06 January 2014

Costume Jewels: The White Queen, Episode One

Welcome to the first installment of the newest feature on The Court Jeweller: Costume Jewels, in which I review the baubles used in various film and television productions about royals. We're kicking off the series with a look at the jewels used in the first episode of The White Queen, the 2013 BBC/Starz adaptation of three of the novels from Philippa Gregory's "Cousins' War" series (The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker's Daughter). You can watch the first episode (albeit an edited version) of the American version of the series on YouTube [1].

The series focuses on the reign of Edward IV, a York king who overthrew the Lancastrian Henry VI and then battled him for the throne once more. The "white queen" in question is his wife, Elizabeth Woodville -- the rose of York was white, while the rose of the competing Lancastrians was red. The show is more entertainment than straight history, sort of in the same vein as The Tudors, but it's a fun look at an era of English history that doesn't often get pop culture treatment.

Before we look at the jewels that costume designer Nic Ede chose for the production, it's worth having a look at the way that the main players from this episode, King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, were depicted by their (relative) contemporaries:

Left: King Edward IV [2]; Right: Elizabeth Woodville, Edward's queen [3]
Edward IV isn't portrayed wearing a crown in this portrait, but he does wear a jeweled doublet, and he carefully clutches a ring in his fingers. The portrait is a posthumous one, but it was painted in 1520, relatively soon after Edward's reign, and was based on an earlier painting. The original painting was probably produced about the same time as the portrait on the right, which depicts Edward's queen consort, Elizabeth Woodville. She was a queen when the painting was made, and her relatively elaborate jewelry, including two necklaces; she also wears several rings on her fingers. One of the necklaces features three drop pearls, and the other appears to include a floral motif.

At the opening of The White Queen, Elizabeth is in a slightly less elevated position. She's a widow, and she's responsible for two young sons. When she decides to confront the king to try to reclaim her late husband's lands, she doesn't wear any jewelry at all:

Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) [1]
While I always lament the lack of even a simple necklace, eschewing adornment here is an excellent way to emphasize Elizabeth's relatively dire financial straights, both to the audience and to a potentially unsympathetic king. After all, Elizabeth's husband was a Lancastrian, and Edward IV is a York, and we're smack-dab in the midst of the War of the Roses.

Edward IV (Max Irons) [1]
Indeed, the person wearing the jewels in this scene is the monarch. Behind that crown-topped helmet is Edward IV, the new king, who has recently usurped the throne from his Lancastrian foe, Henry VI. Now, I'm not about to claim that I'm an expert in fifteenth-century armor, but I just can't quite believe that a real king going into battle would wear a helmet that fairly screamed "please kill me, I'm the sovereign." The fleur-de-lys design is quite regal and stylish, though, especially for someone who also claims to be king of France.

Jacquetta Woodville, Baroness Rivers (Janet McTeer)  [1]
Edward follows Elizabeth home, as kings do, where he meets her mother, Jacquetta. She's also sans jewels in this scene, possibly to emphasize the "my daughter needs that money" argument, but maybe also to remind everyone that she is not a witch. (The Gregory novels and this adaptation both play on the idea that Jacquetta, who was accused of witchcraft by her political enemies, really did have supernatural powers.) Instead of sparkling jewels, she employs a sparkling tongue, trading insults with her old enemy and Edward's main adviser, the Earl of Warwick. She also employs a rather impressive set of Princess Leia buns, by the by.

Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) and Jacquetta (Janet McTeer) [1]
Edward and Elizabeth share a glass of wine, start the business of falling in love, and make a preliminary agreement regarding the Grey lands. After he's gone, Jacquetta goes full-magic on her daughter, reminding her that they are descended from a river goddess and taking her to the riverbank. There Jacquetta makes Elizabeth choose one of a set of strings. She's instructed to reel the string in a bit every day to discover her destiny. (Though it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who aced history class.)

Edward (Max Irons), Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson), and the Woodvilles en masse [1]
Besotted, and maybe bewitched, Edward returns, and the entire Woodville family hilariously catches him hitting on Elizabeth. The Woodville men are predictably less-than-pleased that there's a Yorkist in the house, and there's an argument, but in the end, Edward declares that the Grey lands will be returned to Elizabeth. But she refuses him when he asks her to be his mistress, even pulling a dagger when he presses the issue. 

Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) [1]
Edward's unhappy about all of this, and he leaves abruptly to go to battle. While he's gone, Elizabeth reels in the first real jewel of the series: a ring, conveniently shaped almost exactly like the crown on Edward's helmet. It's incredibly costumey -- I really wish that the production had managed to put together a symbolic ring that looked more like jewelry from the period [4] -- but I guess maybe we're supposed to think that river goddesses can only do so much with what they've got? Either way, the symbol's pretty clear. Crown, ring -- Elizabeth's headed for the throne.

Jacquetta (Janet McTeer) [1]
The next morning at breakfast, there's lots of talk about Edward summoning the men of the family to fight with him. Jacquetta thinks that's just great, because she's ready to do whatever makes them powerful eventually. She's also worn several rings of her own for the occasion, and she references the family's treasure room, which must be full of all of the jewels that these high-born women aren't wearing.

Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson), Edward (Max Irons), and Jacquetta (Janet McTeer) [1]
Edward comes back, and the river goddess has done her job -- he asks Elizabeth to marry him. With only Jacquetta as a witness, the pair marry in secret. Edward, who is bad at planning, has forgotten a ring, but conveniently, Elizabeth has the river crown ring with her. Thanks again, grandmother river goddess! Except doesn't anyone worry that Warwick might think a woman who showed up to her spontaneous wedding to the king with a crown-shaped ring at the ready might have schemed some of this up? No? Just me?

Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) and Anthony Woodville (Ben Lamb) [1]
Anyway, the deed is done, and then, as this is a premium cable production, the ahem, deed is done. (Note: this series isn't suitable for kids, mainly because of adult content, but there's also a fair bit of violence involved. Make decisions accordingly.) The next day, Edward heads out for battle. Elizabeth stays behind, but she's got the river ring to prove that she's now the queen of England. It also appears that it could be used as a makeshift set of brass knuckles if needed. Maybe the river goddess knew that it's not easy being queen?

Edward (Max Irons) [1]
Edward wins the battle, strengthening his hold on the throne, but when he returns, he's not yet ready to make his marriage with Elizabeth public. She begins to be skeptical, but he argues that he has to find the right time to break the news to Warwick, who wants him to marry a French princess. No public recognition as a queen, let alone a wife, means Elizabeth is still largely wandering around without jewelry. Fix this, Edward!

Edward (Max Irons) and the ladies at court [1]
Edward returns to court without his queen. Unfortunately, the ladies at court are equally lacking in jewels, though the one on the right appears to have wandered over from the set of a Jane Eyre adaptation. Oops! But she's also the only one who bothered to put on a necklace, so she can stay.

Warwick (James Frain) and Edward (Max Irons) [1]
But there is the promise of jewels ahead: after he's in full king mode, Edward and Warwick both appear in the collar of two mysterious orders of chivalry. It's something! Meanwhile, back at the Woodvilles', Elizabeth is growing increasingly worried that Edward duped her with their secret marriage and never really intends to make her his queen.

Princess Bona (Lize Feryn) [1]
And she's got reason to worry, because Warwick has summoned the French princess to court, and she at least has a nice pair of dangling earrings and a fancy headdress. But instead, Edward finally tells Warwick that he has married Elizabeth. Warwick's not happy. The French princess comes with earrings and a peace treaty, but Edward stands firm: Elizabeth is his queen.

Clarence (David Oakes) and Gloucester (Aneurin Barnard) [1]
Elizabeth arrives at court for her coronation, and her family and Edward are thrilled to see her. Almost everybody's happy, but Edward's brothers -- George, Duke of Clarence and Richard, Duke of Gloucester -- seem less than enthused. (Not surprising. History!)

Warwick (James Frain) and his countess (Juliet Aubrey) [1]
Also not thrilled? The Warwicks. But Lady Warwick does provide us with one of our first major jeweled headpieces of the series. The women of this era wouldn't have worn tiaras -- those didn't become a royal staple until the early nineteenth century -- but they did wear all sorts of complicated hoods and headdresses, and Lady Warwick's is elaborate. Very suitable for the wife of a man who was known as a kingmaker.

Jacquetta (Janet McTeer) and Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) [1]
Deliberately not wearing any jewels with her clothing is Lady Margaret Beaufort, matriarch of the Tudor dynasty. She's depicted here as an unstable religious fanatic, but to be fair, she was widowed and had a baby at the age of 13, so who am I to judge?

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York (Caroline Goodall)
The final stop on the "I Hate the New Queen" tour is the most fabulous of all: Edward's mother, Cecily. The woman has jewels, and furs, and the best hairstyle in this entire television series. She's also super unhappy that her son has married a Lancastrian commoner widow who also happens to be older than Edward. Elizabeth talks back to her, and then Cecily threatens to help others kick Edward off the throne, and then Jacquetta threatens to tell everyone that Edward isn't legitimate at all. And then Elizabeth makes Cecily curtsey to her. Unfortunately, it looks like Cecily won't be sharing her jewels with her daughter-in-law. Pity.

Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) [1]
By the end of the first episode, Elizabeth is at least living in a room with a jewelry box, which is a good start. (She also has a vision about her own death, which is perhaps less good.) By the start of the next episode, she's the acknowledged queen. Stay tuned for more of the jewels (or lack thereof) from the adventures of the War of the Roses next time!

The White Queen is currently available for pre-order on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon (and other outlets). It will be released on February 4.

1. All of the screencaps here, including the image at the top of the page, have been captured and edited from the YouTube version of the episode.

2. Detail from Edward IV York (ca. 1520), available on Wikimedia Commons; source here.
3. Detail from Elizabeth Woodville (ca. 1471), available on Wikimedia Commons; source here.
4. Something like this ring, sold in 2010 at Sotheby's, perhaps?