The Red Queen
Historical Fiction, 377 pages
“Before God, I swear that I have to believe that there is more for me in life than being wife to one man after another, and hoping not to die in childbirth!”
From the tender age of twelve, Margaret Beaufort knows she is a vital player in God’s plan. Married off to Edmund Tudor, wedded and bedded with little regard to her comfort, Margaret clings to her faith. She knows she is destined for great things. She will rise to royalty, sit upon the throne of England and sign her letters, Margaret Regina, Margaret R. After a torturous childbirth, Margaret gives birth to and is subsequently separated from her first and only son, Henry, before being wedded once more to her second husband Henry Stafford. Often barred from seeing her son for years at a time, having been forced to leave him in the care of his uncle, Jasper Tudor, Margaret remains pious, never losing faith in what she now believes is her son’s royal future as the only true heir to the Lancaster throne of England. Through her third husband, Thomas Stanley, Margaret paves a long and bloody path with secrets and schemes, all in the name of dethroning the usurper King Richard in favor of her beloved Henry VI.
Review: 4/5 Enjoyed, but despised the narrator.
Margaret did not have it easy in youth. Her childhood and young adulthood were like a handbook for how to break a woman’s spirit. Her own mother told her, “Since you were (born) 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.” Clear foundation for Margaret’s future as the woman who put Henry VI on the throne, conditioned to believe he is her own worthwhile accomplishment. From the moment of that conversation between mother and daughter, I began a complicated relationship with Margaret that I will not soon forget. I went into her story completely enamored to her side, despite our vast differences where religion is concerned. Though she was a willful and oddly selfish child, I sort of admired the way she idolized Joan of Arc, hoping to mold herself into the same image of a brave, virtuous soldier of god bent on putting a rightful heir on a royal throne. Despite the obvious complaint that she was willing to sacrifice others in the name of her ultimate goal to put her son on the throne, I think my deeper conflict was her evolution (or lack thereof?) where a woman’s role is concerned. I originally thought her to be a sort of soldier for a woman’s importance, but she only seemed to turn more and more against her own gender as time went on. When she was married off to Edmund Tudor at the age of twelve and bedded the same year, she lamented that “if it were lawful for a woman to hate her husband”, she would “hate him as a rapist”, going on to acknowledge her understanding that, no, it is not lawful for a woman to have such thoughts about the man chosen to be her husband. She went on to think scornfully, “there is nothing more likely to cure a woman of lust than marriage,” and even went so far as to swear her third husband to celibacy. One of the many decisions she makes that is deliciously borderline powerful, but is cast to the wayside in favor of her less enlightened devotions. But I thought, surely there is potential here for her to break away from this mold? Nope. She goes on to develop a deep, festering resentment toward the women at court, particularly those in greatest positions of power. In order, she casts her scorn over Margaret Anjou, her successor Elizabeth Woodville (whom Margaret routinely accuses of witchcraft), and her daughter after her, the princess Elizabeth, soured to their charm and beauty, suspicious of them always, as they “(lie) fluently as only beautiful girls know how.” Along her arduous road to the throne, Margaret lays waste to the lives of royal women, ensuring they are stripped of honor and safety, as she believes God has tasked her. In the end, I hated her. I hated every selfish, pious, ambitious little inch of her, and I was glad to be shot of her. I didn’t care if she won, if anyone she loved died, or if England went up in flames and never recovered. I found myself sprinting to the end of her story, if only to be past her. That I was compelled to keep going with such an abiding distaste of the narrator is a credit to Gregory’s skill.
Words that were new to me, obscure to me, or that I just wanted to revisit or highlight. I had been gathering the definitions for each, but as the lists become longer and more inclusive, I’m leaving it to you to dictionary.com the ones you don’t know. 😉