It’s like the Game of Thrones series, with royalty, pageantry and everybody dies – or, to be more precise, we know everyone will die, because this is historical fiction.
The Lady of Rivers by Philippa Gregory is the first episode in a series of novels about the women in the Royal court during the Cousins War (now known as the War of the Roses.) In this book we cover the early adulthood of Jacquetta Woodville, the mother of Elizabeth Rivers who will later marry Henry of Lancaster and become Queen of England. Their marriage was a secret, and split the fragile peace that Henry and Richard Neville (Earl of Warwick and the Kingmaker) had fought to create.
It seems I have learnt quite a lot from reading Philippa’s books. No? I’m not sure if it’s Gregory’s writing which has brought the medieval times alive for me, or the TV series The White Queen based on her books. I’ve watched it numerous times. Either way, having watched the series first, it does help me put faces to names, and there are so very many names to remember.
While watching the series, I really enjoyed the character of Jacquetta. Gregory has written her as an infinately wise person, loving and fiercely loyal to family and friends, even when the two divide her. I never thought I’d say this, but Jacquetta is almost to good. She marries for love, despite her choice being many classes lower than herself. It’s a fairytale, but that part of her life is also true. I doubt that she never had an angry moment, or spoke poorly at an inopportune moment, or actually did go looking for her husband in the battle-ravaged streets of London.
I feel she’s been written too kindly. She had more children than she had fingers on her hands. How was she healthy? Or happy – when she was constantly pulled away from her life to be at the side of her Queen? Gregory gave me details of her clothing, an idea of her life, but the personality she gave Jacquetta made the character feel colourless. It is clear from what she does that she was fierce and passionate – but this was left out of her dialogue and her actions, the ones Philippa ‘wrote in’ at the moments when there are few facts, only results and actions to be decided.
Margaret of Anjou – now there’s a character! She’s much more three dimensional. She’s ambitious, cruel and grief stricken for the way her life is going. Philippa wrote Margaret with real fire. It’s a shame she’s not the main character in this book, but I believe there’s a book focusing on her later in the series.
I feel her books are good for evoking these women’s stories, but I cannot fall in love with these books entirely. Gregory’s writing style is very simple. For me, she is a historian first, and a writer second.
I’d recommend this series to viewers of The White Queen who want to delve deeper into the story, without other historians’ conflicting opinions about the times. For more academic reading, I’d have to suggest going elsewhere – these are books of fiction after all.