Discussion Questions – ‘The Lady of the Rivers’ by Philippa Gregory


Janet McTeer as Jacquetta of Luxembourg in 'The White Queen' (2013)
Janet McTeer as Jacquetta of Luxembourg in ‘The White Queen’ (2013)
  1. Jacquetta’s first main influence is her great-aunt, Jehanne of Luxembourg, who tells her: ‘A woman who seeks great power and wealth has to pay a great price.’ Why do you think she says this to her niece? Was she right, and what sorts of power would she have been referring to? Do we see the women in the story exercising other kinds of power?
  • Women could have power in several ways – they could have sexual power over men if they chose to use it, they could have political power like Margaret of Anjou, or they could have the power evidenced by respect and love, which is the kind of power Jacquetta has.
  • Margaret of Anjou notably tries to harness political power when her husband, Henry VI, is unable to due to sickness or madness (depending how you want to describe it), but she is called a she-wolf because of it.
  • Women should only have power in the 15th century when it is allowed to them by men who have control of their own country and their wits, and supported by a council of men i.e. Katherine of Aragon and Katherine Parr given the regency under Henry VIII when he’s at war.
  • Women exercise power over men through their sexual wiles and their looks – it is one of the only ways women could influence men in the 15th century without seeming out of place or being called a witch. It has long been suggested that Margaret of Anjou used “pillow talk” to persuade Henry VI.
  1. Joan of Arc is absolutely certain that her voices come from God. Jacquetta is much less sure where hers are from, saying, ‘I never think of it as a gift coming from God or the Devil.’ What sort of voices do you think they are hearing, and do their different beliefs affect the future of either character?
  • I think Jacquetta just accepts it as part of her life, and part of her legacy from the water goddess Melusina, whereas Joan of Arc sees it as a religious calling to spread the word of god.
  • From what I understand of the Woodville family from reading this book, ‘The White Queen’ and ‘The White Princess’ it seems like Jacquetta and her daughter and granddaughter get a sense when members of their family die or are in danger, and seem to be able to call up the weather or a curse to punish their enemies.
  • Joan of Arc is one of those famous figures from history who claims to have a direct line to god and she is able to influence those around her because they believe in the fact that she has a direct line to god – it is these “visions” that bring about her downfall.
  • Jacquetta is accused of witchcraft by the Earl of Warwick, but cites the protection of Margaret of Anjou in order to protect herself. I think there would have been an uprising had Warwick had Jacquetta executed because she was such a beloved figure on both sides of the divide.
  1. As the story opens, England is ruled by the boy king, Henry VI, as his father has died following his famous conquests in France. Was Henry V an impossible act to follow? What kinds of pressure were there on the young Henry VI? And how might things have been different if his father had not died when he did?
  • I think Henry V was a hard act to follow, even for a man let alone a baby, and Henry VI was influenced by those around him as he grew up, and quite often pushed to one side.
  • The advisors and protectors were pushing Henry VI to be like his father, so I think it provoked an opposite reaction from him, and he determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a different path.
  • Things could have been different if Henry VI hadn’t died when he did, because it would have given a chance for Henry VI to come into his majority without the rigours of kingship on his small shoulders.
  • England would have been ruled by a strong king who could lead England, rather than by a regency council without strong leadership. Perhaps the Wars of the Roses would never have erupted if Henry V hadn’t died when he did, as they broke out due to the weakness of Henry VI.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Lady of the Rivers’ by Philippa Gregory”

On This Day in History – 8 June – Death of Elizabeth Woodville


Elizabeth Woodville c.1471.
Elizabeth Woodville c.1471.

Event– Death of Elizabeth Woodville

Year– 1492

Location– Bermondsey Abbey, England

Elizabeth Woodville died on 8 June 1492 at Bermondsey Abbey aged 55, where she had been rusticated on the orders of her son-in-law, Henry VII. She was suspected of having been involved in the plotting of Lambert Simnel in 1487 to seize the throne in the name of the Earl of Warwick and was sent to Bermondsey. It seems unlikely that she would work to topple her daughter and grandson, but it seems equally unlikely that she would willing retire from public life, from what we know of her.

Elizabeth was buried with her husband, Edward IV, in St George’s Chapel at Windsor on 12 June 1492 where her daughters, excepting Elizabeth and Cecily, attended her funeral. She specified a simple ceremony in her will, though some thought this not fitting for a Queen of England.

Further Reading

  • David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville (2002)
  • J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens (2004)
  • Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (2016)
  • David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville (2013)
  • Arlene Okerlund, Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen (2006)

On This Day in History – 1 May – Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville


Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

Event– Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

Year– 1464

Location– Grafton House, England

Although the date of the wedding isn’t certain, it is generally accepted that Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville on May Day 1464, at the bride’s home of Grafton Regis, with only a few witnesses, including the bride’s mother, in attendance.

It is said that Elizabeth first met Edward when she went to petition him for the return of her dead husband’s lands. It was said that Edward tried to force himself onto Elizabeth so she threatened to take her own life with a dagger. Edward became so enamoured of her that he married her. Elizabeth bought no dowry or international connections, which would be expected of a Queen of England.

The marriage was significant because it was first time that an English king married a commoner without having a foreign wife first. Not only that, but Edward IV was the first Yorkist king, but the Woodville family supported the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses, and Elizabeth’s first husband, John Grey, had died fighting for the Lancastrians. It was the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville that gave rise to the idea that a commoner could marry a King – this was the idea from which the likes of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour managed to rise up from ladies-in-waiting to Queens.

Elizabeth and Edward’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married the future Henry VII, and their two eldest sons, Edward and Richard, became the ill-fated Princes in the Tower.

Further Reading

  • David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville (2002)
  • J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens (2004)
  • Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (2016)
  • Charles Ross, Edward IV (1974)
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