The wars of the roses were a series of wars fought between two rival branches of the Royal House of Plantagenet: the houses of Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose). The early death of Edward III's heir, Edward, the Black Prince, resulted in on going battles between descendants of Edwards III's younger sons, the Duke of Lancaster and the Duke of York.
The White Queen begins during the reign of Henry VI, a mentally unstable Lancastrian King. The story follows and is narrated by Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian, who meets and falls in love with the future York King, Edward IV. Secretly married, Elizabeth becomes Queen of England and rises to the challenge, going on to become the mother of the Princes in the Tower and playing a significant role in the wars between York and Lancaster.
Philippa Gregory never fails to produce a well researched, excellently written tale, easily combining facts with enough fiction to really bring the story to life. Elizabeth wasn't always a popular queen, seen by some as a witch - probably due to her ambition and sucess - but she certainly makes a great character, and in modern terms a courageous and spirited heroine. Although married for love, Elizabeth always has her eye on the prize - the throne - whether it be for her husband or sons, and eventually even her daughter.
As a fan of the Tudors series by Gregory (including The Other Boleyn Girl) I already knew I was going to enjoy this book before I started it and I certainly wasn't disappointed. I think knowing a little bit of the history of the time helped with understanding the book more clearly, it certainly wasn't necessary to follow the story. Essentially I knew what was going to happen but it was all about how the author would get there and that is the best part of these books.The historical facts are set but there's a whole scope on the story that fills the gaps. I was especially intrigued by Gregory's take on the Princes in the Tower part of the plot and while it is still a much debated part of history, I liked her view on it because it made sense for the characters she'd written.
A definite recommended read - even if you don't usually like the historical genre, I would suggest trying at least on of Gregory's books - it might just get you hooked!