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Review of Episode 2, The White Queen

pgregoryI had been hoping for more grit in this episode, and The White Queen (hereafter, TWQ) came through. This time around it was far less of a fairytale. In fact there was plenty of weeping, there were a couple of severed heads, and we had a different captured king as York fell and Lancaster blossomed again. With an episode title like ‘The Price of Power’, you just knew there had to be trouble coming. In this episode, the price of power was bloody indeed.

But before we get into all that blood, a little history.

TWQ is based on a series of books that Philippa Gregory titled ‘The Cousins’ War’. And she wasn’t kidding. Everybody in the show is a descendant of the long dead Edward III. Well, except for the Woodvilles. They are Not Royal. You probably already figured that out from the way Warwick just HATES that damned Elizabeth Woodville and all her kin.

Now, I have a question for you: Do you know the name of your great great grandfather? And his parents? How about his wife and her parents? I don’t. Not without consulting my genealogy chart, and even then the distaff side in Romania is a complete mystery. We’re a motley lot here in America, but 15th century English royals knew their pedigrees backwards, forwards and on both sides of the covers.

On the Starz website you can consult the cousins’ family tree. It really is helpful in keeping all the players straight. If, like me, you were confused last Saturday, scratching your head and asking, “Who the devil is Jasper Tudor?” you may want to look at that chart.

Edward III

Edward III

I’ll give you a hint though: Jasper was the half brother of Henry VI. Their mum was married first to Henry V (you remember him from Shakespeare’s play and maybe from Bernard Cornwell’s brilliant novel Agincourt). After Henry V died, his widow married a Welshman named Owen Tudor and had two more sons, Jasper and Edmund.

Henry VI must have liked his half brothers (and is that ever unusual!) because he gave Jasper and Edmund the wardship of a wealthy heiress, Margaret Beaufort. Margaret’s great grandparents were John of Gaunt and Kartherine Swynford. (Remember Katherine by Anya Seton? Fabulous!) Her grandparents weren’t married, exactly, nevertheless her great great grandfather, like everybody else’s, was Edward III. Shortly after Margaret became a ward of her Tudor cousins, the younger one married her. The year was 1455. Edmund was 24, Margaret was 13 and was very quickly pregnant. Edmund though, captured in battle, was imprisoned and died of plague, which left Margaret a pregnant widow.

Amanda Hale as Margaret Beaufort. BBC.co.uk

Amanda Hale as Margaret Beaufort. BBC.co.uk

Margaret nearly didn’t survive childbirth, and after that her childbearing days were over. Her son, Henry, nearly died too, but they both pulled through, and that certainly seemed to have forged a bond between them, at least from Margaret’s point of view. Mother love can be daunting, though. Henry was the small boy you saw in the show in the care of his uncle, Jasper Tudor. The poor little guy looked terrified of his mum. (I’m with you, Henry. She scared me, too. Does anybody else think she looks a little like a young Margaret Hamilton?) By this time Margaret has been married off again, to Sir Henry Stafford. That’s him that you saw trying to talk sense into Margaret and failing utterly. Actually, he seemed almost as afraid of her as young Henry was. What none of this tells us is why Margaret seemed to dislike her husband and despise her mother. It was clear from the show that they were definitely not BFF’s. I’m guessing that it was a neat little plot element in the books, but that there wasn’t time to develop it in TWQ. Maybe next week.

Another thing that was not explained was why Margaret appeared to be a little bit nuts, but perhaps marriage to a Tudor, any Tudor, did that to you.

There was one very bright spot in this episode, and that was the birth of Queen Elizabeth’s daughter. Actually, she gave birth to several daughters in a row and nobody whacked her head off for it. How refreshing! (That response would come a couple of generations later.) This did, however, give Elizabeth’s brother-in-law George time to turn his coat and become a Lancaster, which meant trouble for poor Elizabeth’s husband, Edward IV. Remember him? Prince Charming (okay, King Charming) in the first episode. Brother George’s marriage to cousin Warwick’s daughter, Isabel (and the bedding, which we got to see, lucky us; not;) actually took place in Calais. Apparently, this was a time of a lot of back-and-forthing across the Channel.

George, Edward, Richard. BBC.co.uk

George, Edward, Richard. BBC.co.uk

One aspect of the show that I really liked: Anne Neville, even as a child, appears to have a fondness for King Edward IV’s youngest brother Richard. In fact, they almost certainly knew each other from childhood (remember, they were cousins) and I suppose she could very well have liked him. Most of you reading this probably know who they turn into when they grow up, but I’m going to keep mum about that for now in case someone out there wants to be surprised.

Excellent acting all round, although I do wish Queen Elizabeth had been given something more to do than just hug children, wear a crown, and cry. I think probably there was more to being a queen than that, but maybe that’s the boring bit they don’t like to show on t.v.  Again, I thought the witchcraft element was unnecessary, although there was historical precedence for having it in there. It’s not just something pulled out of the sky, and yet I wish they had left it alone.

Next week: Episode 3, The Storm. Uh oh.

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