Monday, January 23, 2012

257 (2012 #2). The Lady of the Rivers

by Philippa Gregory

This is the third book in the "Cousins' War" series, but is actually a prequel to the other two books, The White Queen and The Red Queen.  It's about Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the mother of the White Queen, Elizabeth, the wife of England's King Edward IV.  While researching for that book, Philippa Gregory discovered that little information was available about Jacquetta.  Gregory compiled her findings about Jacquetta into an essay that was combined with essays on Elizabeth and on Margaret Beaufort (the Red Queen) by other historians in a nonfiction book called The Women of the Cousins' War, published earlier in 2011.  Unfortunately, Gregory only refers to this book in her author's note, rather than clarifying what is and isn't true in her novel, so I'm making some guesses in this review.

The Lady of the Rivers is historical fiction, not history, and that's pretty evident right from the start, where Gregory has her protagonist meeting Joan of Arc.  It's plausible, but there's no proof.  In an interview, Gregory said, "I discovered that the man who arrested Joan of Arc and released her to her death at the hands of the English was Jacquetta's uncle. At the time of Joan's arrest, we don't know where Jacquetta was living, but she may well have been staying at her uncle's ch√Ęteau.  We have sound historical accounts of the women of Jacquetta's family befriending Joan; Jacquetta's aunt and great-aunt were named by Joan at her trial."

Probably the most interesting character in the book is Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI, as she evolves from young bride to determined ruler. In her research, Gregory apparently determined that Margaret and Jacquetta were friends.  I did enjoy the romance between Jacquetta and her second husband, Richard Woodville, the first Earl Rivers.  I think the fact that they had (at least) 14 children showed that was real!

This book sets the stage for the later accusations of witchcraft against Jacquetta by showing her - reluctantly - reading tarot cards with Joan and Margaret, and scrying for her first husband John, Duke of Bedford (who Gregory says practiced alchemy and did not consummate the marriage with Margaret, and died two years after this marriage).  As in The White Queen, Gregory also continues with the supposed family connection to water goddess Melusine.  I did find that and some needless repetition of characters' titles (which one would not do in a real conversation) to be rather annoying.

While not as good as some of Gregory's other works, I did enjoy this book, and learned a lot about the background of The Wars of the Roses.  Although the author's note was lacking on historical background (guess we are meant to read The Women of the Cousins' War), the book's map, family trees, and three-page bibliography helps.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]