Becky’s Two Hundred and Fourth Book Review: “The Red Queen” by Philippa Gregory

“The Red Queen” by Philippa Gregory is historical fiction set during the time of the Cousin’s War where the Yorks and Lancasters battled each other for the right to the crown. The Cousins War paved the way for the Tudors. “The Red Queen” follows Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII of England and it is the second book in the Cousin’s War series. What I really enjoy about historical fiction is, since I do not have a strong grasp of history, everything is still a surprise! Not to mention, I really enjoy Philippa Gregory’s writing. I think she mixes fact with fiction well and her writing often inspires me to spend time reading up on the history she writes about.

From a young age, Margaret Beaufort has her duties and loyalties engrained into her mind. When she is being married off her mother lectures her: “…you must know that you could never choose your own life. You are a girl: girls have no choice. You could never even choose your own husband: you are of the royal family. A husband would always have been chosen for you. It is forbidden for one of royal blood to marry their own choice. You know this too. And finally, you are of the House of Lancaster. You cannot choose your allegiance. You have to serve your house, your family, and your husband.” (The Red Queen, pg 24).

Despite knowing her fate from a young age, Margaret still wallows in the unfairness of it all. “A parcel – taken from one place to another, handed from one owner to another, unwrapped and bundled up at will – is all that I am. A vessel, for the bearing of sons, for one nobleman or another: it hardly matters who. Nobody sees me for what I am: a young woman of great family with royal connections, a young woman of exceptional piety who deserves – surely to God! – some recognition.” (The Red Queen, pg 53). I liked this passage. I think it exhibits well the kind of person that Margaret Beaufort is. She struggles with the duties that she was born into, and allows herself to wallow a bit. But she always points out that she has ‘exceptional piety’ and therefore knows the Will of God. Her relationship with religion was fascinating in my mind. The way that she was portrayed made it seem like praying was something she did to have the appearance of piety, where in reality, it was all an act. She tried so hard to prove that she had a special connection to God and she used this to prove how things must go her way because God Wills it. Multiple times while reading this book I felt my eyebrow raise up at some of her reactions to different events, and the way that she wove the world around her into a fictional truth, and that she knew what was best because of the special relationship she held with God.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely, I really enjoyed reading “The Red Queen”. I think that Margaret Beaufort is a remarkable character and it was a lot of fun trying to guess what she was going to do next. I think that Philippa Gregory’s writing is easy to get into and she makes history, (which I always thought was boring), absolutely mesmerizing! This is the second book in the series, so I would recommend you start with “The White Queen”. The way that she tells her stories makes it helpful, but not completely necessary, to start at the beginning. I am already planning out which of her novels I will read next. I think that Philippa Gregory is a great author to try out if you’ve never read historical fiction before.

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Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Sixth Book Review: “The White Queen” by Philippa Gregory

“The White Queen” is yet another masterpiece of historical fiction beautifully written by Philippa Gregory. I am a big fan of Gregory’s work, she is always well researched and she brings a wonderful amount of creativity to each of her pieces. I love reading about the various historical families. “The White Queen” takes place around the War of the Roses and involves one woman’s rise to the throne. She uses a combination of her natural beauty and witchcraft courtesy of her mother.

“I look at him from under my eyelashes. ‘I don’t propose to sell myself at all,’ I say. ‘I am not a yard of ribbon. I am not a leg of ham. I am not for sale to anyone.’” (The White Queen, pg 21). This statement, I believe, really captures the strength of the main character, Elizabeth Woodville. She is a widow with her eye on King Edward IV of the House of York (the white rose). She is a very interesting character to read about. She has a brilliant strength that shines through despite all that she goes through. She also has a certain amount of naivety that she displays throughout the book. She does witness certain things that lift the wool off of her eyes, bit by bit as can be seen in this quote here. 

“I have heard men tell of many battles in this cousins’ war, and they always spoke of heroism, of the courage of men, of the power of their comradeship, of the fierce anger of battle, and of the brotherhood of survival. I have heard great ballads about great battles, and poems about the beauty of a charge and the grace of a leader. But I did not know that war was nothing more than butchery, as savage and unskilled as sticking a pig in the throat and leaving it to bleed to make the meat tender. I did not know that the style and nobility of the jousting arena had nothing to do with this thrust and stab. Just killing a screaming piglet for bacon after chasing it round the sty. And I did not know that war thrilled men so: they come home like laughing schoolboys filled with excitement after a prank; but they have blood on their hands and a smear of something on their clocks and the smell of smoke in their hair and a terrible ugly excitement in their faces.

