Books

The Red Queen – Philippa Gregory

How can you like a character that you actually despise.? In this book Philippa Gregory weaves something magical that you actually can.

Margaret Beaufort, has nothing apart from the firm belief in her son and the power that he should have, the power that is rightfully his. But there is a problem with this righteous pious women’s belief. She is on the wrong side, she is in the wrong court, she is the wrong colour – she is a red  rose of Lancaster and it is the white rose of York who is blossoming as Queen and providing heir apparent to satisfy a York line for the future.

With her first husband dead and a mother of a child named Henry at the age of 13 she is merely a pawn in the game of alliances,money and subsequently another marriage. …”Since you were a girl you could only be the bridge to the next generation; you could be nothing more than the means by which our family gets a boy.” But in her marriage to Sir Henry Stafford there is no further children. The trauma of Margaret’s first pregnancy as somehow scarred her both physically and mentally for life. She seeks solace in her god as the only person to love her, as her family are quite clear that they do not.

Her relationship with her second husband, is peaceful but strained at times, when he seems rather reluctant to support the rightful Lancaster heir and the son of his wife when it comes to the numerous battles. All Sir Henry wanted was peace and whether that was under a York crown or under his wife’s belief a Lancaster crown did not matter. It is this reluctance to  which took him to battle and ended with his wounding and death.

Suddenly Margaret was widowed for a second time. Her son was no closer to the throne and Margaret only had her faith and that of god to guide her through her next move. The next marriage was going to have to test the faith of Margaret.

This was a marriage of position and part of a bigger plan that Margaret had had since the birth of her son. Thomas Stanley was close to Edward IV and Margaret plotted with her husband to become close to the York Royal Family. So much so that she became one of the closest members of the Queen’s chamber and was even a godmother to one of the many issues. Thomas Stanley had the power and knowledge plus the skill of being on both sides and neither all at the same time. Gregory demonstrates this from the moment that he married Margaret through to the Battle of Bosworth which saw the fall of the Yorks and the rise finally of Margaret’s son, Henry Tudor.

This is no doubt a complicated time in history and Gregory brings to life the powerful women that were as important as their male counterparts at the time, playing their own game. A game of survival by any devious means even if it meant praying for hours on end and using the belief of her being placed on this earth as a latter-day Joan of Arc. But within this book there is very descriptive scenes of battle which take you to the bloodshed so very easily and the picking through of bodies…”I see hideous sights, a man with half his face cut away, a may tying his shirt over his belly to stop his lights from spilling out. A pair of men clinging to each other like drunkards, trying to help each other home with only three feet between the two of them…When a looter pulls the helmet upwards the head comes with it too, and the slop of brains spills out through the visor”.

We do not know how accurate any of this but through Margaret’s voice thanks to Gregory’s clever hand we can perhaps glimpse something into a world full of politics where love was not given any consideration. This book is in contrast to The White Queen which whilst politics is certainly a theme, it has a lot more to do with love. This book concentrates on power – the power of politics, battle, position and with Margaret the power of her piety.

Whether you read this book before The White Queen or after, you are essentially getting two very different stories to some of the most important defining events in history and if it broadens our knowledge of the time, through some well written fiction then I think Gregory has done her job well.

The White Queen was a book club choice earlier in the year for me based on the fact that there was a programme being made by the BBC about the book. It was certainly a hit for all of us that read it, and we are now between us all reading on – The Red Queen, The Lady of the Rivers, The Kingmaker’s Daughter as well as watching the programme too. 

It has been fascinating, it has been interesting and I have learnt so much from reading both The Red Queen and The White Queen. It has meant that I have then read around more on the subject and trying to get a sense of how all these key characters fit into history and their paths cross. 

I would love to know more about The Red Queen, especially when her son becomes King and the fact she shares him with The White Queen whose eldest daughter is married to him. I wonder if Philippa Gregory will give voice to that part of history, because we tend to go from the killing of Richard III straight to the reign of Henry VIII who we all think through no ones fault I would imagine that is when the Tudors start – but from these books it starts much earlier than that and is wrapped up in so much more. 

In terms of the programme I think the depiction of Margaret Beaufort by Amanda Hale is excellent and she has really captured the character that is written in the book. I look forward to reading about Anne Neville in The Kingmaker’s Daughter to get another view of the period.