The Arts

Gregory’s Girls

Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth Woodville

The television series of the amazing and meticulously researched book, ‘The White Queen’ by Philippa Gregory had a disappointing opening episode, looking and sounding more like a paragraph from Mills and Boon, rather than an outstanding historical novel from one of our most eminent historians and international No 1 best-selling author. Recent episodes have shown an improvement but the dialogue has been somewhat stilted, and infuriating in that the books have the most informative and true to character conversations in them. Why not use what has been expertly written? We can only hope that viewers will seek out the masterpieces penned by Philippa Gregory. My life has been enhanced by the absorbing novels which follow the events of the Wars of the Roses. I love Shakespeare, but I prefer Dr Gregory’s version of the truth. History comes alive and is intriguing, with her pen describing the commoner, Elizabeth Woodville, seducing and marrying the Yorkist King Henry IV. (White Queen because the House of Lancaster adopted the white rose as its emblem).

Gregory’s novels are filled with strong, determined women who take their fate into their own

Margaret Beaufort

Margaret Beaufort

hands. In ‘The Red Queen’ Margaret Beaufort, heiress to the Red Rose of Lancaster, never surrenders her belief that the heir to her House was the true ruler of England. The book brings to life the story of this proud woman who, living at the same time as the Woodville family, schemed to place her son, Henry, on the throne.

Moving on to the intriguing Tudor tales, ‘The Boleyn Inheritance’, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, ‘The Queen’s Fool’, ‘The Constant Princess’, ‘The Other Queen’, Gregory describes the rich tapestry of the reign of Henry VIII and his children. History lessons at my school were always rather dull as the characters who made our country’s history were always portrayed as one dimensional ‘figures’. Their passions, their bravery, their determination to forge dynasties and countries were never conveyed to me and my fellow pupils. Reading these novels in recent years has brought history and herstory to life for me.

John Tradescant

John Tradescant

However, my two most favourite books of Gregory’s are ‘Earthly Joys’, about John Tradescant, gardener to Charles I, and ‘Virgin Earth’ about his son, who confronts an unbearable dilemma when England descends into civil war after the king is executed. Fleeing from the chaos, John the Younger, travels to the royalist colony of Virginia in America, leaving his father’s inheritance, hunting for new plants. The land is not uninhabited and he learns to love and respect the way of life of the native people, becoming embroiled when that is threatened by the colonial settlers.

I was totally absorbed by the preservation of the plants and the Tradescant garden, and the family finding its own way to survive when the established order breaks down.

Sylvia Alexander-Vine

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