Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen is #2 in Philippa Gregory's Cousins War series about the Wars of the Roses. The heroine is Lady Margaret Beaufort, who I had vaguely heard of but didn't know much about, other than she was a tough old biddy who gave birth to the future Henry VII at the age of thirteen.

I am a huge fan of Philippa Gregory. Ironically, my favourite books are about the real-life historical characters I'd never much cared about prior to reading their stories, such as Katherine of Aragon in The Constant Princess and Mary I in The Queen's Fool. I suppose that is part of Philippa Gregory's skill - making the reader feeling empathy for a person who was probably unlikeable in real life.

The story is told in the first person from Margaret's point of view, apart from a couple of battle scenes. We first meet her as a very pious, precocious child. Even at the age of nine she knows she wants to devote her life to God, after becoming obsessed with Joan of Arc. Unfortunately, her sole duty is "to bear a son and heir ... a boy for the House of Lancaster" and she is soon packed off to Wales to marry Edmund Tudor.

The plot deals mainly with Margaret's conviction that it is God's will her son should become King of England and her obsession with ensuring it happens. Unlike some of the other more unfortunate characters, Margaret's life is never really in danger, despite all her double-dealing and plotting. But the story is a fascinating read none-the-less, and there is the occasional humour in the way the characters, particularly Margaret's husband, tolerate her obsession. This is funny while Margaret is a child but around the halfway mark, as she grows older, you realise how much her obsession is hurting those around her. Towards the end of the story it is clear she has become absolutely ruthless, although there is a point when you feel the penny has finally dropped: "At last I recognise that the sin of ambition and greed darkened our enterprise." But then it is revealed that rather than admit to any failings of her own character for her troubles, Margaret is actually blaming her hated rival, Elizabeth Woodville!

I loved this book and look forward to reading the others in the series.

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