Philippa Gregory’s White Princess follows Elizabeth of York from autumn of 1485 to the winter of 1499. The daughter of Edward IV, her marriage to Henry VII is a means to unify the country. Her relationship with Richard III must be forgotten. Her duty now is to protect her family by being a dutiful queen.
As a York, Elizabeth starts the book with many worries about the reign of the Tudors. She worried of her cousins, including the last male York heir, Edward of Warwick. She worries about the revenge of the Red Queen, her future mother in law who’s known for her zealotry. And she worries about Henry, who has lived outside of England for so long.
Her worries are not without substance. Edmund is quickly taken into custody, and the Red Queen begins to force her will upon the court. Henry is quick to force himself upon her, wanting to know she’s capable of bearing children before committing himself to her (with the full consent and direction of his mother). Henry does not come off well in this story.
Reign of the Tudor King
In all the books so far, there is a reoccurring concept about a wheel; the idea that ones fate will rise and fall, up and down. In White Princess, Elizabeth’s fortunes rise and fall, but there is rarely any safety for her. Henry and his mother, used to decades of scheming and plotting, retain their paranoid vigilance through the book. Every minor upset is investigated, and Elizabeth is always under suspicion. Even when she and Henry begin to grow close, the next crisis tear down their connection.
Elizabeth is caught up in some of the moments, as her relatives are among those plotting against King Henry. But while previous characters in this series have had influence over events, Elizabeth’s story is marked by her lack of it. Most of her actions are taken to protect her family members from facing cruel charges and unjust treatment, even when their actions may warrant it.
About the only enjoyment Elizabeth has – and that I, as a read reader, get to experience – is watching the Tudors panic when things go wrong. Given my dislike of Margaret Beaufort as she earned the name ‘Red Queen’, watching her panic is amusing. Elizabeth is able to push some buttons along the way, some pointed barbs that strike home. For every exchange where the Tudors come off as pompous, there’s an exchange where Elizabeth leaves me chuckling..
The Princes in the Tower (Spoilers)
In The White Princess, the story of the Princes in the Tower continued on to the next chapter; that of Perkin Warbeck. Historically, Perkin claimed to be the lost Richard of Shrewsbury, the younger of the two princes. He gained some support and invaded England a number of times before his capture. The Tudors imprisoned Warbeck for two years before his execution. His true heritage was never proven one way or the other.
Gregory strongly hints that Perkin is the young Richard: he bears a strong resemblance, has the natural York charisma, and is ‘confirmed’ by several persons who were close enough to have met the prince. Elizabeth never outright confirms it; she is aware that her brother escaped the Tower, but does not know if this man is her brother or not. Even after his capture the question remains.
This ambiguity does pose a problem for Elizabeth. When she and her mother heard the death chimes (presumably for Edward IV) they levied a curse against the man who killed him. The curse was that his line would die out after a short time. Now, with her husband Henry on the verge of executing the possible prince, her worry is that Henry’s line, which now includes her children, may fail. Even if he was not responsible for the first death, he may be responsible for the second.
With the execution of Perkin Warbeck, White Princess may be the last book in the series to address the Princes in the Tower in any real manner. If the next book takes place concurrently, then maybe we’ll see the same story from a different angle. Guess I’ll find out next book.
White Princess is a pretty good book by itself; middling in terms of the stories so far. Elizabeth is a very sympathetic character overall, a victim of the Tudor family, fighting to save what lives she can. The Tudors do not come off well in this story, nor should they. As frustrating as I found her experience, I feel this is a good wrap up for the War of the Roses. I look forward to the next installment.