55 thoughts on “Prejudging The White Princess (and Not Just for the Costumes)

  1. Hi! I think GOT is very feminist! It has the strongest female caracters ever displayed on screen :) Is this going to be the nem Reign?

    1. GoT definitely is a good example of feminist characters (mainly in that the men and women are equally shitty people) but we can’t and won’t focus on GoT on Frock Flicks because it’s straight up fantasy. The costumes are fabulous, but we are about historical films & TV.

      1. *new Reign
        I know you don’t work with fantasy, just simply was mentioned in the article :) And another strong female carater worthy for a film: Olga of Kiev, she was such a badass even Cersei would fall behind :D

      2. Uh,, GoT is the last thing from feminist. that show literally changed the whole setting of their story so that can can burn one women and then rape and dethrone another. Also the women characters were changed in crafting mid season so they would need men character much more such as Dany needs Tyrion .
        Which is funny since GRRM wanted a adaptation with rich medieval feel to it with so many varied range of truly powerful women which feels even more beautiful since his world is patriarchal nightmare and hence a critique to sexism( just read the books really…)That show is a sexist piece of trash which masquerades itself as feminist by making everyone awful with men coming out on top at the expense of women. or women being really shitty even in villian-ing. since it never really adapted the books to be honest. not Theme wise or plot wise.

  2. I’m passing on the series. I abhor PG books and find her ‘research’ suspect to be polite.
    Now Victoria on ITV & PBS has juggled events, people and conflicts for story line, but I’m entranced by the show. Accuracy is B- to C+ for history, but costumes are amazeballs – correct corset with underpinnings and does a remarkable job in recreating garments actually worn by Queen Victoria. Besides it has Rufus, Tom & David as well as Ben.

  3. Thank you for this post. I feel your rage. Just because something passes the Bechdel test doesn’t mean it’s feminist.

    1. I’m not even convinced this show will past the Bechtel test — won’t all the women be talking to each other only about the men? That’s what this (admittedly very crappy) preview seems to indicate. The thing is, many of these historical queens did have lives outside of being the fuck buddy of a king. They were into their religion & charities & children, they might be well-read, maybe they really got off on needlework. All kinds of stuff *other* than dudes. But we’ll never know bec. TV/movies just love to show us women in relation to men *sigh*.

  4. The White Queen was a steaming pile of manure, kike, I don’t know who killed the Princes in the Tower, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Margaret Beaufort, and I’m also fairly positive that the death of Prince Arthur, and the subsequent problems the Tudors had with producing heirs wasn’t because Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Woodville cursed Margaret Beaufort’s family. Which I’m sure is something that will cause Elizabeth of York a lot of emotional pain in this series.

  5. I only disagree that there have been no women practicing men’s professions in these times, in spite of the sexism, like Beatriz Galindo a Spanish educator or the portraitist of Marie Antoinette – Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun.

    So it is not at all impossible, as well as other examples out there.

    1. Those are the rare exceptions that prove the rule. But the rule stands, & every other show adding a “lady doctor” in a historical period where such a thing had 99.999999999% chance of not happening is still playing fast & loose with history.

      Also, we have a long-running series on “actual historical people who need movies about them” — which is primarily interesting, highly accomplished women. Why not make movies about REAL women who did unusual things & not invent BS ones? Or get the history wrong on actual ones as Philipa Gregory tends to?

      1. Fictional history is not “fantasy” . And settle strong women playing the men works is not a fantasy.
        I think with all my respects that For you the Feminism is lineal, only has a way: the realism. But the Feminism is beyond fantasy or reality, is in everything. Is not a right, but a proud. All in this life is like a prism: everything have a lot of faces. The Feminism what is for you? The customes are wrong too? The customes don´t matter, not even the era, the details, the only thing that cares really is the determination of women. Playing Suffragism was about this. It was such a large, complex concept. It was the struggle of women, and these series of historical cuts that offer us the possibility of being the protagonists are their fruits. No more visions of feminism so lineal, they are too poor.
        I think your concept of Feminism has prejudice, & negativity. And I also think it omits the fact that every woman is different, and lives it differently. It is somewhat dictatorial to say that my claim to live feminism in a free way is not the point addressed here. So what is the point? What is feminism? How should it be shown? Nobody has that right, not a man or a woman. You will never find two women who claim the same thing about Feminism. I think this opinion lacks generosity. Rationality does not imply success, it does not imply rotundity or law. The opinion own is not universal , is just our opinion.

