Posted by: Ele Quigan | June 8, 2010

‘The White Queen’ Philippa Gregory

While I like to think I know a little bit about British history, I’m constantly surprised about how much I absolutely know nothing about. The wars of the roses in England being one such topic.

Yorkists, lancastrians, pretty coloured flowers – it’s not really something you learn at high school in NZ, and often you only come across it within Shakespeare’s rendition of Richard III.

When I saw that Philippa Gregory had written a book about it, I was instantly drawn to it. I feel she gave Tudor history a fairly good nudge with ‘The Other Boleyn girl’, and I’ve always appreciated her dedication to fully researching a topic prior to writing a fictionalised version of a pariticular period.

‘The White Queen’ is very good – intriguing enough to keep me interested from the start, and an interesting view on powerful women of the age, and how they were often accused of influencing kings and princes by attaining power beyond their means.

We are limited to seeing the point of view of the recorder at the time within a historical account, and due to this, much history has been ‘suggested’ by a particular leaning of whoever took the time to write it down. Because of this I can imagine it is difficult to develop an opposing point of view to the general consensus – and much research must be undertaken further back up an argument, even within fiction. An example of this is Richard III. Tomas More (Tudor historian) left a fairly derogatory view of him, impressing on Shakespeare the view that he was an evil man, leading to Shakespeare’s portrayal of him within his play as such, with physical deformities as further proof of this.

Philippa Gregory goes beyond this within her novel – to truly research the history and challenges what you think may be the accepted turn of events – namely the two princes in the tower.

Tower of London

Tower of London

I was surprised to read of a differing turn of events, and almost hope that the way the book tells it, is more likely to be the truth than what has been previously accepted.

I’ve been to the tower, it’s a strange place. Seeing graffiti from hundreds of years ago scratched into the walls, seeing where Anne Boleyn was brought through traitors gate – it’s incredible. The events within ‘The White Queen’ brought it to life even more – making me realise even more what an amazing country this is (England) to have such rich history, as well as these amazing monuments to the past that still stand. However there is still a sign that states that two jaw bones were found at the steps of where the princes of the tower were held, however you will have to read ‘The White Queen’ to hear the alternative view of events…

I really enjoyed the subplot around the water goddess Melusina as I wasn’t aware of how myths such as these may have been followed, or even how women may have believed they descended from such legends, and how that impacted their lives. Through superstition and rituals, ‘understanding’ was given to things now simply proven with science (such as the sex of a child for example) and of course how any such murmur of a following or belief or ‘proof’ could be reduced to a cry of ‘Witch, Witch’ only have a follower burned at the stake or drowned.

While the protagonist was a bit whingey in parts, and came across a bit spiteful for the want of a better phrase, I still enjoyed the novel immensely and am looking forward to picking up the sequel.

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