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The Women of the Cousins' War - Philippa Gregory

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Authors: Philippa Gregory,David Baldwin,Michael Jones / Format: Hardback / Genre: History / Subcategory: European British & Irish History /Title: The Women of the Cousins' War / ISBN 13: 9780857201775 / ISBN 10: 0857201775 / 352 Pages / Book is published 2011-09-15 by Simon & Schuster Ltd / Alternative title: The Women of the Cousins' War: The Duchess, the Queen and the King's Mother / Alternative ISBN 10: 0857201778

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      27.08.2013 22:00
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      Great history book to learn new things, good for an introduction into the lives of the three women

      I was very keen to read this book for many reasons. Firstly the stories of Jaquetta of Luxembourg (The Duchess), Elizabeth Woodville (The Queen) and Margaret Beaufort (The Kings Mother) are very interesting and I have enjoyed reading many fiction and non fiction books about them so I thought that I would give this book a go to see if I could learn anything new about the three women and have the three authors take on the women as well. When you look at this book everyone instantly thinks that it is by Philippa Gregory herself but if you look closely at the cover there are actually two other authors of this book not just her and I assume the publisher would have made her name the biggest on the page simply because she is most well known and they know that her name will probably sell a lot more books than the other two would. Furthermore the book is split into three sections and each other writes and essay about on of the women and they have been put together in this book. Phillipa Gregory writes about Jaquetta of Luxembourg who was the Duchess of Bedford and later Lady Rivers, David Baldwin writes about Elizabeth Woodville, the daughter of the previous women and also Queen of England and finally Michael Jones writes about Margaret Beaufort who was mother to King Henry VII and probably the most influential women in her time period. Another reason why people may want to read this book is because despite the two latter authors already written non fiction books, this is the first ever non fiction work written by Philippa Gregory and I guess that many would like to see if see is actually a good historian as she has been heavily although in my opinion unfairly criticized for her historical inaccuracy despite her novels never being massively incorrect and Gregory admitting that she has to use a lot of her own judgement when evidence is not there or there is not enough of it to be certain and so I wanted to see if she could really pull off a non fiction book well but also get an insight into the two other historians work which I have never really come across before. I will be reviewing the essays both on how much I enjoyed reading it, how much I have learnt from it, if it uncovers any new evidence or comes to any new conclusions and how useful it would be as a historical source as it is a history book.


      ==The Introduction==


      The introduction to this book is written by Philippa Gregory and actually turns out to be a very interesting read and not just a short i boring intro to why she wrote the book like most introductions are as she talks about many different things within this introduction. Firstly she asks the questions _What is history?_ and although I think to myself that I will struggle through her answer to a question which seems pretty obvious, she does go on to answer the question in good detail talking about how we may never know the full history and that no one account can tell the whole truth and all the facts about a particular subject and I find I quite enjoy it. This then gives me a bit of hope for her next question which is _What is fiction?_ which again she does go on to answer in a very interesting way talking about how usually most fiction will relate back to reality some how such as how science fiction obviously traces back to research about the different sciences although this time her answer is not in as much detail. She does then go on to talk about historical fiction in detail and I really enjoyed reading it as she talks about the differences between how a historian would writes and how a historical novelist would write. She also talks a lot about how much of the critism towards historical fiction does not have much substance due to the fact that fiction is used to create an entertaining and gripping novel because we can never really know the thoughts and feelings of those people so it does have to be created by the authors judgement and that fiction can also fill gaps in evidence for this purpose as well. In fact this small section of the book is one that I think the critics of Gregory's work should read as it does justify why she writes how she does. Finally she talks about how women are often harder to find evidence about and how in the past were often not recorded barely at all leaving many of today's historians to base judgements on little evidence. A very interesting part of this section was also where she talked about even now how one small piece of evidence maybe from someone such as a king is seen as more important than other pieces of evidence that obviously are more useful. For example she talks about how Anne Of Cleves (Wife of Henry VIII and Queen Consort of England) is often described as 'fat' and 'ugly' by historians because of one comment by her husband whereas her portrait in fact shows a young, slim and pretty women. Overall to my surprise, I really enjoyed this introduction to the book and it was a great opening. However the only criticism I have for the introduction of this book is that there is a big historical error within it when Philippa Gregory states that Jaquetta of Luxembourg was the grandmother to Henry VIII and great grandmother to Elizabeth I when this is incorrect and a very obvious and silly error which is probably there due to it not being noticed in the editing process. Jaquetta of Luxembourg is actually the great grandmother of Henry VIII and the great great grandmother of Elizabeth I (Jaquetta -> Elizabeth Woodville -> Elizabeth of York -> Henry VIII -> Elizabeth I)


