Amazon link for the book is here.
Gregory’s series, “The Cousins’ War” continues with her fifth installment detailing the women of the “War of the Roses”. The White Princess, focuses on Elizabeth of York, daughter of The White Queen’s Elizabeth Woodville. The story begins right after the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485, where Henry Tudor slays King Richard III on the battlefield to become Henry VII of England. The story follows Elizabeth as she is forced to marry Henry and bear him heirs for the Tudor throne, while many rebellions threaten to overthrow the young Tudor dynasty.
In this version, Gregory chooses to include a few, well known historical legends to construct her tale (not spoilers):
-Elizabeth of York was not only in love with but became the lover of the married King Richard III, her uncle, before his death at the Battle of Bosworth
-the legend that Elizabeth Woodville did not send her 2nd son, Prince Richard, into the Tower to be with her older son Prince Edward but rather sent an impostor in his place
-that pretender to the throne Perkin Warbeck was actually Prince Richard returned to claim the throne, that he closely resembled his alleged father, King Edward IV, and that his alleged sister, Elizabeth of York, recognized him and believed him to be her brother, returned from parts unknown to claim his rightful crown
In Gregory’s telling, Elizabeth of York is a wronged woman but remains largely unlikeable, a whiny, imperious young woman who stays obsessed with her dead lover (and uncle) King Richard through most of the book. What struck me as ironic is that she loathes her new husband, Henry, because of how he uses her as a political pawn and broodmare. It seems incredible that Gregory’s Elizabeth never thinks that her lover, King Richard, intended to do the same thing had he lived. For someone who was known to have been highly educated, speaking multiple languages (something Gregory contrasts with the relatively uneducated Henry), this Elizabeth of York doesn’t seem very bright.
This portrayal of Henry VII, one of the very few that exists in fiction, portrays a deeply introspective, melancholy, and eventually paranoid man, who clings to the wisdom and support of his overbearing mother, Margaret Beaufort. This man is harsh and brutal when need be but is then surprised when he becomes hated and not loved by his subjects. He seems perpetually unable to win the loyalty of his subjects in any way, shape, or form.
What I did like about the book:
-a good mirror between Elizabeth of York and Margaret Warwick, both women torn between their brothers and their sons
-Elizabeth Woodville remains an engaging character, you can never fully trust her but you remain captivated by her
-Gregory excels at bringing to life historical women, often overlooked in the historical record
What I did not like about the book:
-I am not the only one to notice Gregory’s tendency towards repetition. Phrases are repeated over and over again, sometimes ridiculously so, and it seems like this is a growing trend in her books. If she’s trying to drive a point home, it gets excessive. It’s almost as if she doesn’t think we are smart enough to get her point.
-Without writing a spoiler, I will say that ending is abrupt, awkward, confusing (doesn’t fit with the characters), and occurs, in my opinion, prematurely. It lacks a believable resolution for most of the characters. Read it and see if you agree.
-I for one am tired of Lady Margaret Beaufort falling into the cliche of the villainess. In every fictional portrayal, the woman is either a saint or the arch nemesis. She was a remarkable woman, self taught, religious, quite ambitious for her time. But making her a caricature, the “evil stepmother” character of a typical Disney cartoon, feels old, overdone, and unimaginative. Why are powerful women usually written to be a cliche?
Although I did not enjoy this book as much as some of Ms. Gregory’s previous works, I do object to the reviewers who take her to task for her historical details or lack thereof. Much about the 15th century is not known, so it falls to the author to fill in the gaps. To complete her story, Ms. Gregory needed to include plausible possibilities to fill in the holes of the historical record (such as Elizabeth of York being Richard III’s lover or Perkin Warbeck being the real Richard IV) – note I didn’t say probable, only plausible, possibilities. She is a storyteller, not a historian, and with that she gets poetic license. I agree the thought of Elizabeth of York as her uncle’s lover defies all logic, certainly by our modern standards. You may not like the plot lines she chooses because you don’t believe that is what truly happened, but you can’t say she’s absolutely wrong. In fact, no one can. That’s why she writes fiction. If you don’t care for Ms. Gregory’s choices, than don’t buy her books. This story is merely one author’s fictional interpretation of the events.
I am curious. If you are a Philippa Gregory fan, what did you think of her latest work? Have you noticed the repetition in the novels, especially lately? Were you satisfied by this novel’s ending?
- The White Princess, by Philippa Gregory, review (telegraph.co.uk)