Tuesday, 29 October 2013
Kim's Review : The Red Queen
The Red Queen is chronologically the 4th in the Philippa Gregory collection on the women in The Cousins War.
This book tells the tale from the point of view of Margaret Beaufort - mother of Henry VII and hence ancestor of every monarch on the throne of England since then. The initial part of the book, overlaps a bit with the same time period as Jacquetta Luxemberg - The Lady of the Rivers, and its almost parallel to Elizabeth Woodville - The White Queen and Anne Neville - The Kingmaker's Daughter.
History mostly remembers Margaret Beaufort as a strong woman, the influential matriarch of the House of Tudor, but Philippa Gregory portrays her as a spoiled, whiny child with delusions of grandeur and sainthood.
Margaret's father was John Beaufort, the 1st Duke of Somerset, a grandson of John of Gaunt and his mistress(later wife) Katherine Swynford. She was John Beaufort's only legitimate child. But her mother Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso had many more children with her first and third husbands.
In Philippa Gregory's version of Historical Fiction, Margaret hears the tale of Joan of Arc from a poor soldier and imagines herself too to be called by God to do for England what Joan did for France. She keeps thinking of herself as a saintly person and prides the number of hours that she spends at prayer.
Her father dies when she is barely a year old and her mother remarries for the third time, but she continues to control and guide her daughter completely. Margaret's first marriage was to John de la Pole, but her mother got a dispensation from this marriage, when John de la Pole's father - William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk fell out of favor with King Henry VI. Since Margaret was not yet 12, when this happened, Margaret was not yet 12 and hence was not bound to the marriage by canon law.
King Henry VI, then gave Margaret in wardship to his half brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor. [sons of King Henry VIs mother - Catherine of Valois - (widow of King Henry V of England) who had an affair and perhaps secretly married Owen Tudor - keeper of the Queen's wardrobe, (essentially her major-domo)]
Margaret, as only heir of her father was rich in land and property, so Edmund Tudor quickly married her with the kings blessing, when she was under his wardship when she was barely 12 years old. Edmund died of plague when taken prisoner during the Cousins Wars, leaving behind a 13-year-old widow who was seven months pregnant with their child.
Her mother quickly arranged Margaret's next marriage with Sir Henry Stafford - her second cousin which was performed after the one year widowhood waiting period was over. The one year that she spent with her son in Wales during this time, is the only time she actually got to spend with Henry VII. The rest of her relationship with her son was only through letters and occasional visits.
As the younger son of his father, Sir Henry Stafford did not receive much of an inheritance, so it was Margaret's lands that were their main source of income. While this marriage lasted 13 years, it did not produce and children and in this book, Margaret is deeply disillusioned by this husbands apathy for war, until he himself dies of wounds inflicted on him in a war that he felt compelled to participate in.
Fed up of being used as a bargaining chip and wanting her own independence, Margaret negotiated her own final marriage with Thomas Stanley, the Lord High Constable and King of Mann. Recognizing in his duplicity, the most suitable man in England who could help her place her son on the throne, this was purely a marriage of convenience, which helped take Margaret into the Court of Edward IV of York and Elizabeth Woodville.
In "The Red Queen", Margaret fears her first husband Edmund Tudor for being a brute, but during the one year of her widowhood she falls in love with her brother-in-law Jasper Tudor. Jasper is the person who has the most influence on the life of Henry VII as he spends the most time with him. He himself remains unmarried until after Henry Tudor defeats King Richard III, when he is married to Catherine Woodville (widow of the Duke of Buckingham, sister of Elizabeth Woodville and aunt of Henry Tudor's wife Elizabeth of York) at the age of 54.
Margaret despises her second husband Sir Henry Stafford for being pusillanimous, but he seems to be the only one of her husbands who genuinely cares for her. He comes across as a practical man and for me, he was the only character in "The Red Queen", that I could sympathise with.
Her third husband Thomas Stanley, is an extremely cunning individual who plays both sides in every conflict and openly supports one of the 2 sides only once the winner is clear.
Margaret believes that she is a Godly woman, a saintly one and chosen by God. She believes God speaks to her (but as her second husband says "how is it that God always seems to want, what you want?" She resents Elizabeth Woodville for being the daughter of a non-royal personage and thinks her a whore and a witch. Yet, she is forced to ally with her for the future benefit of her son, including proposing marriage between their children.
The book ends with Henry Tudors victory over Richard III and Margaret believes that her destiny has been fulfilled.
While Philippa Gregory, normally makes the reader empathize with her leading ladies, but in this case, she doesn't. While reading this, as a reader, I wondered why neither her mother, nor her husbands ever bothered to knock some sense into Margaret's head, that's how frustrated I was with her as a character.
The only characters I respected in "The Red Queen" were Sir Henry Stafford for his wisdom and practicality, Elizabeth of York for her strength of character and the wonderful scene of departure from Margaret Beaufort (I can't wait to start reading "The White Princess") and to some extent Jasper Tudor, for his sense of morality and belief in his cause.
If you want to miss any of the books in Philippa Gregory's War of the Roses series, then this book can be given a miss, because all the major events are covered in the other books and Margaret isn't a compelling heroine. However, its also a great book to contrast the other books against and every great heroine needs a villain, and Margaret Beaufort does fit that role.
There are major discrepancies in her thought process (her sons claim to the throne isn't exactly legitimate, but she seems to think that it is pre-ordained by God) Hence she comes across as delusional and fanatical, but inspite of all that, she is still an interesting character.
Rating : 4 / 5 (-0.5 because the lead character irritated and riled me up, so I could not enjoy the book as much)
Also Read Kim's Reviews of the other books in Philippa Gregory's - "Cousins War" Series:
The Lady of The Rivers
The White Queen
The Kingmaker's Daughter
The White Princess