Gregory’s The Lady of the Rivers tells the story of Jacquetta, wife of the Duke of Bedford, later, Richard Woodville, Earl Rivers, devoted follower of Henry VI and his queen, Margaret of Anjou. Part of the Lancastrian cabal that surrounds Henry VI and seeks to exclude any Yorkist influence on the throne, Rivers is the perfect mate for Jacquetta, a woman chosen by the Duke of Bedford solely for her potential in aiding his experiments in alchemy. Though the marriage is never consummated, Jacquetta enjoys the benefits of her position as Bedford’s wife—and with her marriage to Woodville, assures Richard’s rise near the throne of Henry VI.
Descended from Melusine, the mythical river goddess, Jacquetta appears to possess extraordinary powers as a seer, but Gregory never exploits this talent, fitting Jacquetta’s skills to her position of influence and her closeness to Margaret of Anjou. As Henry’s most trusted advisor, Edmund Beaufort enjoys familiarity with both king and queen, who favor his advice in all things. Even as Henry succumbs to the strange “sleeping sickness” that earns him the soubriquet “the Fisher King,” Margaret of Anjou turns increasingly to Beaufort for advice both military and personal. Margaret’s son is Henry’s putative heir, but the child is tainted by rumors that Henry is not the boy’s true father.
With Beaufort’s death in the infamous Cousins’ War, Margaret harbors aspirations of ruling in her husband’s stead. Jacquetta guards her queen ferociously but is unable to convince Anjou not to take her wrath out on the citizens she has alienated by her warlike ways. The wheel of fate turns, York ascendancy in the wings, Rivers defending Calais at great personal cost. An example of the sacrifices expected by such women as Jacquetta is found in Jacquetta’s attendance on Margaret, leaving her bevy of children at the family estate, witnessing in horror the country’s rebellion against the Lancastrians and in favor of the Yorks.
Most notable as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville, queen to Edward IV, brother of Richard III, Jacquetta is an integral part of this intricate period in English history that culminates with the marriage of Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter to Henry Tudor. In a sympathetic portrayal, Gregory offers many insights into the machinations of the Cousins’ War and the women outshined by their titled husbands but clearly pivotal in affairs of state. A loyal wife who only begrudgingly uses her powers when pressed by necessity, Jacquetta is a devoted mother and wife, confidante to an irascible queen and ancestor to a royal line of women near the English throne.
As well, much is revealed about Margaret of Anjou, the ambition and rage that drive her, though precious English territory is lost through the ineptitude of her husband and the actions of Edmund Beaufort. Rather than the menace described in other works of historical fiction—spells aside—Jacquetta is portrayed in a favorable light, if buffeted by the vagaries of fortune through marriage and love. Though not of such significance as Margaret of Anjou or Jacquetta’s daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta is nonetheless a cornerstone of a political dynasty, not noble by birth but certainly by association, and mother to Anthony Rivers, who makes his mark a few years later in another political drama. A bit less engaging than her other novels, this one proves in the end to be more substantive than it first appears.