So good it trumps my all-time Gregory favorite, The Other Boleyn Girl! The White Princess is Philippa Gregory’s latest novel in Cousins’ War series. Unquestionably her best book yet. It is fantastic—full of flawed characters you love to hate, quietly heroic characters you’ll alternately cheer and mourn for, and plot twists that will keep you reading well into the night. You won’t want to put it down. I read it over two days and was disappointed to reach the end because I was so invested in the characters and immersed in the storyline. I’ve said it in my other reviews of Gregory’s novels, and I’ll say it again, she excels in the “what if” that lies between the facts of historical record. It may not always make for an 100% historically accurate novel, but damn! it does make for some juicy plots.The White Princess is, of course, Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV. Elizabeth of York is often portrayed as a quiet, motherly figure who lived harmoniously with Henry VII. Gregory gives us another, deeper and richly satisfying portrayal of a young woman at the epicenter of upheaval in English history whose marital life was anything but comfortable.
This is her story, told from her point of view. Elizabeth’s world is full of conflicts and complications. On the one hand, Henry VII gains the throne, restores her legitimacy and offers marriage. On the other hand, he’s killed her Uncle, lover and King Richard III, treats her as no better than a tavern whore as the spoils of war and whatever legitimacy she recovers comes behind his all-seeing, all-plotting mother Margaret Beaufort. The novel opens with Elizabeth mourning Richard in her heart, but outwardly appearing happy and content with the new regime. This is a tough act to carry out and Elizabeth of York displays the rigid self-control that carries her through the novel, even on the day Edward of Warwick and her brother Richard are executed. At times, her self-control fails her and sparks fly between her and Henry VII behind the bedchamber door, which shows how raw and real her emotions truly are. (I though about the late Diana, Princess of Wales as I wrote this. She was another princess who always looked happy and glamorous to the public but in private had a tempestuous marriage and life.)
Margaret Beaufort is a fabulous villain, a religious fanatic obsessed with carrying out her interpretation of God’s Will. But she is well-matched in plotting by Elizabeth’s mother, the former White Queen Elizabeth Woodville, who hope a new son of York will rise to challenge Henry and supports several plots to overthrown the Tudor regime. I loved this Elizabeth Woodville even more than I did in Gregory’s novel about her – The White Queen. Admittedly I read it a long time ago now, but I feel like this Elizabeth is even Machiavellian.
Henry VII was not a wildly popular king and there were several challenge to his throne from the York camp, the most significant of which was from someone claiming to be Richard, Duke of York. Gregory poignantly portrays the conflicting emotions Elizabeth would have felt, hoping her brother was alive, wanting to support York – but having to support her husband’s cause because her children are Tudors. To tell you more would be to spoil it. Gregory has now spent years with the Plantagenets and it shows in up in tight plots, and characters so vivid, so real and convincing that I carried them with me after I reached the end of the book.
Loved, loved this book. Am now eagerly awaiting “The White Queen” TV series, which begins airing in the US on 10 August (Starz).
Here my reviews of other novels in the series:
And some other articles and reviews of Philippa Gregory and her novels:
- Philippa Gregory: unearthing history’s forgotten women (guardian.co.uk)
- The White Queen by Philippa Gregory: Book Review (windsbird.wordpress.com)
- The Red Queen – Philippa Gregory (kirk72.wordpress.com)
- The White Princess (loyaltybinds.wordpress.com)
- Girl Power On “The White Queen” (iamahugefan2.wordpress.com)
- The White Queen: Women in history rediscovered (bbc.co.uk)
- Elizabeth Woodville (historicalbritain.org)