I’ll admit upfront that I’m a Philippa Gregory fan. I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of her books, and I particularly like her period novels set in the English Court. It was an obvious choice for me to read Gregory’s newest novel, The White Queen.
The White Queen is the first book in Philippa Gregory’s new series, The Cousins’ War. She has previously written many novels set during the intriguing Tudor period, and now she has moved backwards in time to The Wars of the Roses. This is a tumultuous and under-studied period of English history in which the line between life and death, royalty and prisoner was often blurred.
This first novel about this period, The White Queen, is the story of Elizabeth Woodville. She is a young widow with two sons. Her husband died supporting the Lancastrians. In hopes of re-claiming her lands, she approaches the new York King, Edward IV. There is an instant chemistry between them, and miraculously (some would say magically) she becomes his wife.
The novel follows Elizabeth Woodville through love and grief, political ambition and intrigue, miraculous rises and downfalls, and motherhood in an uncertain and dangerous time. Elizabeth Woodville is not portrayed as perfect, but she is a fascinating and multifaceted character, and I became absolutely involved with her story.
I particularly enjoyed The White Queen because, like most people, I know less about the Houses of Lancaster and York than I do about the Tudors. The novel is incredibly factual (there’s an excellent explanation at the end of exactly where the lines between fact and fiction are), but I was still in complete suspense because I either didn’t already know or couldn’t always remember what had happened next. Also, history is usually told from a male viewpoint and especially War of the Roses is usually primarily interested in the military history. It was intriguing to read it from a different, but equally valid and important, perspective.
The White Queen taught me a lot about history. I was so fascinated by it that I found myself researching the period afterwards and drawing my husband into discussion about it with me. I was particularly intrigued by the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, which I was previously unfamiliar with.
The novel is well-written. It deals with fascinating subject matter, but you keep reading because it’s a good novel. Gregory did an excellent job of weaving the myth of Melusina throughout the story. It is both very relevant to the characters, and enhances the novel.
I would highly recommend reading The White Queen, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel (The Red Queen) when it is published later this year. If you enjoy The White Queen, I would recommend Gregory’s other novels. You may also enjoy the historical novels by Posie Graeme-Evans and Elizabeth Chadwick.