By now I hope most of you have read Thursday’s post that covers how I’m approaching Richard III. If you haven’t, I recommend starting there. Going forward, while I will be providing some basic context on people and events, my aim is to keep these relatively tight biographical posts so the links I include in the text will direct you to older posts that delve more deeply into various topics.
Picking up where we left off on Tuesday, let’s move into 1453 and the events leading into the first half of the “Wars of the Roses.” For a broader analysis of this period, you can read an earlier piece on Henry VI’s mental health and the struggle for the regency here.
The Wars of the Roses is traditionally recorded as beginning in 1455 with the First Battle of St Albans and ending in 1485 with the victory of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth. But as with most civil wars, there are grey areas on either side that show the rise and fall of violence and political tension. With this particular war, the domino effect of events can take you back decades – Joan of Arc, the Treaty of Arras in 1435, the death of John, Duke of Bedford or the arrival of Marguerite of Anjou. None of these, in a vacuum, caused a civil war, but they were pivotal moments that drew the lines between our main opponents more firmly.
Today we’re going to look at once such moment: the assassination of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.
Margaret Beaufort is arguably the great winner of the Wars of the Roses. Certainly she is one of the few to have lived through the war in its entirety and, as such, became the matriarch of the House of the Tudor. Mother to Henry VII, she is an ancestor to every English/British monarch since Henry VIII (as well as Scotland’s James V and Mary Stuart). But though she existed in the same world as Marguerite of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Neville, she is rarely seen as exciting as them – she never wore a crown and by the time she held substantial power, she was a woman in 50s. Instead, she is usually depicted as the mother-in-law from hell, a meddler and a jarring mix of pious and power-hungry.
To some, she is even a contender as the true killer of the Princes of the Tower.
Two days ago, we covered the usurpation of 1399 and the events leading up to it. Today, we’re going to examine the issue raised at its end, which dealt with the supposed dynastic crime against nature that the accession of Henry IV rendered. This, of course, links the beginning of the royal House of Lancaster with its end, when Henry IV’s grandson, Henry VI, was deposed in favor of his cousin, Edward IV.
Well, that answers the Katherine Woodville question. Yes, she comes up, but about two years too late as a means for Lizzie to hurt her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort. Even so, the series is coming together in its narrative arc – primarily by playing up what about it is actually compelling. The evolution of Lizzie from York to Tudor, and what the actual ramifications were for a young woman to marry her enemy, have his children and realize the wishes of her blood family would come at the cost of her new existence.
You know, I sat down to write this with the goal of being positive, calling out what the show is doing well since I’ve already outlined what isn’t working for me. But then I saw this episode and that’s over now. The first half is essentially a couple scenes of casserole in which every notable character is thrown around the same place to make it interesting. I have no idea if this comes from the book or is from the show, but let’s start with the basics.
Okay, round two, here we go. The episode opens with Lizzie being pretty creepy, smiling insipidly every time Henry speaks and generally trying to prove to him that she’s a loyal and loving wife. And I guess it works? But she starts to look borderline crazy and I think there’s a lesson in here for all the men that like to tell women to smile. Don’t. It doesn’t look right.
I debated whether I was going to cover this series for a couple reasons: 1) it’s based on a book I haven’t read; 2) it’s most certainly not going to even attempt accuracy; and 3) it’s all a bit much. But there’s value in considering how history is being dramatized, if for no other reason than to be aware of what false bits are going to become lodged in the public consciousness. In this case that’s not really a huge concern as I don’t think most people are watching this show, but if it’s not a worthwhile exercise it’s at least an interesting one.
As some background, the White Princess is meant to follow a 2013 series called the White Queen, which covered the life of Elizabeth Woodville, consort of Edward IV, from 1464 to 1485. If you would like to know who that is then I would direct you here, here or here. The White Princess dramatizes the life of their eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, who married Henry VII in 1485. For more on her actual background, you can read more here.