A Tapestry of Treason

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Member Reviews

When it comes to a gripping historical thriller, you can’t get better than a bit of Anne O’Brien. And with Tapestry of Treason, she’s surpassed herself: it’s a tightly plotted, tense and fascinating bit of political intrigue, with (gasp!) a woman at its centre.

The woman in question is Constance of York, or Lady Despenser. She’s a member of House York, one of the most powerful families in the land, and she also wants to make sure that her family rises to power. Thus begins a saga of plotting, scheming and betrayal, as she tries to navigate her way around shifting loyalties, changing times- and love.

Characters on the make

Where to begin? Constance is a great heroine: cold, ruthless and (to her own mind at least) unfeeling. She’s a Macchiavellian character, always on the lookout for things that could go to her advantage, taking advantage of the hand of friendship and using its cover to plot her next move. While her stubbornness does get frustrating, some of the most entertaining scenes in the book are her being dragged in front of her cousin- and King- Henry IV, as he decides how best to punish her, again, for her misdeeds.

That becomes significantly more complicated when she falls in love with Edmund Holland, Earl of Kent. The romance doesn’t ever eclipse the political intrigue, but it does add an extra flavour to it. The difference in how men and women make their way in the world- and the ways in which Constance has to act in order to be taken seriously by her family- just serve to illustrate how determined and smart this woman was. At a time when a woman’s duty was to get married and have children, this is certainly something different!

Treacherous politics!

The political landscape in this book is as nuanced as anything I’ve ever read. You really feel like you’re back in the 1400s- or at least, that Anne O’Brien has gone back in time and visited it herself. From the court politics of Henry IV to the way in which nobles stored their clothes, it’s all in here, and gives a real sense of authenticity to the book.

That’s not to say there’s not a bit of fiction woven into this. We start the story with a fortune telling, and large parts of this book are sketched in by O’Brien- as they have to be. This is a woman’s story, and very little is actually known about Constance’s life. What we do have, though- and what’s in this book- certainly implies it was a colourful one.

Travel back in time…

Well-researched and well-written, this is definitely a book for history fans! Though it can be a slow-paced at times, Constance is a fascinating historical figure, and O’Brien has definitely done justice to her complicated legacy with this. Go on, give it a read. You’ll be hooked!
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Constance is a proud Plantagenet.  Married off young to the Duke of Gloucester, she has fulfilled her duty by providing children but her marriage is loveless.  When her husband is caught up in a Yorkist plot against Henry IV, Constance becomes a widow.  Falling for an ambitious young noble she is also drawn into another conspiracy which leads to her downfall and potential humiliation.
Constance Despenser is a side figure in the politics around the usurpation of the throne by Henry Bolingbroke.  Her family was closely involved in both the annexation of Richard II's throne and the plots to overthrown Henry.  Here O'Brien has taken a character known for her ambition and sharpness and told a slightly different story.  As ever with O'Brien's novels the romance is well to the fore but the knowledge and understanding of late medieval England is outstanding.
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One of the things I like about Anne O’Brien’s books is that they tend to be about women who are not usually the subjects of historical fiction. I have read five of her previous novels, all set in the 14th and 15th centuries, which told the stories of Katherine of Valois, Elizabeth of Lancaster, Joanna of Navarre, Joan of Kent and Elizabeth Mortimer. Now, in her latest novel, A Tapestry of Treason, she brings another medieval woman out of obscurity and gives her a voice. She is Constance, Lady Despenser, daughter of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, the fourth surviving son of King Edward III of England.

The novel opens in 1399. Constance’s cousin, Richard II, has reigned for over twenty years but another cousin, Henry of Lancaster, now has his eye on the throne. The York branch of the family – Constance, her father, her brothers Edward and Dickon, and her husband Thomas Despenser – must decide with whom their loyalties lie, knowing that if they give their support to the wrong man they could lose everything, including their lives. History tells us that Henry would be successful, taking the throne as Henry IV when Richard abdicates, but of course Constance and her family don’t know how things will play out and this leaves them with some difficult choices to make.