      ==Jaquetta of Luxembourg (The Duchess)==


      The first section is written by Philippa Gregory about Jaquetta of Luxembourg who is said to be descended from Melusina, who goes on to be the Duchess of Bedford and later the Dowager Duchess and Lady Rives when her husband the Duke dies and she later marries Richard Woodville. In my opinion I think that Philippa Gregory should have written about one of the other women within the book because she has only just started writing non fiction work with this essay yet she choose the hardest of the three women to write about as she is the one with the least evidence available about her and her life as she simply was not as important as the other two and so much less documented however that does not mean that her story is not as interesting but I do think this lack of evidence may have hindered her as it could probably hinder any established historian (Such as when Alison Weir attempted a biography of Mary Boleyn when the evidence just wasn't there really). The section of the book was something that I really enjoyed reading and I found Philippa Gregory's writing style to be very easy going which is a good thing when you are reading about facts. Also within her essay on her chosen women I didn't really find any historical error's within it and found the information within it to be correct to my knowledge and also presented and written in an interesting and page turning way which is a great thing for a history book. However I cannot say that Gregory really presents any ground-breaking evidence or comes to any new conclusions about Jaquetta's life within this essay and so may just be repeating what some other historians have already mentioned. An example of this is where she sometimes uses the phrase, "historians think" suggesting that she maybe has not done that much of her own research into the evidence although this is a speculation. As a historical source, her essay I think would be useful because although it doesn't really provide much in the way of new evidence or information, there is no biography for this women ever written and so this essay can serve as a place where all or most of the information about Jaquetta is all together and can be found. Despite this Gregory uses words such as 'maybe' and 'perhaps' quite a lot within her essay and it gives a sense that she is uncertain about the information she is presenting however this may just be due to the lack of evidence about this women and so I cannot blame Gregory for this. Another thing which I would like to comment on is the use of 'or' a lot where she will show two conclusions about evidence but doesnt really come to her own conclusion about that evidence. However overall I do believe that her essay was a good start for this author into non fiction history writing as the essay was enjoyable to read, easy going and despite the lack of evidence about Jaquetta and her life, you can learn a lot from it and I think it would be great for anyone who wanted the 'real story' or summary to Gregory's historical fiction book 'The Lady Of The Rivers' which is about the same women.


      ==Elizabeth Woodville (The Queen)==


      The essay written about Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England and wife to King Edward IV is written by David Baldwin, an author who I have never previously come across before however I tend to dislike reading about Elizabeth Woodville in many cases so I was hoping that he would maybe bring something to the essay which I would enjoy. I found that while is writing style may not be as easy going as the previous essay, the essay was a relatively easy read and to my sup rise for the most part of it, I did actually enjoy it as Baldwin went into areas of Elizabeth life which I have never knew as much about or had heard much about before making the essay much more enjoyable than some biographies that just stick to the stereotypes associated with this women. Furthermore he also went into detail about Elizabeth's character and relationships with certain people at the time such as her in laws Duchess Cecily, King Richard III, George Duke or Clarence but also other influential people at the time such as Margaret Beaufort however I was expecting something about her relationship with Anne Neville but that was not included in the essay. Despite this, those sections of the essay gave me a bigger insight into Elizabeth and I learned quite a lot from them such as how she seemed to be much more generous than I had previously thought and how she is sometimes portrayed. I was happy that some of the stereotypes associated with this women were explained by Baldwin and that he didn't just stick to those but also challenged some with the evidence he had found as it made the essay a much more interesting read. Overall I would say that the essay was fun to read, easy going but also very informative giving a lot of information which I didn't know and didn't include any historical inaccuracy's that I could see so I will definitely now be looking to find more of David Baldwin's work and would definitely recommend this essay to anyone who would like to find out a bit more about Elizabeth Woodville or for people who want to know the real story behind books such as 'The White Queen'


