Book Reviews

Book Review: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

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The White QueenThe White Queen by Philippa Gregory is the first book in The Cousins’ War series.

The Plot

Set during the Wars of the Roses, this novel is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian widow, who marries Edward IV and becomes Queen of England. But not everyone is happy with the Woodville family’s rise to power. Throughout her reign, Elizabeth has to contend with enemies at the court, betrayal, murder and intrigue. As the shadow of the Lancastrian threat looms over them, the Yorkists fight among themselves for the crown. Elizabeth knows that if her line is to continue, she must do whatever she can to protect her children, particularly her two sons with Edward.

My review – contains spoilers!

The White Queen is a well-researched historical novel by Philippa Gregory. Elizabeth Woodville is an interesting historical figure and I was intrigued by her story. Elizabeth sought Edward out because she wanted to reclaim her sons’ inheritance. Edward married Elizabeth for love, even though she was not of royal rank. She was also a Lancastrian. Edward and Elizabeth’s secret marriage prompted some people, including Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, to accuse Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta of witchcraft. Elizabeth was a determined woman, however, and she fought for her family.

When Elizabeth is crowned Queen, she and Jacquetta become matchmakers. I felt sorry for Elizabeth’s brother, John, who is twenty years old, and had to marry Lord Warwick’s aunt, Lady Catherine Neville, who is in her late sixties. I’m surprised John didn’t run screaming in the opposite direction. (No offence to Catherine.) Is it any wonder Warwick became annoyed with Elizabeth and her family?

As with The Lady of the Rivers, there is a mystical element to this novel, namely the claim that Elizabeth is descended from the water goddess Melusina. While this adds a different dimension to a historical novel, I felt that the Melusina legend was repeated a bit too often. Also, the supernatural element implies that Jacquetta and Elizabeth were witches. Back in the day, if you were a woman and people didn’t like you, they would accuse you of witchcraft. Jacquetta was tried as a witch and cleared, but there is no evidence that she practiced witchcraft.

One thing I noticed when reading this novel is that Elizabeth refers to George, Duke of Clarence, as a ‘turncoat… against his own house’. This is slightly hypocritical as Elizabeth changed sides too, so she could marry Edward.

Elizabeth’s ambition costs the lives of her father, brother and two sons. Although I would like to believe that Elizabeth’s second son, Prince Richard, might have survived, I find it a little far-fetched that she used a changeling to take his place in the Tower. I do, however, agree with Gregory’s suggestion that Richard, Duke of Gloucester, did not murder the two princes. The evidence indicates that Margaret Beaufort would have more to gain from their deaths, than Richard.

Final thoughts

The White Queen is an imaginative, suspenseful and moving historical novel. Elizabeth Woodville is a formidable character and I enjoyed reading about her fascinating life as a powerful Plantagenet woman. I can’t wait to read The Red Queen next.

My rating: ★★★★☆

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