The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Blurb On The Back:

Heiress to the red rose of Lancaster, Margaret Beaufort never surrenders her belief that her House is the true ruler of England and that she has a great destiny before her.  Her ambitions are disappointed when her sainted cousin, Henry VI of England, fails to recognise her as a kindred spirit, and even more when he sinks into madness.  Worst of all for Margaret is discovering that her mother is sending her to a loveless marriage in remote Wales.

Married to a man twice her age, and a mother at only fourteen, Margaret is determined to turn her lonely life into a triumph.  She sets her heart on putting her son Henry on the throne of England regardless of the cost.  Disregarding rival heirs and the overwhelming power of the York dynasty she sends Henry into exile and pledges him in marriage to the daughter of her enemy Elizabeth Woodville.  She feigns loyalty to the usurper King Richard III, marries one of his faithful supporters and then masterminds one of the greatest rebellions of the time – all the while knowing that her son is growing to manhood, recruiting an army, his eyes on the greatest prize. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 1453.  9 year-old Margaret Beaufort is a devout Catholic, obsessed with Joan of Arc and the role she played in re-establishing the French monarchy and certain that as heir to her cousin, Henry VI, God has given her the purpose of leading the House of Lancaster to greatness.  Unfortunately, no one else shares her vision.

Conscious of the need to secure her House’s fortune and position given the King’s tendency to fall into insensible trances, Margaret’s cold and distant mother marries her off to Edmund Tudor, a powerful Welsh nobleman with a minor claim to the throne.  Aged just 12, Margaret is sent to a strange country where few speak English for a loveless marriage with a war-obsessed brute twice her age.  It’s only when she gives birth to her son, Henry, two years later that she begins to realise what her destiny really is and she will do anything to ensure that it’s her son who ends up with the throne …

The second in Philippa Gregory’s historical trilogy is a well-researched affair that shows the political dangers and brutality of the time but I found Margaret herself to be a weirdly stilted character who didn’t really came to life on the page and for all her rivalry with Elizabeth Woodville there isn’t enough interaction between the two to give it flesh or bite.  My biggest issue is that Margaret doesn’t show even the most basic political awareness until the second half of the book and although this is partly due to her young age, I didn’t believe that she was so clueless about the implications of Henry VI’s illness or York’s ambition.  In fact, she didn’t get really interesting for me until her marriage to Lord Stanley (a two-faced man who plays both York and Lancaster for his own ends) when the two realise that they have political interests in common and Margaret is finally challenged on whether her faith in God’s purpose is just a convenient wrapping for her own will and begins to show some agency in putting her own plans into effect rather than being at the whim of others.  Gregory creates a strong sense of period and the lot of women and the history was fascinating enough for me to keep turning the pages so while this story didn’t quite work for me, I would definitely check out her other books.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy of this book.

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