Sunday, August 30, 2009

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Genre: Historical Fiction 
Series:The Cousins War Book 1
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 411
Book source: Review copy thanks to Katrina from Wiredset

Synopsis: The first in a stunning new series, The Cousins War, is set amid the tumult and intrigue of The War of the Roses. Internationally bestselling author Philippa Gregory brings this family drama to colourful life through its women, beginning with the story of Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen. The White Queen tells the story of a common woman who ascends to royalty by virtue of her beauty, a woman who rises to the demands of her position and fights tenaciously for the success of her family, a woman whose two sons become the central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the Princes in the Tower whose fate remains unknown to this day.

Philippa Gregory's skill as a storyteller is renowned and The White Queen proves no exception. Ms Gregory takes a fascinating period in history, with powerful historical figures and weaves a compelling and intriguing tale. I found the Plantagenets and the House of York just as interesting, if not more so than the Tudors, possibly because I'm less read in this time period but also because this truly is an enthralling story.

The White Queen is told through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville, a widow of the House of Lancaster with 2 sons to her first husband, Sir John Grey. Elizabeth, reputably one of the most beautiful women of this time, catches the eye, and the heart of King Edward IV and a secret marriage follows as Elizabeth refuses to be the York King's mistress. Without giving too much away, this is where treachery & betrayal really come into play. Elizabeth's reputation as Edward's acknowledged queen is not aided by her dabbling in witchcraft & as she understandably promotes her family and their postion, resentment grows. The York faction fight not only the Lancastrians but turn on each other, alliances are made and broken & when Elizabeth & Edward's sons are born the treachery reaches an all new level. King Edward's brothers, George, the turn-coat (boy did I loathe him) & eventually loyal Richard become players in an ongoing battle for the crown.

“Edward lives as if there is no tomorrow, Richard as if he wants no tomorrow, and George as though someone should give it to him for free.” comment from Anthony to his sister Elizabeth Woodville.

I thoroughly enjoyed Gregory's portrayal of Elizabeth as a devoted mother, loving & faithful wife and if not entirely likeable, then strong, & spirited. I think like many strong, passionate women in history, Elizabeth Woodville is much maligned by her detractors to encourage prejudice that has remained throughout history. Yes she becomes vengeful & spiteful, especially when employing her "pagan tricks" but considering the circumstances it would probably have taken a saint, not to.

There were a few places in the novel that read like a recounting of events, a little lacking in emotion but what I loved about The White Queen is Philippa Gregory's use of literary licence. I was enthralled by the author's characterisations, her take on the Melusine legend & the the fate of Edward & Richard, the Princes in the tower. Shrouded in contradictions and speculation, an unsolved mystery to this day, I believe Philippa Gregory's scenario is quite plausible.

Once again the author's notes are a helpful addition, letting the reader know what parts of the story are fact or based on fact and what's ficticious. My suggestion to keep track of the complex relationships is to check out the family tree of the Houses of York, Lancaster & Tudor in the front of the novel or print out the family tree from Philippa Gregory's website. I found it helpful to keep this & a list of Elizabeth & Edward's children with me so I wasn't completely bamboozled by the generations of Edwards, Richards, & Georges. (12 children is quite a feat, 10 to Edward, not all of which are mentioned in the book and 2 Grey sons)

Don't miss this one, it's a great introduction to the War of the Roses period both for the uninitiated & fans of historical fiction. I now have a newly acquired craving to learn more about this era and I can't wait to see what's in store for us with The Red Queen and The White Princess.

Visit Philippa Gregory's website to find out more.


  1. Still waiting to read, I am soooo curious. Thanks for the family tree link on her website. I too get confused with all those names! I'll print mine out and wait and hope I win a copy soon!

  2. Sounds good to me, and I am yet to read my first Gregory novel, perhaps this would be the one for me

  3. That was a great review. I received my copy of the book a few days ago - an arc with a very different cover (which I think is more beautiful than the one it's being released with). I can't wait to read it.

  4. I am so excited for this read! I love Philippa Gregorys books.

  5. Fantastic review that has totally convinced me to start reading Gregory with this book!! I can't wait!!!

  6. Mannequin ~ there are lots of competitions running for The White Queen so I hope you get lucky!

    Blodeuedd ~ it wouldn't be the easiest read to start on of PG's novels but since you already read historical fiction I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

    dolleygurl ~ did you get the copy with the beautiful cut out on the front cover? Enjoy!

    bookjourney ~ I'm a PG fan too, you'll love this one!

    Staci ~ The White Queen is up there as a pretty close favourite with The Queen's Fool & The Other Boleyn Girl. I think the last 2 are easier reads, history wise.

  7. From other HF books I've read I have developed a very negative view of Elizabeth. I wonder if this novel is balanced or overly apologetic toward her.

  8. I am not very well read in the War of the Roses either. I need to remedy that!!

  9. Although I would prefer she didn't take such liberties with facts, I'm always amazed by Philippa Gregory's ability to coax a personality out of dates and events. I haven't read The White Queen yet, but I'm glad she included a "what's fact/what's fiction?" section at the end so when I do read it, at least I can see what really happened to the people she brought to (literary) life.


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