The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand...again.
Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand…again.

Why I Read It: Philippa Gregory makes history approachable and interesting and this time period is a bit of a blur for me.

Where I Got It: A review copy via the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you’re just getting your feet wet on the War of the Roses or the Tudors, this is a fun introduction.

Narrator: Bianca Amato

Publisher: Simon&Schuster (2013)

Length: 15 CDs

Series: Book 5 The Cousins’ War

Please note that while this book is Book 5 in the series, it worked very well as a stand alone.

Princess Elizabeth of York is the oldest of the marriageable daughters of the defeated House of York of England. Henry of the House of Tudor (known to history as King Henry the VII) hopes to allay further rebel rousings and uprisings by marrying Elizabeth. A tumultuous marriage is the basis for the rest of the book, coupled with the machinations of both Lady Mothers, the constant, consuming fear Henry carries concerning the unending ghost of a male York heir, with the result of a very engaging book.

The entire narrative is told through the voice of Princess Elizabeth. As one of the main characters affected by the actions and choices of the King and his very controlling mother, I clearly felt her frustrations. I especially wanted to give the King’s Lady Mother a good thump when she made laws concerning the pregnancy confinement. Yep, it’s a darkened room with just a handful of ladies, your sewing, and perhaps a pack of cards. This book spans decades, following each of Elizabeth’s births, her coronation, and, through her eyes, each of Henry’s battles. So, one of the aspects I found particularly interesting were how her feelings for her husband and the father of her children changed over time, and what events preceded those changes. At the beginning of the book, she is still in love with the slain King Richard III, which makes marrying and bedding his killer and the invader of England extra hard.

Both Lady Mothers played big roles in this book, working in their own ways to attempt to direct fate. Tension was built as these two squared off behind the scenes, one with the allusion to witchcraft and another through prayer, and both using practical things like political ties. While secondary characters, they each had strong influences on the King, usually more than his wife.

For much of the book, Elizabeth has little control over her fate and generally does nothing to try to gain control. I found this interesting (and, indeed, sometimes a bit annoying that she does nothing) because her character was like a leaf floating on water, going where wind and current directed. Except for a few instances where she beseeches Henry for one thing or another, she never encourages gossip or develops a spy network of her own.

All in all, I found myself looking forward to more quality time in the truck so I could hear what happens to Elizabeth and her family next. The mystery of the young York brothers is well played throughout the plot, giving a satisfying and plausible answer to this age-old mystery. This book has encouraged me to seek out the rest in the series. I fretted over Maggie’s brother, Teddy, who was locked in the tower. I wanted to plot with Elizabeth’s mum. A few times I even wanted to slap the king for treating folks like simple chess game pieces.

Narration: The narrator Bianca Amato was the perfect voice for Elizabeth, gave believable UK accents, and had a variety of male voices. There were only a few times that I was mildly confused as to whether Elizabeth or her close cousin Maggie was talking, but the text was written so clearly that I quickly figured out who was who.

What I Liked: The ups and downs of a marriage conceived in conquest were well described; the mystery of the York brothers was well played; Elizabeth’s mother gives the story a sense of magic and of secrets left untold; the ending, while bitter sweet, was very satisfying.

What I Disliked: For most of the book, Elizabeth is merely an onlooker and takes no active part.

What Others Think:

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The History Lady

Reading the Past

The Broke and the Bookish

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