As last week’s installment of The White Queen concluded, our Queen Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) watched in shock and horror as her husband, King Edward IV (Max Irons), along with his royal brothers George (David Oakes) and Richard (Aneurin Barnard), smothered the old, ailing and utterly deposed King Henry VI in his sleep. This episode opens with no mention of this heinous, if perhaps sensible, act, and instead we see Elizabeth beset by several other trials to her grace and temper.
For example, the reappearance of Anne Neville (Faye Marsay) at Court has the Queen still full to the brim of vengeful spirit. Despite the death of their treacherous father, Lord Warwick (James Frain)—oh, how we shan’t miss his snide chicanery—Elizabeth still hates unto the next generation, and longs to forestall Anne’s happy reunion with her sister, Isabel (Eleanor Tomlinson), wishing them only misery. Had she known that Anne was going to find no kind welcome in the calculating Izzy’s company, nor enjoy her treatment under the iron-fisted tyranny of her new guardian, Izzy’s petty husband George, then perhaps she would have been better disposed to this development—none of which shows Lizzie in any kind of charitable light. Surely she, of all people, would know how Warwick utterly manipulated his daughters, and that they had no power over him, nor their own marriages? Izzy no more wanted a loveless marriage to George than did Anne want to wed the now-deceased, super-creepy Edward of Lancaster. Give them a break, Lizzie! We can’t all marry the men of our dreams.
Not that Elizabeth is finding her own husband all joy at present. First she learns that her infant son is to be taken from her at the age of two and sent to live in Wales, what with him being Prince of Wales and all. “The people must know him from childhood, Your Grace,” Richard explains patiently. “That way they’ll learn to love him, and that’s how we’ll break Welsh loyalty to the Tudors.” Elizabeth glares daggers at her husband, who adds: “This is what it means to have a prince and not a girl.” (You mean, a princess? Middle Ages sexism grates, doesn’t it?) And all of a sudden you can see Elizabeth wishing her much-desired son hadn’t developed that Y-chromosome, after all.
But matters between King and Queen are made infinitely worse when she goes to tell him the happy news of their once-again impending parenthood only to find him in bed with a bright-haired young lady of the Court called Jane Shore (Emily Berrington), the latest in what we discover is a long line of royal mistresses. “She is different! He cares for her!” Lizzie protests to her ever-awesome mother Jaquetta (Janet McTeer) and ever-practical brother, Anthony (Ben Lamb), who are both rather inclined to be all “it’s good to be the King” regarding Edward’s peccadilloes. If only the audience could be quite as forgiving—the Edward and Elizabeth Show has turned to farce, and Edward’s one saving grace, his steadfast adoration of his bride, is tarnished seemingly beyond redemption. Damn it, show! Since you’re picking and choosing what to give us from the books (and, indeed, history) anyway, couldn’t you at least have made this one change for the better?
But at least we have the Anne and Richard Show to take up the romantic slack.
Remember how Anne was totally crushing on Richard back in Episode 2, and that he was none-too-pleased to learn that she had been married to the Prince of Ice during his brief appearance back in Episode 4? Well, with Anne now widowed, then rescued by him and returned to favor at Court by his request, as well as now residing in his brother George’s household, you would think that Richard would have plenty of time to come a’courting of his sweet Anne. But, no. If that is what she was hoping for, she awaits his visits in vain, instead being held virtual captive and having the odd ill-advised hissy-fit about her mother’s continued confinement and George’s designs on the enormous Warwick wealth. It takes six months for Richard to finally encounter her around the castle halls, and when she attacks him angrily (“You said you had taken me to safety!”), he makes an assignation to meet her secretly in the garden, and promises to speak to Edward on her behalf again. “Why would you do that?” Anne wants to know. “Why do you think?” he responds significantly, his eyes soft, which doubtless has Anne planning her bachelorette party.
