I received The Women of the Cousins’ War by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin, and Michael Jones from the publisher for review.
About the Book:
The Women of the Cousins’ War examines the three women behind Philippa Gregory’s Wars of the Roses novels: Jacquetta, the Duchess of Bedford; Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta’s daughter and the wife of Edward IV; and Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother. A different historian authored each of three essays, one about woman. The book begins with an essay by Gregory about the nature of history and how it compares with historical fiction.
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction history. Many of you probably know that by now. I’ve always been intimidated by it, assuming it to be far too dense to make for enjoyable reading. And I’m sure lots of it is! But The Women of the Cousins’ War showed me that there’s at least a little out there that’s both accessible and enjoyable.
In her introduction, Gregory states that the book is aimed at the “general reader” (p. 36). There are no footnotes; the authors opted instead to list their sources at the end of each essay. Though some details of politics and wars and such are necessary, of course, all three historians refrained from diving too deeply into the minutia that probably tempted them. Family trees, maps, and lists of battles are provided, should you be interested, but an ability to decipher them is not a prerequisite for enjoying the book. As a novice history reader, I had no trouble with The Women of the Cousins’ War.
The book begins with an essay by Gregory in which she discusses history and historical fiction, explaining they aren’t actually so different from one another after all. She also shares a bit about why she chooses to focus on historical women:
“If a woman is interested in her own struggle into identity and power, then she will be interested in other women. The lives of these, the other women, show me what a woman can do even without formal power, education, or rights, in a world dominated by men. They are inspirational examples of the strength of the female spirit” (p. 6).
The three women examined in this book certainly demonstrate those abilities.
There are a lot of Elizabeths and Margarets and Edwards and Edmunds and Richards running around in The Women of the Cousins’ War, which could, at points, lead to a bit of confusion. (If you think War and Peace has a lot of characters, just try medieval politics!) It didn’t help that people were continuously changing their titles, getting (re)married, naming children after relatives, and so on. All three historians did a decent job keeping everyone straight for the reader, though I felt Gregory outshone Baldwin and Jones just a bit in that respect.
All three also did a nice job humanizing their subjects, imagining feelings and reactions as inferred from historical “fact.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say the essays read like novellas, but for the most part, there was a thread of story onto which the drier factual beads were strung. Because the three women lived around the same time and crossed paths during their lives, it was interesting to see some of the same events from different perspectives.
I also appreciated the few times the authors threw in connections to other figures I knew. It helped me place people and events on a clearer timeline. For instance, two of the authors mentioned Chaucer. Did you know that Anthony Woodville, Jacquetta’s son and Elizabeth’s brother, invited William Caxton, pioneer of the printing process, to England and sponsored the first published book in England in 1477: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales? Maybe it’s just the bibliophile in me, but I found that fascinating!
I’m not sure history veterans would be blown away by The Women of the Cousins’ War, but then, the book is not written for them. If you enjoy historical fiction or are interested in trying some history, I think this trio of essays would make a good place to start.
- Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
- Devourer of Books
- Lesa’s Book Critiques
- Raging Bibliomania (the review that got me excited about the book!)
Did I miss your review? Please let me know!
What other accessible history would you recommend to me? I’d like to try some more!