123 of 125 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2011
As someone who doesn't read very much nonfiction, I was a little apprehensive about reading The Women of the Cousins' War, but I was so fascinated by Elizabeth Woodville of The White Queen and Margaret Beaufort of The Red Queen, that I was drawn to this book, especially since it comes from Philippa Gregory. For the book, Gregory teamed up with two other historians, David Baldwin and Michael Jones, to explore the real lives of the women behind her novels.
Gregory opens the book was a unique introduction that explores the role (or lack thereof) of women in history, as well as Gregory's personal reasons for writing novels about this little-known women. Most interestingly, she gives readers a glimpse into her own writing process, own own motivations for writing what she does, and the difficulties of doing historical research that lead to large holes that are later filled in with fiction.
Gregory takes the lead with the first essay on Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville. Gregory explains that when she went to research Jacquetta for her novel The Lady of the Rivers, there was no biography available about her, so she had to conduct her own research to learn about Jacquetta. Gregory pens a fascinating account of Jacquetta's life, tracing it from her birth up to her death and through the many complex politics between. Of all the essays in the book, I found Gregory's to be the easiest to read and enjoy, mostly because it pulls on her fiction writing abilities and seems to explore more of her subject's motivations and emotions than the other essays.
Next comes David Baldwin, who pens an essay on the life of Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta's daughter. Though filled with precise accuracy, I found it to be a little bit dry and difficult to read. This was probably because my brain had honed into Gregory's style in the previous essay, and Baldwin chose to stick more strongly to fact, and didn't theorize much on what Elizabeth likely thought or felt. While informative, I wouldn't consider Baldwin's essay light reading.
Last, historian Michael Jones chronicles the life of Margaret Beaufort, the virtually unknown matriarch of the Tudor family and grandmother to Henry VIII. Thankfully, Jones' writing reads much more smoothly than Baldwin's, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that Jones went further back than Margaret's birth to discuss the unique origins of the Beaufort family. Giving all this back story really helped to put Margaret and her life into context, and I felt like I had a greater understanding of Margaret's "character." Also, I kind of hate to say it, but I found Jones' short essay on Margaret to be a little more interesting than The Red Queen, which I thought was the weaker of Gregory's first two novels on the Cousins' War.
A must-read for history buffs and hardcore Gregory fans, Women of the Cousins' War helps to reveal who these little-known women were and why their lives are worth the study and interest of people today. Complete with family trees, maps, portraits and other images of the period, the lives of these fascinating women from history fully come to life.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2011
Gregory wrote the first portion on Jacquetta herself, so immediately I was pulled in by her writing style. Even though it is non-fiction, Gregory has a knack of hooking readers in and captivating us with her knowledge; plus, Jacquetta's life is so fascinating. It's no wonder I was easily hooked. Jacquetta's second marriage to Richard Woodville always enthralls me as it defied convention since he wasn't of royal blood; essentially, she married for love. Her stints with magic and accusations of witchcraft also add to my amusement. I absolutely loved learning more about Jacquetta's incredible life.
The second segment is by historian David Baldwin and it concentrates on Elizabeth Woodville, whose rise from a struggling single mother to a Queen is downright fascinating. Although I felt Baldwin's portion wasn't as easy to read as Gregory's, it still filled in the many gaps in my knowledge and answered my many questions concerning Elizabeth's life. After reading The White Queen, I had so many questions about the princes in the tower and Baldwin touched on many of the possible theories.
The last section is about Margaret Beaufort and is written by historian Michael Jones. I found Margaret to be a snooze-fest in Gregory's The Red Queen, so I was hesitant to read this portion. However, Jones really brought her to life. I was blown away by her childhood. I knew it was pretty horrible, but Jones explains it a bit more. I found this to be very helpful and ultimately, it explained why she acted the way she did in The Red Queen. After reading this write-up on Margaret, I've come to respect her more; you can't deny how devoted she was to her cause.
The Women of the Cousins' War is displayed proudly on my bookshelf right next to the Gregory's other books from the Cousins' War series. Like I said before, not only does this non-fiction text bridge any gaps in my learning about the War of the Roes, it also helps me to enjoy Gregory's series that much more.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This is a non-fiction book. I have seen reviews where people read it thinking it was a novel and were disappointed - of course they were! Real history is never as fleshed out as an historical novel especially they further back you go in time. That does not mean it has to be a trial to read.
This book was NOT a trial; it was very easy to read and very informative. Each author took one of the three woman that Ms. Gregory had profiled in her trilogy covering what most people know as The War of the Roses but what was known in its time as The Cousins' War. Ms. Gregory also provides a very extensive introduction as to the origins of the book and the difficulties in writing about people from the time period and about women in particular.
