Book Review: THE WHITE PRINCESS by Philippa Gregory

WhitePrincessTHE WHITE PRINCESS by Philippa Gregory is the story of Elizabeth of York, daughter of THE WHITE QUEEN (Elisabeth Woodville) and granddaughter of THE LADY OF THE RIVERS (Jacquetta de St Pol). It spans the years 1485, when Elizabeth was 19 years old, to 1499, when she was 33, and it mostly concerns the conspiracy to topple Henry VII from the throne of England, and replace him with someone who was either Elizabeth’s brother Richard Duke of York, or a convincing impostor whose name may have been Perkin Warbeck. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Henry VII happened to be her husband, and thus she is torn between husband and (possible) brother.

Some readers have criticized Philippa Gregory for writing a novel that is full of lies. Though her take on this period of history is certainly controversial, I believe that it is backed up by research, by the latest thinking on this subject. If is fascinating to think that one of the princes in the Tower, Richard Duke of York, may have actually survived and lived to see his eldest sister on the throne of England. Even more fascinating are the scenes in which they both appear together, for they could never acknowledge each other with Henry’s spies watching.

Ms. Gregory has been criticized for employing a prose style in this novel that “will either drive points home for readers or drive them batty,” to quote one reviewer. And it is true, the prose style is repetitive:

 “You have defeated him, he is down in the mud.”

She turns her head away from me. “He could be diminished, he could be dirty, he could be starved, and yet he would still shine,” she says…”They said he looked like Jesus…They said he looked like a saint. They said he looked like a broken prince, a damaged lamb, a dimmed light. Of course, he can’t be freed. He can never be freed.”

For a writer who can write such beautifully lyrical prose as:

“With this contradictory parentage of mine: solid English earth and French water goddess, one could expect anything from me: an enchantress or an ordinary girl. There are those who will say I am both. But today, as I comb my hair with particular care and arrange it under my tallest headdress, take the hands of my two fatherless boys and lead the way to the road that goes to Northampton, I would give all that I am to be, just this once, simply irresistible…”

There must be a reason for the repetition. And I think that reason is that is conveys the suffocating paranoia of Henry VII’s court. If I am right, then Ms. Gregory has taken a risk in not writing the beautiful prose we know her to be capable of. Five stars.

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