Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: 'The Red Queen' by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen tells the story of the War of the Roses from the Lancaster point of view.  For those who are not schooled in British History, the Lancaster’s and the York’s were both descended royal Plantagenet line and cousins.  (The family symbol for the Lancaster’s was the red rose and for the York’s, the white rose.)  From 1455 to 1485, the two families fought a vicious civil war over the English throne.  Eventually, Henry Tudor (Henry VII) of the Lancaster line, overthrew Richard III of York.  In taking a York princess as his bride, he brought the civil war to a close. 
This novel is narrated by Lady Margaret Beauford of the House of Lancaster and Henry Tudor’s mother.  Lady Margaret has gone down in the history books as a smart, ambitious woman who understood the political significance of her son and worked to put him on the thrown.  She was only fourteen when she gave birth to Henry and her husband was killed in battle while she was pregnant.  Because of his claim to the throne, she left Henry to be raised by his uncle Jasper Tudor in Wales, to protect him from the political unrest in the country.  When things became too volatile, she sent her son into exile in Brittany.  Once most of the other heirs were killed, she helped Henry to launch a campaign to get rid of the York’s once and for all. 
At least that is what history says.  I found Philippa Gregory’s Lady Margaret to be unlikable and not as strong and smart as history claims.  In The Red Queen, Margaret is a deeply pious woman with a dream of being the English equivalent of Joan of Arc.  While the basic story mirrors history, this Margaret had little to do with the decisions to send her son into exile or in how he was raised.  She is helpless of even her own fate through much of this book.  As an important Lancaster princess, she was constantly married off to older men for political reasons and basically treated like a pawn.  Jasper Tudor really had more to do with Henry’s success than his mother did.  As a character, Margaret is bitter and cold.  I kept waiting for her to redeem herself, but it never happened.  In fact, Gregory went out of her way to make Margaret even less sympathetic.  For example, it is widely accepted that twelve-year-old King Edward V and his little brother were killed in the Tower of London by their uncle Richard III so he could be King.  However, in this book, Gregory claims it was Lady Margaret who issued the order to kill the two boys to put her son two heart beats closer to the throne.  I don’t know of any evidence to support this theory, and I question why Gregory would have turned her main character into a child killer. 
Overall, I give The Red Queen
Plot –4 bookmarks
Character development–  1 ½ bookmarks (Main character completely unlikable.)
Historical accuracy –3 bookmarks (I don’t expect historical fiction to be 100% accurate, but I had a problem with Margaret killing the two boys.  I did thing she did a good job of explaining the intricacies of the War of the Roses and all of the players involved in a way that was easy for the reader to digest.)
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Tilda Swinton (Lady Margaret Beauford), Henry Cavil (Henry Tudor), Liev Schreiber (Richard III), Sean Bean (Jasper Tudor) 

No comments:

Post a Comment