The History Behind ‘The White Queen’

I’ve been a huge fan of Philipa Gregory for a long time. I loved how she was able to use history, legend, gossip, and lore to make enthralling books. With all the hype that the show version of The White Princess is getting, I wanted to go back through my notes and talk about both books/shows and the true history that inspired them! We’ll go into The White Queen first and then delve into The White Princess

Melusine

Melusine is a mythical mermaid-like creature that exists in various European folklore, but exists mainly France. Historically, the Luxembourg family is one of many who claims ancestry from Melusine. It fed into the thought that Jacquetta claimed strong heritage from Melusine, as well as mystical powers. The fact that a text of the tale of Melusine was found in her personal collection didn’t help matters, but seeing as it was a popular story of love and loss, it wasn’t rare and her involvement in the legend is probably very much exaggerated.

To give you a short version of the legend of Melusine, she was a beautiful half woman and half mermaid/serpent that only took on her mythological form once a week. A man hunting came upon her and offered her marriage. She accepted as long as he would leave her alone in total privacy once a week to bathe. For a time, they were happy, but the man soon grew too curious and spied on his wife, seeing her true form. Enraged, Melusine flew from the castle, never to be seen again, although she still thought of herself as the protector of her family and would wail when a member passed and help them if she could.

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BTW Does this double tailed beauty look familiar? If you’re a coffee drinker like I am, you’ll recognize her as the Starbucks mermaid. Think about that next time you stop for your morning cup.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg

The Luxembourg family is an old French one, claiming lineage from the fabled Melusine. Jacquetta had many royal ties in different countries due to her high birth, and her first marriage was to a son of King Henry IV of England. They had no children by the time he died two years later, leaving Jacquetta a young and extremely wealthy duchess. As her title made her the second most powerful woman in the English court, next to the queen, she could have had her choice of husbands…

Lowly English knight Richard Woodville was tasked by the king to bring the newly widowed Jacquetta to court. But the pair fell in love. Despite it being illegal due to their difference in status and their refusal to wait for royal permission, they still married in secret. When it came out, no one could really be the mad, and they were merely fined. But Jacquetta was BFFs with Henry’s queen Margaret and Margaret made sure Richard got a title to put him on more even footing with his wife. So, he became Earl Rivers and the Lord High Treasurer.

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Jacquetta and Richard had 14 children during their marriage, including “The White Queen”, Elizabeth. As she, obviously, made sure her children received titles, position, and even a crown, she was thought to be a witch by many. Most notably, she was accused of using sorcery to seduce King Edward into the bed of her daughter Elizabeth. While the charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence, the gossip followed her until her death…and followed her daughter for the entirety of her life as well.

Elizabeth Woodville

Born around 1347 to a well respected genteel family. She married first to a man who died a Lancaster supporter, leaving her a widowed mother of two sons. Luckily, she was still young enough to marry again and was “the most beautiful woman in the isle of Britain…with heavy lidded eyes like those of a dragon.” Might not sound like a compliment, but it totally was. If it wasn’t for being named a Lancastrian traitor, the obviously fertile mother of two boys could have married again easily. But it was almost lucky for Elizabeth that she wasn’t one to hop on the first man who came by her home. No, Elizabeth had her sights set on a man worthy of her.

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Anyway, historians can’t agree as to how Elizabeth met the young King Edward IV, although the general lore says that Elizabeth dressed plainly and waited by the side of the road for Edward to pass with her two sons. Her original plan is said to have been to merely receive some sort of pardon for her dead husband (who fought and died after fighting against Edward and his York army, thus losing his wealth). But when Edward saw her, he was taken by her innocence, her maternal glow, and the graceful elegance she held even when not decked out in jewels. Edward wanted Elizabeth and would do anything to have her, even defy his family and his advisers to marry her in secret.

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They had a strong marriage where 10 children were born and no matter what mistresses Edward took, he always came back to his wife. Again, not suuuuper romantic, but there weren’t many kings out there without a bevy of mistresses, and at least Edward actually did love Elizabeth. Their marriage is said to be one of the early examples of true love in a royal marriage. But her ability to sway the gaze of a king and make herself his queen made some believe that she was witch, just like her mama.