Ms. Gregory explains in that introduction that there is very little historical record left about the three women profiled; Jacquetta Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort and yet the book is sold as a tome about them. In this I was a touch disappointed - I suppose I wanted to know more about them but there is only so much to be known. The three separate histories were all very well written and I came away with a much deeper comfort level of the whos and whats of The Cousins War. It is a truly confusing time in history given that many of the names are quite similar and families were fighting each other. This is a very interesting history of the time written from three distinct points of view.
Each author presents the events as they effect and surround his subject and while the facts do not change the players in each section do and that offers slight variations that make each woman a fascinating study. I cannot fault the authors that history did not leave more of a record and I want to know more. It was a time period when women were considered chattel if they were considered at all.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book being the history geek that I am. If you are at all interested in this subject this would be a good book to help sort out the basics. As I said it is not at all dry and dusty and you will find yourselves drawn into a time when cousins were killing each other to try and rule England.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2011
The book was all right. The three women are well defined, or at least as well defined as our current levels of research allow. All three biographies are very readable, although they do not really shed any more light on the women than other more comprehensive biographies I have read.
The real treat of this book was in Philippa Gregory's introduction. Her definition of historical fiction was spot on, and I agree completely with her theory that it is just as viable a form of writing as any other, provided the author does their research and incorporates the facts as seamlessly as possible in with their imaginings. Considering that history changes, or at least our viewpoint of it does, every time the Vatican opens its files or a new treasure trove of material is discovered, is well researched historical fiction really that much different from actual history? Nonfiction history pieces the tale together from known records, but it is still piecing. Historical fiction, if the author knows the subject, does the same thing, but with greater intimate detail and assumptions.
So read the book. But also read the introductory essays from Ms Gregory. They are worth the purchase of the book on their own merit.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2011
I am not a history buff by any means at all. However, I can happily attribute my introduction to historical fiction to Philippa Gregory and her books (in particular, The Other Boleyn Girl). I was never particularly interested in history growing up and I found the textbooks too boring and difficult to understand. I loved reading, but that was because I loved the stories. Gregory's books does a great job of tying the two together in an interesting way. I always had an interest in medieval times - which little girl doesn't want to know more about kings, queens, princes and princesses? However, Gregory's books were the first ones to get me hooked into historical fiction as a genre, with a special liking towards all things medieval.
I wasn't sure what to expect going into this book and honestly, I was a little apprehensive once the book arrived and it was pretty thick! It reminded me of the history textbook days and I was a little anxious that I wouldn't enjoy it, but I was very wrong! There are moments when the sentences run a little long and there are so many facts thrown at you at one time that it can get confusing for a reader like myself, who is not used to reading non-fiction historical books. However, it was a very enjoyable read about three women who are not written about very much, if at all, in history, but had such an huge impact on the more well-known time of the Tudors. The book itself reads like a novel and that made it easy for me to read, coming from a historical fiction side rather than the history side.
Gregory starts off the book with an introduction about history, historical fiction and women in history. I found it very interesting and reaffirmed what I already knew about Gregory - that she is an incredibly intelligent woman herself very well-versed in all things related to medieval times. I also enjoyed learning more about her process in writing historical fiction.
I have read most of the Gregory's books in the Tudors period and often times found myself stopping to go to Wikipedia to read up more on the historical figures before proceeding through the rest of the book. I think this book would be a great book to have alongside while reading her series on The Cousins' War.
The book is written in three sections. Gregory writes the first section about Jacquetta, the Duchess of Bedford. Baldwin writes about Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England. Lastly, Jones writes about Margaret Beaufort, who ultimately ends up being the grandmother of Henry VIII. Each author does a great job of piecing together historical documents to put together a biographical account of their lives. It did not read like a history book at all and at times I had to remind myself that I was reading a non-fiction book, not a fictional story.
Overall, I think Gregory, Baldwin and Jones do a great job of giving these women a place in history. I think all fans of Gregory's books, especially the The Cousins' War series, will find this companion book a very enjoyable and interesting read.
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2011
Jacquetta, Elizabeth, and Margaret are three formidable ladies that Gregory covers in her Cousins' War trilogy. Jacquetta was known for her witchcraft and for giving birth to one of the Queen's of England, Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth Woodville becomes one of the founding mothers of the new royal family. Margaret Beaufort becomes the grandmother of Henry VIII. All of these women had a profound affect on the future of the English royal family.
Gregory, Jones, and Baldwin each ...more Jacquetta, Elizabeth, and Margaret are three formidable ladies that Gregory covers in her Cousins' War trilogy. Jacquetta was known for her witchcraft and for giving birth to one of the Queen's of England, Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth Woodville becomes one of the founding mothers of the new royal family. Margaret Beaufort becomes the grandmother of Henry VIII. All of these women had a profound affect on the future of the English royal family.
