Philippa Gregory is a historical novelist, and I believe she’s best known for her work The Other Boleyn Girl. I read the aforementioned title a few years ago and remember enjoying the text. Based on my enjoyment of The Other Boleyn Girl and my recent wish to dive back into historical fiction, I decided to read one of Gregory’s slightly more recent works, The White Queen. The White Queen focuses on the War of the Roses and is set (naturally) before the Tudor Court novels.
Before I began reading, I tried to pinpoint what I liked about Gregory’s writing the most; I found that I couldn’t. Did I like the scandal associated with Henry Tudor’s mistress(es), Philippa Gregory’s use of the first person, or her strong yet flawed female characters? I was unable to put my finger on the one thing that really drew me to her writing. So I decided to just jump in.
I found that I liked Gregory’s easily accessible style. Historical fiction can sometimes be a bit bland, but by writing in first person, the reader is brought immediately into the world of the past. There’s no lack of action, either, because you better believe that Gregory’s characters, in this case, (Queen) Elizabeth Woodville-Rivers-York (of England), are always plotting something.
Other than Philippa Gregory’s style, I also liked the mythical aspect that was added with the use of the legend of Melusina, the water goddess the Burgundy’s are descended from. I had never heard of Melusina before, so I definitely learned a few new things. This belief, coupled with the accusation against Elizabeth’s mother also allowed Gregory to bring in the element of witchcraft which makes an 13th-century historical novel interesting.
However, the more I read, the more I began to remember what I really liked about The Other Boleyn Girl because I didn’t quite like The White Queen as much. A lot of The White Queen is war and plotting for war, or how to prevent war, depending on the needs of Elizabeth and her children. There was so much plotting and not enough action. I think I also missed the intrigue of the Royal Court.
I need to give Philippa Gregory credit, though. Even though I didn’t feel completely connected with Elizabeth and didn’t whole-heartedly enjoy The White Queen, Gregory still made me feel something. Even though I didn’t greatly feel connected in any way to Elizabeth, I still felt for her when Edward began keeping “The Shore Whore” at Court while Elizabeth was in confinement due to her pregnancy. The fact that Gregory was able to make me feel something, even though I wasn’t that into the book proves (to me) that she’s a great writer.
I will pick up another Philippa Gregory novel. The White Queen wasn’t terrible; it definitely had its merits, but I think I’ll shy away from the other novels in the Plantagent cycle for now. I think I’ll move on to Georgian England with Philippa Gregory’s first novel, Wideacre.
- Philippa Gregory: unearthing history’s forgotten women (guardian.co.uk)