Book Review: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

white queen

The White Queen is a historical novel written by Philippa Gregory about Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen of England from 1465 to 1483. Gregory’s book includes romance, royal intrigue, wars, scheming and plotting, blood, death, and magic, all spanning over the course of 20 or so years. Gregory’s book is very directly written, but also subtle. Her writing is precise, perhaps under descriptive at times, but full of hidden layers of meaning to be discovered later after the story has been sitting on your mind for some time.

What I really liked about this book, however, were the character portrayals. Jacquetta, Elizabeth the Queen’s mother, struck me as the most mysterious character of the book and also the most alluring. She seems distant at times, but she’s never cold; always warm and strong in difficulty and then permissive of her own excesses of personality when in power, much like her own daughter. She was also tried and found guilty of witchcraft. In Gregory’s book, both Jacquetta and her daughter Elizabeth can work magic, but Jacquetta was the strongest and most magical seer. Her vision was always in the future while she poured her strength and power into her present wishes.

Her most fervent wish was the crown of England for Elizabeth. Her daughter coming into great power was something she had foreseen. Elizabeth Woodville was also an alluring character, if perhaps not that sympathetic. She was ambitious and power-hungry, like all the other royals at court, and learned how to play the game of influences and power very early on.

One of the things I liked the most about this book was how it portrayed the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and King Edward. History records have it that this marriage came about by some impetuous lustful impulse of the King, which this novel interprets as love. Throughout the whole story, if there is something that never wavers, it is the love the Queen and the King have for each other. In fact, seeing as they were both corrupt leaders who used their power to benefit both themselves and the people close to them instead of using it for the just service of their people, the love they had for each other may be seen as their one redeeming quality.

The undertones of the novel are always dark, but this is expected because that period in history was filled with bloody battles and the slaying of kinsmen and cousins and even brothers. Death and fear and ambition and the will to fight are always present in the world of Elizabeth Woodville, and through this novel we get to see a little bit of what that was like. While the aftertaste isn’t entirely pleasant, it will at the very least leave you thinking about these characters for some time to come.

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