        1. I think you misunderstand the purpose of this site & this article. A) We review historical costume movies & TV shows. B) As such, we’re concerned with the representation of women in history.

          I’m not a big fan of revisionist history movies & TV shows — aka fantasies — used to prove points. I think actual history can do a much better job of proving the point that women are equal to men (which is the definition of feminism, yes, it’s that simple).

      2. I was not talking about the PG books, they have nothing feminist about them.
        I was talking about real people with real stories, just because they lived in the past in a predominant patriarchal society, does not mean that it does not matter, it’s not as if women had woken up in the 60s and started to “burn bras” that feminism was born. There are real stories, real people. Not only “exceptions”.

  6. I do not agree at all. Feminism is not just a doctrine or a social movement. It is also a conception. And as such every woman has a different view of this conception. You can not criticize Emma Frost because she films a story based on a book, where women are effectively the protagonists, or to Julie Kosin. “The White Princess” is a book about women. Why not place impossible heroes in an impossible time? Why not transfer feminism as the principle that a woman is the same as a man in any time and place? Claudine Masson in Versailles and Sabine de Barra in “A little Chaos” are respectively the doctor and the gardener of Louis XIV.

    This could never have happened, ok. It was impossible. But why limit ourselves to portraying only “real” heroines when we can move feminism as a vision to the shows? Historical fiction is an ideal place to narrate such facts because:
    1) Although they are not real, daily movies are filmed on historical cutting of people who did not exist (whether male or female) or other historical changing dates, events, characters, and nothing happens. The same word says “Historical Fiction”
    2) What is wrong with raising awareness through the historical fiction that a woman can be erected just like a man, breaking all the standards as a doctor in the case of Claudine or as a gardener, in the case of Sabine de Barra?

    This is not about historical facts, happened or not. This is not about
    the use of how we apply the doctrine, vision and principle of feminism. It’s how we feel.
    I am a feminist, and I am now proud that there are characters like those you criticize. Because it does not matter when it’s set, it matters the vision. The way to translate that vision in my case.

    Films like “Sufragette” with Meryl Streep are a pride for me. “The White Princess” and all the books by Philippa Gregory are a recognition for me as a woman. They are writing about our strength, our capacity, our equality, it does not matter if in the sixteenth century there were no female doctors. Claudine Masson is the best female character in Versailles with difference. She´s testing how a woman can bright without pass by a man´s bed.

    With all due respect, every woman has the right to revoke and feel feminism as she feels it. Of course you can make a critique about Emma Frost and feminism in “The White Princess”, I find it very respectable, but you have to understand that many people see it well. I see it well.

    Another thing is to want to conjugate the historical epoch with feminism with exactitude. So really that is what would distance us and make us lose bellows. Why do we refuse to take the principle further by itself? Just because we’re historical freaks?

    No, the genre when you carry the word “fiction” is telling you that what you are going to see is slightly based on the truth.
    You have the movie “Agora” with Hipatia of Alexandria, an amazing woman, with a great movie, she´s for me one of my historical “suffragetes” favorites. And of course our fictional ones are Claudine and Sabine de Barra for example. The three women are good for me, one because being real potrays the same than the another two, who are fictional: our Equality, our dignity, the same as that of man. “The white princess” will be amazing, because like in “The white queen” the best roles will be played by women.

