Men go to battle. Women wage war.
While I imagine the producers of The White Queen had hoped for more than a single-season run of episodes, I think this story was best served in a mini-series format. Confined to a limited number of episodes meant that the parameters of the narrative arc needed to be firmly defined. Firm bookended seemed to have provided the writers with clearer goals for the end of the season as the show itself seemed to establish its points of emphases around episode seven. While overall it did seem to loose Queen Elizabeth as a focal point, flattening her with age, but the show never lost its sense of gendered investments about the way the late-medieval English aristocracy marshaled power.
And the show did divide down gender lines to the bitter end. There were certainly fewer men left at the end of the day than women. The Stanleys, in their willingness to sacrifice honor and virtue for power, continued to find success in their strategy to refuse to pick sides. In the end, they become the new Kingmakers and replacing the vacuum Warwick had left behind. Even infamous Richard seemed to have been cured of his chivalry by the end of the series. In fact, the show makes him out to be merely a bad politician (rather than the smooth operator Shakespeare depicts), wherein the deaths of all the sons of York and its heirs were somehow influenced by his presence. And Henry Tudor is not much to be invested in as the hapless puppet of a vain, extremist mother. While a noble, stoic child, it is unclear what this version of Henry has grown up into as a man.
The survival rate of the noble women as the political centerpieces wasn’t all that better than there counterparts. Queen Anne died a sad and desperate death shortly after the passing of her son and the disintegration of hers and Richard’s great love when it had little to do with political gain. At the heart of the episode is Anne’s rival, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the once Queen Elizabeth. Beloved by Richard and betrothed to Henry, she only stands to gain here. But if you know your English history (and catch the cursing hints dropped by her sister Cecily), the future is a barren one for Elizabeth and Henry. She is a disturbing figure in how little she cares or understand the larger implications of her marriage (such as the death of thousands). In Lady Margaret we are given the barest glimmer of hope that she might in fact feel the true full weight of her political wrangling all these years when the lives of her beloved and her son hung in the balance. Alas, in her sons’ victory we see the dissolution of any real piety in Margaret.
On March 16, 1485, there really was a total solar eclipse that was widely interpreted to mark the fall of the House of York and the beginning of something entirely new in England. As the show would suggest, a violent and male-dominated medieval period moves aside for the beginnings of something more progressive in the Renaissance, whose high watermark was the long and stable reign of Queen Elizabeth I of the House of Tudor. But of of course this is as much mythology as the rumors spread about Richard’s hunchback. The White Queen is a show that substitutes history for its close kin, nostalgia. It wistfully longs for any idyllic past that was sumptuousness, love, offspring, and a bit of intrigue in the upper crust, completely ignoring the brown bread-and-butters dying in battle at the feet of Margaret of Anjou and Lady Margaret Beauford. How might a show trace the place of the English feudal peasant through the motions of the War of the Roses? The civil strife at the lowest strata of English society was often made reference to in the show, this episode included, but little was seen and less heard about the actual position of those conscripted to fight. It may be an intersting thought experiment to envision a program that rather than arguing that “Men go to battle. Women go to war.” was based on the liminal proposition that “Kings go to battle. Peasants go to war.”
- CITATION: “The Final Battle.” The White Queen. Television. Directed by Colin Teague. Written by Emma Frost. 19 October 2013. London: BBC One, 2013. STARz cable channel.
- Check out the BBC One promo video for this episode below: