REVIEW: THE WHITE PRINCESS BY PHILIPPA GREGORY

THE WHITE PRINCESS

Author: Philippa Gregory
Bloomsbury Publishing RRP $37.99 (hardback)
Review: Monique Mulligan 

The White PrincessAfter reading The White Queen I was keen to continue reading more about the Tudors and the War of the Roses. I’m no Tudor scholar and I know that some liberties have been taken in the retelling, but I’m not worried about that – I’ll leave that for others to debate. What I was looking for was a story to sweep me into bygone days, one full of mystery, romance, betrayal, secrets, revenge. Did I get that? Well, I got mystery, romance, betrayal, secrets and revenge … but I wasn’t swept away.

The story begins with Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of the late Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, being reminded of her betrothal to newly-crowned Henry VII. As the man responsible for the death of Richard III, Henry Tudor is seen as a usurper and does not have the populace onside. Nor does he have Elizabeth onside – Richard III was her lover (this is conjecture on the author’s part) and her uncle (true) – and she is still devastated by his loss. She knows her duty, however, and marries the unpopular king, knowing that she will forevermore face conflicts of loyalties. The York and Tudor houses might be known as white and red roses, but really Elizabeth is the rose between the thorns.

Despite professing no love for Henry VII, Elizabeth must now demonstrate her loyalty to him; it’s no easy task, given that her mother is rebelling behind the scenes and her mother-in-law is constantly undermining her and getting in Henry’s ear. Even when she realises that she has, slowly but surely, fallen in love with her King, his trust is not easily won, for he knows that few can be trusted, even those close to him. Elizabeth stands by her husband’s side through growing unrest, creating a new royal family with him. Can the family hold power in a kingdom so loyal to its former rulers, the House of York?

Soon it becomes evident that the king’s greatest fear may be realised. A so-called prince from the House of York is waiting to invade and reclaim the throne. If the rumours about the man Henry VII dismisses as a pretender are to believed, the young man is Elizabeth’s younger brother, Richard, who went missing from the Tower of London with his brother Edward years before. Their bodies were never found. Elizabeth’s choice becomes even more difficult: should she recognise the young man as her brother and therefore claimant to the throne, or should she deny him in favour of her husband? Is recognising someone in your heart the same as speaking it aloud?

Gregory plays dot-to-dot with history in The White Princess, as she does in related novels, filling in the gaps using plenty of imagination (based on research) and what also appears as wild conjecture. For example, it’s not known that Elizabeth and her uncle were lovers, or whether Henry VII forced Elizabeth to have sex with him before marriage only to prove her fertility (that was a far-fetched, I thought and certainly didn’t do much to make me sympathise with him).  The mystery of the Princes in the Tower is one that has fascinated historians for centuries and the question over whether Perkin Warbeck (one of the many names Henry VII dubbed the “Pretender”) was really righful heir to the throne continues to confound. The White Princess really focuses more on this mystery and its impact on Elizabeth and the Tudors above all, using a possible theory to carry the narrative.

Setting aside debate about historical accuracy, The White Princess was an okay read. I didn’t not like it; I just didn’t like it a lot. Overall, I found the characters abrasive and annoying and it was hard to sympathise with any of them, except, perhaps the Pretender and his wife! Now, reading the story of the Pretender and his wife would be really interesting … The story of Elizabeth, Henry VII and the battles of their minds (as well as in war), fell flat for me and didn’t have that unputdownable quality I was hoping for. However, I did find myself searching for more information, cross-referencing and reading up to satisfy my curiosity about the times, during and after the reading of this book. That’s good, right?

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Bookish treat: Some mulled wine would be a relaxing treat, and with all the battles I’ve just read about, I could do with some relaxing.