The Godmother Book Review

18 December, 2011

Notorious Royal Marriages:
A Juicy Journey through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny, and Desire


5 January, 2010 by NAL Trade


Leslie Carroll

Ms. Carroll is a contemporary and historical fiction writer who also writes under the name of Amanda Elyot.


The book profiles 32 royal marriages, from Eleanor of Aquitaine’s first marriage to Louis VII of France in 1137 through the present-day second marriage of HRH Prince Charles to Camilla Parker Bowles.

In addition to the usual suspects, like King Henry VIII (who commandeers a portion of the index for obvious reasons), King Louis XVI/Marie Antoinette, Queen Victoria/Prince Albert, Tsar Nicholas II/Alexandra, King Edward VIII/Wallis Simpson, Prince Rainier III/Grace Kelly, and Prince Charles/Lady Diana Spencer, some more obscure (but nonetheless interesting) matches also abound.

Rising from obscurity is Elizabeth Woodville, the first Englishwoman to pull a “Middleton” and of whom one can expect to hear much in the years ahead.  She was additionally profiled in our inaugural post of The Godmother Book Review at  The book is further rounded out by discussions of Joanna the Mad, Catherine de Medici, and Catherine the Great.

More important at times than the profiles of the couples themselves, the formative machinations surrounding each match are also revealed.  The full spectrum of marriage motivators can be found within the pages of this book.  Some marriages were love matches, much to the chagrin of royal handlers and those jockeying for power.  Others were mutually-agreed upon dynastic mergers, designed to avert war or produce the ultimate male heir.  Still others were characterized by outright hostility between the spouses, with separations, embarrassing liaisons, legal actions, incarcerations, and possibly murder in the offing.


One would be hard-pressed to list a notable ruler from the 12th century onward who has not had his/her marriage profiled in this entertaining book, and don’t be quick to judge or think that you know everything there is to know about these stories before you start to read.

If you had never doubted the devotion of Ferdinand and Isabella or Napoleon and Josephine; if you had never questioned the virginity of Katherine of Aragon when reading about the King’s Great Matter; if you had never suspected that there was more abduction than love behind the Earl of Bothwell’s marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots, then you will find this book to be a real page-turner!

Learn which wife was never Queen of England due to her secret marriage.  Learn which wives were queens of more than one major country.  Learn which wife reportedly never bathed to her kingly husband’s dismay.

Packed with details and quotes, the histories captivate in approximately 20 pages per marriage, without launching into dissertations or leaving the reader wondering why the author bothered.  The romantic exploits may also be enjoyed out of order, if the reader desires, despite their chronological presentation.

Although there is much to love, the work is not without its flaws.  My primary criticisms are that the sources are not footnoted, and the references appear somewhat sparse at the back of the book to support such meaty content, particularly some that is at odds with traditional accounts of the goings on in particular royal marriage beds.  It is similarly unclear where and when the author may be taking some license or interjecting her own interpretations.  Lastly, the book could have been made more delightful via the inclusion of family trees, timelines, maps, portraits, and other exhibits, but none were in evidence.

All in all, however, I cannot help but recommend this book, which is as juicy as its title claims.  For those with more studious, historical tastes, its sometimes controversial depictions will serve as an inducement for further research and form the foundation of engaging dinner party conversations…

                                 The Godmother

11 November, 2011

The Women of the Cousins' War:
The Duchess, the Queen, and the King's Mother



13 September, 2011 by Touchtone


Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin, and Michael Jones

Ms. Gregory is an international best-selling historical novelist and founder of the fictional biography genre, who holds a B.A. in History from the University of Sussex in Brighton and also a Ph.D. in 18th Century literature from Edinburgh University.  This book is a collaboration of Ms. Gregory and two other historians, Daniel Baldwin and Michael Jones.


The book is comprised of three biographies of little-known but very influential women during the time of the Wars of the Roses, known to contemporaries as the Cousins’ War and to others as the conflict between the House of Lancaster and the House of York.

The first biography is of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, “the Duchess,” a kinswoman of Prince Guillaume of Luxembourg (profiled in our inaugural blog post at The Godmother Blog  She was the aunt by marriage of the Lancastrian King Henry VI, but, through her daughter’s marriage to the Yorkist King Edward IV, she became mother-in-law to the head of the rival House of York.  Her granddaughter’s marriage to Henry Tudor (King Henry VII) ultimately made her great-grandmother of Henry VIII and an ancestor of the Tudors, as well.

The second biography is of Elizabeth Woodville, “the Queen,” Jacquetta’s daughter.  Elizabeth is famously known as the “White Queen” because of her marriage to Edward IV of York, the white rose being the symbol of the House of York.  She is the first commoner to marry a King for love, a popular story today in the time of Kate Middleton, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge.  Through Elizabeth’s daughter’s marriage to Henry Tudor (King Henry VII), she became grandmother of King Henry VIII.  Just as celebrated as her daughter’s marriage is the mystery surrounding her sons, King Edward V and Prince Richard, Duke of York.  They are more commonly referred to as the Princes in the Tower.

The third biography is of Margaret Beaufort, “the King’s Mother,” the mother of Henry Tudor (King Henry VII) and King Henry VIII’s other grandmother.  She is also called the “Red Queen” because of her ties to the house of Lancaster, which made the red rose its symbol.  She was technically never Queen of England.


This book, written primarily by Philippa Gregory, while not the runaway bestseller that might have been written by Philippa “Pippa” Middleton, is a very captivating read.

Packed with exceptionally researched historical details from a very exciting and dangerous time in England’s history, the three biographies flow easily from one to the next and avoid any repetition or reintroduction of the characters.  The three authors also provide disclaimers when they take a leap of faith into interpreting the events of the time.

The Introduction by Gregory discusses the difference between historical fiction/fictional biography and history itself.  While the discussion here by Gregory serves to educate the reader and to distinguish this work from her novels, I thought the piece too long.  Many readers may find themselves flipping through it quickly to get at the juicy biographies.  To Gregory’s credit, she makes important points about the role of women in history and how even these important royal kinswomen were practically lost to us, with only birth/death/household records, prayer books, and other correspondence from which to reconstruct their lives in an age of men.

To those of you who are not as versed in history as you might hope, the book is replete with family trees, timelines, maps, portraits, and other exhibits that provide context and a frame of reference.

You will not be disappointed, should you choose to read about the Duchess, the Queen, and the King's Mother...

                                 The Godmother