Whether it’s because you hunger for history to become herstory, or because you crave a substitute this spring for Game of Thrones–style machinations behind the throne, The White Princess might just be the show you need.
It’s a strange hybrid, because while the eight-episode limited series is brand spanking new, it’s also a sequel to the previous Starz production The White Queen, albeit with a new cast. It will certainly help to have a passing familiarity with the source material for both series, Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins’ War books, and its historic basis, the War of the Roses. (Not so coincidentally, it’s also the inspiration for Game of Thrones, hence the similarities—just sub Lancasters and Yorks for Lannisters and Starks, and you’ll catch on quick.)
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To whet your appetite for the show’s premiere on April 16, we have an exclusive clip below starring Michelle Fairley (aka Game of Thrones‘ Catelyn Stark), explaining how to end the Cousins’ War, as well as our own explainer—a guide to everything we know so far about The White Princess. (Needless to say, some mild spoilers ahead.)
Why should I watch ‘The White Princess’?
If you thought whoever was engaged or married to one of Cersei’s sons had it rough, wait until you meet the real mother-in-law from hell, Lady Beaufort, played ruthlessly by Fairley, who knows a thing or two about the game of thrones. Here she’s the Queen Mother, and she shows it by taking the best rooms in the palace—the ones that should go to the actual queen or queen consort, given the connecting doors to the king’s rooms for easy access. She’s always dressed in black, wearing crosses, and quoting the Bible, the most pious one in the room. And yet, in this York-biased version, she seems evil, gleefully discussing the imprisonment and killing of children because it bolsters her family’s hold on the throne. She’s delicious to watch, as you can see in the clip above, and determined to win the War of the Roses at any cost.
Okay, so who are the main players?
Jodie Comer plays the lead role, the White Princess, Elizabeth of York, who in real life bore a strong resemblance to Sansa Stark. Elizabeth of York is not to be confused with Elizabeth Woodville, her strategizing queen of a mother, the queen dowager, or the so-called White Queen (played by Essie Davis). Both Elizabeths are on the York side of the Cousins’ War—remember, think Starks—and are “white” for their sigil, the white rose.
Elizabeth has a younger sister, Cecily (Suki Waterhouse), who would rather take her elder’s spot in the Tudor court. The White Princess is betrothed to her enemy, Henry VII (played by Jacob Collins-Levy), the son of Lady Margaret Beaufort (Fairley), a scheming mastermind who helped her son take the throne. (So very Lannister.) It’s a political marriage; Margaret is attempting to secure the Tudor line, “the red rose and white combined,” which is why she’s so eager for her son and our heroine to get busy making Henry VIII.
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Is the show historically accurate?
Philippa Gregory’s series about the dynastic fight for the throne of England is a speculative one, focusing on the women who were otherwise barely acknowledged footnotes of history and fleshing them out with both fact and fiction. Other books in the series include The White Queen, The Red Queen, The Lady of the Rivers, The Kingmaker’s Daughter, and The King’s Curse. Three of those—The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter—became the basis for the first miniseries, The White Queen, which was more of a rags-to-riches Cinderella story. This round is less of a fairy tale, let’s put it that way.
We also delve a little deeper into some famed historical theories that set this period piece apart, including the incestuous relationship between our heroine Elizabeth of York and her uncle Richard III, as well as the fate of Elizabeth’s brothers, the so-called Princes in the Tower (named for their imprisonment in the Tower of London). Is either theory accurate? Who’s to say? A few historians believe Elizabeth and Richard III could have had some sort of relationship, but that is mostly conjecture, based on rumors that he intended her to be his new bride following the expected death of his seriously ill queen, Anne Neville. Just the rumors alone were a big scandal, and Richard publicly denied them all. But some say the historical record doesn’t support a sexual relationship between the two of them.
Still, the rumors persisted, even making their way into Shakespeare’s Richard III, and later inspiring Gregory’s Cousins’ War series.
Will I need a history class to understand the show?
Maybe just a quickie. If you just said “Huh?” at the Princes in the Tower reference, here’s a cheat sheet, because the show glosses over this part in the beginning. Or you could go back and watch The White Queen, which does address it.
To back up a generation, when Elizabeth’s father King Edward IV died, the crown passed to his son, Edward V, but Edward was only 12 at the time, so his uncle Richard III—the maybe-incestuous one—was made protector of the realm. The tween Edward and his younger brother were declared illegitimate and became prisoners—the Princes in the Tower. Richard III became king, and then the boys “vanished” without any explanation. Skeletons of a pair of children (much like Bran and Rickon’s “bodies” in GoT) were later found, although never authenticated.
Some believe that Richard III had his nephews killed. Others believe Lady Margaret Beaufort, or someone else acting on her behalf, committed the murders to secure her son’s royal claim. And some believe the boys escaped. In The White Queen, we saw a version of events where the youngest son, Richard, was replaced with a poor look-alike and smuggled out. “Are we certain the York princes are truly dead?” Henry Tudor asks his mother in the first episode of The White Princess. Good question.