Having loved The White Queen about Elizabeth Woodville and The Red Queen about Margaret Beaufort, I was very eager to continue reading Philippa Gregory’s popular Cousins’ War series. In which, Gregory retells the bloody rivalry between the Houses of York and Lancaster, what we now call the War of the Roses, through the eyes of the indomitable women caught up in it all; and in this book, The Lady of the Rivers, Gregory straddles the two sides with Jacquetta Luxembourg, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville.
Neither a Lancastrian or Yorkist by birth, Jacquetta was instead the daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and kinswoman to the royalty of Europe. It is her noble blood, beauty and fabled descent from the water goddess Melusina, that catches the eye of the powerful John, Duke of Bedford, uncle to the English king, Henry VI. They are married and John brings his fair, young bride back to England as his health fails and within a few years he dies. Leaving Jacquetta a widow at the age of just nineteen, where upon she takes the extraordinary risk of following her heart and marrying her squire, Richard Woodville.
This causes quite the scandal! However King Henry is a forgiven young man, so after imposing a fine and a short banishment to the country the couple are welcomed back, not only to court, but into the inner circle of the king and his new, tempestuous queen, Margaret of Anjou. And so, it is through love and thanks, rather than solely ambition, that both Jacquetta and Richard support and stay loyal to their king and queen. Even when the trusting royal couple unwisely heap riches and advancements on untrustworthy favourites, which brings hostility from the people of England and threats from royal rivals.
Which all means we have ringside seats for the coming drama and wars through the eyes of Jacquetta. I do still love that Gregory has chosen to tell this series from the perspective of the women: the overlooked but no less important players in these wars of men. Unlike Elizabeth and Margaret from the previous books though, I really liked Jacquetta. In fact, there’s not much not to like about her. Gregory portrays her as a kind, loving, clever, brave and loyal woman; who seeks advancement and position for her husband and children from a sense what they’ve earnt and for their protection, rather than blind, grabbing ambition and power for the sake of power.
Another thing I loved was the return of the supernatural elements, I had so enjoyed in The White Queen. Her family really did believe they were descended from a water goddess, so taking this legend, Gregory has cleverly weaved a realistic thread of magic to Jacquetta’s life. While she has heard the melancholy song of Melusina, Jacquetta begins unbelieving and rather fearful of these powers. As the book progresses, her belief grows, especially as her visions of war and her daughter, Elizabeth seem to be coming true, and she fears she may have put a spell on the sleeping king! However Gregory leaves us wondering if the effects of this ‘magic’ are real or just coincidence.
Overall, I thought The Lady of the Rivers was another brilliantly written and researched piece of historical fiction, with wonderful touches of romance and magic. My only niggle might be that this was perhaps slightly less gripping than the previous two books. Mainly because Jacquetta is not as power-hungry or risk-taking as her daughter, Elizabeth or her rival, Margaret Beaufort. I look forward to reading the next book in the series: The Kingmaker’s Daughter, about Anne Neville the wife of Richard III. Great read.
Have you read this? Or anything else by Philippa Gregory?
This is book 3/10 of my 10 Books of Summer 2019.