I understand now why they break into convents, force women against their will, defy sanctuary to finish the killing chase. They arouse in themselves a wild vicious hunger more like animals than men. I did not know that war was like this. I feel I have been a fool not to know, since I was raised in a kingdom at war and am the daughter of a man captured in battle, the widow of a knight, the wife of a merciless soldier. But I know now.” (The White Queen, pg 185). 

I really liked this quote because of the revelations that Elizabeth goes through about war. It is really insightful and true. There are many times throughout the book when Elizabeth is exposed to hard truths. 

Overall, I just really enjoy Gregory’s writing. She has a great style that keeps her readers turning the pages. “She is not a boy though she is weak like a boy, nor a fool though he has seen her tremble with feeling like a fool. She is not a villain in her capacity to hold a grudge, nor a saint in her flashes of generosity. She is not any of these male qualities. She is a woman. A thing quite different to a man. What he saw was a half fish, but what frightened him to his soul was the being which was a woman.” (The White Queen, pg 241). 

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that Philippa Gregory is a great author and I really enjoyed “The White Queen”. It is the first book in The Cousins’ War series. I think that Philippa Gregory’s books would appeal to both men and women, so as long as you enjoy books you would probably enjoy Philippa Gregory’s novels.

 

In case you want to read the whole series (as I plan to do) the order of the series is:

  1. “The White Queen”
  2. “The Red Queen”
  3. “The Lady of the Rivers”
  4. “The Kingmaker’s Daughter”
  5. “The White Princess”
  6. “The King’s Curse”

 

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU KNOW NOTHING OF HISTORY AND WANT TO BE SURPRISED BY THE EVENTS THAT TAKE PLACE IN THE BOOK!

One thing that I want to touch on is how much information that Philippa Gregory exposes her readers to. I will be the first to admit, I have never been a big history buff. It is in no way my strong suit. So part of the fun of reading historical fiction is taking the time to learn about people, places, and events that while I may have touched on at school I don’t *really* know anything about. For example, in this book two princes are taken to the tower after their father (Edward IV) is killed. They never come out. Gregory takes some liberties with this story and provides her readers with one theory, but the reality of the situation is that no one knows what happened to the princes. 

According to the internet, the two princes – Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury were the only living sons of Edward IV at the time of his death. They were lodged in the Tower of London by the man appointed to look after them, their uncle, the Lord Protector: Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Richard ended up taking the throne himself even though Edward V was supposed to be preparing to take the throne. A lot of people believe that the boys were murdered although some believe that one or both of the boys were able to escape. Personally, I think that the boys were murdered by their uncle – what better way to assure yourself the throne than to kill the competition? Either way, the story is fascinating and one that I enjoyed learning about. 

Becky’s One Hundreth and Seventh Book Review: “The Constant Princess” by Philippa Gregory

“The Constant Princess” by Philippa Gregory was yet another novel focused on the royalty in Europe, largely in England. This novel is about Catalina, Princess of Spain – the youngest daughter to Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon and practically from birth she is also known as Princess of Wales – destined to be Queen of England. Catalina changes her name later to the more well known ‘Katherine of Aragon’. History remembers her as the woman that Anne Boleyn pushed off her throne. But in “The Constant Princess” we know Katherine of Aragon first by the name Catalina. From the very beginning Catalina radiates power and confidence. “My parents’ names are blessed by the Pope as the finest kings to defend the faith against the might of Islam; they are the greatest crusaders of Christendom as well as the first kings of Spain; and I am their youngest daughter, Catalina, Princess of Wales, and I will be Queen of England.” (The Constant Princess, pg 5)

