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.