Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Book report–Philipa Gregory–The White queen

So after reading lots of Philipa Gregory’s Tudor books it was time to move a little further back in history to the War of the Roses.

The White Queen refers to Elizabeth Woodville, a widow who’s family had been fighting on the side of the House of Lancaster, meets and fall in love with the rival King Edward IV of the House of York.  Such a change of heart and fortune for the whole family sets a train of consequences which echo down the generations of the English Royal Family.  The War of the Roses, or the Cousins War as it was known at the time, was an outright battle between two arms of the same family when King Henry VI was incapable of ruling.  There were arguments over which arm had the stronger claim to the throne and ultimately this led to warfare.  During the course of this book Edward became King, lost the throne, ran away in exile, returned and reclaimed his throne.   Many of the major players in the battles changed sides repeatedly depending on who was winning.   As ever with Ms Gregory’s books this is told from the point of view of the women involved, Elizabeth, her mother Jacquetta and latterly Elizabeth of York  (subsequently Queen Elizabeth I’s grandmother!).  Much is made of the charge made against Jacquetta of witchcraft, especially as her family had been linked with the legend of Melusine, a water sprite or mermaid in tales.  I found this aspect of the story a little tedious with much obviously fictionalised depictions of Elizabeth and Jacquetta casting spells to entrap King Edward, raise storms to defeat/delay opponents and to further the family’s position.  In my opinion there is enough intrigue, politics and betrayal in history without resorting to such fiction.  That aside, I enjoyed this novel, maybe not quite as much as the Tudor series.  I enjoy the fact of history through the eyes of women and as I read each of her novels I am eternally grateful not to have lived in such times.  Although we can look back at them now with academic eyes and for entertainment purposes these were not good times for women, property of the men in your family, you had no power other than your sexuality, fecundity and wits.  A women could be put aside for seemingly trivial matters by modern eyes with no defence or argument.  The ability to produce heirs, specifically male heirs is of the utmost importance to royal families especially in times of such upheaval and uncertainty.  Elizabeth and Edward actually produced 10 children, including male heirs to take the throne but due to Edward’s sudden death before the boys were old enough to take the throne, their uncle Richard III stole the throne from them and placed them in the Tower of London, declared his brother marriage as null and void and therefore made his nieces and nephews illegitimate and removed from the throne.  The fate of the Princes in the Tower has been a subject of much debate both at the time and since.  The White Queen has the younger prince Richard escaping to safety in Belgium and an imposter replacing him in the Tower.  He returned to England at the end of the book under the name Perkin Warbeck

The story of the Cousins War is not resolved in this books but moves onto The Red Queen which covers some of the same events but from the point of view of Lady Margaret Beaufort, a Lancastrian mother of Henry VII and grandmother of Henry VIII.  Elizabeth and Margaret are players in a dangerous game and they both conspire, form and break loyalties with each other in attempt to get their child on the throne.  I haven’t bought that book yet but I’m sure in later months I shall.  I think I’ll put it on my reading list but at the moment I’ve moved onto a more contemporary novel with a much more fast paced plot. 

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