Monday, July 5, 2010
4th Book Review for the Tudor Mania Challenge at The Burton Review
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Summary: The White Queen follows Elizabeth Woodville through her journey from a Lancastrian country widow to becoming the Queen of England under the House of York and then back to widow again. Elizabeth, a descendant of the water goddess Melusina, uses her ambition, beauty, and magical intuitions and abilities to navigate her way through the dangerous Wars of the Roses as she watches cousins fight cousins and brothers fight brothers.
DISCLAIMER: My first experience with reading historical fiction was with Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. I therefore have a slight bias (positive) for anything written by her. I have read all of her Tudor Court novels with the exception of The Other Queen.
My thoughts: I attempted to start reading The White Queen about a month ago right after reading To the Tower Born by Robin Maxwell. However, after the unflattering portrayal of Elizabeth Woodville in that novel, I was a little turned off to read any more about her. I was actually trying to read Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson next, but after several days I just couldn’t get into that book-it’s very dense. So, I browsed my small collection of books and decided to give the story of Elizabeth Woodville another try and I am very glad that I did!
I was unsure of how Elizabeth Woodville fit into the Tudor dynasty but after a quick review I realized that she became Lady Mother, Mother to the Queen of England, when her daughter Elizabeth of York married Henry VII. She then also became grandmother to Henry VIII. However, the story The White Queen starts before she gained any of those titles.
Philippa Gregory begins the story with an extended version of a rumor about how Elizabeth Woodville met Edward IV. After the widow Elizabeth meets Edward on the street as a simple country women asking for the rights to her dead husbands land, he then begins to pursue her. The rumor in which Philippa Gregory elaborates on is one in which Elizabeth and Edward meet in secret and after she refuses to be taken by force by Edward she draws his own dagger on him in self defense. After thinking she has ruined her chances with the new King and any favor he may give her, a little guidance from her enchanted mother leads Edward back to her and leads them into a secret marriage.
Through out the first part of the novel I couldn’t help but begin to like Elizabeth Woodville. I understand why David Loades listed her as ‘Queen as Lover’ in The Tudor Queens of England. It is obvious that Edward and Elizabeth were truly in love, but with the element of magic thrown into the mix I did have to wonder if their love was made by a spell. I also developed a strong liking for Elizabeth’s brother, Anthony, who becomes Lord Rivers. For some reason, I never knew the real story behind George, Duke of Clarence and had been under the impression that he was killed by his brother out of spite, but according to Philippa Gregory’s version he was a true traitor and turncoat and I have no sympathy for him now.
It’s not until Elizabeth enters sanctuary after the death of her husband that her ambition gets the better of her and her reputation and my opinion of her starts to falter. (I did not think less of her for trying to advance her family while she was Queen). This is also the fist time in the book that her daughter, Elizabeth of York, comes into play.
I have to admit that the best part of this book occurs while they are in sanctuary. The enchantments that she possesses comes into play and the story claims that it was Elizabeth and her mother, Jacquetta, that blow up the storm that keeps Henry Tudor from landing in England. It also claims that it was Elizabeth who curses King Richards sword arm which later fails him. SPOILER ALERT: My favorite part of the story, which Gregory admits is complete fiction, is the changing out of her son Richard for a pageboy. This would have been a great scheme and could have worked in that time. It could have possibly been a great history changer if it had actually happened…and in my opinion, Elizabeth may have actually done this but I imagine that her son Richard may have died of Plague or some other illness of the time and that is why he was never able to come out and claim his throne. I love all the mystery that surrounded the princes’ disappearance. I also enjoyed the curse that Elizabeth puts on the person who murdered her son, which declares that whom ever the murderer is will loose their first-born son and then their grandson. It becomes quite sad and ironic later when her own daughter marries Henry VII and they loose their first son, Arthur, and then are never born a grandson that survives.
The only part of the story that left me a little disappointed was where it ended. It ends in 1485 as Henry VII lands in England and the final battle with Richard III begins. At the conclusion of this story, Elizabeth Woodville is set on her daughter marrying her uncle Richard upon his victory, which we now know never happened. I think this may have been the first version that I have read that suggested that plot, but then again the only reason why she was pushing for that alliance was in order to put her secretly surviving son, Richard, on the throne.
I have to say that even in her final plotting, I still enjoyed the character of Elizabeth Woodville and I liked the element of magic that was included since it is often brushed under the rug. I even have a more favorable opinion on her now, but I am not saying that she is without fault in some of the bloodshed that occurred because of the plotting. I am also more secure in my opinion that Richard III had NOTHING to do with the deaths of the princes in the tower. I am still split between blaming Henry VII and his mother Margaret Beaufort or placing the blame on the Duke of Buckingham.
Overall, I really enjoyed The White Queen. On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being Excellent, I would give this book a 4. I finished the book within 24 hours of starting it, and I didn’t have to make a character map in order to understand the character connections. I look forward to picking up The Red Queen and reading how deep Margaret Beaufort was into the plotting as well.
SIDE NOTE: Elizabeth Shore, one of King Edward's whores, is briefly mentioned in this story. I would be interested in reading a story written from her point of view considering the many men of power she was involved with. If anyone knows of a story about her or written in her point of view, please leave me a comment with the name and author. Thanks!