Cold, ambitious and determined, Constance is not an easy character to like, but the fact that the story is told from her point of view allows us to have a certain amount of sympathy for her. She makes some terrible mistakes and, despite having grown up in a world of shifting politics and court intrigue, she judges the situation wrongly on several occasions and pays the price for it. It’s frustrating to see her at the heart of one plot or conspiracy after another and she never seems to learn from her mistakes, but as we get to know Constance better we understand that she is only trying to look after her family’s interests and help them to advance in any way they can. In this respect she reminded me of Elizabeth Mortimer, heroine of Queen of the North, who is actually involved in some of the same conspiracies.

Constance’s hard and emotionless exterior can probably be explained by the lack of love she has experienced throughout her life. Her parents have shown her very little affection – and although her husband, Thomas Despenser, is not a cruel man, their marriage took place at a very early age and was definitely a political match rather than one based on love. There is a chance of romance for Constance later in the novel, but she makes mistakes here too and risks having her heart broken.

There are two other relationships in this book which interested me more than the romantic one. The first is Constance’s relationship with her elder brother, Edward of York, a man who is as ambitious and ruthless as Constance herself, but unlike his sister, thinks only of himself. He shows no real loyalty to anyone and is ready to betray his family and friends if it means saving his own skin, yet Constance always gives him the benefit of the doubt and it is never quite clear whether he cares for her even a little bit or not at all. The other is the relationship between Constance and her young stepmother, Joan Holland. At first they make no secret of the fact that they dislike each other but as the story progresses they settle into an uneasy friendship.

A Tapestry of Treason is not my favourite Anne O’Brien book; although this is a fascinating period of history, I felt that for a long time Constance was plotting and scheming in the background, watching events unfold from afar rather than taking an active part in her own story. Not the author’s fault, but an indication of the limitations and constraints placed on women at that time. It’s only from the middle of the novel onwards that Constance begins to play a bigger role and becomes more directly involved in carrying out her treasonous plots.

I did still enjoy the book, though, and it was interesting to read about the origins of the conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York which would later intensify and lead to the Wars of the Roses. Now I’m wondering if there are any other fictional portrayals of Constance of York; if you know of any please let me know!
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As a lover of historical fiction I found A Tapestry of Treason a fascinating read 

This is the story of Lady Constance Despenser during the reign if Henry IV.
Constance is a cold, hard and ambitious lady, mainly due to her upbringing. Her life as a courtier and cousin of the king initially with Richard II and then with Henry IV is governed by the powerful, ambitious men in her life, but she is also independent and clever and fights for what she feels is right even though it is not always in her best interest.  

Anne does such a good job in bringing Constance to life that at parts of the story, I was willing Constance to change her mind and felt for her in her times of struggle.

This was my first Anne O'Brien novel and I am looking forward to reading more from her.

I was given a copy of this novel by NetGalley and the publishers in return for an unbiased review.
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Anne O'Brien's historical novels are always a joy to behold, and this one is no different. The fact each of the books are based on real, living people make them all the more fascinating. A Tapestry of Treason is nothing less than a gem of a book with the inimitable and unforgettable Lady Constance of York who it is easy to despise initially. I would say that she is definitely the most multidimensional character the author has presented to date. Fourteenth-century England was a brutal place to reside and Constance's world was filled with what appears to be endless treason and conspiracy. The court of King Henry certainly provides plenty of drama and tension.

What makes this book, though, is Lady Constance's three-dimensionality and the extensively researched plot which allows the reader to easily travel back in time and imagine the sights, sounds and smells of the time period; it depicts some incredibly vivid scenes. Constance is a cold and seemingly emotionless person, but you can't help but warm to her a little as time goes on. As we've come to expect, this is a beautifully written piece and historical fiction at its very finest. I read it in a single sitting and instantly regretted not savouring it more! If you like the atmosphere in Philipa Gregory or Alison Weir's books then you will find much to love here too. Many thanks to HQ for an ARC.
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Followers of Phillips Gregory will love this book which is about the life of Constance of York, Lady Despenser who lived in the reign of King Henry IV.
It was a time of high treason when heads would role and Kings were never safe on their thrones.
Constance was in the middle of this a most evil women you would ever want to meet and would do anything to further her position in court.
It demonstrates how powerful women could be and she certainly was one of them but we also have to feel sorry for her because she had a loveless childhood and marriage and was manipulated by men for most of her life.
Brilliant read which kept you on your toes throughout.
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1399: Constance of York, Lady Dispenser, granddaughter of Edward III proves herself more than just an observer in the political manoeuvring of her gloriously dysfuctional family - The House of York.

