The White Queen – Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Cousins’ War’ Series Book Review
The White Queen Comes to Life When Philippa Gregory’s Best-Selling ‘The Cousins’ War’ Series Premieres on Starz This August
The White Queen, which has already premiered in the UK on BBC One, is the riveting portrayal of one of the most turbulent times in English history. The story begins in 1464 during what was known as the ‘Cousin’s War,’ but is now popularly known as ‘The War of the Roses.’ Before the reign of the Tudors, the Plantagenets ruled England. After the Hundred Years’ War brought social and financial trouble to the kingdom, the House of Plantagenet split in half, creating two rival factions – Lancaster and York. These two halves of the same family each vied for the same throne. The Lancasters were represented by white roses, while the Yorks were represented by red roses. This familial division went on for thirty years, and wasn’t settled until Henry Tudor won the throne from Richard III, and solidified his claim by marrying Elizabeth of York, thus ushering in the reign of the Tudors. This new series will not only be based on Gregory’s novel The White Queen, but will also be based on books 2 and 4 in her ‘Cousins’ War’ series, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.
Each of Gregory’s novels tells of this tumultuous time period, but each through the eyes of the titular character. The first novel, The White Queen, is seen through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth is a widow who lost her husband, Sir John Grey, in the war. A member of the House of Lancaster, Elizabeth is now a single mother of two sons who have lost their inheritance. Desperate to secure her children’s future, Elizabeth appeals to the new York king, Edward IV, to put things right. When these two meet, they fall in love at first sight. Whether it’s Elizabeth’s beauty, Edward’s lust, or Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta’s witchcraft, Edward creates an uproar when he secretly marries a woman who is considered his enemy, and a commoner to boot. Elizabeth is soon thrust into a world of violence, betrayal, and murder when she becomes Queen of England, and is determined to stop at nothing to ensure her husband has an heir to the throne.
I really enjoyed reading this book, because I really liked Elizabeth Woodville. She was a strong woman who didn’t hold to the convictions of the day. A loving wife and mother, Elizabeth obtained power most woman can only dream of, and managed to raise her family up alongside her. Though Elizabeth paid dearly for grasping so high, she still managed to remain a major political player long after Edward’s death. While I loved Elizabeth as the heroine of the story, I did have two problems with the book. One was her relationship with Edward, and the other was the over use of magic.
Elizabeth and Edward had a very loving and passionate marriage that resulted in the birth of ten children in addition to the two Elizabeth already had from her first marriage to John Grey. Though I loved how close Elizabeth and Edward were, I had a hard time reconciling that with Edward’s blatant infidelity. During the 15th century woman had few rights and it was expected that men would take mistresses during their wives pregnancy, because it was considered unclean for a man to lay with his pregnant wife. Elizabeth was basically pregnant almost every year of her marriage to Edward, and what surprised me was how utterly devoted Edward was to Elizabeth despite his other dalliances. As for the use of magic, this time period was very steeped in religion, mysticism, and magic. As interesting it was to learn that the House of Burgundy was descendant from the water goddess, Melusina, I didn’t feel Gregory needed to remind us that every other page. While I believe telling us how Jacquetta and Elizabeth practiced witchcraft was important, I feel the book relied too heavily on it as a gimmick. During the course of her reign, Elizabeth had two major rivals. One was Margaret Beaufort, Lancaster heiress, and the other was Anne Neville. Gregory tells the story of the ‘Cousin’s War’ through both of these woman’s eyes in subsequent novels.
The second book in the series, The Red Queen, is told from Margaret Beaufort’s point of view. Margaret is the heir to the Lancaster throne since her cousin, King Henry VI, is childless. When Margaret is married off to Edmund Tudor at age twelve so she can have a son that will secure the throne, Margaret vows to regain the Lancaster throne for her son Henry, even after Henry VI has an heir of his own. When the Lancasters lose the throne to Edward IV, Margaret sends her son into exile to save his life, and fervently schemes to secure what she believes is his birthright ordained by god. Margaret’s beliefs are so strong, that she even gambles her life as a participant of one of the most treacherous plots of all time. After years of lies and deceit, Margaret’s dreams finally come true when her son Henry Tudor marches on England to reclaim the the throne his mother claimed was his for the taking.
Out of the three books, I have to say this one was my least favorite due to the fact I find Margaret Beaufort to be the most hateful, hypocritical, horrible protagonist ever. At least as Gregory writes her. Margaret spent the entire book talking about how pious, well-educated, and well-bred she was while all of her actions show the opposite. Granted she does spend hours on end in prayer, but as her second husband, Sir Henry Stafford, pointed out: god always seems to tell her whatever it is her heart desires. As much as I dislike Margaret, I have to hand it to her. All of her machinations paid off when her son Henry Tudor won the crown and became King of England, ushering in the Tudor reign. Margaret was one ballsy chick, but her hatred and jealousy of Elizabeth Woodville was kind of hard to read after falling in love with that character in the first book. A character we see in a different light when she’s looked at with Margaret’s eyes. What I liked about the book was that Gregory allows the reader to spend more time with some of the major players you meet in the first book, but she didn’t have enough time to develop without taking away from the story of Elizabeth. Knowing that the Tudors end up with the throne in the end doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story, since it’s fun learning how they get it. Elizabeth Woodville and her children aren’t the only obstacles standing in Margaret’s way. Philippa Gregory tells the story of the third most powerful woman of England during this time in her fourth book, The Kingmaker’s Daughter.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the gripping story of how Anne Neville followed Elizabeth Woodville as Queen of England. Anne was the daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who was also known as the ‘Kingmaker’ since he was the one to put Edward of York on the throne. Warwick was the richest and most powerful men in England, and plotted to make his daughters, Isabel and Anne, the Queen of England. These two women were pawns in their father’s political games, but they both grow to be players in their own right. Both women grow up in the court of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, but when the queen’s power over the king surpasses that of their father Richard, Warrick decides that if he can put a man on the throne once, he can do it again. This time, one who will ensure one of his daughters will sit upon the throne beside him.
I really liked this novel. Though I often found both Anne and Isabel to be superstitious ninnys, I thought they were both likable characters. These two girls got caught up in circumstances beyond their control, and yet managed to make the best of the situation. Friends and Rivals, these women didn’t let anything tear them apart for long. Even when they found themselves married to opposing sides. Both of these woman had great wealth, and one even ended up on the throne, but they both suffered some amazing loses that would have broken many people, yet these two women stayed strong. What these books showcased the most was that the price of power is often too high to pay for most, but if you aren’t willing to take the gamble you’ll never wear the crown.
Philippa Gregory’s ‘Cousins’ War’ series aren’t the most historically accurate books out there on the market about this time period, but if you keep in mind that not much is known about these three remarkable woman compared to their male counterparts, than I believe you will enjoy reading them. Currently there are four books in the series, and the fifth, The White Princess, is scheduled to be released on July 23, 2013. I didn’t review the third book, Lady of the Rivers, because it’s a prequel based on Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta Woodville and wasn’t adapted for the new Starz series. However, if you plan on checking this series out, I highly recommend reading that one as well as it will give more background. In spite of these books being historical fiction, they aren’t heavy reading and would be great to pick up before your next vacation or day at the beach. While I enjoyed reading this books, and can overlook the historical inaccuracies, I don’t think I’d recommend them for someone who can’t. If you aren’t someone who can look pass inaccuracies, and will be annoyed by them, you probably should steer clear.
The White Queen Premieres Saturday, August 10th at 9PM on Starz