Philippa Gregory is passionate about history. Or, more specifically, about rescuing women from it. Her works of historical fiction (11 now in total) have sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. They've been turned into movies and television shows, and spawned several copy-cats. Not bad for a woman who turned to writing fiction because she couldn't find a job in academia after completing her PhD in 18th-century literature.
But what makes Gregory's work truly unique is her subject material. Her books shed new light on female historical figures: often, ones that have been cast as "bad women" in the history books. "I find people who are hidden in plain sight," she explained to George Stroumboulopoulos in a recent interview. "I look at a story that everybody knows, and the woman in it is a bad woman and we don't like it. But if we look at it from her point of view, it's a very different story."
Other characters, including Jacquette de Luxembourg, the Duchess of Bedford, who is the subject of Gregory's most recent book, The Lady of the Rivers, were simply forgotten. The duchess, who lived in the 15th century, was a controversial figure in her day. Widowed at 19, she married for love (in defiance of custom), was the friend of Margaret of Anjou (the Queen consort of King Henry VI) and the mother of Elizabeth Woodville (who became the Queen consort of King Edward IV), was embroiled in the War of the Roses and was tried as a witch. "She's a woman that everybody knew at the time," Gregory said. "Yet people just lost interest in it."
The time period Gregory focuses on is often portrayed as a scandalous one — just look at CBC's own The Tudors as an example. But was history really as scandalous and sexy as it is often portrayed? Well, the answer is yes and no. While Gregory is happy to indulge in a little salacious eye candy, especially in the film and television adaptations of her work — "Why would you not write a scene where [Eric Bana] takes his clothes off? You would be mad!" — she's quick to point out that she stays as true to her subject material as she can.
"I like to stay on the historical record," she said. "It's more interesting than anything you could invent."
Her millions of fans around the world would certainly agree.
The Lady of the Rivers
by Philippa Gregory
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From the publisher:
"Passion. Danger. Witchcraft . . ."
"Descended from Melusina, the river goddess, Jacquetta always has had the gift of second sight. As a child visiting her uncle, she met his prisoner, Joan of Arc, and saw her own power reflected in the young woman accused of witchcraft. They share the mystery of the tarot card of the wheel of fortune before Joan is taken to a horrific death at the hands of the English rulers of France. Jacquetta understands the danger for a woman who dares to dream."