This is another chapter in Phillipa Gregory’s series The Cousins War, which imagines the lives of women around the War of the Roses, based upon historical evidence researched by Gregory herself. Its a terrific way to explore and interpret history, and I feel like I learn so much about the world of the past as I read.
This novel recounts (as such) the life of Jacquetta, who was mother to Elizabeth who married King Edward, as detailed in The White Queen. However, Jacquetta and her husband were staunch supporters of King Henry, the weak-willed king who was unseated by Edward. But the Wheel of Fortune turns in mysterious ways.
The story begins with a young Jacquetta, who has “the sight”. She is given some training by her Great Aunt in English occupied France, but she dies not long after. Jacquetta learns much from her – but even more from her encounter with Joan of Arc – that a woman with supernatural abilities must be careful to hide them from the judgemental world. The death of Joan remains a powerful warning for Jacquetta for the rest of her life.
Not long after her great Aunt’s death, Jacquetta is married to the much older Duke of Bedford, who unbeknownst to her has heard of her gifts and seeks a virgin for his alchemy work. The marriage is never consummated, and Jacquetta feels very afraid and alone, relying on her husband’s squire Richard Woodville for companionship and understanding. Readers of the series will know immediately that he is destined to be her next husband, and marriage that results in about a dozen children.
Richard and Jacquetta are beloved by Henry and later his precocious French Queen Margaret. They are invited to court, but Henry’s reign is an inconstant one, as he is a man ill-suited to rule, spending long hours in prayer, neglected his marital bed and being inconsistent with his governance.
Richard spends many years attempting to hold English lands in France, while Jacquetta, plays an important role in the Queen’s court, a position which has much honour but also much danger. She suspects a liaison between the Queen and Edmund Beaufort, and is left in the unenviable position of supporting a monarchy she knows is mistreating the people.
Jacquetta is a fascinating character, and I enjoyed the references to her “sight”, that hinted at elements of the first two books in the series (set after this). This continues to be a very satisfying series, and this novel is definitely the best of the three I have read to date. I’ll be picking up the fourth and latest shortly.