The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory

The White Queen. Phillipa Gregory. 6794 lines, Kindle. 2009.

I must admit I still love fairy tales. And this book, in many ways, read like a fairy tale. From the time Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancaster widow, and the York prince, Edward, met on the side of the road, their’s is a tale of true love at first site. Though their families are on opposite sides of the Cousin’s War (Gregory’s name for the War of the Roses), both are equally enamored with the other and they marry in secret. This secret marriage is both their victory and their downfall. Alliances are made, but trusted friends and brothers turn traitor against the handsome King and his beautiful Queen.

Perhaps this is the reason it pulled at my heartstrings more than the Gregory’s other novels–it follows so closely the plot line of a fairy tale, and has the forbidden love aspect of Romeo and Juliet.

The fairy-tale of the King and Queen is mirrored by the fairy-tale of Melusina (similar to that of The Little Mermaid), which Gregory splices into the novel in excerpts, and uses to draw comparisons between Elizabeth Woodville’s life and the story of Melusina. I’m not sure the comparison of the two women was a complete success, their stories seem to diverge after both fall in love and marry. However I felt adding Melusina’s story was a fantastic tool for furthering aspects of the plot, and helped meld historic facts with Gregory’s fictional account of events.

For instance, Elizabeth and her mother pride themselves on being daughters of Melusina, and are confident that her truths and powers run strong in their blood. Not only does this mirror what we know of the region and history–those hailing from the Burgundy region of Luxemburg, like Elizabeth’s mother, traditionally hold to the belief that they descend from Melusina–but it also allows Gregory to use witchcraft liberally in her novel. Her female characters feel they are more than just bystanders in history. Elizabeth and her mother use a spell to bring about her marriage to Edward, and they conjour up storms against their enemies and fogs to aide their allies. While I could see this aspect of the novel bothering some, there is nothing written in the novel to suggest that these ‘spells’ are causing events to happen. To me the spells read more like superstition in troubled times that merge with actual events in happy coincidence.

I also enjoyed the witchcraft aspect of the novel because it didn’t always bring about good luck for Elizabeth and her kin. In fact, as she is damning the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence by muttering a curse and wish for death, she is knitting her son’s baby bonnet. Her mother warns her against sewing evil into her child’s bonnet, alluding to her son’s fate as one of the Princes in the Tower. And admittedly, not all is perfect with Gregory’s use of witchcraft. There are times when she over uses the witchcraft element, either I felt she was beating me over the head with her historical innuendos, or I felt there was a general cheesiness marring an otherwise serious part of the novel.

One surprising aspect of the novel was how Gregory decided to treat the Princes in the Tower. I am limited in my knowledge of English history, but I always believed Richard of Shrewsbury was sent to the Tower and murdered alongside his brother Edward, Prince of Wales. So I was intrigued that Gregory used a historically supported, yet less widely accepted, theory that Elizabeth shipped Richard to Burgundy under dark of night to hide as a fisherman’s son until he came of age and could be crowned King of England. Gregory ties young Richard fictionally to the actual history of Perkins Warbeck. Whether Perkins was Richard of Shrewsbury or just another pretender to he thrown also remains open to debate. Although I doubt the history somewhat, I was actually happy that Gregory spared Richard. There are too many similarities between the young boys and my little brothers. I think my heart would have broken completely had Elizabeth been forced to mourn the loss of all of her sons.

Finally, I feel I should comment on the narrative itself. Gregory chose to write the novel from Elizabeth’s perspective and in present tense. I felt swept into the novel and immediately wrapped up in Elizabeth’s life. Interestingly enough, not only did the present tense put me in the moment of the novel, but it also added a sense of nostalgia to it. It was as if Elizabeth was watching the life through the clear view of hindsight, narrating what she saw, and reflecting on both her successes and her failures. I think a combination of this writing style, the witchcraft, and the love between her and Edward are the reason this is my favorite Gregory Tudor novel to date.

I read this book for the Tudor Book Challenge hosted by Benedictionary.


3 responses to “The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory

  1. I read this book a few months ago and enjoyed it very much. Everything that I have read of the era has portrayed Elizabeth Woodville as an evil scheming bitch. It was interesting to see the same events told from the reverse perspective.

    • Yea, in my brief research about the actual events surrounding the story, I was surprised to see that many authors had nothing nice to say about Elizabeth Woodville…especially since Gregory treated her very thoughtfully. Upon reading the angry snippets of those other writers, though, it made me appreciate that Gregory threw in some moments where Elizabeth acknowledged her own short comings and recognized that her ambition may have also been her undoing…I especially liked the scene where Elizabeth’s daughter has a vision about becoming the future Queen of England and rails against her mother’s ambition.

  2. Yorkist Yasemin

    Nicely done review. The White queen was my favourite book even though it took my 4 weeks to finish because it was in Romanian and 400 pages were a lot to me even thought I have to admit that I never wanted to finish it! It was the best book ever! I felt a connection because I believe in Melusina too since I was 6, and I am obsessed with english history and know loads about each king in the whole succession and I approve this book as historically accurate as a expert on this. I use wikipedia to study king’s and queens because it’s quick and easy and I got bored of the Tudors and wanted to start studying the plantagenets so when I saw this book in Romanian at the library I was so thrilled! Nevertheless this book was better than I excepted the wars the politics the romance and everything! I hope they turn the trilogy in a 200ology :) because even so I’ll read them all!!! Plus you can’t help falling for Edward !

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