The White Queen

The White Queen

Philippa Gregory presents the first of a new series set amid the deadly feuds of England known as the Wars of the Roses.Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through...

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Title:The White Queen
Author:Philippa Gregory
Rating:
ISBN:1416563687
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:408 pages

The White Queen Reviews

  • Erika
    May 29, 2009

    Philippa Gregory’s latest historical fiction release is, to put it mildly, absolutely amazing. I think this is one of her better books--on par with

    . The scope of

    is just as if not more epic, in terms of literary drama, than the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn at the hand of King Henry VIII. It focuses on The War of the Roses, a bloody war of politics and rival family members pitted against each other as the Yorks and Lancasters fought to become the next ruling

    Philippa Gregory’s latest historical fiction release is, to put it mildly, absolutely amazing. I think this is one of her better books--on par with

    . The scope of

    is just as if not more epic, in terms of literary drama, than the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn at the hand of King Henry VIII. It focuses on The War of the Roses, a bloody war of politics and rival family members pitted against each other as the Yorks and Lancasters fought to become the next ruling family of England.

    I didn’t know much about this time in England’s history except that the Tudors, as part of the House of Lancaster, are the winners and the symbol of Henry VII’s unification of the two houses is the Tudor Rose. Of course, since it’s a war of cousins, as soon as I began reading, I had a hard time keeping track of this huge family and found a really handy family tree on Wikipedia made specifically for following the lineage and contributing royals to this war. Even with that, it’s hard to keep track of three generations of names like Richard, Edward, and George. But I think I did fine.

    is told through the voice of Elizabeth Woodville, a widow of the House of Lancaster with two sons left fatherless from the war with the Yorks. She finds herself in the middle of her mother’s plotting and is soon exerting her ambitions on the upstart York King Edward IV. Gregory imagines theirs being a true romance, despite Edward’s kingly indulgence of other women--she manages to make Edward and Elizabeth’s relationship seem much deeper than political ambition. They are married in secret--an act which eventually comes back to haunt them and puts their positions in danger. Rumors and scandals spread by rivals--even Edward’s own brother--threaten to overturn Elizabeth’s good luck and the safety of her large family of heirs.

    Among the accusations is a cry of witchcraft at the hand of her mother, Jacquetta, who believes herself to be a descendant of Melusina, the mythic influence of The Little Mermaid fairy tale. Wielding strange beliefs in the power of her little spells and enchantments, the inclusion of this in the text adds an elusive and magical femininity to

    and like Philippa Gregory’s other books, both confirms and denies age old questions of the wickedness once believed to be punishable only by drowning or burning. It’s just as easy to believe in the childhood mysteries and superstitions drawn out into her burgeoning womanhood as it is to think Elizabeth’s successes and failures are the result of her and her mother’s ambitious and well thought out machinations.

    If I read correctly, there are also references to stories of Cinderella and real-life influences for the myth of Robin Hood. Belief in fairy tales or not, they add an ambiance and counter the surprisingly bloody and graphic battle scenes Gregory writes with the confidence of a writer who’s been doing it her whole life. I’ve read eight of her books--in none of them do I remember ever reading the specifics on combat. That she does venture bravely into that arena emphasizes the extend of the war fueled by the political ambitions of the York and Lancaster families. If she hadn’t, I don’t think I would have understood the gravity, the severity, or the consequence of the war as much. I’m grateful and impressed--Gregory has definitely gone up a notch in my book. She reenforces her existing mastery of writing scandal, intrigue, romance, and the political maneuvering and flirtations of the court. But she also shows off skills I never knew she had; the darker side of Gregory’s writing is just as inviting as it is graphic.

    I think it’s this addition to the book and the almost magical realism of the Rivers family and the storms they wield that make this a really spectacular first part in a trilogy (The Cousins War) that will include two other titles:

    and

    . Of course, Philippa Gregory’s mastery over English history and phenomenal research makes for spell-binding historical fictions when combined with her superb storytelling and attention to the type of detail that adds veracity and momentum to every one of her books.

    It helps that she wrote about such a tumultuous and dramatic time in English history--ripe for literary exploration. With the way she approaches her subjects and writes, I think Philippa Gregory could make almost any period in history sound scrumptious. That being said, the mysterious disappearance of the Princes in the Tower was an event way outside of my bubble of knowledge--I admit, I cheated and Googled the phrase to learn what about their fate has become so profound. After reading the book, I’m tickled to learn that Gregory has intertwined their fictitious fate with that of Henry VIII in

    who blames Anne Boleyn for his impotence and her inability to produce a healthy heir. I had to laugh as I read the curses of Elizabeth and her daughter. After all, Henry VIII, if Elizabeth’s magic is to be believed, has the right to place the blame on his troubles elsewhere--he’s just blamed the wrong woman is all!

