The second installment in Gregory’s series on the women of the Wars of the Roses is The Red Queen, the story of Margaret Beaufort, the red rose of Lancaster. I must admit I have never cared for Margaret Beaufort who I have always found to be the impetuous for much of the cruelty of Henry VII. I have always thought an evil and vengeful women was hidden behind her religious habit but Gregory’s depiction, while not changing my option, has made me rethink the bases of those opinions.
The story begins with Margaret as a nine-year-old child. She is fervently religious often attending mass multiple times a day. Her mother uses this devotion and schools her daughter to believe that it is God’s wish that she give birth to royalty and that this role was ordained from birth. In turn, Margaret believes with the kind of faith belonging to the righteously devoted that fervently pursuing the violently contested crown is her birthright. She is told and believes from an early age that she is “especially favored by God” and she clings to this notion with unwavering conviction throughout her life.
Since Margaret feels that God has selected her for this special honor she grows into an unyielding and ruthless crusader for her cause. She will go to any length necessary to see her destiny fulfilled. It is this ruthless scheming that has shaped my own opinion of Margaret Beaufort. She is not a likeable character fictional or otherwise, but I am willing to consider that she was herself manipulated into this mindset.
Margaret is married the age of twelve to Edmund Tudor and nearly dies giving birth to her son Henry. During the delivery the midwives ask Margaret’s mother if they should work to save the child or the mother; without hesitation she tells them the child. Who could not feel sorry for this girl of thirteen who has just realized, while in the throws of physical agony, that her own mother values the life of potential heir, the hope of the Lancastrian’s, more than that of her own daughter. I pondered myself while reading if this made Margaret into the woman she became, so fiercely dedicated to the child that nearly cost her life, but whose birth certainly took away what was left of the child within herself. I would imagine that such an event at such a young age would have had an enormous impact on the psyche of any young girl and while the event as portrayed by Gregory is fictional as to the emotions it did serve to remind me to remember that the historical figures I have so long studied are human and therefore influenced by a myriad of encounters and events lost to time.
While Gregory gives the reader some pause to understand Margaret’s indoctrination into her worldview from birth and that she herself was of little value in the quest for an heir. Married while still a child and enduring a long and life-threatening birth seem to have firmed planted the idea of being chosen by God within Margaret. This seed grows within her, as she becomes a selfish, self-centered and controlling woman with ruthless ambition. Every moment of everyday seems consumed with the pursuit of the crown for her son.
However, the reader must remember that Margaret was herself cruelly used. Throughout her life she is unwanted, unimportant and unloved for herself. She is the means to a greater end. Margaret, through sheer force of character, inserts herself into her position otherwise she would be forgotten to time. Despite being separated from her son for long periods of time they remain devoted to one another and she one of his most trusted and influential advisors. Perhaps Margaret had to become self-serving to survive and remain an essential piece to an all male puzzle?
Gregory puts Margaret as an essential co-conspirator in the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. This theory is certainly a possibility but is one amongst many. Gregory does not attempt to humanize Margaret, but follows the most popular perspective of her. There is no attempt to humanize or explain her actions and reactions, which would have been more interesting. Perhaps Gregory found it impossible, but it certainly would have been an interesting take on a dynamic woman who remained influential throughout her life despite her sex. It would have been interesting if Gregory had pursued Margaret’s obsession with her son as compensation for her own life that was taken from her at such a young age so that he could live. Perhaps Margaret’s sees Henry’s success as her own vindication?
Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville, of The White Queen, find themselves united begrudgingly but as survivors the allegiance becomes a necessary one. Henry’s claim to the throne is a weak one, and despite Richard III’s declaration that the children of his brother and Elizabeth Woodville are illegitimate, the two adversaries find themselves allies through the marriage of their children. Elizabeth of York, Edward and Elizabeth’s elder daughter, has a stronger claim to the throne, but because she is a woman it would be a contested claim. These two mothers’ see that each needs the other for validation and by the marriage of Henry and Elizabeth the houses of Lancaster and York are united at last.
Indeed, Henry’s victory at Bosworth is reliant upon the aid of his stepfather, Thomas Stanley, who is notorious for his double dealing so that he is always on the side of the victor. Fortunately for Henry Stanley’s forces watch the battle until it begins to turn in Tudor’s favor and then charge in on his side.
All of my criticisms aside I still found The Red Queen an enjoyable read. Also, though part of a series, neither novel is reliant on the other. The next novel in the series is The Lady of the Rivers which is the story of Jacquetta, mother of Elizabeth Woodville, who I must say was the most interesting of the characters in either novel and so I look forward to reading that as well. The Red Queen gives the reader the Margaret Beaufort that they would expect to find but is an enjoyable well written book.