Constance is surrounded by power-hungry men, in the form of her brothers and husband, who are hell-bent on ensuring that they remain powerful figures behind the throne - whichever of their cousins happen to be on the throne at the time.

When we first meet Constance, her cousin Richard II (son of Edward The Black Prince, Edward III's eldest son) is on the throne. Richard II is the rightful heir in the eyes of the law, but he has made powerful enemies during his reign - especially his cousin Henry (son of John of Gaunt, Edward III's third son), who has been exiled by Richard.

When Richard II goes off to quell unrest in Ireland, Henry takes his chance to seize power. Richard's delay in returning to England, whether by accident or design, leads to him being taken prisoner by Henry's forces and a peace is brokered by Constance's father, Edmund, Duke of York, which ushers in a new ruler.

Richard is persuaded to abdicate in favour of his cousin Henry and a new king - Henry IV takes power.

Although Constance's father has helped bring in the new reign, her family were firm favourites with Richard II and they are concerned about the looming prospect of loss of the power and titles they have gained. While her elder brother Edward does his best to inveigle himself into Henry's good graces, peace and harmony are only a facade. They are unhappy about the way Richard has been deposed and treason lies in their hearts.

The execution of their conspiracies will place them all in danger and Constance is at the very heart of their treason, even though her plans may endanger her own happiness. Constance is a woman ahead of her time, fighting for recognition in a world ruled by men.

This is a story of treason, tragedy, heartbreak and betrayal...

I love, love, love historical fiction and cannot believe that I have not read one of Anne O'Brien's books before now! I was completely transported back in time by this splendid book and found it utterly absorbing.

A Tapestry of Treason will introduce you to the very beginning of the rivalry between the Houses of York and Lancaster - Constance's own father was made the first Duke of York, and Henry IV's father John of Gaunt was similarly the first Duke of Lancaster - both created by their own father, Edward III. And so began a conflict that led to discord and bloodshed through the years, until the House of Tudor was finally established by Henry VII in 1485.

This book will give you a sumptuous and finely woven glimpse into the political machinations that defined this period of history - a tapestry of treason, inter-worked with the golden threads of ambition, secret plotting and murder!
 What makes this book so special is that it is told from the point of view of a very unusual woman, in the form of Constance of York.

This is a time when well-born women are used as pawns in the game of power - married against their will to a husband who offers the most advantageous political alliance, or financial gain, to their own family.

Constance is at the very heart of the treasonous plans of her brother and husband, but she is confined to the role of daughter, sister, wife and mother by a society that holds women as mere chattels of their menfolk, and she does not sit well in this role - indeed it could be said that she has more brains and guile than all the men of her family put together! Constance certainly has more loyalty to the course of action they all set in motion, to her desperate cost.

Constance is certainly a difficult character to love - she has been brought up without feeling affection from either of her parents, or the husband she was married to at the age of four. She views things dispassionately and it is difficult to warm to her, at first. History certainly paints a very dark picture of her character, but this book will cause you to reassess how she has been portrayed, especially in the latter parts of her story.

Anne O'Brien skillfully catches you up in Constance's life and you soon begin to feel empathy with a woman whose fortunes are at the whim of the men surrounding her. She firmly believes she is doing what is best for her family, even if this means precipitating some very dark deeds.

There are some heartbreaking storms ahead for Constance to weather and I became quite angry and upset at the betrayals she experiences from not only the King she feels has gone against God's ordinance, but her own family, and the man she loves too. These were not easy times to be a woman and Constance is poorly used by the men she is close to in their complicated games of power.