Gregory, Jones, and Baldwin each take on one of these ladies and fills in a little more of their background than you get in the trilogy. It was nice to learn a little bit more. It even made me appreciate Margaret Beaufort a little more (you'll remember I wasn't a big fan of her book, The Red Queen). This is a great introduction if you haven't read the trilogy yet or a great complement if you have read some or all of the trilogy.
Okay, and for all you that fear non-fiction, this is a great springing off point to show you that non-fiction books don't have to be scary. This book is fact filled but still very accessible!
Bottom line: History and Historical Fiction lovers alike will enjoy this book!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2011
Philippa Gregory's best-selling novels about women in English history have been founded in this historian's determination to reclaim women's real and significant impact. It's important to know that we can play big parts in a big story. In this nonfiction work, The Women of the Cousins' War: The Duchess, the Queen, and the King's Mother, Gregory and her co-authors tell us about extraordinary women in leading roles, women nearly forgotten.
Let me first mention that Gregory's introduction is a valuable discussion of the differences between writing history and writing historical fiction. She offers insight into specifics, such as point of view and tense, and she distinguishes the tasks of historian and novelist, suggesting where speculation fits in both forms. Her comments about writing the history of women, tangled as it is with cultural and sexual myths and realities, illuminate the untangling process.
For the body of this book, Gregory teams up with historians David Baldwin and Michael Jones to give us three short biographies of women she has written about in her novels, "The Cousins' War" series. (The third in the series, The Lady of the Rivers, was released shortly after this volume.)
I'm not a scholar of English history, and I was glad for the maps and genealogies provided to help me follow the cousins--the Somersets, Lancasters and Yorks, four generations of offspring from Edward III--as they made bloody war for medieval wealth and power. Even Gregory's lucid prose has difficulty clarifying for an American all the unfamiliar relationships and events of the time period, and it must be said that though Baldwin and Jones are able authors, I found their parts a bit more academic than elegant. Of course, they are all working from a very small historical record.
A lot of ground and many years are covered, nonetheless, and the women profiled are connected to terrible royal wars and plots. They survive very real danger. They also have daily lives and children. There is plenty of drama behind the available facts.
Jacquetta of Luxembourg was nobly born around 1415, and was connected to both the Lancasters and the Yorks. She managed to marry for love and had at least fourteen children, while serving as lady-in-waiting to the queen and as dowager duchess of great estates, through a long lifetime of international political maneuvering and close calls.
Jacquetta's daughter by a simple knight, Elizabeth Woodville was the first commoner to marry a reigning monarch, Edward IV of the York line. She was queen, but often under threat, and lost many of those closest to her to terrible violence. Yet Elizabeth, like her mother, accomplished more than simple survival.
Margaret Beaufort, daughter of the Duke of Somerset, was a rich young heiress of twelve when she was married to Edmund Tudor, who was twice her age. Her family was contending for the throne, and Margaret was ambitious, devoutly religious, and a force behind armies. Her son became king, Henry VII, and married Elizabeth Woodville's daughter.
Jacquetta, Elizabeth and Margaret are grandmothers to Henry VIII, matriarchs of his line. Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones chose well to write about them for they are powerful characters, who had lasting influence beyond their biological links to a famous king. They had big parts in a big story. For me, The Women of the Cousins' War served its purpose admirably, introducing me to these remarkable women, preventing them from slipping into the shadows of female invisibility, and making me want to read more.
by Susan Schoch
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
When I saw a book by Philippa Gregory in the nonfiction section I thought it had been mis-shelved. And what was the Cousins' War? I've read a few books about the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Britain and Europe, but here was a war I'd never heard of.
I have to admit I have little interest in historical fiction, and haven't read any of Gregory's novels, but I was drawn in by the concept of this book. In doing research for her series about the Wars of the Roses, she found there were few primary sources dedicated to the women of the period. Secondary sources often downplayed the importance and influence of women. But there was no doubt that many women of the era were well-educated, politically savvy, and ambitious.
So Gregory decided to tackle some historical non-fiction for a change. Little has been written about the first subject of the book, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. I confess I had never heard of her, but as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville, she had a front row seat at the onset of the Wars of the Roses. I can imagine that anyone doing future research of Jacquetta will start with Gregory's book, which distills as much as is known of the Duchess into a readable narrative. Gregory doesn't speculate (any more than other historians) and while she chooses to skip footnotes as too academic for a book intended for general readers, she does include notes on sources and a bibliography.
Her other two subjects, Elizabeth Woodville (wife of Edward IV, mother of the two Princes in the Tower) and Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry VII) already have academic biographies written by current historians, so Gregory enlisted those authors to write short, non-academic bios of the women. These are also very well done, although Woodville's biographer, David Baldwin chucked in too many chatty asides and exclamation points, giving his narrative a slightly patronizing tone.
