Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Women of the Cousin's War by Phillipa Gregory, David Baldwin, Michael Jones

THE WOMEN OF THE COUSINS’ WAR - Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin, Michael Jones
The Duchess, the Queen, and the King’s Mother
ISBN: 978-1-4516-2954-5
September 2011

Following an extensive Introduction where Ms. Gregory explains the roles of women in history, readers learn the story of Jacquetta, mother of Elizabeth Woodville. While little is documented of this mysterious woman, what is known is that she was wed at young age to the much older John of Lancaster, the first Duke of Bedford. That obviously immediately aligned her with the House of Lancaster. At her husband’s death, when she was nineteen, Jacquetta inherited everything from the duke, which left her not only a wealthy widow, but a wealthy royal widow. Her choice for her next spouse, however, was not a popular one. He was not another royal, but Sir Richard Woodville, a soldier. It was Woodville with whom Jacquetta would have fourteen children (not all of whom would live), including their eldest, Elizabeth, who would have a monumental influence on the future of England.

Jacquetta would struggle throughout her life with the numerous wars and battles that affected England, France, and much of Western Europe. She would also be accused of witchcraft, among other things. She served as a lady in waiting to the powerful wife of Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou. Her love of books, and her devotion to her children were overshadowed in history’s references to her by some, but Ms. Gregory has given readers of this period some thoughtful information about an interesting woman.

The “White Queen” of Edward IV was born to her royal mother and soldier father around 1437. She grew up in the countryside, the eldest of a growing family of upwardly mobile siblings. As a young girl she was married off to John Grey, and gave him two sons before he was killed at the second battle of St. Albans. While her brothers moved higher in society and power, Elizabeth obviously moved a bit higher. No one knows how or actually when she met King Edward, but they were rather suddenly wed, much to the Court’s shock and disgust. She was hardly a popular choice, but Edward must have loved her to chance the displeasure of his people.

Mr. Baldwin speculates via research that Elizabeth was probably not the evil woman she’s been depicted in history by others, and it’s also probable that she knew exactly what happened to her sons in the Tower. She was known to have come to an agreement with Richard III as well as Henry VII, both of whom could have killed the boys, but it’s doubtful considering Elizabeth’s dealings with them. After all, she ended up being Henry’s mother-in-law.

Mother of Henry VII by her second husband, Edmund Tudor, Margaret was born into the upwardly mobile, but not highly regarded, Beaufort clan. It is speculated throughout this portion of the book that Margaret’s behavior, her piety, and her legendary championing of her only son can be directly related to the history of her family. The Beauforts were only legitimized after their founding father, John of Gaunt, obtained it legally after he married his long-time mistress, Katherine Swynford. Plus, Margaret’s father, John, Duke of Somerset, failed miserably as a soldier and committed suicide when she was a year old. Her single minded determination and belief in her only child had to have quite an effect on him. She was to play more of a role with Henry VII’s reign than his queen.

All three of these remarkable women played huge roles in the War of the Roses, also known as the Cousins' War, and their detailed stories based on extensive research are fascinating reads. Readers will be interested in reading Ms. Gregory's next novel, THE LADY OF THE RIVERS, which is the story of Jacquetta.

Jani Brooks

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