Christina here and today I’m delighted to be interviewing Wench Nicola Cornick about her new book The Last Daughter, which is published in paperback, ebook and audio here in the UK in three days’ time, on 8th July. In the US, it will release in paperback on 16th November as The Last Daughter of York, and both have amazing covers, although I will admit to favouring the UK one as it has such wonderful jewel colours.
Nicola, it’s lovely that it’s my turn to welcome you as a guest to chat about this story, which is one of my absolute favourite books this year. I was lucky enough to read an ARC and I loved it – the mixture of history, mystery and timeslip is just superb and I simply couldn’t put it down!
Please can you tell us briefly what The Last Daughter is about?
The Last Daughter is a dual time novel set in the present and the Wars of the Roses. The historical strand looks at the mystery of the disappearance of the princes in the tower in 1483 through the eyes of Anne Lovell, wife of Richard III’s best friend Francis. This is linked to the modern day story where Serena Warren is trying to discover what happened to her twin sister Caitlin, who disappeared at Minster Lovell ten years before.
I loved that The Last Daughter is based on the many stories about the Princes in the Tower, the two young sons of King Edward IV, who disappeared after their uncle Richard of Gloucester took the throne for himself and became King Richard III. There have always been a lot of rumours and speculation about their fate, but the truth is that no one knows what actually happened. When did you first become aware of this story and what fascinated you about it?
I was about eleven years old when my stepfather gave me a copy of Josephine Tey’s crime novel The Daughter of Time which is of course a very famous and influential book about the disappearance of the princes. This roused my curiosity in the whole topic and I read everything I could about Richard III. Living in Yorkshire, which had been very loyal to Richard (and vice versa) I was by romantic inclination a Ricardian especially as it seemed to me he had been betrayed at Bosworth and horribly maligned by the Tudors. Forty plus years later my heart is still romantically inclined to be on Richard’s side even if my head – and my studies of the era and the evidence – might suggest a more nuanced view!
We all have pet theories about ancient mysteries – what is your feeling about the fate of the two princes? Do you think Richard had them killed? To my mind, it seems inconceivable that he didn’t at least know about whatever happened.
I love that so many people are engaged with real historical mysteries! They are endlessly fascinating, perhaps for the very reason that we can’t solve them, only speculate. In fact I think that if some sort of definitive evidence emerged to show the fate of the princes a lot of people would be very disappointed that the mystery was solved!
It also seems extraordinary to me that we don’t know what happened. A number of people simply must have known at the time. Yet the evidence appears contradictory and difficult to interpret. With my historian’s hat on, I haven’t ruled out that Richard might have had them murdered but I do struggle with that idea on several levels. What seems plausible to me is that we’re looking at what I call a “Thomas Becket” situation where someone thought they were doing the monarch a favour in getting rid of a problem for him only to find that they had created a far bigger one.
What are your feelings about the boys/men who came forward later, claiming to be one or other of the princes – were they all charlatans and adventurers, or could there be a grain of truth there?
I don’t believe that any of the people who came forward later to claim that they were one or other of the princes really were. I think they were either adventurers or that they were being used for political ends by people more powerful than they were.
Your story concentrates mainly on Anne, the wife of Lord Francis Lovell, who was a real historical character. What made you choose her as your main protagonist? (And btw, I really liked her because she was so intelligent and headstrong, and yet totally lovable).
Thank you! I loved Anne and tried to make her as true to life as I could. I was drawn to her because she is a woman from the footnotes of history. There isn’t a lot about her in the historical record but what there is suggests that she was loyal, brave and quite a formidable character. I’d also read a few fictional depictions of her where she had been portrayed quite negatively and I didn’t see why this needed to be so. It was good to redress the balance.
Anne doesn’t seem to have had any children – did you find any evidence of her having miscarriages at least or was she barren? How devastating do you think that must have been for a wife at that time, whose main function in life was to provide her husband with heirs?