      ==Margaret Beaufort (The King's Mother)==


      Michael Jones wrote the essay about Margaret Beaufort, the once heiress to the Lancastrian claim to the throne of England and then mother to King Henry VII of England, one of the most powerful women of her time, arguably more powerful and influential then both Elizabeth Woodville, Jaquetta of Luxembourg and also Elizabeth of York, wife and Queen to King Henry VII. Because of this and her very determined, strong and complicated character, her story is a very interesting one which throughout the essay, Jones is able to capture her personality well in places while describing the history well as well. I do have to admit that the essay did start of a bit hard going but as I read more into it and started to learn some new things about her family the essay became a lot easier to read and more interesting. What I really liked was how Jones considered how Margaret would have felt and what she would have been thinking at different parts in her history using either evidence or just speculation however this was at times patchy as at some key events in her history he just left this out which was a disappointment and it tended to make the whole essay more easy going and did manage in places to make the history more interesting and give more of an insight into the actual character and personality of this women and so more of this would have been quite beneficial in my opinion. Another thing that I enjoyed about this essay was how when evidence was uncertain or not very concrete, he would explain more than one interpretation of the different evidence that was there taking into account Margaret's character and beliefs to give the reader better knowledge of what could have been going on and what Margaret's intentions could have been for doing different things which I found to be a good thing and could increase it usefulness as a historical source especially as throughout the essay I could not spot any historical errors such as the one Gregory made in the introduction to the book. Although the essay was a good read and one were I was able to find out a lot more about a women I already thought I new a lot about, it did seem to miss out a few key events at the time such as the execution of George, Duke of Clarence and brother to King Edward IV, the death of Queen Anne Neville, wife to Richard III and also how her husband was the one who effectively decided who would win the battle of Bosworth which put her son on the throne. I have mentioned these moments as I think that they are events which would be very important in the life of Margaret Beaufort both positively or negatively and it would have been interesting to find out her reaction to these events and the effect of them on her both politically and personally but this was not included. This gave me the sense that the essay seemed a bit patchy as I have said before but also like it was missing something when I finished it. Despite this overall I would say that the essay was good, reliable and entertaining to read. I would recommend this essay to anyone who doesn't have much knowledge about this women as an introduction to her which is quite easy going and also to people who may want to find out the real story behind Philippa Gregory's popular novel 'The Red Queen'.


      ==Availability and editions==


      This book is available both in paperback and hard cover which is good as I know some people do have preferences about which they would rather read like me who prefers hard cover. Also the book is available in Kindle edition on Amazon for all the people who prefer to read the electronic version. I have also found the book on most online sites such as Amazon but also in bookshops on the high-street such as Waterstones so the book is quite easy to find if you do want to go on to read it.


      ===Value For Money===


      Its retail price on the high-street is £9.99 for paperback which is quite a reasonable price taking into account the price of books in shops and is a price that I would not mind paying for this book as I did thoroughly enjoy it. However the hardback edition can be a bit more expensive at £18.99 as its retail prices although you can find them for much cheaper both online where the Paperback is £7.99 which is a good price and the hard-cover edition can be found at £12.72. The Kindle edition is much cheaper than both of these and is only £1.99 for the ebook and so anyone who wants to read it on their Kindle or e-reader will be getting much better value for money however even the physical versions have good value for money as the book was a good read.


      ===Overall===


      Overall I did really enjoy reading this book and was able to be entertained by it while also learning new things about the three women it describes which is key to a good history book in my opinion. It was interesting to see Philippa Gregory's first attempt at writing history rather than a novel but despite thoroughly enjoying the easy going essay, I do have to admit that it is probably the weakest of the three essay's which may be because she picked the women who has such a small amount of evidence about or including her to write about. In my opinion David Baldwin's essay was the strongest as it managed to take the history of Elizabeth Woodville which previously I have disliked and managed to write an essay on it which I really enjoyed, learnt a lot from and managed to change my mind a bit about her history. Michael Jones essay was also enjoyable as the other two were and so as a whole, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn some more about these three women and especially to anyone who has read books such as 'The White Queen', 'The Red Queen', 'The Lady of the Rivers' and 'The Kingmaker's Daughter' but also to anyone that has watched 'The White Queen' tv series which was recently on BBC One.

      This review may also appear on ciao and goodreads under the username alexcatt97

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