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the shadowy matriarch comes to light
on 1 October 2013
I loved reading about Jacquetta Rivers. As nobility in her own right, she bears herself with dignity throughout the book, as she seems to have done in reality. Her loyalty to the feckless, and maybe even mad, french Queen, is attested to.
Having read The White Queen some time ago, I was keen to read about the captivating Duchess, her Lady Mother. The book stands alone, but enriches the material in the first of the series, The White Queen.
I lost count of how many children she bore. Astonishing fertility. It is easy to forget that that was the function and fate of most women. That she survived all those births and was able to adore her children, is a remarkable testament to her physical and emotional strength. And as with her daughter, The White Queen, I am seriously in awe of doing all that childbearing and then having the energy to plot and scheme and play the Royal game, and fulfill her duty as a lady at court. But wet-nurses, an army of nannies etc., are factors beyond our modern imagining. there was some sort of liberation in that.
She was indeed a fitting ancestor of Gloriana...fearless, brilliant, and powerfully protective of her own. Yet she married, the second time, for love and was devoted to her husband throughout. A love match amongst nobility seems to have been an unusual thing....at least amongst the York and Lancaster families. Gregory depicts the relationship tenderly.
The scenes dealing with the supernatural were woven deftly into the plot. The atavistic abilities shared with her daughter Elizabeth were given enough balance to allow the reader to sense that the 'magic' engaged in was really a deep attunement and sensitivity to the currents of life.. supported by a focussed intent. Divination by these means is shown as a fairly innocuous use of focus; and the suggested wether magic is a thread which leaves us wondering throughout the series. When the weather adversely affects the military campaigns of her enemies, they accuse the Rivers women of witchcraft. But that was common enough in those times, it seems. Fear and distrust of clever, powerful, beautiful women runs throughout history.
The paranoia around the occult which arose at that time could have done with more background description, I felt. I was confused about the duration of the period, early in the book, when alchemy and astrology etc were acceptable in learned circles, and when that learning suddenly seemed to be taboo. Another book, perhaps...
In all, a fascinating read with an engaging plot, weaving scant historical evidence with the usual deft novelistic touch, bringing the characters and the period alive.