Philippa Gregory is a brilliant historian and a master storyteller. From the moment I started reading The Red Queen, I was captivated. Ms. Gregory has a way of making the characters practically jump from the pages. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think that I could be watching this story as a movie; it was that realistic. The life that she brings to these long dead historical characters is extraordinary.
The Red Queen tells the story of Margaret Beaufort, a not very well-known, but pivotal figure in England’s Tudor dynasty. Margaret introduces the Tudors to the throne and becomes the matriarch of that period. How she accomplishes this feat is quite spectacular.
In the beginning of The Red Queen, we are introduced to a young Margaret Beaufort who by lineage is the heiress to the royal House of Lancaster. Margaret understands who she is, but what she really wants to be is another Joan of Arc. She believes that God speaks to her and that he has a divine calling that only she can fulfill. Her mother, however, has a whole different calling for her.
When Margaret approaches her mother about going into an abbey her mother answers, “Of course you can’t go into an abbey, Margaret. Don’t be stupid. Your duty is to bear a son and heir, a boy for our family, the Beauforts, a young kinsman to the King of England, a boy for the House of Lancaster.” Margaret replies, “But I think I have a calling—“, to which her mother responds, “You are called to be mother of the next heir of Lancaster. That is an ambition great enough for any girl.”
In an expedient way of making this happen, Margaret is betrothed to Edmund Tudor by her second cousin and Edmund’s half-brother, King Henry VI. At the age of twelve, Margaret weds Edmund who is over a dozen years her senior, and by the age of thirteen she is the mother of Henry Tudor, presently third in line to the throne, and a widow. Claiming to her brother in-law, Jasper Tudor, that she had a dream that giving birth to Henry was her vocation, she now is certain that her calling is to be the mother of the next king of England. Subsequently, she tells Jasper, “I shall be mother of a king. I shall be all but Queen of England.” Feeding right into her aspirations, Jasper replies, “You shall be My Lady, the King’s Mother, and everyone will have to do whatever you say.”
What happens next is Margaret’s upward battle to obtain the throne for her exiled son. Throughout the rest of the story we read of Margaret’s treasonous activities, duplicity and the stratagems that she employs to attain her ends, but through it all is her unwavering conviction that it is God’s will that her son take his place as the rightful king of England.
For all intents and purposes, I shouldn’t have liked Margaret Beaufort. She is not a very nice person; she is arrogant, proud, overly pious and full of jealousy. Nevertheless, I find myself rooting for her and being sympathetic to the trials she bears to fulfill her destiny. I believe I owe these sentiments to the remarkable way that Ms. Gregory has of making her characters so plausible. She has convinced me that the only reason Margaret Beaufort is so unbending in striving to get her son on the throne is that she truly believes that it is God’s will. Regardless of Margaret’s reasons, suffice it to say that her strong unrelenting character allows her to fulfill her dream. This makes her a very notable woman in not only England’s history, but in the history of the world. I could go on, but I want you to enjoy the pleasure of reading The Red Queen as much as I have.
Simon & Schuster provided a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
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