Anyone familiar with the book The Other Boleyn Girl has heard of Philippa Gregory. Her engaging look at the role that women played in the court of Henry VIII coupled with the power and legacy of the Boleyn family brings into history that one important element that always seems to be left out by recognized historians...women.
In her new series of books Gregory regales her readers once again with the interplay between destiny and survival during the War of the Roses. This period of English history is the civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster. York being symbolized by the white rose and Lancaster the red rose. It is called the cousins war, because these two houses were blood descended from the same monarch, hence cousins. It is a war of greed, of holding on to power and in the end as is usual with things so personal simply revenge.
The Lady of the Rivers we are greeted with the legacy of Jacquette Woodville. Her story begins in France, the daughter of the Duke of Luxembourg. She learns the fate of women of intelligence and strength when she witness the price paid by the maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc. From her eyes we see the machinations of the ruling English class, we see how politics turns to war and what civil war meant for the countryside. While men of power fought, died and destroyed, it was the unrecognized, the unknown and the average citizen that carried the greatest burden of this war. Yet though all the troubles and trials, the bartered marriages and the danger of a marriage that defied a king, with triumph and spirit Jacquette begins a dynasty that will end up sitting on the throne of England.
These books bring to light an interesting period in English history. It is the era that ended the Plantagenets and made way for the Tudors. It is the period of Richard III, hunchback, possible murderer and monarch killed at Bosworth field. It is the period that shaped a future power and made way for much of the modern world. As an aside, that Richard's bones have finally been identified 500 years after his death makes this history all the more real.
If you are drawn to stories of strong women then The Cousin's War series is definitely a must read.
The White Queen
The Red Queen
The Kingmaker's Daughter
The actual history of the Women of The Cousin's War
The interesting issue that tends to rattle around in my head when I read these books, is what would these women have been if they lived today? Would they have been as strong? Would they have accomplished so much? Would they be captains of industry, politicians or warriors? Or were they merely a product of a more brutal age age, just as their men were? We will never truly know, for there is no way to know. But it is fun to speculate what might have been had these women been given their due rewards and deserved respect during their lifetimes.
Qi en Pace,