The White Queen: Social Climbing

Rebecca Ferguson and Max Irons in episode 1 of The White QueenI may as well say it: the opening credits kinda suck. I think I’ve been spoiled.

Sorry, now for the actual show.

A soldier stumbles through the snow, pursued by his enemies, one wearing a helmet with a crown. The soldier’s wounded, and they trap him up against a tree. He screams as the crowned one swings his sword, and then he transforms into a pretty blonde woman who wakes from her nightmare, gasping.

This is Elizabeth, and she gathers herself, gets up, and wakes her two young sons, Thomas and Richard, before starting to get ready. Her mother, played by Janet McTeer, so she’s gonna be pretty great, comes in and guesses her daughter’s going to see ‘him’. Elizabeth says she has to, so her mother, Jacquetta, hands her a talisman, urging her to take it for luck. Elizabeth scoffs but takes it nonetheless.

Outside, the boys ask where they’re going and Elizabeth says they’re going to meet the king. The older one sneers that Edward is not the king, and that he killed their father. You may want to rein in that kind of talk, kid. Elizabeth tells him they have to show loyalty to whomever’s on the throne at the moment. They march through woods and fields, finally arriving at the road, where they settle in to wait. After a while, an army approaches, flags a-flying, with one man crowned and helmeted prominently at the front. He catches sight of Elizabeth and tells everyone to stop. One of the other men—Warwick, who’s played by James Frain, which always automatically gets a fist pump from me—takes a gander at the pretty lady and asks Edward if this is really the time? Edward removes his helmet to reveal quite the prettyboy with more than a passing resemblance to his father, Jeremy.

Edward dismounts and Warwick resigns himself to a bit of a break. Elizabeth curtsies deeply and introduces herself as Lady Elizabeth Grey. She explains that her husband’s lands were taken when he died, as he was the leader of the Lancastrian cavalry, and now she and her boys have nothing to live on. Warwick reminds Edward that Grey was a dangerous enemy, and Elizabeth shows a bit of spirit and insists he was only doing his duty as he saw fit. Edward tells Warwick to lead the men on while he has dinner with Elizabeth’s family. Warwick’s too smart to leave Edward alone with anyone, though, and invites himself along.

Jacquetta welcomes them, and Warwick immediately starts taking pot-shots at her, asking if her husband, the ‘page boy’ is home. It’s not really well explained here, but Jacquetta was the daughter of Peter of Luxembourg, Count of Saint-Pol and the Duchess of Bedford before marrying down considerably after she was widowed. She refuses to take the bait, though she does say her husband was always twice the man Warwick was. She offers Edward wine from her cousins in Burgundy and he accepts, leaving Warwick chewing his lip irritably outside.

Inside, Jacquetta comments on her daughter’s beauty, pours wine, and finds an excuse to leave the two alone. Edward asks Elizabeth to sit with him and asks if she’s happy with her parents. She says she loves her parents, but her sons need an inheritance. He agrees that there has been too much suffering during this war, and it’s time for law to be reasserted. He tells her the deposed king, Henry, has regained his wits, so there’s going to be at least one more battle, but he’s pretty sure he’ll win. She teases him a bit about his confidence, and he says he’s as lucky in battle as he is in love. And with that, he gets up to leave, telling her to write down the details of her claim, and he’ll be back the following day to collect it, alone. He kisses her hand and departs.

Elizabeth sees the two men off and is joined by her mother, who asks what’s up. Elizabeth says he’s coming back the next day. ‘Of course he is,’ says Jacquetta confidently. She then takes Elizabeth deep into the woods, where there are three threads tied to a tree, the other ends deep in a nearby river. She tells Elizabeth to choose a thread, but Elizabeth’s freaked out that her mother’s doing something as dangerous as magic. Jacquetta reminds her that they’re descended by the river goddess Melusina, and magic is in their blood. I have to say, I was rather hoping this was one of the bits from the book that they’d drop, because it seemed rather silly to me when I was reading it. Oh well. Elizabeth obediently chooses a thread, and her mother snips away the other two, telling Elizabeth that those represent lives she’ll never live. She tells Elizabeth to reel the thread in slowly, one foot, every day.

