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4.0 out of 5 stars The Womens' War, 15 July 2013
This review is from: Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses (Paperback)
The Wars of the Roses have never been so popular with the general public, particularly with the airing of the BBC TV adaptation of Philippa Gregory's "The White Queen". This period was exciting, uncertain, and often devastating. The lives of the people who were the main players in this 'game of thrones' were remarkable, particularly involving the seven powerful women included in Gristwood's study.

These women were extraordinary personalities; particularly the vengeful but admirable Margaret (Marguerite) of Anjou, who never stopped fighting for what she believed to be her husband's rightful throne; the beautiful but cunning Elizabeth Woodville, queen of Edward IV; the educated and ambitious Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor; the proud Cecily Neville, mother of two kings; the shadowy Anne Neville, wife of two princes; and Margaret of Burgundy, scheming and shrewd sister of Edward IV.

Gristwood writes elegantly, and the book is incredibly easy to read - I finished it in days. The only quibble I have is the editing of this book - some of the sentences made no sense whatsoever!

I would guess that Gristwood's personal favourite is Margaret Beaufort, but she also seems to admire Margaret of Anjou, who displayed courage, resourcefulness, and vengeance in an age which perceived women to be meek, quiet, and utterly submissive. The more I learn about her, the more I admire Margaret too, once we look past the misogyny of writers such as Shakespeare who described her as a 'she-wolf' - although she certainly may not have been the most likeable of women. I also thought information relating to Elizabeth Woodville was interesting - did she have a feud with her son-in-law Henry VII which led to her banishment at an abbey for the last years of her life? Did she plot with pretenders against the Tudor king? Cecily Neville also appears to have been a courageous woman, but who nonetheless did not have an easy relationship with her beautiful daughter-in-law Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret of Burgundy seems to have been utterly scheming, but from her own family dramas and personal losses it's not hard to understand why.

Unfortunately, Gristwood never really brings Anne Neville to life, so this was a bit of a disappointment. I think this isn't necessarily Gristwood's fault, for compared to the other women, scarcely any sources refer to Anne; like a later queen, Jane Seymour, we know nothing of her personality, her appearance, her beliefs, her relationships, etc. Nonetheless, I thought Gristwood could have done more to explore her relationship with Richard III. She suggests that the two may have been close and may have had a childhood friendship, since they may have been brought up together; but why, then, did rumours suggest Richard poisoned her? I thought more could have been done to explore whether Anne WAS in fact murdered, or whether she merely died of an illness as was so common in the fifteenth century. I think we can safely say her life was tragic and sad.

I also thought more could have been done to explore the uneasy relationship, even feud, between Cecily Neville and Elizabeth Woodville. Cecily apparently resented her new daughter in law, but how did they actually interact with one another? Did their relationship ever change, or was it always hostile? The relationship between other women could also have been explored in greater depth - Elizabeth and Margaret Beaufort; Anne Neville and Elizabeth; Margaret of Burgundy and Cecily Neville, etc.

This book is a great starting point for anyone interested in the Wars of the Roses, and I would recommend it. It provides fascinating facts which can be read alongside Gregory's fiction. All in all, I enjoyed it - but I think rather than narrating the lives of 7 different women - some of whom were greatly privileged much more so than others (Margaret Beaufort, Cecily Neville, Margaret of Anjou) - it would have been more compelling to have explored how they interacted with each other and what their personal relationships with one another actually were.
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