Did you know Princess Kate Middleton was not the first non-noble wife of the heir to the throne of England? No.
Back in 1464, the newly crowned King Edward IV, head of the House of York, crowned by Parliament (when the head of the House of Lancaster, Henry VI, still had the crown on his head) married a woman named Elizabeth Woodville Grey.
Elizabeth had recently been widowed when her husband John Grey died in battle (this is the same Grey family from where Lady Jane Grey, the 9 Day Queen, would stake her claim). The Greys were a rich and powerful family, and barely noble. But, Elizabeth’s mother-in-law never gave her her dower. Thus, she when she was widowed, she was still the daughter of a squire.
But, although Elizabeth’s story is very intriguing (I’d recommend this book to learn about her and other queens during the War of the Roses and the Tudor Reign), it is her mother’s story that I never knew of.
Elizabeth’s mother was Jacquetta of Luxembourg, from the wealthy, powerful family in British-held France. She first was married to John of Lancaster, the Duke of Bedford, but he was older and died shortly after. She then “disgraced” herself by marrying below her–she married her late husband’s squire, Richard Woodville.
I never knew about her until I read Philippa Gregory’s book, The Lady of the Rivers. I am very intrigued by Gregory’s books. (For those who don’t know her, she wrote The Other Boleyn Girl.) Gregory is a medieval historian who specializes in the Tudor Reign and she writes historical fiction about the women of that time. That’s why I love her (even though I’ve only read two of her novels)–because that is exactly what I love and what to eventually do!
Well, while Gregory was researching Jacquetta’s life, she found that Jacquetta was eventually accused of witchcraft and that her family had a legend of a French water goddess name Melusina being their ancestor. So, this story, although very historical (and true to the history), adds a touch of the supernatural. There is alchemy, herbology, and scrying in it. At first, I wasn’t too sure how I felt about that, but I came to enjoy it as it would make sense with the medieval mentality.
I loved getting to know Gregory’s interpretation of the characters and her explanation for Henry VI’s descent into madness. The tender language she uses to describe the love between Jacquetta and Richard is astounding. It’s also pretty clean (if you are hesitant because of The Other Boleyn Girl). I also absolutely loved the character of Richard Woodville. Such a prince charming! Very chivalrous, so in love with Jacquetta, a great leader, very loyal. He’s quite the man!
One thing that I didn’t like about this book was how quickly it skipped to different parts of her life. It began when Jacquetta was a young teenager and her family was holding Joan of Arc in their castle before her trial. (That chapter was very intriguing!) And it ends with Jacquetta in her 40s and her daughter, Elizabeth, just meeting Edward IV. I understand that Gregory wrote it as a historical fiction and was trying to show the background and the set up of the War of the Roses, but I thought some parts of the book weren’t fleshed out too well.
But, I know I really enjoyed it because now I want to skip my other novels in waiting and read all the history books I bought on the Tudors and that time period!
The Lady of the Rivers is part of Gregory’s series The Cousin’s War, which is all about the women in power during the War of the Roses. One of them is The White Queen, which is about Elizabeth Woodville as queen. I found out that STARZ now has a series based off that book. I kind of want to watch it now!
If you like history, especially British history, I definitely recommend this novel to you!