The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory has some fairly outspoken critics, usually historians, who complain about the historical accuracy of her work. I’m not one of those, as I think her novels are usually very well written, fairly well researched, and don’t really see the problem with bringing a little imagination to the realm of history. Lots of archaeology programmes seem to be based around the art of educated guessing, so why shouldn’t fiction get to do the same? It’s not like if people who wanted a historian’s take on history wouldn’t buy an academic book by David Starkey, or a serious academic who spends their time doing proper research rather than shouting down women on TV…

Despite all that, I have to say I was truly disappointed in The White Princess, the final story in her The Cousins’ War series. Firstly, it covers a lot of the material that she’s written about in her previous Tudor and Plantagenet books, somewhat inevitably, but at times it’s a little frustrating. Even more frustrating is that it seems to assume that you’ve read all of her other books, so for someone who hasn’t read The Kingmaker’s Daughter, it was a little odd to leap straight into the story with Princess Elizabeth reminiscing about her sex life with her uncle Richard… it just made me feel like Gregory was being forced to walk a fine line between fitting the series format and not rehashing an excessive amount of content. There was huge potential to make this the story of Perkin Warbeck, and that really was a compelling part of the story, but to do so it really needed to be told from the perspective of another character and I assume that didn’t fit the publisher’s plans for the format of the series.

My biggest problem with the books though (and something of a trigger warning here) is that Elizabeth is raped by Henry VII to ensure that she is fertile before he marries her, leading to Arthur being born eight months into their marriage. I accept that rape happened, happens and, particularly in this time, women were treated like chattel and therefore it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise, but what I find particularly troubling is the way this assault is followed up in the rest of the novel. Elizabeth ultimately finds herself falling for her rapist, who then forgets about her and turns his attention to someone else because (it is implied) she should have been a more welcoming wife when she had the chance. That is a really worrying presentation of rape, regardless of when a book is set.

What do you think?