Wednesday 22 February 2017

Book Review: The White Princess by Philippa Gregory.

Product details:
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd.
Paperback, 549 pages.
Release date: February 27th 2014.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Series: The Cousins' War #5.
Reviews of Other Books in Series: The White Queen, The Red Queen.
Source: Purchased.

 The haunting story of the mother of the Tudors, Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII. Beautiful eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville - the White Queen - the young princess Elizabeth faces a conflict of loyalties between the red rose and the white. Forced into marriage with Henry VII, she must reconcile her slowly growing love for him with her loyalty to the House of York, and choose between her mother's rebellion and her husband's tyranny. Then she has to meet the Pretender, whose claim denies the House of Tudor itself.

 Think you have the mother-in-law from hell? Think again…

When Elizabeth of York marries King Henry VII, following the defeat of her uncle Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, she not only inherits the title of Queen, she also inherits Henry’s mother, the deeply religious yet unnervingly ruthless Margaret Beaufort, who will do just about anything to keep her only son on the throne. Right from the start, it is made clear to Elizabeth that her marriage is necessary evil, a political alliance forged in order to unite the houses of York and Lancaster and bring to an end, once and for all, the bloody battles that have characterised The Cousins War.  Of course, in the Fifteenth Century, such an arranged marriage was not unusual. Rather, it was the norm. But for Elizabeth, marriage to Henry is difficult on a number of counts. First off, she saw her parents, King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, marry for love. Then, there is the fact that, as depicted here by Philippa Gregory, she is deeply in love with her uncle, Richard III, whom she had been expecting to marry when he returned victorious from the Battle of Bosworth. But, as we know from history, battles don’t always go to plan. Instead, as this book opens, Richard is dead, and Elizabeth is expected to marry the man who took -some might say stole- his crown.

Wow, what a time Elizabeth of York lived in. Unlike her grandmother Jacquetta of Luxembourg and her mother Elizabeth Woodville before her, Elizabeth of York is not to full of mischief, plotting and scheming. Rather, she keeps her head down and her mouth shut. And who can blame her? She lives in a court where her every word, her every move, is reported back to Margaret Beaufort, who is just biding her time until she can disgrace her daughter-in-law as a traitor. Though Henry has the crown, he can never rest easy in his rule. The people of England see the crown as ill-gotten, and Henry as a usurper. Many are still loyal to the house of York, and are just waiting for the day when a York heir rallies troops and rises against the king. To this end, Elizabeth lives in a court that is increasingly suspicious and untrustworthy of those around them. Henry is especially suspicious of Elizabeth’s mother, the wily Elizabeth Woodville, and is fearful that she may have an ace up her sleeve: a rightful York heir in the shape of her son, Richard, who went missing from the Tower of London, years before.

Henry deals with many of these supposed York heirs over the course of his rule, boys who come from far and wide to stake a claim on the throne. The most famous of these is Perkin Warbeck, who is depicted here as the rightful York heir, Richard of Shrewsbury.  In his good looks, his brilliant smile and his easy charm, Elizabeth recognises her brother at once, though she can never identify him. To do so would be to deny her own children, Arthur and Henry, the heirs to the Tudor crown.

I’m so glad I finally got around to reading The White Princess in anticipation of its TV adaptation. For some reason it always takes me an age to get around to reading historical fiction, but when I do, I mostly enjoy it. I guess some historical fiction can be a bit of a slog, but not this series.   Philippa Gregory writes with such verve that though I always devour her novels quite greedily, I am always still hungry for more. And that can only be a good thing. 

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