Monday, 7 September 2009
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Simon & Schuster
A dish fit for a king?
The most beautiful woman in England, they called Elizabeth Woodville, back in the 15th century. “I didn’t raise you to be a poor widow,” her witchy mother tells her, “alone in a cold bed, her beauty wasted on empty lands.”
And so say all of us
Never fear: enter the usurper king, Edward IV - the Yorkist commander who has booted out the Lancastrian king Henry VI. Elizabeth, daughter of a big Lancaster supporter, is a descendant of Melusina, an Anglo-French water goddess, so she’s able to slither into his affections.
Is this a real historical person?
Elizabeth? Oh yes. Mother of the Princes in the Tower, poor mites. Though Gregory (like many actual historians) believes that the ‘false pretender’ Perkin Warbeck was the real deal. He was the younger of the princes, and had (she reckons) been hidden away in Flanders by a Jewish merchant pal of Elizabeth’s.
She’s a pale and distant beauty?
She’s a hard-edged rip. Herself and the magical ma are constantly ill-wishing those who would use the lady ill. Edward’s cousin ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’, who was the politico that got him the throne, went on to plot with his brother to oust him.
Lovely, lovely people
Believe you me, the Plantagenets were a nasty bunch of snakes, surpassed only by the Tudors who finally got the knife in them. Anyway, our Liz and the ma are forever whistling up ill winds (which almost wreck Warwick and one of his invasion forces, but then go on to do the same to her Ed), and writing their enemies’ names in blood and putting them in lockets.
Bit daft, eh?
Well, the 15th century was kind of like that anyway. Everyone believed in witchcraft, though witches ran the risk of being strangled at a crossroads by a blacksmith.
Why don’t we have these books about Ireland?
Doubtless because we’re much, much nicer.