The White Queen: When fact becomes fiction

The fine line between reality and entertainment

Elizabeth Woodville existed. She was the Queen of England and married King Edward IV. However, with her book 'The White Queen', author Philippa Gregory has taken some liberties and speculated as to what went on behind the scenes. A lot of Elizabeth Woodville's story is on record but much of it exists only in rumour and legend. How did she really meet the King? Was it at the roadside? Did she and her mother really practise witchcraft?

Numerous plots existed in such troubled times but - as Gregory herself explains in the author's note to her book - these plots were often secret so someone's motives cannot possibly be known as fact. Gregory goes on to explain that this novel has more fiction than her other titles simply because the era is further back in history and the records are 'patchy'.

Gregory's overall approach to her writing seems to be to research as much as she can and really get inside the minds of those involved. Only when she can understand their perspectives and their motivations can she try to imagine what they would have done in certain situations. She makes no secret of any of this, of course, and is quite open about her style of writing fiction about real people.

The BBC adaptation of the novel is facing similar criticism for its historical inaccuracies. Clothing, artefacts and backdrops have all been called out for being centuries out of date. Many who are genuinely interested in both the era and the people involved are finding themselves disappointed that the TV show has become little more than a 'bodice ripper'. Actor Aneurin Barnard, who plays Richard Duke of Gloucester, has been known to defend the inaccuracies in the show, stating that 'this interpretation is based upon historical events but it has to reach certain standards of entertaining the audience,' adding that 'the truth can be pretty boring.'

So where should the line be drawn between fact and fiction? When a story is being told about real people and real events, to what extent are the storytellers responsible for ensuring historical accuracy? Surely, anything that makes people run for the history books (or, at the very least, have a quick look on Google) is a good thing. The White Queen is not a documentary after all and never claimed to be.