When the most recent of my library notifications arrived, letting me know Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen waited patiently for me on the reserve shelf, I unknowingly added to my recent War of the Roses reading theme.
I’ve read many of Gregory’s books and particularly enjoyed her series on the Tudor dynasty. The White Queen is the first installment in a planned series that predates that famous royal family. The White Queen referenced in the title is Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV who was Henry VIII’s grandfather.
The action begins when Elizabeth meets Edward and marries him secretly and continues until right before the fall of Richard III, Edward’s brother who usurps the throne from his nephews (and possibly had them killed in the Tower of London). Gregory treats Elizabeth, who sometimes gets a bad rap in history, kindly and shows her as a loving wife and an uncommonly engaged mother for the time.
And there’s also an old family legend, some witchcraft, and even a synopsis of the story via Twitter thrown in for good measure. All that said, though, I never really felt gripped by the plot line as I have in some of Gregory’s earlier novels and gave this book a two-star rating on Goodreads.
As I entered my less-than-stellar rating, I couldn’t help but notice that I’d rated another recent read much higher, giving four stars to Figures in Silk. I read this one last month but never quite got around to posting about it here.
Figures in Silk takes a look at the same time period from completely different eyes, those of a guildswoman who trades silk and becomes the mistress of the Duke of York, the same duke who goes on to become Richard III. A few characters cross over between the two novels, including Elizabeth Shore who was a mistress of Edward IV, William Hastings, the kings’ best friend, and even the ill-fated princes. But the main action focuses on Isabel Lambert, the silk merchant, and her attempts to solidify her place in the world both financially and romantically.
Both books remind me that women, though only recently bestowed with formal offices of power, have alway molded their worlds to achieve their goals. Whether those efforts will lead to happiness or not in the end remains one of life’s biggest questions in both the past and the present.