The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Just finished reading Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory and will say that I found this a very enjoyable and informative read.  I haven’t read the first two in the ‘Cousins’ War’ series but I may pick them up and apparently reading this book first may not be a bad idea as the focus of the novel is Jacquetta Rivers, daughter to the White Queen (first book of the series).  I do like PG’s series – I read all of her Tudor Court novels and found them to be an intriguing set of novels, a well balanced blend of fact and fiction with elements of romance, intrigue, mystery and magic.

This Lady of the Rivers tells the story of Jacquetta and commences at the Castle of Beaurevoir where Joan of Arc is being held captive prior to her trial and execution.  Following this, having caught the eye of the Duke of Bedford, Jacquetta is betrothed and wed and finds herself embroiled in the strange world of alchemy, scrying and foretelling for the Duke and ever watched by his squire Richard Woodville.  After only a couple of year’s of marriage the Duke dies leaving Jacquetta a very wealthy and powerful woman.  Fate intervenes and Jacquetta, who has fallen in love with the young squire, marries in secret and without the consent of King Henry VI – at first it seems that the two will live a quiet life in the countryside until both are drawn into the life at Court when Jacquetta is asked to accompany the King’s new bride Margaret of Anjou to England.  I won’t elaborate too much more on the story – although I don’t think I’ll be giving away any spoilers here as this is all based on historical fact after all.

In this story PG takes a little known figure and manages to weave around her an intriguing story of love and magic.  Jacquetta’s family is linked since way back when with the Water Goddess Melusina and this is where all the water elements of the story come into play.  As such Jacquetta, as many other women in her family before and after, are gifted with the ‘sight’, being able to foretell the future.  Her aunt, Lady Jehanne, introduces Jacquetta from an early age to divination using charms and tarot cards and her first husband, The Duke of Bedford, also having an interest, continues her education encouraging her in the arts of herbs and furthering her access to reading material that will broaden her knowledge of alchemy.  Of course, in later years, all such knowledge is forbidden and anybody practising such arts will be accused of witchcraft so Jacquetta hides her knowledge.

In terms of the characters in the novel – I really liked Jacquetta and her husband Richard.  They are both portrayed as honourable, courageous and well liked.  They had an amazing relationship which resulted in so many children that I think that ‘the old woman who lived in a shoe’ rhyme may have been based on her – I think 14 in total!  They lived in turbulent times to say the least.  War was never far away and usually only ceased for particularly bad spells of weather and so many of the characters you are briefly introduced to are quickly, quite literally, history.  The other main character, of course, is Margaret, the new queen, who soon becomes a force to be reckoned with.  To be honest I didn’t really like either Margaret or her husband Henry.   Margaret quickly changes from being a spoilt young princess to a ruthless woman who it appears will stop at nothing to secure the throne for her son Edward.  She is vindictive to say the least and has no regard for the life of the people surrounding her – she quickly becomes greatly disliked by the people of England who name her ‘a she wolf’.  Her husband Henry is weak and ineffective.   He suffers from ill health and seems to lose possession of his mind and is incapable of ruling – where Margaret is spiteful and mean Henry is almost like a child who wants everyone to simply get along – something that history has shown is never easy to do, particularly when a throne is at stake.

As usual, PG, has managed to introduce us to two very strong female leads – at a time in history when women had very little power.  I really loved all the mystical elements, the family lore and the references to sightseeing and scrying etc.  The reason why I enjoyed this is because I think it played a part in that period of history – I don’t think that the women involved were doing anything ‘witchy’ in particularly, they just suffered from a good pinch of superstition, had a bit of knowledge about the benefits of herbs and relied upon their own intuition.  Nothing really supernatural there after all – plenty of people read horoscopes, won’t walk under ladders, salute magpies and take natural remedies in this day and age!

In terms of criticisms – there is a lot of fighting in this book – really, I’m not exaggerating.  We reach a point where Jacquetta is tired of it all – and frankly I couldn’t have agreed more with her (but, again, this is history).  I really don’t envy people living in that era, particularly the poor people who’s homes were constantly raided by either one invading army or another.  And, the only other criticism, and I suppose this is a bad reflection on me, is coming to terms with all the Richard/Henry/Edmund/Edward’s etc.

Criticisms aside, I really enjoyed reading this book.  I was intrigued with the War of the Roses and the part that Jacquetta and Richard played in it all and I think that PG has managed to provide us with another great historical read from a period that is less written about.

Rating -A

The Lady of the Rivers

The Lady of the Rivers




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