The Lady of the Rivers is the third installment in Philippa Gregory’s “Cousins War” series. The protagonist, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, will be familiar to readers of this series as we encounter Jacquetta in The White Queen, the first installment of the series, which follows the life of Jacquetta’s oldest daughter Elizabeth Woodville, who marries Edward VI. I know as I read The White Queen I found myself interested in this fascinating woman and was thrilled when I heard that Gregory planned to focus the third installment of the series on Jacquetta for the same reason.
The Cousins War, better known today as the Wars of the Roses, has not been an area of historical study for myself and therefore I find the fiction on this period truly engaging, as I don’t have the preconceived ideas about the personalities I encounter as I do when reading fiction focused on the Tudor era. However, I am ever mindful that Gregory has cast women I know well, i.e. Anne Boleyn, in an unfair light and so I try not to become wholly sold by her descriptions. The Lady of the Rivers did pique my interest in Jacquetta and my attempts to uncover more detail about her have proved unsuccessful. Therefore I have to accept the character as portrayed by Gregory albeit with reservation.
The novel begins with a young Jacquetta at the court of Luxembourg discovering that she has been given the gift of foresight as a direct descendant of Melusina, a water-goddess, who married a mortal man and whose children founded the Luxembourg royal family. In the White Queen much is made of this gift and Jacquetta seems familiar and comfortable with her abilities. However, the Jacquetta as portrayed The Lady of the Rivers does not seem comfortable and confident with the gift and doesn’t seem to truly rely on her visions as the Jacquetta we encounter in The White Queen. This is my main complaint about the novel. Gregory introduces her reader to this character in the first installment but doesn’t stay true to her own portrayal in the third. I found this unbelievably distracting and wondered if Gregory considered her audience to be blindly trusting and accepting of her portrayals and who lack the intelligence to recall the development of the character as portrayed by Gregory herself in an earlier novel within the same series!! This annoyed me so much that I had to put it aside in order to finish the account, but really still it annoys me to no end!
We follow Jacquetta’s life through her first marriage to the Duke of Bedford, uncle to King Henry VI, and her second marriage to the Duke’s squire, Richard Woodville. Jacquetta is in service at the English court to Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s French Queen, and Margaret is the focus of many of the novels more interesting plot lines. Indeed, Margaret over powers Jacquetta in much of the novel and almost hijacks the story itself and gives another example of Gregory’s odd choices regarding the character development in this series. I found myself thinking that perhaps Gregory is writing ahead rather than attending to the subject at hand. Readers of The White Queen will find that Jacquetta overpowers her daughter Elizabeth, who is the book’s narrator and In Lady of the Rivers Jacquetta seems eclipsed by Margaret of Anjou. I wouldn’t be surprised if Margaret makes a later appearance in this series, but whom will Gregory choose to eclipse the “she-wolf” of France?