Book review : The Red Queen by Phillippa Gregory

Full disclosure. I am a sucker for historical fiction and period drama set in England so I may be biased.

There are many writers of this genre many of them qualified historians like Phillippa Gregory .

 Gregory’s Red Queen brings alive a period of English History which is not as popular as the dazling Tudor  period.

Actually  it tells us how the first Tudor King won his kingdom thanks to his mommy! And what a formidable mommy she was.

It is a historic fact that Margaret Beuafort the book’s narrator -protagonist is seen as the matriarch of the House of Tudor.

It has as its background the war of the Roses in which cousins York ( white rose)  and Lancaster ( red rose) fight for the throne of England . One needs  to know the background to get the finer nuances but unfortunately Phillipa Gregory assumes her readers are well aware of this period.

I am not sure what this period is called -Plantagnet? Yorkist?  

In the book  Margaret Beaufort  is the God obsessed heir to the throne of England from the Lancastrian side. She is posessed  by a fierce sense of destiny. Either she will be a nun or the Queen of England.

She will stop at nothing until she has her son brought onto England’s throne. The story is of her plotting, planning and machinations. She is not a very likeable heroine. Some of her smug piety and belief that she is England’s answer to Joan of Arc rings hollow as she plots and plans rebellion and treachery with cold blooded precision. 

 In fact there are times you sympathise with her third husband the double dealing Lord Stanley. It is clear as the battle for kingship proceeds that without Margaret’s constant visions and firm belief  that she is serving a just cause her son would never be King. He doesn’t have the ambition or the political ability.

 My issue witht the book is you  need to read up a lot of background history so that you don’t get overwhelmed by the dates, connections,battles and relationships. I got lost often. A  little more description and background narration would have helped .

It is also a bit stark in its descriptions because much of it is played out in battlefields and country homes.

However  a more feminsit reading of Margaret can only raise our admiration for the power and following she achieved being a woman in a decidedly masculine age.

The Other Boleyn girl by the same author on Marry Boleyn who had  an affair with Henry the eighth before her sister Anne decided to step in, is an easier and more enjoyable read. It was made into a film starring Scarlett Johanssan

I now need to read Gregory’s The White Queen to get perspective from the Yorkist side.

Alison Weir, Jean Plaidy, Antonia Fraser, CJ Sansom, Hillary Mantel are some of the authors I have read who have delved into English  history to write superb fictional accounts based on dramatic historic facts and real characters.

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