Elizabeth and her mother play blind man’s bluff in the garden with the many children of the household the next day. One of her sisters arrives and excitedly tells her the king’s there for her. Elizabeth takes a moment to fix her hair and goes in to see him. He greets her…rather familiarly, by cupping her face and kissing her cheek. Before things can get more interesting, Elizabeth’s father, Baron Rivers, comes in, accompanied by a cadre of rather hostile looking sons who are all blonde and somewhat interchangeable. The eldest is Anthony, the most bitter is John, who spits that he and Edward have met, at the Battle of Towton. All things considered, I don’t think Edward should feel too bad about not being able to remember John straight off from that melee. Anthony chimes in that Edward’s father insulted their mother over her marriage, and, Jesus, guys, that would have probably happened before you were born, and the man’s dead now, so let it go! Edward holds his ground, saying that they threw in with a king who had a poisonous court and ruinous taxes. Also, their bitchy queen had his father and brother killed. That shuts them up. He calms down and asks Elizabeth for her claim. She hands it over, and he immediately promises her lands will be returned to her. She thanks him, and he asks her to show him around the gardens.

She obediently accompanies him for a walk and he tells her that the former queen has gathered a new force, so he has to go and meet them in battle. Elizabeth seems worried, which surprises Edward, who naturally assumed she was a Lancastrian. She wishes there were no sides, but I think she’s choosing her politics by the likelihood her knickers will combust when she sees each king. Edward asks her to come to him that night, but she gently tells him she can’t be his mistress. He tries to guilt her, saying he could die in battle, but she holds firm. She does agree to meet him by the oak tree where they first met the next evening, just to say goodbye.

Inside, Rivers and the older two sons are freaking out about the possibility that Edward will pressure Elizabeth into sex. John seems determined that Edward’s probably out there raping his sister at that very moment, but Anthony tells him to chill out. While they’re arguing, Elizabeth comes in and says she’s just asked for justice. Rivers asks her what she’ll do if Edward summons her to court, presumably to make her a mistress, and she says she’ll do what her father advises. Rivers says he’d advise against it, since Edward’s cut quite a swathe through England’s women. Jacquetta says that at least this king’s sane. Rivers reminds her that they were once friends with crazy Henry. She knows, she used to be besties with his head-chopping queen, but realities must be faced. There’s a new king, and Elizabeth needs her lands back. Anthony looks shrewdly at his sister and guesses she doesn’t just want the lands, she wants the man too. Elizabeth shrugs that off. Anthony warns her not to sell herself too cheaply, and she responds that she doesn’t intend to sell herself at all.

Late at night, she reels in a bit of thread at the river, smiling to herself.

The next day, she arrives at the oak tree, looking nervous, pacing back and forth. Before long, Edward appears, on a white charger, no less. He dismounts and says he knew she’d come. He asks her to let down her hair so he can have a look, and she obeys. He whispers that he’s mad for her and has been thinking of her all day long. Elizabeth doesn’t immediately knee him in the balls, so he takes that as a total green light. He puts his cloak down on the ground (classy!) and asks her to sit with him. She does, and he begins kissing her neck and lips. He lays her down and gets ready to get down to business, but Elizabeth tells him no and tries to leave. He catches her and begs her to let him sleep with her. They kiss a bit more, and he starts to get back down to business, but she tells him no again. I have to say, in the context of the historical period, this woman’s a bit of a tease. No chaste noblewoman of the time would be pawing some guy out by the side of the road. Of course he’d get the wrong idea! Edward’s not listening, so she pulls his dagger on him, finally backing away. He reminds her that drawing a knife on the king is treason, so she turns the blade on herself and threatens to slice her throat if he comes near her. ‘Don’t doubt my courage, I am a match for any man,’ she coldly warns him. Edward immediately gets pouty, tells her she can keep the dagger, and that she’s made a fool of him and he’ll never see her again. He gallops off and she begins to sob.

