Book Reviews

Book Review: The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

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The White PrincessThe White Princess is the fifth book in The Cousins’ War series. I think I’m turning into a Philippa Gregory fan!

The Plot

Princess Elizabeth of York mourns the loss of her uncle, Richard III, after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. When Henry Tudor becomes Henry VII, he strengthens his claim to the throne by marrying Elizabeth in order to unite the Yorkists and Lancastrians. The House of York, however, secretly plan rebellions against the Tudors and a series of young men emerge claiming to be York heirs. One of these pretenders claims to be Elizabeth’s long-lost brother, Prince Richard. Elizabeth is torn between fulfilling her duty as a loyal wife of Henry Tudor and staying faithful to her York house.

My review – contains spoilers!

I read this book with a pinch of salt as it is historical fiction. As with The Kingmaker’s Daughter, I ignored the suggestion that there was a liaison between Elizabeth and her uncle, Richard. Richard was in fact negotiating to marry a princess from Portugal after the death of his wife, Anne. He was also planning for Elizabeth to marry a Portuguese prince so that there would be a double union. Also, I doubt Henry Tudor violated his betrothed wife, Elizabeth.

The main fact I remember learning about Henry VII at school is that he was a miser. He left plenty of money in the treasury for his son, Henry VIII, who promptly spent it. In this novel, Henry Tudor is always looking over his shoulder. He is portrayed as becoming increasingly paranoid and feels he can’t trust anyone, including Elizabeth. Henry gradually realises that he is a pretender to the throne and he starts fearing all the other pretenders who appear out of thin air, like ghosts. He becomes obsessed with catching ‘the boy’.

I had assumed when the Tudors came into power, Henry VII had unified England and brought peace by marrying Elizabeth of York and ending the Wars of the Roses. The White Princess illustrates that Henry faced opposition from the Yorkists. The Tudors tried to dilute the York claim to the throne by marrying off all the York ladies to Tudor supporters. The Yorkists were discontented and secretly attempted to overthrow Henry for anyone other than a Tudor.

A legion of pretenders pop up claiming to be Prince Edward of York, Prince Richard of York or even Edward, Earl of Warwick. I guess we’ll never know what happened to the Princes in the Tower, but personally, I think people back then wanted to believe the pretenders, like Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, were the York princes. The Yorkists and their supporters wanted a return to former glory. These royal pretenders reminded me of the imposters who claimed to be the Russian princess, Anastasia.

What I like about The Cousins’ War series is that you get a different perspective from each female narrator. In The Kingmaker’s Daughter, I felt sympathy towards Anne Neville who disliked Elizabeth of York. In The White Princess, Elizabeth of York redeems herself. She recognises the pain that she caused to Anne, when she was the other woman. Unlike her grandmother and mother, Elizabeth does not have the chance to marry for love: she has a strategic marriage to a man she hates. Elizabeth is also in the difficult position of having to choose where her loyalties lie: her husband or her family.

When Elizabeth is preparing for her coronation, she has a reflection: ‘My true self will be hidden and history will never speak of me except as the daughter of one king, the wife of another and the mother of a third’. I gained the impression that Philippa Gregory was frustrated by the lack of information on the women of the Cousins’ War. History seems to have overlooked the women of this era.

Whilst Elizabeth of York was the Queen of England, it appeared to me as though she had little power or influence over her husband. For instance, Elizabeth promised her cousin Margaret she would keep Teddy safe if she was made Queen. She cannot protect Teddy, though. Henry ignores Elizabeth most of the time and listens to his mother instead. Saying that, in the final scene, Henry begs Elizabeth for forgiveness. Elizabeth and Henry have a complex relationship and there are many twists and turns in their marriage.

Margaret Beaufort’s character is the worst mother-in-law ever! She stays in the Queen’s apartments in Westminster Palace which I found hilarious. On the subject of the other characters, I noticed that Cecily, Elizabeth’s sister, fades into the background. Maggie becomes Elizabeth’s closest companion. She is in a similar position to Elizabeth. I felt sorry for the plight of the Warwick and York children, especially Edward, Earl of Warwick.

Final thoughts

Although Elizabeth of York’s character is not as interesting as Jacquetta and Elizabeth Woodville, she makes a good protagonist. I knew the eventual outcome of the novel but it was still suspenseful and there were some shocking moments. There was also lots of tension, especially at the start of Elizabeth and Henry’s betrothal. This novel has made me want to read up more about Elizabeth of York.

My rating: ★★★★☆

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