Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Woodville’



   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

Dr John Ashdown-Hill’s research was instrumental in finding Richard III’s remains and confirming that the skeleton was really his.  This lead earlier this year to a new edition of his book The Last Days of Richard III, originally published in 2010.  The title of the new edition The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of His DNA: The Book That Inspired the Dig tells us where it has been updated.

In July he has a new book coming out – Royal Marriage Secrets.  It covers quite a wide time-scale – ending up with the little known case involving the present Queen’s grandfather.  But it contains quite a bit of Ricardian interest.  Edward IV Eleanor and Elizabeth, of course, but also when is a Tudor not a Tudor, and samples of medieval love spells and potions in case anyone should want to try them!  I have pre-ordered my copy and am waiting for it with eager anticipation.

Meanwhile John has been spending time underground in the burial vault of the Duke and Duchess of Clarence.  Are they still there?  How did George – and Isabel – really die?  Why did George turn out the way he did?  And what did he really look like?  He is trying to answer these and other questions in a new book called The Third Plantagenet.  According to the Book Depository it should be out on 3 March 2014.

The picture on the left shows John Ashdown-Hill’s suggestion for the cover design. (Picture supplied by John Ashdown Hill)

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The White Queen

   Posted by: Helen Cox    in Bookworm

The White Queen

Literature Matters:  The White Queen

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, World Book Night edition, 2013

I only read this book because my local library gave me a free copy on World Book Night – and by the time I’d finished, I was sincerely glad I hadn’t paid for it.

The underlying story is good (based on the incredible life of Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of Edward IV, it could hardly be anything else); and two pages of bibliographic references show that the author has done her homework. That she has drawn from some of the more lurid sources isn’t surprising – this is, after all, a romantic novel – thus we see Elizabeth waylaying Edward for their first meeting as a supplicant clutching the hands of her two little boys; and shortly after, the hackneyed ‘death before dishonour’ scene in which she grabs his dagger and threatens to cut her throat rather than be seduced. The heroine and her mother are both shown as practising witches, capable of whistling up storms, causing Richard of Gloucester to lose the use of his arm and, of course, ensnaring Edward; and throughout, Elizabeth harks back to her supposed descent from the French water-goddess Melusina. (The legend of Melusina and her ducal lover crops up periodically, in passages intended to echo Elizabeth and Edward’s relationship. I found these chokingly annoying, but luckily they appear in italics so can be easily spotted and skipped without detriment to the main narrative).

The bulk of the story is told in the first person, present tense, by Elizabeth Woodville. This gives The White Queen a certain freshness and immediacy, although the style is difficult to carry off plausibly in this genre, and I wasn’t overly impressed by Gregory’s attempt. The early chapters are riddled with references to Edward as a ‘boy’; and while he might have been five years Elizabeth’s junior, I can’t imagine her (or any 15th century lady) using the term for a man well into his majority – let alone for a proven warrior who had reigned as king for three years by the time the story starts. Much of the dialogue is clunky and full of over-explication; this may be necessary to communicate the background history to the reader, but it makes for some pretty unlikely conversations between characters of the time. And Gregory wins my personal award for ‘Most Excruciating Bit of Dialogue in Any Historical Novel’ with Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford’s remark to Cecily, Duchess of York, regarding the latter’s son George, Duke of Clarence: ‘…what would one call him?’ She pauses to wonder what one would call Cecily’s favourite son, then she finds the words: ‘An utter numpty.’ Unbelievable! Bad enough to employ such a grotesque anachronism; even worse to deliberately draw attention to it as though it’s clever and funny. (I guess Gregory thinks it is; she must be laughing all the way to the bank to have fans who pay good money to read such ghastly stuff).

To me, the best parts of The White Queen were the lively battle scenes (possibly because they’re not told in Elizabeth’s voice), the imaginative resolution of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ mystery and Elizabeth’s relationship with Richard III in the closing chapters. But altogether I found it an unsatisfying experience which left me baffled as to why this author is so popular – she’s certainly no Jean Plaidy or Antonia Fraser. Her graceless prose has nothing beautiful to wallow in, nothing substantial to get the teeth into; her sentences are short, her language so basic that (bar a modicum of sex and violence) she might be writing for children. Maybe that’s the appeal – it’s quick, simple, undemanding bland pulp. But if The White Queen is a fair representation of Gregory’s work, it’ll be the first and last of it I read – and I sure as hell won’t be watching the forthcoming TV adaptation!

Conclusion? Don’t waste your money. Buy David Baldwin’s non-fiction biography of Elizabeth Woodville instead; it beats this hands-down for readability and interest.

The above was first published on 16 May 2013 on Helen’s website ‘Helen Rae Rants!‘.  We thank her for permitting us to publish it here as well.



The Princes in the Tower?

   Posted by: Judy Howard    in News

While perusing the website of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, UK, I found on their Archives Blog, an article which is yet another angle on the fate of the Princes in the Tower. I found this particularly intriguing at a time when another skeleton is under scrutiny by a team of archaeologists at the University of Leicester which may prove to be the remains of Richard III.

