The White Queen 1.6: Love and Marriage

ANNE: I had no choice but to obey.

We move forward to 1471, returning to the center of Yorkist power in the heart of London. In terms of cast, the losses were heavy this week, as Margaret, Elizabeth, and even Anne in a figurative all lose their mothers. Anne and Margaret seem born again in rejecting their maternal roots, but it is suggested that Elizabeth is unable to carry her son full-term without her mother. With the ending of a generation, the assumption of power of the following, and the birth of a new generation, the houses of York and Lancaster are further entertained. There is a growing sense that a long-standing peace in England is possible. As Jacquetta Rivers advises her daughter queen, “England needs peace. Everything else must be set aside.” Making peace and being thankful in the political and personal spheres seems the thrust in this tear-jerker of an episode.

For vanity and piety Margaret takes a third husband.

With Henry Stafford out of the picture, Margaret Beaufort entertains the idea of a third husband, believing it is the will of God in order to facilitate her son’s ascension to the throne. As she intimates to Jasper Tudor, “I am now a widow, with no one to force or guide my hand.” Rejected by her once beloved, she goes in search of a third husband close to the king in order to get access to the inner circle. Thomas Stanley is an ideal match, too ideal actually. Adhering strictly to her stipulations not to have any children in their marriage, her rejects the wedding night ritual of consummation, surprising Margaret and her sense of vanity. In this we can find some satisfaction of poetic justice to a Margaret who has prided her piety despite being a woman desiring passionate love as well. In Elizabeth, who looses a mother and son in this episode, it is harder to see just desserts. Edward is caught cheating with a new woman as court, the very married and very young Jane Shore. They seem to reconcile after Edward is faced with the potential that he may actually loose his wife, but it is clear that the earlier primacy of their relationship is waning as other stars rise.

Loss and the fear of loss help Elizabeth and Edward rekindled their marriage.

It is in the relationship between newly-widowed Anne and the youngest of the York princes that unexpectedly takes center-stage. While Margaret has found power in her widowed status, Anne only finds incarceration under the guardianship of George, brother to the king and husband to her sister. Isabel has clearly taken her father’s advice, obeying whomever it seems is most useful to her. She at first shuns her little sister under her husbands command, but once she and Anne are of equal status, they are immediately reconciled. It is a time of plenty in England, after all, where a long summer affords play, dalliance, and the potentials for love.

For protection, love, and status Anne and Richard agree to marry.

The series as a whole foregrounds the associations between romantic love and fertility, while companionate love is more closely associated with political fidelity. A suitably romantic match like that of Elizabeth and Edward is validated—and censured—by their virility. Anne, like Margaret, is rewarded by the men in her life by taking aggressive action. She is even willing to turn down a marriage proposal by a prince of England to maintain her own agency. But like Henry Stafford in last week’s episode, George engages rather than squashes Anne’s ability, imploring her to ‘buy herself’ more time:

RICHARD: Listen to me, Anne. You must buy yourself more freedom by going along with George. By pretending to go along with George. Flattery always works. He responds to nothing more sophisticated than flattery.
ANNE: Isabel, too.
RICHARD: That will at least gain you some freedom for now…until the time is right for me to approach the king and ask him to release George’s guardianship over you.
ANNE: You will approach the king on my behalf?
RICHARD: Yes, if you’d like me to.
ANNE: Why would you do that?
RICHARD: Why do you think?
ANNE: (Walks away self-consciously.)

I am reminded of how little romance there has been in this series after the first episode  and that infamous roadside meeting. It makes the brief blush of love between Richard and Anne all the more earnest, compelling, and refreshing. It is in their relationship that we see the best balance between power—managing fortunes, titles, lands—and innocent, almost naive romance. It seems that in managing to demonstrate thankfulness in the interest of cultivating a peace, at least at the familial level, Anne and Richard benefit the most. As with the many political fortunes in this show, I wonder how long that can last.

  • CITATION: “Love and Marriage.” The White Queen. Television. Directed by Jamie Payne. Written by Nicole Taylor. 21 September 2013. London: BBC One, 2013. STARz cable channel.
  • Check out the BBC One promo video for this episode below:

POST SCRIPT: I couldn’t help myself. Ever since the peaches-and-salt cod episode I have been obsessed with displays of agricultural plenty. At a time of peace this becomes more pronounced, typically. Here are a few shots of Anne running through the kitchens to get to her late-night rendezvous with her soon-to-be-husband, Richard, the Duke of Gloucester.

The kitchens overfloweth! Anne escapes the overwhelming barrels of produce!

The White Queen 1.5: War At First Hand

WARWICK: The sons of York have united and plan to take back the throne.
JASPER TUDOR: London will rise up for Edward. He is much admired here.

The fifth episode of The White Queen miniseries struck me as one of scale and sacrifice. While the political allegiances of the highest echelon in England seem to have settled into a new realignment—King Edward and his brothers are reunited and reclaim the throne from a brief Lancastrian occupation, capturing Margaret of Anjou, killing her son and her husband, the mad King Henry VI, as well as seeing to the death of Warwick—it was the sub-plot of Margaret Beaufort and her husband Henry Stafford that carried the greatest emotional weight. In them we get both a sense of scale in terms of Stafford’s sacrifice for what he believes is morally right, as well as a snapshot of the realities of civil war for the middling aristocracy. Although the series struggles in that we get little of the classes other than bourgeoisie, it is in Henry Stafford that the interests of the common are expressed.

Lord Stafford demonstrates benevolence and fidelity despite Margaret’s threats.