She radiates confidence, but at the same time she often is reflecting on the difficulties of being sent away to England. Once she is married she finds herself surrounded by strangers including the one that she is married to. Their marriage starts off as strictly a royal match but soon we see her fall in love with her husband. As she is becoming comfortable being married to Arthur, she suddenly loses him only a few months into their marriage. On his death bed, he makes her promise that she will fulfill her destiny of becoming the Queen of England. She promises to state that their marriage was not valid because it was never consummated. “I shall have to be clever. I shall have to be more cunning than King Henry Tudor, more determined than his mother. Faced with those two, I don’t know that I can get away with it. But I have to get away with it. I have given my promise, I will tell my lie. England shall be ruled as Arthur wanted. The rose will live again. I shall make the England that he wanted.” (The Constant Princess, pg 166)

Catalina finds that her plan to deny her marriage to Arthur and instead marry Arthur’s younger brother is not as easy as she initially thought. Instead of marrying Harry, she finds her own father-in-law is trying to marry her for himself. This would make her Queen of England, but her sons would not be destined to be king unless something happened to Harry. “Dear God, I am a fool, and a childish, vain fool at that. I have not lured the king into a trap of my own satisfaction but merely baited his trap for me. My vanity and pride in myself made me think that I could tempt him to do whatever I want. Instead, I have tempted him only to his own desires, and now he will do what he wants. And what he wants is me. And it is my own stupid fault.” (The Constant Princess, pg 213) Catalina is forced to find a way around marrying a man old enough to be her grandfather, a man she once knew as her father-in-law. She struggles constantly and finds herself alone much of the time. She pulls from the strength within herself to make things happen for her, to fulfill her destiny.

The various trials that Catalina finds herself going through while in England were interesting to read about. I don’t know how much of the book was Philippa Gregory’s imagination and how much was known historical fact. The bones of the story are true, Katherine of Aragon did come from Spain to England to marry Arthur, only to lose him a few months into their marriage. She then married his younger brother, Harry. He is destined to become Henry VIII, the King with six wives total. (There is that handy rhyme to remember the fates of the various wives, ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’). Among historians, many believe that Catalina and Arthur did consummate their marriage, but Catalina denied this to her dying day.

It was interesting to read about how Katherine viewed Harry, her opinions of him and how she is able to influence him so well during the beginning of their marriage. Not too long into their marriage, she discovers that he might not be just as easy to manipulate as she thought. “I am glad to know that he can play the hypocrite. The court room in the Alhambra Palace has many doors, my father told me that a king should be able to go out of one and come in through another and nobody know his mind. I know that to rule is to keep your own counsel. Harry is a boy now, but one day he will be a man and he will have to make up his own mind and judge well. I will remember that he can say one thing and think another.
        But I have learned something else about him too. When I saw that he did not weep one real tear for his grandmother I knew that this king, our golden Harry, has a cold heart that no one can trust. She had been as a mother to him; she had dominated his childhood. She had cared for him, watched over him, and taught him herself. She supervised his every waking moment and shielded him from every unpleasant sight, she kept him from tutors who would have taught him of the world, and allowed him to walk only in the gardens of her making. She spent hours on her knees in prayer for him and insisted that he be taught the rule and the power of the church. But when she stood in his way, when she denied him his pleasures, he saw her as his enemy; and he cannot forgive anyone who refuses him something he wants. I know from this that this boy, this charming boy, will grow to be a man whose selfishness will be a danger to himself, and to those around him. One day we may all wish that his grandmother had taught him better.” (The Constant Princess, pg 281)

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that this book especially puts Katherine of Aragon into a different light from what people usually think of when they hear her name. I really enjoyed reading about what her life was like before she came to England, to learn about all the different trials that she had to endure while she was clawing her way to the throne. Often, Katherine of Aragon is looked on with pity — she is the wife that Henry VIII put aside so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. “The Constant Princess” paints Katherine of Aragon in a different light and I for one very much enjoyed the story.

Becky’s Ninetieth Book Review: “The Other Queen” by Philippa Gregory

“The Other Queen” by Philippa Gregory follows the story of Mary Queen of Scots. There are several different characters who tell the story, Mary the Queen, and a husband and wife who are put in charge of caring for the queen, Bess and George. This is all taking place in Protestant England under Elizabeth’s rule. This is a time of paranoia, where everyone is capable of being charged with treason. Elizabeth’s most trusted adviser, Cecil, has convinced her that everyone is plotting against her. Her paranoia causes her to make hasty arrests, look the other way as Cecil tortures people in order to get confessions out of them, and overall make living in England a frightening experience. Enter Queen Mary. She is the cousin to Elizabeth and a queen several times over. She was born heir to the throne in Scotland and England and was married to a French prince who became king and in turn, she became queen. Her husband dies and so she leaves France to return home to Scotland where she is put in charge until she is run out of town. She flees to England in hopes that her cousin will help her to regain her throne. Instead, Elizabeth keeps Mary under house arrest.

