The Women of the Cousins’ War

Written by David Baldwin Michael Jones Philippa Gregory
Review by Jeanne Greene

This collection of essays is a gift to those who love historical fiction. It not only functions as a history book for readers of novels set in the 15th century, it also contains valuable discussions of the relationship between history and fiction.

Gregory’s introductory essay, both inspiration and guidance, is necessary reading for readers and/or writers of novels set in the past. In writing a historical novel, which she compares to a historical romance or a fantasy, ideally, the writer sticks to recorded facts. Given the paucity of historical evidence for medieval and early modern lives, however, particularly women’s lives, the novelist may enter the realm of educated guessing, whereas the biographer may stay away.

This is illustrated by three eminent historians who discuss the real-life subjects of Gregory’s latest novels: Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV (The White Queen); her mother, Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford (The Lady of the Rivers); and Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII (The Red Queen). The women were well educated if not scholarly; well born if not noble, and uniquely positioned by birth, marriage, or both, to influence events during the political turmoil we call the War of the Roses. Yet they were ignored by contemporary chroniclers – those who disdained the role of women – thus making modern research difficult.

Drawing upon years of study, the authors provide useful insights into the lives and times of these fascinating women. Readers will benefit from a deeper understanding of historical novels in general, as well as the trilogy written by Gregory.

The Women of the Cousins’ War is highly recommended.