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A return to something like form for Philippa Gregory
on 26 September 2011
Having read the first two books in the Cousins' War Trilogy, and having been desperately disappointed by them both, I sent away for this one more in hope than anticipation. However, I was pleasantly surprised as this represents a return to something like form with a tale which is character driven, historically vibrant and slightly less focussed on magic, although that element remains.
Jacquetta's arrival on the world stage into the turmoil of Joan of Arc's short lived but successful career as a king maker, is extremely well done. Even in an age accustomed to almost daily brutality, the cruelty of Joan's trial and execution was acute and shocking to its witnesses, one of whom gruesomely is Jacquetta. Joan was judicially murdered by men who could not stomach her gender and her achievements. There is no doubt that the young Jacquetta, although high born and wealthy, will also be subject to male control. Swept up by the all powerful Duke of Bedford, for reasons other than lust, her odd first marriage and early widowhood give way to what seems, historically, to have been something of a medieval coup for a woman whose marriage was a matter of state policy - a love match with Richard Woodville, paid for with no more than a hefty fine. As the fruitful Lady Rivers, she soon finds herself back in the maelstrom of royal politics when she becomes lady in waiting to young Margaret of Anjou, bride of the fragile, inadequate and easily dominated King Henry VI. Margaret's need for love, for an heir and for support to keep her ailing husband on his throne, lead inexorably to the Wars of the Roses.
In between her multiple, and amazingly uncomplicated, pregnancies, Jacquetta's role provides her with a ringside seat in the turbulent theatre of war, conquest, triumph and disaster that ended with Edward of March claiming both the throne and J's eldest daughter, Elizabeth Woodville. Jacquetta and her family move even closer to the throne, as Elizabeth becomes The White Queen, future mother of the princes in the Tower.
Jacquetta's story is overdue for telling and this book has drawn a sympathetic portait of a powerful, but little known career in pre-Tudor politics.