Philippa Gregory (born 9 January 1954) is an English historical novelist who has been publishing since 1987. The best known of her works is The Other Boleyn Girl (2001), which in 2002 won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award from the Romantic Novelists' Association and has been adapted into two separate films.
AudioFile magazine has called Gregory "the queen of British historical fiction".
Early life and academic career
Philippa Gregory was born on 9 January 1954 in Nairobi, at that time serving as capital city of British Kenya (modern-day Republic of Kenya), the second daughter of Elaine (Wedd) and Arthur Percy Gregory, a radio operator and navigator for East African Airways. When she was two years old, her family moved to Bristol, England. She is not related to novelist Susanna Gregory.
She was a "rebel" at Colston's Girls' School where she obtained a B grade in English and two E grades in History and Geography at A-level. She then went to journalism college in Cardiff and spent a year as an apprentice with the Portsmouth News before she managed to gain a place on an English literature degree course at the University of Sussex, where she switched to a history course. She worked in BBC radio for two years before attending the University of Edinburgh, where she earned her doctorate in 18th-century literature. Gregory has taught at the University of Durham, University of Teesside, and the Open University, and was made a Fellow of Kingston University in 1994.
Gregory wrote her first novel Wideacre while completing a PhD in 18th-century book history, and living in a cottage on the Pennine Way with first husband Peter Chislett, editor of the Hartlepool Mail, and their baby daughter, Victoria. They divorced before the book was published.
Following the success of Wideacre and the publication of The Favoured Child, she moved south to near Midhurst, West Sussex, where the Wideacre trilogy was set. Here she married her second husband Paul Carter, with whom she has a son. She divorced for a second time and married Anthony Mason, whom she had first met during her time in Hartlepool.
Gregory now lives on a 100-acre (0.40 km2) farm in the North York Moors National Park, with her husband, children and stepchildren (six in all). Her interests include riding, walking, skiing, and gardening.
She has written novels set in several different historical periods, though primarily the Tudor period and the 16th century. Reading a number of novels set in the 17th century led her to write the best-selling Lacey trilogy Wideacre, which is a story about the love of land and incest, The Favoured Child and Meridon. This was followed by The Wise Woman. A Respectable Trade, a novel of the slave trade in England, set in 18th-century Bristol, was adapted by Gregory for a four-part drama series for BBC television. Gregory's script was nominated for a BAFTA, won an award from the Committee for Racial Equality, and the film was shown worldwide.
Two novels about a gardening family are set during the English Civil War: Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth, while she has in addition written contemporary fiction – Perfectly Correct, Mrs Hartley and the Growth Centre, The Little House and Zelda's Cut. She has also written for children.
Some of her novels have won awards and have been adapted into television dramas. The most successful of her novels has been The Other Boleyn Girl, published in 2001 and adapted for BBC television in 2003 with Natascha McElhone, Jodhi May and Jared Harris. In the year of its publication, The Other Boleyn Girl also won the Romantic Novel of the Year and it has subsequently spawned sequels – The Queen's Fool, The Virgin's Lover, The Constant Princess, The Boleyn Inheritance, and The Other Queen. Miramax bought the film rights to The Other Boleyn Girl and released a film of the same name in February 2008.
Gregory has also published a series of books about the Plantagenets, the ruling houses that preceded the Tudors, and the Wars of the Roses. Her first book The White Queen, published in 2009, centres on the life of Elizabeth Woodville the wife of Edward IV. The Red Queen, published in 2010, is about Margaret Beaufort the mother of Henry VII and grandmother to Henry VIII. The Lady of the Rivers (2011), is the life of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, mother of Elizabeth Woodville. The Kingmaker's Daughter, published in 2012, is about Anne Neville, the wife of Richard III, and The White Princess (2013) centres on the life of Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII and the mother of Henry VIII. The latest work is the 2014 novel The King's Curse, about the life of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, the daughter of Isabel Neville and George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence. The 2013 BBC One television series The White Queen is a 10-part adaptation of Gregory's novels The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker's Daughter (2012).
In 2013, Helen Brown of The Telegraph wrote that "Gregory has made an impressive career out of breathing passionate, independent life into the historical noblewomen whose personalities had previously lain flat on family trees, remembered only as diplomatic currency and brood mares." She added, "Gregory’s historical fiction has always been entertainingly speculative (those tempted to sneer should note that she’s never claimed otherwise) and comes with lashings of romantic licence."
In 2011 she contributed a short story "Why Holly Berries are as Red as Roses" to an anthology supporting the Woodland Trust. The anthology, Why Willows Weep has so far helped The Woodland Trust plant approximately 50,000 trees.
Gregory claims that her 'commitment to historical accuracy' is a hallmark of her writing. This claim is disputed by historians. Historian David Starkey, appearing alongside Gregory in a documentary about Anne Boleyn, described her work as "good Mills and Boon", adding that: "We really should stop taking historical novelists seriously as historians. The idea that they have authority is ludicrous." Susan Bordo criticised Gregory's claims to historical accuracy as "self-deceptive and self-promoting chutzpah", and notes that it is not so much the many inaccuracies in her work as "Gregory's insistence on her meticulous adherence to history that most aggravates the scholars."
In her novel The Other Boleyn Girl, her portrayal of Henry VIII's second wife Anne Boleyn drew criticism. The novel depicts Anne as cold and ruthless, as well as heavily implying that the accusations that she committed adultery and incest with her brother were true, despite it being widely accepted that she was innocent of the charges. Novelist Robin Maxwell refused on principle to write a blurb for this book, describing its characterisation of Anne as "vicious, unsupportable".
She is a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers, with short stories, features and reviews. She is also a frequent broadcaster and a regular contestant on Round Britain Quiz for BBC Radio 4 and the Tudor expert for Channel 4's Time Team. She won the 29 December 2008 edition of Celebrity Mastermind on BBC1, taking Elizabeth Woodville as her specialist subject.
Gregory also runs a small charity building wells in school gardens in The Gambia. Gardens for The Gambia was established in 1993 when Gregory was in The Gambia, researching for her book A Respectable Trade.
Since then the charity has dug almost 200 low technology, low budget and therefore easily maintained wells, which are on-stream and providing water to irrigate school and community gardens to provide meals for the poorest children and harvest a cash crop to buy school equipment, seeds and tools.
In addition to wells, the charity has piloted a successful bee-keeping scheme, funded feeding programmes and educational workshops in batik and pottery and is working with larger donors to install mechanical boreholes in some remote areas of the country where the water table is not accessible by digging alone.
The UK Chagos Support Association
Philippa Gregory is a patron of The UK Chagos Support Association, which supports the Chagos islanders in their legal disputes with the British government. The people of Chagos were relocated by the British government when the archipelago in the Indian Ocean was cleared in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for an important U.S. airbase. Gregory often speaks about the Chagossians' situation and lobbies the government to take action.