In addition to the three biographies in this volume, Gregory's introduction is especially interesting. She describes how she came to do this book, as well as discussing the slippery nature of historical scholarship. It's easy enough to dismiss historical fiction as not being factual and taking liberties with fact, but historical fact is not easy to pin down either. You would think that after five hundred years, we would have the facts down about the Wars of the Roses, but every year brings new books, new information, new interpretations, and different analysis.
As William Faulkner wrote, "the past is never dead - it isn't even past."
Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower
The King's Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2014
This book fails on all fronts to deliver what it claims to be, a trilogy of biographies of significant women of the cousins war. The back cover claims it to be a biography of Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford. Biographies do not describe the life of subject using words and terms like, would have, could have, might have felt, possibly was there, etc. If there are any facts in this work they are mighty lonely as they are few and far between. It really does not describe the life of the subject, instead it gives an unsourced history of the times and inserts the subject with terms like might have been there, could have done this, would have felt thus, etc. 47 pages of the text are wasted on a self serving useless introduction. The only fact to be gleaned from the introduction is that the author discredits herself and the work with obvious mis-statements of the basic relationships of the main protagonists of the era. On page 33 she refers to Jacquetta as the grandmother of Henry VIII and great grand mother of Elizabeth I, however, a mere three pages following on page 36, she refers to Jacquetta's daughter Elizabeth Wydville as being Henry VIII's grandmother which is correct. A mother and her daughter cannot both be "grandmother" to the same descendant. Jacquetta was Henry VIII's great grandmother and Elizabeth's great great grandmother. The inability to get basic relationships corrects speaks volumes as to the accuracy of the balance of the text. On page 39, it is stated "As this is a book for the general reader, we three authors decided against footnoting our work......". The general reader this is geared to is the person who normally obtains their historical facts from grade "b" Hollywood movies, and the absence of footnotes is more likely due to the inability to source the false content contained in the text. In fairness Baldwin and Jones do no better a job in writing "biographies" relying on innuendos and false myths long ago disproved by hard evidence. Their intentional failure to footnote and source quotes condemns this book to the realm of fiction, only.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2011
THE WOMEN OF THE COUSINS' WAR refers to three little-known icons of the English court that star in Philippa Gregory's The Cousins' War. This five-book series centers on the renowned and lesser-known competitors of the Wars of the Roses. Three women dominate the subject here: Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort (Duchess of Bedford, Queen of England and mother to King Henry). Gregory makes the case that they are not nearly as famous as they should be, given the fact that they survived and thrived during the superstitious, violent era of the wars. In spite of everyday dangers, political obstacles, battles and accusations of witchcraft, each woman rose to power or helped her children do so, against incredible odds. There, her wits, character and calculating intelligence contributed to the rise of the Tudor dynasty.
Gregory and her co-authors, David Baldwin and Michael Jones, have written a kind of feminine devotional here, dedicated to unbiased history and women's virtues. As in her other books, a tremendous amount of effort is devoted toward gathering material and conducting thorough research, complimented by the work of historians. She has included a lengthy introduction on the unique challenges of writing history and fiction, along with timelines, maps, pedigrees and illuminating illustrations that give characters depth and background. An extensive index has been placed at the back, allowing readers to reference individuals and events. Thus you can use the book like a novel or an encyclopedia, reading from cover to cover or simply as a reference material. Either way, it has been designed with convenience in mind, and anyone looking for a figure or event relating to the War of the Roses will have no trouble becoming informed.
Gregory chose her heroines well. They have spectacular stories, so amazing you'll be astounded they really happened. No complete account has ever been created on any of them before now. These are women with particular things in common, giving this history a common thread and a common theme.
Each one of these ladies was present near a battlefield or directly involved in politics relating to a major skirmish or battle in the War of the Roses. Each had been loyal in serving a cause, fluctuating at times between the Lancaster and Yorkist factions. Each went to a great deal of trouble and personal risk to advance her family in the aristocratic world, and each contributed to history significantly. Each was passionate about some high ideal, whether that be exploring the virtues of mysticism, intellectualism, or religious piety. Each paid a high price for her status and devoted her life to ensuring the safety of her loved ones. Each possessed intensity, passion and willpower. Each displayed tremendous ambition and resilience under fire. Each one was labeled or misrepresented by the public.
Gregory views these women as models of contemporary leadership: "They are my heroines, they are foremothers...The lives of these, and other women, show me what a woman can do even without formal power, education, or rights, in a world dominated by men. They are the inspirational examples of the strength of the female spirit." She explains it isn't by accident that their histories have been excluded from the record. In most cases, only the rise of feminism in the 20th century has allowed obscure heroines to be recognized for extraordinary deeds. But not all their stories have been told. It makes perfect sense that a female writer be the one who tells them.
THE WOMEN OF THE COUSINS' WAR is extraordinary history. Those who have read any of Philippa Gregory's books know she is a great writer and a leader in the genre. She also has proven herself to be devoted to pure history in her latest impressive effort to complete the record.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith