The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

I had some prejudgements about this book as Gregory’s quality in her novels slipped a bit towards the end of the Tudor Court series and I knew little about the era in question in which she had chosen to address: The Plantagenet family and the War of the Roses as named by Shakespeare but originally called ‘The Cousin’s War’ between the houses of Lancaster and York. I knew little about this period other than there was much conflict between the houses of Lancaster – the red roses – and York – the white roses – and white and red have often been played against each other in literature ever since because of the conflict between the two. This book didn’t let me down – it led me by the hand to a period of plotting, battles, rivalry and a constant fight for the throne of England. Out of all of the countries in the world with monarchs, I cannot help but think that ours have been by far the most interesting – I know that’s coming from an English person but I’m sure many foreigners may agree with me.

The novel is narrated by the character lady Elizabeth Gray – a widow to a Lancastrian lord who died in a battle against men of York. She has two sons by him whom she holds extremely close and the death of her husband and his treason against the new king has led to the loss of her title and her lands. Knowing that one day the new King is going to ride near the house, she stands beneath a tree waiting for his company with her two young sons in hand. The king, a handsome, ambitious blonde-haired young man notices her beauty instantly and dismounts to speak to her. She appeals to him for her lands and titles and he agrees and asks to come for a meal much to her delight as she is instantly attracted to this young man and they cannot take their eyes of one another. As their relationship develops through a series of meetings as he organises the security of his kingdom in the meanwhile, he tells her that he has to have her and in a moment of desperation, almost rapes her. Realising his intent, she pulls his own knife from his belt to defend herself and he, in a fury that she should threaten him, swears he shall never see her again. Later, he does and asks for her hand in marriage. They are married in secret and when Edward finally secures his throne he brings his new wife into the limelight and takes her into a world of war and deception where allegiances are weak and even heirs are not enough security for a king. Many think that she can be cast aside but she is portrayed as a strong woman, proud of being a descendant of the water goddess, Melusina, she uses her inherited magical ways to manipulate situations – an interesting concept if it was true, from the way Gregory presented it, she didn’t believe herself a witch, she just practised certain things that she believed worked to her advantage, whistling up a storm, for example. As she places all of the members of her family in influential positions she becomes increasingly unpopular and it earns her many enemies and even when she produces many heirs, war still rack the land and there is a constant risk of her husband loosing the throne. This is the Cousin’s War.

This novel was quite unlike anything I have ever read by Gregory before. I do not know if it was the difference in topic or a different style of writing, but this novel didn’t actually feel like Gregory. Though that was the case, I still thoroughly enjoyed this novel as something a little bit different. I knew virtually nothing about the Plantagenets and it was a thrill to learn all of this new information about English monarchy which I have always enjoyed learning about. I was also much intrigued by the concept of a woman being descended from a goddess and believing that she had magical abilities – I know the novel is fictitious but it is based on fact and the concept of being magical I believe was an idea applied by Gregory based around fact to empower the woman she felt was much underappreciated and I agree with her; what Elizabeth Rivers seems to have achieved was incredible for a woman of her era and of course, I cannot help but admire the Great grandmother of Elizabeth I. An inspiring woman and an inspiring read, I look forward to the next book.

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2 thoughts on “The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

  1. Pingback: The White Princess by Philippa Gregory | Blurb

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