The Red Queen: A review of the book by Phillippa Gregory

The Red Queen is a novel of historical fiction about Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII of England. Ms. Gregory calls her book some history, some speculation, and a lot of fiction. She says that her book “is about a woman who triumphed in the material world and tried at the same time to serve God.” She writes many scenarios of Margaret on her knees or prostrate praying to God to grant her desires. Margaret comes through as an extremely selfish, ambitious woman who, rather than trying to do the will of God, appears to be trying to convince God to do her will.

Gregory depicts Margaret as an overly pious woman with an obsession to be like Joan of Arc. The book begins with the young Margaret’s vision after praying through the night. She experiences herself as Joan being burned at stake. This may be the source of her delusions, including her ambition to become an abbess and run a convent. Her dreams are shattered when her mother informs her that her duty is to become the mother of the next Lancastrian king.

Joan of Arc with Archangel Michael

A dream of Joan of Arc inspired young Margaret to fantasize she could be England's Joan of Arc
A dream of Joan of Arc inspired young Margaret to fantasize she could be England's Joan of Arc | Source
The pious Lady Margaret at prayer
The pious Lady Margaret at prayer | Source

Married at a tender age

Her betrothal to John de la Pole lost its political advantage and is broken. Then Margaret is married at the tender age of 12 to Edmund Tudor, the half brother of King Henry VI, Their bumbling liaison produces a son, but posthumously. The War of the Roses has just broken out, and Edmund, a Lancastrian like Margaret, dies of the plague after being captured by Yorkist forces and imprisoned at Carmarthen. Margaret and the baby Henry are left in the care of Edmund’s brother, Jasper, until Tudor lands and the castle are given by the new king to Yorkist Lord Herbert of Ragland. Margaret is separated from the baby, and Jasper is named as his guardian. Her contact with her son is mostly by letters and a few visits. The author hints that during those visits, love grows between Margaret and Jasper but it is unrequited.

Margaret marries Sir Henry Stafford, and except for wanting her son back, she is content. The gentle Lord Stafford, who straddles the fence in the war, earns the reader’s sympathy as he is nagged by his pious wife to go to war to fight for the Lancastrians, which she knows will gain Henry into her possession and assure him a place in line for the throne.

Such piety and devotion

Ms. Gregory writes many scenes of Margaret’s prayers and devotion to her obsession of putting her son Henry on the English throne. As a child, Margaret was proud of what she terms her “saint’s knees,” namely knees that had become callused from spending so much time on them in prayer. By this time, the reader is becoming well-acquainted with Margaret’s piety and should be beginning to wonder how much of her declaration of “God’s will” is actually her own strong will.

The War of the Roses continues, and I do not intend to go into the politics because as the author has stated, much of this book is fiction. However, the young Yorkist Prince Edward pushes Richard aside and becomes king. He summons the hesitant Lord Stafford to gather an army to join him in his fight to hold the throne. Margaret loses her gentleman husband to a battle wound, but that does not impede her conviction that it is God’s will that her Lancastrian son should be king.

Lord Thomas Stanley
Lord Thomas Stanley | Source

Marriage to Lord Stanley

She proposes a marriage alliance with the ruthless Thomas, Lord Stanley. It is this celibate but powerful marriage that enables her to formulate a plan to regain the throne for Lancaster and put Henry on it. She is either a fool, is just lucky, or is truly ordained by a sadistic god, and after much shedding of blood, her plan succeeds and the rest of the true story is in the history books.

Much of this book is devoted to Margaret’s piety and her conviction that it is God’s will that she should be the mother of the king. She practices writing her signature as “Margaret R., Margaret Regina. The reader gets the idea loud and clear that her ambition is for herself and her son, whom by now is almost a stranger to her, is merely a tool for her ambition.

Even her third husband, Lord Stanley, throws it in her face that he does not believe it is God’s will but her own selfish ambition. Before I was halfway through this book, I started to become disgusted with Margaret’s piety. She clearly cannot see her own self-aggrandizement. She constantly compares herself to her “sainted Joan,” and begs God for another vision. She confesses her sin of not seeing the "queen’s blind ambition” that she has allowed to get in the way of her own. Her constant blaming others for her own failures tear on the reader’s nerves. One would hope that the real Margaret was not the person depicted by Ms. Gregory.

Her criticism and obvious jealousy of the beauteous former Queen Elizabeth Woodville (depicted as the White Queen in another of Gregory's books. The White Queen has been made into a TV series on Starz), sister-in-law to King Richard, and her beautiful daughters lend definite clues to the blinders that Margaret wears. She cannot analyze a situation and see where she might have contributed to its failure.

My favorite part of the book

When she was at court, she betrothed Henry to Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter, Elizabeth, in a shrewd political maneuver. However, after the death of Queen Anne, young Elizabeth and the newly widowed Yorkist King Richard fall in love. Meanwhile, Henry and the army he and Jasper amassed have landed on the shores of England and are coming after Richard’s armies. Elizabeth is sent to Margaret for safekeeping. Jealous and resentful, she treats the young lady uncharitably. My favorite part of the book: Margaret, seated like royalty and requiring the girl Elizabeth to stand in her presence, tells her that regardless of the outcome, she will either be married to a man who hates her (Henry) or to a man who is blamed for the murder of her family (Richard). Margaret says, “Either way, you will be disgraced … shamed in public for all to see.”

Elizabeth replies, “Yes, but either way, shamed or not, I will be Queen of England, and this is the last time you will sit in my presence.”

I found the author’s use of her characters’ last names confusing. I am sure that she wrote this way to keep similar given names straight, but in the 10 years’ war, it was difficult to keep names like Neville, Woodville, and Rivers sorted out. The reader must remember that this was a time period when nobility was being established and many commoners became nobility through service or, as in the case of the Woodvilles, beauty.

