x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The human spoils of war in 15th-century England

In Philippa Gregory's The White Princess, King Henry struggles to assert his authority in the early years of the Tudor dynasty.

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory.
The White Princess by Philippa Gregory.

The White Princess

Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster


War is not women’s work – not on the battlefields of 15th-century England anyway – but in The White Princess, the latest installment of Philippa Gregory’s popular televised series about the Cousins’ War, the fairer sex is fully engaged behind the scenes.

In it, Elizabeth of York has seen her uncle and lover King Richard III betrayed and killed on Bosworth Field before being married off to the victor Henry Tudor to unite the warring tribes of York and Lancaster. Further machinations follow as Elizabeth’s mother Elizabeth Woodville plots against King Henry and his own mother Margaret Beauford.

While King Henry’s struggle to assert authority on a Yorkist country provides an interesting insight into uncertain times, most of the action takes place in closed rooms, where the women live out their lives. Next to Hilary Mantel’s lauded recreation of the world of Thomas Cromwell, The White Princess is a rather silly and claustrophobic read although this comparison is unfair. Mantel describes a powerful hero in a man’s world while Gregory’s romantic heroine, “the spoils of war”, is left to exclaim from the sidelines: “I don’t know anything!”