If you’ve read any of the other books in Philippa Gregory’s Cousins War series, then you’ll soon see that the White Princess is very much in the same vein. Each book in the series is told from the point of view of a woman at the heart of the royal court. Here, we experience events through the eyes of Elizabeth, Princess of York. Daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, the young princess is no stranger to war, loss and hardship – having experienced the extreme highs and lows of being in a position of power throughout her father’s reign.
After her father’s death, his youngest brother, Richard III is King. Her two younger brothers are believed to have been murdered in the Tower of London. Her mother continues to plot and conspire with enemies both at home and abroad – determined that, one way or another, her children will find their way back to the throne.
As Elizabeth’s relationship with Richard grows, and his wife continues to fail to provide an heir, she reigns over the royal court like a queen. But when Henry Tudor invades to take Richard’s crown, Elizabeth must learn to adapt to a very different way of life. With her lover dead on the battlefield, she must play the role of a dutiful wife in a court where her heritage means that she will never be trusted, even by those closest to her.
This novel does a great job of exploring a marriage arranged for political reasons. In this case, their match has been made out of a need to protect their families and to win over the hearts of the Yorkist public. At first their relationship is portrayed as being driven by hate, fear and suspicion. As plots by York loyalists continue to abound, Elizabeth is viewed as a threat and tightly controlled by her husband and mother-in-law. But as her relationship with Henry grows, and her beloved children are raised in the ways of the reigning royal court, Elizabeth is forced to come to terms with what it means to be a Tudor.
Royal women at the time were used as nothing more than pawns in a strategy to get to the crown. Elizabeth is married to a king, but the people closest to her continue to conspire to get a York boy on the throne. If they are successful, Elizabeth would be cast down and her sons disinherited in the name of her father’s family. She is trusted by no-one, putting her in the most dangerous and precarious position of all. For her, there are no outcomes that can truly be a win, as someone she loves will have suffered.
Unlike some of the women featured elsewhere in the series, Elizabeth has very little power to control events. She is kept in the dark and must make her way through as best she can, doing anything she can to emerge unscathed. The helplessness of her situation is quite frustrating. However, Gregory’s writing remains compelling and riveting and her characters are entirely convincing. This book also goes over a lot of the material that we’ve already seen earlier in the series. For these reasons alone, I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as some of the others.
Other reviewers have made a lot of the fact the Gregory take liberties with the historical evidence that we have, twisting it to meet her fictional narrative. I’ve never had a problem with this aspect of Gregory’s writing – the facts that we have are all open to interpretation in some way and it’s interesting to read someone ‘s take on things, even though one look on Wikipedia will mean that we all know what will ultimately happen to all of the characters.