The White Princess

At this point, I'm just glad it's over.

At this point, I’m just glad it’s over.

A rather late review considering I read and finished the book within twenty-four hours of its release. I wish that I could say that was because it was such a compelling read. Unfortunately I just wanted to get it out of the way.

The Cousin’s War started as one of the more entertaining series I have read and I have a very high opinion of the first three books, The Lady of the Rivers is one of my favourite books. What started out as a trilogy soon became a quintology, but I find that the latter two books The Kingmaker’s Daughter, and more recently, The White Princess lack any of the appeal found in the earlier novels, and are, quite frankly, rather dull.

The Plot

The White Princess follows the earlier years of Elizabeth of York’s reign as Queen, taking off from where The Kingmaker’s Daughter and The Red Queen left us; with the defeat of Richard III at Bosworth and Henry VII’s imminent accession. Specifically the novel traces Henry’s considerable instability as a new-come king, the numerous plots against him and particularly the pretenders that threatened him. In this series, the pretender Perkin Warbeck, is indeed, Edward IV’s son Richard, Duke of York, and it is Elizabeth’s conflicting loyalties between her husband and brother that are apparently at the centre of the plot.

Authenticity

As with all of Gregory’s historical novels, they are character driven and as such there is less ‘feel’ for the time, with comparatively little description of the period. However, at times, there are moments that are distractingly modern. Henry VII at one point tells Elizabeth that he is allowed to rape her, because it is the fifteenth century, therefore she has no avenue of complaint. Later, Elizabeth makes a comment about how her second son will inherit, only for his heirs to die out leaving the Tudor line to end with ‘a Virgin Queen’. That is a lot of hindsight for a passing remark.

Accuracy

The majority of Gregory’s novels follow the historical timeline exactly, however in this instance there are a couple of discrepancies (though not majorly so), Elizabeth, for example, falls pregnant before her wedding and proceeds to give birth to Arthur seemingly early, causing a great deal of concern for the safety of the baby. Yet Arthur was born exactly nine months after the wedding day, which would not have warranted such concern.

While this is a minor issue, Gregory takes a lot, and I really do mean a lot, of liberties with history in The White Princess, far more than I have come to expect from her novels. Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, historically one of the few genuinely loving couples to come from an arranged marriage, mostly hate each other here, mostly due to his insistence on raping her. (I am still trying to get over the many rape scenes). The novel also draws heavily on a love affair between Elizabeth and Richard of York. While it is of course fiction, the novel is made up of a collection of theories which, while they cannot be outright disproved, have little or no evidence. As for Henry VII’s rape and adultery, that is something new for the novel.
In case the series had not stressed it enough in the previous books, and the supporting television series, Richard III had nothing to do with the murder of the princes in the tower and indeed, this book goes as far as Margaret Beaufort all but admitting it to Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters, while it is apparently common knowledge at court that Richard was innocent.

Characters

By choosing an historical person known for being a wife and mother rather than a queen, it might prove difficult to cast her as an unhappy wife and focus on her non existent court career.

By choosing an historical person known for being a wife and mother rather than a queen, it might prove difficult to cast her as an unhappy wife and focus on her non existent court career.

I actually dislike every character in this novel, even those who I have loved in the series. Margaret Beaufort is recast as a comical, overbearing mother in law replacing to the gritty, determined heroine of The Red Queen. Elizabeth Woodville has this conflicting ‘the most important thing for me is that you be queen, but I will stop at nothing to kill your husband which will leave you with nothing,’ thing going on, which does not make a great deal of sense. Henry VII, I have already said, is cast as a rapist and adulterer, who repeatedly humiliates his wife before raping her, simply because he can. As a king, he is shown to be incompetent, and as apparently everybody knows without a doubt that Perkin Warbeck is the true king, he is also thought to be a fool as well as a pretender. Then, there is Elizabeth of York herself, who is so utterly bland, she might as well have been representing the beige rose.

At times, Elizabeth read, distractingly, like Gregory’s Catherine of Aragon from The Constant Princess, but before she acquired determination. Overall, she did not have any personality. I could not describe to you any particular traits that she demonstrates, she is surprisingly dull. My major issue with her is that she does not actually do anything in the novel. She spends a great deal of time contrasting her loveless and sexually violent marriage to Henry with her passionate affair with Richard, an affair she comes to regret when Henry himself takes a lover, causing her to reflect on how cruelly she treated the late Queen Anne. Elizabeth of course gives birth many times, yet we see very little of her as a mother.

The novel places a great deal on her unique status as the daughter, sister, niece, wife and mother of a king, but we see her as none of these. Her father is already dead leaving her in penury, she has no relationship with her brother, her uncle is also her incestuous lover, as a wife she is a rape victim and she dies before seeing her son accede the throne. Considering the book is supposed to be about her conflicting loyalties, this just does not appear. She is loyal to her husband out of necessity for her children and she has nothing to do with her brother. Even when her brother lives at court with them, she does not have a single conversation with him, something with which I was immensely disappointed with. This book might as well have been written in the third person about Perkin Warbeck and Henry VII rather than from Elizabeth of York’s perspective, for all the impact she has.

