Tag Archives: Philippa Gregory

THE KING’S CURSE by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory has done it again, found a compelling, forgotten woman, in the shape of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, and woven a whole tale around this character.

Margaret of Salisbury had an impeccable pedigree. She was the elder child of George, Duke of Clarence, brother to both Edward IV and Richard the III. Her mother was Isabel Neville, daughter and co-heiress with her sister Anne, of Warwick the Kingmaker. Margaret was comfortable at court and knew most of its players. She was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. She became close friends with Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. 51feeg5HssL._AA160_So she is an excellent choice for the ending of Gregory’s series on the Cousin’s War (aka The Wars of the Roses).

Gregory is known for her unorthodox takes on history, and this novel is no exception. She found an eerie corallary between the actions of some of the characters in her previous novels (LADY OF THE RIVERS and THE WHITE QUEEN ) and modern-day science. I will let her explain it to you in the following, taken from her Author’s Note:

There has been much work on the loss of Henry VIII’s babies. Current…research from Catrina Banks Whitley and Kyra Kramer suggests that Henry may have had the rare Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths when the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. Whitley and Kramer also suggest that Henry’s later symptoms of paranoia and anger may have been caused by McLeod syndrome—a disease found only in Kell positive individuals. McLeod syndrome usually develops when sufferers are aged around forty and cause physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior.

…Whitley and Kramer trace Kell syndrome back to Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, the suspected witch and mother of Elizabeth Woodville. Sometimes, uncannily, fiction creates a metaphor for an historical truth: in a fictional scene in the novel, Elizabeth, together with her daughter Elizabeth of York, curse the murderer of her sons, swearing that they shall lose their son and their grandsons, while in real life her genes—unknown and undetectable at the time—entered the Tudor line through her daughter and may have caused the deaths of four Tudor babies to Katherine of Aragon and three to Anne Boleyn. (582)

Reading this gave me the shivers. Five stars.

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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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Anne Neville (1456-1485) is not well-known as a personality in her own right. She is most famous for being the wronged wife of Richard III (1452-1485). At the time of her death, many whispered that she’d been poisoned by her husband to make way for his marriage to his niece Elizabeth of York (1466-1503). That marriage never happened, because Richard was obliged to deny before parliament that he’d had a relationship with Elizabeth. Shortly, thereafter on August 22, Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Anne is also known as the daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (1429-1471), aka “Warwick the Kingmaker” for his making and unmaking of England’s kings during the Wars of the Roses. And lastly, she is known for being the wife of Edward, Prince of Wales (1453-1471), the son and heir of Henry VI and Marguerite d’Anjou. They married in 1470, when Anne was only 14. Edward was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, leaving Anne a widow at the age of 15.

So it was a pleasure to read Philippa Gregory’s account of her in THE KINGMAKER’S DAUGHTER, in which Anne is the protagonist. In Ms. Gregory’s account, Anne emerges as an endearing and intelligent heroine, caught up in the snares of her father’s politics during as he swings from one side to another. Originally promised to Richard of Gloucester, a younger brother of the Yorkist King Edward IV, Anne is married off to Edward, Prince of Wales of the House of Lancaster. When Edward regains his throne and the House of Lancaster is crushed, Anne (according to Ms. Gregory) chooses to marry Richard of Gloucester as her second husband. Thus her marriage to the man who later becomes King Richard III, starts out as a love match.

Ms. Gregory keeps very close to her characters in her stories, and I think this is what makes them so popular. In this novel, you feel as if you are actually with Anne as the events of her life unfold. The author has also done a superlative job with Anne’s voice. Anne is not a charismatic person like Elizabeth Woodville or Jacquetta de St. Pol. Her voice does not have the bite of a Margaret Beaufort. Nevertheless, her quiet determination shines in this novel. Five stars.

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Philippa Gregory’s FALLEN SKIES

Philippa Gregory is a talented author with a knack for making characters come alive. But I have noticed a not-so-wonderful pattern to her novels: The beginnings are usually very strong, and then they peter off. Too many of her novels have weak endings. The most vivid example of this is THE WHITE QUEEN, which ended just before the tragedy of the murders of the two sons of the protagonist. Unfortunately, this was another such novel.

As with all of her novels, I loved the way it began. I loved the way in which the character of Lily came to life, the lovely adolescent, whose high spirits seem to carry her through everything. And I loved the way the war veteran pursued her like a much-needed drink of fresh water.

But after they married, and after they’d settled into an unhappy marriage of convenience, the novel lost its way. And I couldn’t finish it.

For me, the reason was not just because it is a horribly depressing novel with unlikeable characters. It was because the pacing failed. In other words, the novel slowed down to a crawl that seemed to show no signs of picking up. I have remarked in another review of another Gregory novel (LADY OF THE RIVERS) that Gregory’s pacing was off. And I find the same problem here. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend this novel to anyone, unless they were particularly interested in reading about the 1920s. (Gregory does a good job of using period details to bring it to life.) Which is a pity. Two stars.

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THE WHITE QUEEN by Philippa Gregory

THE WHITE QUEEN is the story of Elizabeth Woodville (1437-1492), Queen of Edward IV, mother of the Little Princes in the Tower, and also of Elizabeth of York, who married Henry Tudor after he defeated Richard III at Bosworth, and founded the Tudor dynasty.

The novel starts in 1464, when Elizabeth is sent by her family to beg the King for his favor. There has been a war. Her family was on the losing side. She has nothing to give her two sons because their dead father’s estates have been confiscated. She is chosen to go before the King, because she is a beauty and the young monarch is known to appreciate pretty women.

The rest, as they say, is history. Edward IV secretly weds Elizabeth on May 1, 1464. Even more remarkably, he keeps his promises to her by publicly declaring their union in September of that year, horrifying his counselors, his friends, his family, and most of all, his mother Cecylee, Duchess of York, who does all that she can to disturb the marriage.

Philippa Gregory is such a talented writer and this novel is an easy and enjoyable read. Like others, I did not feel that the extended references to Melusina helped the story. A few details here and there, slipped into the text, would have suited me better.

But the real problem with this novel is the ending. It ends in April 1485, before Elizabeth’s nemesis and brother-in-law Richard III is defeated at Bosworth, before her eldest daughter marries the victor and becomes Queen of England, and before Elizabeth’s own disgrace and exile in 1487, and her subsequent death at Bermondsey Abbey in 1492. Philippa Gregory has created such a compelling character, I was sorry to see her abandon the novel so early, depriving us all of the pleasure of hearing what Elizabeth would have said about these events.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. HE MUST BE SOMEONE is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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THE RED QUEEN by Philippa Gregory

THE RED QUEEN is the story of Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), mother of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (1457-1509), who defeated Richard III at Bosworth and reigned as King Henry VII from 1485 until his death in 1509. (Margaret herself died two months after her son.)

The novel begins in 1453, when Margaret is about to go to court for the first time to formally dissent from her pre-contracted marriage to the son of a disgraced nobleman, so that she becomes available to make a better match. The hour is late, but nine-year-old Lady Margaret is on her knees at prayer, having a vision of herself as her heroine Joan of Arc. When everything is spoiled by her mother’s maid coming in and insisting that she go to bed, for they have to rise early on the morrow.

Philippa Gregory is such a talented writer, whose historical novels are easy and entertaining to read. But she has surpassed herself in this novel, for the voice of Lady Margaret is truly remarkable: determined, shrewd, strong, certain and unconsciously funny:

It cannot be right that the York princess is a favorite at the court, the darling of her uncle, the sweetheart of her people, and I thrown down. God cannot really want these women to lead peaceful, happy lives, while my son is in exile.

The whole novel is infused with that voice, and it makes fascinating reading. If you have not read this novel and you love the period of the Wars of the Roses, then you are in for a treat.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: A ROSE FOR THE CROWN by Anne Easter Smith

The best way of telling a well-worn story is to freshen it up by introducing a new point of view. Phillippa Gregory did this brilliantly with the OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, the Anne Boleyn story told from the point of view of her sister Mary. In her debut novel A ROSE FOR THE CROWN, Anne Easter Smith has told the Richard III story from the point of view of his sweetheart Kate Haute, who was also the mother of his illegitimate children.

Ms. Smith does a wonderful job of drawing the reader in by portraying her humble heroine as an outspoken and lively girl who tries the patience of her parents, and has no idea how lovely she is. We follow Kate Bywood from her humble home in Kent, to her adoption by the Hautes of Igtham Mote, through two unhappy marriages, to her meeting with the teenaged Richard, Duke of Gloucester (who later becomes King Richard III), to the three children she bore him, to the end of their affair when he married Anne Neville in 1472.

The best recommendation I can make for this book is that it is hard to put down. Ms. Smith has done meticulous research, but by focusing on humble folk, has worn her learning lightly. I also want to commend Joanna Maslowska Maher, who did the cover design for Simon & Schuster/Touchstone. It is one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen, and sets the stage for the treat that is within.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: Philippa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance

516o-ognatl_sl160_pisitb-sticker-arrow-dptopright12-18_sh30_ou01_aa115_This is the story is told from the point of view of the three women who share the Boleyn Inheritance:  Jane Boleyn, the sister-in-law of Queen Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, a cousin to Queen Anne who ultimately becomes the fifth wife of King Henry VIII, and Queen Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of King Henry.

Jane Boleyn is the ambitious woman who maneuvers herself into the favor of successive Queens with a view to feathering her own nest – for English Queens had considerable powers of patronage.

Anne of Cleves is the German princess sent to marry King Henry in the autumn of 1539, after the tragic death of his third wife Jane Seymour.  Anne of Cleves and King Henry are strangers when they meet and their first meeting does not go well.  Things rapidly deteriorate.

Katherine Howard is the swan-necked beauty who lights up the aging King, and is ruthlessly used – and sacrificed – as a political pawn.

If you enjoyed reading The Other Boleyn Girl, you will enjoy this sequel, which brilliantly conveys the ruthless politics of sixteenth century England.
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl

51qevfktgql_sl160_Perhaps one of Philippa Gregory’s best-known novels – due to the recent movie starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johanssen and Eric Bana – this novel tells the story of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII and mother of the future Elizabeth I.  This novel is about a stormy relationship that ignited into a passion that destroyed the Catholic Church in England and ultimately led to tragedy when King Henry ordered the beheading of his wife Anne.

What was Anne’s crime? Although she was charged with incest and adultery, the real issue may have been her inability to bear Henry a son, and the resulting souring of their relationship.

What is brilliant about this novel is that it is told from the point of view of Anne’s sister Mary, who was one of King Henry’s mistresses before he embarked on an affair with Anne, and thus we are given a very different take not only on Anne, and King Henry, but also Anne’s brother George Boleyn, by someone who knew all these people very well.
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: Philippa Gregory’s The Virgin’s Lover

51w2g52k9al_sl160_pisitb-sticker-arrow-dptopright12-18_sh30_ou01_aa115_The Virgin’s Lover is the story of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and her childhood playmate Robert Dudley.  The novel opens as church bells peal across the land announcing the accession of the new Queen in November 1558.  Elizabeth was twenty-five years old, an energetic red-blonde who had her father’s looks and energy, but was also possessed of an icy self-control.  Her council – all men – want her to marry a suitable prince.  But Elizabeth has other ideas.  Her choice seems to be Robert Dudley, who is just as ambitious and intelligent as she is.  The problem is that Dudley is already married to a wife he does not care for.  So in the first years of her reign – when Elizabeth was coping with a country on the verge of bankruptcy – everyone wanted to know whether Dudley would set aside his wife to marry the Queen.  Then one day, everything changed when Amy Dudley – Robert’s wife – is found at the bottom of the stairs with her neck broken.  Was she murdered?  Was her husband responsible for her death? 

This novel answers centuries-old questions about Amy’s death, and gives us a brilliant portrayal of a young woman on the verge of greatness, a young man on the brink of disaster, and the wife trapped in the middle.

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