    In any event, I completely recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and anyone interested in reading a riveting story of love, jealousy, and vengeance. And I absolutely recommend this to Philippa Gregory fans. She’s reinvented herself in this one, I think and proves she can use fairy tales, romance, and gore in the same book and make it all completely plausible. I can’t say enough how much I loved this book. You should go pre-order it right now.

    .

  • Misfit
    Jun 12, 2009

    The White Queen is the first in a new series Gregory is writing based upon the Plantagenets and the Wars of the Roses - or The Cousins War as she calls it. The book begins as a widowed Elizabeth Woodville waits on the side of the road with her two young sons to plea for her dower lands from Edward IV. Several years younger, Edward is captivated and must have her - but Elizabeth holds out for a wedding ring and gets it. Elizabeth is crowned queen and immediately goes about getting the best positi

    The White Queen is the first in a new series Gregory is writing based upon the Plantagenets and the Wars of the Roses - or The Cousins War as she calls it. The book begins as a widowed Elizabeth Woodville waits on the side of the road with her two young sons to plea for her dower lands from Edward IV. Several years younger, Edward is captivated and must have her - but Elizabeth holds out for a wedding ring and gets it. Elizabeth is crowned queen and immediately goes about getting the best positions and marriages for her relatives, which earns the enmity of just about everyone else. The story continues as Edward battles with Margaret of Anjou and the deposed Henry VI, as well as his treacherous brother Clarence and Warwick, The Kingmaker, and finally culminates at the death of Edward IV (that's known history, no spoilers here), and his brother Richard ascends the throne. That's really about all I want to tell you about the plot. If you're familiar with the period you know the basics and if you're not it's way too complicated to try and put it all into a review.

    I found the writing overly repetitive to the point that I felt like I was being clubbed over the head. Whether it be the first chapters where she keeps referring to twenty-two year old battled hardened Edward as a "boy" (counted it at least six times on one page), to the locket with the names written in blood, as well as the ever present and over bearing references to her ancestor Melusine - I got the point the first time. Outside of the first few chapters at the beginning of their relationship I didn't pick up much chemistry between Edward and Elizabeth - they should have sizzled right off of the pages and instead they fizzled. But worst of all was the magic and spells cast by Elizabeth and her mother, whether you buy it or not I found the casual way everyone in the book treated it more than just a tad bit unbelievable. It’s just another day in the park and I’ll whistle up another storm to thwart my enemies. I think with all the people who hated her someone would have had her tried as a witch.

    One last minor nitpick and thanks to Robin and Susan who spotted this – one of Elizabeth’s palaces is Nonesuch (or Nonsuch). Google that and you’ll find that it was built by Henry VIII. Oops. I am recommending this one only for die-hard Gregory fans, you’re better off reading Penman’s fabulous Sunne in Splendour. If you’re not sure get it from the library first. Glad I did.

  • Brandy
    Aug 21, 2009

    Not what I was hoping for. The book jacket is better than this book. I finished it, but barely. The story went on and on and on- drama and drama and drama. Gregory's other books were interesting and hard to put down. This story was lacking the same intensity. The main character's voice was weak and a bit whiny. The first 100 pages were about how much she loved her husband, the king- how much she wanted him, how great the sex was and then what she gave to her family once she was queen. Too trivia

    Not what I was hoping for. The book jacket is better than this book. I finished it, but barely. The story went on and on and on- drama and drama and drama. Gregory's other books were interesting and hard to put down. This story was lacking the same intensity. The main character's voice was weak and a bit whiny. The first 100 pages were about how much she loved her husband, the king- how much she wanted him, how great the sex was and then what she gave to her family once she was queen. Too trivial- no depth or meat to this story. Really- stick to the book jacket- huge disappointment!!

