The Kingmaker’s Daughter
Philippa Gregory is one of historical fiction’s superstars, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter shows why. There’s not a moment – not a sentence or paragraph – where she rests on her reputation and relaxes into mediocrity. Each page justifies the time spent reading it, providing intelligent escape, a trip through time to a dangerous past.
The “Kingmaker” of the title is Richard Neville, the wealthiest nobleman in 15th-century England and a powerful, ambitious, and crafty warlord. Neville originally backed the House of Lancaster and Henry VI in the War of the Roses, but switched sides and was key to victory for the House of York and Edward IV. Then Edward IV married the beautiful commoner Elizabeth Woodville against Neville’s counsel. The Woodvilles were a large family, and Elizabeth made sure her husband the king remembered all her suddenly rich, suddenly fortunate relatives.
That’s the backstory as The Kingmaker’s Daughter begins. Unless the Kingmaker manages to arrange even better matches for his girls, who are the only heirs to his enormous wealth, his older daughter, Isabel, will marry the king’s unfaithful brother George. The younger Neville daughter, Anne, will marry Edward’s loyal brother Richard. Neville intends to be the power behind the throne for a long time. As double-crosses multiply on every side, however, Anne, this book’s protagonist, realizes she’s nothing but a pawn in the era’s wars and political maneuverings; powerless herself and yet held responsible for the betrayals of those around her.
Gregory tells this story without judgment, an amazing feat. She leaves it to the reader to pass verdicts on these well-drawn figures; although if you follow her work you understand that this story’s antagonist may well be the understandable center to her next book. I loved Kingmaker’s Daughter, and would recommend it to anyone who loves history.