Sep 6, 2011

Review: The Women of The Cousin's War by Philippa Gregory

Women of the Cousins' War

The Women of The Cousin's War by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin & Michael Jones
Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, September 13, 2011
Hardcover 352 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:Four Stars

The Women of the Cousins' War is an attempt to shed light on three important women of the Wars of the Roses, which Gregory refers to with the old fashioned name of the Cousins' War. The Duchess refers to Jaquetta of Luxembourg, minor French nobility who married into English nobility of the Lancastrian side and who would probably have had a satisfied life if things ended there. Her first husband John, Duke of Bedford was the third son of Henry IV. When he dies, Jacquetta defies convention and marries Richard Woodville, who was merely her first husband's chamberlain. Philippa Gregory writes the first portion of The Women of the Cousins' War as a sort of prelude to her novel, The Lady of the Rivers, her third installment in the Cousins' War fictional series.

David Baldwin writes the second portion of The Women of the Cousins' War on the Queen Elizabeth Woodville, daughter of Jacquetta, mother of the lost princes in the tower, mother-in-law to Henry VII. Elizabeth Woodville underwent much scrutiny when she married the younger Edward IV, who enraged all nobility by bringing the large family of Woodville upstarts into the royal fold. She encounters foes on all sides, from the scheming Warwick to the King's own brothers. Baldwin previously wrote a biography on Elizabeth Woodville, one of the few written.

Finally, Michael Jones brings us the third portion of The Women of the Cousins' War with his writing on Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII, who against all odds persevered throughout the tumultuous Cousins' War and eventually was able to see Lancaster restored to the English throne via her own son. All three of these women are main protagonists in Gregory's novels The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Lady of the Rivers.

In the roughly forty-seven page introduction, Gregory explains that there is very little known about the female significant others of times gone by because women were simply considered irrelevant. Sometimes we have dates of birth and dates of death, and then a little can be filled in between the lines based on certain battles and where their husbands had traveled. And that's exactly what Gregory provides us with when discussing Jacquetta of Luxembourg. As forewarned by Gregory herself, the actual lines that were devoted to Jacquetta in Gregory's section of The Women of the Cousins' War were full of probably's and maybe's with a summary of the Wars of the Roses. The last few pages focus a bit more on Jacquetta and her family, her legacy and the stigma of being a branded a witch (which she miraculously survived a trial intact).

David Baldwin's portion on Elizabeth Woodville read much quicker, and the tone of Baldwin's writing is pitch perfect. He calls into account more of Elizabeth's actions during the events of her marriage to Edward IV, and he didn't overlook some details that I had previously not comprehended. It seems that Edward IV had a peculiar way of ignoring rules and making stuff up as he went along to whatever suited his current needs. King Edward had even declared a countess legally dead in order for her lands to be distributed, even though she was very much alive. It becomes more understandable of the unrest at the time when Edward ignored the Yorkist nobles' alliances with families regarding betrothals, bequeathals and land disputes. Even though most of the disgruntled nobles placed the blame on "the upstart Woodvilles", we cannot but help but wonder where Edward's mind was once he continued to stir the pot more and more. And so the magic/witch/evil spell factor comes back into play, because certainly Edward would not have knowingly been such an idiot when he married the Woodville widow...and he certainly would not normally have misplaced all his trust with the Woodvilles who were (up till then) staunch Lancastrian supporters. I had read Baldwin's non-fiction book on Elizabeth Woodville a few years ago and I recall enjoying it more than other WOTR non-fiction. His writing in The Women of the Cousins' War was just as enjoyable.

Michael Jones then writes of Margaret Beaufort, and we learn about her family and her own father's tragic life. He had committed suicide when Margaret had turned a year old, but as Jones tells it, he was never far from her mind. Jones writes of John Beaufort's tragic exile, his plundering the spoils of battles, enraging the pious Henry VI, his ultimate suicide and ponders what effect did these events have on Margaret? Jones emphasizes Margaret's political acumen and her very act of survival during those politically treacherous times with appraisal. There were a few more details of Margaret's family that I had not realized before, and her family's name going back and forth in and out of royal favor occurred more than I had realized. Margaret's ultimate success of seeing her son on the throne of England, and finally her grandson succeeding the throne without protest, must have been sweet success indeed.

The Women of the Cousins' War is a quick read without bogging down the reader with minutia of details regarding the many angles and intrigues of the Wars of the Roses, and is a worthy resource (family trees, illustrations, notes and sources, and index included) for those who wish to know the real story behind the formidable women featured in Philippa Gregory's novels of the Cousins' War.