Book Review: “The Women of the Cousins’ War” by Philippa Gregory et al

Apparently Philippa Gregory, a prolific writer of historical fiction, came up with the idea of collaborating with historians David Baldwin and Michael Jones to produce a book with the biographies of three women who played a significant role in the Wars of the Roses. I haven’t been able to find any primary references that state categorically that this conflict was called the “Cousin’s War” contemporaneously. If anyone can direct me to proof of this, please comment below. The women covered are Jacquetta of Luxembourg, mother of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Elizabeth Woodville herself and Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, the first king of the Tudor dynasty.

The introduction of the book is written by Gregory. It seems to be a kind of essay where she discusses the process of writing historical fiction and non-fiction. This section of the essay doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and I’m still not sure what her point is. She then goes on to discuss the history of the study of women’s history. This section is certainly more interesting. Women’s history has made great strides in recent years. But she discusses how women have been and are discriminated against in history and historical studies. She then proceeds to disparage the historical record of Margaret Beaufort, saying none of it is believable and calls her a virtuous and pious stereotype. I’m really puzzled by this. She appears she to have a bias against Beaufort and the Lancastrians.

Gregory wrote the essay on Jacquetta of Luxembourg. This chapter of the book has what little factual information there is on this intriguing woman. But it is basically a short history of the Wars of the Roses and is filled in with lots of “Jacquetta probably attended…” or “Jacquetta was possibly there…”. This basically confirms the fact there is precious information about her in the historical record which is really a shame.

The late David Baldwin, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in 2014, wrote the essay on Elizabeth Woodville. This chapter is an abridged version of his book, “Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower” which was first published in 2002. Of course the essay is excellent but if a reader is looking for more in depth information, I would recommend the book itself.

The essay on Margaret Beaufort was written by the expert, Michael Jones. Again, this is an abridged version of the author’s own book “The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby” by Jones and Malcolm Underwood. The essay is very good but I would also recommend Jones and Underwood’s biography or that of Elizabeth Norton if you want a complete picture of her life.

I have to say this is a strange book. I’m sure it was published with good intentions. The authors opted not to footnote their work and instead have given notes and bibliographies at the end of each chapter. There are also several black and white and color photographs, family trees, a list of battles of the Wars of the Roses and a map showing the location of the battles. If the reader is seeking quick and brief knowledge on these women and a short run down on the Wars of the Roses, this is your book. But I strongly suggest reading the full biographies for better and fuller historical material.

Book Review: “The Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of the Women Who Have Led Their Nations in War” by Antonia Fraser

The warrior Queens Fraser

Before there was Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, and other contemporary women historians and writers, there was Antonia Fraser. Many years ago, in her heyday, I read everything she wrote that I could get my hands on. There was “Mary, Queen of Scots, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, “King Charles II” and a biography of Marie Antoinette, among others. Her non-fiction books were the gold standard of history. But somehow I missed “The Warrior Queens”.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Boudica, the Celtic queen of the Iceni tribe who rose up in rebellion against the occupying Romans in Britain in the mid-first century. I had heard she burned London to the ground! What an amazing story. I had to learn more. Apparently, Fraser felt the same way. The writing of this book was born out by her love of the story of Boudica. Most of the book is dedicated to Boudica’s story, relating it to the lives of other women who led their nations in war. Many of the women in this book I have heard of such as Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, the Empress Matilda of England and her cousin King Stephen’s wife Matilda of Boulogne, the twelfth century Georgian Queen Tamara, Isabella of Castile, and Queen Elizabeth I of England. These are some of my favorite women of history.

Fraser gives us the story of these women leading their troops into war in her inimitable intellectual manner which is very compelling. Her history is fair and balanced, engaging and fun. Her historical arguments make good sense. I especially found the story of the Rani of Jhansi to be captivating. She led her troops against the British during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. I knew nothing about her so it was refreshing to learn of her convictions and bravery.

Her final subjects are Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher. It is interesting to see Fraser’s perspective on these modern women and their role in war. This book is women’s history at its finest. I can’t recommend it enough. I couldn’t put it down.