Historian and novelist Philippa Gregory has given her readers another royal gem of a book. Gregory is known primarily for her historical novels, including her most famous, The Other Boleyn Girl, which was made into a movie starring Natalie Portman. In The Kingmaker’s Daughter, she looks again at life in the court.
Royal sisters Anne and Isabel Neville are among the richest heiresses of England in the 1400s. They are the daughters of the Earl of Warwick, the man who put many kings on their thrones: Richard, Duke of York; his sons Edward and George; and finally Henry VI. Gregory combines the fast-paced historical events of the years around the War of the Roses with the main battles and players of the time. All this circles around and through the fictional lives of Anne and Isabel – from their early days in court, to their role in the overthrow of kings, to Anne’s eventual coronation as wife of Richard III.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter is told through the eyes of Anne, a brave, noble, entitled, intelligent and faithful woman. Anne’s voice is lovely and rings true. We begin with her at the age of 8, meeting for the first time the woman who will become her archenemy, the Queen of England, Elizabeth Woodville.
Anne’s life is filled with intrigue, mystery, drama, death – there is never a dull moment in this novel – and throughout it all her voice never falters. Toward the end of her life, Anne smartly speaks the theme of the time and the crux of the novel: “I had thought that if the princes were dead, then there would be no claimant to the throne, that my husband’s time on the throne would be untroubled, and my son would take his place when God saw fit to call us away. Now I see that every man is a kingmaker. A throne is not empty for a moment before someone is being measured for the crown. And fresh princes spring up like weeds in a crop as soon as the rumour goes out that those who wear the crown are dead.”
Most readers know Shakespeare’s version of Richard III. To glimpse this man in The Kingmaker’s Daughter, through a woman’s eyes, as what Gregory imagines his wife’s eyes would see, gives us a whole new angle. By revealing the opposite or competing sides of historical figures through fiction, Gregory presents us with another side of history. This novel compels you to read on. It is full of bloody battles, witchcraft, beheadings, passionate love, fealty to the king and queen, and traitors. More than 400 pages worth, every page exciting.
These are the women of the court of Edward IV and they are as evil, noble, committed and thrilling as their war-weary husbands. There are sea battles, land battles and horses slain. There are babies born and thriving and babies poisoned and weak. There are two young princes who disappear from the Tower of London. And, most important, there are three princes – Edward, George and Richard – who conquer and rule the land and whose wives, Elizabeth, Isabel and Anne, we compellingly follow. As Anne tells the new Princess Elizabeth (daughter of the old Queen Elizabeth), the girl who has been seducing Anne’s husband, Richard, and who is poised to take over the throne once Anne is dead, “This is fortune’s wheel indeed. … You can go very high and you can sink very low, but you can rarely turn the wheel at your own bidding.”
Philippa Gregory has done it again, giving her readers something a bit earlier in time but just as grand and exciting as The Other Boleyn Girl. She has spun her readers around the “fortune’s wheel.” The only question left hanging is, who will they get to play Anne Neville in the movie?
Michelle Berry is a secret fan of the TV series The Tudors and, while visiting Hampton Court Palace a few years ago, was thrilled by the female ghost voices coming out from behind a door, chanting, “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.”