Throughout the book, Mary is convinced that as a queen three times over that any moment a rebellion will rise to set her free. When she is the one narrating the story, the reader can expect to see all the hardships that she has endured during her life and the lengths that she will go to to escape her prison.

Bess and George tell their stories in a different perspective. Bess is a woman who came from nothing and built herself up through marriage. She married several times, each time climbing further and further up the social ladder. Her latest marriage to George left her a countess. Her opportunities are all largely based on the fact that when the Catholic church was overthrown for the Protestant church, abbeys, monasteries, churches, and anything to do with the church were raided. Her husbands took advantage of this. George on the other hand, comes from nobility and so when he and Bess are charged with keeping the queen in their home, George cannot comprehend why Bess is so upset that Queen Elizabeth isn’t paying them to house Queen Mary. He is so used to money never being a problem that he can’t grasp why Bess is always talking about it.

While all the main events really did take place, I am no history buff so I really didn’t know what was going to happen. This made reading the book much more interesting, I think, than if I had known what was going to happen. Philippa Gregory practically holds the patent for writing historical fiction surrounding the throne in England. She does take liberties, but you can pretty much guarantee that her novels contain the bones of what really happened. I am a big fan of her writing styles and I think most people would enjoy “The Other Queen”. I would recommend it, I especially think it would appeal to a female crowd.

Becky’s Seventy-Fifth Book Review: “The Boleyn Inheritance” by Philippa Gregory

I did it. I finished my book at the cutoff of February and am now able to write my review. Hurrah for me. I was reading “The Boleyn Inheritance” by Philippa Gregory and I very much enjoyed this book. I have definitely picked up a taste for Philippa Gregory’s works.

“The Boleyn Inheritance” follows three women following in the shadow of Anne Boleyn and the disgrace that she brought to her family. These women each tell their story from their point of view which leads for a very interesting perspective. The women who are the main characters in this book include Jane Boleyn, Kitty Howard, and Anne of Cleaves. Anne begins the story getting married to Henry VIII as his fourth wife. Both Jane and Kitty are part of the queen’s household. Things progress very quickly in the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleaves—and not in a good way. They begin their lives together with an incident that sets the tone for their entire marriage. King Henry VIII bursts into Anne’s private room and forces a rough kiss on her, only he is dressed in disguise and Anne does not recognize him. So she shoves him off of her and spits out his kiss. I am not sure if this happened as Philippa Gregory writes or if she has taken a certain amount of liberty when telling the tale of when the two meet. It is well known among historians that Henry VIII did not like Anne of Cleaves after their first meeting, but what exactly were the circumstances in this situation I do not know.

Either way, “The Boleyn Inheritance” takes the reader on a journey through the lives of three women who surround the King who destroyed churches and monasteries just so he could do what he wanted. Henry VIII may not have started out his life as a crazy man, but he certainly became one. It was most likely Anne Boleyn who drove him to the edge of insanity and the loss of Jane Seymour that pushed him over the edge. Either way, reading historical fiction about his reign makes me even gladder that I live in this century. Manners may have gone out the window and people certainly don’t spend much time working on being presentable or educated, but at least I have rights and can enjoy walking around in pants. Although I must say, some of the feasts that are described would be fun to attend.

There is an author’s note at the end of the novel where Philippa Gregory discusses some of the liberties that she did take when writing the book but she doesn’t go into everything. History has never been my favorite subject, but I did reassure myself while reading the novel with the Henry the VIII chant ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that Philippa Gregory has a unique talent when writing historical fiction that makes all of her books worth a read. She is not my favorite historical novelist, but she holds a close second to Tracy Chevalier. I think that a large variety of people would enjoy her works and upon the completion of “The Boleyn Inheritance” I am even more determined to get my hands on the rest of her works.