Paranoia is everywhere in the seventh episode of The White Queen, as George plots treason, and all parties think that a spiteful Elizabeth is to blame.
The suspicions of Elizabeth’s witchcraft reached breaking point, as Edward’s brother George accused her of murdering Isabel. As far as I could tell from the episode, Isabel either died from natural causes or from the interference of George’s own sorcerer. I may have missed some on-screen sleight-of-hand that placed the blame, but George seemed distraught enough over her death that I’m not inclined to blame him. And yet Elizabeth takes the blame, as she takes the blame for pretty much everything that goes wrong.
The show does an excellent job of exploring the ways that “witchcraft” accusations could be used to discredit and disempower otherwise powerful (or powerful-seeming) women, and how these can result from the unique pressures women face. Isabel is driven to near-hysteria by her desperation to have a baby boy. It is her own responsibility, but one that she has no actual control over, and yet everything relies on it. Her one son died at birth, and her other children are girls. And when she explains that she cannot have a boy to her husband, she sounds terrified, and pleads with him to understand that it isn’t her fault. Under this pressure, it’s unsurprising that she looks for any signs that she may be successful or unsuccessful, or any reason why she has “failed” up to this point. She cannot be blamed for her lack of a son; she has been cursed by the queen. And she assumes she has been cursed based on one somewhat cruel comment from the queen, and on the fact that the queen herself has successful had many children. Elizabeth has easily succeeded where Isabel struggles, and so she appears as a threat.
We see similar things later on in the episode, when George is executed as a traitor. Elizabeth is one of the people arguing for clemency on his behalf. She absolutely does not want him to die, despite her personal grudge. Yet his death is still blamed on her. The bad things that happen are because of her witchcraft. Because she wants lands, she wants money, she wants revenge. She is a woman in a position of nominal power, and so she is hated and discredited at every turn, despite the fact that her husband is responsible for every one of these acts.
But this would all be a lot more interesting and powerful if Elizabeth wasn’t actually a witch. Although it was interesting to see Elizabeth start to realize and potentially regret the damage that she has done, including killing Isabel’s son, this doesn’t change the fact that she is a witch, and that she has used magic to kill innocent people in her hunt for vengeance. It pretty much takes all of the sympathy out of the situation.
Elizabeth did become a more interesting character this week, though, partly because she was allowed to interact with some of the show’s most compelling female figures. Her animosity towards and then friendship with Margaret Beaufort promises for some interesting stuff in the future, as does Anne’s promise to get revenge on Elizabeth for her sister’s death.
Meanwhile, Edward was off playing Game of Thrones with a bunch of ladies at court. To be honest, I barely even notice him as a character any more. Can we hurry up and off him already? Richard needs his time to shine.