Philippa Gregory’s latest installment in the Cousins’ War Series The White Princess is filled with as much drama, excitement and intrigue as the previous reads in the series. This time the heroine is the beautiful and charming Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (The White Queen). Young Elizabeth is forced to marry the usurper Henry Tudor, recently coroneted Henry VII, who won the crown by killing her lover Richard III on the battlefield.
Although the War of the Roses has officially ended and the houses of York and Lancaster have joined together with the marriage of Henry and Elizabeth, Yorkist rebellions threaten to rob Henry who is unpopular with the people, of his crown. Constantly on guard, Henry can never feel secure in his position as king of England. Elizabeth who is beloved by the British people proves to be his most valuable asset, for her star appeal in public and as an advisor behind the scenes.
Although the characters appear one dimensional in the beginning of the story, Gregory does a good job of fleshing them out and bringing out a range of complexity and contradictions in their personalities. According to the history books Henry and Elizabeth were, in fact, complex human beings and had a unique marriage, which was at first a begrudging union born out of necessity but blossomed through the years like the symbolic Tudor rose that is so often associated with the couple.
Gregory’s talent for detail stands out in this book, which is filled with rich and vivid descriptions. It is almost impossible to get past the depiction of Henry’s initial brutality toward Elizabeth but Gregory skillfully leads the reader away from this villainous image, gradually presenting a much more sympathetic side and making it believable that he and Elizabeth were able to put the past aside, at least to some extent, and have a real marriage. It is important that the reader remembers the era in which these events took place as well as the circumstances in order to accept Henry as a worthwhile character. This isn’t always easy, because in some ways the book is very contemporary.
This largely character driven novel includes a colorful and varied assortment of historic figures in its ensemble cast. Although Elizabeth of York is sometimes upstaged by these strong personalities, this queen who was mother to Henry VIII and grandmother to Elizabeth I is a compelling and likable figure in her own right, and her story is a fascinating one. Overall The White Princess is an exciting and entertaining read that will especially appeal to history buffs and historic fiction devotees.