Book Review – ‘The Women of the Cousins’ War: the Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother’ by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones, The Women of the Cousins’ War: the Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother (London: Simon and Schuster Ltd, 2011), Hardback, ISBN 978-0-85720-177-5

Title: Although the book is called The Women of the Cousins’ War, the book only examines a few of them – Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. It doesn’t look at Margaret of Anjou or Anne Neville in a lot of detail. Nevertheless, a good study of those it does examine in detail.

Preface: The preface discusses several important questions, like why write about these women? What’s so important about them? It also goes a lot wider, looking at what history is, and what fiction is, and how they can go together. There is also a sub-section on women’s place in history. The introduction is a little long, almost as long as a chapter.

Citations: There aren’t any references or footnotes given to any of the chapters, only a list of important sources for each chapter. There is also a small section at the end of each chapter giving extra information on certain aspects of the chapters, like Eleanor Cobham and how she compares to Jacquetta of Luxembourg.

Philippa Gregory 'Women of the Wars of the Roses'
Philippa Gregory ‘Women of the Wars of the Roses’

Contents: The contents page itself just lists the three women and where their sections start. The chapters themselves are divided down, but the section titles themselves aren’t listed on the contents page. The index page is well-documented, dividing down within the lists to what is where. This almost makes up for the lack of detail on the contents page.

Genre/Audience: What we would call a “popular history” rather than a scholarly history. It reads clearly, with little complicated language. Therefore, the audience would be those with some rudimentary knowledge of the background of the Wars of the Roses. It is worth a read for those more informed, but you might not find much new information.

Concepts: There are some interesting comparisons made between the women at times. A lot of the information about Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Elizabeth Woodville overlaps, as they are mother and daughter, but Margaret Beaufort seems to be a little on the outside. Perhaps if the likes of Margaret of Anjou and Anne Neville had been included in the study, it would have been more inclusive, and more links could have been found.

Sources: There is a huge variety of sources, but they aren’t referenced within the text. There appears to be a healthy mix of primary and secondary sources used, but it is difficult to trace exactly which source certain information came from. Each source is listed with a publication year, but no publisher name. Primary sources are also spelt in the original language, so it could be easier to trace such sources from the name.

Illustrations: There is a large variety of illustrations, with colour plates in the centre and black and white images spread at strategic points throughout the book, mainly portraits. The colour plates include pages from Books of Hours, effigies, stained glass windows and busts. Each chapter also includes family trees of each woman and signatures of the same. There are also endnotes on the images giving approximate dates, current locations and other information about them, including background information.

Philippa Gregory's 'The Other Boleyn Girl' (2001).
Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ (2001).

Other works: Philippa Gregory mainly writes historical novels like The Other Boleyn Girl, The King’s Curse and The White Queen. David Baldwin has written several books on the Wars of the Roses, including The Kingmaker’s Sisters: Six Powerful Women in the Wars of the Roses, Stoke Field: the Last Battle of the Wars of the Roses and Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower. Michael Jones has also written several books on the Wars of the Roses, like Bosworth 1485: the Psychology of a Battle and The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort.

My Rating: 15/20

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