  • Sara
    Sep 06, 2009

    After showcasing as many Tudor royals as any one reader can comfortably stomach, Philippa Gregory strives to show us another English Royal family as equally interesting. The White Queen launches her War of the Roses trilogy, and focuses on Elizabeth Woodville. Gregory’s Woodville falls instantly in love with the King, and she ascends the throne at a dangerous time of civil war. An incredibly cut throat period in which each claimant to the throne has a much right as the next, and the alliances of

    After showcasing as many Tudor royals as any one reader can comfortably stomach, Philippa Gregory strives to show us another English Royal family as equally interesting. The White Queen launches her War of the Roses trilogy, and focuses on Elizabeth Woodville. Gregory’s Woodville falls instantly in love with the King, and she ascends the throne at a dangerous time of civil war. An incredibly cut throat period in which each claimant to the throne has a much right as the next, and the alliances of the Great Families of England are always shifting. We soon learn that no one, especially your own family can be trusted in noble England. Elizabeth and Edward’s union makes instant enemies, and the entirety of their marriage will be spent on defending the throne.

    In my opinion, while this novel is good, it is not as good as either Boleyn book chiefly because I felt that I understood those characters. In The White Queen, Elizabeth is painted as complacent and dutiful wife during the first half of the novel, and ambitious shrew during the second. Towards the end it becomes a Woodville on the throne at any cost which may have been historically accurate, but it didn’t fit with Elizabeth’s established persona up until then. Elizabeth also believes she is the descendent from a water goddess from a fairy tale which Gregory interrupts literally, and that tale is interspersed with Elizabeth’s tale although they don’t quite connect. The tenses also shift from Elizabeth’s first person to assumedly Elizabeth’s first person describing battle details as they happen which doesn’t make sense and is jarring.

    However, the book is still one of Gregory’s best. As always the story is instantly gripping. You are immediately immersed in the Woodville family, and their struggles to advance their family while ensuring security for Edward’s reign. Gregory does a great job of fleshing out a family that has been villanized by history, and presenting their side of the story. And even those who know the inevitable outcome will be surprised by Gregory’s take. Gregory doesn’t attempt to pander for sympathy to Elizabeth’s plight and instead gives us as even a portrayal of Elizabeth as the historical records afford. And Elizabeth’s relationship to her own daughter (also Elizabeth) is easily my favorite element of the novel, this relationship is almost portrayed as Elizabeth wrestling with her own conscience which is not only brilliant but expertly builds interest for the next two books in the series.

    Gregory’s books are one of my guiltiest and most anticipated literary pleasures. This book was no exception. Gregory fans and first time readers who enjoy the genre will want to puck it up immediately and will count down the days until her next book in the series, The Red Queen. Moderate fans may want to wait for the paperback.

  • Stacey
    Sep 29, 2009

    Here is a thought that has probably never occurred to anyone while reading a Philippa Gregory novel: You know what this book needs? More politics!

    Gregory is best known for her fictionalized tales about the lives of the Kings and Queens of England, most famously The Other Boleyn Girl. This is a genre I like to call Historical Harlequin, whereby there may be some actual fact but it is mostly sappy, glorified romance in what was probably just a time period more miserable than the 90’s. She turns fa

    Here is a thought that has probably never occurred to anyone while reading a Philippa Gregory novel: You know what this book needs? More politics!

    Gregory is best known for her fictionalized tales about the lives of the Kings and Queens of England, most famously The Other Boleyn Girl. This is a genre I like to call Historical Harlequin, whereby there may be some actual fact but it is mostly sappy, glorified romance in what was probably just a time period more miserable than the 90’s. She turns fat homicidal maniacs into heartthrobs (i.e., Henry VIII) and sad female pawns into beautiful heroines (i.e, every woman in her novels. Has anyone seen 16th century portraits? No one was beautiful. They were all marrying their cousins.). Gregory usually does this with remarkable skill, and her compelling, provocative novels always end up on the bestseller list. They are a tasty guilty pleasure, kind of like Twilight’s older, brainier cousin.

    Her newest novel, The White Queen, appeared to no one’s surprise on the bestseller list almost immediately. The surprise is in how terribly boring this one is. Gregory has abandoned the Tudor dynasty and gone back in time to the Plantagenets, a seemingly psychotic clan who should have been easy to write exciting literature about. Two families, the Lancasters and the Yorks, struggled for the throne for generations. The ruthless, brother-on-brother violence and endless battling is now known as The War of the Roses, since supporters wore colored roses to represent their favorite team, so to speak. Prior to reading this novel, I just thought The War of the Roses was an 80’s movie starring Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. So at least I learned something and it wasn’t a total waste of time.

    The story follows Elizabeth Woodville. She begins the book as a poor young widow and mother of two whose husband died in battle against the Yorks. Then, for inexplicable and icky reasons, she falls in love with the victor King Edward, who is essentially responsible for her husband’s death. No matter. They marry in secret, and after an interminable number of pages, she eventually is declared Queen. This makes her happy for reasons completely unclear to anyone sane, especially considering that the chief pastime of royals in this time period was to cut off one another’s heads.

    As usual, Gregory navigates a hefty chunk of time and history (in this case, 20 years) in relatively little space. The problem is that she misjudges the things that her audience might actually be interested in. The Other Boleyn Girl, her best and most famous novel, did not bother the reader with the details of Henry’s political life beyond how it affected his love life. The White Queen reads, at times, like a Eurpoean History textbook. It is crammed with names, dates, and battles. Hello? Girls read your books, Philippa. Give us some love scenes. The steamier, the better. But when she’s not writing like a stuffy historian, she’s writing sentiments that belong in ‘N Sync songs: “He will never understand what happened that day between a young man and a young woman. There was magic: and the name of it was love.” Yikes.

    It’s next to impossible to keep track of who anyone is. Everyone is named Richard, Edward, and Elizabeth. Elizabeth names her own daughter Elizabeth, and both her

    husband and son are named Edward. She has two sons named Richard. That’s just lazy. The king’s brothers are Richard and George, and Elizabeth has sons named—you guessed it—Richard and George. And it’s not just her family. It seems that there were only ten names total to choose from in the 16th century, and Gregory introduces us to about 700 characters all with the same ten names. It’s like watching The Hills, where everyone is equally blonde and equally stupid and you have no idea what’s happening or why.

    There is one bright spot. Women are always getting their heads chopped off in Gregory’s books because they’re accused of being witches—an accusation that rings ridiculous in modern ears. In this book, Gregory decides to make the Queen actually guilty of witchcraft, not just accused of it. She and her mother have “powers”—they cast spells, call up storms, tell the future, etc. This choice, according to the Author’s Note at the end, stems from actual historical record that the Queen believed herself to be descended from a water goddess. Weird, yes. Boring, no.

    The rest is par for the course. The men all come across as paranoid, power-hungry finger-pointers and philanderers, while the women are all strong, smart, beautiful, and blameless. There is a word for woman-hating: misogyny. Whatever the word is for man-hating, I think Philippa Gregory is guilty of it. Poor guys. Apparently not a single nice one existed in all of England for the better part of 200 years. The only good ones get killed off in battle or in unjust head-removal procedures. She may need to work out some of these issues in therapy.

    The White Queen is billed as “the first in a series” of books about the Plantagenets, and the ending, indeed, has a Lord of the Rings lack of finality to it that is more than a little frustrating. It’s hard not to hope that she gets her head chopped off in the next one so we can start fresh.

    For some far better Historical Harlequin reads, I recommend the following:

    The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (but you’ve read that already. Everyone has.)

    The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson (Do not waste your time on the Marie Antoinette book by this same author. Terrible.)

    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (Biblical Harlequin—finally!)

    If you like this article, click here to read more. Also select “subscribe to email” to receive free email updates when I post a new review.

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  • Madeline
    Dec 26, 2009

    Considering that I've now read six of her books, it pains me to say that I might be getting over Phillipa Gregory. Most of the reviews for

    were good, and I expected to like it. But for the most part, it was just...meh.

    So, plot summary: we've moved back in time from the Sexy Sexy Tudors to the Sexy Sexy Plantagenets, but unfortunately these people do a lot less fucking and a lot more plotting. Also witchcraft, which was weird.

    Reasons I Did Not Particularly Love This Book:

    -The ma

    Considering that I've now read six of her books, it pains me to say that I might be getting over Phillipa Gregory. Most of the reviews for

    were good, and I expected to like it. But for the most part, it was just...meh.

    So, plot summary: we've moved back in time from the Sexy Sexy Tudors to the Sexy Sexy Plantagenets, but unfortunately these people do a lot less fucking and a lot more plotting. Also witchcraft, which was weird.

    Reasons I Did Not Particularly Love This Book:

    -The main character, Elizabeth Woodville, apparently came from a family that actually claimed to be descended from the water goddess Melusina. Okay, I can stand by that, but then Gregory takes it a step further (several steps, actually) and decides that not only do Elizabeth and her mother regularly perform spells that actually work, but they both have the Sight. Capital S. Gregory's pulled this trick before, with the vision-having character in

    , but it wasn't a major plot point there, and ultimately didn't influence the story that much. The supernatural element in this one borders on the ridiculous - Elizabeth whistles in a storm to stop Henry Tudor from invading London. I am not making this up, but Gregory is.

    -This is a prequel, so there's lots of foreshadowing to what's going to happen in the next books. And it's very, very blatant foreshadowing. Characters are always saying things like, "Henry Tudor will never be king, none of the Tudors will" and "I trust Richard with my life, he's a great brother" and I can just

    Philippa Gregory winking from behind the page, singing "I know what's gonna happen, I know what's gonna happen!" SO DO I, PHILIPPA.

    -Elizabeth Woodville is traditionally vilified, which seems like a good enough reason to write a book from her perspective, but even when she's telling the story she can't hide the fact that she's kind of...evil. She manipulates people to serve her own agenda, is ruthless in securing the throne for her children even after Richard takes over and her kids just want to go home, and she also holds very creepy grudges against anyone who killed a member of her family. Her dad and one of her brothers gets killed in battle, and from then on

    she mentions the men responsible she's like, "I'm going to kill them. They are dead men. I'm going to kill them so hard with magic and then I will make necklaces out of their spines and dance naked on their graves."

    , woman!

    -Every single man is named either Edward, Richard, George, or Henry. A family tree is provided at the beginning of the book, but since it stops at Edward IV and his brothers, it's no help at all when it comes to tracking Elizabeth's ten million siblings and children.

    Maybe I'm moving beyond Philippa Gregory. This makes me sad, mostly because it means I need to find a new series of trashy guilty-pleasure books to read.

  • Maliha
    Feb 27, 2010

    Alright, I honestly did not like this novel. I can't believe this woman has written more than 10 books? I've been trying to conjure up excuses to give Gregory some credit but this novel just wasn't my style. Mainly because all it really is, is a detailed historical timeline with a little embellishment here and there; its bland soup. Her writing style in the beginning of the book was abominable. The first 10 pages were all I, I, I, and then He, He, He. What I'm trying to say is that there was no

    Alright, I honestly did not like this novel. I can't believe this woman has written more than 10 books? I've been trying to conjure up excuses to give Gregory some credit but this novel just wasn't my style. Mainly because all it really is, is a detailed historical timeline with a little embellishment here and there; its bland soup. Her writing style in the beginning of the book was abominable. The first 10 pages were all I, I, I, and then He, He, He. What I'm trying to say is that there was no sentence variation, making the story very annoying to read after about five minutes. She improves on this towards the middle of the book but not immensely; her writing style is still pretty "feeling-less".

    I also did not like the plot, now this I cannot blame on Gregory as she can not be held responsible for the irritating nature of the Old Regime. There are some take-away lessons from this story about power and "government" but after a while, the atrocities that men and women committed just to gain power became a little redundant and even annoying. Its like okay how many times are going to fight for someone else's throne? It just seemed like all these people had to do before the advent of television was go to war and try and become King of so and so. I would HATE to have lived in that era or to be a Queen or a Princess and be caught up in the endless web of greed. I hold all these views thanks to Gregory's perspective.It would be great to read something about this era written from the perspective of a common man.

    Gregory really had something going with the witch side plot line. Magic always adds intrigue to a predictable story. But this was a very minute part of the novel. Most of the novel was just this happened and then that happened and then we were happy (summary) and then we went to war. The war details were great! This is why I'm even giving the novel two stars. There was a lot of detail there and you really could see the battles happening. The personal relationships were colorless though so unless you need to learn about the House of York for history class, I wouldn't waste my time with this book.

  • Kate
    Apr 22, 2010

    2013 update: It's been three years since I wrote this review. Just read the book again and my opinion remains the same.

    -----

    I have a confession to make: I’ve been known to read trashy books. Now, this isn’t something that I like to shout from the rooftops, but if you spent your days reading Chaucer, you would unwind with something less cerebral too. I’ve done the romance novel thing, but the formula becomes grating after a while. So, my most turned to brainless literature is mediocre historical

    2013 update: It's been three years since I wrote this review. Just read the book again and my opinion remains the same.

    -----

    I have a confession to make: I’ve been known to read trashy books. Now, this isn’t something that I like to shout from the rooftops, but if you spent your days reading Chaucer, you would unwind with something less cerebral too. I’ve done the romance novel thing, but the formula becomes grating after a while. So, my most turned to brainless literature is mediocre historical fiction.

