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Review: The White Queen, Philippa Gregory

Lady Elizabeth Grey’s husband was killed at the Battle of St. Albans and she desperately wants his lands back for her two little boys.  She is tired of living in her parents’ home and would like her independence.  So she stands out in the road as the new king, Edward IV, rides by, holding their hands and hoping he’ll see her.  He does see her and takes note not only of her problems, but of her beauty, and before she knows it, Elizabeth is the queen of England and in almost over her head with politics and intrigue.  She is a Woodville, though, and she will perservere, going to the edge to push her family as high as it can possibly go before her tower of cards topples around her.

This is going to be a good long review, as I have a lot to say on this book.  For those who skim, here’s my verdict: much better than I was expecting!

If you know me and have been reading my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been working on a dissertation about Anthony Woodville (and fifteenth century chivalric culture in England overall) for what feels like forever.  As such, this book was bound to touch on a topic near and dear to my heart, and it was bound to get some of the facts wrong, if only for the sake of storytelling.  So it does; the Woodville family was loyal to Edward IV after 1461 but before he married Elizabeth, and Anthony was sent to besiege Alnwick Castle on his behalf with the earl of Warwick in 1463, not to mention that Elizabeth’s father Lord Rivers had already been appointed to office.  The beginning was anachronistic in another way because Edward kept being referred to as a boy, and there is no way anyone in the medieval period would have considered a man who had commanded and won two battles a boy.  I can see that she did this more for characterization purposes, especially given he was younger than Elizabeth, so I don’t mind as much, but still worth noting.  And Anthony was not at Tewkesbury, although he was definitely in London and fighting when Thomas Neville arrived.  There is also the whole magic subplot, but I thought that was actually quite creative, and historical inaccuracy only bothers me if people believe it’s true.  I don’t think anyone would ever believe Elizabeth and Jacquetta were witches.  I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

All that said, Philippa Gregory got more right than wrong in this instance and I was pleasantly surprised.  No one is needlessly victimized here; in fact Elizabeth is quite a sympathetic character which is refreshing after all of the villainizing that typically surrounds her.  Even Richard III is not a villain but a multi-faceted man whose ambition just kept on pushing a little too far.  The rest of the history is in many ways what has been fictionalized before, and I found nothing that really bothered me.  All things considered I enjoyed this book after the first fifty pages and I wasn’t expecting to.  Gregory even included Anthony’s poem, which is authentic and the only one that survives; she inflates his reputation to some extent, but I didn’t mind, it fit in.

Gregory writes well, and in general the book is absorbing even for someone who has heard it all before.  It’s romanticized, but in the way that makes us sigh and wish we had a big blond knight to save the day.  It’s exciting and tense because everything is dangerous, and because I kept wondering who was going to kill the princes in this version.  Another interesting twist there, and I think we’re meant to guess at what she means, but for someone who doesn’t know the history, it’s a nice question.  And in the end, I like the way Gregory twisted things here.  It’s interesting and it’s different when the story has been done over and over again.  Given the fluidity of history itself, I found myself enjoying the way she pushes boundaries and suggests things that probably didn’t happen but might have done.  I didn’t want to read another fictional recap of the Wars of the Roses, but Gregory made it a little bit new, and despite myself I think I’m looking forward to The Red Queen very much, even if I don’t think anyone ever called these ‘the cousin’s wars’.

In other words, I do recommend The White Queen. It is historical fiction, after all, and if you’re going to read another book that fictionalizes the Wars of the Roses, I highly suggest this one.

Amazon | Amazon UK

24 comments to Review: The White Queen, Philippa Gregory

  • Pam

    I’ve only read The Other Boleyn Girl and I think I had the same picky issues. Not that I did my dissertation on the Tudors but I was a history minor after all. It was bound to come up…and come up and come up. :)
    I’m glad that you pointed out the things she glossed up but that it wasn’t a total bust for you. I really like historical fiction but sometimes it can be a bit dry to keep with the facts and so the more…romantic…takes on the past can be fun. Thanks for such an in depth review!

  • I reviewed this one today too and I have to say that I really, really enjoyed it. I knew nothing about the characters so I was coming at it from a totally different vantage point, but I’m just so excited that you liked it too. I appreciate it even more now!

  • I was thrilled to read your enthusiastic review for several reasons. First of all, I am ashamed to admit how very little I know of British history – and I teach British literature! This is something that I hope to rectify in the future, when I have some “free” time.

    I have not read much historical fiction, but have wanted to add that genre to my repertoire. This sounds like a GREAT first book to read in that category.

  • So glad to hear she got things mostly right. This is a time period I’m a bit shaky on, so I was waiting for your professional/educated opinion. This is on my list for very soon.

