Philippa Gregory's The Cousins' War Series
Edward I and Edward II are depicted in this movie, neither in very good terms, as the movie's hero is Scottish hero William Wallace, trying his best to remove English influence from Scotland once and for all.
A classic movie centered on the family dynamics of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitance and their sons Henry, Richard (Lion Heart) and John.
A great movie by and starring Kenneth Branagh. Keep your eyes open for Christian Bale.
Robin Hood is a character perhaps based upon a real person, originating as early as the 14th century in verse and ballads.
English History up to the Cousins' War
Before 1066, England was ruled by Saxons and Danes. You remember William the Conqueror from history class. He was Norman French, which interestingly, means he was descended from Vikings that came down and settled France in the area of Normandy. The king that was overthrown by William the Conqueror was Harold Godwinson, also of Viking descent. This period is at the very end of the Viking Age and the Viking descendants have done very well for themselves in terms of kingship on both sides of the Channel.
After William the Conqueror, his sons reigned one after the other. Then William's grandson ruled. Then William's great grandson, Henry II. You know this guy; he married Eleanor of Aquitaine. Now his father was Geoffrey of Anjou, called nicknamed "Plantagenet", because he wore a spring of a yellow flower in his hat. Plantagenet, or "planta genista" is the name of the yellow flower, the broom shrub. That's where the name of the whole dynasty comes from!
After Henry II, we have three sons in a row. Henry, not called Henry III for some reason, Richard the Lion Hearted and then John. You know those last two, thanks to Robin Hood. King John is the bad king and Robin Hood and his guys are waiting for King Richard to come back from the Crusades. This is the John of the Magna Carta. Then John's son, Henry III reigned.
Here's another king you know - Edward I, Henry III's son. This is the evil king in Braveheart. His son, also portrayed in Braveheart, is the next king, Edward II, and then Edward III. Then Edward III's grandson, Richard II.
Now for the problem. Richard II has no children, but the king before him had 14. So we have cousins and more cousins, all with claims, some better than others, to the throne.
The next three kings are from the Lancaster side of the argument. The first king after Richard II is Henry IV, the son of Blanche of Lancaster, hence the Lancaster name. After him we have Henry V and then Henry VI. This last Henry is unstable and has health problems, where he seems to be sleeping for long periods of time. His wife is a strong character, Margaret of Anjou, who leads the Lancastrian side of the struggle. With a weak king on the throne, the time is ripe for one of his cousins to take the throne. This cousin is Edward of York, whose father is the Duke of York. Edward of York is proclaimed Edward IV, grandfather of famous Henry VIII. Edward IV's wife is Elizabeth Woodville and the subject of Philippa Gregory's "The White Queen". Elizabeth's mother merits her own book, "The Lady of the Rivers", also by Philippa Gregory and part of the Cousins' War series.
The throne goes back and forth now between the Lancaster king and the Yorkist king for awhile. This is the Cousins' War. Edward IV's brother, Richard III, is the next and last Plantagenet king. His wife is Anne Neville, the subject of Philippa Gregory's book "The Kingmaker's Daughter". He was defeated by Henry Tudor, who then becomes Henry VII, which ends the Cousins' War and begins the Tudor dynasty. Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort, is the subject of Philippa Gregory's "The Red Queen".
We are more familiar with the name "The War of the Roses" for these conflicts. The heraldry for the Lancasters was a red rose, while the Yorks used a white rose. Lancastrian Henry Tudor married a Yorkist princess to form the Tudor dynasty, also combining the red and white rose symbolism to create the Tudor rose (red with a white center).
The Lady of the Rivers
Jacquetta Woodville, the subject of "The Lady of the Rivers", led a very interesting life by anyone's standards. Her uncle held Joan of Arc in captivity and Philippa Gregory opens the book as Joan of Arc meets Jacquetta and other family members. I don't know if there is any actual evidence that these two young women met, but the possibility certainly captures your imagination.
Jacquetta's first husband is John of Lancaster, the Duke of Bedford and the uncle to King Henry VI. This is the guy that had Joan of Arc executed. Since there are two kings claiming to the King of France, there are many wars and battles and the Duke of Bedford is a leading commander for the English. In the book, he marries Jacquetta because he believes she has mystical abilities and can help him win the war. Jacquetta is a descendant of a water goddess, Melusina and can sometimes see the future.
