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Characters in The White Queen

The Women Behind the Wars

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Characters in The White Queen

Depiction of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

(c) 1999-2000 Clipart.com
Elizabeth of York, Henry VII, and their 7 children

Elizabeth of York, Henry VII, and their 7 children

Public Domain Image
Margaret of Anjou

Illustration depicting Margaret of Anjou, queen of Henry VI of England

Archive Photos / Getty Images

In June, 2013, BBC One debuted a 10-part series, The White Queen, a depiction of the Wars of the Roses seen through the eyes of key women, and based on a series of historical novels by Philippa Gregory.

The "White Queen" refers to Elizabeth Woodville, and The White Queen is the title of Gregory's first book in the series that is being adapted. Don't expect it to be exactly history -- but Gregory has respect for history, and that will likely show through in the series as well, even though there will be lots of poetic license taken. The other books in the series are The Kingmaker's Daughter and The Lady of the Rivers (about Jacquetta of Luxembourg).

Find those books and other fiction/fact treatments of this period here: Books: Women of the Wars of the Roses

You can also see this as something of a prequel to the popular series, The Tudors. Elizabeth Woodville was the grandmother of King Henry VIII, featured in that series.

Here are some of the women you'll likely encounter in the series, and some of their interconnections -- you'll see why Gregory called the series on the Wars of the Roses "The Cousins' War" -- many close relatives found themselves on opposite sides. Many of the key characters traced their ancestry to the sons of Edward III of England, or to other kings of England.

The White Queen and Her Family

  • Elizabeth Woodville (1437 - 1492), widow of Sir John Grey who was on the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses, and who was killed in the battle at St. Albans. The legend of her meeting with Edward IV under an oak tree by the side of a road is a very early one. That they secretly married and thwarted the marriage plans for Edward being made by Edward's uncle, the Earl of Warwick (known as the Kingmaker), is historical. One of her sons by John Grey was an ancestor of Lady Jane Grey.
  • Jacquetta of Luxembourg, mother of Elizabeth Woodville, was a descendant of England's King John. Her father was a French count. Jacquetta's first husband was the brother of Henry V. She had no children by that first marriage, but at least ten by her second to Richard Woodville. She was suspected of using witchcraft during her lifetime.
  • Elizabeth of York (1466 - 1503), eldest daughter of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, became the queen consort of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII, Mary Tudor and Margaret Tudor.
  • Catherine or Katherine Woodville (~1458 - 1497), sister of Elizabeth Woodville, who married advantageously thanks to her connection to her sister the Queen. She became the Duchess of Buckingham and the Duchess of Bedford.
  • Mary Woodville (~1456 - 1481), another sister of Elizabeth Woodville, was able to marry the heir to the Earl of Pembroke through her sister's connections. Her father-in-law was executed by Warwick, the Kingmaker.
  • Cecily of York (1469 - 1507) was the second surviving daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. (An older sister, Mary of York, died in 1482, before she could be married.) Edward tried to marry her to the Scottish royal heir, then to that heir's brother, but Edward died before that could be complete. Then Cecily's marriages were arranged -- and unarranged -- by the next two kings, Richard III (her uncle) and Henry VII (her brother-in-law).

The Kingmaker and His Family

Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, (1428 - 1471) was a powerful figure in the drama of the Wars of the Roses. He used his female family connections to advantage, including gaining the Warwick title itself through his wife's inheritance. He was called the Kingmaker, as his presence -- and that of the troops he could muster -- would make a difference in which king won.

  • Lady Anne Beauchamp (1426 - 1492), Countess of Warwick, wife of the Kingmaker, mother of Anne Neville and Isabella Neville. She was an heiress, inheriting the Warwick titles because no male heirs remained, and bringing them to her husband. She was descended on the maternal side from King Edward III and the powerful Despenser family.
  • Cecily Neville (1415 - 1495), was the aunt of the Kingmaker. She was the mother of Edward IV as well as of George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was married to Richard, Duke of York, who was the heir of Henry VI and his protector during his minority and during one or more bouts of insanity. Both Cecily and her husband were descendants of King Edward III of England and his wife, Philippa of Hainault. Cecily's mother was a daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.
  • Anne Neville (1456 - 1485), daughter of Richard, Duke of York, called the Kingmaker, who was a nephew of Cecily Neville. She first married Edward of York, son of Henry VI of England, but after his early death, married Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III, brother of Edward IV (and son of Cecily Neville). Richard and Anne were first cousins once removed.
  • Isabella Neville (1451 - 1476), sister of Anne Neville, and thus daughter of the Kingmaker and great niece of Cecily Neville. She was also known as Isabel. She married George, Duke of Clarence, a younger brother of Edward IV (and older brother of Richard III, Anne Neville's second husband), and also a son of Cecily Neville. Isabella and George were first cousins once removed.

From the House of Lancaster

  • Margaret of Anjou (1429 - 1482), was the queen consort of the Lancastrian king, Henry VI of England, with whom Edward IV contended in the Wars of the Roses. Margaret of Anjou was herself an active Lancastrian leader. Elizabeth Woodville had been a maid of honor serving Margaret of Anjou when she married Sir John Grey.
  • Margaret Beaufort (1443 - 1509) was the "Red Queen" to Elizabeth Woodville's "White Queen." She was married to Edmund Tudor when she was only 12, and gave birth to his child after he died in Yorkist captivity. That child later became Henry VII. Though she married twice more, she never had more children, and threw her support to her son's cause in the Wars of the Roses.

More?

These women aren't likely to be in the series, except by reference, but are important to the context of the story.

  • Catherine of Valois (1401 - 1437), sister-in-law of Jacquetta, was the queen consort of Henry V of England and mother of Lancaster king Henry VI. She was also the grandmother of Henry VII, the first Tudor king, via her second husband, Owen Tudor. This is the same Henry VII who married Elizabeth Woodville's daughter, Elizabeth of York. Catherine's father was Charles VI of France. She is not likely to make an appearance in The White Queen: she died the year that Elizabeth Woodville was born.
  • Margaret of Burgundy, a sister of Edward IV who was friendly with Edward's new wife Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret was married off to the Duke of Burgundy a few years after Edward became king, and after the Tudor triumph, her home became a haven for Yorkists in exile.
  • Lady Jane Grey was descended from one of Elizabeth Woodville's sons by her first husband, John Grey, and from one of Elizabeth Woodville's daughters, Elizabeth of York, by her second husband Edward IV, through Elizabeth of York's and Henry VII's daughter Mary Tudor.
  • Margaret Pole (1473 - 1541) was the daughter of Isabella Neville and George, Duke of Clarence. She was a peeress in her own right, and eventually earned the enmity of Tudor King Henry VIII. The Roman Catholic Church beatified her as a martyr in 1886.
  • Elizabeth Tilney (1447 - 1497) was a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth Woodville. Whether she'll appear in the series I doubt, but it would be a subtle foreshadowing of the Tudor era: she was grandmother to both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, second and fifth wives of Henry VIII.

One way women often got entangled into the Wars of the Roses: illegitimacy controversies. Learn more about some of those: "Birther" Controversies and the Wars of the Roses

Many of these same women were portrayed in Shakespeare's Richard III as well:

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