Apparently in 1789 when the paving was being repaired in the North Quire Aisle of St. George’s Chapel, the entrance to the burial vault of Edward IV was identified.  When they entered the vault they found a lead coffin with the remains of a wooden coffin on top – which were the coffins of Edward IV and his consort, Elizabeth Woodville.  Two further coffins were also found and they were believed to have contained the bodies of George, 3rd son of Edward IV who died in 1479 aged 2 years, and his sister Mary, 5th daughter of Edward IV who died in 1482 aged 14 years.  Both George and Mary were known to have been buried at Windsor.  The vault was not investigated any further and the vault was closed with new a slab.

Then in 1810, two more coffins were found in what is now the Albert Memorial Chapel and the inscription on one of these suggests it is the coffin of George and not the one in the vault near Edward IV.  It is known that when George was buried at Windsor on 22 March 1479, the Quire at St George’s Chapel was still under construction and therefore he could not have been interred in Edward IV’s vault. The written account of Mary’s funeral states that she was buried near her brother George.

In 1813 both of these coffins were moved to the vault near Edward IV.

The question remains however – who did the two coffins found in Edward IV’s vault in 1789 belong to??  They were important because they were buried in a place of honour near Edward IV. There is no evidence to suggest who these two coffins belonged to.

The choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor (photograph by Josep Renalias, obtained through Wikimedia Commons)

The Assistant Archivist at the College of St George has asked the question whether these two coffins could contain the remains of Edward’s other sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the “Princes in the Tower”?

In light of the momentous discovery of skeletal remains which could possibly be those of Richard III, how marvellous it would be to take this investigation further and attempt to obtain genetic material to determine:

1.    The identification of the bones in the urn at Westminster Abbey, purportedly those of the two “Princes in the Tower”; and
2.    Identification of the bodies in the two coffins discovered in Edward IV’s vault in 1789.

After more than 500 years surely this is not too much to ask, given the sophisticated technology currently at our disposal.

A mystery would be solved, if only.

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Digging up dirt in Leicestershire

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

No, I’m not talking about the dig in Leicester at the moment, but rather about the Time Team episode on ‘Groby Old Hall’, which will have a repeat broadcast on ABC1 next week.

The announcement on the ABC website says that “The team visit Groby Old Hall in Leicestershire, once home to the legendary White Queen Elizabeth, the wife of Edward IV.”    The description of Elizabeth Woodville as “White Queen” has strong resonances of Philippa Gregory’s novels, but let’s hope that the research Time Team has done is more in-depth than that of a novelist.

Groby Hall was the property of the family of Elizabeth Woodville’s first husband, John Grey.  Later, it passed to their son Thomas Grey.

In spite of any misgivings about the description, the programme should be interesting to watch.  It is on at 18h00 on 18 September 2012 on ABC1.

The above photograph of Groby Old Hall is © Copyright Mat Fascione and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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23 November 1511

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Events in History

Death of Anne of York, Countess of Surrey.  She was the seventh child and fifth daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

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   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

Congratulations to Anne Easter Smith who just let us know that she won the 2010 Romantic Times Book Review Magazine Award for Best Historical Biography for The King’s Grace.  The Grace of the title is Grace Plantagenet, an illegitimate daughter of Edward IV, her mother is unknown.  Indeed all we know about her is that she was one of two mourners (the other is an unnamed “gentilwoman”) on the funeral barge of Elizabeth Woodville in 1492.  From this Anne spins a fascinating story about the Perkin Warbeck mystery.  For if Perkin Warbeck was indeed Richard of York, this Grace would have been his half-sister.

With the award Anne beat another contender, which also deals with the question of what happened to Elizabeth Woodville’s sons by Edward IV:  Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen.  Having read both books, I can only agree with the judges.  We congratulate Anne on this award.  It is her first, but should not be her last.  I believe Anne is at present working on a book on Cecily of York, the mother of among others Edward IV, Richard III as well as Margaret of Burgundy.  Richard played an important role in Anne’s A Rose for the Crown, while Margaret was portrayed in Daughter of York.  Can’t wait for her to bring Cecily to life!

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A Tudor Smear Campaign

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

NewsEarlier this month the Los Angeles Times published an interview with Philippa Gregory about her recent novel The White Queen under the promising title “Philippa Gregory on a Tudor Smear Campaign”.   

In this interview Philippa explains “why  she sides with those who see [Richard III] as the victim of an extraordinary propaganda machine”.  The novel is told from the view point of Elizabeth Woodville.  For Philippa it simply does not make sense  that Elizabeth would have let her daughters stay at Richard’s court, if she thought that he had already killed her two sons by Edward.  On the other hand there is good reason to suspect others like the Duke of Buckingham or Henry Tudor.  However, all these possibilities got swept under the carpet by “the absolute triumph of Tudor propaganda”. 

The interview concludes with stating that “Each time a production [of Shakespeare’s Richard III] gets staged, we’re repeating the lesson that Richard was nothing but a hunchback villain. That’s the tragedy”. 

 Thank you, Philippa, for bringing our view across so clearly! 

Read the full interview here.

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   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in News

books-2Look out for a new novel by Philippa Gregory published soon by Simon & Schuster. The White Queen is the first in her new Plantagenet series and is about Elizabeth Woodville. It’s very readable, doesn’t gloss over her faults and ambition, but shows a great understanding of her love for her children, her family and Edward, plus an interesting slant on what may be an answer to the Princes’ mystery – although the author admits there is no proof of it. It will be interesting to see who is next in line for her attention

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