So yeah, I read Philippa Gregory’s latest, The Lady of the Rivers, over the weekend. It’s the third in her Cousins’ War series, after The White Queen and The Red Queen. All concern women who were involved in the Wars of the Roses — the battle over the English crown that was ultimately resolved with Henry VII’s establishment of the Tudor dynasty — and his wife, Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth of York’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, is the White Queen of the first book. Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, is the Red Queen of the second book (even though she was never queen). The new book is about Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta.
People who sound knowledgable on sites like LibraryThing sometimes knock Gregory for historical accuracy. I understand their frustration; if you notice details about certain things, inaccurate portrayals can ruin an otherwise well-done production. I have a hard time with any TV or movie portrayal of newspaper journalism, or horse riding, for that reason. But even though I’m a history buff (in the sense of someone who likes popular histories and will watch almost any costume drama), I’m not an inaccuracy cop when it comes to historical fiction. If someone in pre-New World Contact Europe were eating a potato or a tomato I might not even notice. And I take popular works of fiction like Gregory’s as just that: fiction. I don’t assume that she’s got some kind of time capsule that gives her access to the definitive version of what happened. I assume that she’s done some research into her characters and their situations and come up with her own portrayals of the events and how her characters viewed them. If I wanted rock solid factually based referenced and sourced account of the events I’d read … nonfiction. Something like She-Wolves by Helen Castor, or the nonfiction works of Antonia Fraser or Alison Weir, whose new book on Mary Boleyn — you know, the Other Boleyn Girl? — is high on my TBR list at the moment.
In the meantime, I enjoyed this particular piece of brain candy. It’s not a work of history; I’m not going to claim from now on that the York-Lancaster-Tudor settlement was in fact based on the magical properties Jacquetta of Luxembourg inherited from the mermaid Melusina and passed on to her daughter and granddaughter. But I do have a better understanding of the various players in the Wars of the Roses, and their relationships to each other.
I’ve had an Eleanor of Acquitaine thing for a long time. It hasn’t been as virulent as my Elizabeth I thing, probably because there are a lot fewer novels, movies and TV shows made about the Plantagenets than the Tudors. The 12th century was a long time ago and we have a lot less to go on about how they lived, what they wore, said, ate, etc. Still, there’s some good stuff — the book that got me started was A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by the great E.L. Konigsburg. She’s better known for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the story of two kids who run away and spend a week or two at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (how DID that woman get away with those crazy hard-to-remember titles???). But her book on Eleanor is superb, especially for a kid who’s into history and appreciates a strong woman character.
And what a woman! Eleanor was a significant landholder in her own right — her holdings dwarfed the smaller lands that then made up the kingdom of France — and she was queen of France AND England, annulling her marriage to Louis of France in order to run off with the future Henry II of England, 12 years her junior. It was an alliance of power and property, to be sure, but appears to have been a love match, too, at least in the beginning. By the end, Eleanor joined her sons in rebellion against their father and when that rebellion failed, was imprisoned by him. After he died, her son Richard the Lionheart let her out and she kept the country together while he went off on crusade, got himself held captive then was killed. Very dramatic all around.
I really have been reading a lot, or at least I was until we got cable and the Tour de France took over my waking, non-working hours. But I can see the end and the stack is piling up. I read Dominion by Calvin Baker, who will be appearing at the Key West Literary Seminar in January. It was a little outside my normal reading, which is the best kind (it’s the reason I joined a book group years ago although that fell by the wayside when I was pursuing my master’s). I read Women and Ghosts by Alison Lurie, a slim book of short stories that I think I might have read before, unless that was an effect of its eerieness. It reminded me how much I like her, and how much I need to read The Last Resort even though I have a strange fear of reading about places I know and love. (Haven’t been able to make myself read Tracy Kidder’s Hometown yet, either, about Northampton, Mass., where I was born.) I read Sacrifice by Eric Shanower, the second volume in his Age of Bronze series of graphic novels about the Trojan War — it was as good as the first, though it does suffer from that effect of many of the guys looking the same; you can distinguish them by their headbands, though. Over the Fourth of July weekend, perhaps influenced by the reintroduction of cable television into my brain, I found myself craving brain candy so I read The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory (author of The Other Boleyn Girl and numerous other works of Tudor Trash). I gulped that down in a day and a half so maybe I’m not over my Tudor thing entirely; plus it was fun to hear from/about a couple of the lesser-known Henry VIII queens (Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, or Nos 4 and 5 if you’re counting). And just today I finished Dreaming Up America by Russell Banks, which I’ll be reviewing for Solares Hill shortly. Whew.