Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Kingmaker's Daughter

Although I frequently complain about it my daily commute regularly affords me a little luxury; two hours daily to indulge in a little entertainment.

As usual I've had several books on the go but have just finished 'The Kingmaker's Daughter' by Philippa Gregory. Gregory writes historical fiction and TKD is her latest offering in the Cousin's War series. I encountered her totally by accident during a visit to Hampton Court last Easter when I accidentally picked up a copy of 'The Other Boleyn Girl'.

TKD is the story of Anne Neville, daughter of Richard Earl of Warwick and wife of that Richard with the supposedly hunched back (you know the one that was 'found' in the car park!). I didn't know that when I started reading, not wanting to know the ending I refused the offer of a family tree. History is famously without 'herstory' and so I have enjoyed Gregory's stories learning more about English history, secure in the knowledge that she is both a good storyteller and also an accurate historian.

'I thought it was all about beautiful dresses and handsome knights. Now I see that it is pitiless. It is a game of chess and Father has me as one of his pieces'. 
Gregory echoes this commitment to 'herstory' by always presenting the female perspective and this time it is Anne Neville's. When we first meet Anne she's just a girl, not yet a teenager but already her father's pawn; In awe of court and her big sister, but also with a wise head on her shoulders. As she grows she becomes more calculating, delivers her sister's baby in a gory birth at sea, marries an enemy or two and tries to work out whether she can ever be at home beyond the shores of Calais.

'We have lost so much but we are still sisters. Let's be friends again. I want to live in sisterhood with you'
Two themes came across really strongly to me whilst reading TKD, sisterhood and the circle of life. And so to sisterhood. Sisters are really important. I knew that already but this book really brought that home. Anne looks up to her big sister Isabel as she sees all of life first; even when Isabel is cruel Anne is adoring. The strength of their bond is contrasted by the relationships between the three brothers of the House of York who can be quick to turn on oneanother. Other women in the book also show really strong sisterly bonds, Elizabeth Woodville's daughters look after oneanother and their brothers when they are orphaned; Margaret of Anjou and Jaquetta of Luxembourg, though their husbands were bitter enemies are portrayed here as friends. Although mothers display great strength especially when guarding their son's kingship women are generally portrayed as the peace makers, able to avoid the politics of court.

'fresh princes spring up like weeds on a crop'
Throughout the book there is reference to the turn of the wheel as a sign passed between generations of women. Throughout time women (and men!) may rise to power but with one turn of the wheel she may also decline to the humble roots she came from. Gregory was writing about a time of great turmoil in what she calls 'The Cousins War' and what would become known as the Wars of the Roses there was much instability at the top of the royal tree. There were plenty of young Plantagenet men and there were ceaseless battles for pole position. Such turmoil eventually led to the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the vilification of Richard III. (On that point, interesting the timing of this book, with a kind gentle Richard, and the 'discovery')

The book really interested me because I've never really thought about royal houses between William (whom some call 'Conqueror') and Henry VIII. Gregory offers a gateway to history with a human face; making dusty historical figures come alive with interest. I'm keen to see what she will do with Anne Neville's rival, Lady Elizabeth Grey, 'The White Princess'.