I thoroughly enjoyed my look into the life of Constance of York and learnt a lot about the events surrounding the origins of the great rivalry between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Anne O'Brien has brought the past to life in A Tapestry of Treason by cleverly entwining the personal story of Constance with the political events of the time and this is a cracking historical novel.
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This is such a fabulous read!  If you enjoy historical fiction about lesser known characters, you’ll love Tapestry of Treason.  I hadn’t heard of Constance of York, Lady Despenser, before reading this book, so found myself quite captivated by her story.  I think the author has done a brilliant job of bringing Constance to life, really getting inside her head by way of a first person type of narrative.  What a feisty, determined and ambitious lady she was.  Plotting against King Henry IV being just part of Constance’s life’s rich tapestry.  She’s a great advert for the old adage  ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’!  It’s beautifully written and cleverly woven.  Superbly researched, Constance’s story is interesting, gripping and fascinating, as well as being educational.  I can thoroughly recommend it.
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Thanks to HQ and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book is set during a really rather fascinating period of British History, the period which formed the bedrock of the later War of the Roses. The year is 1399 and Constance of York, Lady Despenser, King Richard's cousin decides to stir the decidedly risky pot of courtly intrigue. 

The real Constance was a fascinating woman and the author has done a great job of bringing her back to life in this novel. Her active involvement in the plots against Henry IV despite women's lack of political power or autonomy during this period automatically makes her a fascinating character. I love morally grey female characters so enjoyed getting an insight into her mind and character. 

This book is exhaustively researched and bursting with historical detail. This unfortunately sometimes comes at expense of the plot and pace. A wealth of detail is not necessarily a bad thing, but this novel is marketed as a thrilling tale of treason, love and betrayal but I found the pace to be quite plodding at some points, particularly the beginning. 

The story takes a while to get going and the complexity of the interconnected character relationships made it tough going at first (damn those 14th century nobles who repeatedly used a small number of names), I found myself constantly looking up Constance's family tree online to remind myself who everyone was. Constance's personality and inner thoughts really shine through but I don't feel the other characters really made much of an impression on me and they all felt a bit flat.

Overall, an expertly researched historical fiction novel that didn't quite do it for me.
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The historical detail is second to none. However, this book didn’t work for me. I expected more flair but it was missing. 
This lacked creativity
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Rating: 1.5/5 stars.
So to start off I did not enjoy this book that much. I was confused by which character was who, especially at the start of the book, it took me a while to figure it out too because so many felt very similar. I really like this time in history but it just didn't feel very exciting to me. Which I think is a shame because Constance was an interesting woman at a time when so much was happening. I just felt disappointed with the characterization of many of the characters, I think that the only time I really felt that Constance came alive for me was towards the end during the end of her life where there isn't much written about her historically. 
It was an alright book that I probably would not have finished if I hadn't been sent an eArc. That is probably because I was not a fan of the writing style and it just overall felt stilted and like the story was rushing to one point to the next and simply giving information rather than telling a story.
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In Tapestry of Treason Anne O'Brien had brought Constance pic York, the daughter of the first duke of York and wife of Thomas le Despenser to vivid and wonderful life. Constance was a serial schemer, who courted treason on several occasions, opposing the accessing and reign of Henry IV. She and her family had done well out of the reign of Richard II and were not happy with Henry's usurping the throne.
Constance was a clever, politically astute woman who must have felt frustration at the ineffectiveness of the men around her, in their attempts to influence the succession and the court. Anne O'Brien recreates her story, weaving Constance's emotions and interactions into the known narrative to build a story that is at once authentic and thoroughly entertaining. Having researched Constance myself, I was relieved to find the woman i had uncovered within the pages of the novel. The author has managed to get inside Constance's mind to give thought to her actions and voice to her frustrations.
In a time when women had little influence in the political sphere, Constance tried to manipulate events, being  drawn into one conspiracy after another in repeated attempts to topple Henry IV.
The author's research is impeccable, her depiction of England in the early fifteenth century draws the reader in and keeps them immersed until the very end.
This is a wonderful novel. The narrative moves at an impressive pace, drawing the reader deep into the world that Constance inhabited. I can't recommend it highly enough!
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You can tell that this book has been well researched and that Anne O''Brien loves this period of history. I usually enjoy historical novels based on real people but this proved to be a bit of struggle to read as I found it extremely slow in the beginning and the complex relationships confusing. A family tree would have helped. Unfortunately, although I was looking forward to reading this book, it was not for me.
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I can totally see why Anne O'Brian is universally loved, the historical detail is certainly second to none. However, for me, the book just did not quite work. I expected more flair, I think and more of  the character of Constance, she only really came fully alive to me when her heart was broken in the end and considering that was the part where the author had to make up a lot because no one quite knows what happens, I think it is fair to say, that I personally like my historical fiction with more creative license.
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This ARC was courtesy of netgalley - the thought and opinions are mine and unbiased

