The White Queen

by Philippa Gregory

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory First in a planned series, The White Queen takes a fresh, intriguing look at the Wars of the Roses from the perspective of Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth's story, even in the bare outline history gives us, is extraordinary. A widow in her late twenties when she and the young King Edward IV of England met, she was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time. Their secret marriage offered none of the diplomatic advantages of the French princess for whose hand Edward's advisers were negotiating, and it infuriated them. As Edward distributed lands, titles and marriage alliances to the numerous relatives of the wife he loved, but to whom he could not stay faithful, she became one of the most hated women in the land. She was the mother of his sons, the Princes in the Tower whose fate remains a mystery to this day.

Elizabeth's mother descended from the ruling house of Luxembourg, whose founder was said to have married Melusine, a water creature half-woman, half-fish. Melusine's legend becomes a refrain to Elizabeth's story as Gregory weaves into the historical fact that Elizabeth and her mother were accused of witchcraft the fiction that they were gifted with second sight and practiced folk magic. "When the sun is setting ... she puts her hand on a great ash tree and I see there is a dark thread of silk wound around the rough-grained wood of the thick trunk.... 'Reel it in,' is all she says." Their magic is not the spectacular kind that summons demons. Perhaps, though, it summons a king's passion and, later, turns fair weather into a storm at sea marking one of many turning points in Edward's fate.

The White Queen is a more serious novel than Gregory's sensationally entertaining bestseller The Other Boleyn Girl. Guided first by love, Elizabeth evokes sympathy. As her fears mount and tragedy strikes, she begins to act out of hatred and bitterness, and her actions have consequences she cannot undo. (2009, 415 pages, including an Author's Note separating history from fiction and a bibliography)

More about The White Queen at Powell's Books or

Interview with Philippa Gregory

Other novels about Elizabeth Woodville:

The King's Grace by Anne Easter Smith (2009), about a mostly fictional orphan girl taken in by Elizabeth Woodville after the death of Edward IV. See Review or listing at Powell's books

A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin (2008), about modern researcher, and about the Princes in the Tower from the perspective of Elizabeth and her brother Anthony. More info

The King's Grey Mare by Rosemary Hawley Jarman (1973), about Elizabeth, portrayed as the reluctant tool of her mother, a scheming witch. More info

Nonfiction about Elizabeth Woodville and the history of folk magic:

Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen by Arlene Okerlund (2005).
More info

Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower by David Baldwin (2002). More info

Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas (1971). More info

At the Movies:

Shakespeare's Richard III, the 1955 film directed by Laurence Olivier, who also played Richard III; Mary Kerridge played the widowed Queen Elizabeth. More info


Contemporary portrait of Elizabeth Woodville and information about her at the website of Queen's College, Cambridge.

Back to Medieval: Wars of the Roses

Back to Directory of Book Reviews

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.