The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory is most famous for The Other Boleyn Girl, about Mary Boleyn, sister of the infamous Anne. She’s also written several historical novels about the queens and ladies who lived before the Tudor period, especially during the Wars of the Roses or the Cousins’ War. There’s Lady of the River, about Jacquetta Woodville, The White Queen about Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, and The Red Queen, about Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. This one is about Anne Neville, wife of Richard III of York. All of these books seek to tell a mostly historical story from a feminine perspective. Since the historical record is told from the point of view of the men (and the winners), there is a lot of room for Gregory to invent and speculate about the motivations of the women. The novels are rich with period detail and go deep into the psychology of each woman.
Anne Neville is an interesting historical figure because she participated in the Cousins’ War on both sides, acting both as a pawn for others and as a power player in her own right. Her father, the rich Duke of Warwick, made Edward IV king by defeating the Lancasters, then turned on Edward because of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. He conspired with George, the king’s brother and Warwick’s own son-in-law, to kill the king in battle, and when that failed, he allied with the Lancasters through marrying Anne to their heir. When both he and Anne’s husband died in the attempt, Anne was left a penniless widow, dependent on her sister and the York court that she blamed for her father’s death. Anne is always aware that her father gave his life to make her queen of England, and that sense of destiny guides her through years of trials to a brief triumph.
For a reader who’s read several of the books in this series, it’s fascinating to see the same events described from differing perspectives. All are first person narratives, and each narrator has her own personality and style, which comes out in the writing as well as the actions. In general, they see themselves as good, well-intentioned, and often as victims, while others may have an entirely different idea of them. For example, Elizabeth Woodville is presented as a witch and villainess in The Kingmaker’s Daughter, but in her own novel, The White Queen, she seems pretty saintly. Margaret Beaufort sees herself as called by God and is always comparing herself to Joan of Arc, which makes her seem unhinged and fanatic, and makes it kind of chilling when she wins after committing some pretty terrible deeds. The other characters’ views of her change based on shifting alliances, but they rarely fully trust her.
I have great sympathy for Gregory’s feminist project in these novels. They’re fun to read because of the descriptive language and the romance stories. They’re not for everyone, and might be somewhat longer than they need to be. But for anyone who likes period novels, biographies, or learning about British history and the late Middle Ages, these books are a treat best enjoyed as a set.