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The Women of the Cousins' War
by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones

This is a trio of biographies of the women who star in Philippa Gregory's Cousins' Wars series: Jacquetta, Elizabeth Woodville, and Margaret Beaufort. Jacquetta was a brave woman; after the death of her first husband, the Duke of Bedford, she defied medieval convention and married one of her husband's employees for love. Together, they raised a large, healthy family that included their daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth Woodville, a beauty renowned throughout England, married the handsome King Edward but was destined for a life of sorrow. Her two sons became the infamous Lost Princes who were led into the Tower of London by their uncle Richard and never seen again. Finally, Margaret Beaufort was the pious, formidable matriarch of the Tudor dynasty, the political family that brought some of England's most influential (and infamous) monarchs to the world stage. Through the lives of these powerful royal women, the machinations and politics of the Cousins' War, and the turmoil the conflict bought to the throne of England, are thoroughly explored.

David Baldwin and Michael Jones, Gregory's co-writers, had both previously written books about Elizabeth and Margaret, respectively, but at the time Gregory began researching Jacquetta their books had gone out of print. (If I remember a comment from Gregory's talk last year, the books are now being republished/reprinted.) This book is also the first time that Jaquetta's biography has been published. I'll talk about each biography briefly, and then the book as a whole.

The section on Jacquetta is the longest, which makes sense – if you want to learn about her, this is the only biography on the market! Unfortunately, while we know who Jacquetta married and the activities of her husband, very little remains in the historical record about her daily life or personality. Gregory has to rely on a lot of “maybe” and “possibly” in her reconstruction of the duchess' life. Since she's a novelist who normally writes fiction, I think Gregory pulls this off more successfully than other writers, but the story is definitely slanted in a way to support the character who ended up in Lady of the Rivers.

David Baldwin tackles Elizabeth Woodville, and he does pretty well. I haven't read his full-length biography, but the shortened essay here makes me want to! He has a very academic style, somewhat dry, but I enjoyed it all the same.

Michael Jones had a more accessible writing style, and he was clearly sympathetic to Margaret Beaufort. I actually liked this biography the best out of the three, because it strikes the best balance between supposition and historical records. It also helped me understand Margaret Beaufort and appreciate her role in history – in The Red Queen she was downright unbearable.

However, the part of the book I liked best was the introduction. It's a fascinating peek into the research and writing philosophy of Philippa Gregory – something I've often wondered about as I've made my way through her oeuvre. She also talks about the role of women throughout history, and how the 20th century feminist movement has allowed scholars to finally 'seriously' research these women and bring their roles to light for the first time in centuries.

This makes a great companion to the Cousins' War trilogy, if you've been keeping up with it. It's also a fine read on its own, but if you're reading the book without the series as a reference point, the selection of women included here seems a bit random at best.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Women of the Cousins' War, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Apr. 13th, 2012 03:58 am (UTC)
I'm so excited, this book is on hold and I'm next!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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