    1. “Why not place impossible heroes in an impossible time?” — Sure, go for it. The genre is called fantasy. I love it, I read & watch a ton of it. But that’s not what we’re talking about at Frock Flicks. Thanks.

      PS: Search the site, we’ve mentioned Agora twice. Kendra loved it.

    2. It’s like filming a CW story without racism and slavery, there could be black (sorry, I’m Hungarian, don’t know if this term is correct?!) doctors, teachers, politicinas, etc. ‘cos of our modern view of race equality! Sounds hideous, doesn’t it? Then why remove sexism and male dominance from historical movies? Claudine Masson could be the king’s mistresses midwife, sitll to be a very strong character (and this would be historically correct too). And talking about historical equal rights: here in the medieval Hungary if a woman was crowned to be Queen, she was titled King (so we had a King Mary :D)

  7. Tyrstan I was nodding in agreement all through the blog. (I have yet to watch White Queen so I can’t comment really but I did read reviews hence not having watched it.) Just because women are essentially airbrushed out of history does not mean that they were sitting idly in the shadows while men occupied the stage, not doing or thinking. They were active and had “agency”. They did not have to take on male roles to be of interest and depicting women doing things they did not do only perpetrates the belief that at the time women were not doing anything worthwhile or of interest. We don’t have to fabricate reality, just to delve a little deeper and find the stories that history has all too often overlooked. I want to know how women did cope with the conditions they were subject to, what life was really like for women of the past. I have been involved in several local history projects to put women into history by telling their stories with interesting results.
    The other danger of fabricating history to depict women doing jobs that women at the time were not permitted to do is to deny the sexism and injustices of the past. There are stories enough of strong women who did make a mark and limitless potential for stories of interesting women, real or imagined, who lived interesting lives without or without achieving wealth and fame.

    1. Yep, there are so many real stories of fascinating women that we *don’t* hear about — bec. Hollywood & other powers that be think that we can only deal with fantasies of lady doctors in eras that they wouldn’t have existed. That’s doing our foremothers a great disservice.

    2. That is a great point about how showing women engaging in activities highly atypical for them in a given period perpetuates the idea that what real women actually did during those periods was of little value or interest! Popular history (very different from what goes on in academia) is still very great-man-theory-oriented suffused with a focus on the supposed ‘big moments/events’ of history. In order to include women it’s felt they need to portray them taking on traditionally male/masculine roles/occupations, which is already becoming a pretty tired trope of its own. Except that doing so only perpetuates the prejudice towards traditionally female/feminine roles/occupations/activities. And apart from being angering and frustrating it’s also just sad and disappointing because there is so much rich material that *could* be mined for making great productions but everyone just keeps trotting out that same old stories and being neither original nor true to the history about them.

      One of the most fascinating productions I ever watched was a PBS special on the life of an 18th century American midwife, I believe her name was Mary Ballard (?) base on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s research with the woman’s surviving diary. The program told her story through her diary – her own words. It was utterly engrossing. And it wasn’t just me who thought so. It aired while I was in my 2nd year of university and living in res; I watched it on the common room tv and there was a whole group of us mesmerized by this fascinating portrayal of a real person/woman. It was wasn’t a fancy production but the story and insights were just SO. GOOD.

  8. I hate-read the book (and will hate-watch the show). Unless major changes are made to the source material, “feminist” and Philippa Gregory’s Elizabeth of York should not be said in the same sentence. (Henry VII RAPES Elizabeth. Yes, reader, Prince Arthur was the result of Henry raping Elizabeth before the wedding, to make sure she was ‘fertile’ before he married her. *flips off the author*) Elizabeth spends the entire book saying, “I don’t know” about everything and wiffling on whether she loves her rapist or not. :P

    God, I hate this woman’s stories .Make them stop.

