Kate's Reviews > The White Queen

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
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Apr 22, 2010

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bookshelves: cannonball-read, historical-fiction, 2013, fiction

2013 update: It's been three years since I wrote this review. Just read the book again and my opinion remains the same.
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I have a confession to make: I’ve been known to read trashy books. Now, this isn’t something that I like to shout from the rooftops, but if you spent your days reading Chaucer, you would unwind with something less cerebral too. I’ve done the romance novel thing, but the formula becomes grating after a while. So, my most turned to brainless literature is mediocre historical fiction.

I don’t think Philippa Gregory stared out as a mediocre artist. Her break-out novel, The Other Boleyn Girl , was pretty gripping and presented a side of that worn out Tudor saga that I hadn’t heard before. Unfortunately, her work has started to go down a long, dull hill. She’s now turning her attention to the final years of the Plantagenet reign over English with The White Queen .

The White Queen follows the rise of Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner widow, who captures the eye of the young King Edward IV and rises to be the queen of the penultimate reign of a Plantagenet monarch. This period of time has been much discussed by artists and historians as an era of greed and blood. Many a historian has portrayed Edward IV’s queen as the head of a family of grasping bloodsuckers who wormed their way into the highest positions in the kingdom, much like the Boleyns a few generations later. Shakespeare even dedicated his pen to a play based on the period: Richard III . There’s an incredible amount to tell and so many points of view to take in.

Unfortunately, Gregory decides to take the least believable route. Inspired by the whispers of witchcraft that surrounded the Woodville family (which was supposedly descended from a water goddess), Gregory portrays Elizabeth Woodville, her mother, and daughter Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII) as practitioners of wizardry. What made Edward fall for Elizabeth? A ring tied to a string. What made a boat carrying important dignitaries toss violently over the sea? A storm called up by witches’ breath. What withers Richard III’s sword arm and cripples his health? A curse and a locket. Really, Philippa, really?

I think her choice in plot devices shows an author taking the easy way out. Elizabeth Woodville, whether you liked her or not, was a force to be reckoned with. She defied an ordained king by claiming sanctuary for herself and her children in a basement. She suffered through accusations that her husband had been a bastard, sired by a lowly English bowman. She climbed to the highest position in the land and hung there through some of the greatest storms in English royal history. And Gregory credits it to witchcraft? Ugh.

Seriously, if you find this era interesting, pick up Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour , a hefty novel that relies on history and the strength of the characters. Gregory would indeed need witchcraft to reach her standard of work. Sadly, I’m probably going to end up reading Gregory’s next book, which will be a depiction of the same events, just from the point of view of Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry Tudor. I will grit my teeth in irritation, then maybe through my Kindle in the trash, but I will read it shamefaced. Why am I so weak?!
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Reading Progress

April 22, 2010 – Shelved
April 22, 2010 – Shelved as: cannonball-read
July 22, 2013 – Started Reading
July 25, 2013 – Shelved as: 2013
July 25, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
July 25, 2013 – Shelved as: fiction
July 25, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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Claire Right on!


Lady I thought it was, ironically, a French bowman... ;) Either way, that arrow of his hit home.


Aimee I'm nearly done this book, and if I hear about Melusina one more time, I'm ready to barf.


Brittany B. Very funny. I'm reading this after the romance novel thing... Lol.


message 5: by Mary (new) - rated it 1 star

Mary Totally agree with your recommendation of Penman's Sunne in Splendor. I'm grieving over the fact that this trash is going to be televised instead of Penman's better written and more historically accurate version.


message 6: by Eileen (new)

Eileen Smythe Kate - I could not have put it better myself. I too enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl, being new to the story of Anne's sister Mary.

Immediately read The Constant Princess and could not believe the same person had written it. Won't go into my feelings here except to say how constantly 'constant' I found it.

Sadly, I got sucked into The White Queen - well, what else was there to do on a quiet Sunday evening. What a joke.


Kristin Little LOVED Sunne in Splendor!


message 8: by Mari (new)

Mari I agree about Sharon Kay Penman and Sunne in Splendor


message 9: by Eileen (new)

Eileen Smythe Sunne in Splendor - bring it on. One of the best books I've read in years - I just could not put it down after lunching at my desk ... bad news for my workload


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