Friday, August 6, 2010

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory is the second book in the Cousins of the Cousins War series.  It is the tale of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor who was later crowned King Henry VII and who began the long line of Tudor kings. She is also known as grandmother to the infamous Henry VIII.

The story opens with Margaret’s childhood. She is a pious child, deeply intrigued by Joan of Arc with the abounding desire to enter a monastery and rule as abbess. Typically, children of the nobility were slated for political alliances and Margaret was no exception. As the cousin of King Henry VI, she was wed to his half-brother, Edmund Tudor, with the expectation of creating an heir to the thrown for the House of Lancaster. A son is soon born to them and he is named Henry. Margaret experiences a prophetic dream which tells her that he will be King and this unleashes a powerful sense of protection and ambition within her.
 

With her son still an infancy, tragedy strikes and Margaret finds herself suddenly widowed. Almost immediately, she is married off to Henry Stafford, son of the 1st Duke of Buckingham. She is torn away from her son who is left in the guardianship of Jasper, her deceased husband’s brother to whom she bears a great affection. Although their marriage was harmonious, the couple remained childless and she soon found herself widowed once more. This time, the now wealthy widow takes matters into her own hands and approaches Thomas Stanley, Lord High Constable, for a marriage alliance. The calculating, conniving lord readily accepts and they enter into a loveless marriage of convenience.

At the forefront of the story is the War of the Roses, the infamous battle between the Yorks and Lancasters. To preserve her son’s claim to the thrown, Margaret must circumnavigate treacherous political alliances, murder plots, and rival queens. Throughout, Margaret is portrayed as manipulative, shrewd, ambitious, and even callous. And although readers may not like her, she was very much a woman of her times, forced to survive in an ever-shifting world fraught by wars and death.

In The Red Queen, popular British author, Philippa Gregory, pays homage to a lesser known, unpopular woman of English history. Gregory’s portrayal of this villainess was compelling and credible, a challenge when the main character is more of an antagonist than a protagonist. The first person narrative added powerful insight into Margaret Beaufort’s actions and motivations. Although I have yet to read The White Queen about Elizabeth Woodville, her rival in the War of the Roses, I recommend reading both books to get a feel for the opposing viewpoints of these two rival women. This novel is a refreshing change from the over abundance of Tudor novels on bookshelves. Its brilliance lies in the easy style of writing Gregory employs to tell a complex political tale of fiction filled with numerous characters, well-researched, believable, and larger than life.

As a long-time Philippa Gregory fan, I was eager to read this newest novel scheduled for release this month, August 2010. I very much enjoyed reading this novel and look forward to reading The White Queen. Doing so will provide insight into both points of view in the infamous War of the Roses.
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