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Rewind Review: THE WHITE QUEEN by Philippa Gregory

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I just finished watching the miniseries based on this, and the other Cousins’ War novels, so I thought it would be a good idea to post this review while the miniseries is still fresh in my mind.

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Audiobook narrated by Susan Lyons

The White QueenBook Blurb:
The White Queen is the story of Elizabeth Woodville, a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition, who secretly marries the newly crowned Edward IV. Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for her family’s dominance, but despite her best efforts, her two sons become pawns in a famous unsolved mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the lost princes in the Tower of London. In this dazzling account of the deadly Wars of the Roses, brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England.

My Review:

Story: 1 star (DNF)
Narrator: 4 stars

      Goodreads bookshelves: books-read-in-2013, audiobook, historical-fiction
      Read from May 20 to June 06, 2013

I could not bring myself to finish listening to this book—and that’s the first time that has happened to me with one of Philippa Gregory’s books.

Philippa Gregory didn’t do her usual good job of making me care about the characters in this story. I figured it would be easier for me to grow to care for characters I didn’t know anything about (unlike in the Boleyn books)—I had no preconceived ideas or feelings about them one way or another. However, there’s no depth given to any of the characters in this story to make me care what happens to them beyond the basic historical knowledge I have of what did happen in reality. Perhaps the first-person narrator doesn’t work as well in a book like this which tries to cover 20 or so years of history, especially given that most of that history is about the war in which the first-person narrator is not personally involved. But even when the scene does switch over to Edward and the battlefield, there’s no emotion in it. It’s all just dry prose telling what’s happening and a strange emotional detachment from all of the characters.

Compared to the other books of Gregory’s that I’ve read (also on audio, The Boleyn Inheritance—a favorite—and The Other Boleyn Girl), it seems like she sacrificed a lot in the way of character development for inclusion of historical events. And, for me, that didn’t compel me to keep reading/listening.


The White QueenI recently added the Starz premium channels to my cable subscription. (No, it’s not to watch Black Sails. Really, it’s not.) And one of the things that gave me access to was the programming they have available through On Demand. And the entire (first season???) ten episodes of The White Queen were available for bingeing watching.

The reason I subscribed to Starz? Because I watched the first episode for free—and unlike the book, it sucked me right in.

Maybe it was because I had read about 2/3 of this first novel in the book series (the miniseries is based on The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter) and so I was somewhat familiar with the characters and where the story was going, for the most part.

This could be considered a prequel to The Tudors—and, as it was produced by and aired on Starz, it fills that role quite well. (Were the nudity and nearly pornographic sex really necessary to this story? No. At one point, I actually said aloud, “Oh, yes, we haven’t seen a woman’s bare breasts in this episode yet. That’s why she [the queen] is lying there in bed with the sheet neatly tucked under one boob.” Except I might have used a less eloquent word for breasts/boobs.)

The story covers the latter years of the War of the Roses—the battle for the crown of England between the Lancasters and the Yorks. It begins with Elizabeth Woodville and Edward York’s first meeting under an oak tree as he’s riding off to war with the Lancastrians. It’s been speculated throughout history that theirs was, indeed, a love match. He was nineteen; she was five or six years older, and a widow with two sons to boot. She went out to the road to meet him, even though her family were Lancastrians and her father and brothers had fought for that side, because it was apparent the Yorks would win and Edward would be king, to beg Edward to restore her dead husband’s title/lands for her sons to inherit (oh, and Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days’ Queen, was her great-great granddaughter from one of these sons).

According to this version of events, Edward instantly fell in love (or lust) with Elizabeth. In a matter of days after meeting, he convinced her to marry him secretly (with her mother, his priest, and one other witness only). When her older brother Anthony discovered this, he assumed Edward was repeating a pattern—tricking a woman into thinking they were married so he could sleep with her. However, Edward did keep Elizabeth as his wife. Could be because it was true love, could be (as this fictionalized version posits) partly as a way to declare his independence from his uncle Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (also known as “the Kingmaker” for his role in helping Edward/the Yorks overthrow Henry VI and take the throne). Elizabeth, a commoner, wasn’t popular; and the marriage created a lot of issues for Edward in his early reign—not the least of which were the rumors/accusations of witchcraft toward both Elizabeth and her mother. This part, of course, is played up quite prominently in the novel/miniseries.

As I was watching the series, I kept comparing it to other fictional portrayals of political intrigues, stories involving the toppling of monarchs/leaders, etc., and realized that if these events hadn’t actually happened, an author who came up with this would probably have been laughed out of a pitch session for proposing something so far-fetched. Yet it happened—it’s verifiable history. Though, there are still some mysteries—like what happened to the Princes in the Tower (Elizabeth and Edward’s two young sons) after Edward’s death and his brother Richard usurped Prince Edward’s throne before the boy could be crowned King Edward V? How did Isabel Neville, wife of Edward IV’s turncoat brother, George, really die? And could it be possible that Elizabeth Woodville and her daughter Elizabeth of York really did curse the entire Tudor line so that it died out with no surviving male issue?

So . . . I guess you can say that I enjoyed the TV series MUCH more than the book. Maybe, because I now have watched this, I might be able to go back and try re-reading the book and see if I would enjoy it more.

  1. Ruth permalink
    Thursday, February 6, 2014 11:32 am

    I watched the first episode of TWQ and wasn’t inspired to continue with it myself…but I have the book on my TBR pile to try. Who knows, maybe I’ll give the show another shot someday!


  2. Thursday, February 6, 2014 3:17 pm

    I enjoyed the miniseries and I would like to read the books. The books always have more information than the movies. I find royalty a fascinating subject.


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