The Women of the Cousins’ War

Desmond Seward on a joint biography of three Philippa Gregory heroines

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Reviewed by: Desmond Seward
Author: Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin, and Michael Jones
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Price (RRP): £18.99

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This book tells the story of three great ladies during the Wars of the Roses – all of whom have been prominent characters in Philippa Gregory novels.

The first, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, widow of the Duke of Bedford (Henry V’s brother), married ‘beneath her’, taking Sir Richard Woodville as her new husband, by whom she had 14 children. A lady-in-waiting to Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, she and Woodville faced ruin when the Lancastrians were annihilated at Towton, but made their fortunes after their daughter Elizabeth married Edward IV in 1464.

Although Woodville was beheaded by Warwick the Kingmaker, who accused Jacquetta of witchcraft, she survived until 1472, dying as grandmother of a Prince of Wales.

Elizabeth Woodville goaded Edward IV into marriage, refusing to sleep with him even when he pulled a knife on her. Despite being unpopular for ruthlessly promoting her greedy kindred, she survived Henry VI’s brief restoration by Warwick in 1470–71. Coldly realistic, after her sons disappeared in the Tower in 1483 to make way for Richard III, she hoped that her eldest daughter would marry him. Finally, implicated in a Yorkist plot against her son-in-law Henry VII, she was banished to a nunnery.

Margaret Beaufort was 13 when she gave birth to her only son, Henry Tudor.

A natural politician, she almost reconciled Edward IV to Henry, while she turned the Duke of Buckingham against Richard III, encouraging the rising of autumn 1483 – and was under house arrest until her son’s triumph at Bosworth. During Henry VII’s reign, ‘the King’s Mother’ became one of the most powerful figures in England.

Philippa Gregory does her elegant best with the little-known Jacquetta, while David Baldwin portrays Elizabeth as astute and likeable, but most impressive is Michael Jones’s formidable Margaret. Lavishly illustrated and beautifully written, this is an enjoyable book.   

Desmond Seward is author of A Brief History of the Wars of the Roses (Robinson, 2007)
 

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