The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

If you are interested in British history, you’ll want to try Philippa Gregory’s thoroughly-researched novels.  You may remember the popular movie The Other Boleyn Girl starring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman; it’s the film version of a bestselling novel by Gregory.

In The Red Queen, Gregory once again writes a fictional biography, this time set in 15th century England and Wales during the War of the Roses.  Two related families, the Lancasters and the Yorks, are struggling for power in what Gregory calls “the cousins’ war.”

Margaret Beaufort, the main character, is little-known to modern readers, although she had power in an era when few women did.

As the book begins, Margaret is a devout ten-year-old dreaming of becoming a nun or of modeling her life after Joan of Arc.  However, for a Lancastrian girl related to King Henry VI, her only option is to marry and, hopefully, to produce a son, who will be in line for the throne.  Therefore, she has to submit to an arranged marriage to Edmund Tudor when she is only twelve years old.  After almost dying in childbirth, she does bear a son, whom she names Henry.  She then decides to devote her life to helping the Lancastrians to rule the country – with Henry as king.  Since Henry lives with a guardian and later goes to Brittany to be safe from the Yorks, Margaret’s son is almost a complete stranger to her; nevertheless, her life revolves around him.

She is married three times – but never for love.  She falls in love only once, but the relationship is doomed from the start.  She uses her marriages and her roles as lady of waiting to two queens to further her obsession with becoming the mother of a king.  Margaret uses every relationship, every prayer, and every action to bring her closer to this goal.

Those familiar with Shakespeare’s play Richard III may be interested in that king’s role in the novel.

If you enjoy reading historical novels about the English royal family, you won’t want to miss this fast-paced, absorbing book!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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