Edward IV

Yeah, not the glowing blonde god we saw in the show, but for a guy back then, he was the Jake Gyllenhaal of his time. He is noted as being “a man so vigorous and handsome that he might have been made for the pleasures of the flesh”. His hot bod got him at least 15 children that history knows of, but I’m guessing there were more little Eddies stashed around England. For Edward, he was born in France, the oldest living son of Richard of York, who believed he was the true king of England….Well, he might have been, or he might have been the illegitimate product of an affair by his mother. That story was drug up throughout his reign, and even after his death, to weaken his claim to the throne as well as that of his children’s. No matter who is daddy was, Edward really took the York mission to heart and fought to become the first York king of England…and the tallest one in history! He and his two brothers were known as the three suns in the sky and the three sons of York.

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As I’ve said, he spied Elizabeth and her boys and thought she’d make a hell of a wife. She was a bit older and not a princess like he “should” have wed, but when Edward wanted something, he was sure to get it. Besides, the fact that she was obviously capable of birthing children mainly sons, was particularly attractive. So he put a ring on it and made her his queen. It ended up that the ex-Lancaster supporter was well loved but the people! Elizabeth’s 12 unmarried sisters soon found top notch marriages and Edward was basically surrounded by his in-laws. Much of the other nobility was angry, but Edward told them to shut up or shove off.

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There was some rebellion against Edward’s reign, sometimes headed by his own brother George, but there was no other strong claim to the throne besides a little guy named Henry Tudor who was living in exile. The rest of Edward’s short life kept him in power and when he died at the age of 40, he made his brother, Richard, the protector of England until his son Edward could be crowned.

Richard III

Spoiler alert! Prince Edward (now known as lil’Edward) was never crowned and Richard became king. When King Edward died, he thought his little brother Richard would keep his crown safe for his son, but he was super wrong. Richard placed his nephew in the Tower of London to await the coronation that would never come.

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To take the crown, he began by ousting the Woodvilles from power, imprisoning the men and forcing the women into hiding. Queen Elizabeth herself went into sanctuary with her daughters and youngest son Richard (now known as lil’Richard) while Richard worked on making her marriage to King Edward illegitimate, thus ruining lil’Edward’s claim to the throne. He ended up imprisoning both boys in the tower, where they never left (more on that later).

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Richard finally got his just desserts when he was killed in battle by Henry Tutor’s forces at the age of 32. Recently, his battered bones were found in during construction and it was found that he did have uneven shoulders and a curvature of the spine as many have said. He was also found to have been mutilated before being unceremoniously dumped in a ditch. While he wasn’t a handsome man in his prime, it’s a wonder that he was able to start some kind of relationship with his niece Elizabeth of York..but that’s a tale for my next post.

The Princes in the Tower

Once lil’Edward was already in The Tower of London “for his safety”, Richard plucked lil’Richard from sanctuary and had him join his brother. Over the next few months, Richard was made king, Elizabeth and Edward’s marriage was made illegitimate, and the boys were seen less and less until they were never seen again.

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It is widely accepted that Richard had a hand in the boy’s disappearance and even at the time he was thought to be the murderer, well that he ordered it anyway. With them out of the picture, he thought there wouldn’t be any issue with him retaining the throne.

But there’s another theory that at least one of the boys survived. Now Elizabeth Woodville was a smart woman and knew how hard it had been for Edward to keep his throne. She knew that if she let lil’Richard go to the tower like lil’Edward, he would never come back. It’s thought that she was able to smuggle lil’Richard out of sanctuary to take a new identity with a trusted family and replaced him with a local boy. For years afterwards, several people came forward claiming to be the lost prince, but none was ever confirmed. Since then, two sets of children’s skeletons have been found, but neither have been tested. So it’s possible that we will never know what happened to Elizabeth’s sons.

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♦♦♦

I hope you found this little look into the world of The White Queen fun and informative. I’ll be working on something for The White Princess soon, so keep checking back for more historical fun! And if Scottish history is your thing, read some historical articles with a fun twist on our Outlander page HERE!

If you enjoyed this write up, you’ll probably love my book, Queen of Emeralds! It’s a historic romance set in the highlands that you can get HERE in paperback, ebook, or free on kindle unlimited!

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