The White Queen 1.3: The Storm

KING EDWARD: I will return May Day morn with peaches and salt cod for you and my Prince Edward!

English history has a rich relationship to tempests. These storms for the small island nation seem to serve as tests, nature plumbing its resolve. The great storm of 1588 destroyed the Spanish Armada, a force that would have likely taken out the newly minted Queen Elizabeth Tudor’s meager military. Prospero’s storms have the power to suspend and displace time to give Shakespeare room to delve the human condition. This third episode of The White Queen takes centers around another storm on the English channel that buffets the rebelling Lord Warwick and his family, including George, Duke of Clarence, from reaching France, and causes Isabel Neville to lose her child on the rough seas—what would have been a male heir to George’s Plantagenet legitimacy. The Lancastrians are tested and come up wanting by episode’s end.

A view of the storm the Rivers women summon from a window in the Tower of London.

Rebellion and uprising, issues hinted at in the first episode, “In Love With the King,” are now beginning to take center stage again as the organizing plot forces at work. His rebellion to put George on the throne came up a poor bet for Warwick, resulting in the deaths of Elizabeth’s father and brother. Edward continues to demonstrate a sense of state-craft in brokering an uneasy peace with the Kingmaker, but it unsurprisingly lasts only a short time. He is willing to see beyond Warwick’s resistance as rather an act of fidelity to the idea of a “good king” for England rather than serving the interests of a particular faction. Elizabeth suspects otherwise but is unable to articulate that she sees a change in the root of Warwick’s virtue, and can only be merely suspect of him:

ELIZABETH: What do you mean, another uprising?
EDWARD: In favor of witless old Henry, with a leader who will not announce his name.
ELIZABETH: A leader with no name?
EDWARD: Maybe a herald to Margaret of Anjou, to test how much support she can raise before she can land her troops to free her husband. So, I will make quick work of it.
ELIZABETH: Send someone else to lead the army.
EDWARD: No, it is my crown. I must defend it. I must put my neck on the line for the men who love me.

The series continues to rely on scenes that juxtapose communal and personal motives of equal weight and virtue, especially for Edward who at times, like in this scene, seems to handle them a bit too well, a bit too calmly. He is driven by a need to reciprocate the fidelity—that kind of more-than-filial duty upon which the power structure of feudal England was built—to his subjects who fight to keep him managing the throne. It is in moments like these that indeed King Edward is made a hero before he sets foot on the battlefield and Elizabeth comes off a bit petulant:

ELIZABETH: Edward, please don’t go. I’m—I’m with child again. And this time I’m sure it’s a boy.
EDWARD: This is the best news you could give me! How do you know it is a boy?
ELIZABETH: Ah, would you pry into a woman’s mysteries?
EDWARD: No, I would not.
ELIZABETH: Then please stay this time to protect us both.
EDWARD: It’s all the more reason for me to defend my crown for my son to inherit. My prince we will call Edward.
ELIZABETH: Edward, hmm.

Edward rides off yet again to quash rebellion by an as-yet unnamed leader, promising Elizabeth he will return bearing peaches and salted fish for May Day. He has additional motive with the hope of a son after many daughters have been born to he and Elizabeth. What this show does so very differently than The Tudors is position the need for an heir as a widespread political necessity rather than as a single man’s narcissistic obsession. His return on May Day (a day for lovers) with bounty is also a symbolic reinforcement of his line’s fertility. Elizabeth as a character is becoming increasingly flat in that as a figure in the ensemble she is coming to be analogous with a virtuous, beautiful, and fertile England. This symbolic position reinforces the sense of Edward’s legitimacy; as he is married to his wife, so is he wedded to his nation.

Edward returns with cartfulls of fish and peaches as evidence of his victory and divine right as the countryside flourishes in seasonal bounty under his governance.

