This was a bookclub read, and so I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. Scanning the Goodreads blurb I noticed comments like ‘difficult to like the protagonist’ and ‘hard to identify with the Red Queen’, so I thought I was in for a difficult read. I was, but not in the way I expected. Even though I’d recently been to an RSC production of Henry IV parts 1 and 2, so I had brushed up my Wars of the Roses a little, I was still all at sea with the history of a period just before the one where I get a little more comfortable (i.e. Henry VIII). And the family tree for the book stopped just where it got useful, i.e. at Margaret Beaufort herself, with reference to the houses of Lancashire and York, but not much explanation of the Tudors, which was really where she ended up. Henrys, Edwards and Richards abound in this book, and it wasn’t until the second prince joined the young Prince Henry in the Tower that I was confident that Richard of York really was Richard III, who was so cruelly treated by Shakespeare (as some historians say).
Enough of my lack of history of my own country, what about the book?
It’s the second in the cousins’ war, the first being the White Queen. I can guess from this book who the White Queen is, and I reckon the Red Queen is much more interesting! She’s a headstrong, conniving, pompous, altruistic, self-righteous, pious martyr, and she reminds me of all sorts of people, including me when I was little. Fortunately I grew out of the sanctimonious phase by the time I was twelve, but I too remember being gripped by the tale of Joan of Arc. Such a role model for strong young women! Unfortunately for Margaret Beaufort, cousin of the king, she was married off at twelve to a ‘nobody’ (she thought he was beneath her rank, since she was destined for greatness), shifted off to a great castle in Wales, where she was effectively raped until she became pregnant. Thank goodness it was a boy, although delivered through a horrendous birth during which she discovered her attendants had orders from her mother to save the child if it was a boy and let the mother (Margaret) fend for herself. At this stage it would not be surprising if she went completely loopy. Fortunately the kindness of her brother-in-law saved her from the worst of it, and he guarded her son through thick and thin (and her husband’s death), even taking him into exile. Margaret of course, was left behind, a widow, and shunted off to another man to be his wife.
The machinations of the York and Lancaster supporters, and the ineptitude of the king, ensure that the court changes sides numerous times. Margaret has the fortune to land twice with husbands who can shift sides to survive the worst of things. She is Lancastrian to the core and won’t bend an inch. It’s an uncomfortable life for her, but full of amusement for me. I loved her and laughed out loud at some of her rants. I know people just like her, in attitude anyway, and her adventure makes me extremely glad I wasn’t born in Tudor times, to be shunted off to whoever was willing to enslave me as his wife.
Margaret – a modern woman. Why on earth don’t people like her? It’s a wonderful, exciting and engrossing story of near-Tudor England and I thank Philippa Gregory for enlightening me. An excellent book which I recommend to anyone who believes they are destined for greater things.