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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

If you’re already familiar with Philippa Gregory I can tell you right now that you won’t be disappointed by The White Queen – Philippa Gregory is one of the leading historical novelists working today, probably best known at this point for her Tudor series, which includes the international bestseller The Other Boleyn Girl.

The White Queen is the first in what will be a series about the Plantagenets called The Cousins’ War, which refers to the historical battle between the Yorks and the Lancasters and the Tudors for the throne of England – the next books in the series are titled The Red Queen and The White Princess, and for those of us whose grasp of English aristocratic history is a little sketchy, Philippa Gregory very helpfully includes a family tree at the start of this book.

She says in her author’s note that she was inspired to write The White Queen by her discovery of the story of Elizabeth Woodville, the queen of the title, who was one of the most fascinating queens in English history – she was the famously beautiful descendant of the Dukes of Burgundy, who held that they were descended from the water goddess Melusina – and magic and the mystical comes into play a lot in this book – Elizabeth was the daughter of Jacquetta, a Frenchwoman who was tried and found guilty of witchcraft, and there are allusions to foreknowledge, the ability to predict the future, that sort of thing.

Elizabeth became queen when her husband, Edward of the House of York, became Edward IV of England – the famous story of their meeting is that they encountered each other under an oak tree in Northamptonshire which still stands today, and she, not knowing who he was and fearing rape, drew her dagger against him.

It’s popular legend and it may not be true, but it gives you an idea of what sort of woman she was and why Edward, who comes across in this book as a macho, swashbuckling womanizer, chose her to be his queen and bear his heirs, and Elizabeth proved very fertile and did a great job in that regard.

The book covers Edward’s battle for the throne and Elizabeth’s fight to ensure that one of her sons, two of whom were locked up in the Tower of London, can succeed their father as king – and one of the reasons Philippa Gregory is such a standout in this genre is that she was an established historian before she started writing fiction, and she does her research brilliantly – there’s a three-page bibliography at the end of this book citing all her sources, and she’s very clear in her note how much is based on fact and where she’s had to fill in the gaps with educated guesses as to what really occurred.

I must say that I think the historical fiction genre continues to get better and better – there are a number of novelists now that are really excelling in this area and pushing each other to get better – along with Philippa Gregory I think Diana Gabaldon, Anita Diamant and Ken Follett, as some examples, are producing some great, readable, well-researched books that are resonating with readers – The White Queen is a great addition to the canon and I look forward to the rest of the series.

This review previously appeared on

Reviewer: Stephanie Jones

Published by Simon & Schuster


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