The cod and peaches become a central visual motif in the episode before and after the storm. Debate between Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) and her husband Sir Henry Stafford (Michael Maloney) over what constitutes kingly legitimacy takes places in the estate kitchens, where bushels of peaches are being preserved and moved about by tenants. Margaret clings to a peach as she considers her divine vision that her son, Henry Tudor, will become king one day. These conversations are measured until Jasper Tudor enters the picture:

JASPER: There was an uprising. Our time has come at last.
HENRY: Queen Margaret is sailing?
JASPER: She is in Calais, and will sail once Edward is engaged in battle. Oxford brings ten thousand men from the south, and I have half of Wales.
MARGARET: So you must arm your tenants and go. The tide is turning. It is our moment.
HENRY: I won’t ride out and I shall send no one.
JASPER: What?!
HENRY: These wars have taken too many men; I have lost a brother and a father to this cause and still it is not won.
JASPER: I, too, have lost my kinsmen and that is exactly why we must fight on, so that their sacrifice is not for nothing.

It is Henry and Edward who seem to see the larger picture of what is at stake for England in this civil war: that it was once a war between factioning and equally-legitimate houses, a nobles brawl, now actually affecting the sustainability of the nation on a geopolitical scale. Jasper upholds feudal values, pledging his troth–a promise of his life and every thing he stands for in the service of a lord–to the Lancastrian house in the belief that faith and loyalty win out in the end. Henry, like Edward, is a voice that signals a changing tide, an adjustment away from feudal to pre-modern structures of governance where policy is a primary organizing feature of power. But in a culture with a strong spiritual backbone, it is difficult to discredit Margaret’s horror at her husband pitting the idea of a better king against God’s anointed:

MARGARET: If we rise up now we can unseat the usurper and return the throne to Lancaster.
HENRY: Until the next time and the next time. Does King Henry even know that this war ls being fought? He barely even knows his name! (Pause) And Edward is the better king. The roads are safe, the nobles’ private armies have been disbanded, and brigands have been brought to justice. Perhaps that is what matters.
MARGARET: What matters is God’s rightful king upon the throne! Or do you abandon the Lord as well as your house?!
HENRY: Oh no no no. Edward is also anointed by God, so how should we know which one to pick? Perhaps God is confused and does not know himself?!
MARGARET: And now you blaspheme and blame all mighty God for your own shame! You are a coward and you fear for your own neck like a child. And I ask God everyday why I must be married to such a man.
HENRY: Enough Margaret, enough.
MARGARET: No! No it is not enough! It is not. How can I live with such bitter shame!

Despite hustling about behind them and being directly discussed as fodder for the field, Henry Stafford’s tenant are utterly silent and their faces rarely even make it into the composition of a shot. If this show aims to continue in its feminist bent, the only way we can read them seriously is thinking about Elizabeth as a kind of representative voice for the material sustainability of England and its tenanted commons while Margaret is her counterpoint as a voice representing the values of the ennobled classes fighting for the spiritual well-being of England regardless of her material self.

The Roses of York and Lancaster.

The English Reformation is not too far in the future of these characters, so despite the her virtuous and earthy beauty, the materiality of Elizabeth—especially in her connection with the sea and earthly magics—is in its last throws. As I suggested of episode two, the Rivers women evoke a mythological idyllic English past reminiscent of Arthurian romances where the monarch’s relationship to the land reverberated in their political governance of it. Austere Margaret and her son Henry are England’s future, as unromantic as they are. Thus it seems fitting that in seeking vengeance for her father and brother’s deaths, Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta turn to the occult and summon that fateful storm on the channel. The darkened shots and the worried expression on Jacquetta’s face suggest that the Rivers women may have perhaps gone a step too far to demonstrate their fidelity to the Sons of York. But, at only three episodes in, who has yet to go too far in defense of such loyalty?

  • CITATION: “The Sorm.” The White Queen. Television. Directed by James Kent. Written by Emma Frost. 24 August 2013. London: BBC One, 2013. STARz cable channel.
  • Check out the BBC One promo video for this episode below:

The White Queen 1.2: The Price of Power

ISABEL: Annie! Annie!
ANNE: What is it? Was George bad to you? Has he hurt you?
ISABEL: Yes…but no more than mother said I should expect. That’s not it. It’s very much worse, Annie. My wedding was never for me at all. It was a sign from father that men should rise against the king.

