Monday, May 22, 2017

The Cousins’ War

The Cousins’ War, Philippa Gregory

Having enjoyed my introduction to the Wars of the Roses through Iggulden’s writing, and feeling like I understood what was going on and who the key characters were, I turned to Philippa Gregory’s novels of the same times (the Cousins’ War series), written from the perspective of the women of the times:

  • The Lady of the Rivers – Jacquetta is married young to the Duke of Bedford, yet kept a maid as he tried to use her for alchemy and needs her ‘pure’. Upon his death, she and his squire Richard Woodville fall in love, marry despite their difference in station, and go on to produce 14 children together. A favourite of Queen Margaret of Anjou, King Henry VI’s wife, she and Richard spend their lives at their court. Her daughter later becomes Queen Elizabeth, married to Edward IV, showing that anyone could change sides in those turbulent times!
  • The Red Queen – about the intriguing Margaret Beaufort. Married at 13, she gives birth to Henry Tudor, the last clear heir to the Lancaster line of the throne. While she would prefer a life of religious contemplation, she goes on to be married twice more and lives at court, serving whichever Queen happens to be there. Margaret is convinced that God’s will is done through her, particularly in putting her son on the throne. Gregory has made her a self-righteous, unpleasant character who will stop at nothing to fulfil her ambition to be Queen Mother.
  • The White Queen – about Elizabeth Woodville (later Queen Elizabeth to Edward IV). This is a love story between Edward and Elizabeth, yet also clear that she with her mother Jacquetta carefully place their family members into the positions and families of power. She is convinced of plots against her, especially by Edward’s York brothers (George and Richard). There is a strong element of witchcraft and magic in this book, as she and her mother do whatever is necessary to look after their own.
  • The Kingmaker’s Daughter is Anne Neville, married to first the Prince of Wales (Henry VI’s son) and then Richard III, who takes the throne after Edward IV from Edward’s young sons (these are the famous ‘boys in the tower’). This is the other point of view, directly against Elizabeth Woodville. The ‘true’ house of York cannot bear the influence Elizabeth has over Edward and are convinced she is a witch, cursing them all and acting to poison several members of the Plantagenet (York) family. It’s an interesting counter to the White Queen with a very different take on the same events.
  • The White Princess covers Elizabeth Princess of York (Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter), married to Henry VII. As the Tudor pretender to the throne under the controlling power of his mother (Margaret Beaufort), he spends his life in fear of a York prince returning to take back the throne. But who is Elizabeth really loyal to?

It’s always interesting to read different authors versions of history.  It clarifies that you are reading fiction – for although it is based in fact, there are limits to what is really known. Gregory has shown two very different perspectives well with Anne Neville and Elizabeth Woodville. Iggulden and Gregory also portrayed King Henry VI very differently – I wonder which is closer to the truth? If I had not read Iggulden’s first and used the family trees extensively at the front, I suspect I would have been much more lost in this series!

I enjoyed my time in the 15th century. Now I have moved on to the rest of Gregory’s books – covering the Tudors, into the 16th C. As all the characters in these books overlap, it’s really worth reading them in their chronological order, helpfully displayed on Gregory’s website.

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