The White Princess

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

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This book concentrates of Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII, whose marriage ended the Wars of the Roses and started the Tudor dynasty. Compared to the other heroines of Gregory’s novels, Elizabeth seems to have less agency, less ability to change her circumstances and make things happen on her own. She has no choice but to watch as her husband frantically searches for “the boy,” her lost brother Richard, considered the rightful king by most Englishmen. Henry’s obsession with tracking the young man down and discrediting him make him look pathetic. The most Elizabeth can do is drop a few snarky comments on My Lady the King’s Mother. Gregory seems limited by the historical information; maybe there was less room for her to play with Elizabeth’s story than with the other women’s.

The most interesting twist she adds to the story is one that got started in a previous novel: the curse that Elizabeth and her mother laid on whoever murdered the lost York princes. Anyone who knows a little about the eventual fate of the rulers of the Tudor dynasty can see that the curse does play out, that Elizabeth inadvertently condemned herself and her own children by cursing, then marrying, her brothers’ killer. That irony makes the historical facts of the British monarchy into a tragic story in which the crimes of the fathers are visited on their children. The original sin of the murders of the lost princes in the tower becomes the downfall of the dynasty their deaths were supposed to ensure. That rich, creative reading of history is what makes Philippa Gregory’s books so interesting and enjoyable.

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