Back home, she fantasizes about him for a bit, while handling the dagger (symbolism!). Her mother comes in and tells her the battle will be any day. Elizabeth weepily says that if Edward dies, she’ll regret not having slept with him forever. Oh, please, get a hold of yourself. Jacquetta tells her she’s not to fall in love with a York king unless there’s some profit in it for her. She needs to get a grip here. Jacquetta asks Elizabeth what she forsees for herself, but Elizabeth, clearly not for the first time, insists she doesn’t have the second sight. Jacquetta thinks she does, and thinks Elizabeth will have what she wants, as long as she’s willing to take the consequences.

Elizabeth pulls in a bit more of her thread, and this time she lands something: a ring in the shape of a crown. She thoughtfully puts it on the ring finger of her right hand.

Some time later, the house is in an uproar. Word has come that Rivers is to provide some men for Edward’s army. Elizabeth asks if Edward sent any other word, and Rivers is like, ‘what the heck else would he say?’ He does mention that Edward will come through the day after tomorrow, so at dinner, Jacquetta suggests they go out and wave the army off, to show their support. Rivers isn’t happy about this, but Jacquetta’s a practical woman and reminds him that it’s likely Edward will win, and they need to kiss his ass.

The girls get ready, and then the family goes out en masse, the men somewhat sullenly. They’re all waiting when the army arrives, with Edward and Warwick at the front. Rivers hands over the men, who all appear to be farmers armed with pitchforks. Warwick jibes the family for their sudden change of allegiance, but Edward tells him to shut up and accepts a purse of money from Jacquetta. Edward goes to Elizabeth and tells her he can’t sleep as, hilariously, Rivers and Warwick continue to bicker in the background. Elizabeth says she, too, isn’t sleeping much. He wonders if this is love and she teases that she thought he was well versed in love. He says it’s never been like this. He has to have her, and if marriage is the only way, then so be it. She accepts happily, and he tells her to meet him the next day at her chapel, bringing only her mother. He’ll supply the chaplain, and they’ll have to keep this secret for a bit. Elizabeth doesn’t care.

The next day, Jacquetta steals out of bed where Rivers still sleeps and goes with Elizabeth to the incredibly romantic little chapel, where Edward is already waiting with a page and a blind chaplain. During the ceremony, Edward realizes this was such a rush job he didn’t even remember a ring, but Elizabeth already has one—her little crown ring. She pulls it out, and it becomes her wedding ring. How appropriate. Now duly married, the couple leave the chapel and Edward asks where he can take his bride. Jacquetta smilingly hands over the key to a nearby hunting lodge, which she’s made ready for them,

The pair go there immediately and waste no time finally having their sanctified sex. Bodices aren’t exactly ripped, but that’s pretty much the feel of this bit. Afterwards, they snuggle happily and then steal back to the main house for dinner with Elizabeth’s mostly clueless family. Rivers notes the king doesn’t seem to be too hungry, even though he’s allegedly been hunting all day. Edward says he’s exhausted, as ‘she led me quite the merry dance.’ He says this while grinning lasciviously at Elizabeth, who smiles back knowingly, so way to keep a secret, guys. Anthony, having a functional brain and pair of eyes, picks up on this right away, and he’s not happy at all.

That night, the newlyweds return to their little lodge.

The next day, Edward wakes Elizabeth and tells her he has to go. He’s all business as he tells her she should disavow this marriage if he dies. If she finds herself pregnant, she should go to Warwick and his brothers, who’ll help her raise their heir. Elizabeth frets about him, but he tells her not to worry, because he’ll be fine. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, right?

He rides off, and as soon as he’s gone, Anthony appears and calls his sister a whore who shames her family and her dead husband. Elizabeth tells him they’re married, and Anthony immediately goes from angry to sympathetic as he guesses Edward fooled her with a fake marriage. As he speaks, some doubt clearly starts to creep into her mind, but she still tells him that he’s wrong.

