Book Review: “The Lady of the Rivers” by Philippa Gregory

10796011The Wars of the Roses was a time full of fascinating people, both men, and women. They chose to live their lives to the best of their abilities. They had to decide who they were loyal to and, in some circumstances, they had to switch sides in order to survive. They had to chose to take destiny in their own hands, even if the decisions they had to make were controversial to others. This would perfectly describe the protagonist of Philippa Gregory’s book, “The Lady of the Rivers”. This is the story of Jacquetta Woodville, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville and a woman who took destiny into her own hands

Gregory is a great historical fiction author, however, in this book, she has taken some historical facts and has twisted them slightly. In this book, Gregory takes the story that since Jacquetta’s family claimed to be descendants of the water witch Melusina, Jacquetta was a witch herself. Although Jacquetta was accused of being a witch later in her life, she was cleared of these charges.  There were parts early in the book where Jacquetta used her skills to try and make sense of the future, but for one of the biggest decisions in her life, Gregory chose a different route for Jacquetta. After the death of her first husband, Jacquetta could have waited for the king to choose another husband for her or she could make her own path and marry the man she loved.

I am a woman of earth now, not a girl of water. I am not a maid, I am a lover. I am not interested in foreseeing; I will make my own future, not predict it. I don’t need a charm to tell me what I hope will happen. I throw the gold charm which is like a wedding ring up in the air and catch it before it falls. This is my choice. I don’t need magic to reveal my desire. The enchantment is already done: I am in love; I am swore to a man of the earth; I am not going to give this man up. All I have to do is consider how we can stay together. (Gregory, 107).

Gregory begins her book with Jacquetta meeting and becoming friends with Joan of Arc before she died. Shortly afterward, Jacquetta is married to John Duke of Bedford, who chooses to marry her solely because she was a descendant of Melusina. According to Gregory’s book, he wanted to marry her to help with his pursuits in alchemy. The addition of alchemy in the story adds an element of magic and mystery to an already compelling read. Jacquetta, in her first marriage, is more of a pawn to help her husband than a wife.

Jacquetta’s life would radically turn upside down when she fell in love with a man who was well below her station, Sir Richard Woodville. It was their loving marriage and their large family which kept Jacquetta going, even when England has been torn asunder by civil war. Jacquetta befriends Margaret of Anjou and helps her as she adjusts to life in England and as her husband, King Henry VI falls ill.

Before I read this book years ago, I really didn’t know much about Jacquetta Woodville, but now I really enjoy studying about the Woodvilles. Jacquetta Woodville lived a rather remarkable life. Even though Gregory takes some liberties with the facts about her life, what Gregory does well is bring Jacquetta’s story into the spotlight. Jacquetta may not be as famous as her daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, but her life was full of twists and turns. Like any good historical fiction book, this particular book’s intent was to bring attention to Jacquetta Woodville’s life and make the reader aware of this amazing woman. If you want an engaging historical fiction read about the matriarch of the Woodvilles, I highly recommend you read, “The Lady of the Rivers” by Philippa Gregory.

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