The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory – 20 Books of Summer 2024

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory is one of my 20 Books of Summer. It was first published in 2008. I had sworn that I wasn’t going to read any more books about Mary, Queen of Scots for quite a long time – if ever – or any more books by Philippa Gregory for that matter as I think she has some unusual theories on historical facts, but heigh-ho. It was the fact that this one features Bess of Hardwick which drew me in, she was surely one of the most fascinating women of the Tudor period.

The date is 1568 and Bess is on her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, she has worked her way up from nothing to the aristocracy, with her three previous husbands leaving everything to her, she’s a very wealthy woman, but obviously wanted status too.

Unfortunately Queen Elizabeth I is looking for a place to lodge Mary, Queen of Scots and she decides to use Bess and her husband as suitable jailors. Queen Mary has an enormous retinue which she refuses to whittle down and for her everything must be of the best. Queen Elizabeth is determined not to pay any money over to the Shrewsburys and the whole of the cost of keeping Mary and her many hangers-on and followers in the lap of luxury causes tension within the marriage. Bess sees her fortune diminish by the week and it looks like she’ll even lose her beloved Chatsworth to pay the debts, she has had to put the building of Chatsworth on hold over the years of Mary’s captivity but even worse than that, William Cecil, Elizabeth’s spymaster is trying to link Shrewsbury, and possibly even Bess, with Catholic plots to rescue Mary from captivity. They might end up being executed.

Bess realises that like many men her husband has been the target of one of Mary’s charm offensives, and the fool has completely fallen for Mary.

I enjoyed this one although I was somewhat puzzled when on page 9 Mary describes Elizabeth as ‘that red-haired bastard’.  It’s unlikely that she would ever have done that considering that Mary had red hair too. However, according to Philippa Gregory she had lovely long black hair! That is just plain wrong and I can see no reason why Gregory would do that, particularly as their are numerous paintings of Mary and her red hair, and of course all the contemporary descriptions of Mary and her red or golden red hair.

This is the sort of thing which had put me off from reading more by this author, it seems she just likes to be different for the sake of it.

If you are interested you can click the link to my Hardwick Hall blogposts, it’s quite a few years since we visited, I hope we can go back there sometime in the future though as I loved it. Argh, that post was written in 2012.

Also if you are interested in Bess of Hardwick you might want to read the book by Mary S. Lovell

There are some more photos on that blogpost.

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.

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory was published in 2011. It’s part of the author’s fictional Three Cousins’ War series. I decided to read it after I read her essay about Jacquetta in the book which I reviewed here.

It begins in 1430 at the Castle of Beaurevoir near Arras and Joan (of Arc) has just been billeted there as part of the houshold, which includes Jacquetta who despite just being 15 or so has been married off to the much older Duke of Bedford,  Regent of France and uncle to the young English King Henry VI. It’s a marriage in name only as the duke just wants to use Jacquetta’s gifts.

Jacquetta is supposedly descended from Melusina, the river godess and can sometimes see the future, a dangerous trait to have when women in particular can easily be accused of being witches. There’s nothing that she can do for Joan when she herself is accused of witchcraft.

With the death of her husband Jacquetta is free to marry Richard Woodville, her husband’s squire, although they end up having to pay a fine because Jacquetta shouldn’t have married out of the aristocracy.

When they return to England they’re warmly welcomed by the king and so begins their life at the court, never an easy place to be but it has its compensations. Richard is made a baron and is given an estate, mainly because Jacquetta is a favourite with the queen.  It’s the royal couples worst habit, handing out goodies to courtiers for no good reason which incenses those who might be more deserving of notice. Jealousy and anger abound, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Jacquetta seems to have been some sort of superwoman as she had at least 14 children, would hardly have had time to get over one pregnancy before she was pregnant again and still managed to pack a lot into life, supporting the king. But war was never far away and changes mean danger.

I must admit that I had never even heard of Jacquetta until recently, it’s really sad the way strong women have been overlooked by historians. Although this is a work of fiction the author has done plenty of research and woven an entertaining story around what is known.

The Women of the Cousins’ War by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones

The Women of the Cousins’ War is a non-fiction book which is written by three historians. The Cousins’ War is more commonly known as The Hundred Years War. Philippa Gregory has written the first section which is about the little known Jacquetta of Luxembourg who lived from 1415-16 to 1472.  She became the Duchess of Bedford and would have had a high profile in royal circles. She was related to both royal houses, Lancaster and York, but there was no biography of her. Philippa Gregory trawled through many documents to fill in the gaps that had been left about Jacquetta’s life. She was around at the same time as Joan of Arc, and may have met her.

The second section of this book is about Elizabeth Woodville, 1437/38 to 1492, and it’s written by the historian David Baldwin. I think Elizabeth Woodville is well-known to anyone with an interest in English history, it has always been a puzzle as to how she managed to get Edward IV to marry her at the drop of a hat (she was a widow much older than Edward and with two sons of her own, plus a large voraciously ambitious extended family). It’s no wonder that witchcraft was suspected by some! I think it’s safe to say that Elizabeth was very good at managing people.

The last section of the book features Margaret Beaufort, 1443-1509, and it’s written by Michael Jones. He describes Margaret as being intelligent, courageous and astute. It seems that she was the opposite of the men in her family whose behaviour left a lot to be desired. Margaret’s childhood was a tough one for this reason and I suspect that nobody would have thought that she would with the birth of her only son who became Henry VII, found the Tudor dynasty and towards the end of her life was known simply as the King’s Mother and had her own regal signature.

I enjoyed all three of these biographies. I was struck by the women’s longevity, especially considering that Eizabeth Woodville churned out  babies at the rate of one a year for over a decade, with seemingly no ill effects. Maternity care seems to have gone backwards when you consider how many women died from infection after giving birth in Tudor times!

The book has some interesting photos of portraits and statues and has lovely endpapers, The Lady and the Unicorn, Musee National du Moyen Age, Paris.