Elizabeth Grey — A Sympathetic Portrayal
Historians have often taken a disapproving, even harsh view of Elizabeth Grey. In the play "Richard III," Shakespeare calls her a weak and foolish woman for agreeing to her daughter's engagement with Richard — her dead husband's brother and the tyrant that took England from its rightful heirs. In "The White Queen," however, we see Elizabeth's motives and cunning explained differently. She engages her daughter publicly to Henry Tudor, heir of Lancaster, but secretly agrees to Richard's proposal as well. No matter which side wins the war for England, her daughter will be Queen.
In the author's note, Gregory points out that many strong female historical figures are treated unsympathetically because it is considered unfeminine to be ambitious. The characters of "The White Queen," including Elizabeth, are terrifyingly ambitious — but they are also very sympathetic. One of the most important, likeable characters is Elizabeth's brother Anthony Rivers, who is very much the Renaissance man. He dies at the hand of Richard III trying to protect his young nephews, but before his execution writes a sonnet that shows a man in a calm, composed state of mind. Other favorite characters include Elizabeth's mother Jacquetta — her argument with Edward's mother the Queen is one of the sauciest, funniest scenes in the novel — and her oldest daughter Elizabeth, who falls in love with her uncle Richard despite his tyranny.
Full of complex characters, twisted relationships, intrigue, romance and war, "The White Queen" is a stellar beginning to "The Cousins' War Trilogy."