“We may all be cousins; but they are of the House of York and we are of the House of Lancaster. Never forget it.”
I have repeatedly been informed by members of my family to write reviews on all the books I read so as to form a concrete impression of what I have read (they believe I read only to forget) and there I decided to write a little something on a book I just finished reading which left a very powerful impression on my mind only due to the sheer force of character of the protagonist and how I can’t decide whether to love her or hate her.
I am talking of The Red Queen written by Philippa Gregory. This book is centred around the history of the British Royal family and the internal struggles for the throne that take place when there are two influential families, Lancaster and York, vying for the crown, both in a position to grab power through military means. It talks of the Cousins’ War, famously known as the War of the Roses, in the fifteenth century and how eventually the Tudor dynasty was established in 1485. But more importantly, it talks of the burning desire of a deeply religious woman to see her only son on the throne and herself as the King’s mother, Margaret Regina: Margaret R and the lengths she’ll go to see this destiny fulfilled.
Religion plays a key role in explaining much of Margaret Beaufort’s behaviour throughout the story; ever since she was a child she prided herself on the fact that she had saints’ knees through hours of praying well into the night. She believed that she could hear the Voice of God, who was guiding her through life and wanted nothing more than to be admitted into an abbey so she could be a nun and give herself to the service of God. But Margaret was a special girl in that she was the heiress to the Lancaster fortune and her progeny, if male, had the foremost right to the throne of England. So she was packed off to a loveless marriage with Edmund Tudor at the age of 12, in the stark remoteness of Wales, far from the luxuries of home. But the son born to them, Henry Tudor, had the blood of a Beaufort and a Tudor flowing through his veins, both direct Lancaster lines. Margaret almost died in childbirth and her mother had instructed her handmaidens to deliver the child safely and if they had to choose; to leave Margaret to die. The knowledge that she was nothing but a birthing instrument to her Mother angered her and shaped the decisions that she made later in life.
After the birth of her child and the death of Edmund Tudor, she was married to another man, for whom she had to produce more children so that more Lancaster heirs could be born. At this point Margaret was furious with her life, with her mother and with everyone who didn’t treat her with the respect she deserved, she felt since she was God’s favourite child and the heiress to the Crown of England, by birth she should have been treated as a Royal. But nobody even looked in her direction and this infuriated her. The rest of the book revolves around the trials she and her child faced and the sacrifices they had to make to obtain the throne. Margaret had to order the execution of little children, princes that stood in the way of Henry’s succession, marry a third man after the death of her other husband and orchestrate the biggest rebellion that England had ever seen only to see it fail and then to rise up and revolt once more, and this time, successfully.
Margaret did some terrible things to fulfil her ambition. She blamed others for the mistakes she made in order to appear as the saint in the eyes of God but she truly believed that she was fulfilling a divine destiny by putting her son on the throne. This is a book worth reading if you wish to see the side of one of the most hated figures in English history and why she did what she did and all the factors that came into play while she made some decisions, terrible or not as they might have turned out. It’s a lot of fact mixed with a little bit of fiction so that the story tied up. All in all, worth a read.
P.S. It’s the second book in the Cousins’ War series. The first is The White Queen. But it probably doesn’t matter which way you read it. I haven’t read The White Queen either, but when I do, I’ll be sure to blog about it.