This is the fourth book in Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War series which looks at the Wars of the Roses (the series of conflicts in the 15th century between the House of York and the House of Lancaster) from a female perspective. The others in the series are The White Queen, the story of Edward IV’s wife Elizabeth Woodville, The Red Queen, which follows Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, and The Lady of the Rivers, the story of Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta. This one, The Kingmaker’s Daughter, focuses on the life of Anne Neville.
Anne is the daughter of the powerful nobleman Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker for the part he played in putting Edward IV on the throne in place of Henry VI. When Edward marries the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville despite Warwick’s attempts to negotiate a marriage for him in France, Warwick changes allegiance and rebels against the King he had once helped raise to power.
Warwick has no male heirs, but he does have two daughters, Isabel and Anne, and is determined to make one of them Queen of England. Anne, our narrator, is only eight years old at the beginning of the book but soon both she and her sister become caught up in their father’s political machinations. Isabel is married to Edward IV’s brother George and Anne to Henry VI’s son, Edward of Lancaster. But after Warwick’s rebellion fails and Anne finds herself widowed, she marries again – this time to the Duke of Gloucester, the man who will become Richard III.
I’m sorry if I’ve made this sound very confusing, but it was a confusing period of history and Philippa Gregory does a good job of presenting the information in a way that is easy for the reader to follow and understand even if you’ve never read about the period before. Although this is the fourth in the series, these books could be read in any order and all four also work as standalone novels as Gregory does not assume that the reader has any knowledge of events that happened in the previous books. However, reading the whole series helps to build up a full and well-balanced picture of the period. I love the way the books overlap, showing us some of the same events but from different perspectives. This book, for example, seen through Anne Neville’s eyes, is extremely biased against Elizabeth Woodville and her family, the Rivers – but if you also read The White Queen you get Elizabeth’s point of view which is obviously very different!
Like The White Queen and The Lady of the Rivers, this book has strong themes of witchcraft and magic. Elizabeth Woodville and her mother Jacquetta were supposedly descended from the water goddess, Melusina, and Gregory suggests that they might have had magical powers. There’s a lot of focus on this in The Kingmaker’s Daughter, with Anne becoming more and more convinced that Elizabeth is using witchcraft to attack her family, to whistle up storms and put curses on people. This is one aspect of the series that just hasn’t been working for me; I feel that this period of history is already interesting enough without needing to bring in an element of fantasy.
Richard III is one of my favourite historical figures and I was happy enough with the way he is portrayed in this book. He’s not perfect, but he’s certainly not the villain of Shakespeare’s play either – he comes across as a loyal brother and husband and a good king who really cares about the future of his country. This book is also more sympathetic towards George, the Duke of Clarence, than any other novel I’ve read and it was refreshing to be shown the good sides of his character as well as the bad. The characterisation of Anne, though, was not quite what I would have expected or hoped for. In other books that I’ve read about her, she has been portrayed as quiet and gentle with a lot of inner strength and dignity, but this version of Anne doesn’t display much strength or courage, while being too ready to blame other people (usually Elizabeth Woodville) when things go wrong. But I did think the relationship between Anne and Isabel was handled well, showing how they were friends one minute, rivals the next – the ‘sisters’ aspect of the book reminded me of Mary and Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl.
This was not my favourite of the Cousins’ War books but I’m enjoying the series and will look forward to the next instalment. Apparently the fifth book will be about Elizabeth of York, the sister of the Princes in the Tower and daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
I received a copy of this book from Simon & Schuster for review