Compared to the last two weeks when they had seemed to come to an accord as peers, this was a rocky episode for Margaret and Henry. With the glimmer of hope that her house might regain the throne, Margaret again began undermining her husband with some prodding from her brother-in-law (and seeming beloved), Jasper Tudor. Upon their return home from court just before Edward’s reclamation of London, Margaret discovers the house filled with tenants:

MARGARET: Why are there tenants in the house?
SERVANT: Getting their commissions, m’lady. M’lord’s takin’ them into battle.
MARGARET: Oh God. Oh God. Oh God! God bless you, God bless you!
STAFFORD: Margaret, Margaret please I’m afraid—
MARGARET: Don’t be! Don’t be! You are doing God’s work for the king he appointed.
STAFFORD: I’m afraid I am fighting for York. I’m leading the men to serve King Edward because I think he will win, put an end to war. I know this disappoints you.
MARGARET: My cousin…you spoke at length…?
STAFFORD: He spoke and I humored him. Don’t get others to beg on your behalf Margaret. It demeans you and you are far more compelling.

In the first half of this conversation I was struck by two things. First, Margaret’s disconnect and unconscious disdain for the her husband’s tenants, the commoners working their region, is disconcerting in light of her piety and desire to utilize them in battle to the service of her house. Second, no matter how disobedient she is as a wife—punishable by lawful violence in the period—Henry is consistently reinforcing his wife’s agency and conviction as admirable qualities. In censoring these qualities, she not only does a disservice to her cause but also to herself. The show seems invested in seeing men in high power as compassionate to women (mostly). Edward’s response to their first child being a girl is noticeably so, making Henry’s support of Margaret in the face of her derision somewhat less extraordinary. That compassion for her is only equaled with that concern he has for his tenants, marking the sharpest distinction between them.

Margaret is invested in a philosophy of divine right: her rightful king, the one that deserves her obeisance, is the man appointed by God. No other conditions or quality of rule factors into it for her. For Henry, policy, peace, and an ability to actually govern is what matters. While these convictions have simmered throughout the first half of the series, it is at this point (finally!) that Henry decides to make a decision that doesn’t include affordances for his wife’s family ties.

STAFFORD: The only time we have known peace was during King Edward’s reign. Now he has a son. It is my duty to ensure that his succession is peaceful.
MARGARET: His succession? His son?
STAFFORD: Look, your house does not deserve to rule. The king’s half mad. His wife’s a tyrant; she hates this country. Their son is vile.
MARGARET: You would defy a king appointed by God himself?
STAFFORD: Oh I don’t see God in these people. Look, what I am doing is right. I believe it is right and for the good of all.
MARGARET: Not for me. Not for my son. You would have me torn, husband on one side, family the other?
STAFFORD: Margaret this is not about you, your ambition! This is for the safety, for the future of this land!

As a minor noble, one engaged in the day-to-day maintenance of an expansive estate in the breadbasket of England, the nation is a spatial concept for Henry—ontological as opposed to Margaret’s metaphysics. If we were to think about it another way, Henry understands national stability as one garnered by collective action, while Margaret sees it as fidelity to the sovereign individual. For example, here Henry pits reason against Margaret’s beliefs. Her only responses are in the personal or as one of utter rejection to counter Henry’s three claims: the old king is incapable of leadership, his wife is cruel and spiteful towards the wellbeing of a people not her own, and their heir is morally bankrupt. (Oh right! Poor Anne!) This is not to say that Margaret doesn’t share a concern for the nation as such, but to her it is in God’s hands, and the noble classes merely act as instruments of his will. Their status is a mark of divinity as much as the king’s is. Margaret and Henry share values of national stewardship, but it is the mechanism by which that stewardship is enacted that tears them—as it has torn the country—apart.

Margaret braves the ruins of the battlefield, bringing a doctor and priest with her, to tend to Stafford’s wounds.

And it is on that very battlefield where Henry’s convictions are tested that we turn next. Margaret is empathetic to Henry’s mortal injuries, but she carries an air of “I told you so.” The sense is that God has punished her husband for his spite despite the fact that his aid helped Edward take the day. Alas, we seem to like our forward-thinkers massacred in period drama; they seem stuck-out-of-time, and the only way to right our notions of what, say late medieval England, looks like is to make them into martyrs for the revolution they portend. Henry Stafford has been pushed to confront his convictions gradually over these first five episodes to a point where he finally is able to openly adopt a position of what political theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri would call multitude:  an “active social subject, which acts on the basis of what the singularities share in common.” Henry is willing to unify those of disparate status and interest under one banner of political function and dismiss his own position to engender peace. To Margaret this is blasphemy on two counts: a) taking action against God’s anointed king, and b) rejecting his own status equally a part of God’s plan.

Henry isn’t alone in this kind of unifying politics. The episode closes with the three sons of York united as well. As soon as London is settled, the three young men together enter the Tower of London and kill the aged, mad king by smothering him with a pillow; compassionate considerations had only left room for quick resurgences of revolt while a mystical figurehead remained around which people might rally. A seemingly necessary move in order to get rid of the last direct Lancastrian heir, it is tainted with a kind of perversion. A sick old man is the sacrificial lamb to national stability, a man who did not choose to be born a king nor choose the symptoms of what we now recognize as Alzheimer’s. So while the episode seemed disjointed, splitting complicated political maneuvering down the middle with gorey, muddy battle landscapes, it did effectively combine sequences drawing our attention to questions of who gets to represent political groups, and by what mechanism—at least within a monarchical framework.

We are left in the hope that a deathbed conversation will mitigate Margaret’s aspirations for young Henry.
  • CITATION: “War At First Hand.” The White Queen. Television. Directed by Jamie Payne. Written by Malcolm Campbell. 14 September 2013. London: BBC One, 2013. STARz cable channel.
  • REFERENCE: Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. Print. 100.
  • Check out the BBC One promo video for this episode below: