“The White Queen” Episode 7: Poison and Malmsey Wine


This is really in very poor taste – no pun intended. Image: ©Starz

This week’s episode was a strange mix ranging from the visually gorgeous to the slightly absurd to the somewhat creepy. 

The show opened with Stanley, George and Richard watching Edward clumsily meddling with a couple of his mistresses. Good Richard, of course, remained impassive if somewhat uncomfortable. But if Stanley’s voyeuristic glee wasn’t creepy enough for you, there was the bizarre image of George methodically stroking his dog while gazing fixedly at his brother’s wanton antics. Perhaps George was channeling Marlon Brando and his cat in The Godfather, but I was reminded of Austin Powers and Mr. Bigglesworth.

All of this is, of course, the perfect background to heartily discuss an invasion of France. Someone appears to have stuffed a pillow up Edward’s shirt: clearly the costume budget was given over to Elizabeth’s belly. Elizabeth is busy giving birth again. But when the baby arrives not breathing, he is handed to Margaret Beaufort, who gazes at him, frozen and terrified until he suddenly starts wailing. This is enough to forge a bond between Margaret and Elizabeth, who is convinced Margaret brought her baby to life. It does lead to them sharing a lovely moment later in the episode where they talk about loss, but you can never count on Margaret’s nicer moments to last for long.

There were some nods to interesting historical facts this week. Anne and Isabel’s mother, Anne Beauchamp, was declared “legally dead” by Edward IV so his brothers could divide her wealth between them. There was also an allusion to the illegality of Anne and Richard’s marriage for lack of proper dispensation (or in this fictional depiction no dispensation). Richard has brought Anne’s mother home to keep her under house arrest, telling her to “be grateful Countess. It is here, the Tower or the grave.” Anne and her mother finally have it out, where her mother informs a slightly shocked Anne that Richard will get all of her money if he ever divorces Anne. Both George and Richard were ever the opportunists; the Warwick inheritance dispute was a display of corruption and underhandedness at it’s finest.

David Oakes (George) put on an interesting performance this week. In a moment far more vulnerable than we have seen to date, he lamented that Elizabeth favoured Richard and he longed to prove his own worth to his brother Edward.

(Historical note: In 1469, the queen made a rather public display of favour and appointed Richard steward of some of her estates at £100 per year.)



At the masqued ball. Image: ©Starz

But back to the fiction. Here a witch, there a witch, everywhere a witch witch. I lost count of how many times “witch” was bandied about in this episode. I felt ready to slap the lot of them by the end of it. George hires a sorcerer in his paranoia, while Isabel whines about witchcraft in almost every scene she is in. George tries to set Elizabeth up by poisoning his dog (whose purpose in this episode is now clear), and then accusing her of poisoning Isabel, who tragically dies after delivering a son. Then Anne steps in to take over whining about witchcraft.

Richard’s character does go through some interesting changes in this episode. His ruthless side is beginning to show and his anger at Edward and his mother over George showed us a little more complexity. He’s come a long way from spending most of the episode looking earnest or dreamy. His new look: frowning in consternation.

The whole York family disaster comes to a head in a wonderfully-filmed and tension-filled masked ball scene. George raves and taunts and Edward battles his way through a forest of creepy looking masked faces roaring for his brother.

George’s time is finally up. He is hauled off the Tower while the family starts to fall apart at the seams. The images of Edward and Richard screaming at each other; Cecily wailing and prostrating before Edward, begging hysterically for George’s life; and George calling for his brother before they drag him in to be drowned are a stark reminder of the reality of those glorious sons of York—the House that, in the end, destroyed itself.

nerdaliciousBy Olga Hughes. 

Olga enjoys Philippa Gregory and history, to the horror of many. She runs the online magazine Nerdalicious (http://nerdalicious.com.au/) with her partner C.S. Hughes.

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."


  • Reply October 15, 2013

    Craig Hutchinson

    At the masqued ball scene in The White Queen, Edward and Elizabeth are dressed as Lion and Unicorn. This looks to be a tie in to the animals on the UK coat of arms, but I did not think that those two symbols came together until the England/Scotland Union in the 18th century. Is this coincidence, anachronism, or my own poor Yankee knowledge of British history?

    • Reply October 15, 2013

      Jaime Adair

      That’s a fascinating comment. Does anyone know the answer to this? If not, I’ll see if I can do some research…

    • Reply October 15, 2013

      Jaime Adair

      You know what I took a quick gander at Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_and_the_Unicorn) and you’re absolutely right. I didn’t catch the likely symbolism with the masks, but unless I’m missing something I think this may be a case of unintentionally creating a symbol or sloppy research by the show’s set designers. Others? Am I missing something?

      Craig, this is a superb comment and I’m glad you went to such great efforts to add it. Also, I appreciate the email. (I meant to commemt on the actual content before and didn’t – sorry) Thanks once again!

  • Reply October 15, 2013


    I’d say a lion mask may have been a popular choice for costume back then, I am not sure about the symbolism of the unicorn other than it is tied in with mythology and King Arthur and Elizabeth Woodville did own a lot of books.
    I’d lean towards it being a coincidence but very well spotted Craig.

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