Red Queen makes herself target for success

Adrienne Savoldi

Remember when you were little and thought being royalty would be fun?

Well, think again. With her latest book, “The Red Queen,” Philippa Gregory has again proven that the road to the crown is not only dangerous, but also that keeping it can be uncertain. ?

The story is about Margaret Beaufort, a young girl who at the age of 10 aspires to become a saint and feels God has called her to do something great in her life. Inspired by Joan of Arc, she dreams of joining a convent but is forced at age 12 to marry Edmund Tudor from the House of Lancaster. After Edmund’s early death, Margaret gives birth to his son, whom she names Henry. Margaret then devotes her life to making her son king of England, feigning loyalty to Richard of York and even marrying men who will further her ambitions for Henry. ?

At first, Margaret is passive, but as she ages she becomes more aggressive and even speaks out against a lot of the practices that claim women as second-class citizens. She holds on to her religious ways all throughout the novel. She never misses prayer, even saying multiple times throughout the novel that she has “saints’ knees.” Sometimes, however, Margaret’s piety can border on arrogance, especially when she compares herself to Elizabeth Woodville, the York Queen. Margaret mourns the fact that Elizabeth, a born commoner, has everything handed to her because of her beauty and “witchcraft,” while Margaret is descended from a royal line and is spoken to by God but has to work her way up. ?

For a religious girl, Margaret acted in a very un-Christian manner multiple times, particularly in the case of the two young princes, 12-year-old Edward and 9-year-old Richard. They are two of the three obstacles standing between Margaret’s son and the throne. Margaret and Thomas Stanley, her scheming third husband, plot the deaths of the two boys. In reality, history does not know who killed the boys, though it is typically blamed on their uncle, King Richard. No matter who did it in real life, the fact that Margaret would dare order someone to kill two children is sickening. There was one part where Margaret hesitates and wonders if they are doing the right thing by killing the boys, but of course, her interests for her son outweigh the boys’ importance. ?

Despite the terrifying thought of an older woman killing two innocent children, I do like how Philippa Gregory takes mysterious historical events and puts her characters in those situations. For example, in her novel “The Virgin’s Lover,” no one knows who killed Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy, but in the book, Gregory makes it seem like Queen Elizabeth I is the guilty party. History paints Dudley as the murderer so he could marry Elizabeth, but no one could prove it. ?

Another thing I liked about this book is that while many characters are not as well known as the characters in Gregory’s Tudor Court series, you realize these characters are the ancestors of some of the great English monarchs who splatter history. For example, Margaret is the grandmother of Henry VIII, though she doesn’t know that at the time, and there is even a mention of the name Dudley, which if I’m not mistaken, down the line will have a descendent named Robert who will be an important figure in the court of Elizabeth I. ?

A unique aspect of “The Red Queen,” is that romance does not play a huge role in the novel. Perhaps this has something to do with Margaret feeling she is married to God. She does have slight feelings for her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor, but she never acts on them. In the other Gregory novels I have read, few female protagonists are not governed in part by their passion for a certain male. Margaret, on the other hand, stays true to God and advancing her son to king. ?

The ending, however, depicting the battle between Richard of York and Henry Tudor, didn’t flow with the rest of the novel. The story before that was told from Margaret’s perspective, but the battle, which Margaret did not attend, switches to some third-party narration unexpectedly and then goes back to Margaret. ?

Reading Gregory’s novels has proved to me that no matter how exciting it would seem to be royal, or president of the United States, I’m not sure I could handle it. There’s just something so frightening to think that one could be assassinated in someone’s lust for power or that some other terrible event, like a rebellion, could occur and spoil everything. Margaret risks her life multiple times throughout the book, but fortunately she makes it out alive. Not everyone in history was so lucky. ?

“The Red Queen” is a book unlike Gregory’s other novels. While I prefer her Tudor Court novels, this book is still a good read and makes you wish Gregory would continue the story beyond her son’s rise to power. Watch out for Margaret, though. Don’t be fooled by her religious ways and her respect for Joan of Arc. She can be a tricky one.

Contact Adrienne Savoldi at [email protected].