The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory
Finding time to read whilst at Uni is difficult. After starting to read a couple of books and finding they didn’t grab me sufficiently at first for me to go out of my way to read them whilst juggling work, I turned to one of my steadfast favourites – Philippa Gregory. I received this book for my birthday – a beautiful silver hardback with an interesting sleeve that can’t help but look pretty on a shelf and considering how much I had enjoyed the first two novels in this series – The White Queen and The Red Queen, I was quite excited about this novel.
The novel focuses on the woman Jaquetta Rivers – descendent of the water goddess Melusina, as she progresses through her life. The novel opens with her visiting her uncle as a child and meeting the infamous Joan of Arc after her capture – before Joan goes to the stake, Jaquetta builds up a relationship with Joan and comes to increasingly realise that there is no acceptance of powerful women in the Europe of her time. married to the English regent of France, The Duke of Bedford, who desires her as only a means to an end as opposed to love, she is forced to use her purity and her unusual talents in the world of learning and alchemy to better help the Duke predict the outcomings of the war with France. All the while, however, she builds up a relationship with the Duke’s Squire, Richard Woodville and following the Duke’s death she steps away from her high standing and scandalously marries him. even though this could have been her downfall, the pair become influential in Henry Vis court and they are caught in the turmoil when the king falls ill and greedy eyes look towards the throne.
Although little is known historically about Jaquetta, she is famous for being the mother of The White Queen – Elizabeth Woodville and thus the great-great grandmother of Elizabeth I. What little there is in history about this woman includes accusations of witchcraft and, as mentioned, her involvement with her daughter who becomes queen of England.
All in all, I found Jaquetta a fascinating character and I am interested to pursue a paper I know Gregory and several other historians have since written about her. As with so many women in history Gregory chooses to focus on, Jaquetta is another woman unafraid to take matters into her own hands – as Gregory says in an interview, women of the era have no political power at all and thus their power of healing, their power with herbs is there way of expressing their own power even though it was such a dangerous period to do such things what with the penalty of death for being accused of withcraft. I am also in awe of her because of her decision to marry – quintessentially – a commoner following the death of her husband, the Duke of Bedford. Such a thing would have been scandalous for a woman of that era but it is so refreshing to see a woman take control of her life and marry for love as opposed to having a marriage picked out for her for advantage. i feel I must also admire her strength – although not explored in this novel but in ‘The White Queen’ instead – with regard to when her daughter is forced to claim sanctuary and to watch her power fall – that would be such a feat for any person.
As a novel, this book is incredibly easy to read and extremely hard to put down. When working, my hand would stray across the table to run my hand down the cover before slowly pulling it over and delving eagerly – and a little guiltily – into its many pages. I was thrilled to learn about a new powerful woman in history – me being quite feminist at times – who managed to claim so much power and do so much in a male dominated world. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone with a love of history and in the want of a good read.