It is an understatement to say that in episode two of The White Queen much historical ground and time is covered. The episode opens with Elizabeth’s coronation as Queen of England and the birth of three daughters to she and Edward over the course of three years. In that time, however, after much marriage wrangling it is back to war. The old mad king Henry is caught and imprisoned in the Tower, but this is not enough for Edward to marry off both of his brothers to Warwick’s two daughters. This time, Warwick has decided to attempt to make Edward’s perhaps “more legitimate” brother, George, a king whose strings he can pull. With new boots and cash, Warwick is able to rouse rebels. The episode closes with the dashing King Edward the fourth taken captive by the traitorous Warwick and his own brother.

The episode is bookended by meteoric rises to power by brothers. Interspersed between these episodes is another kind of politicking we see in a broad sampling of mother-daughter relations:

  1. Warwick’s Daughters: Isabel (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Anne (Faye Marsay), which they have a mother in the series, seem to have raised one another in many ways. There are a number of brief nods to the theatrics of the 1460s in the show, but none so beautiful and the shadow puppets Isabel uses to perform the story of the “Evil Queen” (alias: Margaret of Anjou) against the candlelight. As Izzie reinforces for Annie the gravitas of their position, so does Annie comfort Izzie when they are asked to take up arms for the honor and survival of their Yorkist house.
  2. The Rivers Women: The relationship Jacquetta Woodville (Janet McTeer) and Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) share is a tender and riveting, especially in this episode. From the support of presence Elizabeth received from her mother at her coronation and the physical support during labor, theirs compellingly straddles the line of true love for a child and seeing the political potentials that child represents. Perhaps it is telling that the camera briefly lingers on a shot of three players on a coronation route moveable stage (like that we believe popularly used for regional cycle plays in England in this period): the Virgin Mary and two angels. With the death of her husband and son, Lady Woodville has lost much under the false sense of security and child’s growing into a man provides.
  3. York and Lancaster: Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) is a stark contrast to Queen Elizabeth in terms of motherhood in this episode. While we know Beaufort’s son will eventually grow up to be Henry Tudor and inaugurate that infamous line of Renaissance monarchs, her sour disposition and blind religious zeal make Margaret tough to love. All the more so with Elizabeth now toting five angelic children and another one on the way to Margaret’s estranged only son. Despite this, while Elizabeth is ideal for monarchical propaganda, Margaret’s sense of loyalty and fidelity provide her the tenor of a queen with real power in the court, not just amongst the people.

Unlike the first episode, where the commonwealth was the central motivator of political appeal, the women are taking front and center now, as the show promotional materials had pitched. Some reviews are balking at the clarity of the political maneuvering the dialogue, but I do like the precision Emma Frost is providing. The images of Lady Woodville with her massive brood is an excellent visual queue of exactly what is behind the schism to begin with: too many family members equidistant to the throne. It is certainly on Shakespeare’s mind as a major cause: the opening scene from 1 Henry VI with all of the elderly uncles, all equal heirs but for age, standing around accounting the dead. While I wish we had more time with the city crowds and the coronation procession, I have a feeling in episode three we will return to “the People” and the city. Elizabeth has literally been dubbed a mother to England by Edward and sent to raise London in his defense. With hints are her imagistic powers this episode, I look forward to what Kent does with his production values next.

  • CITATION: “The Price of Power.” The White Queen. Television. Directed by James Kent. Written by Emma Frost. 17 August 2013. London: BBC One, 2013. STARz cable channel.
  • POSTSCRIPT: As I write this I wonder if the producers have an agenda with the new British royal mother, Katherine, in mind? While their are no threats to the succession baby George—except for Parliament, perhaps—what might be some ulterior arguments in light of having such a new and maternally “successful” mother in our midsts with a posh image to boot?