    1. Rape is one of her big tropes. I read a few of her books years ago (started w/The Other Boleyn Girl, which wasn’t as bad as I expected, so I thot, oh some trashy fun!) & was so squicked out by SO MUCH RAPE. This is also why I’ve never read Outlander. *shudder*

      And this is not to say that, yes, rape happened & was an unfortunate part of many/most women’s lives (& hell, still is), but as a plot point? FFS. And a generally un-reflected-upon plot point? That’s a step too far.

      1. Rape and incest, apparently. (I haven’t read her non-historical series, but that’s a theme there too.)

        What bothers me is she inserts it where it didn’t exist (why do that to Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage, which was one of the HAPPIER relationships in history?) and downplays it where it DOES exist (blink and you’ll miss it; despite Margaret Beaufort’s husband knocking her up AT TWELVE YEARS OLD). It’s strange. I’ve devoted entirely too much time trying to figure out WHY she includes these themes in her books.

        1. The marriage of Henry VII & Elizabeth of York may have followed after the consummation since Arthur was born in September, but why did the sight say rape, is beyond me.
          Charity is right it was one of the happier of the period.
          I refuse to read PG and her de rigeur rape scenes makes you wonder….

          1. It might have; or Arthur was premature, which also makes sense given his later health problems.

            If PG has suffered along those lines in her own life, I’m sorry for her; but I hope she’s not just including rape in all her books to be shocking or controversial.

            1. Arthur didn’t really have any health until the one(s) that killed him.

              Gregory’s rape fetish is deeply distasteful; to have Elizabeth go on and fall in love (for about 10 pages) with her rapist even more so, although she writes EoY as such a witless brat that it’s somehow not surprising. HVII, known to have been well read, calm and cultured, is presented as a cultureless, tantrum prone crybaby who doesn’t even know Latin, and Elizabeth as a spoilt, brainless princess (in the worst sense of the word) who can’t make up her mind whether she loves her husband and children or would be happy to see them driven off a cliff with pitchforks. I see that they’ve changed her motto from “Humble and Reverent” to “Humble and Penitent” (why?); really it should just have been “No Idea Mate”.

              1. There was one review on Goodreads I read for the novel that was all about Lizzie’s frequent usage of , “I don’t know.” She knows nothing, she has no opinions, she’s either borderline or bipolar, and it makes for a really annoying heroine. She’s just as wishy-washy and indecisive on the series. :P

                1. As someone who has slogged through far too many Philippa Gregory novels (I finally learned), what kills me is how she, in EVERY.SINGLE.NOVEL., has all her characters saying “y’know” and other contractions that are SO NOT APPROPRIATE TO THE PERIOD!!!!!!!!!!!!

      2. The reason it doesn’t annoy me as much in Outlander as it does in other books is it *does* get reflected on, and have long term consequences (for both genders) and impact that aren’t just plot device gimmicks. So it feels less…out of context and ‘shock value’… I guess?

        When i saw the trailer for this show, I just knew you were going to be flailing at the costuming. Ugh.

    2. It makes me wonder about PG, and what sort of personal experience she has with rape and sex in general. Was she a victim and it twisted her vies of consensual/non-consensual sex?

      1. Please don’t do this. If a woman is a survivor of rape or abuse, that’s her business and we shouldn’t speculate on it. It’s really gross to just assume that because she writes about a thing a lot, it must have happened to her. Agatha Christie wrote about loads of poisonings and horrible murders but you didn’t see all her relatives and friends dropping like flies. People write about things for a variety of reasons, not just as therapy.

    3. You stole my comment. Elizabeth of York in that novel is a character without any agency. She is just a passive ball of waffle. Like potatoes she goes with everything. Henry rapes her, she does nothing. He banishes her mom, she does nothing. He has large parts of her family repeatedly executed, she does nothing. She is banned to confinement, accepts it. He cheats on, she does nothing. Henry is obviously a terrible person, she is his perfect wife.

      In a way Gregory’s Elizabeth of York is the ultimate Cool Girl.

