The Last Medievals

I've wandered, of late, into the forest that is the Wars of the Roses, where you can't always see the forest for the trees. Speaking of trees.

Now, imagine all the branches and twigs of that tree pulped into individual playing cards (shiftily shifting a metaphor here) that comprise a deck that can only be shuffled by throwing them all on the floor and reassembling them every six months, during which time they all change colors, symbols and numerical designations - well, I think you get my point. Sorry for the confusion, but if you ever follow me into the forest, you'll understand why it's easy to get lost. I blame the English aristocracy who, at the time, had an unfortunate penchant for naming any boychild Edward, Henry or Richard. One tends to cling to characters like Anthony Woodville, simply because he's the only Anthony.

Alison Weir's had been on my bookshelf for over ten years when I finally determined to tackle it once and for all. It led me so deep into the forest that I despaired of ever finding my way out again - I had more than one genealogical and battle map bookmarked throughout - and yet, even though I kept having to retreat to a spot I thought I knew (Which Edward? Which Henry? Which Richard?), I didn't want to give up.

Then I remembered. The best way to catch historical people in your head is through historical fiction. That's when I found Philippa Gregory and her series, The Cousins' Wars. Each of these highly romanticized (accurate historicity, imagined personality) is told from the point of view of one of the significant women of the time: is Jacquetta Rivers, who can claim to be the great-great-etc.-grandmother of every British monarch from Henry VIII on down. is Margaret Beaufort, who can make a similar claim. , is Elizabeth Woodville, who stood in the road to greet the new King Edward IV, as he made his way home from the Battle of Towton, where he had just won his crown from the Lancastrian faction. Elizabeth's family had fought on the other side, and she wanted to ask that her sons be protected. He married her. , is Anne Neville, who married Edward IV's brother, Richard, and became Queen when Edward died and her husband became Richard III. is Elizabeth of York, who is forced to marry Henry Tudor, when he claims the crown after the Battle of Bosworth Field and the death of Richard "a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" III.

And I thought I had ascended to a higher plane when I gave up soap operas!

I've read all the Gregory's so far - got them on Kindle, they're fast reads. Just finished The Wars of the Roses. But I'm not out of the woods yet. The companion book to The Wars of the Roses is . And as if it were an Act of God, wandering through Costco a week ago I found this one: . It's on the shelf.

In the meantime, I've been blissfully unaware that The White Queen has been produced as a TV series. Don't worry. I've got them ordered on Netflix. And apparently Starz has taken it up as well.

Elizabeth Woodville died in 1492, just as Columbus was sighting land somewhere west of his embarkation point in Palos de la Frontera on the southwestern coast of Spain. Her daughter is a Tudor Queen. The world of the Roses, of all they have taken for granted, is about to end. Inspired by the themes of legitimacy and intransigence that characterized that world, I wrote a piece here recently that I called Red and Blue Roses. There are signs that the world we have taken for granted is undergoing a drastic change of its own. Somewhere in our world, Columbus is sailing west and a Tudor king is about to be born. I may be reading in the past, but I'm thinking of the future.