Wednesday, 30 November -0001

England's Game of Thrones

The War of the Roses were a time of bloody battles, devious power play and plentiful scandal. And, as a new BBC drama reveals, it was often the women who pulled the strings

Written by Fiona Hicks
Men can fight with war and sword and canon, women fight with their own weapons.’ So says Jacquetta Woodville, a wise character from the BBC’s new 10-part series, The White Queen.

Based on Philippa Gregory’s series of novels The Cousins’ War, the drama takes the Wars of the Roses into the domestic sphere, where events are rather less bloody than on the battlefield but considerably more salacious.

As we celebrate the 60th year of our current Queen’s pleasantly civilised reign, it is easy to forget that back in the 15th century, maintaining the throne was a distinctly dicey game. In The White Queen, as in the real court of the time, scandal and seduction are rife.
White-Queen-02-590King Edward IV (Max Irons) and Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson)

The drama focuses on three women who are hell-bent on achieving the heralded spot, and will stop at nothing to fulfil their ambition. Power, manipulation and deceit are mainstays of life for Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Anne Neville. A beautiful widow, a pious woman and a timid young girl respectively, the stories of these women (albeit gloriously sensationalised for prime-time television) are a fascinating insight into the regal and social history of our country.

The women, although very different from each other, use their wiles and wit to choreograph their fate at a time when they were supposedly at the whim of the men around them.

The cast are suspiciously well-kept and healthy looking (in those days, many of them would have died in their 30s), but the plot is full of dastardly turns and the production is painterly in its realisation. It’s almost too good to be true. Except that it is…

The White Queen is broadcast on BBC One, Sunday nights at 9pm.

HISTORY IN BRIEF: The Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic battles, which played out for 30 years between 1455 and 1485. The two opposing sides were the House of Lancaster and the House of York – symbolised by the red and white rose respectively – both of which were attempting to establish their supremacy after the social and financial upheaval of the Hundred Years’ War. Eventual victory was claimed by Henry Tudor (son of Lancastrian, Margaret Beaufort) who defeated Richard III at the 1485 battle of Bosworth and married Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV. The houses were thus finally united, and the House of Tudor ruled for the next 117 years.

THE MAIN PLAYERS
White-Queen-03-590

Elizabeth Woodville (above left) is a widowed commoner who falls in love with the Yorkist King Edward IV. Purportedly the most beautiful woman in the land, her love is returned by the young king and they marry to much objection at the start of the series. Woodville’s innocence and naivety are soon corrupted by the dangerous politics of court, and she comes to realise that she must be merciless if she is to protect herself and the ones she loves. She is surrounded by accusations of witchcraft, supposedly inherited from her mother, the enigmatic Jacquetta.

Margaret Beaufort (above centre) is cousin to the recently deposed Lancastrian king, Henry VI. Married for the first time at the age of 12, she goes through three unhappy marriages, one of which bears her a son, Henry Tudor – the future Henry VII. A God-fearing woman, she is pious yet ruthless in her determination to make her son king. Her keen intelligence makes her a fierce adversary in court.

Anne Neville (above right) is the younger daughter of the formidable Earl of Warwick (the ‘Kingmaker’). A shy child, she and her sister play at being Queen as girls, only realising the dangerous reality of the position as they grow older and become pawns in their father’s play for power. Like Margaret, she endures an unpleasant marriage and is widowed young. She falls in love with the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, thus fulfi lling her father’s ambition for her to become Queen of England.
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Jacquetta Woodville (above left)  is one of the few genuinely kind and caring mothers, who is very close to her daughter, Elizabeth. She possesses royal blood through the House of Burgundy. She has more than a dozen children (the exact number is not known) and is happily married to her second husband, Richard Woodville, who was the squire of her first. She is supposedly a descendant of the water goddess Melusina and believes herself to harbour magical abilities, which she passes on to her infl uential daughter.

King Edward IV (above centre) is a young, handsome and popular monarch. He meets the recently widowed Elizabeth Woodville as he rides out to battle and is immediately captivated; the pair marry in secret. His love and loyalty to his bride is both his biggest personal strength and greatest political error.

The Earl of Warwick (above right) is known as the ‘Kingmaker’. He is the most wealthy man in Britain and is power-mad. His unrelenting ambition renders him merciless in his treatment of others, including members of his own family. He is usurped from his position as chief advisor to King Edward IV by Elizabeth Woodville, who he grows to despise. He is determined that his daughter becomes Queen of England for his own gain.


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