The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother is a non-fiction companion book to Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War series of historical fiction novels. The series tells the story of the Wars of the Roses from the viewpoints of some of the women who were involved, including Jacquetta of Luxembourg, her daughter Elizabeth Woodville, who was married to Edward IV, and Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII. Their stories were told in The Lady of the Rivers, The White Queen and The Red Queen respectively. The Women of the Cousins’ War features an essay on all three of these women, each written by a different historian, and in addition to the essays we are given some family trees, maps, list of battles, illustrations and colour photographs.
The book begins with a long introduction written by Philippa Gregory, which I actually found as interesting to read as the rest of the book! The introduction discusses the possible reasons why women in history have often been ignored and overlooked, and why it’s important to study the roles they played. Gregory also looks at the differences between writing history and writing historical fiction, and as a lover of historical fiction myself I find it fascinating to read about an author’s reasons for writing it.
The introduction is followed by Gregory’s essay on the life of Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Unfortunately very little is known about Jacquetta, there are no existing biographies and apparently there are only a few occasions where she actually appears in historical records, so Gregory didn’t have a lot of information to give us. For most of the essay she can only guess at what Jacquetta may or may not have done and how she probably reacted to the historical events going on around her. However, this was the essay I enjoyed the most and it was as easy to read as Gregory’s fiction. It sounds as if Jacquetta had a fascinating life and it’s a shame that so few historians have taken the time to study her.
The second essay is written by the historian David Baldwin and looks at Elizabeth Woodville. I did find Baldwin’s writing style slightly dry, but Elizabeth Woodville is a historical figure who interests me, so I still enjoyed reading the essay. The book’s final section is written by Michael Jones and examines the life of Margaret Beaufort. Again, there’s not a huge amount known about Margaret, but I thought Jones did a good job of working with what little information is available. He also spends some time discussing Margaret’s family history to help us understand the background she came from and to build up a more complete picture of the sort of person she was.
This book could be read either as a stand-alone non-fiction/reference book or as an accompaniment to Philippa Gregory’s three Cousins’ War novels. I’m not sure how satisfying it would be for a serious historian or history student though, as there are no footnotes or endnotes and only some brief lists of sources. I should point out that I have never studied the Wars of the Roses in any depth (most of what I know about the period comes from the small number of historical fiction novels I’ve read set during that time) and for the general reader like myself I would say that the book is very accessible and easy to follow. It filled some of the gaps in my knowledge and I thought it was worth reading, particularly for the wonderful introduction!
I received a copy of this book for review from Simon & Schuster