As someone who doesn't read very much nonfiction, I was a little apprehensive about reading The Women of the Cousins' War, but I was so fascinated by Elizabeth Woodville of The White Queen and Margaret Beaufort of The Red Queen, that I was drawn to this book, especially since it comes from Philippa Gregory. For the book, Gregory teamed up with two other historians, David Baldwin and Michael Jones, to explore the real lives of the women behind her novels.
Gregory opens the book was a unique introduction that explores the role (or lack thereof) of women in history, as well as Gregory's personal reasons for writing novels about this little-known women. Most interestingly, she gives readers a glimpse into her own writing process, own own motivations for writing what she does, and the difficulties of doing historical research that lead to large holes that are later filled in with fiction.
Gregory takes the lead with the first essay on Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville. Gregory explains that when she went to research Jacquetta for her novel The Lady of the Rivers, there was no biography available about her, so she had to conduct her own research to learn about Jacquetta. Gregory pens a fascinating account of Jacquetta's life, tracing it from her birth up to her death and through the many complex politics between. Of all the essays in the book, I found Gregory's to be the easiest to read and enjoy, mostly because it pulls on her fiction writing abilities and seems to explore more of her subject's motivations and emotions than the other essays.
Next comes David Baldwin, who pens an essay on the life of Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta's daughter. Though filled with precise accuracy, I found it to be a little bit dry and difficult to read. This was probably because my brain had honed into Gregory's style in the previous essay, and Baldwin chose to stick more strongly to fact, and didn't theorize much on what Elizabeth likely thought or felt. While informative, I wouldn't consider Baldwin's essay light reading.
Last, historian Michael Jones chronicles the life of Margaret Beaufort, the virtually unknown matriarch of the Tudor family and grandmother to Henry VIII. Thankfully, Jones' writing reads much more smoothly than Baldwin's, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that Jones went further back than Margaret's birth to discuss the unique origins of the Beaufort family. Giving all this back story really helped to put Margaret and her life into context, and I felt like I had a greater understanding of Margaret's "character." Also, I kind of hate to say it, but I found Jones' short essay on Margaret to be a little more interesting than The Red Queen, which I thought was the weaker of Gregory's first two novels on the Cousins' War.
A must-read for history buffs and hardcore Gregory fans, Women of the Cousins' War helps to reveal who these little-known women were and why their lives are worth the study and interest of people today. Complete with family trees, maps, portraits and other images of the period, the lives of these fascinating women from history fully come to life.