A summary of the novel states that the novel deals with Elizabeth's relationship with her brother. Except there isn't one. Even when they live in the same place they ignore each other.

A summary of the novel states that the novel deals with Elizabeth’s relationship with her brother. Except there isn’t one. Even when they live in the same place they ignore each other.

 

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9 comments

  1. Esther

    Thank you for sparing me the trouble of reading this. Why didn’t Elizabeth Woodville use her magic to protect her daughter? Seriously, the bit about Henry as rapist shouldn’t surprise you, since Gregory does this routinely (no evidence showing Elizabeth involved in death of Amy Robsart, although she makes this accusation in “The Virgin’s Lover”; no evidence showing that Shrewsbury was in love with Mary Queen of Scots, as she claims in “The Other Queen”, etc.) I don’t know how or why she is treated as a serious “historian”!

    • I’ve been becoming increasingly dissatisfied by her work but this was just awful, I did not enjoy a single part of it.
      I am still reeling from the rape, it forms a considerable part of the book. I think that somewhere along the line she decided that Richard III is the hero therefore how can we make Henry appear evil by comparison? I know! Let’s turn him into an adulterous rapist.
      Of course the issue is that because she claims to be a respected historian people believe her rather than think maybe I should research this myself, which is actually why this blog exists. I am at a loss as to where this ‘established historian’ stuff comes from O.o

  2. sonetka

    I think we’re long overdue for a moratorium on imaginary rapes (speaking of “respected historians” Alison Weir could stand to dial it back a little in that department!) Rape has turned into shorthand for “You’re supposed to hate this guy,” and it’s getting really tired. It’s basically what incest was in some other genres thirty years ago; going from a shocking-to-the-reader aberration to “Trying to get on the V.C. Andrews gravy train too, eh?”

    • In a moment of madness I made a pie chart (yeah I’m so rock and/or roll) about the search terms that lead to my blog, over 25% of them are specifically looking for rapists they’ve read in fiction. This week I’ve had Thomas Seymour (The Lady Elizabeth), George Boleyn (The Tudors), Henry VIII (TOBG – a weekly occurance) and now Henry VII..and it’s only Tuesday.

      Also was writing a blog post last night, watching a Titanic mini series…lo and behold, the evil steward rapes a passenger. Remember when writers could make a villain without attaching the moniker ‘rapist’ to him? I remember that…

      • sonetka

        Henry VIII and George Boleyn are regulars on my blog as well when comes to the “Why did X rape Y?” searches. Depending on how you define rape (is attempted rape and/or pederasty included?) non-historical rapists or near-rapists in the Anne Boleyn books I’ve read include George Boleyn, Henry VIII, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Boleyn, John Seymour … we really do need to start that page for historical men cast as rapists. I’m guessing that at this point it includes most historical men above the rank of serf.

        (Also rolling my eyes at the rapist steward. Because the story of the Titanic would be so dull without a little extra spice like that. I hope they didn’t use a real steward’s name, especially considering that about 90% of them didn’t survive the night).

      • We really should, once my current post is finished I am well up for it! If a man managed to serve the king I think it’s obvious that they raped someone to get there O.o

        He is indeed! He’s based on a steward who disguised himself as a woman to hide on a boat…turns out this didn’t happen either so poor Sean Doonan who was just doing his job is now a rapist too.

      • sonetka

        Wait, I forgot Henry Norris and Mark Smeaton (in the attempted-rape category, but still). And Francois I rapes Mary Boleyn a lot, as well. I wonder if there are any sex-criminal women out there in historical fiction? The book I’m reading right now has (willing) uncle/niece incest, not sure if that counts or not.

        I’m thinking any page should have, at the very least, information on: 1) the name and occupation of the non-rapist 2) what he does in the relevant novels 3) historical basis, if any (say, the “I forced widows” line for G Boleyn) and 4) some suggestions for verifiably non-heroic stuff said person did, if findable, so that aspiring novelists can make him a more original kind of evil if he really has to be a bad guy.

      • sonetka

        Actually, strike that last one — the incestuous couple are imaginary characters. I was trying so hard to think of an offending female character that I failed to restrict it to real people :).

      • Are you sure you weren’t reading The White Princess? 😛

        I was thinking the other night how I can’t think of any particularly criminal women out there. In The Tudors Jane Rochford can almost be accused of procuring Catherine Howard for Thomas Culpepper but I can’t think of anything else :/
        I’m liking the layout of the page! I can’t think of anything else to add, I’d forgotten Boleyn’s ‘I forced widows’

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