I have just finished reading The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory and found it entertaining and engaging. This is the second book in the Cousins’ War series and covers roughly the same period as The White Queen (the first book in the series) but from a different point of view. The protagonist and narrator, Margaret Beaufort, is a difficult character to relate to and not at all ‘likeable’. She is fervently religious, compares herself regularly to Joan of Arc and will stop at nothing to see her son, whom she considers the true heir to the throne, become king and herself, ‘My Lady, the King’s Mother’.
The story follows the life of Margaret Beaufort, Lancastrian descended from Edward III, from nine years of age into adulthood. She is married three times and becomes a mother at the tender age of 13. She is separated from her son, Henry Tudor, when he is only a baby as she is sent off to live with husband number two.
As with all of Gregory’s historical fictions, her characters come to life. They emerge from the pages to tell us their stories. Margaret Beaufort’s voice is so vivid, so close that at times you almost feel the heat of her breath.
Margaret believes that she is favoured by God and that her destiny is to put her son on the throne of England. She devotes the best years of her life to achieving this and measures peoples’ worth on how much they can accelerate her holy plight.
We become entangled in Margaret’s conniving and traitorous acts. She is intelligent, determined and ruthless and meets her match in husband number three, Thomas Stanley.
Margaret feigns allegiance to the Yorkist monarchs while plotting and planning their ruin. Although the reader may know how this story ends, until the last few pages, Margaret does not, so the end is suspenseful, gripping and exciting. Gregory does a wonderful job of relating the Battle of Bosworth and offers up plenty of imagery and detail.
Having read The White Queen, I found it really interesting to ‘live’ the same events but through the eyes of a different character. Although in many ways Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville are different, they also have much in common. Both women are intelligent, determined and committed to their causes – neither ever gave up.
I enjoyed immersing myself in the world of Margaret Beaufort and am now determined to learn more about her life. Gregory has left me desperately wanting to read the third book in the trilogy about another strong and fascinating woman, Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta.
I leave you with one of my favourite parts of the story, when Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter, Elizabeth of York who knows she will be queen either through marriage to Henry Tudor or her uncle, King Richard III finally responds to Margaret Beaufort’s incessant torment about her imminent shame regardless of who she marries. Elizabeth says:
Yes, but either way, shamed or not, I shall be Queen of England, and this is the last time you will sit in my presence…. Then she sweeps me a curtsey, turns her back on me with absolute disdain, and walks out of my great hall and into the yard where the soldiers are waiting in the sunshine to take her to safety far away. I have to say, she leaves me stunned into silence (pg. 344-345).
P.S Margaret Beaufort was in fact very reluctant to accept a lower status than her daughter in law, the queen consort. She wore robes of similar quality and only walked half a pace behind her.