This is a theme in history that interests me. I wrote about it in my previous book The Forgotten Sister because, like Anne, Amy Robsart was also childless. I think it must have been devastating for a wife, and for a couple, not to have a family at a time and in a class of society where so much emphasis was placed on heirs and inheritance. There is evidence to suggest that Anne Lovell had a miscarriage, which I think would have been even more devastating.
In your story, Anne and Francis have a marriage based on love, even though they were wed as children. Did you find any historical evidence of this?
There is certainly evidence of a strong mutual respect and loyalty between them as a couple which is reflected in letters, Francis’s will and the fact that after he disappeared, Anne made strenuous efforts to find him (presumably not to turn him over to Henry VII!). I like to think that they loved each other; they had grown up together and known each other for a long time. I think there was a strong bond there.
The legend of the Mistletoe Bride is fascinating and I had heard some version of that before – where did you come across it?
It’s a strange legend, isn’t it, the story of a bride who disappears on her wedding day. I first heard it in connection with Minster Lovell Hall when I went on a visit years ago, then I discovered it was a well known ghost story connected to quite a few different houses. When I researched it, I found it was first written down in the early 19th century but was supposed to be much older and passed down through the generations as oral storytelling. Whatever the case it’s a bit of a horror story but it gave me the idea that Minster Lovell is a place where people disappear…
Anne was presumably not such a prominent person at the time – how did you go about researching her? It’s always difficult to find information about someone like that, especially a woman.
Yes, it’s tricky finding references to people like Anne in the historical record. They are such shadowy characters which is one of the reasons I enjoy bringing them out into the light. In this case I was hampered even more by the fact that record offices and libraries were closed during the pandemic so I had to do most of my research online and from books. My main reference for the lives of Francis and Anne Lovell was Michele Schindler’s brilliantly detailed biography of Francis, Lovell Our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell which was invaluable and a must-read for anyone wanting to know more about Francis and Anne. The other thing I was able to do was to visit Anne’s childhood home of Ravensworth Castle in Yorkshire and Middleham as well, which was amazing. To be able to stand in the same spot as my characters did five hundred years before was very inspiring.
The real Francis disappeared after the Battle of Stoke Field, didn’t he – what do you think happened to him really?
Like the fate of the princes, it remains a mystery! There are various theories that Francis fled to Scotland or to Burgundy, or that he hid at Minster Lovell or even that he died after the battle and was buried secretly nearby. This presented me with the opportunity to come up with my own solution in the book, of course, and I must admit I much prefer it!
Although The Last Daughter is a stand alone story, there are a couple of brief cameo appearances of characters from the previous book. As a reader, I was thrilled about that – it’s like meeting up with old friends. Did you plan for that to happen or was it something that just occurred to you while you were working on the manuscript?
I’m glad you liked it! I hadn’t planned for Lizzie and Arthur from The Forgotten Sister to appear in The Last Daughter. I was writing about Serena coming back to Minster Lovell and realised that it was just down the road from Burford so it made sense for Serena and Lizzie to be friends… it developed from there and I really enjoyed it as I loved Lizzie as a character and was happy to see her again. In fact she’s just popped up in my next book as well!
What’s next for you – what are you working on now?
I’m writing another dual time story set in the present and the late-Tudor period. It focusses on Catherine Catesby, wife of gunpowder plotter Robert Catesby, another woman from the footnotes of history!
Thank you so much for chatting to me about your lovely book! If anyone would like to find out more about this, or about Nicola’s other stories, please visit her website here. And to buy a copy, please click here.
We look forward to hearing your views on the princes in the Tower, King Richard III or anything else discussed in this post, so please leave a comment below. If you’d like to be the lucky commenter who will win a signed copy of The Last Daughter, please also answer the following question from Nicola between now and midnight on Tuesday:-
Do you like characters from previous stories to pop up in later ones, and if so, what is your favourite series where this happens?