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The White Princess(Deckle Edge) (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels) Hardcover – July 23, 2013
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Tracy Chevalier is the New York Times best-selling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring. She was born in Washington, DC but has lived in England all her adult life, and now has dual citizenship. A graduate of the English program at Oberlin College, Ohio, with an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, she was a reference book editor before turning to writing full-time. She lives in London with her husband and son.
How do you solve a problem like the Princes in the Tower? What does a historical novelist do with Edward and Richard, heirs to the British throne who were purportedly locked in the Tower by their uncle and then disappeared so that he could become Richard III? Conspiracy theories have flourished for centuries, but no strong evidence has emerged to solve the mystery. A novelist has any number of possibilities to pursue.
In The White Queen, the novel that chronologically precedes The White Princess, Philippa Gregory makes her choice and places their fate in the hands of their feisty mother, Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV and a key player in the War of the Roses, the dynastic feud among the Plantagenets between the Houses of York and Lancaster. She substitutes a pauper for young Richard, ensuring that the Duke of York gets away. The follow-up to such a dramatic decision inevitably needs to continue this story line. Richard has disappeared. Does he come back?
At first, The White Princess seems to tell another story – that of Elizabeth of York, the White Queen’s daughter, and one-time mistress of Richard III, who on his death becomes the wife of his slayer, the Tudor Henry VII. (Confused yet? I am still reeling at the thought that she was mistress to her uncle!) Elizabeth is the embodiment of the painful transition between York and Tudor monarchies, her strategic marriage to Henry VII the outward expression of York loyalty as demanded by the Tudors.
Gregory is known for her retakes on British royal history, viewing the scheming, the power struggles, the battles exclusively from women’s points of view, exploring how the Queen or Princess finds her own source of power and influence in the interstices left open by the men. Elizabeth of York is no different, using her beauty, her popularity with the people, her instinctive wiliness and political acumen to bear on Henry VII, with varying results. She may pragmatically have to accept that the Tudors are in the ascendance, but she can see that her distant and paranoid husband is not a natural as a king; she must teach him how to win the love and respect of his subjects, who still view the family of York with affection and nostalgia.
Eventually Elizabeth and Henry achieve a kind of marital truce, and grow to love each other, if only for a time. There are plenty of beddings, of ladies-in-waiting with knowing looks, of confinements and wet nurses and babies – including, of course, the future Henry VIII, characterized by Gregory even in his boyhood as a sensualist.
Inevitably, however, The White Princess is still the story of men, and specifically of the spectre of the lost princes. Does lost Prince Richard return in the form of pretender to the throne Perkin Warbeck (referred to in the novel most often simply as “the boy”)? Gregory places his identity in Elizabeth’s hands, demonstrating the impossible position she is in: acknowledge the boy as her true brother and bring down her husband and any possibility that her sons might become King, or deny him and see her possible brother executed for treason. In this impossible situation, Elizabeth must tread carefully, and Gregory does an expert job of maintaining this tricky balancing act to the very end. Relishing the personality clashes and political machinations of an insecure Tudor court, she makes the current British royal family, with its crystal-clear line of succession, seem very dull indeed.
Gregory charts the vicissitudes of a high-stakes political marriage in her latest diverting epic. It’s 1485; the Wars of the Roses have ended, but the victorious Henry VII sits insecurely on his throne. Still mourning her lover, Richard III, Princess Elizabeth of York must wed King Henry to unite their warring houses. Unlike his predecessors, Henry has no personal charm, and the novel excels at depicting his paranoia as royal pretenders pop up and threaten England’s stability. Kept ignorant of the political scheming around her and caught between her York relations and securing her children’s inheritance, Elizabeth can’t match the dynamism of her mother, Elizabeth Woodville (The White Queen, 2009), or mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort (The Red Queen, 2010), and they occasionally steal the spotlight. Nonetheless, the younger Elizabeth is an observant narrator, and her difficult position reflects historical reality, as does her growing closeness to her beleaguered husband. The repetitive language will either drive points home for readers or drive them batty, but the novel is as replete with intrigue and heartrending drama as Gregory’s fans expect. --Sarah Johnson
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I watched the Starz version of "The White Princess" and wanted to read the source material. To my dismay I discovered that my issues with the TV show are the same issues I have with the book.
I don't consider myself a Tudor expert by any means, but I am fascinated with the War of the Roses. I especially love the story of Henry and Elizabeth since they seemed to truly fall in love with one another and ended the war between their houses.
Everything I've read about Henry VII is not presented in this book. That he was fiscally responsible, organized his kingdom well and was a king to be admired is not how Gregory imagines him, apparently. In her book he is a cold, mean, vindictive man who uses his love as a weapon. He's paranoid to the point of almost mental illness and is just generally an unlikable character/man. That goes against all that I've read about his love for his wife and his children. There is also no historical indication that he had an affair with Kathy Gordon/Lady Katherine Huntly. Especially since Elizabeth took her into her household and cared for her the rest of her life. And that when Henry had the chance to marry Kathy after Elizabeth's death, he did not take it. That doesn't sound like a man in love or a man with a mistress. Henry is one of the few English kings to not have an official mistress. Given his mother's piety and upbringing, I believe that he was a man of morals and would not cheat on the queen he adored.
While Elizabeth is presented as a strong character in the beginning, toward the end of the book that radically changes. Literally the entire last half of the book is her saying, "I don't know. I don't know." It's so bad that Henry even mocks her for it on several different occasions. Instead of driving her story (as Gregory tells us is most important, that we see all the ways Elizabeth ruled and had influence even if history didn't record it), she is instead out of the loop in every event in her life. So that when questioned, she literally can't say anything but "I don't know." Which is a pity, to see her character reduced to such nothingness in her own story, especially since Gregory wanted the opposite to happen.
One of my main issues with the show and this book is that by presenting Henry and Elizabeth as enemies forced to wed (another point that most historians disagree with--they had a good deal of time to get to know one another and it seemed that, especially on her side, there were real feelings there before they married and he certainly didn't rape the girl and try to impregnate her first), part of what drives this story should be Elizabeth's surrender. That you see her husband falling in love with her, and I wanted that moment where she tells him she feels the same. It's sort of in this book (sort of in the show, too), but it falls completely flat. She says it at the end of a scene. So we don't see Henry's reaction. Winning Elizabeth's love is important to him (how can he make the country love him if he can't even get his own wife to?). I wanted to see what happened with that moment. How it changed things for them. What it meant for them as a couple. We don't get that here, at all.
I'm not sure how I feel about the Perkin Warbeck thread or who killed the princes in the tower. I don't have enough information on either subject to form a sure opinion, but I'm not sure Gregory persuades me to her point of view in the book. (Like I believe that Richard III killed those boys and the reason he didn't display their bodies was that he didn't want anyone to know that he'd murdered children to be king.)
Anyway, this book has very little romance and affection. The characters often have these long monologues that are not how real people speak, but more like a historian is trying to explain a fact by putting it into her characters' mouths and letting them spell out all the different intricacies of what's happening in a particular scene. I wanted more Henry and Elizabeth, their day to day lives and their love story, and what I got was a bunch of explanations about battles and fear and obsession with pretenders to the throne.
Not one I'd ever read again.