The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory begins in 1464 when the York and Lancaster cousins are at more than daggers drawn. The king of the moment is Edward IV of York. It’s a well known tale of how he was waylaid by an older and beautiful widow Elizabeth Woodville, already the mother of two sons. Unlikely as it may seem, she managed to get the highly promiscuous Edward to actually marry her. Edward had been expected to make a lucrative marriage alliance with a foreign princess, probably French.  His choice of wife is very unpopular, particularly by Warwick, and the gossipers say that Elizabeth must have bewitched him in some way.  Elizabeth and Edward set about arranging marriages for her relatives with powerful families, much to the fury of courtiers who had been hoping to marry their offspring to them.

Eventually Elizabeth’s luck runs out and she’s forced to take sanctuary at Westminster and even has to give up her eldest (Grey) sons who are placed in the tower and probably murdered there. But according to Elizabeth she had substituted her eldest son with a page boy, and sent her son abroad, we’ll never know though.

I quite enjoyed this one but I think I’ll have a rest from historical fiction for a while. I was slightly put off because when I reached page 125 I was astonished to read Cecily’s favourite son being described as: ‘An utter numpty’. CLUNK I checked just to make sure and as I thought – the word ‘numpty’ was first coined in 1985, Glaswegian dialect, so it’s astonishing to read a character in 1470 using the word! That really should have been picked up by an editor, but Gregory should have realised it is a modern word.

4 thoughts on “The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

  1. I read all of the books in this series as they were being published and I found them enjoyable enough, but I did come across quite a few anachronisms like the numpty one. I was prepared to put up with them as I love reading about the Wars of the Roses, but they did annoy me.

    • Helen,
      I so agree. It seems strange in a writer who is also a historian, she should know better, but her books have clarified some aspects of English history for me so that’s good. I was surprised by the Perkin Warbeck bit though. I thought he had been deemed to be a fake. I’ll have to read on – at some point.

  2. Long ago, I read her Wideacre series which was certainly compelling but I really don’t like books about incest so I put them aside – not without noting several anacronisms. But I didn’t start boycotting her until I read one of her books in which the heroine fell in love with her black butler. I think it was based on real people but she lost me when they started waltzing around the house. That actually sounds so absurd that maybe I imagined it. Maybe there was a miniseries and someone added the dancing? Maybe it was all a dream? Did I overreact?

    No! Not a dream, and the NYT loved it back in 1998:

    The patient, a slave named Luke, has died. The doctor turns to the devastated young mistress of the house and tells her he’ll send the bill to Cole & Sons. ”It is a commercial loss, is it not?” he says.

    This doctor is, despite that comment, one of the good Britons, an abolitionist filled with guilt and pessimism. ”I believe that slavery will be ended soon,” he says, ”but the cruelty we have learned will poison us forever.”

    In ”A Respectable Trade,” a remarkable two-part ”Mobil Masterpiece Theater” production beginning tomorrow night, almost every character is sympathetically, painfully human. The film, set in Bristol, England, in 1788, is the love story of a married white woman and her black slave, but its observations are much larger. The telling exchanges of ”Upstairs, Downstairs” (among class-conscious whites as well as between races) and the under-your-skin identification with suffering of ”Schindler’s List” are a powerful combination. Is it rude for a gentleman to refuse a guest’s request for after-dinner sex with one of the host’s slaves? Is it really the responsibility of the lady of the house to choose and fetch the woman? And how does one go about ignoring the anguish on the chosen woman’s face?

    ”A Respectable Trade” is, first, the story of Frances Scott (Emma Fielding), an unmarried woman who has lost her governess job and is not wanted in the home of her high-born uncle and aunt. When she receives a marriage proposal by mail from a stranger (in response to a job-search letter), she decides to accept, although the man, Josiah Cole (Warren Clarke), is much older, socially backward and shocked to hear that there were once Romans in Britain. And he’s a slave trader. Frances accepts her fate so cheerfully and with such good manners that we, the viewers, try to accept Josiah, too, and root for his innocent efforts to move up Bristol’s social ladder.
    One of Josiah’s plans is for Frances to teach English and ”civility” to a small group of African slaves so that they can be sold as house servants. Within this group, there is something special about the man she names Moses (Ariyon Bakare). She soon learns that his real name is Mehuru, that he was trained as a priest in the kingdom of Yoruba and that he is the smart, sensitive, witty gentleman she has always wanted to meet. He is everything that her husband is not.

    The mutual attraction is evident to every black person in the household (although apparently invisible to the whites) and eventually consummated. From that point on, the story turns into an almost routine romance but its intelligence never flags. Ms. Fielding, a London stage actress, is spectacular from beginning to end. Mr. Bakare is powerful, Mr. Clarke is endearing, and Anna Massey brings enormous authority to the role of Josiah’s stern spinster sister who thinks all this social climbing is foolishness.

    Philippa Gregory, who wrote the screenplay and the 1995 novel on which it is based, and Suri Krishnamma, the director, have made a gripping and oddly charming film about the clash of old dignity, fresh horror and the consciences of men and women whom we sometimes excuse as being ”of their time.”

    • Constance,
      I must admit that I had no idea that she had written so many books, and that so many had been dramatised. It sounds like you could write a PhD thesis on her work! I have The Other Queen (Mary, Queen of Scots) in the house so I’ll probably read that, I think I’m developing a bit of a Mary obsession. I’m definitely not interested in any tale which involves incest and I’m not sure about slavery. I think that has to be dealt with carefully – to avoid any sort of vicarious sleaze, but that’s probably not possible in reality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *