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.

Biography: Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford and Countess Rivers

(Born around 1415/1416- Died May 30, 1472). Daughter of Pierre de Luxembourg and Margaret of Baux. Married to John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford and Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers. Mother of Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England, Lewis Woodville, Anne Woodville, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, Mary Woodville, Jacquetta Woodville, John Woodville, Richard Woodville, 3rd Earl Rivers, Martha Woodville, Eleanor Woodville, Lionel Woodville, Margaret Woodville, Edward Woodville, Lord Scales, and Catherine Woodville, Duchess of Buckingham. Jacquetta of Luxembourg was a woman who married from love, just like her daughter Elizabeth of Woodville. She was accused of witchcraft later on in her life.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg was born either around 1415 or 1416, but many believe it was around 1416, to Pierre de Luxembourg,Count of St. Pol, Conversano and Brienne, seigneur of Enghien and Viscount of Lille, and his wife Margaret of Baux. Not much is known about Jacquetta’s early life. She was born during the Hundred Years War between France and England. In 1420, the Treaty of Troyes was signed, making King Henry V and his heirs the next heirs to the French throne. In 1422, the brother of Henry V, John Duke of Bedford was named regent in France for the young English King Henry VI. John was married to Anne, sister of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy in 1423. Anne died childless in 1432.

John wasn’t sure about marrying again, until Louis, Bishop of Thérouanne, convinced him to marry his niece Jacquetta; the couple was married by Louis in April 1433. The marriage was controversial because they had married so soon after the death of John’s first wife, making his brother in law, the Duke of Burgundy, upset. Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and the English regent to the young King Henry VI, requested that John come back to England to answer questions about neglect in his job in France. John also needed more funds for the war effort so he took Jacquetta with him to England in June of 1433. On July 8, Jacquetta was given the rights of English citizenship and that same year, her father Pierre de Luxembourg died. In 1434, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford was given the honor of joining the Order of the Garter.

The Duke of Burgundy was still fuming over the marriage of John and Jacquetta, decided to abandon his alliance with the English and join forces with the French. During this time, Sir Richard Woodville was appointed as lieutenant of the garrison at Calais. His father was Richard Woodville, the chamberlain of the Duke of Bedford. John Duke of Bedford, was very ill at this time, and would die on September 14, 1435; he was buried in Rouen. He had no children with Jacquetta.

Sir Richard Woodville was ordered by King Henry VI to bring Jacquetta to England under an agreement with Jacquetta’s uncle Louis. This allowed her to maintain one third of the Bedford estates and the title of Duchess of Bedford if she agreed to go to England and obtain the king’s permission to remarry. During the journey, Jacquetta and Richard fell in love and married in secret, without seeking the king’s permission. This angered the king and he fined the couple 1000 pounds and on March 23, 1437, Parliament recognized the marriage. Jacquetta did raise the money and was able to buy land in October. The couple had a long and happy marriage. They had 14 children, including Elizabeth Woodville, the future Queen of England.

Richard continued his military career even after his controversial marriage. He served under the Dukes of Somerset and York in France until 1442 and he was recognized as a premier jouster. In 1444, Jacquetta and Richard were part of a large group to help escort Margaret of Anjou to England; Jacquetta was related to Margaret through marriage as Jacquetta’s sister Isabel was married to Margaret’s uncle Charles, Count of Maine. Jacquetta was a favorite at court and in 1448, Richard Woodville was made Baron Rivers. In 1452, Jacquetta watched as her daughter Elizabeth was married to Lord Grey of Groby, a member of the Lancastrian family. The couple would have two sons.

In 1453, Jacquetta was there for the churching ceremony of Margaret of Anjou after she gave birth to her son Edward of Westminster. In 1457, Richard was made constable of Rochester Castle and his family was sent to live with him there. Richard’s job was not to guard against attacks from the French but to guard against an attack from Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. In 1461 at the Second Battle of St. Albans, Margaret of Anjou’s Lancastrian army were victorious over the Yorkist army, but Elizabeth Woodville’s husband and Jacquetta’s son in law Sir John Grey, was killed, leaving Elizabeth a widow.

After the Yorkist victory a few weeks later at Towton, Edward IV, the new king, stopped by at Grafton Regis for a couple of days, where it is said he fell in love with Elizabeth Grey, Jacquetta’s daughter. In 1464, the Lancastrian Woodvilles decided to side with Edward IV after he married Elizabeth in secret, angering his allies, especially Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who was working on a marriage alliance with France. Jacquetta was there to see her daughter crowned queen and she was the godmother of Elizabeth’s first child, Elizabeth of York, born on February 11, 1466.

In 1469, Warwick decided to rebel against Edward IV and join the Lancastrian cause to put Henry VI back on the throne. After the Battle of Edgecote Moor, Jacquetta’s husband Richard and their son John were arrested and executed on August 12 at Kenilworth. Jacquetta was arrested by Warwick on the charges of witchcraft. She is said to have made two leaden figures of Edward IV and Elizabeth Grey and she practiced black arts to bring about the marriage between her daughter and the king. She was also accused of making a figure of Warwick and conspiring his death. These charges were dropped in February 1470, but they would resurface after Edward IV’s death in 1483.

In September 1470, Warwick invaded England and placed Henry VI back on the throne, forcing Edward IV to flee and Jacquetta, Elizabeth and her children sought sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. During this time, Elizabeth gave birth to her first son, the future Edward V. Edward IV returned and defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471. When Margaret of Anjou returned, she formed an army to march against Edward IV, which forced Jacquetta and Elizabeth to seek shelter at the Tower of London. After the Battle of Tewkesbury, Jacquetta and Elizabeth exited the Tower and Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI entered it; Henry VI would later die in the Tower. Jacquetta tried to bring charges against Warwick for the murder of her husband and her son, but they failed. Jacquetta would die on May 30, 1472.

Biography: Richard Duke of York

richarddukeofyork-243x300Also known as Richard Plantagenet. (Born September 21, 1411- Died December 30, 1460). Son of Richard Earl of Cambridge and Anne Mortimer. Married to Cecily Neville. Father of Anne, Duchess of Exeter, Edward IV, King of England, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard III, King of England. Richard Duke of York was the one who became Lord Protector to Henry VI, but when he didn’t get the respect he thought he deserved, challenged the king and claimed that he should be king, and started the Wars of the Roses.

Richard of York was born on 21 September 1411. He was the son of Richard, 3rd Earl of Cambridge, by his wife Anne de Mortimer, the daughter of Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March. Anne Mortimer was the great-granddaughter of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the second surviving son of King Edward III. After the death in 1425 of Anne’s brother Edmund, the 5th Earl of March, this supplied Richard, of the House of York, with a claim to the English throne that was, under English law, arguably superior to that of the reigning House of Lancaster, descended from John of Gaunt, the third son of King Edward III. On his father’s side, Richard had a claim to the throne in a direct male line of descent from his grandfather Edmund, 1st Duke of York, fourth surviving son of King Edward III and founder of the House of York. Richard’s claim through his mother made him more eligible to be king than Henry VI, thus he adopted the last name “Plantagenet” in 1448 to mark his claim to the throne.

Richard’s mother is said to have died giving birth to him and his father was executed  in 1415 for his part in the Southampton plot that tried to remove Henry V from the throne and replace him with Edmund Mortimer. His father’s titles were forfeited, but not attainted, which meant that Richard at 4 years old, became his father’s heir. A few months later, Richard’s uncle Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, was slain at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415. Henry V decided to give the lands of the Duchy of York to Richard.

Richard was an orphan and he was considered property of the crown. His wardship was a very valued gift of the crown and it was granted to Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland. Ralph Neville had a large family, 20 children who survived infancy,  with many daughters who needed husbands, so in 1424, Neville betrothed Richard to his daughter Cecily Neville. On February 2, 1425, Richard was created Duke of York, after his uncle Edmund Mortimer died. In October 1425, Ralph Neville died and his widow Joan Beaufort was given the wardship of Richard, which was even more valuable since Richard was now the Duke of York. On May 19, 1426 he was knighted at St Mary de Castro in Leicester by John, Duke of Bedford, the younger brother of King Henry V. In October 1429 or earlier, Richard and Cecily were married. York was there for Henry VI’s coronation on November 6, 1430 and he was also at Henry VI’s coronation in France when he became king of France on December 16, 1431. Finally, on May 12, 1432, York was finally given full control over his estates.

York was loyal to Henry VI and the Lancasters in the beginning. He worked with John Duke of Bedford, who was the English regent in France. Bedford died in 1435 and York took on the responsibility of being governor of France and Normandy from 1436 to 1437 and 1440 to 1445. At this time, York  was neutral in politics, but he seemed to have sided with Humphrey Duke of Gloucester in the idea of continuing the war with France. York wanted to apart of Henry VI’s council, but he was not allowed. On his return to England in 1450 York was seen as the opponent of the Duke of Somerset. He was as popular as Somerset was not and York had powerful allies in the Nevilles. In 1451, there was a claim in Parliament that York should be the next heir to the throne because the king did not have a son. This claim was not taken seriously and the one who proposed this was imprisoned.  

In 1452, York declared that he wanted to be the next heir to the throne so he summoned an army to march on London. It didn’t go well and York was placed on house arrest for two weeks and then he was forced to give an oath of allegiance to the king and promised that if he did want to pursue his claim, he would do it in a legal manner.

In the summer of 1453, York had lost all hope of becoming king and changing the government for the better as Margaret of Anjou became pregnant and the king’s half brother Edmund Tudor married Margaret Beaufort. Then in August of 1453, Henry VI had his first bout with mental illness reared its ugly head. He heard about the Battle of Castillon in Gascony, which ended the English hopes of winning the Hundred Years’ War, sending him into an unresponsive state. The Council decided to elect York as Lord Protector and one of the first things he did was to have Somerset arrested and placed in the Tower. In October of the same year, the son of Henry VI and Margaret Beaufort, Edward of Westminster Prince of Wales, was born dashing York’s chances of becoming the heir by peaceful means. York remained Lord Protector until 1455 when Henry VI recovered. Henry VI released Somerset and basically reversed every decision that York had made while he was Protector. This was the last straw for York.

York and his Neville allies, including Richard Neville, Duke of Warwick, marched to St. Albans where they faced off against Somerset and the Lancastrian forces that supported the king. Somerset was killed during the  First Battle of St Albans on May 22, 1455, and shortly after, the king had another bout of mental illness. York was declared Lord Protector yet again, but was removed from his post when the king recovered in 1456, but the king had accepted York and the Nevilles as an important part of the government. This reconciliation would not last long.

It was then that Margaret of Anjou took up her husband’s cause. She encouraged the new duke of Somerset Henry Beaufort to fight against York. The battlelines were being drawn. The Yorkists were led by Richard duke of York, Richard Neville earl of Salisbury and his son Richard Neville earl of Warwick. The Lancastrians were under Henry VI, but led by Margaret of Anjou, Somerset, and Henry Percy, third earl of Northumberland. In 1459, at the battle of Ludlow, the Lancastrians won and sent the Yorkists into hiding; however the Yorkists came back with a vengeance at the battle of Northampton.

In 1460 York officially declared his claim to the throne. After much discussion, it was agreed that after the king died, York and his sons would be the heirs to the throne, removing Edward of Westminster from the line of succession. Henry VI seemed to have been okay with this arrangement, but Margaret was beyond upset. She led the Lancastrian forces to face off against York at the battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460. York and his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed in the battle. York was beheaded, his head was put on a spike wearing a paper crown and was displayed over Micklegate Bar at York.

Biography: King Henry VI

220px-King_Henry_VI_from_NPG_(2)(Born December 6, 1421- Died May 21, 1471). Son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois. Married to Margaret of Anjou. He had one son Edward of Westminster. Henry VI was a weak ruler who, combined with his bouts of mental illness and no desire to rule, led England to lose its lands in France and brought England into a 30 year civil war known as the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VI was the only child of Henry V and his wife Catherine of Valois. He was born on December 6, 1421 and became king of England at the tender age of nine months when his father died on August 31, 1422. Six weeks later, he became king of France after his grandfather Charles VI died, which was agreed upon with the Treaty of Troyes. A regency council was called and Henry’s uncle John, duke of Bedford, became his first regent, and was charged with taking care of the French, led by the king that the French declared, Charles VI’s son Charles VII. Both Charles VII and John duke of Bedford kept the Hundred Years’ War dragging on. The English captured Orleans in 1427, but in May 1429, a young Joan of Arc led a siege on Orleans, which the French was able to reconquer. This led to French nationalism which allowed the French to drive the English out of the Loire Valley and Charles VII was officially crowned king of France in June 1429.

This made Bedford nervous so he quickly had Henry VI crowned king of England in November 1429 and crowned king of France in 1431.  He was the first English king who was also the king of France, but it did not last long. With the newly founded French nationalism, the English were losing their French lands that Henry V had conquered left and right. This made Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, an ally of the English, nervous, and so he signed the Treaty of Arras with Charles VII in 1435, which recognized Charles VII as the King of France. The Hundred Years’ War would continue for another 18 years until John Talbot, the earl of Shrewsbury was defeated at Castillon in 1453. The English lost all of their French territories, except for Calais.

John, duke of Bedford, was regent until his death in 1435. After Bedford died, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester became the protector, but he did not have the same control of the government that Bedford did. In 1437, Henry declared himself of age before his 16th birthday. Henry was a weak ruler who was not interested in ruling at all, so he allowed some of the least scrupulous people to control the government. One of these men was William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, who became the king’s steward in 1435. William was a peacemaker at heart, which led to the loss of France; his opponent at court was Humphrey of Gloucester, who wanted the war with France to continue. Suffolk was able to negotiate the marriage between Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou in 1444, in exchange for Henry surrendering Maine to the French.  The couple was married on April 23, 1445. This was not a popular decision and Henry’s life was threatened so Margaret, Suffolk and Henry left London. Margaret and Suffolk convinced the king that Gloucester was plotting an uprising so Henry had him arrested and confined at Bury St. Edmunds in February 1447, where he would die a week later. The people were not satisfied with this and Suffolk decided to switch from peacemaker to warmonger and invaded Brittany in 1449. This brought Normandy into the middle of the Hundred Years’ War and Brittany was conquered by the French in 1450. This was the last mistake by Suffolk, who was arrested and banished, but his ship was intercepted at Dover and Suffolk was killed.

Suffolk’s allies were scapegoats for everything that was going wrong in France, which led to the revolution led by John Cade in May 1450. It was similar to the Peasants’ Revolt, however Henry VI was no Richard II and the revolt lasted for two months, until John Cade’s death. The purpose of this revolt was to purge the government, but the king did not live up to their expectations. Instead he polarized the government even further when he appointed Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset as his closest adviser. Somerset was a failure in France and he gained some notable enemies at court, especially Richard, duke of York, who was banished  to Ireland in 1447 for supporting Gloucester, but returned to England and to court in August 1450, demanding his place in the Council.

Somerset’s and York’s  rivalry simmered for several years, until  August 1453, when Henry VI had his first bout with mental illness. We are not sure what he suffered from but for weeks, he was unresponsive to everything. Some believe it was triggered by the loss of France. It affected him so much that he did not even acknowledge his only son Edward, believing that his son was born of the Holy Ghost. During this time, Richard Duke of York was made Lord Protector  in 1454 and had Somerset arrested. When Henry recovered, he restored Somerset and had York dismissed. This was the last straw for York. York and Somerset met on the battlefield at St. Albans on May 22, 1455, where Somerset was killed. This should have been the end of the conflict, however it was only just the beginning.

Henry was going to reconcile with York but another bout of mental illness hit Henry in November 1455 and York was made Lord Protector again; he was dismissed in February 1456. It was then that Margaret of Anjou took up her husband’s cause. She encouraged the new duke of Somerset Henry Beaufort to fight against York. The battlelines were being drawn. The Yorkists were led by Richard duke of York, Richard Neville earl of Salisbury and his son Richard Neville earl of Warwick. The Lancastrians were under Henry VI, but led by Margaret of Anjou, Somerset, and Henry Percy, third earl of Northumberland. In 1459, at the battle of Ludlow, the Lancastrians won and sent the Yorkists into hiding; however the Yorkists came back with a vengeance at the battle of Northampton. In September 1460, Richard duke of York officially placed his claim to the throne to Parliament. In order to avoid more conflict, York was declared the heir to the throne, in place of Prince Edward.

Henry VI seemed to be okay with this arrangement, but Margaret was not about to let this insult stand. On December 30, 1460 at the battle of Wakefield, York was killed. Margaret continued her march to London when in 1461, she met with Warwick and defeated him at the second battle of St. Albans. Warwick fled and raised another army with York’s son Edward and marched into London on March 1461. Then, in the bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses, Towton, the Lancastrian forces were defeated and Edward became Edward IV. Henry and Margaret fled to Scotland to seek aid from King James III. In exchange for the aid, Henry gave the Scots Berwick. After a few years, Henry was seen as an embarrassment to the Scots and so they returned him to northern England, where he was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London by English forces in July 1465.

It looked like Henry’s days were numbered, but then on October 3, 1470, he was removed from the Tower and made king yet again. What had happened was that the earl of Warwick switched sides and fought for Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Warwick even had his daughter married to Henry’s son Edward to show his allegiance. However, Edward IV came back in April 1471 and killed Warwick and recaptured Henry VI. On May 4, 1471, Margaret’s forces faced off against Edward IV at the battle of Tewkesbury. It was a devastating loss for the Lancastrians as Prince Edward was killed and Margaret was imprisoned in the Tower. On May 21, 1471, King Henry VI was murdered. It is unknown who killed him, but many suspect that it was under the orders of  King Edward IV.