THE WOMEN OF THE COUSINS’ WAR refers to three little-known icons of the English court that star in Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins’ War. This five-book series centers on the renowned and lesser-known competitors of the Wars of the Roses. Three women dominate the subject here: Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort (Duchess of Bedford, Queen of England and mother to King Henry). Gregory makes the case that they are not nearly as famous as they should be, given the fact that they survived and thrived during the superstitious, violent era of the wars. In spite of everyday dangers, political obstacles, battles and accusations of witchcraft, each woman rose to power or helped her children do so, against incredible odds. There, her wits, character and calculating intelligence contributed to the rise of the Tudor dynasty.
"THE WOMEN OF THE COUSINS’ WAR is extraordinary history. Those who have read any of Philippa Gregory’s books know she is a great writer and a leader in the genre. She also has proven herself to be devoted to pure history in her latest impressive effort to complete the record."
Gregory and her co-authors, David Baldwin and Michael Jones, have written a kind of feminine devotional here, dedicated to unbiased history and women’s virtues. As in her other books, a tremendous amount of effort is devoted toward gathering material and conducting thorough research, complimented by the work of historians. She has included a lengthy introduction on the unique challenges of writing history and fiction, along with timelines, maps, pedigrees and illuminating illustrations that give characters depth and background. An extensive index has been placed at the back, allowing readers to reference individuals and events. Thus you can use the book like a novel or an encyclopedia, reading from cover to cover or simply as a reference material. Either way, it has been designed with convenience in mind, and anyone looking for a figure or event relating to the War of the Roses will have no trouble becoming informed.
Gregory chose her heroines well. They have spectacular stories, so amazing you’ll be astounded they really happened. No complete account has ever been created on any of them before now. These are women with particular things in common, giving this history a common thread and a common theme.
Each one of these ladies was present near a battlefield or directly involved in politics relating to a major skirmish or battle in the War of the Roses. Each had been loyal in serving a cause, fluctuating at times between the Lancaster and Yorkist factions. Each went to a great deal of trouble and personal risk to advance her family in the aristocratic world, and each contributed to history significantly. Each was passionate about some high ideal, whether that be exploring the virtues of mysticism, intellectualism, or religious piety. Each paid a high price for her status and devoted her life to ensuring the safety of her loved ones. Each possessed intensity, passion and willpower. Each displayed tremendous ambition and resilience under fire. Each one was labeled or misrepresented by the public.
Gregory views these women as models of contemporary leadership: “They are my heroines, they are foremothers…The lives of these, and other women, show me what a woman can do even without formal power, education, or rights, in a world dominated by men. They are the inspirational examples of the strength of the female spirit.” She explains it isn’t by accident that their histories have been excluded from the record. In most cases, only the rise of feminism in the 20th century has allowed obscure heroines to be recognized for extraordinary deeds. But not all their stories have been told. It makes perfect sense that a female writer be the one who tells them.
THE WOMEN OF THE COUSINS’ WAR is extraordinary history. Those who have read any of Philippa Gregory’s books know she is a great writer and a leader in the genre. She also has proven herself to be devoted to pure history in her latest impressive effort to complete the record.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on October 6, 2011