But there is another who has designs on Richard’s hand in marriage. Recall Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale), widowed last episode when her Way Too Good for Her Husband (Michael Maloney) died, bidding her to make peace with the House of York with his dying breath? Well, praying on this, unsure whether to heed these words or carry on the fight for her son Henry’s rightful place on the throne, God sends her a sign of his will in the form of her mother’s (Frances Tomelty) imminent demise. See, Dead Mom = Happy Maggie B, and going to pay last respects to this hateful yet insightful lady (“I always struggled to reconcile your saintliness with your vanity.” True that, Lady Beauchamp!), she refuses to give the dying woman any comfort and then writes to her One True Love, Jasper Tudor (Tom McKay), because now she’s free! Free, at last! And they can totally get married! Or at least exchange promise rings.
But Jasper turns her down flat (wow, Jasper—an unexpectedly good call!) and so she decides to do what she can to get young Henry back from exile by marrying into the York faithful. Richard also turns her down, despite her wealth and position as mother to the Lancastrian heir (ha!), but her steward, the rather squirrelly Sir Reginald (Leo Bill), suggests another prospect: Lord Stanley (Rupert Graves), who comes across as even more cunning than Lord Warwick (“At every battle, Stanley and his brother divide and join opposing sides, ensuring there is always one Stanley who wears the winning colors”) and is decidedly more bearded. He also is happy to abide by Margaret’s wish that the marriage go unconsummated and that there be no children to arise out of it—he already has sons, and he certainly doesn’t seem to have any interest in her as anything other than a means to an end, which Maggie B hilariously finds both reassuring and kind of offensive. Fair enough, really.
Happily, Richard doesn’t have the same lack of interest in his Anne. He talks to George about her, and is warned off, the elder brother certain that the younger could not be “attracted to her,” and thus is only seeking monetary gain. We fear the same, because when George decides to put Anne into a Nunnery, Richard asks her to marry him. The look on her face is, at first, one of sheer bliss—until it occurs to her (and us) that by marrying her, he will gain half of the enormous wealth of which George had hoped to gain all. “It’s true,” Richard replies, “marrying you will make me a wealthy man. Just as you marrying me will make you a Royal Duchess.” He looks deep into her eyes. “But I will be a true husband, because I love you,” he says simply, and she is convinced. As are we. Nice work, show, for giving us a slice of the happy in this bleak land of institutional infidelity and arranged dynastic alliance.
Now it is my sad duty to report on something that made me cry at this show for the second time in two weeks. (RIP, WTGFHH!) Because despite being one of the biggest proponents of arranged dynastic alliance (and, it turns out, institutional infidelity) this show ever had, I completely loved Lady Jacquetta, and so am devastated to report that her heart begins to fail in this episode. “I feel it skip a beat, and then go slow. It won’t beat strongly again,” she tells her stricken daughter. She slowly weakens—I’ve never hated Maggie B more than when she smiles upon receiving this news—and when she breathes her last, Elizabeth and Edward’s prematurely-born son goes with her.
“It is a comfort to know that they are both with God now,” Edward tells his devastated queen. “There was a moment when I thought you were gone from me, too.” Elizabeth points out that she has felt like he’s been gone from her a long time, ever since she walked in on him with that other woman. “This?” he asks, genuinely bemused. “This is what has been burdening you?”
You know, for a man so good with women, Edward is really bad with women.
She is justly mad that he was with Jane Shore the night before she was to go into her confinement—confinement, by the way = a month or so of no male company and complete bed rest before a baby’s due date—and he is all “You knew when you married me that I was not a man to sit faithfully at your feet” and “We are not young anymore.” (And yet you look exactly the same! Seriously, where can I get some of that Medieval Moisturizer? ) “Then what remains?” Elizabeth asks wistfully. He again looks at her as though she is missing the obvious: “What remains in my love for you. You are what sustains me in battle. You are my home.”
Okay, maybe he is good with women.
What will be interesting to see is if he can win over the newly-arrived Maggie B, now Lady Stanley, who is to take up a position as one of Elizabeth’s ladies—a move full of possibilities, given that her current closest confidante, Anthony (AKA best brother in the world), is soon to sally forth as guardian to the young Prince of Wales. So, with Anne now Duchess of Gloucester and reconciled with Isabel (AKA worst sister in the world), we have the subjects of all three Philippa Gregory books on which this series is based—The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter—in the one place at the one time.
Oh, how this worries me…
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.