Historical fiction is easily my favourite genre and I absolutely love Anne O'Brien's work so to be able to read this was a treat !!

Set in the 14th Century and featuring Constance of York - new historical figure to me was fascinating.  Full of drama, it was wonderful to read about a strong female character in what would have been a world fully dominated by men.

Well written, engaging and well researched - Anne O'Brien at her very best 

I absolutely loved this and would highly recommend

A wonderful holiday read for anyone who loves historical fiction - if you like Philippa Gregory you will absolute love Anne's work - I always look forward to a new one from her
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I would like to thank netgalley and HQ for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

I loved the atmosphere of this book and learning about an obscure women of history, who O'Brien bought expertly back to life. 

Constance of York lives in the intrigue of the royal courts of both Richard II and Henry IV. With royal blood running through her veins she will stop at nothing to achieve her ambitions. Will finding love in this scheming court change her mind?
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An historical drama set at the end of the fourteenth century featuring Constance of York.  It is full of intrigue and drama.  Constance is a strong character in a political world dominated by men. The historical facts are well researched.
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Anne O’Brien is no stranger to historical fiction, with her extensive catalogue of bestselling novels, revolving around a strong female protagonist. A Tapestry of Treason takes us back to 1399 and introduces us to Lady Constance Despenser, daughter of the influential House of York. It’s a story of politics, drama, family, duty and love, but also of secrets, lies and betrayal.

Lady Constance is a deep and interesting character, portrayed as an intelligent woman, shackled by her gender, but using her cunning and wiles to escape the death penalty when a plot against the King goes wrong, and to continue to advance her family where she can. Married as a very young child for a political advantage, she is cold and ruthless, but stumbles into an alliance borne from love. She has to balance her desire with political machinations, and find out what’s best for herself, whilst death will be her penalty if she makes the wrong decisions.

Women in this time period are often fairly flat characters, portrayed either as evil and devious or as mistresses. Constance bridges the gap between the two, giving us a well rounded and believable glimpse into the life of a strong woman in a world of men.

Crafted with detail, a gripping plot, great history, drama and romance. A Tapestry of Treason has everything I want. Five Stars.
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It begins in 1399 and Constance of York, Lady Despenser a favourite at the court of Richard II becomes embroiled in a plot to overthrow Henry IV when he takes the throne from Richard.

The plot is discovered and her husband Thomas is executed. Constance has been betrayed but not for the last time.

Constance faces another plot and is again betrayed before being imprisoned. On her release she discovers a final betrayal which makes her turn away from life at court and men.

This story is brilliant! A character who I at first found arrogant I came to admire. She faces betrayal from those closest to her and heartbreak. I was unaware of the history of Constance so this was eye opening. O'Brien succeeds in putting you in to the heart of the life of Constance.  

I also enjoyed the additional information at the end of what happened to each character. 

I'd recommend this to anyone with an interest in the Plantagenets or just general history fans like myself!
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What an interesting character in Constance of York. A truly strong woman in a man's world plotting intrigue and treasonous plots, totally loyal to her dysfunctional family even when they betray her. I didn't know much about the history leading up to the War of the Roses, this makes me want to know more. A fabulous story full of twists and turns.
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