Political history has never been of particular interest to me, that’s generally why I never enjoyed ‘American History’ classes. I don’t necessarily enjoy such recent history (unless my new fiancé is telling me about it – his fascination with things automatically intrigues me) – I generally prefer ancient history…the older, the better. I’d never really considered learning anything about English History, or the monarchy of any country really, it never crossed my mind. After reading my fourth Philippa Gregory novel, however, I find myself captivated by the history. This is the beauty of books – changing people’s perspectives all the time.
The way I used to view Old English Monarchs::
A bunch of old guys and ladies wearing ridiculous outfits that looked heavy, arrogant, and proud.
The way I view them now::
Real people, who really existed. They had brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers – they had enemies and lovers – alliances and betrayals – fears and pleasures. Their lives at the time weren’t ‘He was such a scoundrel he murdered his wife’ or ‘He was the greediest King to ever rule England’ – there were every day struggles, a constant weight of custom and expectation weighing down upon them. They were at times insecure, other times certain of their convictions, but always having to ‘act’ their roles in the kingdom. The King and Queen could never be seen as weak – could never be questioned, always respected and revered – to question them was treason, but who was to tell them what was right, what to do? What a standard to live up to!
This particular novel, The White Princess, is told through the view of Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, through her marriage to Henry VII, who stole the crown from her Uncle Richard III and founded the Tutor Dynasty (that is a lot of old guys in one sentence, eh?). This is the furthest in history the War of the Roses series has come so far, and I believe Gregory’s Tudor series takes over from here, although there is at least one more novel, The Last Rose, to be released in the Roses series.
Although this installment had plenty of scandals, mystery, rebellions, and emotion, it was not my favorite. Of all the books I’ve read so far, The White Princess reminds me most of The White Queen, which is the story of The White Princess’ mother, also named Elizabeth. What I was expecting to find out from this novel, is apparently impossible to know for sure. What happened to the princes in the tower?? This is apparently a question never answered with certainty in history.
Although I thought certain elements of the story were almost brutal (and apparently there is no historical support for them), the creativity and story weaving of Gregory is like magic. Yes, she can be a little repetitive, but I find that actually helpful in novels like these, where the reader is not necessarily familiar with the social structure of the times. For example, I think there are less than 5 names in the entire novel that are not Margaret, Edward, Henry, Elizabeth, or Richard, and there are a lot of active players in this novel. We have to know whose title is who’s, who their alliances are, what their ‘job’ may be, if they’re loyal to the king or under suspicion, if they have children, where they may fall in succession to the throne, etc. etc. Repetition of these facts when they’re important really seemed to help me understand what was going on when it was important to know.
I definitely recommend Philippa Gregory’s work. It’s fiction, of course, so don’t come into it thinking she’s just plotting facts, like a hundred historians before her; she brings them to life, shows us their possible motivations, makes them real to us, hundreds of years later. Every time I finish one of her books, I have the serious compulsion to pick up another right away.
They’re good ;-)