The more I read about Tudor England, the more fascinating I discover it to be. I’ve read historical books about royalty before and enjoyed them – Reay Tannahill’s Fatal Majesty (about Mary, Queen of Scots) and The Seventh Son are just two, (I enjoyed the former more than the latter) but this book is different. Maybe because I recently started watching The Tudors and I'd just read The King’s Mistress by Emma Campion (you can read my review of The King's Mistress here). They both piqued my interest and I wanted more. Then along came The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory and now I can’t get enough!
The first in this historical series is called The White Queen (which I have not read yet) and is the story of Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England and wife to King Edward IV. The Red Queen is Margaret Beaufort. She is born into the house of Lancaster and from an early age is raised to believe that she has one purpose – to bear a son who will one day rule England as the one true king. Her life is therefore dedicated to achieving this goal for her son, Henry Tudor, born when Margaret is just fourteen. She is blocked by the Yorks who want the kingdom for their line and so battles rage back and forth over the years. Never does she waver from her belief that her son is the only rightful heir to the crown.
I enjoyed this book tremendously for several reasons. It fed my growing addiction to historical novels about the royals and it was well-written and not overly romanticized. I found the writing to-the- point in that there was little description of gowns, styles, cloth, not to mention the various activities such as hunting and hawking that people spent time doing in that century. Depiction of life in the 1400’s was shown rather than described.
My favourite character in The Red Queen was Margaret Beaufort’s second husband, Henry Stafford. I found him very sympathetic and he was the only one I could relate to. Margaret thought him weak and a coward but the way he was written showed he had character and didn’t buckle under prevailing opinions. During stressful events, he showed maturity while she displayed anger. And that brings me to Mary. I would say that the author did not write this character to be liked at all. Her one-track mind – getting her son on the throne – was unpleasant. Granted, her mother taught Mary that her only raison d’etre was to bear a son, and so I can see where she would have learned this righteous attitude. Still, the added distraction of this character using her piety and belief that God had ordained her son to be the one true king, just made her unlikeable. And now I’m curious – was her arch enemy, the white queen, equally unlikeable? Or was she a more sympathetic woman? Either way, the facts are known – I just have to read them!
The Red Queen is a must read for anyone who loves historical novels and it’s a stand-alone book - you don’t need to read The White Queen first to enjoy it. And for anyone who hasn’t tried this genre yet – I’d say go for it!