Sunday, February 16, 2014

380 (2014 #8). The White Princess

by Philippa Gregory,
read by Bianca Amato

This is the fifth (and hopefully last) book in Philippa Gregory's Cousins War series about the royal women of the Wars of the Roses.  This book is about about Elizabeth of York, granddaughter to Jacquetta of Luxembourg, (subject of the third book in the series, The Lady of the Rivers), daughter to Elizabeth Woodville (subject and narrator of book one, The White Queen), daughter-in-law to Margaret Beaufort (The Red Queen, the second book), and (supposedly) mistress of her uncle King Richard III, the husband of Anne Neville in the fourth book in the series, The Kingmaker's Daughter.

Unlike the mysterious Jacquetta, her wily and resourceful mother Elizabeth, or the pious and controlling Margaret, the younger Elizabeth, like her aunt Anne, is rather dull.  She is married to Margaret's son Henry Tudor - Henry VII - to unite the houses of York and Lancaster and begin the Tudor reign.

According to this book, Elizabeth is madly in love with Richard and weds Henry, who was responsible for his death, reluctantly.  Gregory has Henry rape Elizabeth before their wedding, to be assured of her fertility before he weds her.  Otherwise, despite the long-ago betrothal he feels he must honor, he might move on to one of her younger sisters.  Perhaps he (and his mother) found it strange that she hadn't become pregnant if she was Richard's mistress.  Arthur was (in fact) born strong and healthy eight months after his parents' wedding, but I think having Henry rape Elizabeth (for which there is no historical evidence) is a mistake.  Gregory could have written Elizabeth as more decisive, a willing partner to Henry or even his seducer, realizing the advantages it could have for her.  But that doesn't fall in with Gregory's theory that Richard did not murder his brother's sons, Elizabeth's brothers, the infamous Princes in the Tower.  Perhaps he did not, but I don't think it was necessary to have Elizabeth SO in love with him (even if being involved with your blood uncle was not considered incestuous in those days).

I got tired rather quickly of a number of things in this book:

  • Elizabeth's ongoing professions of love for Richard; 
  • The frequent and needless repetition of the full names and titles of characters in conversations (which would not happen in real life), as well as "She shrugs" and "He nods" and variations thereof, plus some similes repeated word-for-word (her first two children both have hands like little starfish, and fingernails like little shells, pages 136 and 260);
  • Some annoying anachronisms (picture books on page 428 did not appear until 1658, and even then were not common, and a reference to "The Princess and the Pea"  on page 432, not published until 1835 by Hans Christian Andersen) and mistakes (for example, the Tudor rose is pictured on the cover and described on page 346 as "a red marking inside a white flower" and on page 519 as "white with a red core," when it is actually the opposite); and
  • Henry's fear and worry, expressed as fury, over "the boy," an endless series of pretenders to the throne, to which Elizabeth always says "I don't know" when asked if they might be her younger brother Richard, who her mother supposedly sent away before a substitute commoner was taken away to the Tower. 
At 519 pages, this book is far longer than it needs to be.  And yet, the book ends abruptly - in late 1499, just after the executions of the last pretender (Perkin Warbeck) and Elizabeth's first cousin Edward Warwick, the last (known) male York with a claim to the throne.  While I did not expect the book to end with Elizabeth's death in February 1503, from complications after the birth of her seventh child (who also died), I would have thought the book would have addressed the death of her sixth child and third son Edmund (born near the end of this book) in June 1500, as well as the death of her oldest and favorite child, Arthur, in April 1502 - if only because these deaths might be seen as fulfilling the curse Gregory invents that Elizabeth and her mother put on whoever murdered the Princes in the Tower.

And what happened to Lady Katherine Huntly - the wife of Perkin Warbeck and (according to Gregory) Henry's mistress?

Some of these could have been addressed in an afterword, but they were not.  Yet again, Gregory's author's note at the end of the book is very sparse - less than two pages - although she does provide some suppositions for her fiction.  Gregory does include a bibliography of  five-plus pages, as well as a map and a family tree at the book's beginning, although the latter, frustratingly, does not include any death dates post-1485 when the book begins (which is ridiculous, since these are all historical figures and there's no "suspense" about their deaths).

The audiobook doesn't have these last three features, although they could have been easily added as a PDF file.  The story is told in first-person by Elizabeth, and is read by South African actress and audiobook veteran Bianca Amato, who also does an excellent job creating voices for other characters.  The audiobook has beginning-of-disc and end-of-disc messages, which I appreciate, but has pauses that are way too long between segments, making this already too-long book seems to drag out even more.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook and print copy were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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