  • After seeing how much you all liked this I’m bummed I didn’t get an ARC. When my hold comes in at the library, whatever ARC I’m reading is going to get set aside in favor of this!

  • I really enjoyed this one, too! I especially loved Anthony’s character. I had no idea that was really his poem. Great review, Meghan!

    • Meghan

      Thanks! I was thrilled to see she’d included the poem, to be honest it boosted my feelings about the book a lot. =)

  • This is the second review I have read of this today that has made me think maybe I should read it… I haven’t had a lot of luck with Gregory, but I might give this one a try anyways.

  • Everyone seems to be enjoying this book. I’m glad to see it exceeded your expectations.

  • good to see a positive review. I might try this book … I am currently 40,000 words into Antony (no H please note!) Woodville’s life story with a very long way to go yet. I usually dislike Ms Gregory’s books as she gets so much wrong, which it seems she has done here, again. Elizabeth did not meet Edward by being on the road, under a tree, or any such other fanciful thing as beloved of fiction writers, they met at a reception given by a local Baron. Ask Antony, he was there. To be honest, if I want to know anything, I ask Antony, as he is here. And, having today heard that Ms Gregory considers this a channelled book, (received from spirit) I am surprised she got so much wrong. Obviously the medium was not as tuned in as I am to the people she is writing about.
    For the record, Death Be Pardoner To Me, the life of George, duke of Clarence, is due out any time soon, review copies are going out now. Channelled from the duke himself. It will be closely followed by I Diced With God, the life of Henry VIII, channelled from His Majesty himself. There are some 40+ other books to come, too.

    • Meghan

      I never knew how Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV properly met. All the history I’ve read glosses over how the marriage actually came about.

    • Becky

      While you have Antony’s (?) ear, could you ask him what ever became of Gwentilian Stradling, daughter of William Stradling and Annes Gwynne? He had an illegitimate daughter named Margaret, who married a Robert Poyntz. Was Gwentilian sent off to a nunnery?

  • Oh goody! I was quite disappointed when I read “The Other Boleyn Girl” – so many inaccuracies. I have not read any other Philippa Gregory novel after that.

    Based on your recommendations, I am going to try it out. I am pretty sure I”ll enjoy it.

    Btw, I received a blog award yesterday and I am passing it on to you. You can come and collect the award from my blog :)

  • Woodvilles seem to be the flavour of the publishing year. Have you read Emma Darwin’s “The Secret Alchemy’, which also covers this topic? I enjoyed that, so I might give this one a go. There’s bound to be a massive waiting list at the library, however, so it may be some time before I get round to it.

    • Meghan

      I haven’t read that one yet, although I intend to. I’ve read that it depicts Anthony as a homosexual, which is sort of an interesting viewpoint, particularly given he had a bastard child.

      Late 15th century England has become everyone’s favorite period somewhere in between when I decided to focus on it and now. Richard III has always been popular and controversial, but now it seems there’s historical fiction on everyone!

  • I love that you give us an expert opinion! I liked what I’ve read of Gregory’s writing, and I’ll definitely keep this book in mind.

  • Glad that you enjoyed this one so much. I am dying to get a chance to read it, and will be getting a copy very shortly. It’s neat that you have so much knowledge about the book’s subject. I can imagine it made for really interesting reading. Great review!

  • I loved The Other Boleyn Girl, but was disappointed by all her other books in the Tudor series and am reluctant to read any of her other books. `I know nothing about this period in history so I think I’ll wait until I see a raving review from someone who isn’t studying it first – no offence intended! It is good to know that you enjoyed it.

  • I liked this one very well, it was refreshing to read a more sympathatic take on Elizabeth Woodville. Your review is fantastic, love the history background you share!!

  • I really appreciate the depth you went into for this review, especially with the history!

  • I did not have high expectations when I heard she was doing Elizabeth Woodville, but it doesn’t sound bad.
    .-= Schatzi´s last blog ..Cleopatra’s Daughter Giveaways =-.

  • Alyx

    I love how the spirit world has informed some posters precisely how this novelist’s fictional work differs from reality. I sense that Starkey and Schama may want to consult with them now as well, we can’t have Channel 4 putting out rubbish unapproved by the spirits, now can we? What a load of rubbish…………

  • Gaviel

    Am currently reading “The red queen” after i randomly picked it up in a second hand shop on my way home from work. It advertised this book and am dying to read it but cause i have already started the red queen, i think i’ll buy this book after i have finished the book am reading at the moment :)

  • [...] annoyed do fit the context of the story.  I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this one quite as much as The White Queen, but I would recommend [...]