Philippa Gregory, queen of historical fiction novels, is back with another novel showcasing her extensive knowledge of British history. The Red Queen
is the second in the “Cousin’s War Series” that details a time in British history known now as The War of the Roses. The first novel in the series was called The White Queen
and takes place roughly around the same time as The Red Queen
, just from a different perspective.
As the series title explains, The War of the Roses were wars between cousins, specifically the House of York and the House of Lancaster. Each house was vying for control of the throne of England. The Red Queen follows the plight of Lady Margaret Beaufort and her quest to put her son Henry Tudor onto the throne of England. As a child Margaret claims that she has visions from God and that she knows it is her destiny to be like Joan of Arc. She tells her mother that she wants to be a nun, to which her mother tells her that she is a girl and has no choice in her life path. At the age of 12 she is married off to her first husband, 27 year-old Edmund Tudor. Since Margaret and Edmund are both of royal descent, any child of theirs would have a direct link to the throne. She soon becomes pregnant and gives birth (just barely) to the future King of England: Henry Tudor. After her husband passes away from the plague, his brother Jasper is put in place as Henry’s guardian and father figure. It will be up to Jasper to raise him to be the next King of England.
After a year of mourning, now 14 year-old Margaret is told that she will marry 33 year-old Sir Henry Stafford. It is during this time that Margaret comes to grow up and mature. The years following are trying times; wars begin between the House of York and the current King (King Henry VI) and it is during this time that Margaret begins to become an ambitious woman. She begins setting a plan in motion to have her son ready to take over the throne once King Henry VI is dead. When Henry VI is overthrown, she tries to convince her husband to back the Queen and help rally troops to support the King and take down his usurper. Over the next few chapters we see wars, death, multiple kings taking and losing the throne, and much deceit. Margaret continues her struggle to put her son on the throne but begins wondering when God will look down on his favorite subject and make her visions become reality. Will Margaret ever get to see her son Henry take the throne? Will her faith keep her alive while she serves the villanous royals of the House of York?
There is no way to describe how gripping Gregory’s historical fiction novels are. They read like suspenseful Dan Brown novels. She has an absolute gift at being able to make history intriguing! She weaves her stories masterfully with just the right amount of fact and fiction. She is able to get into the minds of her characters so well that I often find myself wondering if she knew them in another life. She creates rich landscapes of detail, so that while reading you can close your eyes and feel like you’re actually there seeing what she is writing about.
The one annoyance I had with the book was that Margaret repeats herself a lot. She speaks often about a repetitive stream of subjects: getting on her knees for hours and praying, her second husband and her feelings about his unwillingness to fight, and being able to sign her name as the King’s mother, among a few other things. I got used to this dialogue after a while, but it did hinder my appreciation for the novel slightly.
My friends will tell you that I constantly recommend Philippa Gregory novels to them all the time. She is one of my absolute favorite writers because of how gripping her novels are. If 15th century British royals are not your thing, she has covered many other subjects as well. She has written other novels that range from the 15th century Tudor dynasty to the flappers of the 20th century. I heartily encourage that you give her novels a try, they are truly beautiful works of art.
4 out of 5 Stars
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Simon and Schuster Adult Publishing Group (2010)
Hardcover 382 pages