As I promised myself, last week I got a copy of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen. I did worse than that, actually: I bought a copy. About halfway through, however, I began to realize that I had done my bank account a great disservice.
I didn’t finish the book, so I won’t review it per se, save to say that Gregory tells the reader that Melusine was the ancestor of Elizabeth Woodville. Then she tells the reader again that Melusine was the ancestor of Elizabeth Woodville. Then, in case the reader is not absolutely certain of this, she has the characters talk to each other about Melusine being the ancestor of Elizabeth Woodville. There are some good bits of dialogue in the book (Anthony in particular has some nice lines), but I got very tired of wading through rivers of Melusine to get to them.
But what stands out about this novel for me, unfortunately, is its inaccuracies. Now, I make mistakes in my historical fiction. Every author is bound to. But is it really excusable for an author who’s been writing about the Tudors for years to have Elizabeth Woodville go to Nonsuch Palace, built by Henry VIII? (You know, the guy who had Mary Boleyn as a sister-in-law.) And the errors just kept on coming. In addition to visiting the then-nonexistent Nonsuch Palace, Elizabeth goes to what she describes as one of her favorite country houses, the manor of Wimbledon, which was actually the property of the Archbishop of Canterbury until Thomas Cranmer gave it to Henry VIII in an exchange. At least Gregory didn’t have Elizabeth playing at the royal tennis courts there.
OK, maybe complaining about Wimbledon is a little on the picky side. But Whitehall Palace, where Elizabeth also goes? It was known as York Place in the 15th century, and was a residence of the Archbishop of York until it fell into Henry VIII’s hands with the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey. It certainly wasn’t a Plantagenet palace.
One mention of Whitehall Palace might have been forgivable. But Elizabeth keeps going back there, again and again. I kept expecting Will Somers to show up and start whistling “Greensleeves.”
Then there’s the unfortunate Countess of Warwick. Following the Battle of Barnet, she went into sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey, a monastery. Irritatingly, Gregory keeps calling this a nunnery. Monks, nuns, they’re both celibate, so what’s the difference?
I’ve grumbled elsewhere about Gregory’s claim in an interview that Jacquetta Woodville was tried and found guilty of witchcraft (a claim Gregory repeats in her author’s note), when in fact she was acquitted, so I won’t bore on about that again. But why must Gregory present the Woodvilles as being Lancastrians in 1464, when they had made the shift to York following the Battle of Towton? Elizabeth’s father was a member of Edward IV’s council in 1463!
I could grouse at length about Elizabeth and Hastings being strangers to each other when Elizabeth meets Edward IV, when in fact Hastings and Elizabeth had business dealings with each other before that time, but you get the idea.
Now, all of this may sound overly picky. But if a writer’s going to praise herself as a meticulous researcher, as Gregory has done, she needs to actually do meticulous research, and that means getting the little facts right as well as the big ones. Giving Tudor-era residences to Plantagenet queens, confusing monks with nuns, and claiming that people were convicted of serious crimes when they were acquitted of them simply doesn’t cut it.
Quiz time: Who was Elizabeth Woodville descended from?