Book Review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: September 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction

The second book in Philippa’s stunning new trilogy, The Cousins War, brings to life the story of Margaret Beaufort, a shadowy and mysterious character in the first book of the series – The White Queen – but who now takes centre stage in the bitter struggle of The War of the Roses.
The Red Queen tells the story of the child-bride of Edmund Tudor, who, although widowed in her early teens, uses her determination of character and wily plotting to infiltrate the house of York under the guise of loyal friend and servant, undermine the support for Richard III and ultimately ensure that her only son, Henry Tudor, triumphs as King of England. Through collaboration with the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret agrees a betrothal between Henry and Elizabeth’s daughter, thereby uniting the families and resolving the Cousins War once and for all by founding of the Tudor dynasty.

The latest offering in the Cousins War series begins with a nine-year-old Margaret Beaufort, quite possibly one of Philippa’s most unlikeable characters to date. After praying all night (and proudly telling us of her ‘saints knees’) Margaret sees a vision of Joan of Arc. I was fairly sure Joan was still viewed as a heretic in the 15th century, she certainly wasn’t sainted until the early 1900’s, but nonetheless, this vision leads to Margaret idolizing Joan and praying in her name throughout her days. Margaret, as you may have guessed, is devoutly religious, convinced she is ‘especially favoured by God’ and that she has a vocation.

Margaret’s dreams of a vocation, perhaps an Abbess, are dashed when she is married off to the King’s half-brother, Edmund Tudor at the tender age of twelve. Giving birth to the future King, Henry Tudor, at the age of thirteen, Margaret is convinced it is God’s will that her son become King of England.

To follow is her lifelong plotting, scheming, increasing bitterness and final triumph in her quest to secure a Lancastrian King of England once again. She is an interesting character, certainly vile, and without a redeeming quality I can recall. While some people might ‘love-to-hate’ this character, I found her intensity, ambition, pride, envy and selfishness onerous towards the end.

Philippa switches narrative over to Henry in the battle scenes to finish off the book, which I felt didn’t work well at all, it is too disparate a shift after reading an entire novel in first person. It is, otherwise, as pleasant and breezy a read as usual from Philippa. You can read this novel before or after the White Queen, it is written as a stand-alone.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Thanks to Simon and Schuster we have a copy of the Red Queen to give away. Just tell us about your favourite Philippa Gregory book. You can leave a comment below or on our Facebook page. Entries close October 24th. Australian residents only.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory”

  1. I loved The Other Boleyn Girl, because it brought to life a hidden, yet important, piece of history, in a romantic way.

  2. I loved The Boleyn Inheritance because it really opens up a whole new perspective of life back then, before anyone could imagine it in a capturing way.

  3. The Other Boleyn Girl, Phillipa manages to depict the significance of royal marriages and life back then very well. I especially love the way she weaved it into the story – and what a success on her series, it even turned into a movie.

  4. My favourite must be The Constant Princess out of her series, I love how the concept of each character is equally different yet takes on a realistic turn and how each of them overcomes the social standing of society back then.

  5. I particularly enjoyed ‘Meridon’ because it shows how much someone close to you will risk, just for you. Her imagery is very well written and took me along the journey very well.

  6. Wideacre is my favourite because we can see the fine line between women and how society treated them back then. It’s interesting seeing how much everything has changed nowadays, even a female Prime Minister at that! How quickly the world is changing and accepting, it is truly amazing compared to the social customs back then.

  7. My personal favourite is definitely The Other Boleyn Girl. I loved following along the life of the rich and famous, seeing the social conventions they had to live through, though glamorous but also very harsh and stressful, lots of pressure was on those women. I love Philippa’s writings – most are based on women in the 1500s which I can clearly relate to even nowadays, where we still don’t have equal rights as men.

  8. I enjoyed how Philipa Gregory oft chooses obsure characters. The Other Queens is one of my favourite, where although the style may be some what erratic bouncing back & forth between the characters I found the intertwining storylines from the many perspectives kept the book intriguing.

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