This is a review of The White Princess by Philippa Gregory, the latest in her Cousin’s War series
A good read, but like the other volumes in the Cousins’ War series, this one is compromised by being overlong. Historical fiction readers expect meticulous detail and the writer’s specific interpretation. Like other volumes of this series the White Princess delivers. This is a revisionist history portraying Henry Tudor as a tyrannical, paranoid ruler and pretender to the throne. It also hints at being anti-royalist.
However, Philippa Gregory is able to portray him with a degree of sympathy as his character is largely shaped by his mother’s vaulting ambition and being forced into exile as challenger to the York Empire. Although the White Princess’s marriage is a huge compromise, with Elizabeth under the yoke of Henry’s mother, also known as The Red Queen, in an earlier volume. Henry’s falls for Elizabeth’s charm which endears her to him especially when she provides him with two sons. As he partially frees himself from his mother’s domination their relationship briefly appears like a love story that occasionally mirrors that of her mother’s relationship with her father. This story is romance light and subordinate to the dominant genre as a political history. Unlike Elizabeth’s chivalrous and naturally charming father, Henry’s love and devotion wavers and is determined by his coups and the threats made against his reign when he turns mean, sullen and suspicious of his wife. Ultimately, there is little romance for women born into powerful families as they are expected to dutifully marry to form powerful alliances, especially to place kings on thrones. Elizabeth’s mother marries her to Henry to ensure the York’s power and safety, while she schemes to return a York prince to the throne. Touches of ominous Gothic assist non romance readers to read past romance fiction elements and the constant marrying off of women to strengthen dynasties. Consistent with other volumes in the Cousins’ War series, the White Princess reinforces Gregory’s sympathy for the House of York as the Tudors struggle to maintain power against York sympathisers who continually muster up armies to put a York prince on the throne. Historical credibility is compromised by Gregory’s portrayal of Elisabeth’s role as powerbroker and peacemaker whose loyalty is divided by the Tudor and York dynasties. However, Henry’s lacking faith in Elizabeth’s loyalty partly explains and foreshadows the grim fate a number of Henry VIII’s wives and the women in his court will face when under an even more tyrannical Tudor king’s brutality. Her interpretation of the villain behind the killing of the two York princes is a stark contrast to Shakespeare’s casting of Richard III as the villain. Beyond simply reading the White Princess as historical romance fiction the story builds suspense and mystery which sustains reader interest to the end.