Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Kim's Review : The Lady of the Rivers

The "Lady of the Rivers" is chronologically the first book by Philippa Gregory around the War of the Roses / War of the Cousins. But since I had read The Kingmakers Daughter first, I was completely prepared to hate Jacquetta - the main Heroine in this book. It is a testament to Philippa Gregory's talent as a writer, that I fell in love with Jacquetta within the first few chapters of this book.

Historically, not much is known about Jacquetta. Born Jacquetta of Luxemburg (to the Count of St Pol, rulers of the Duchy of Luxemburg) she is married while still a child to the widowed Duke of Bedford - brother of King Henry V (House of Lancaster) and uncle to Henry VI who became King when just 7 years old. With the scandal attached to his widowed Mothers remarriage, Jacquetta became the foremost female of the English court with the wife of her husbands brother the Duke of Gloucester.

However Jacquetta's husband died early in her marriage and she fell in love with her husbands squire Richard Woodville and created an international scandal of sorts by marrying him secretly (she being of the Royal family and him being a Commoner) She was forced to pay a huge fine and live the life of a common land owner until the marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou - a French Princess.

Given Jacquetta's French roots, she was considered by the Court of England to be the best person to help the new Queen acclimatise to England and the ways of the Court and sent to bring Margaret from Anjou to England. Given their common background (French Ancestry - marriage to English Royalty, early marriage etc)) Jacquetta as chief Lady-in-Waiting to Margaret again became the 2nd most powerful woman in the English Court and her husband Richard Woodville is entitled Earl Rivers.

Over the years, Jacquetta and her 2nd husband - Richard Woodville - supported the Lancastrian claim to the throne and fought wars on their behalf, until her husband Richard, lost a battle to Edward of York and as terms of his release swore to never again take up arms against the Yorks.

With the York cousins in power, Jacquetta's family again fades from memory until her daughter Elizabeth Woodville - a widow with 2 sons - manages to enrapture King Edward of York who marries her secretly while his marriage is being negotiated with a Princess of France and takes her to London as his Queen.

While this causes a huge scandal again and breaks down the relationship between King Edward of York and his mentor the Earl of Warwick, as mother to the Queen, Jacquetta again rises to the position of 2nd most powerful woman in the realm, but this time in the service of the Yorks.

Her rise and fall from power and influence change with each war and she calls this the turn of the wheel of Fortune.

Jacquetta is a descendant of the mythic Goddess/mermaid Melusina and legend holds that the oldest girl of every generation of the House of Luxemborg, would have special wisdom and powers.

But this is also the mid 15th century and Joan of Arc is imprisoned in her uncles castle under the charges of treason, heresy, witchcraft and wearing mens clothes. While still a child, Jacquetta witnesses the burning of Joan of Arc by the Church and her Grand aunt cautions her to keep her "gifts' to herself.

However, her constant rise back to power, the number of children that she begets and her influence over key decision makers, has the Earl of Warwick declaring her a witch when he seizes power back from King Edward of York.

It is around these facts, that Philippa Gregory builds a tale of a powerful, independent woman in the mid 15th century. A woman who threw caution to the winds to follow her heart. Building on the recorded accusation of witchcraft against her, Philippa Gregory attributes many more magical powers to her heroine in this book and it makes for an extremely fast paced read.

It was really tough to put down this book at any point, because you just want to keep turning the pages. I absolutely loved it, as will any other reader of the Historical Fiction genre.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Also Read Kim's Reviews of the other books in Philippa Gregory's - "Cousins War" Series:

The White Queen
The Red Queen
The Kingmaker's Daughter
The White Princess

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