Book review: The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory

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When you are the most ambitious and influential nobleman in 15th century England but do not possess a son and heir, your daughters must become pawns in the battle for political power.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, better known as ‘Kingmaker,’ was the medieval magnate who shuffled the pack of Plantagenet kings, using his two daughters, Anne and Isabel, as royal brides in a ruthless game of marital mix and match.

But the marriage stakes were high and exceedingly dangerous because this was a turbulent age dominated by the Wars of the Roses ... and choosing the wrong side could be fatal.

The spellbinding fourth book in Philippa Gregory’s own ambitious Cousins’ War series of novels takes us to the heart of the court of Edward IV and his beautiful but controversially ‘commoner’ wife Elizabeth Woodville whose meddling spun a perilous web of intrigue around all within her orbit.

In The Kingmaker’s Daughter, Gregory plucks Warwick’s youngest daughter Anne Neville from her final resting place in a shadowy corner of Westminster Abbey and turns her into a truly tragic heroine.

A widow at 14, Anne’s second husband was Richard III, the notorious king accused of murdering the young Princes in the Tower. It was a marriage which sealed her fate.

Anne’s gripping and heartbreaking story is one of duty, sacrifice and manipulation in an age when women, and particularly women from high-ranking families, could be forced into marriage and then cruelly used in a merciless merry-go-round of power play.

Using her amazing insight, compassion and capacity for suspense, drama and high emotion, Gregory paints an unforgettable portrait of two fascinating young women whose lives were orchestrated not by their own desires but by the schemes and ambitions of those around them.

Gregory permits us to see beyond the sisters’ enforced roles in an epic conflict by exploring how they might have viewed their constraints, their frustrations, their powerlessness, their rivalries and the leading royal players.

Our narrator is Anne whom we first meet as she is presented to the newly crowned, glamorous and handsome Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, the woman he secretly married before his coronation and whose beauty is breathtaking.

But it’s a union that has displeased Anne’s father and his anger grows when Edward heeds his wife and her large, grasping family rather than the ‘Kingmaker’ who helped him capture the throne from his cousin Henry VI.

Despite his reservations, the earl engineers a match between his eldest daughter Isabel and Edward’s younger brother George, Duke of Clarence. “This is not just a wedding; it’s a celebration of my father’s power,” remarks an increasingly cynical Anne.

Always one to hedge his bets, Warwick marries off Anne to Prince Edward, son of the deposed Henry VI. But when King Edward finally turns against the rebellious Earl of Warwick, both Anne’s father and her new husband are killed in battle.

Lost and alone, she is rescued by the king’s youngest brother Richard of York who marries her in what seems to be a real love match and fathers her only child, a frail and sickly son called Edward.

Unfortunately for Anne however, Richard also has his eyes set on the throne and when his brother the king dies unexpectedly, Elizabeth Woodville’s two young princes are now the only obstacles in his way...

Gregory always excels in her evocation of court life, political intrigue, human relationships and the inside story of women who helped to shape the course of history.

She admits that writing this wonderful series has been an enjoyable experience if only because she has been able turn the pages of that history upside down and see ‘a totally different picture.’

Her next book will focus on the fascinating Elizabeth of York, sister of the Princes in the Tower and wife of Henry VII. It can’t come a moment too soon...

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £18.99)