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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Posted By Claire on August 5, 2009

August’s Book of the Month on The Anne Boleyn Files is the long awaited Philippa Gregory novel “The White Queen” which I’ve had the pleasure to read and review, courtesy of Simon and Schuster UK – thanks!

I couldn’t wait any longer to share this review with you so here it is…

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory – Out 18th August!

white queenHistorical fiction fans all round the world are eagerly awaiting publication of this latest Philippa Gregory novel on 18th August – the first in a new series of novels on “The Cousins’ War” or the late Plantagenet period of history.

The setting for this wonderful novel is the time of the later Plantagenet rulers. This period was just prior to the War of the Roses, the struggles between two royal houses, the House of York and the House of Lancaster, which Henry VII famously brought together by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville, the heroine of “The White Queen”.

Gregory has named this series of novels “The Cousins’ War” because this war was between brothers and cousins, not countries. Families were torn apart and sides were swapped all of the time.

A Mythical Mixture

The novel starts with a wonderful opening page that introduces the reader to the legend of Melusina, a water goddess from whom Elizabeth Woodville believes she is descended. This opening sets the tone of the book as it is an exciting recipe of witchcraft, myths and legends, war, intrigue, history and love – a recipe that Gregory has got just right.

From this mythical start, we are launched into the story of Elizabeth Woodville, her love for Edward IV and the struggles of the King and the Woodville family against the many challenges to the throne, which don’t just come from abroad but that come from within the family. We are also introduced to famous historical characters like the Kingmaker (the Duke of Warwick), the Princes in the Tower and the future Richard III. This historical story is mixed with legend and witchcraft as Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta draw on their mythical ancestry to control the future.

I thoroughly enjoyed being swept into this period of history, a time that I have not visited since my A’ level history, rather a long time ago! “The White Queen” is a fast-paced journey into the past and Gregory, as always, captures the reader’s imagination – she grabs you and doesn’t let go until the final page, so be ready to give up the rest of your life to concentrate on this book!


Gregory’s publisher for this novel, Simon and Schuster, are teasing the public with excerpts on their website, audio extracts on YouTube and interviews with Philippa Gregory on YouTube (see links at the bottom of this page), and there is already a significant amount of controversy over this novel with its depiction of Elizabeth Woodville and her mother, Jacquetta Woodville, and the sorcery they use to make their way in the world.

The women’s link to witchcraft is a rumour that has circulated since Jacquetta was accused, and then acquitted, of witchcraft, during her marriage to Sir Richard Woodville, and Elizabeth Woodville was accused by Richard III of using sorcery to bewitch Edward IV and to seduce him into marriage. Although it appears that these rumours are unfounded, Gregory uses them in her novel as an integral part of the story. People who like their historical novels to be simply a retelling of a factual story may get annoyed by this reference to rumour and scandal, but I love this mythical side to the novel.

I won’t spoil the story by saying any more, but here is what Simon and Schuster have to say about “The White Queen”:-

The first in a stunning new series, The Cousins War, is set amid the tumult and intrigue of The War of the Roses. Internationally bestselling author Philippa Gregory brings this family drama to colourful life through its women, beginning with the story of Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen tells the story of a common woman who ascends to royalty by virtue of her beauty, a woman who rises to the demands of her position and fights tenaciously for the success of her family, a woman whose two sons become the central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the Princes in the Tower whose fate remains unknown to this day. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores the most famous unsolved mystery, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills.

For those of you who read my review regularly, you’ll know that I look for 3 essential elements when reading an historical novel:-

  1. Is it “unputdownable”?
  2. Does it make you want to research the characters more?
  3. Is it believable?

Well, “The White Queen” ticks all of the boxes and I heartily recommend it to all those who enjoy the very best of historical fiction.

Update 2013

I thought I’d update this review to reflect my feelings now a few years on, having researched the period and people in greater detail, having watched the first few episodes of the TV series and having re-read the book. I now have problems with the depictions of Elizabeth and Jacquetta, and just how much into witchcraft they are, because there is no evidence that Jacquetta or Elizabeth practised witchcraft. I also don’t like the depiction of Margaret Beaufort. BUT, it’s still a page turner and if you don’t know the real history behind it or you can treat it as purely fiction, then you’re likely to enjoy it.

