Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Sixth Book Review: “The White Queen” by Philippa Gregory

“The White Queen” is yet another masterpiece of historical fiction beautifully written by Philippa Gregory. I am a big fan of Gregory’s work, she is always well researched and she brings a wonderful amount of creativity to each of her pieces. I love reading about the various historical families. “The White Queen” takes place around the War of the Roses and involves one woman’s rise to the throne. She uses a combination of her natural beauty and witchcraft courtesy of her mother.

“I look at him from under my eyelashes. ‘I don’t propose to sell myself at all,’ I say. ‘I am not a yard of ribbon. I am not a leg of ham. I am not for sale to anyone.’” (The White Queen, pg 21). This statement, I believe, really captures the strength of the main character, Elizabeth Woodville. She is a widow with her eye on King Edward IV of the House of York (the white rose). She is a very interesting character to read about. She has a brilliant strength that shines through despite all that she goes through. She also has a certain amount of naivety that she displays throughout the book. She does witness certain things that lift the wool off of her eyes, bit by bit as can be seen in this quote here. 

“I have heard men tell of many battles in this cousins’ war, and they always spoke of heroism, of the courage of men, of the power of their comradeship, of the fierce anger of battle, and of the brotherhood of survival. I have heard great ballads about great battles, and poems about the beauty of a charge and the grace of a leader. But I did not know that war was nothing more than butchery, as savage and unskilled as sticking a pig in the throat and leaving it to bleed to make the meat tender. I did not know that the style and nobility of the jousting arena had nothing to do with this thrust and stab. Just killing a screaming piglet for bacon after chasing it round the sty. And I did not know that war thrilled men so: they come home like laughing schoolboys filled with excitement after a prank; but they have blood on their hands and a smear of something on their clocks and the smell of smoke in their hair and a terrible ugly excitement in their faces.

I understand now why they break into convents, force women against their will, defy sanctuary to finish the killing chase. They arouse in themselves a wild vicious hunger more like animals than men. I did not know that war was like this. I feel I have been a fool not to know, since I was raised in a kingdom at war and am the daughter of a man captured in battle, the widow of a knight, the wife of a merciless soldier. But I know now.” (The White Queen, pg 185). 

I really liked this quote because of the revelations that Elizabeth goes through about war. It is really insightful and true. There are many times throughout the book when Elizabeth is exposed to hard truths. 

Overall, I just really enjoy Gregory’s writing. She has a great style that keeps her readers turning the pages. “She is not a boy though she is weak like a boy, nor a fool though he has seen her tremble with feeling like a fool. She is not a villain in her capacity to hold a grudge, nor a saint in her flashes of generosity. She is not any of these male qualities. She is a woman. A thing quite different to a man. What he saw was a half fish, but what frightened him to his soul was the being which was a woman.” (The White Queen, pg 241). 

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that Philippa Gregory is a great author and I really enjoyed “The White Queen”. It is the first book in The Cousins’ War series. I think that Philippa Gregory’s books would appeal to both men and women, so as long as you enjoy books you would probably enjoy Philippa Gregory’s novels.

 

In case you want to read the whole series (as I plan to do) the order of the series is:

  1. “The White Queen”
  2. “The Red Queen”
  3. “The Lady of the Rivers”
  4. “The Kingmaker’s Daughter”
  5. “The White Princess”
  6. “The King’s Curse”

 

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU KNOW NOTHING OF HISTORY AND WANT TO BE SURPRISED BY THE EVENTS THAT TAKE PLACE IN THE BOOK!

One thing that I want to touch on is how much information that Philippa Gregory exposes her readers to. I will be the first to admit, I have never been a big history buff. It is in no way my strong suit. So part of the fun of reading historical fiction is taking the time to learn about people, places, and events that while I may have touched on at school I don’t *really* know anything about. For example, in this book two princes are taken to the tower after their father (Edward IV) is killed. They never come out. Gregory takes some liberties with this story and provides her readers with one theory, but the reality of the situation is that no one knows what happened to the princes. 

According to the internet, the two princes – Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury were the only living sons of Edward IV at the time of his death. They were lodged in the Tower of London by the man appointed to look after them, their uncle, the Lord Protector: Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Richard ended up taking the throne himself even though Edward V was supposed to be preparing to take the throne. A lot of people believe that the boys were murdered although some believe that one or both of the boys were able to escape. Personally, I think that the boys were murdered by their uncle – what better way to assure yourself the throne than to kill the competition? Either way, the story is fascinating and one that I enjoyed learning about. 

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