I have long been a fan of Phillippa Gregory. Hers were the first novels that moved me from the ‘teen’ to ‘adult’ section of bookshops and libraries. I devoured all her Tudor Court novels* through my teens, rereading them over and over, loving the details and the imagination, the characterisation and emotional landscapes she brought to my favourite period of history.
This review will contain spoilers – because I feel that in historical fiction, the concept of ‘spoilers’ ceases to really mean anything! Part of why I love this genre is because it is an opportunity for the story to be in some way determined, so the imagination comes in the language used, the judgements made and the interpretations of what we know. For all of these things, Philippa Gregory is a master.
It’s been a while since I read a new Gregory book though, and since picking up this one, I’ve been trying to figure out why. It seems to come down to some very trivial reasons – I don’t have as strong an interest in the Wars of the Roses as the Tudor Court, and the first Cousin’s War book, which I did buy, I got in hardback. Since I do a lot of my reading either in bed, or curled up in an armchair, hardbacks aren’t necessarily what I reach for! Not having ‘gotten around’ to reading The White Queen, I haven’t bought any of the subsequent Cousin’s War books – until The King’s Curse.
This book peaked my interest because the central character is Margaret Pole, born Margaret Plantagenet. The first historical fiction book I read as a child, bought from a school book fair, was Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer, describing the life of Mary I, in which Margaret Pole was a prominent character as her Lady Governess. I couldn’t ignore a book focusing on her own life.
As much as I love all the others on my shelves, this one may have jumped up to claim a spot as my favourite. The exploration of both the potential power and the complete powerlessness that an aristocratic woman could experience in this period is fascinating, and the long span of years that the book covers (from the death of Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick in 1499 to Margaret’s own death in 1541) make for a spectacular inspection of Henry VIII’s approach to the throne, and the changes in him as a man, as a king and in the country through his reign.
Having read this, I will be sure to (finally!) get around to The White Queen, as I was so happy to be back reading one of my favourite authors. Her books are always so richly detailed and full of character, and magnificently situate you as a reader within the reasoning of historical figures who can often seem so distant when just understood through dispassionate texts.
The only thing that remains in a great deal of excitement for the release of The Taming of the Queen in August…!
*If you’re interested, in chronological order with central protagonist/narrator:
The Constant Princess (Katherine of Aragon)
The Other Boleyn Girl (Mary Boleyn)
The Boleyn Inheritance (Jane Boleyn/Parker, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard)
The Queen’s Fool (Hannah Green, a fictional Jewish girl experiencing London and Royal Service through the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, interacting with many famous Tudor names)
The Virgin’s Lover (Elizabeth I)
The Other Queen (Mary, Queen of Scots)