Over the Summer of 2013, I watched The White Queen on the BBC and loved it. The television series was based on Philippa Gregory’s historical novel series The Cousins’ War. I decided to read these novels about the Wars of the Roses, beginning with the The Lady of the Rivers. Although this is the third book in the series, it is first chronologically.
Jacquetta is the daughter of the Count of Luxembourg, and her story unfolds from when she is a teenager who befriends Joan of Arc. Jacquetta learns she has inherited the gift of second sight from her descendant, Melusina, the river goddess. At seventeen, she is married off to John, the Duke of Bedford, an uncle to Henry VI. Widowed at the age of nineteen, Jacquetta secretly marries the Duke’s squire, Richard Woodville, for love. The couple return to the English court where Jacquetta becomes a close friend of Queen Margaret of Anjou. When Henry VI falls into a deep sleep, the stability of the kingdom is threatened by Richard of York, a rival to the throne.
My review – contains spoilers!
Jacquetta is a fascinating character and it’s surprising there is so little documentation on her life. Gregory uses her imagination to fill in the historical gaps. I was enthralled by Jacquetta’s story and her strength of character. I liked reading about the secret romance between Jacquetta and Richard. Jacquetta risked so much to marry Richard Woodville and I admire her for that.
Jacquetta struggles with her gift of second sight as she was living in a dangerous time when witchcraft was feared. She sees firsthand what happens to those who are accused of practicing witchcraft (Joan of Arc, Eleanor Cobham and Margery Jourdemayne). Their unhappy fates serve as a stark warning to Jacquetta not to use her gift.
Gregory portrays extraordinary, strong women in this book including Margaret of Anjou. However, as Jacquetta’s great-aunt Jehanne of Luxembourg tells her:
a woman who seeks great power and wealth has to pay a great price
Margaret exercises her royal power as Queen of England and ultimately pays the price for it.
There was only one thing which I found slightly annoying about this book. Jacquetta would often say, ‘I shake my head’ when she was speaking to someone. I wouldn’t mind if she did this maybe once or twice, but she seemed to shake her head all the time.
I enjoyed reading this book about romance, political intrigue and the beginning of the Wars of the Roses from Jacquetta’s perspective. Gregory seamlessly blends fact and fiction to create a vivid historical novel. I’m looking forward to reading the next books in The Cousins’ War series.
My rating: ★★★★☆