The Whimsical Mama

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The White Princess by Philippa Gregory September 9, 2013

Filed under: Book Review,Books — Maura @ 9:00 pm

Rating:  5 stars
Pub date:  23 July 2013
Publisher: Touchstone
Genre: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Format: hardback, obtained from the Public Library


The White Princess opens as the news of the battle of Bosworth is brought to Princess Elizabeth of York, who will learn not only which rival royal house has triumphed, Tudor or York, but also which suitor she must marry: Richard III her lover, or Henry Tudor her enemy.

A princess from birth, Elizabeth fell in love with Richard III, though her mother made an arranged betrothal for her with the pretender to the throne: Henry Tudor. When Henry defeats Richard against all odds, Elizabeth has to marry the man who murdered her lover in battle, and create a new royal family with him and his ambitious mother: Margaret Beaufort, The Red Queen. But, while the new monarchy can win, it cannot, it seems, hold power in an England which remembers the House of York with love.

The new king’s greatest fear is that somewhere, outside England, a prince from the House of York is waiting to invade and re-claim the throne for the house of York. Fearing that none of his new allies can be trusted, Henry turns to his wife to advise him, all the time knowing that her loyalties must be divided. When the young man who would be king finally leads his army and invades England, it is for Elizabeth to decide whether she recognizes him as her brother and a claimant to the throne, or denies him in favor of the husband she is coming to love…

As much of a Tudor lover as I am, I must admit that I didn’t really know all that much about Henry VII. I knew that his marriage to Elizabeth of York basically ended the Cousins’ War (War of the Roses) by merging the two houses (York and Lancaster), but that was about it other than he was the father of Henry VIII.

We start just after the battle of Bosworth where Henry Tudor wins over Richard III. Richard III is killed, the crown is stripped from his corpse, and his body is left in shame to be buried in an unknown location. (If you didn’t know, he body was recently found and identified within the past year. Cool stuff!) Elizabeth knew either outcome of the battle she would be the next Queen of England. She was Richard III’s lover and his wife, Anne Neville, had recently died. She was betrothed to Henry Tudor to secure his supporters in trying to rescue her brothers in the Tower, but when that failed, the betrothal remained anyway and shifted part of the York support to him against Richard.

In his way of revenge for her making him look like a fool while she was Richard’s mistress, he forces himself on her over and over until she conceives. Only then does he consent to marry her. It is announced that the baby is a “honeymoon baby” conceived in love and bliss of the beginning of their marriage. She is safely delivered of a son, named Arthur, who is to become Prince of Wales.

The royal family is plagued by “pretenders” to the throne. Boys claiming to be the Princes in the Tower. The first pretender comes to nothing and is taken into the royal service and slowly rises from kitchen boy to falconer. The Dowager Queen Elizabeth, helped support the uprising and is eventually banished into retirement at Bermondsey Abbey. Henry believes that this will be the end of her meddling. He still stays extremely distrustful of his wife, Elizabeth, always saying she still supports her York relatives.

Another rebellion rises surrounding her cousin, Edward, Earl of Warwick, who is the son of George, Duke of Clarence, and his wife Isabel Neville. The young earl is then imprisoned in the Tower and never again gains his freedom. He is portrayed as a simple boy who does not fully understand the trouble of being related to the fallen royal family of York. His sister Maggie is a constant companion to Elizabeth.

Through the struggle and haunting of “the boy,” Elizabeth and Henry fall in love for a while. They get over that they were forced into a loveless marriage to secure alliances. The love is fleeting as the threat of the pretender grows and grows over the years. Henry is nearly driven mad with the chase of this boy who claims to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger brother. Elizabeth never admits that she and her mother slipped Richard out of sanctuary and sent a pauper in his place to the Tower.

While dealing with the threat of the pretender, Henry struggles to gain the love of the people of England. He taxes them to the brink and is hot and cold in his clemency. The lords and commoners hate him which drive them to support in secret and in the open, the boy called Richard. Elizabeth finds herself caught in the middle. She doesn’t know if she should stand by her husband or turn to the boy who claims he is her brother. She ultimately decides to stand by her husband and her children.

After the threat of uprisings in England seem to die down and chasing the pretender all over Europe, Richard lands in England. He is taken prisoner at Exeter and Henry decides to be lenient and keep him as a prisoner. He also falls in love with Richard’s wife, Katherine, who is cousin to the Scottish king. He promises her that as long as the pretender does as his parole commands, he will not be harmed.

Henry hopes that in showing the pretender to the people and having created a history for him, the people of England will turn against him and finally support Henry. This plan backfires. “The boy” has all of the charm of the York family and draws more supporters. Henry then keeps him close at court. At the Palace of Sheen, there is a fire in the wardrobe, where “the boy” is staying. Henry thinks there is no way he could have survived and is delighted in the beginning until he realises he was duped and he had been in his wife’s rooms that night and was safe. Elizabeth fears that Henry set the blaze himself in order to be free of the pretender.

After a progress, the royal family returns to the Tower. In the middle of the night, “the boy” flees from his guard. It is believed he drugged the guards to escape. He is quickly found and placed as a prisoner in the rooms that the Princes in the Tower were originally placed in. He is on the floor above his “cousin” Edward of Warwick. Henry then tries to entrap them in plots. He finally confesses this to Elizabeth as he realises that his plan is backfiring against him and more people than those he ordered to entrap the boys are involved. Finally, he has no choice but to pursue execution.

Henry tires of waiting for the court to draw up a jury and has the verdict called out against “the boy” before he even faces a trial. He is executed by hanging, Henry deciding to be lenient and not have him drawn and quartered as well as hanged. The day he is hanged, Elizabeth hears the singing of Melusina, the founder of her house, which is a signal that one of her household died. Elizabeth is further convinced that besides looking like her brother, Richard, that he was in deed her brother.

Days after”the boy” was executed, Edward of Warwick was found guilty of treason and executed. Elizabeth’s half-brother, Thomas Grey, believed that he didn’t fully understand what was happening. He was a simply boy and had spent over half of his life in captivity in the Tower.

After the executions, Henry withdraws from court claiming sickness. Rumours start swirling around court and Elizabeth goes to confront him. His mother explains that he deeply cared for “the boy,” because he was the only one who could understand Henry. Not fully understanding, she confronts Henry telling him he must return to his court. He then explains that he is riddled with guilt over executing two innocent boys. He says that only “the boy” understood what Henry had gone through as a child in exile. Growing up being told he was born for greatness and to wait until the time was right to come forward.

Elizabeth admits to Henry, after she had admitted to her confessor, that she and her mother had placed a curse on the murderer of the boys. The curse was that whoever harmed the princes would lose their own son and a grandson in childhood and that their line would end with a daughter. Both the confessor and Henry scoff that there is no such thing as curses. Henry goes further to say that he never harmed her brothers and that they are safe in their succession with three boys. Elizabeth points out that her mother also had three sons and died with no heirs but girls. Henry says that he had to kill the boys otherwise they never would’ve been safe on their throne. He pleads for forgiveness and reluctantly Elizabeth grants it, realising there is much she has to forgive.

Though this is where the book ends, this is not the end of the story of Elizabeth of York. If you know Tudor history, you could say that by the wording of the curse, either Henry or his mother had Edward killed in the Tower as well as the pauper (if a swap occurred), then if “the boy” known as Perkin Warbeck truly was Richard of York, the curse played out against them. Arthur Prince of Wales dies in adolescence. His younger brother, Henry, eventually succeeds to the throne, and leaves as his heir, a sickly boy in Edward VI. Edward also dies in adolescence, leaving as his heirs, his older sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. Both die childless, thus ending the male Tudor line.

We don’t know what really happened with the Princes in the Tower, but to me, this account seems likely. Otherwise, why would Henry VII have spent so much time to create a back story for the boy who was executed with no name, but was also called Perkin Warbeck? Also, if the boy wasn’t a true claimant to the throne, why would so many courts of Europe and so many English nobles have supported him? Who knows? It’s a great mystery!

I can’t wait to see how the last book plays into the series and how it ties in with the Tudors series Gregory has also written. I would definitely recommend this book and series! It’s been so full of feels! I also enjoyed learning more about the beginnings of a family I’ve loved studying for years. Seriously, you should see my nonfiction shelf. It is FULL of Elizabeth I books. I’ve written more reports on her than I care to admit haha.

Recommended for: History lovers, those interested in the first Tudor king, Elizabeth of York, and the mystery surrounding the Princes in the Tower
Not recommended for: History haters, those who have no interest in English history – especially Tudor history or the Princes in the Tower


One Response to “The White Princess by Philippa Gregory”

  1. I would love to read this. The Tudors are so fascinating – better than any reality TV show!

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