Ever since puberty being an introvert geek, I am a fan of history and find within the pages of history, the story of humanity itself repeating, evolving, and reflecting on the very nature of the human character. I wasn’t really interested in the historical novels in those days and mostly read the history of different countries from Wikipedia( Might be the geekiest thing you could imagine!). Though I learned a lot, I later realized the pages of Wikipedia lacked a crucial thing that many stale pages of informative history books lack, and that is a sense of liveliness. I don’t know whether the word ‘liveliness’ is the correct term to be used here. To me, ‘liveliness’ means the feeling that the characters/events/phenomena, described in the historical documents/articles, are somehow ‘alive’ and able to influence one’s emotion at the present time. This realization of the emotionlessness of raw history articles started to make me seek out good historical novels: novels whose characters will make me feel their emotions, with whom I can relate my own events even in the most obscure way, whose surrounding would influence me as it had influenced those characters. In comes an excerpt from The White Queen, written by Philippa Gregory, where an imaginary scene involving a renowned historical figure( Jacquetta of Luxembourg) opened my eyes to the intricate world of Plantagenet England. Through a little excerpt, I came to savor the life of history itself. Once I had the taste of such a flesh that allowed a vicarious lively experience of Medieval English history, I knew I had to read this novel.
However, The White Queen isn’t the first book of the Plantagenet and Tudor series: that title goes to Lady of the Rivers( Jacquetta of Luxembourg). In total, there are 15 books covering the War of the Roses and the later Tudor dynasty written in the POV style of well-known/lesser-known historical characters.
When I started reading Lady of the Rivers, I knew I would be addicted to this series. Aside from my fascination with European history, the books allow the characters to directly communicate with us. They are now permitted to let us know what lies in their heart and mind about religion, family, and their difficult surroundings, how they maneuver difficult political situations, their fortunes, and mishaps. These characters aren’t heroines but are persons with questionable morality. Their decisions are justified by their own version of what is right or wrong. As an outsider, one might quickly criticize their actions as corrupt/selfish. This combination of conflicting personality and its connection to much greater historical events in the medieval era( I love medieval era politics!!) is what truly made me an ardent follower of these books. I remember the book’s opening incident was the burning of Joan of Arc and my most memorable part was how Jacquetta’s mother scolded Jacquetta to keep her head high and hide her emotion during Joan’s burning. Jacquetta, I guess, first realized her childhood was coming to an end and her career as a noblewoman, who must play her hard and emotionless role in poisonous politics, is just beginning.
As such, these characters are not just dry details of some history book any longer: they are as alive as we are, they are as human as we are. It seems they’ve left their noble titles for the outer world to let us, the commoners, delve into their inner sanctum. I must warn you now that since personal documents of these noble women were scarce, as was the usual case, Philippa Gregory added her own color into the mix to keep the readers tethered to the books. Do her books display the best literary practices? No, there are many other authors if you’re looking for correct implementation of literature grammar.
But still, I recommend reading these books. To support my recommendation I’d like to present a real-life example. I asked one of my friends to read Lady of the Rivers, after explaining my own interest in this series. While reading, she increasingly became enthusiastic about British history by watching documentaries about the subject. She came to see the nobility in a new light. For her, the nobility were no longer out-of-touch extremely luxuriant people but were humans with grey morality and sufferings just like us. In some cases, their life induced more stress and psychological problems than the common-folk. And it’s here where the magic of the series lay. It brings about an attraction to study the actual history and culture of a bygone era that can still reflect upon our own life and socio-economic/political conditions.
You might now complain, 15 novels are too many for today’s busy workaholic generation. I, of course, don’t disagree. So, out of the 15 books, I strongly suggest 5-6 of them listed below:
- Lady of the Rivers (Top priority)
- The White Queen (Top priority)
- The Red Queen (Top priority)
- The White Princess (Top priority)
- The Constant Princess
- The King’s Curse
- The Other Boelyn Girl
- The Queen’s Fool
The top priority here means these are the most adventurous readings where the wheel of fortunes turns rapidly putting the characters’ fortunes at risk constantly thus keeping the readers at the edge. I should also remind you if you haven’t studied the true events before reading these, read the books first and then delve into the rich history to avoid spoilers.