What You Need To Know About The White Queen

Plunging is back in the time before the Tudors, The White Queen sees history through the eyes of three incredibly powerful women. See The White Queen on Drama, Sundays at 4pm

The White Queen

A VERY REAL GAME OF THRONES

Never mind Elizabeth I and her enigmatic love life, or Henry VIII and his wife-related woes. The White Queen goes back beyond the oft-told tales of the Tudors, to an even more shocking and dangerous time in our nation's history. We're in the age of the Wars of the Roses, but this is more than a mere re-telling of bloody skirmishes and political intrigue.

Adapted from Philippa Gregory's bestselling novels, The White Queen is that rare thing: a saga of real history told largely from the point of view of women. No longer relegated to the shadows of regal bedchambers, these women take centre stage and make the behind-the-scenes decisions that alter the course of the country. This is a story of love, lies, deception and death: a game of thrones that really was played and, indeed, determined the fate of Britain.

THE BACKGROUND

The White Queen is set right in the middle of the Wars of the Roses, a series of brutal conflicts between two rival royal houses: the House of Lancaster and the House of York. The bitterness between them is heightened by their very closeness - both houses are off-shoots from the greater House of Plantagenet. As the saga opens, the House of York is basking in its own sense of triumph. A few years before, their leader - Edward IV - took the throne from the House of Lancaster's Henry VI in the brutal Battle of Towton.

The Lancastrians may be down, but they're certainly not out. Young Henry Tudor is waiting in the wings and being groomed for potential power. Meanwhile, the triumphant king, Edward IV, is about to play with fire when he falls in love with the most beautiful woman in the land... who also happens to be a "commoner" and a Lancastrian. The stage is set for an almighty power struggle, with women pulling most of the strings.

THE THREE WOMEN AT THE HEART OF IT

This may, on the surface, be a story of powerful men trying to snatch the crown from each other. But don't be fooled. The real story goes on well behind the throne, with three women locked in psychological and political warfare. The first is Elizabeth Woodville, whose ravishing, delicate beauty makes King Edward IV weak at the knees as soon as he sees her - even if she does happen to hail from the hated House of Lancaster. It's a pivotal moment that makes the monarch throw caution to the wind, and changes the course of British history.

Then, there's Margaret Beaufort, the so-called Red Queen (the Lancastrians being represented by a red rose, and the Yorkists by a white). She is the fierce matriarch who is determined to do whatever it takes to steer her son, Henry Tudor, to his rightful place in history. The third member of our tempestuous trio is Anne Neville, the daughter of one of the most cunning and influential of the king's advisors, who is destined to play a key role at the side of a future king.

A MULTI-LAYERED EPIC

As you'd expect from a big, juicy historical saga, The White Queen is a rich tapestry of sub-plots, each influencing the other. At its heart, at least to start with, is the passionate courtship of Edward and Elizabeth, who - like Romeo and Juliet - are star-crossed lovers from rival factions. This, in turn, kicks off the sinister machinations of the Earl of Warwick, the king's advisor who doesn't take kindly to Edward falling in love with the wrong woman.

Over on the Lancastrian side of things, we'll see the parallel saga of Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry, who are poised to throw Yorkist rule into disarray. Among this power-hungry clan there's a young, raven-locked man called Richard, who will go down in history as the tyrant king Richard III, although The White Queen gives us a very different take on a man often portrayed as a cackling villain. And, just to excite all the history buffs, the infamous story of the Princes in the Tower plays a part in things as well. Let the games begin!