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Blood Sisters: The True Story Behind the White Queen. Sarah Gristwood Paperback – February 28, 2013

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Everyone knows about the Wars of the Roses; but what about the women behind that fight over the English throne? This question is asked and answered by Gristwood in this multiple biography of the Plantagenet women—wives, daughters, and mistresses—who played often pivotal behind-the-scenes roles in the “cousins’ war.” As the York and the Lancaster men prepare to square off, the lives, loves, loyalties, and fortunes of the major female family members are chronicled in juicy detail. Seven women (Marguerite of Anjou, Elizabeth of York, Margaret of Burgundy, Cecily Neville, Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, and Anne Neville) make the final cut, as a delicately spun dynastic web is irreparably shredded by suspicion, greed, and ambition. Recommend this digestible collective biography to Philippa Gregory fans who want to delve deeper into the tangled Plantagenet-Tudor world. --Margaret Flanagan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


'For viewers who plan to settle in with 'The White Queen', one recent work of history will guide them through the distaff maze of the Wars of the Roses: 'Blood Sisters' by Sarah Gristwood' Boyd Tonkin, Independent 'In this gem of a book, she effortlessly weaves the dramatic, often tragic, lives of seven royal women...If you treat yourself to one history book this Christmas, make it this one. It's the book that I wish I had written' Alison Weir, Books of the Year, BBC History Magazine 'Entertaining and vividly drawn ... A different way of looking at this complex period and Gristwood weaves the story with considerable skill ... highly readable' Literary Review 'Gristwood successfully evokes the lives of all these women, and in doing so brings a new and welcome perspective on the Wars of the Roses... [a] very agreeable narrative' Dan Jones, Sunday Times 'Gristwood's sensitive approach marks out Blood Sisters as much more than the narrative of an age. It is an exploration of what it was to be a medieval queen... A compelling portrait of this bloody age, complete with the heartbreak and triumphs that went with it... Like a delicately woven tapestry, threads of evidence have to be gathered and pulled together with care. Gristwood does an excellent job of examining in sensory detail the impact of ermines, cloths of gold, Spanish leather and purple velvet' Spectator

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; Second Printing edition (February 28, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007309309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007309306
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,332,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By jem on March 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I began this book excited by Gristwood's very worthy concept to use old manuscripts to explore the roles of key women in the 15th Century wars between the Lancaster and York contenders to the English throne. To date, historians -- and literary storytellers like Shakespeare -- have described this important conflict strictly in terms of the male contenders. The roles of wives, mothers and sisters were significant but little known.

Despite the book's genealogical chart, I had trouble being forced again and again to separate Marguerite (Margaret) of Anjou, Margaret Beufort, Margaret of Burgundy, Margaret Tudor (Queen of the Scots) in different generations in both royal lines. It became difficult to follow shifting alliances and understand the motives of various characters at specific points in time. Add the complications of brides taken to cement foreign alliances, and defeated contenders retreating to Scotland, Wales, Ireland, or France to regroup.

I ultimately bogged down in the details of this book. Gristwood is a meticulous researcher with a worthy goal, but you are most likely to appreciate this book if you already have a comprehensive understanding of the War of the Roses and the relationships between the key protagonists.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Nancy DeMaeyer on March 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
All my criticisms of this book are due to terrible editing. Do NOT buy the Kindle edition of this book. There are no annotations for the footnotes. The reader has no ability to check on references or additional comments at the time of reading. The material was chock full of good information. I am so tempted to buy the print addition and read the book again. I am really mad that I spent good money on such a poor job of putting the ereader version on the market.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By jaffareadstoo on February 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The War of the Roses shook the very foundations of England, when cousin armed against cousin, fought for power in a domestic drama on a grand scale. The ruling Plantagenets had two warring factions; the House of Lancaster and the House of York, both had equal and valid claims to the English throne as descendants of Edward III. Taking their symbols as red and white roses, the royal houses of Lancaster and York not only divided their family, but also alienated England.

Generally overlooked by their more war worthy male counterparts, the women behind the men who fought in this protracted dispute, have a fascination all of their own. Undertaking a history of the women behind the Wars of the Roses is no mean feat, and yet in this factual account, Sarah Gristwood has done an admirable job in explaining the complexities of family politics, and shows how the cousins and their wives were interlinked both by birth and by dynastic marriage.

Easy to read in manageable sections, and with extraordinary insight into the time, Blood Sisters is a fascinating account of a troubled period in England's complex history. In explaining the precarious position of the Plantagenet families and more especially in the role the Plantagenet women played in this remarkable game of thrones, only adds credence to the myth that behind every strong man, is an equally strong and courageous woman.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Peter Durward Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 1, 2013
Format: Paperback
The first thing to say is that it definitely helps to have some knowledge of this period of British history, acquired elsewhere, before reading this book. In my case, I had a very basic knowledge (insufficient on its own) from my schooldays. I built on it when I looked into my ancestry, and that extra knowledge aroused my interest. As far as I know, none of the seven women that the author designates the main characters are among my ancestors (though my research is incomplete), but Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville and Cecily Neville are all children of my ancestors. Thus, I was fully informed about their family tree before I bought the book, but I still didn't know much about their lives and I knew nothing about what they thought of each other.

The wars of the roses (more accurately called the cousins' war) inevitably dominate the story, but it's not as simple as the red rose of Lancaster (descendants of John of Gaunt) versus the white rose of Yorkshire (descendants of his brothers, Edmund and Lionel) because of inter-marriages in subsequent generations. In those days, the population was much smaller and it was fairly common for people to marry their cousins or second cousins. The picture is further complicated by non-royals with allegiances to Lancaster or York didn't mind marrying royals from the other side. Presumably they thought the chance to marry royalty was worth changimg sides for.

In those days, there was the further complication that royal marriages were usually politically motivated, so apart from the problems in England, there were issues with some of the countries in mainland Europe too.

So the story is one of ever-changing loyalties and ever-changing fortunes.
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38 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Beth E. Williams VINE VOICE on March 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Gristwood published this somewhat breezy overview of the WoTR before the tests on the body of the Yorkist King Richard III were positively ascertained - had she waited it may well have changed a few of her chapters as his skeletal remains already provide a much needed correction to any number of myths. One wonders what it will take to get a similar result for his mother, sisters and sister-in-law, his wife, his natural daughter, even his grandmothers; and, if I may add, his pivotal three royal nephews, E5, Richard of York and Edward of Warwick.

Since she chose to go to publication anyway that advantage was lost, as with a good many other opportunities to be the correction in this period: she opens the boxes that hold so many pertinent discussion points, then slams it shut, possibly due to her own vulnerability in respect to research?

That leaves her primarily two types of readers for this historical overview or reassessment:

One is the avid reader of the period, those already well immersed in all things Yorkist and Tudor - and that could be readers of anything about the Plantagenets as a whole to specialists fascinated by much of what might appear as minutiae in WoTR. What they want is something new, as in information recently uncovered, newly translated, reconsidered from a point of view not heard before, a full reassessment from top to bottom. These readers are in effect veterans of the War themselves, each side feeling misrepresented, marginalized, betrayed by the overt bias of the scholars and lied to by everyone else.
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