Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Red Queen, by Philippa Gregory

4.5 stars

The White Queen was a decent book that gave us the War of the Roses from the perspective of Elizabeth Woodville, the beautiful former nobody who became the wife of Edward IV. The Red Queen is an excellent book from the Lancaster side, particularly that of Margaret Beaufort – cousin to the Lancastrian King Henry VI, child-bride of Edmund Tudor, possessor of saint’s knees and barely-even-teen-mum to the future King of England Henry Tudor (who was helped in large part to become King by the determination and conniving of his mother).

While not exactly someone I’d have ever wanted to spend any time with (I’d have spent most of my time being denounced for my vile whorish and ungodly ways), Margaret was a truly fascinating and formidable woman and made for a much more compelling central character than Elizabeth, supported by Gregory’s seeming to have far more of a grasp on her voice. The circumstances of her life were also much more interesting (I may point some of the many people who have told me I’m bitter and cynical Margaret’s way, although she is probably near the top of the list of people who’ve ever had just cause for such feelings) and due to the lack of the privileges shown to Elizabeth as Queen was also a far more informative source on the harsh realities of life for the women of her time (whether it be regarding upbringing and expectations, marriage, childbirth, property law, or having your child taken from you for being a possible future threat to the current holder of the throne and still having to serve and obey the shits responsible).

Interestingly (to me), The Red Queen also made me consider what my own position and thoughts might have been at that time with regard to the monarchy. In our present society I’m staunchly anti-monarchy – having not truly ruled over our democratic country in a very long time, I see the Royal Family as a parasitic and unnecessarily expensive tourist attraction that has no more right to their unearned wealth and luxury than my nan does – but I’m also a stickler for rules and so, coupling the laws of succession** with an abhorrence of bloodthirsty shits who can’t even be trusted not to murder their own families let alone vulnerable prisoners...

...I think I’d have been firmly on the Lancastrian side.

While bearing in mind that it is fictionalised, I found The Red Queen brought a turbulent and sometimes confusing period of history to life for me, and I highly recommend it for people like myself who are interested in history but intimidated by more scholarly texts.

**Edited 7 Nov to add:

Having read further into the roots of the Wars of the Roses I now realise that, according to the laws of succession, it was actually the Lancasters that were the usurpers. And while the Yorks were indeed spectacularly stabby, King Henry VI was a particularly crap king who really ought not to have been ruling. So with regard to whose side I'd have been on - they're all as appalling as each other and so I'm declaring myself firmly on the side of the peasants.

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