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New documentary shines light on the women behind the Wars of the Roses

The Real White QueenOn Wednesday evening, Dr Philippa Gregory will highlight the roles of the women involved in the Cousins rivalry of the fifteenth century in this new two-part documentary series. Gregory, who is the fictional writer of the books which have inspired the recent BBC historical drama series ‘The White Queen’, will focus these programmes on Elizabeth Woodville, Queen consort to Edward IV, and her rivals, Margaret Beaufort and Anne Neville.

All three of these women were fiercely tied to their loyalties, pulled into the Wars of the Roses through the actions of the men around them, and were all rivals and even allies to each other at some point. These women were certainly at the heart of the wars which dominated the second half of the 1400s. Many historians have concentrated solely on the kings and nobles involved in the battles; however, recent research has prompted a great deal of interest in how the women behind these men influenced the tactics and alliances which changed English history. In this series Gregory will illustrate how this important part of our history can only be understood through looking at the women involved.

Elizabeth Woodville has been known by many as the ‘common woman’ who enchanted the young Edward IV, and after refusing to be his mistress, they were married in secret. The marriage was revealed months later to the dismay of the Earl of Warwick, also known as the ‘Kingmaker’. Elizabeth was forced to watch her husband ride off into battle numerous times throughout their marriage, with no knowledge whether he would return alive. She strove to keep her children safe, her family members were brutally murdered, and both she and her mother were labelled witches.

The Real White QueenThe documentary will also focus on Margret Beaufort, the mother and pioneer of the Henry Tudor cause. Gregory will emphases how this pious and stanchly religious woman was determined for the House of Lancaster to succeed in the belief that her son would one day be king. Margaret was a child bride, a widow at thirteen, and banned from seeing her son for much of his youth. However it seems this hardship only made Margaret fight for her son even more. Her cause was not a failed one; she would live to see her son defeat Richard III at Bosworth, witness his successful reign, and would become formally known as ‘The King’s Mother’, conveying to all those around Margaret’s importance to the king.

Likewise, Dr Gregory will look at the life of Anne Neville, the second daughter of the notorious Earl of Warwick. Anne was privileged in the sense that she was the daughter of the wealthiest and most influential noble in England. However, once she soon became a pawn in her father’s game, being married off to a man who she considered to be the enemy, and forced to be separated from her closest friend, her sister. Anne’s situation changed with the death of her father and her husband; she made dynastic unions and overcame the trauma of her youth to become Queen consort to Richard III.

All three of these women were key players behind the wars, alliances, rebellions and men around them. In a period where women were considered to be inferior to men, these women certainly defied the footnotes and shaped such a crucial period in England’s history.

The first episode of ‘The Real White Queen And Her Rivals’ will be broadcasted on Wednesday 17th July at 9pm on BBC Two. The programme is presented by Dr Philippa Gregory and was directed by Sarah Jobling.

Photocredit: BBC/Oxford Scientific Films

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