The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Descended from Melusina, the river goddess, Jacquetta has always had the gift of second sight.  As a child visiting her uncle, she meets his prisoner, Joan of Arc, and sees her own power reflected in the young woman accused of witchcraft, before Joan is taken to a horrific death at the hands of the English rulers of France.

Married to the Duke of Bedford, English Regent of France, Jacquetta is introduced by him to a mysterious world of learning and alchemy. Her only friend in the great household is the Duke’s squire, Richard Woodville, who is at her side when the Duke’s death leaves her a wealthy young widow. The two become lovers and marry in secret, returning to England to serve at the court of the young King Henry VI, where Jacquetta becomes a close and loyal friend to his new queen.

The Woodvilles soon achieve a place at the very heart of the Lancaster court, though Jacquetta can sense the growing threat from the people of England and the danger of royal rivals. Not even their courage and loyalty can keep the House of Lancaster on the throne. King Henry VI slides into a mysterious sleep; Margaret , his queen, turns to untrustworthy favorites for help; and Richard, Duke of York, threatens to overturn the whole kingdom for his rival dynasty of the House of York.

Jacquetta fights for her king, her queen, and for her daughter Elizabeth Woodville, a young woman for whom Jacquetta can sense an extraordinary and unexpected future: a change of fortune, the throne of England, and the white rose of York. A sweeping, powerful story rich in passion and legend and drawing on years of research, The Lady of the Rivers tells the story of the real-life mother to the White Queen.

This is a bit of a belated review, Simon and Schuster actually sent me a copy of this book a little before the release date, and I finished it within a couple of days. I decided to go back and read the other two books in the Cousins War series, so while it has been a few weeks since I have read it, the book is still fresh in my mind .

This is, hands-down, the best offering in the series so far. Chronologically it is set before the White Queen and The Red Queen, the story of Jacquetta Rivers, and her life in the court of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Queen Margaret was a fascinating enough character in her own right, but here we see her take a supporting role in the story of one of the most little-known women to survive the perilous years of the War of the Roses.

You will find, if you have read The White Queen, quite a different Jacquetta than was portrayed in the first installment. Obviously she is much younger, and far less formidable in her youth. It follows the theme from the White Queen, of the family descending from the Godless Melusina, of  a little magic and farseeing, and with an interesting portrayal of alchemy in the household of Jacquetta’s first husband.

Jacquetta is, however, far more reluctant to use her powers, unlike her older character in the White Queen, and far more careful. In instances where she may use them without thinking there are always consequences. And while Philippa always alluded to the consequences of using magic in the White Queen, in particular where Elizabeth unwittingly curses her descendants in the Tudor Dynasty, she never quite drove the point home like she does in Lady of the Rivers. Jacquetta is a woman reluctant to even practice the forbidden reading of tarot cards when demanded to by her Queen, where she unwittingly uses her magic she bitterly regrets the results. Where her daughter at times seemed like a cold and calculating sorceress in the White Queen, Jacquetta seems always all the more human, and touching, for her constraint.

The marriage between Jacquetta and her second husband, Richard Woodville, a commoner, resulted in a (temporary) banishment from court, a crippling fine, sixteen children and an eventual return to court and power.  In a time where marrying for love was unheard of , this was an enduring love that produced a dynasty in it’s own right. There is a large gap between when they are banished from court where they would have been living in the country, and their return. While I would have enjoyed reading about their life during this period, there is simply not enough written about The Rivers’ to fill in the gaps and I understand Philippa’s decision to leave those years aside.

Again, Philippa has delivered us a woman all but ignored by historians and forgotten by the world. And who was Jacquetta Rivers? The confidant of Margaret of Anjou who took the reins from her feeble husband and led a bloody war against Richard of York. She was the Mother of Elizabeth Woodville, who captured the heart of Edward IV and became one of the most hated and hunted Queens of England. The Grandmother and Great Grandmother of future Queens and Kings of England. And a woman who continually risked her life and her position for her love and her family.

Rating: ★★★★½

There were no biographies and very little information about Jacquetta of Luxembourg.  Philippa Gregory, along with David Baldwin (author of the Elizabeth Woodville biography) and Michael Jones have produced The Women of the Cousins’ War The Duchess, The Queen and The King’s Mother, which is next on my lists of Philippa’s books to read.

The next installment in the Cousin’s War is a book on Anne Neville. Be sure to visit Philippa’s website for updates.