    I don’t think Philippa Gregory stared out as a mediocre artist. Her break-out novel,

    , was pretty gripping and presented a side of that worn out Tudor saga that I hadn’t heard before. Unfortunately, her work has started to go down a long, dull hill. She’s now turning her attention to the final years of the Plantagenet reign over English with

    .

    follows the rise of Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner widow, who captures the eye of the young King Edward IV and rises to be the queen of the penultimate reign of a Plantagenet monarch. This period of time has been much discussed by artists and historians as an era of greed and blood. Many a historian has portrayed Edward IV’s queen as the head of a family of grasping bloodsuckers who wormed their way into the highest positions in the kingdom, much like the Boleyns a few generations later. Shakespeare even dedicated his pen to a play based on the period:

    . There’s an incredible amount to tell and so many points of view to take in.

    Unfortunately, Gregory decides to take the least believable route. Inspired by the whispers of witchcraft that surrounded the Woodville family (which was supposedly descended from a water goddess), Gregory portrays Elizabeth Woodville, her mother, and daughter Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII) as practitioners of wizardry. What made Edward fall for Elizabeth? A ring tied to a string. What made a boat carrying important dignitaries toss violently over the sea? A storm called up by witches’ breath. What withers Richard III’s sword arm and cripples his health? A curse and a locket. Really, Philippa, really?

    I think her choice in plot devices shows an author taking the easy way out. Elizabeth Woodville, whether you liked her or not, was a force to be reckoned with. She defied an ordained king by claiming sanctuary for herself and her children in a basement. She suffered through accusations that her husband had been a bastard, sired by a lowly English bowman. She climbed to the highest position in the land and hung there through some of the greatest storms in English royal history. And Gregory credits it to witchcraft? Ugh.

    Seriously, if you find this era interesting, pick up Sharon Kay Penman’s

    , a hefty novel that relies on history and the strength of the characters. Gregory would indeed need witchcraft to reach her standard of work. Sadly, I’m probably going to end up reading Gregory’s next book, which will be a depiction of the same events, just from the point of view of Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry Tudor. I will grit my teeth in irritation, then maybe through my Kindle in the trash, but I will read it shamefaced. Why am I so weak?!

  • Iset
    Feb 13, 2011

    Before I even began reading the novel, I noticed one or two problems. Though small, they're worth noting. Gregory includes a royal family tree at the front of the book, to demonstrate the Houses of York and Lancaster, but according to this tree Edmund Tudor was married to King Henry VI at some point. I've got to say I burst out laughing at this. I understand that it's a genuine mistake, but seriously? Didn't Philippa Gregory or an editor or someone catch this before the book went to press? Putti

    Before I even began reading the novel, I noticed one or two problems. Though small, they're worth noting. Gregory includes a royal family tree at the front of the book, to demonstrate the Houses of York and Lancaster, but according to this tree Edmund Tudor was married to King Henry VI at some point. I've got to say I burst out laughing at this. I understand that it's a genuine mistake, but seriously? Didn't Philippa Gregory or an editor or someone catch this before the book went to press? Putting a family tree in the beginning of a book is kind of an important deal to get right - you put it in so that your readers could understand the character relationships in your book, so you want to make sure that the tree is accurate!

    Getting into the book, at first it didn't seem that bad. The writing style felt somewhat different initially, and I reasonably enjoyed the imagined scenes of how Edward and Elizabeth came together. It was a bit fairytale romance, but I could look past that, and the stuff with the reeling in of the ring I could dismiss as superstitious custom. However, Philippa Gregory is quickly up to her old tricks again. Jacquetta's comeback to Edward's mother? Please. Talk about simplistic dialogue. What was up until that point a continuous coherent plot begins to jump about as necessity dictates; from September 1464 we jump to May 1465, then to Summer 1468 which is a chapter only lasting a little more than three pages, then suddenly from that we've jumped way ahead to Summer 1469. At one point we even jump ahead FIVE YEARS from 1478 to 1483! All the romance suddenly feels sucked out from Elizabeth and Edward's relationship and all they do is have the same old discussion about Edward having to ride off and leave her to put down another rebellion... My issue here is not the history (because Edward did have several rebellions to contend with), but Gregory skipping ahead in this manner, providing us only with a few short pages before skipping ahead again. I understand perfectly that there are fewer sources on what these people were doing than there were on the Tudors, but shouldn't a good writer be plausibly filling in the gaps and developing their characters rather than rushing ahead to get to the next big event? This writing feels hasty and rushed, and no wonder it feels like all Edward talks about is riding off to the next rebellion: Gregory is just covering the same ground over and over and cutting out huge chunks of what is happening in between.

