Books and Reading, History

The White Queen

the white queenHas anyone else read or watched “The White Queen” recently?

It’s the story of Elizabeth Woodville who married Edward IV in the 15th Century written first as a novel and then later filmed for TV, and I have to say that it is absolutely fascinating. It is the first instalment in the “Cousins War” series of books by Philippa Gregory and has been made into a ten part series by the BBC.

The other books in the series tell more or less the same story but from differing viewpoints. This is from Elizabeth Woodville’s point of view and the others are told by Margaret Beaufort, Jacqueta Rivers, Elizabeth Grey and the sisters Isabel and Anne Neville, daughters of the Earl of Warwick.

I’m annoyed with myself because I missed it on TV and only realised that this book was out there when I saw my Dad reading it on holiday earlier this month. I downloaded it to my Kindle last week and finished reading it last night. It is a good read and even though it is as fictionalised account of the events leading up to the Battle of Bosworth and the disappearance of the princes in the Tower, it is historically accurate enough to make it feel like you’ve had the best history lesson in your life.

I have read one or two of Philippa Gregory’s books before – Anne Boleyn is one of my favourite historical heroines – and I knew that she writes extremely well in this genre and so I was expecting a right good read. I wasn’t disappointed! Her other work has been written in the third person past tense but this series is all written in the first person present tense which really does help bring it to life. We all know the outcome of the various battles but because of the way it has been written, it is all more immediate and alive in your imagination and it is as if we don’t know what’s in the future for the characters.

We visited the Tower of London whilst on holiday and there is a big display in one of the buildings about the princes in the Tower where we were presented with “evidence” that supported three different theories about what had happened to them. We then got to vote on who we thought was responsible – my vote went to Henry VII. The other possible guilty parties offered were Richard III and someone “unknown”. My feelings on this have previously been that Richard III ordered their deaths because they presented a threat to his claim to the throne, but he was raised up in my affections earlier this year when his remains were discovered underneath a car park in Leicester.

On reading Philippa Gregory’s version of this story I definitely think that Richard would have not ordered their deaths because they had already been declared illegitimate (due to his mother’s alleged affair with an archer resulting in the birth of Edward, later King Edward IV who was their father). Due to his flimsy claim to the throne and the shoddy way in which he became king I don’t think he would have wanted to risk any more public disapproval and he would have wanted to show that he had a compassionate side to him by keeping the two boys alive and visible at his court. I think Henry VII’s mother Cecily had more reason to want rid of the boys because they posed more of a threat to him than to anyone else, so I voted for that option on our visit.

All these events form the backdrop to the birth and reign of Henry VIII, probably the most famous King of England in history and I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the series. I’d like to watch them too so I tried downloading all 10 episodes from iPlayer over the weekend to have a Queenathon this week, but I am really disappointed to find that the BBC have withdrawn it overnight. I only managed to watch the first episode which I had managed to get onto my laptop yesterday afternoon. I suppose I’ll just have to wait for the BBC to repeat it or maybe I could treat myself and buy it on DVD from Amazon instead…. Hmmm….

I downloaded the fifth book in the series, “The White Princess”, last night which follows on almost immediately after the end of “The White Queen” and is told from the viewpoint of Elizabeth Grey, Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter. I decided to read them out of order because this one is a continuation of the story rather than the same events but told by different people earlier on. I’ll let you know whether it matches the quality and pace of the first book, but if the first 12% is anything to go by I won’t be disappointed in my expectations.



3 thoughts on “The White Queen”

  1. I have been reading Philippa Gregory novels for decades now. I have read both the White Queen and the White Princess. Here in the U.S. the BBC series is airing now on a pricey pay channel. Although tempted I did not decide to subscribe to it. Like the BBC series The Tudors it may come to BBC America a few years from now. I will refrain from droning on about my dissatisfaction regarding BBC America programming in detail. Instead I will recommend that you look into the many other books by Ms Gregory


  2. I may give them a go. I do read some historical fiction-I loved Bernard Cornwell’s trilogy about Arthur, The Winter King etc, and his longer series set around the time of King Alfred and the Vikings.
    As for the two princes, unsolved questions capture our imagination but can be frustrating. Immediately springs to mind again Arthur-was there actually an Arthur figure behind the legend? And if so, who was he? And also Jack the Ripper-again, unmasked. When you have solved these will you please get back to me. Thank you!


  3. I’ve read Sharon Kay Penman’s historical fiction, but none of Phillipa Gregory’s, but I may have to give her a try. If you haven’t read Penman’s and you like historical fiction about British monarchs you would probably enjoy her work.


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