      1. *mutters / grumbles under breath extensively* Meanwhile, Margaret Beaufort is all, “Yeah, Henry, you totally need to rape her, see if she’s fertile, MWHAHAHAHAHA.” :P

  9. As a historian, Philippa Gregory makes me slam my head on my desk. Her work means that mine is harder- I have to disabuse people of her alternative facts before I can give them real ones. And I can’t read her stuff. God knows I tried. Just can’t.

    I feel much the same about Sharon Penman. I know she has a lot of serious friends, especially in the SCA, but again, I have to undo so much…

    1. “As a historian, Philippa Gregory makes me slam my head on my desk. Her work means that mine is harder- I have to disabuse people of her alternative facts before I can give them real ones.”


      Most people also seem to think she is a HISTORIAN and not just an author, despite her lack of credentials — why does the BBC and other British programs include her when doing documentaries about the period?! It makes her look CREDIBLE, and she’s NOT.

    2. You’re saving yourself some heartache by not reading Gregory’s stuff. Especially by not reading The Queen’s Fool. In that book she turns Elizabeth I into a harlot for “survival” (Flirting is not being a slut Gregory, and we’ve got every reason to believe that Elizabeth could have been a survivor of abuse by Seymour).

      And then the protagonist Hannah. Oh my goodness Hannah. As a historian I wanted to slap Hannah and Gregory both. As a Jewish woman, I wanted to slap Hannah multiple times and scream at her just how much she’s a fucking traitor to not only her fellow conversos, but to all Jewish people living in her time period.

      (Because any converso from Spain pretending to be the royal fool just because she has visions would TOTALLY latch onto Mary I, a known religious fanatic with maternal grandparents that were directly responsible for the status of conversos from Spain, right? //sarcasm sarcasm sarcasm).

      The only thing in that book that made me snort with amusement is that the protagonist marries a Disraeli. And the moment someone dips their toes into Victorian History, it’s pretty damn obvious where Gregory got that surname from.

  10. I wish this was more about the terrible costumes from the promos than feminism! It’s so overdone nowadays. I’m sorry, but that’s just my opinion, don’t judge.

    1. WAIT WHAT? Are you saying feminism is “overdone” these days? Yeah, if that’s your opinion, I’m gonna judge. Bec. whoa, feminism is entirely NOT overdone in any way, shape, or form. Again, I direct you to the actual definition of feminism (above, it’s even in a handy-dandy gif). Until all women around the world have full & complete legal & social equality, then no, feminism is not “overdone.” KTHXBYE.

  11. My only quibble with this article is calling PG’s books “romance novel-y,” since I’ve read dozens of lovely romances that do justice to historical accuracy.

    I don’t know what you’d call her books, really, other than trash. They’re not romance, they’re not history. I walked out of the theater in the middle of The Other Boleyn Girl, rolled my eyes through The White Queen, and plan to hate-watch the crap out of this one.

  12. Liutgard has it right. Take note please, those of you who have said that you want to see movies about Queen Hatshepsut or Nefertiti. The novels and popular non-fiction that moviemakers might want to draw on are dreadful–inaccurate and sensationalistic. Then I have to talk myself blue in the face trying to convince people that many Egyptologists think the so-called “Thutmosid feud” is fiction. (“But they said so on TV!” came the voice from the back of the classroom.) With reference to Gregory’s reliance on scenes of sexual assault to move her plots along, I would point out that Pauline Gedge (whose novels are called by many the “gold standard” of fiction set in Egypt) included a completely gratuitous and unbelievable attempted rape in her first novel. Flagrant foul, Pauline–you’re ejected!

    I haven’t read any of Gregory’s novels. I don’t have to–I’ve come across so many similar comments in book reviews by readers who actually do know something about the Tudors. And it isn’t as though Gregory couldn’t have done some serious digging herself. If you’re going to write a historical novel, you have a responsibility to portray real people as accurately as possible. You don’t change the birth order of siblings. And you don’t subject historical characters to imaginary sexual assault because your plot is running out of steam.

