Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Book: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Book 1 of The Cousin's War.

The White Queen follows the story of the Queen of York, Elizabeth Woodville, from her first meeting with her husband, King Edward IV, to the beginning of the end of the War of the Roses. It follows her as she supports the man she loves through battles, and copes with living in sanctuary with her daughters, to overcoming her distrust of Richard III, particularly after the well known conspiracy regarding the Princes in the tower. One of the first commoners to become a queen, she sparked changes in the dynamics of the English court, and knowingly or not, she founded a dynasty that is still going today.

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Link to amazon

This review is a little different in several ways, the first being that this is technically a re-read, I have read The White Queen before but spent most of the time lamenting the fact that it wasn't about Henry VIII (hence the re-read) and that unusually for a book, I barely remember any part of it, and even with refreshing my memory I'm still struggling.

Elizabeth Woodville is one of the characters of English history that seems to be massively overlooked, when really you have to ask why. The way that Gregory depicts her, at any rate, suggests a smart, powerful woman is beyond her time in what she does. She loves her husband and her children, and those children don't have the traditional royal upbringing of the time, in the most part they stay with their parents. But back to her being overlooked. This woman was a key figure in the War of the Roses, she was the mother of Henry VII's Queen, also Elizabeth, making her Grandmother to the notorious Henry VIII, as well as being the mother of the Princes in the Tower, a legend that everyone living in the UK knows (particularly relevant as they found Richard's remains recently). All in all she is an important woman!

I found that I appreciated the book a lot more this time (probably because I can remember it) and really enjoyed the political game playing and scheming that showed that Elizabeth wasn't just a pretty face. I really liked how Elizabeth was consistent all the way through about her family, it was always about keeping them close, well until the end where the focus seemed to be more on political power. Overall though, the most endearing thing about Elizabeth was the fact that she loved her husband, and he seemed to love her, and they had a happy relationship for the time (and considering their grandson was Henry VIII this seems pretty impressive!)

One thing I particularly liked was that Gregory didn't just take the widely accepted view that Richard III killed the Princes in the Tower, she actually had Elizabeth decide that she was more or less certain that Richard didn't kill them, and instead she considered the other people that could gain from their deaths, namely Henry Tudor, and his mother Margaret, and the Duke of Buckingham. Considering the curse placed upon the murderer of King Edward V by the two Elizabeths, personally I would discount the Tudors, but that opinion may change when I read on in the Cousin's War series.

There was an element of magic and witchcraft in The White Queen, Elizabeth, her mother, and her eldest daughter all had the sight and were able to practice petty magic. There is an explanation given for this, that they are descended from a water goddess, but the way that it is written could suggest that actually they just believe that they have magical powers and ultimately things just happen to be in line with their wishes. To me this is particularly proved by George and Warwick's punishments taking so long to come about.

Gregory has a way of making historical courts come to life, she makes the dress, the customs and the intrigue come alive on the page, and so long as you're ok with your historical fiction having a splice of just that, fiction, then I am yet to find anyone better than Gregory for giving that!

TV

A note on the TV show also entitled The White Queen that is currently being shown on the BBC (though may have finished by the time this review is posted).

I will admit that the TV show is what inspired me to re-read The White Queen, as events happened that I didn't remember from the book, though then again the show is also based on The Red Queen and The Kingmaker's Daughter, neither of which I have yet to read.

The show is really enjoyable, though I still prefer to read, and lets face it I can't risk spoilers for something that happened in history now can I! Again the show really brings the era to life, and I think that it is definitely worth a watch, though I have no idea if it will be shown outside the UK.

Really this book and TV show make me wish that our royal family now where just as scandalous! All we have is Prince Harry playing strip billiards!