The Duke of Bedford's squire is a very handsome young man, in contrast to the older Duke of Bedford himself. When the Duke dies, Jacquetta marries this man, Richard Woodville, for love. The book follows the twists and turns of the Cousins' War as Jacquetta befriends Queen Margaret of Anjou. This well written story ends as her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, meets King Edward VI to petition for her confiscated home and lands (where "The White Queen" novel begins).
The White Queen
Although I have read many times that the Lancasters and Yorks finally merged into the House of Tudor through the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, I didn't realize until this book that Elizabeth of York's parents were also from both sides of the conflict. Elizabeth of York was the daughter of Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian, and Edward IV, formerly the Duke of York. This book chronicles the life of Elizabeth Woodville.
The book opens as Elizabeth waylays the young King to petition him for the return of her confiscated home and lands. In pure fairy tail fashion, he takes one look and falls head over heels in love. He marries Elizabeth after she refuses to become his mistress. Sound familiar? Perhaps Anne Boleyn took a page from Elizabeth's book in her bid to become queen to Edward's grandson, Henry VIII.
This marriage is unpopular with the powerful Earl of Warwick, the father of Anne Neville, the subject of Philippa Gregory's book "The Kingmaker's Daughter". It could be surmised that history would be altogether different without this marriage, as Warwick flip flops over to the Lancastrian side to try to overthrow his long time friend Edward IV and put Henry VI back on the throne.
The book portrays Elizabeth as a woman centered around the protection and improvement of her family. Her mother, Jacquetta, also is a prominent player in the book and you can read more about her in "The Lady of the Rivers". Philippa Gregory invites you to picture Elizabeth Woodville as both beautiful and empowered, instead of the characterizations I have seen in other books - as either a beautiful simpleton or the calculating older wife controlling a weak husband.
The Kingmaker's Daughter
This is the story of Anne Neville, a girl that was first married into the Lancastrian side of the Cousins' War, and then married into the Yorkist side. Her father was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, called "Kingmaker", whose goal was always to be the power behind the throne. He supported various players in this war, always angling for the side that would allow him to meet his goal. He must've been an amazing politician; he was able to convince Margaret of Anjou, no one's fool, that after years of fighting against her, he was on her side. Anne was used as a pawn in her father's plans. He married her to first the Lancastrian heir, making her Princess of Wales, and then after the death of that husband, to the Yorkist king's brother, making her Duchess of Gloucester. When the Duke of Gloucester becomes King Richard III, Anne is Queen of England.
The story opens when Anne Neville is eight years old. attending a dinner in the Tower with King Edward and Elizabeth Woodville and ends near her death. Within months of her death, the Cousins' War is over as the Tudor dynasty begins. The author, Philippa Gregory, is able to walk us through the uncomfortable situations and insecurities that must have been a part of Anne's life as she is born into the Yorkist side of the war, and then married into both sides.
The Red Queen
"The Red Queen" refers to Margaret Beaufort, not Margaret of Anjou. This is curious, as Margaret of Anjou was a queen and Margaret Beaufort was not, though I believe the author explains the title at the end of book as Margaret signs her name "Margaret R", for Regina ("queen"). Apparently she thinks that "mother of the king" is sufficient to sign herself as a queen! It's an interesting book about an interesting, though not very likeable woman. The book takes us through Margaret's life from a young girl to her son's ascent to the throne.
The story begins with Margaret dreaming she is Joan of Arc, whose story was only two decades old at this time. Margaret is an extremely religious person in a time when religion was a major driving force in politics, education and life in general. She would like to be a nun, but she is a very wealthy Lancastrian heiress and a descendant of Edward III. She is married to Henry VI's half brother, Edmund Tudor and has a son, Henry. Her driving ambition is to see Henry on the throne and she does so, in no small part to her political manipulations.
Available July 23, 2013
More Cousins' War to Look Forward To
Two More Books
The White Princess and The Last Rose are the next two books in the Cousins' War series. The White Princess, a book on Elizabeth of York, will be out July 23, 2013 and you can pre-order on Amazon. The Last Rose is scheduled to be finished in 2014.
Kindle versions of all books are available on Amazon.
Starz to Make The Cousins' War into TV Series
If you enjoyed the books then you will be interested to know that Starz has purchased the rights to make a ten episode television series, scheduled to come out in 2013. The series will be based on three of Philippa Gregory's books on the Cousins' War: The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker's Daughter. Keep up with Philippa Gregory on philippagregory.com.
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