, but found myself faced with a love that was shadowed with many obstacles, but which flourished briefly anyway. And perhaps, beneath it all, by then I did have a sneaking desire to warm Richard’s lonely heart again after he had lost both Anne and his son. Even forbidden happiness is better than no happiness at all, of that I am convinced. And who did they harm with their love? No one at all. Should he have ridden to his death without anyone to love him that way? That is what basic historic facts suggest actually happened to him. He had loyal friends, but no lover, no one in whose arms to sleep at night, and to know would always be there for him. There was no other known woman in his life.

    Oh, there had been mistresses, none of them identified for certain, and all before his marriage to Anne. What does that say of him? To me it says he loved his wife and did not need to look elsewhere. Now he had lost her. The poignancy of his situation in that summer of 1485 was too much for me. His personal life had become echoingly hollow. He and Cicely solved it themselves, I simply put it into words. No, I’m not being a soppy novelist here. Those who have written fiction know that once characters have formed, one cannot simply do as one pleases with them. One has to limit oneself to what they dictate. It’s no good creating a modern St Francis of Assisi, and then sending him out on safari to shoot whatever moves. It wouldn’t work. Totally unbelievable. My Richard and my Cicely can go into each other’s arms. Who knows what the real Richard and Cicely thought of each other? No one. She may barely have crossed his mind for all I know. But she does in my fiction. Often.

    The thread with Henry was also unplanned. He was dangerous, wily, suspicious and determined to hold on to his throne at any price. And here was Cicely, defiantly refusing to show any loyalty to him, or disloyalty to her House and Richard. A bit galling for him. She didn’t respond with the deference he demanded, and so he was provoked. The tension between them was inevitable, and I soon saw that it was of a sort that often conceals a strong but unwilling sexual attraction. He wasn’t going to be defied, and she wasn’t going to comply. Sparks flew, but on more than one level. Again, I simply followed their lead, and the result was another ‘forbidden’ affair. (No, such matters are not ALL I think about! ) He will love her until the day she dies, and she will always be caught up in his spell. But she will never love him as he does her. As for Catherine Gordon, well, I haven’t reached her yet, which is a very good reason for her absence. I do not know how I intend to develop that facet of his story. As I write, it will all come to me.

    John de la Pole was another character who developed as I wrote. Nothing much is known about the real Lincoln, so I did not have much to go on anyway. His movements and decisions are known, but his character and reasons remain obscure. Back in the 1970s, I wrote him as a charming rogue, and he remained so this time around. I know he and Cicely were first cousins, and that even now there are many who find this shocking. It is also shocking to wed children to each other, and consummate marriage with child brides, but it was done back then. Margaret Beaufort is a prominent example of this.

    Being first cousins who commit adultery isn’t that big a deal to me. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t think it’s admirable either, but it happens. A lot of things happen now of which I don’t approve, but I accept that it’s the new status quo. I am certainly not driven to my knees to pray for those who commit the sin. It’s their lives, their choice. We are nothing if not free agents. Or should be allowed to be. We ought not to be hamstrung by the religious beliefs of others. This is the 21st century, but there is still religious intolerance. There always will be. History proves it. There’s nothing new. And religion is often at the bottom of all troubles.

    Those who would be driven to their knees in prayer for the forgiveness of the sins committed within the pages of these books, should not read the books in the first place. Full stop. I am not forcing people to read. It’s pretty clear from the blurbs what is going to be found between these covers. Saintliness doesn’t figure very highly, but then there wouldn’t be saints if we were ALL saintly. Being that good and holy is what greatly limits the issue of halos. All this doesn’t make me a terrible sinner either. I only write it. I can write about murder too, but that’s not the same as committing it!

    As for the adultery question itself and its effect at the time Cicely lived, well yes, it was supposedly a terrible no-no back then, but they were ‘at it’ nevertheless. History is littered with illegitimate children. And they’re just the acknowledged ones. Heaven knows how many more were begotten outside marriage beds. And this goes for all marriage beds, from royalty down. So I ignored this much-discussed taboo on adultery, because it was clearly not adhered to very much. If they weren’t bothered about it then, why should I bother about it now? People are people, and haven’t changed much.

