Last month, Philippa Gregory introduced readers to Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, in her nonfiction book, The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, The Queen, and the Queen’s Mother. Now, in her novel, The Lady of the Rivers, she takes readers into Jacquetta’s heart.
Jacquetta was just a teen when Joan of Arc became a prisoner of her family. The young woman who inherited her own family gift, hearing the voice of her ancestor, Melusina, the water goddess who was the first lady of Luxembourg, watched another woman who heard voices lose her life. And, the man who ordered Joan of Arc’s death was John, Duke of Bedford. Jacquetta became his second wife at seventeen. In marrying the Duke of Bedford, Jacquetta became the first lady after the king’s mother in England, and the first lady of France. It was a marriage made just for the sake of her innocence and vision, but she was unable to give him what he wanted, the ability to turn iron into gold.
When the Duke of Bedford died, Jacquetta knew she would be a pawn for the powerful of England. With her inheritance, she would be a prize as a wife. But, the woman who had a loveless marriage once, defied the king, and married Richard Woodville, her late husband’s squire, and the man she loved. Despite the Cousins’ Wars, the War of the Roses, that tore the country and the nobility apart, despite accusations of witchcraft, and the loss of children, Jacquetta remained a powerful figure at court, and in her family. And, the woman who learned a lesson early from Joan of Arc, about women who dared to defy men’s rules and claim their own destiny, claimed a destiny for herself, and her own daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, who became Queen of England.
The Lady of the Rivers leaves off where Gregory’s The White Queen begins, with the meeting of Elizabeth with her future husband, Edward IV. But, this is Jacquetta’s story, despite the fact that Gregory acknowledges little is known about her life. When was she born? How many children did she really have? No one knows because records were not written about women.
So, Jacquetta is allowed to tell her story here. And, she relates it, telling her feelings about Joan of Arc, feelings that resonated throughout the book. Readers observe her first marriage, one in name only, and the romance of her long love and marriage to Richard Woodville. And, throughout her story, Jacquetta knows she is always in danger because of her gift, and her decision to forge her own destiny.
Philippa Gregory, an authority on women’s history who often brings women to life in her historical novels, has exposed the life and heart of a woman few know. Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, was a remarkable woman, a woman of strength and passion who changed England’s history. The novel reveals her passion, her knowledge of her gift, considered witchcraft by many, and the dangerous life she led. The Lady of the Rivers is a fascinating novel, the story of an intriguing woman.
Philippa Gregory’s website is www.philippagregory.com.
The Lady of The Rivers by Philippa Gregory. Simon & Schuster. ©2011. 9781416563709 (hardcover), 448p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publicist sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.