    Gregory sure does like her repetition too - we are endlessly told of how Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta are, according to legend, descended from the mythical water goddess or spirit Melusina, and Elizabeth brings up that annoying dark locket more times than I've had hot dinners. As an example of the kind of interminable repetition; "These are gowns as good as I wore when I was queen. 'Good God, Elizabeth,' I say. 'Where do you get your gowns from? This is as fine as anything I had when I was Queen of England.' " The sheer anachronisms of the words Gregory puts into the mouths of her characters is hilarious. At one point Jacquetta calls George "an utter numpty". I had to stop reading in order to roar with laughter at that point. The word "numpty" didn't even enter the dictionary until 2001 and began life as a slang word in the 20th century. I even read at one point a character say "Oh my God!" I'm pretty sure that in the 15th century, what with the character who says it being a staunch Catholic and all, this would be considered blasphemy.

    It's not just an anachronistic word here or there either. Sometimes the actual quality of the English that Gregory writes is below average. Take this example: "Perhaps to save all the family who named themselves Rivers in order to honour the water-goddess who was the founder of their family". This is horribly clunky and inelegant English. A more correct writing of that sentence would be; "Perhaps to save all the family who named themselves Rivers in order to honour the water-goddess who was their founder". An editor should have picked up on this kind of poor phrasing, and for that matter you would hope that the author themselves would write with enough quality and skill not to produce ugly, clunky sentences like that. Another really annoying linguistic feature in this book is that whenever Elizabeth refers to her sons by her first marriage, she calls them "my boy, Richard Grey" and "my son, Thomas Grey". Granted, Elizabeth had two sons named Richard, so I can understand why one might need to distinguish between them in writing, but why does she need to call Thomas by his full name? Elizabeth only had one son named Thomas. It's obvious that Philippa Gregory uses this clumsy phrasing of their full names because she thinks her readers are stupid and won't understand what's going on or who she's talking about, even if the situation and names have been explained several times at the start of the book. It's denigrating. There are other grammatical errors throughout the text, and at one point Elizabeth Woodville talks to her own daughter and refers to "your uncle, Thomas" - you'd think what with all the repetition of "my son, Thomas Grey" Gregory could get it straight that Thomas would be the half-brother of Princess Elizabeth, not her uncle.

    Written in first person perspective from Elizabeth Woodville's point of view, and in the present tense, it becomes apparent about a third of the way into the book that Gregory has actually painted herself into a corner by doing this. Whenever events in the rebellions occur outside of Elizabeth's knowledge, she has no real way of writing it. This is the danger of writing first person instead of third person for a story which you know is going to have more scope than one person's experiences. One way she gets round this is through messengers, which felt acceptable and certainly the most plausible method, but she is forced to use that device so often that it quickly becomes repetitive. Another way she does it is by pandering to this mythologising of Elizabeth and Jacquetta, and having them dream it as part of their powers of witchcraft. The third and most annoying way is that she sometimes resorts to switching out to third person just to write battle scenes that Elizabeth was absent from. This switching over into third person, when the majority of the book is in first person, is immensely jarring, and reading those scenes it quickly becomes apparent how Gregory is awkwardly trying to find a way out of her fix.

    I also didn't like the inclusion of genuine magical powers on the part of Jacquetta and Elizabeth Woodville in the novel. Instead of bringing to life the flesh and blood, flawed and subtle personalities of real people from history, it just turns them into glossed over fairytale figures. It's sensationalism - just like her inclusion of completely disproven slander about Anne Boleyn in "The Other Boleyn Girl" - there was no reason for its inclusion, it was just an attempt to make the story more salacious. Making Elizabeth and Jacquetta genuine witches in this novel does the real women no favours whatsoever, it merely panders to the kind of scandals that they had to suffer being gossiped about them. A few final words must be said about the novel's ending. It ends rather abruptly, however the princes in the Tower incident forms the climax of the tale. Clearly the curse is meant to be ironic, but the irony is thick and heavy, almost as if Gregory were nudging me repeatedly and winking at me and saying "Do you get it? Do you get it yet? Do you see what I've done there? Because we all know how THAT turns out, don't we?" Unfortunately what Philippa Gregory thinks is subtle foreshadowing in her novels is about as subtle as a ten foot neon sign. Also what she does is not really foreshadowing - it's hindsight. For once I'd like to see a character in a Philippa Gregory novel make a prediction or curse that does not happen later in history.