Considering the description that Ms. Gregory gave of her character, I am confused. She describes Margaret as a triumphant woman who tried to serve God. Does the author really see her character that way? I do not see her charactization of Margaret Beaufort in that light, and I wonder if she read her own book.

Margaret, heiress to the Red Rose of Lancaster, was never the queen but history says that she did rule jointly with her son Henry, I assume the reference to the “Red Queen” was to her. However, Margaret is known in history for more than her ambitions to put her only child on the throne.

Margaret is revered as the founder of education for women

She was a supporter of education and is credited with founding education for women in England as well as a supporter of the church. Roles Ms. Gregory conveniently left out of her book, but of course, she does bill it as "historical fiction," which would give her leave to reflect her own prejudices.

More by this Author


23 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

"And I wonder if she read her own book?" Too funny! Now there's a book review you won't read every day...blunt, honest, no frills and no b.s. :) I loved this MizB. You have a nice flair for this sort of writing, and I look forward to more.

bill


annart profile image

annart 2 years ago from SW England

An interesting review of this book. I like to read history, especially if it's told within fiction (but stays faithful to the facts). I know nothing of this character but you've made her sound intriguing. I've heard of the author and I know she's renowned and respected in the 'historic novel' world.

This is an honest review too and is all the better for it.

Ann


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

Friend Bill, thanks for your interesting comment. This author is one of my favorites, but I was disappointed in this book. Guess it showed.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

Ann, The thing is, I really like this author. I wasn't familiar with Margaret Beaufort either, but I researched her after I read this stinging account of her life, or perhaps I should say "character". She may be one of those characters you have to respect but don't really like. Thanks for your comment.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

It is sometimes hard to read books like this I agree and maybe like you, only can because it is non-fiction but then the story teller seems to omit some important facts. That is why I wrote the Anna Catharina series, for someone told her story from Anna's records and it seemed there was so little about Anna! Seems Elizabeth's whole life was with eyes on the throne!

Great review. ^


annart profile image

annart 2 years ago from SW England

I'll put this on the 'to read' list - which is quite long! Ann


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

Jackie, she writes what she bills "historical fiction", so we know to take her stories as figments of her imagination. She is meticulous in her research and keeps her historical facts straight, such as the names, dates, and places in the War of the Roses, but she takes a lot of literary license with her characters. I really like her, but I felt that she may have taken a little too much liberties with a female figure who did so much for education and the church. Now that I'm back on my feet and can get to the computer, I'll have to read your Anna Catharina series. Thanks for the comment.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

Ann, great, but you'll have to read The White Queen, too, to get a true picture of her bias in the War of the Roses.


midget38 profile image

midget38 2 years ago from Singapore

Your ditty about kitties sure is pretty! Sharing!


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

Oh, thanks!


midget38 profile image

midget38 2 years ago from Singapore

This was an insightful and honest review. Will check out the red queen.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 2 years ago from Iowa

I've read this book and it was probably my least favorite Philippa Gregory novel (my favorite being "The Other Boleyn Girl"). I found Margaret very unlikable. Your review was spot on. I do want to read the White Queen. That story always has fascinated me.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

Thanks, I'm glad I've inspired you to check out the Red Queen, but some of her other books are much better.

Deborah, I'm glad to know that I wasn't the only one who found this her least favorite of Ms. Gregory's books. She is much more generous of the White Queen. I really liked "The Other Boleyn Girl, too". Thanks for your comment.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

I love Phillipa Gregory! She is an amazing author, I have read so many of her books! I haven't read this one though as the White Queen came on tv at the same time as I was about to buy it, so I thought it would explain about all the history in that, but this is a great review!


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

The Red Queen is the only book of hers that has disappointed me. I wish I could get The White Queen on TV, but we don't subscribe to HBO. I did like that book, though. I do think you will enjoy The White Queen in book form, too. I finished it last January and may still write a book report on it, too. It will be after I finish all of the Game of Thrones because I can't get Starz either. You know, 200 channels and nothing on! Thank you for your comments. Hope it's warmed up over there. It should hit 75 here today.


Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

That is a great review on a historical book. I've written many book reviews for Goodreads, but they are about two paragraphs. To write book review hub with sufficient words, that I have not achieved yet. Well done


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

Thank you for the kind words. I couldn't resist an analysis on Ms. Gregory's view of this historical character. If not for Margaret Beaufort, we women may not be educated today. Keep up your reviews, you will achieve your goal.


Eira Losee Fukuda profile image

Eira Losee Fukuda 2 years ago from California

Really enjoyed this review; too many book reviews are ill-informed on their subject and written with a clear bias whose source is ... unclear. Yours is precisely the opposite. I've read some of Gregory's work and enjoyed it, but you've brought it to a new level. Thank you!


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

Enjoyed your review! I read this book not too long ago--and while I always enjoy reading, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I had wanted to--


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

Eira, thank you for your comment. I love Ms Gregory as an author and have read several of her books, but her viewpoint in this one surprised me.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

Audrey, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I had hoped either. I'm glad I read it before I read "The White Queen," though. TWQ is more positive. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

I love historical novels like this. My favorite historical novels were the "I Claudius" saga by Robert Graves. You have piqued my interest into reading this particular book. English history is woefully convoluted for me, and I have trouble following all of the Kings, Queens, and dynasties. Perhaps this could help me set it straight. Great hub, superbly written!


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago Author

Thank you, Mel, I recommend all the author's books very highly. This one and The White Queen helped me understand the War of the Roses, and also, some of my own mysterious family history, which I've written here about. I haven't read the I Claudius saga, but now that you've mentioned it, I'll put it on my list as a must read.

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