Review Blog

Nov 06 2011

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

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Simon and Schuster, 2011. ISBN 9781847374592.
(Age: Senior students) Recommended. The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory is historical fiction set in the mid to late 15th century in both English-held France and England. The main character, Jacquette, is chosen by the Duke of Bedford as his new wife because of her ability to scry, or foretell the future. The Duke is insistent on preserving her virginity, an apparently indisputable aid in alchemy. Young and beautiful, Jacquette falls in love with the Duke's squire, the handsome Richard Woodville, and despite her status as a duchess, marries him when the Duke dies. Jacquette and her husband become trusted advisors to Henry VI, the Lancastrian king, when Henry marries the French Margaret of Anjou. The novel shows the increasing turbulence in England between the nobility, resulting in the Wars of the Roses, and the eventual loss of most of England's French lands. Henry lapses into near imbecility and religious fervour, allowing Margaret to act cruelly to protect the interests of her young son. Richard, now Lord Rivers, and his son are avowed Lancastrians but after many weary battles are eventually forced to surrender to the young Yorkist, Edward March who becomes Edward IV. Conveniently, at the end of the novel Edward is about to fall in love with and secretly marry Jacquette's eldest daughter Elizabeth, thus assuring the Woodville family of power and influence in his court. The author manages to combine historical accuracy with story-telling flair. The personalities are convincing and the action moves quickly. Queen Margaret's development into a cruel and militaristic force is believable. While Jacquette's abilities and influence are romanticized and the language is at times jarringly anachronistic this is popularised history and as such very readable.
Jenny Hamilton

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