A beautiful widow stands on the side of the road to gain the attention of King Edward, and plead her case to regain her property rights for herself and her two sons, even though her first husband fought on losing side of the battle. So begins Philippa Gregory’s telling of The War of the Roses (or Cousin’s War) through the voice of Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen.
As Elizabeth attracts the attention of young Edward she will not fully give herself to the King without a ring on her finger. Her refusal, and possibly a little witchcraft, brings Edward back to secretly wed her before he goes off to battle to secure his possession of the throne (at least for a time). When Edward comes back victorious, he eventually calls his bride to take her place as his Queen.
This story, narrated mostly by Elizabeth, chronicles many years, births, deaths, court intrigue, plots, war and murder. It kept me turning the page, especially as I realized I was not really familiar with this history. I did have a vague remembrance of the Princes in the Tower, but did not know the story of their mother. So I couldn’t wait to get to the end to see what happened.
This book captured me right from the beginning. Gregory builds Elizabeth into such a strong, fascinating character. She has a genuine love of her husband, as the Queen she (mostly) understands that she will not be the only woman in his life, but knows that she is the one he will always come back home to, and he does. She is also relentless when it comes to all her children (from her first husband and Edward) and spends her days securing the power of Edward’s children bestowed upon them by their birthright, and also that of her first husband’s sons which was bestowed by Edward. Of course there is a little of her own thirst for power in her as well, and a desire for vengeance too.
In addition to this strong portrait of Elizabeth, this book also portrays other strong women such as Elizabeth’s mother, Jacquetta, an accused witch and a former friend of the previous Queen, Margaret of Anjou. Jacquetta helps steer Elizabeth into becoming a Queen and building her own court, through her own experiences and maybe some magic. Then later, there is Elizabeth’s oldest daughter with Edward, also named Elizabeth. As the book ends, it appears that she too will become a portrait of strength, inheriting some of the traits of her mother and grandmother, as she begins to come in to her own – in thought and deed.
One issue that I did have with the book is that since there is just so much happening in the time that is covered (1464 – 1485) there were parts of the book that felt more like an overview narration. I did not feel as connected with the court, or have as much of a visual sense as I seem to remember from other books (but this might also be that while it has been awhile since I have read these books, I have certainly seen many movies and TV shows to supplement the picture). But while I felt like I knew these characters, especially Elizabeth, and their development, I did not always “see” them in their surroundings.
But overall, I was fascinated with the historical story, and enjoyed the journey Gregory took me on. I found myself so interested in this time period that I went out and purchased The War of the Roses by Alison Weir so I could get a historical background and get a glimpse into the whole story from a nonfiction perspective. Of course I also find myself anxiously waiting for the next books in this series, The Red Queen, which will look at Margaret Beauford, and definitely The White Princess which will focus on the Princess Elizabeth (Elizabeth’s daughter) – there is a little info on this on Gregory’s Web site.
I won this book from a Twitter contest (@WhiteQueen_book) by the publisher.
The White Queen
Author: Philippa Gregory
Published: August 18, 2009 (Hardcover)