    So there you have it, the series developed almost of its own accord. This is not a cop-out on my part, but is the truth. I intend to write six books altogether, and she will have one more lover. But on only one occasion. It will be a mistake made and regretted. In Cicely’s entire, admittedly short life (she died at 38) I have given her three main lovers (Richard, Henry and John de la Pole) one night of grief and commiseration with John of Gloucester, and three husbands (Ralph Scrope, John Welles and Thomas Kymbe). And there will be one future but fleeting encounter (the still-to-come lover). A one-day stand.

    Finally, of course, there is that unlikely third marriage to Thomas Kymbe/Kyme. Now, if I’d invented that . . . ! But I didn’t, she really did marry a simple Lincolnshire gentleman who had nothing to offer her, except perhaps, love. And she defied Henry in order to do it. So the real Cicely was pretty audacious. It is not my invention that His Majesty was livid. Absolutely beside himself. She seldom appeared at court after that, and lived very simply in obscurity. But happily, I hope.

    The one person who remained her staunch friend throughout, and who helped her when she made the Kymbe marriage, by intervening for her with Henry, was his mother, Margaret Beaufort. You couldn’t make it up.


  4. Viscountess, you don’t owe timetravellingbunny any explanation at all. For writing fiction? Maybe that comes under the heading of ‘bearing false witness’ a la Exodus?
    The bunny is the one who owes us an explanation, for claiming that Leviticus got it all wrong with relation to gayness, but didn’t go far enough in regard to (hetero) first-cousin marriage. At least be consistent.


    1. Eh, did I say anyone “owed” me an explanation? I merely asked a question – why invent weird relationships when there are already real or rumored weird relationships aplenty? Which I made pretty clear in my post. Especially with that quote about “Rome”.

      “The bunny is the one who owes us an explanation, for claiming that Leviticus got it all wrong with relation to gayness, but didn’t go far enough in regard to (hetero) first-cousin marriage. At least be consistent.”

      ??? When did I say anything about Leviticus getting or not getting something wrong? I don’t care what Leviticus says, but the people of that time period presumably would, since religion and the church played a big role in their lives. The discussion was about what would or wouldn’t be considered incestuous now or back in the day. (And they would have considered a relationship between in-laws incestuous.)

      And Leviticus, as it happens, says nothing at all about first cousin marriages anyway, just as it says nothing about uncle/niece and aunt/nephew marriages… which I also said in my post.

      I certainly owe you no explanation why I’m commenting on this. But maybe you owe me an explanation why you’re criticizing my posts without, apparently, even have properly read them.


      1. If you did not say in so many words that Sandra owes you an explanation, you certainly imply it, when you dump on her for ‘inventing’ relationships. Isn’t that what fiction is – inventing?
        I am aware that Leviticus said nothing about first cousin marriages. Since you feel such marriages are wrong, you must believe that Leviticus ‘got it wrong’ by not condemning them – but you really don’t care what Leviticus said.
        How can we expect people in the 15th century, or in Biblical times, to not only live by the standards of their own time, but to know what the standards of the 21st century were going to be, and to live by them too?
        Let’s just nobody ever write historical fiction, since there is plenty of ‘scaldalous fact.” So I suppose you would be OK if Sandra had written about Richard’s affair with his other niece. It was in all the history books!


      2. Geez, you must have a lot of insight into my mind, since you seem to know things that I’m thinking that even I don’t know? I’m saying that first cousin marriages are wrong? (And I thought I just noted it was considered incest by many…) I’m expecting people to live by some standards or another? I don’t want people to write about “scandalous fact”? Funny, I said the exact opposite. I am implying that someone owes me an explanation? The usually used term is “asking a question”. Please tell, am I supposed to be asking your permission to make any sort of comment or ask anything?

        Or you know what, since you’re not actually an arbiter on what anyone is allowed to post, how about I just ignore you? Yes, that would be the best thing to do.


    2. Or, to paraphrase that quote about HBO’s “Rome”… I’m all for fun fiction about incestuous and adulterous affairs in medieval setting (I’m a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, that’s all you need to know), I’m just a little baffled why one would need to invent different incestuous and adulterous relationships, when the original real or alleged/rumored incestuous and adulterous relationships seem perfectly sufficient, that’s all. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… 😉


      1. I have never set myself up as an arbiter of what someone is allowed to post. But lit looks to me like there are people posting to this site who would like to set themselves up as arbiters of what someone is allowed to write in a novel. I was coming to Sandra’s defense – I’ll be blessed if I ever do that again.


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