The Lady of the Rivers

   Posted by: Julia Redlich   in Bookworm

The Lady of the Rivers

Book Review:  The Lady of the Rivers

Philippa Gregory, The Lady of the Rivers, Simon & Schuster.  ISBN HB 978-1-84737-59-2.

This is the third novel in The Cousins’ War series, examining the woman who became the mother of Elizabeth Woodville.  Her importance became evident to the author as she wrote The White Queen, and as we have seen in her previous books, Gregory can focus on the women in history who are frequently placed several places in the rear while men take centre stage, but whose impact on history in enormous.

The story of the young Princess Jacquetta of Luxembourg opens with her recognition of the skills inherited by some of the women in her family thanks to their descent from the water goddess, Melusine.  A few years later she marries John, the great Duke of Bedford, who admits her to his secret world of alchemy and learning and, in England, she soon realises the difficulties she will have to face: not just a new language to learn, but to meet a young, easily led king, his ambitious relatives and confront the jealousy of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester.  And it is the witchcraft trial, hideous deaths of accomplices and incarceration of Eleanor that is a warning of what Jacquetta herself might have to face if she cannot hide her own gifts.

The only member of the Bedford household she trusts is John’s loyal squire Richard Woodville and, after the Duke’s death, the two become lovers and marry secretly.  Deprived of her extensive wealth, they live quietly at Grafton until she is summoned to London court to go to France and accompany the Henry VI’s bride Princess Margaret of Anjou back to England.

Like Jacquetta before her, the young Queen has to learn to live in a strange country, speak another language and recognise the pitfalls for the unwary.  Jacquetta’s friendship and loyalty to her is unwavering, but as she and Richard take leading roles at court they have to meet many challenges.  Richard becomes Baron Rivers, something subtly reflected in the book’s title as well as a reference to Melusine.

The two Woodvilles remain steadfastly in love, to which their many children are testimony, but as Henry becomes more and more incompetent, relying on favourites such as Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, for advice, and trouble increases as Margaret and Somerset take charge after the King sinks into an inexplicable and long-lasting sleep.

The sweep of historical action is powerfully done from the Jack Cade rebellion, the doubts about Margaret’s son Edward, the increasing turns of the wheel of fortune for both the Lancaster and Yorkist factions, and the brutal battles of the Cousins’ War.

Throughout Jacquetta valiantly supports her king and her friend Margaret, while fearing for the lives of her husband, her son Anthony and her daughter Elizabeth’s husband, John Grey.  For Elizabeth she senses an extraordinary future that comes to realisation a year after the defeat of Margaret and Henry at the Battle of Towton by Richard of York’s eldest son, Edward IV, and Jacquetta takes another step into the pages of English history.

Let’s hope this absorbing novel will lead more readers to want to know more about the Plantagenets. Can it really be true that there was a time before the Tudors?!

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