Between that and worry about Edward, she’s stressed, and that nightmare from the beginning is back, only this time it’s Edward against the tree.

One of the sisters comes running and fetches Elizabeth early in the morning, telling her there’s a message. Elizabeth goes flying downstairs and her father reports that Henry’s forces have been routed and Edward has won. Henry’s lost his wits again, and the former queen, Margaret, has taken her son to Scotland. Jacquetta comments that there’s no doubt now that Edward is king, and all their fortunes rest with him.

Elizabeth waits at the hunting lodge and is met by Edward. As soon as he starts to kiss her, any doubts about their marriage disappear. Or, at least, she ignores him, because the sex is just that good. Later, she starts to wonder when they could announce their marriage. Edward says that Warwick wants him to marry a French princess, Bona, so he’ll need time to bring Warwick around. Elizabeth’s not pleased by this, but she agrees to keep the secret just a little while longer. Edward smiles that he’s rather enjoying this charade in their humble hunting lodge, and Elizabeth’s face says, ‘yeah, it’s awesome having my brother call me a slut,’ before she departs.

Speaking of those brothers, Anthony meets her on the road back home and tells her that Warwick wants Edward to marry this French chick, which means he’ll be putting pressure on Edward to put Elizabeth aside. Elizabeth tells him not to speak against Edward, and anyway, she loves him so much she would have had him anyway she could. Anthony’s sorry, because he’s pretty sure Edward’s hitting the road permanently.

Edward returns to London and dispatches letters to Elizabeth that make no mention of her being his wife, so she has nothing she could use as proof of the marriage. That was clever of him. Meanwhile, Warwick seems to be keeping him busy with kinging. Elizabeth asks her mother if she should trust him, and Jacquetta gently tells her that the messenger that brought the letter also brought a summons for Rivers and the brothers, summoning them to court. Elizabeth thinks it’s so Edward can announce his marriage to her, but apparently Princess Bona is at court, so really, it’s probably to announce the intended marriage to her.

Warwick welcomes all the lords and tells them Edward has some important news to share. In comes Edward, looking rather sick. He asks to speak with Warwick for a moment and pulls him into an adjoining room. Rivers wonders what the problem is now, and Anthony admits that the king may announce his marriage to Elizabeth. ‘Elizabeth who?’ asks Rivers. Hee! ‘Our Elizabeth,’ Anthony clarifies. John thinks his brother’s crazy, but we’ll just have to see.

Warwick, unsurprisingly, is not taking this news well. He reminds Edward that they have a peace treaty to conclude with France, and without it, the deposed queen, Margaret, who’s originally from Anjou, will bring a French army against them, and this whole thing will crumble into dust. He screams that he hasn’t spent the last year of his life working all this out so Edward can throw it all away. He tells Edward, like a naughty child, to go and make the announcement. Edward poutily returns to the lords, and promptly announces he’s married to Lady Elizabeth Grey. The Woodvilles all bow, and Warwick looks like he’s plotting several deaths.

A messenger arrives with a note for Elizabeth. It’s from Edward, summoning her to court and telling her he’s told everyone their happy news. She can hardly believe it and weeps with joy.

The family gets started making plans, getting her a wardrobe fit for a queen. Jacquetta tells her she’s invited the Burgundian family to London for the coronation—again, covering all their bases. The family will confer the position they need so people will stop sneering at them as commoners, and they can also offer refuge if things suddenly go south. Elizabeth observes that her mother’s making this sound like a battle and Jacquetta tells her this is a battle. They’ll have a lot of enemies now, and they have to be prepared for that. She casually continues that they’ll send her sons to stay with their kinsmen, but Elizabeth suddenly and forcefully says that her boys will stay with her. Jacquetta realizes she’s having some kind of vision of danger to her boys, so they’ll keep them close.

Elizabeth, all dressed up, leaves her home, looking back one last time, before climbing on a horse for the ride to London, accompanied by her mother and sisters.

The ladies arrive and are immediately met by Rivers and the boys, all of whom bow to her. She asks her father if he gives her his blessing, and his response, predictably, is ‘hell, yeah!’ Elizabeth teasingly tells Anthony he can stay down there, to atone for the things he said to her. He apologises and says he’s happy for her. A woman interrupts this happy moment by calling Elizabeth a common tart, but when Anthony moves towards her, Elizabeth holds him back and says they’ll have to expect some jibes, after that secret wedding.

Onward to the castle, where Edward meets them in the courtyard and greets Elizabeth with a happy kiss and seems really delighted to call her his wife. Awww. His brothers and Warwick’s family look on, all sneers.

On her way inside, Jacquetta’s waylaid by Margaret Beaufort, now Lady Stafford. Lady Margaret, played by Amanda Hale (lately Emily Reid on Ripper Street), is a pretty tightly wound, squirrely type who says that Edward’s a pretender who’s taken the throne by force, but Jacquetta reminds her that he’s the king, and speaking against him is treason. She sweeps past.

Warwick’s chilly wife watches Elizabeth and Edward walk around and says this is an insult to the ones who fought for him, to take a bride from a family on Henry’s side. She adds that the worst part is he kept it from Warwick. Warwick says Edward is overwhelmed by lust, but he’ll get him back, and Elizabeth will wish she’d never come there.

Elizabeth is introduced to Edward’s brothers, George and Richard, and his sister, Margaret, before meeting the Warwicks and their two daughters. The court applauds for the couple and Jacquetta sighs that their next hurdle is meeting the joy that is Edward’s mother.

Elizabeth and Jacquetta are shown into a grand room, where Edward’s mother, Duchess Cecily, is enthroned, surrounded by her daughters and exuding a chill so palpable I feel the need to fetch a hot water bottle. She wastes no time telling Elizabeth she’s not happy about this marriage. ‘Oh, that’s a shame, we’re all delighted,’ says Jacquetta lightly. Hee! Cecily dumps on the secret marriage and sneers that Elizabeth is older than Edward, which Jacquetta sees as an advantage, as she’s already proven her fertility. Cecily, losing ground swiftly, says Elizabeth will never be royal. Elizabeth reminds Cecily that Edward’s the king, and she’s his choice. Cecily gets a crafty look and says she could disown her son and put his brother George on the throne in his place. Jacquetta says the only way that would work is if Cecily admitted that Edward wasn’t legitimate, which apparently was a rumour when he was born. Cecily’s not ready to admit that she’s a whore, so she backs down. Elizabeth, proving she’s her mother’s daughter after all, reminds Cecily that the custom when presented to the Queen of England is to curtsey. Cecily and a few scraps of her dignity manage to rise and give the slightest bend of the knees. Elizabeth says it’s an honour to meet her.

Later, while they’re getting ready for bed, Edward expresses surprise that Elizabeth managed to win his mother over. Elizabeth says it was no problem, but she does wonder if Warwick likes her, because he makes her a little nervous. Edward tells her she needs to love him for Edward’s sake, as he’s his closest kinsman. He calls her into bed to get started on their dynasty.

In the middle of the night, Elizabeth gets up and goes into her sons’ room, where she finds her mother casting some sort of spell in front of a mirror, allegedly trying to see their futures. Elizabeth asks her mother who her enemies are and Jacquetta says Warwick and Cecily are definitely at the top of the list. Elizabeth suddenly gasps as she has another vision, one of a woman with blood on her hands. Jacquetta asks whose blood it is and Elizabeth says she thinks it was hers.

Well, that was fairly enjoyable. It’s not great television (but to be fair, it’s not great source material either. It’s ok. Readable, but not necessarily something you’re going to keep going back to) but it’s light and rather fun entertainment. It’s not going to make any of us think too hard, but it’s Sunday night viewing, and most Sundays, I don’t really want to have to think too much. We’re going into the week; and I don’t know about you, but I want something kind of easy before I have to hit the ground running nine or so hours later. So far, this fits the bill pretty decently. Plus, Max Irons is pretty to look at, and James Frain is fun. So I’ll definitely be back next week.

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