The Women of the Cousins’ War – Philippa Gregory et al – 6/10

” ‘There is no place for them’ – how that echoes down the years!”

This non-fiction volume has been published to accompany Gregory’s three novels about the women of The Cousins’ War (mostly known as The War of the Roses these days): Jacquetta, Elizabeth and Margaret. Inside, Ms Gregory gives us an introduction on why such a volume is absolutely necessary, as well as a considered biography of Jacquetta. David Baldwin profiles Elizabeth and Michael Jones includes a piece on Margaret.

Having read all three novels (and very much enjoyed them), I was fascinated by the idea of having the historical record juxtaposed against them. My long distrust of history and non-fiction was absolutely justified when it turns out to be pretty dull – mostly all that is left are housekeeping accounts (so we know exactly what food was ordered when Edward IV dined with Margaret Beaufort and her husband) and court documents in which women are relegated to the margins, almost literally.

The volume didn’t really add anything to the novels for me – I’d rather have stayed with the women as characters in my head; I find it easier to suspend that connection to the real world (even if I know these are real people from history) if I don’t know the details of their accounting.

As one might expect, the biographers have chosen the slants that Gregory chose (or vice versa) for her novels: Margaret as a devious politician, Elizabeth as a caring wife and homemaker, proud of her royal husband and unforgiving of those who wronged him, and Jacquetta as ambitious, loving and clever. The authors are at pains to point out that these are by no means the only interpretations; I felt the point was a little laboured when the perspectives and the novels align so neatly.

However, the book is well worth reading solely for Gregory’s introduction. It’s not just the references to the continuing struggle of women to be taken seriously in the classical music world (a matter close to my heart due to family connections), but the fact that the 35-page introduction gives a very solid grounding to the lay reader in the conflicts arising for biographers of previously minimally-documented persons.

Fans of non-fiction, particularly historical biography, would no doubt enjoy this far more than I did.

Additional info:
This was a review copy sent by the publisher.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 308 pages (hardback)
Order The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.
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4 thoughts on “The Women of the Cousins’ War – Philippa Gregory et al – 6/10

  1. Helen 4 December 2011 at 6:50 pm Reply

    I read this book recently too, having previously read all three of the Cousins’ War novels. I think I enjoyed it more than you did, but I agree that the introduction was the most interesting part of the book!

    • readingwithtea 4 December 2011 at 6:56 pm Reply

      That’s very interesting, given that we had the same experience (reading the three novels first). Well I’m glad you enjoyed it more than me!

  2. Alex 5 December 2011 at 2:26 pm Reply

    Agree: a Companion book should add *something* to the story. “Housekeeping accounts”?!

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