    1. I actually had an online discussion with a Ricardian (of the sort who sees him as a sexy doe eyed saint) who, in response to assertions that evidence suggests that Henry and Elizabeth were in fact very fond of one another, said “You do know that he raped her, don’t you?” When it was pointed out that this was another of Gregory’s rape fantasies she responded that obviously the Tudors had had it airbrushed out of history, and seemed sincerely not to understand that in order for it to airbrushed it would first have to have been recorded.

  13. When I watch The White Princess or even the White Queen, I see women fighting for their rights; fighting for their will. I see women trying to secure their future for themselves and for their offspring by manipulating men to do their will. I see women enduring deception and betrayal like men. Even-though they can’t control their lives/marriage, they aren’t alone as some male characters couldn’t do the same. Examples like, Henry VII, Edward Plantagenet(the imposter) and Jasper Tudor. Their lives were already planned out for them. Like women, they couldn’t marry for love.

    While watching these series, I see unbreakable faith, tenacity and strength of character. I see early sprouts of feminism in the Dark Ages of a Man’s World; even-though it may not be as overt like the concept of 21st century feminism. While these series may not be perfect, it can be described as feminist shows, as they highlight the women that indirectly paved way for females like Queen Elizabeth I or Elizabeth Bennet.

    You don’t have to agree with me but I think you should watch the series. The whole thing.

    1. What I see is women plotting against other women; a woman fighting for her male offspring at the expense of the daughter who is now queen and herself a mother; I see women murdering children (I know Margaret Beaufort didn’t do it, but in Gregoryland she did) and manipulating them for their own ends. Does this make them any worse than their male counterparts? No. Does this make them shining beacons of female empowerment and integrity? Nope. Is it all in any case revisionist hogwash? Yes. And also, yes.

  14. One of the things that I like about White Queen and White Princess is simply that they attempt to fit women into the historical narrative about the period. That was a major concern of feminist historians for several decades–simply trying to reconstruct what women had actually done in the past. So telling the Wars of the Roses through its female characters the way Gregory does can, I think, be classified as feminist. The problem is that all the women are depicted as being extremely important to the action almost all the time, which is highly improbable. While Elizabeth Woodville might have been as strong as she is shown in WQ, it’s unlikely that she, Anne and Isabel Neville, and Margaret Beaufort were all determined women who fought aggressively for what they wanted.

    1. Perhaps – but look at the way she writes the women; they’re all about their men, they bitch about and plot against each other, Elizabeth (Y) sleeps with her uncle whilst he’s married, they use witchcraft (!) to get what they want, and the idea that they’ll marry for lurve is presented as a valid reason for their reactions. A genuinely and atypically strong woman, Margaret Beaufort, is written as a power mad, card carrying loon with a God fetish.

      I’m all for giving a female perspective, but this is just bad history badly written.

  15. I watched both White Queen and White Princess. I think I preferred the White Princess actually. Costumes were unbelievably bad… I often wished they had stuck Elizabeth in the extras ‘boring’ costumes. Pretty sure I saw a Margaret wearing a 12/13th century pellise?? That overdress with the huge armholes. Perhaps they were still wearing them at this time. Best bit about the series was the physical appearance of both Henry and Elizabeth. I thought they were very well cast. Elizabeth was very feminine looking with a beautiful soft jaw.

  16. I’m watching it on a streaming service now, and I swear everytime one of the males turns up in his Jim Morrison leather trousers, I crack up laughing.

  17. If the creators of The White Princess are trying to be feminist, then they made one big mistake: showing the Woodville women as being witches. In real life, the “witchcraft” rumors were motivated in part by misogynistic slander. So the show, by showing the Woodvilles as being actual witches, are essentially saying that the misogynists were right all along. (Although honestly, from what I’ve heard, the show seems to use the worst possible interpretation of EVERY character, so it might not really be a sexism thing.)

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