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Book 81: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

Book 81: The Red Queen (Book 2 of The Cousins' War)
Author: Philippa Gregory, 2010.
Genre: Historical Fiction. 15th Century England. War of the Roses.
Other Details: ARC, 387 pages.

In the second novel in this series about the Wars of the Roses, Philippa Gregory switches her focus from the House of York to the House of Lancaster and specifically to Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor, later Henry VII.

Margaret tells her own story from the age of nine and emerges quickly as a deeply religious young woman who would have welcomed a life within the Church. Instead, due to her royal lineage, she is required to make an advantageous marriage with another family of the royal line. Thus, she is married at the age of twelve to Edmund Tudor, who was twice her age. This union resulted in her giving birth when she was thirteen to her only child, Henry. Edmund died in captivity when Margaret was pregnant. When another marriage was arranged by her family a few years later she was required to leave Henry in Wales to be raised by his uncle, Jasper Tudor.

As time passes Margaret's desire to see the House of Lancaster restored to its position and her son claim the throne of England becomes an all consuming obsession. She is quite willing for those who stand between Henry and the crown to die and to see the entire country plunged into bloody warfare to achieve this end. As the narrative progresses Margaret as the Red Queen and Elizabeth Neville as the White Queen take on an almost archetypal quality as if they are queens in a game of chess that will determine the future of England.

Margaret Beaufort's sense of self-righteousness and ruthless ambition was quite astonishing. Even though the young Margaret in her girlish devotion to Joan of Arc was sympathetic, I found myself getting quite emotional as the novel continued and my dislike of Margaret grew and grew, especially when she and Lord Thomas Stanley joined forces. Of course, the outcome and Margaret's triumph is a matter of history. In the final chapters of the book, the perspective leaves Margaret to observe the unfolding of the fateful events of August 1485 . Again, as I noted with The White Queen, Gregory handles battle scenes well. I've seen the re-enactment at Bosworth Fields a few times and she really brought it to life on the page.

My ARC didn't have the end-notes that Gregory usually provides though I popped out to see the book on the shelf yesterday. As with The White Queen, Gregory includes details of her main sources, suggestions for further reading and of course a reminder that this is a work of historical fiction and as such is a combination of historical truth, informed speculation and the author's imagination.

While I was reading, the image that came to my mind for this series was of a set of vibrant, living tapestries; each providing a different view on the theme of royal women connected to Wars of the Roses. If Elizabeth Woodville's tapestry teemed with images of nature, flowing water, magic and love; then by contrast Margaret's weaves in images of piety, worship, fire and battles. I was pleased to read that Philippa Gregory intends to write at least four more books in this series bringing her considerable talent as a story-teller as well as her passion and integrity to this complex and rich period of English history.

Official Wars of the Roses Books Site - has links to background information and excerpt.
Tags: british, historical fiction

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