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The Women of the Cousins' War: the Duchess, the Queen, and the King's Mother    by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin & Michael Jones order for
Women of the Cousins' War
by Philippa Gregory
Order:  USA  Can
Touchstone, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Crowley

The Women of the Cousins' War: the Duchess, the Queen, and the King's Mother examines the lives of three women, brought to life by historical fiction author Philippa Gregory in her bestselling novels. Gregory, plus historians David Baldwin and Michael Jones, have written separate essays which explore the lives of women who have captured the imagination of readers around the world. The book begins with an introduction by Philippa Gregory, who examines the similarities between nonfiction history books and historical fiction. She argues that while some historians may dismiss historical fiction for their lack of historical accuracy, nonfiction history books and historical fiction are not very different.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg is the first historical figure discussed by Philippa Gregory, who admits that researching Jacquetta was difficult since a biography on her has never been written. But the bestselling author's meticulous research will satisfy readers who were intrigued by Jacquetta in Gregory's The White Queen and in her soon to be released The Lady of the Rivers. Gregory begins her essay on Jacquetta with her advantageous marriage to John, Duke of Bedford, the regent of the young King Henry VI in France. Her marriage to the duke would take Jacquetta into a country consumed by the Hundred Years' War. The Duke of Bedford is best remembered for capturing the Maid, Joan of Arc, and turning her over to the English, leading to her execution. Ironically, Jacquetta would also find herself accused of witchcraft.

The essay on Elizabeth Woodville is written by David Baldwin. Readers will remember Elizabeth Woodville from Gregory's The White Queen. Woodville was Jacquetta's daughter and is rumored to have inherited her enchanting beauty. But Elizabeth's beauty would be used against her when she captured the eye of the most powerful man in the kingdom, King Edward IV. Edward IV married Elizabeth quickly and in secret. Rumors of witchcraft ran rampant in an era consumed by superstition, and Elizabeth was accused of using charms to enchant the king. But Baldwin focuses on Elizabeth's contribution to the fight for the throne against the Lancastrian Dynasty. Baldwin presents many primary sources contradicting Elizabeth's reputation as an upstart who used her status to elevate her family.

Margaret Beaufort's essay, written by historian Michael Jones, focuses on her role as a powerful figure who helped found the Tudor Dynasty. Her son, Henry VII, would be the first king of that line and the father of the great King Henry VIII. The essay is one of the most intriguing in the book. While Jones concurs that Margaret Beaufort was an usual powerhouse who helped place her son on the throne, he questions her role in the death of the princes of the tower. Beaufort plotted against a king and arranged advantageous marriages for herself and her family. Given the king's mother's ruthless ambition, Jones believes it's plausible she may have known what became of the princes of the tower, a mystery that has baffled historians for centuries.

Anyone who has read a novel on these fascinating women will be in awe of this engaging and well-researched book. The authors' arguments are provocative and will leave readers eager for information on all three women. We may never know if Elizabeth Woodville knew what became of her sons Prince Edward and Prince Richard; what year Jacquetta Duchess of Bedford was born; or if Margaret Beaufort was involved in the disappearance of the princes. But The Women of the Cousins' War has resurrected three powerful women from obscurity in one powerful volume. Fans of Philippa Gregory's novels will want to read this extraordinary book before picking up her new release, The Lady of the Rivers.

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