Have you been watching ′The White Queen′, an original mini-series on Starz? If not, then you have been missing out on a good deal of beheadings, poisonings, hangings and other fun, courtly skullduggery. Based on a trilogy of novels known as The Cousins′ War by Philippa Gregory, The White Queen retells the drama of The War of the Roses through the perspectives of the major female players in that conflict. The ′White′ Queen herself is Elizabeth, wife of King Edward IV and wonderfully portrayed by the actress Rebecca Ferguson. The series was well timed as the BBC, which first aired The White Queen, also produced another series being aired in America by Great Performances on PBS, The Hollow Crown. These are a lavish, well done productions of the plays by William Shakespeare of Richard II, Henry IV, Parts I and II, followed by Henry V. In many respects, these stories set the stage for The War of the Roses.

the white queen

If you are not an Anglophile or unfamiliar with English history, here is a condensed primer for understanding The War of the Roses. First, you have to understand that the players of this conflict are all related by blood, the ′House′ of Plantagenet. The name War of the Roses is derived from the symbols of the two main, family branches who compete for the throne of England, the Lancasters with the red rose and the Yorks with white roses. The war has its beginnings back in 1399 when Richard II, a real goofball (a sort of the Barack Obama of his day) by Henry IV of Lancaster. After Henry V dies in 1422, his infant son, Henry VI, was too young to rule England, so a series of ′Lord Protectors′ held the throne for him. By 1437, Henry VI became old enough to assume the throne.

But by this time, England′s power was starting to wain as The Hundreds Years War against France was going bad. That crazy French girl, Joan of Arc, had been defeating English armies left and right. As part of a deal to bring peace, Henry VI married Margaret of Anjou, niece of the French king. But the peace did not last very long and by 1450, most of the lands gained by Henry V in France were lost. Weak in both political and military power, Henry VI was challenged by Richard of York and civil war broke out in full earnest in 1455. The Lancasters were held together by the Red Queen, Margaret, who essentially wore the pants in the family. Over the next nine years, the two houses fought it out until Henry VI was finally captured and tossed in the Tower of London in 1464, though his wife was still on the loose, threatening revenge.

Richard of York had been killed during the fighting so his eldest son, Edward, became the new king. Just prior to this was when he meets up with Elizabeth Woodville. Her husband, Sir John Grey, had been killed by the Yorks in 1461, but she fell in love with Edward who agreed to marry her in secret in order to bed her. This does not sit well with Edward′s cousin, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick who becomes known as ′The Kingmaker′. He wanted Edward IV to marry a French princess, but that idea gets shot down when Elizabeth becomes pregnant. Edward makes his marriage to her public and official, and she become The White Queen. Unfortunately, the first child is a girl.

The snub to Warwick puts him against Edward, and Warwick cuts a deal with Edward′s brother, George, to replace Edward. The deal includes George marrying Warwick′s eldest daughter, Isabelle. Their first attempt to overthrow Edward fails when Elizabeth′s second child is a boy. With a solid heir to the throne, Edward regains power and after a fashion, allows Warwick and George to return to his court. But Warwick is already scheming, this time with The Red Queen, Margaret, who is exiled in France with her adult son, Edward of Westminster. Warwick again seals the deal, having his second daughter, Anne, marry the Red Prince. In 1471, the forces collide at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. Warwick is killed at Barnet, and the Red Prince, Edward, at Tewkesbury. Shortly after these events, the three York brothers, Edward IV, George and Richard, pay old King Henry VI a call late at night in the Tower of London and smother him to death with a pillow. The Red Queen herself is later captured but ransomed back to France, this time with no heir. But there is still one Lancaster heir who is also hiding out on the continent, Henry of Tudor.

The last two episodes of The White Queen cover this stage of the story. George is still jealous of his kingly brother and seeks the throne for himself. He gets busy trying to steal his wife′s wealth to buy friends and troops under the pretense of raising an army to fight the French. But in reality, George cuts a deal with the French to overthrow King Edward IV. Isabelle dies shortly having giving birth, though some wonder if poison was not part of the plan. George spreads the rumor that Elizabeth the Queen, often suspected of practicing the old arts of witchcraft, was behind his wife′s demise. When the king finds out what George is up to, he orders his brother to be captured, tried and executed. The king′s mother begs him to spare his brother, but to no avail. George is allowed to choose the method of his death and goes for being drown in a barrel of Malmedy wine. A fool′s death for a fool!

In last week′s episode, King Edward finally cashes in his chips for leading such a gaudy life. A fever of unknown origin claims him suddenly in 1483 and Edward names his last brother, Richard of Gloucester, as Lord Protector until his eldest son, Edward is ready to take the throne. Now, Richard has usually been a pretty nice guy throughout most of the trials and tribulations. He actually winds up marrying the widowed Anne Neville for genuine love. Both Anne and ′Mother York′ caution Richard about allowing Edward to become king, as they suspect that his mother, Elizabeth, will actually be the one calling the shots. So Richard finally succumbs to their paranoia and has Parliament rule that her marriage to Edward IV was illegitimate and her sons as bastards. The episode ends with him being crowned King Richard III with his wife, Anne, crowned Queen.

So, on tonight′s episode of The White Queen on the Starz network, we will get to watch their version of Richard III. Can Elizabeth save her two sons from Richard′s wrath? If you read your Shakespeare, you know the answer to that one! What will really be fun watching is how the third major female player, Margaret of Beaufort, manipulates both sides of the rebellion within the House of York. Her son from her first marriage, Henry Tudor, is still on the loose with a legitimate claim to the English throne. Her third husband, Lord Stanley, observed two episodes ago that Henry would have to walk past five coffins to reach the throne. With King Edward dead, the number is now just four with two heirs in the limbo of being considered bastards while locked up in the Tower of London. George′s son is sickly and King Richard may have other problems soon. Like trying to find a horse, of course! I am looking forward to tonight, as well as the big finale episode next week.