    Overall, the book feels rushed and hasty with big chunks missing from the story, further marred by lack of thorough research (Nonsuch Palace, word and phrase anachronisms, the accusation of Edward's illegitimacy) and where research is done it is often altered even when it doesn't make sense in the plot to do so. The romance between Edward and Elizabeth starts off as fairytale sap and then quickly sputters out into a string of repetitive goodbyes. The text is blighted by poor English, grammatical errors, and internal mistakes such as Thomas Grey suddenly being called Princess Elizabeth's uncle instead of her half-brother and the family tree showing Edmund Tudor married to Henry VI. The interpretation of Jacquetta and Elizabeth and their family as witches does the real women no favours, painting them as fairy story characters and not real people, and turns the plot into a silly series of deus ex machinae whenever Elizabeth is in a tight spot, thus eliminating most of the sense of risk, danger and tension from the story. It's clear that Philippa Gregory has no understanding of either the times she is writing about or the real people who lived through them. She makes a bad choice by writing the book in present tense from the first person perspective of Elizabeth Woodville, and she struggles to get around this restriction when she has to convey events that were outside Elizabeth's experience. Ultimately "The White Queen" is far too narrow and personal in scope to convey the complexities and subtleties of historical events, reduced down to a popularity contest of personal relationships, with the wider picture woefully forgotten. Sharon Penman's The Sunne in Splendour is still the gold standard for the retelling of the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III, and "The White Queen" falls well short. Anyone wanting to read about this period in history should avoid this book, as there are so many better options out there.

  • Bookworm Sean
    Jan 17, 2014

    This was my first Philippa Gregory novel, and it was such an excellent introduction to the author and genre. It actually inspired me to read more historical fiction by a variety of writers. I like Gregory’s style because the history, and intensity, is not sacrificed by the romance in the plot. Indeed, the romance is a mere element of the story, and not the story itself. So, now, many years later, I’m glad I picked this book up. I like Gregory's Elizabeth; she has such sharp claws.

    This was my first Philippa Gregory novel, and it was such an excellent introduction to the author and genre. It actually inspired me to read more historical fiction by a variety of writers. I like Gregory’s style because the history, and intensity, is not sacrificed by the romance in the plot. Indeed, the romance is a mere element of the story, and not the story itself. So, now, many years later, I’m glad I picked this book up. I like Gregory's Elizabeth; she has such sharp claws.

    Philippa is a master at getting into the mind of these historical figures; she takes the events and narrates them from the perspective of how the said character may have perceived them. Elizabeth Woodville is many things; she is a courageous woman and a loyal wife; she is ambitious and deadly; she is strong and ruthless. To some she is even considered a witch but, firstly, and undeniably, she is a concerned mother. This worriment over the fate of her children is exactly what makes her queen of England; her concern drives her to seek protection under the banner of York.

    Her first husband has died fighting for the red rose: he has died under the banner of Lancaster. So, Elizabeth is widowed and in need of protection. Her family are seen as traitors by the new Yorkist regime; they are enemies of the crown. So, what better way than to appear as if by random out of the woods, like a fairy-tale princess, to gain the King’s heart? Elizabeth seduced the King, and he was more than happy to oblige her, but she was clever enough to gain some surety before giving herself fully to him; thus, she joins the house of York in a very well written opening to this book.

    The marriage of Elizabeth and Edward IV began with passion and heat; it ended with political upheaval. I love the way Elizabeth has been written; it is such a way that suggests that her actions could be driven by a mother’s natural instinct to protect her children, and then at the same time suggests that she is merely plotting for her own power lust. I, personally, think it was a little bit of both. She feared Richard, but she also wanted to remain queen. This was quite a pivotal moment for history because if the two had reconciled, then perhaps together they could have saved the white rose of York. English history and society would be remarkably different.

    But, that would never have happened. Both factions of the house of York wanted the power and wanted to be rulers of England. Elizabeth ensured her own security by keeping one of her boys out of Richard’s, supposedly, dirty hands. This young York boy appears later in the

    as Perkin Warbeck. Indeed, Gregory leaves herself room for later scandal, lies and pure intrigue. I love this series, and I love the way she has written her characters. It’s an interpretation that, historically, could be true and accurate. But, at the same time, she never points any fingers. She shows us how things have happened, but at the same time doesn’t directly say who was responsible; she suggests just enough that every character has equal blame. I’m, of course, referring to the murders of the princes in the tower. In this, I feel that Gregory is completely impartial.

    1. The White Queen-

    2. The Red Queen-

    3. The Lady of the Rivers-