Book Review: The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Title: The White Princess
Author: Philippa Gregory
Year: 2013
Pages: 518
Dates Read: April 10-17, 2017
Format: Paperback
Genres: HF, R
Rating: ★★
Summary: Elizabeth of York is forced to marry the new Tudor king, Henry VII, after he kills her uncle, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, ending the Wars of the Roses (known as the Cousins’ War before Sir Walter Scott coined the more well-known term).  The two must work together in order to keep their tumultuous country in order, with bitter, defeated Yorks threatening the kingdom.

Favorite Quotes: 
  • “The red rose and the white, a rose without a thorn” (26).
  • “There is nothing in the world more powerful than a woman who knows what she wants and walks a straight road towards it…You have to make up your mind what you want, and have the courage to set your heart on it…Walk through your sorrow, my daughter, it hardly matters as long as you walk to where you want to be” (79-80).
  • “In the darkness of the night his conscience speaks louder than his mother’s ambitions” (92).

 Review: Gregory’s writing can be (aside from a plethora of comma splices) very gripping at times; however, it is even more repetitive.  You could skip forward and still understand what is going on in the story because the first-person memories/recaps from Elizabeth will tell you what happened.  And then she’ll tell you again.

While the historical (in)accuracies of the novel are up for debate, Gregory writes an entertaining story.  She does not present this book as nonfiction; rather, it is a novel.  This does give her some liberties in her storytelling.  That this book isn’t a biography is her saving grace.

What I do have a hard time getting past, though, is Henry’s repeated rapes of Elizabeth in the beginning of the book, then their affectionate relationship later.  I just find it slightly unbelievable.  It’s certainly possible, but it makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t know whether this aspect of the story is true or not, so I’m only approaching it as a part of the plot.  I don’t get preachy with many things, but rape is certainly one that I am vehement about because, in this case, it presents a negative view for readers by perpetuating rape culture.  I understand that this is a historical novel and that, during this time in history, it was widely accepted that husbands could do pretty much whatever they wanted with their wives.  Henry tells Elizabeth:

“Nobody calls me a whore for I am King of England and a man…You cannot hope to change the way that the world sees women.  Any woman who feels desires and acts on it will always be called a whore.  That will never change” (246).

It’s fine for Henry to say this because of the time he lives in and his status, but Elizabeth never refutes this statement.  She just absorbs it.  Henry goes on to mention Elizabeth’s (supposed by Gregory and others) love affair with Richard III, and Elizabeth feels subconscious, pulling the blanket up to her chin and braiding her hair.  Henry then changes the subject, and she says nothing of his previous statement.  In this passage, Gregory presents the misogynistic idea but does not present any opposing argument.  In doing so, she has Elizabeth renege on her previous gumption and accept her lot.  I’m not saying it’s unacceptable for Elizabeth’s character to change and become perhaps weaker, but the way Gregory wrote the passage makes it seem like what Henry said is okay to believe.  And Elizabeth has to be the one to oppose him in this scene because the novel is told in her first-person point of view.

Gregory does have Elizabeth call Henry out on his being a rapist in the beginning: “He is my enemy, the murderer of my betrothed lover.  He is my rapist.  How could he dream that there could ever be affection between us?” (85).

Yes, Elizabeth.  How?  Please elaborate.

Not only do the rapes present an issue with the credibility of their relationship, but the characterization often makes no sense.  One minute Henry and Elizabeth will act all lovey-dovey, and the next one of them will become standoffish and cancel out any progress their relationship had made.

When Elizabeth comments on one of Henry’s plans, he becomes outraged: “By commenting on his plan I have triggered his rage, and he is beside himself…’I am sick of all of you [“all of you” being the Yorks]'” (341).

For Henry to be happy, Elizabeth needs to comfort him but have no intellectual imput–so, basically, be a puppy.  She can have no opposing opinions, or else risk his rage.

Another point of contention is that there is always an underlying distrust of Elizabeth for Henry because she is a York, and he constantly wonders if she could be plotting against him.  So add mistrust to your list of “Reasons Elizabeth Should Back Away ASAP.”

This is an unhealthy relationship, to say the least.

Other issues I have with this book are the repeated (REPEATED) mentions of Elizabeth’s possible relationship with Richard III–it added barely anything to the story–and the amount of the text that focused on Perkin Warbeck–it almost seemed like the book was more about him than Elizabeth toward the end.

I will read more books by Gregory.  I just think that this one missed the mark.

You can find this in print at The Book Depository, on the Kindle at Amazon, or at your local library. You can read more about it and find similar books on Goodreads.

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