The Women of the Cousins’ War tries to illuminate the three most important women of the Wars of the Roses, or as the conflict has lately been called, The Cousins’ War.
Philippa Gregory writes the introduction in which she discusses the dearth of information about women in this time period. The sources sometimes give dates of birth and of death. Some more information may be teased out about the women based on battles in which their husbands fought and maybe their husbands’ travel itineraries, but little else usually exists.
Gregory goes on to write the first part of the book about the Duchess, Jaquetta of Luxembourg. Jaquetta was a minor French noble woman who married John, Duke of Bedford who was the third son of Henry IV and a staunch Lancastrian. After John’s death, Jacquetta flouts the conventions of the time and marries Richard Woodville, a commoner and her first husband’s servant. The lack of information affects Gregory’s part of the book. In talking about Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the writing is full of “maybes” and “might haves.” This is followed by a rundown of the Wars of the Roses themselves. The last part centers more on Jacquetta, her family and her heritage. Also there is the part about the Duchess being a witch. She survived the trial and is found not guilty. The second part of the book is about Queen Elizabeth Woodville, written by David Baldwin. Elizabeth is the daughter of Jacquetta from her second marriage and is mother of the two lost princes of the tower. She ends up being the mother-in-law to Henry VII after Henry defeats Richard III, who was her brother-in-law. This part is much less of a slog than the first part; Baldwin’s style is light without being frivolous. He recounts Elizabeth’s actions during her marriage to Edward IV. Elizabeth endured much examination when she married the younger Edward. The marriage also infuriated the old nobility by allowing the huge family of upstart Woodvilles close to the king. Elizabeth had more than her share of enemies including the conniving Warwick the Kingmaker and the king’s brothers, including the Duke of Clarence, and the later king, Richard III.
The third part by Michael Jones is about Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII. Margaret might be seen as the ultimate survivor of the three, eventually becoming the Queen Mother without actually having been queen. Jones has an accessible style covering the details without being bogged down by them. Jones stresses Margaret’s political expertise, of which her very survival during those dangerous times is the highest example. Margaret’s eventually sees her son crowned King of England, and also sees her grandson succeeding to that position, which was no doubt gratifying. Further the book has a wealth of family trees, images, notes and sources included for those interested in such things. In short The Women of the Cousins’ War is a good read about little-covered historical figures and is not smothered in the fine points of the cross and double cross of the Wars of the Roses.