The White Queen is Philippa Gregory’s latest book and I was very excited to read it. Philippa Gregory is one of my favourite historical fiction writers and I really enjoyed her Tudor Series. The White Queen is narrated by Elizabeth Woodville, daughter of the House of Lancaster, who falls in love with the York King-to-be, Edward IV. The book takes place smack-dab in the middle of The War of the Roses, commonly called The Cousins’ War. The War of the Roses began as two brothers fighting over succession to the throne. The brothers declared they were of the House of Lancaster (symbol: red rose) and the House of York (symbol: white rose), both of which belong to the House of Plantagenet.
I bought the book a couple weeks after it came out when I was down in Washington state shopping. As excited as I was to read The White Queen, I’m sort of torn on my feelings of it. It took me a while to read mainly because I didn’t find it as compelling as the Tudor novels. I’m not sure if this was because the subject wasn’t as risque or because the plot line was just slower. Overall it was an interesting book and an intriguing time period, but the War of the Roses was so drawn out that I think the book suffered in return. The War of the Roses continued for 36 years and flip-flopped rulers and alliances continually. One of the problems was that taking place in the 15th century the historical records are foggy, not to mention that it was considered a “cousin’s war” so there are a lot of conflicting stories.
From the Publisher: The first of a new series set amid the deadly feuds of England known as the Wars of the Roses.
Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.
The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown.
The narrative took place in first person, yet was sometimes omniscient (all-seeing) third person. This change in narrative bothered me, as it was done as sort of a mystical-seeing. I found Elizabeth Woodville a little unbelievable due to the witchcraft. Going into the novel thinking “historical fiction” and being a strong non-believer (personally) in such mysticism, I had a hard time suspending belief to allow the plot to continue. But of course, that is just my personal view; when I go into a book expecting “fantasy” or “science fiction”, I suspend belief and allow the story to take over. It may have been less bothersome for me had it been the characters believing in it, but the first person narrative didn’t give us the views of any other characters and we just had to take it as true. But for Philippa Gregory, the appeal in Elizabeth Woodville was was more about being a powerful female figure:
“The things I discovered about Elizabeth in the first days of my reading about this period told me at once that she would fascinate me, and she has done so. Her background as a descendant of a family who claim to be related to a goddess was enough to have me absolutely enchanted straightaway. It is in the historical record that her mother was widely believed to be a witch, and that charge was leveled at Elizabeth also. This is exciting enough, but it also indicates that people were afraid of Elizabeth’s power, and I am interested in powerful women.” — From an Amazon.com Interview with Philippa Gregory.
It is true that Elizabeth had strengths that weren’t directly related to magic, being decended from a goddess, or because she may have been a witch. At one point her mother points out that women (at least in the 15th century) cannot command armies or order courts and councils, they have to be much more sly about their plans and intentions. At one point, Elizabeth uses reverse psychology to get her awful mother-in-law to send word to her turncoat son. The mother-in-law thinks it was her idea, while Elizabeth actually needed her to send the word.
While reading up about the book, I found several interesting articles and interviews. I was so looking forward to listening to Philippa Gregory on September 28th in Victoria before I got ill. I suppose YouTube videos and Amazon interviews will have to suffice until she tours again! Watching this video of “Philippa Gregory on Elizabeth Woodville” on Amazon makes me wish that the narrative had just followed the action — listening to Philippa Gregory describe the things Edward IV had to do to make Elizabeth his wife sounds much more compelling! In the book we’re stuck with Elizabeth back at her parent’s manor waiting for the secret marriage to be announced.
This review is not meant to sound whiny… I enjoyed the book (maybe 3/5 if we’re doing ratings), but it wasn’t my favourite. If Philippa Gregory plans to write more about The War of the Roses I’ll probably read them, but I might wait until they’re in paperback.