The Godmother Book Review

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

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