Find out more about “The White Queen”

  • Follow Philippa Gregory’s tweets between Tuesday 11th and Monday 17th August to see the character of Elizabeth Woodville brought to life in the countdown to the release of “The White Queen”. Gregory will tweet the story of The White Queen, daily between 5:00pm and 8:00pm and you can follow them at The tweets will remain for people to view at a later date on Gregory’s re-launched website:
  • Read a text excerpt on the Simon and Schuster website – click here to read it now.
  • Watch interviews with Philippa Gregory on YouTube – click here to go to the first one and then see the list on YouTube for more interesting videos.
  • Buy the book – Click here to preorder it from Amazon US or click here to preorder it from Amazon UK. It’s out on 18th August!


9 Responses to “The White Queen by Philippa Gregory”

  1. Laura Andrews says:

    As a Philippa Gregory enthusiast, I was anxiously awaiting the publishing of “The White Queen”. I literally ran to book store to buy it. That was months ago. The book is still sitting on my end table, unfinished. I can’t pick the book up anymore; I’ve lost all interest in the story and the characters. Like Ms. Gregory’s previous book before “The White Queen”; “The Other Queen” (which I strained myself to finish) the story starts off good, and then somehow gets lost in a mundane weave of dull and boring. I was so interested in the story of Elizabeth Woodville, the commoner that became Queen but Ms. Gregory somehow turned that interesting story into a boring and unbelievable one at that. I understand that Elizabeth’s story is based somewhat on truth but some of the things in there (especially when she doesn’t seem to mind her husband’s extramarital affairs) ruined the book for me. Perhaps I am being overly harsh especially since I haven’t even finished reading the book but not finishing it, says a lot for an avid reader such as myself.
    I love many of Ms. Gregory’s other works, so I will still continue to run out to buy her latest work, still hoping to experience some of that magic that captured me in “ The Other Boleyn Girl” .

  2. Hannah says:

    I liked what Ms. Gregory did with the story in this novel, but I agree that she displayed a tendency to make some parts boring in that she began to ramble.

  3. Yasemin says:

    This Book îs the best Book I have ever read in my entire life of 12 years, I believe that şome of you said that you couldn’t pick it up anymore but believe me its not what it seems you will become seduced by it like I was I even took it to Sleepovers with me but then I got lost I Picked up my iPad And googled Wikipedia And kept encouraging my self to read it because it’s the only Book I have read in romanian in my life And if I’ve read it my mom will leave me alone And I was looking so much for a Book to clarify the cousins’ war. I made myself think how she felt And acctually fell in love with the characters And cried at the death of Edward IV And smiled. If you think it’s over it’s not! If you reached 19 April 1483 then you can guve up history

  4. Rose says:

    I was quite exited when I finally got to read Phillipa Gregory’s book, but was very disappointed. I found it slow, and endlessly battles and fights. Although I love all her other novels, I couldn’t even finnish The White Queen.

  5. Annie says:

    I couldn’t put this book down! I thoroughly enjoyed it. I read “The Red Queen” first and enjoyed that book as well, although I didn’t find it to be the page turner that “The White Queen” was. Perhaps Elizabeth Woodville is a more interesting character than dour, ambitious Margaret Beaufort.

  6. sevinç says:

    I’m not English,but I like read book about Tudor History.My favorite writer is Phillippa Gregory.I read all the book Philippa’s..I liked so much.I read Red Queen finally…Especially I be affected Elizabeth Woddville’s curse!!!
    I want to read more book history books.

  7. nelllllllllllllllly says:

    I love the first novel The white queen,but the 2nd one was not so good.It became a bit bitchy at places and you could tell that underneath her i don’t care attidue that margeret was jealous and wanted what she did not have
    But keep up the good work PHILLPAXX

  8. Nikol (Nicole) says:

    Hi! I just read this book and I’m amazed by it. Altough I am just 14 yers old,I’m in love with Lancaster,York and Tudor time. I’m especially impressed by Anne Boleyn. She is my idol! Unfortunately,I live in Croatia and I don’t learn in school about English history,so those books ( like The Other Boleyn Girl, White Queen ,Dissolution and The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn ) helped me so much- and your great page too!

  9. Claire says:

    Hi Nikol,
    It’s a wonderful period of history, I never tire of researching it. Thanks for your comment!

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