Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Cousins' War: The Kingmaker's Daughter (book 4), by Philippa Gregory

This is a continuation of an earlier review of books 1-3 in Philippa Gregory's six-novel series known as The Cousins' War. As explained before:

"Cousins" refers to the fact that the rival royal claimants involved in England's War of the Roses were great-great-grandsons of King Edward III. The rival families of Lancaster and York were branches of the Plantagenet line that produced all of England's monarchs from 1154 to 1485. This series covers the end of the Plantagenets and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty. 
Philippa Gregory's approach to historical fiction in these novels, each one a first-person account of a female "insider" in one of the royal families, yields a unique perspective on the events of the day.
While reading The Kingmaker's Daughter, I realized that what Gregory has done is to narrate the same span of years and events from at least three completely different perspectives. Margaret of Anjou, born in 1430 and queen of Henry VI, Elizabeth Woodville, born in 1437 and queen of Edward IV (The White Queen), and Margaret Beaufort, born in 1443 and mother of Henry VII (The Red Queen) were contemporaries and competitors for the throne of England.

The Kingmaker's Daughter introduces yet another competitor - Richard Neville, Earl Of Warwick - sometimes called "The Kingmaker" because of his power to favor first one claimant, then another. In keeping with her focus on female lead characters, Gregory shows Warwick to us through the eyes of his younger daughter Anne, only fourteen years old when the story begins. Gradually, we come to understand that Warwick's ultimate aim is to gain the throne for his own family. Having no sons but two daughters, his ever-shifting plans involve marrying one or the other of the daughters to the most likely royal contender, then promoting that man's campaign to become king.

Although the three queens and The Kingmaker lived through most of the same troubled times, their viewpoints could not be more different. Gregory showed readers what she was up to in Lady of the Rivers, when Elizabeth Woodville's grandmother introduced her daughter Jacquetta to the concept of the "wheel of fortune". The wheel never stops turning, and we are all fixed to a point on it, so at any given time our fortunes may be rising or falling. Whether rising or falling now, a wise person remembers that what rises on the wheel now can later fall, and those who fall may yet rise again.

When one of the three queens rises to the top, another falls, while a third may be holding steady - not knowing whether the next motion will be a rise or a fall. That's the whole dramatic arc of The Cousins' War in a nutshell.

It might be fun to attempt a reading of these novels in parallel, switching between them to follow a chronological narrative. Or maybe it would just be a lot of unnecessary work that would ruin Gregory's clever setup.

Scores for the 5 Criteria remain consistent with books 1-3, but I should add a point somewhere in appreciation of Gregory's overall series concept in The Cousins' War. Next - all the threads finally come together in The White Princess.