The Red Queen is the second book in The Cousins’ War Series by Philippa Gregory. The title is slightly misleading as this book is about Margaret Beaufort, not Margaret of Anjou who was the actual Lancastrian Queen.
A cousin to King Henry VI, Margaret Beaufort is a Lancastrian heiress with a great sense of holy destiny. As a girl, Margaret is betrothed to Edmund Tudor, the King’s half-brother. Margaret is soon widowed and at the age of fourteen she becomes mother to Henry Tudor. Margaret marries two more times and she aligns herself with the ruling Yorks, whilst secretly scheming for a Lancastrian resurgence. Her life’s mission is to put her son on the throne of England, no matter what the cost.
My review – contains spoilers!
I found it difficult to feel any sympathy for Margaret. She acts high and mighty at times, with an air of martyrdom. Saying that, as a child, Margaret wants to lead a religious life and this is taken away from her. As she is a woman, everyone sees her as a baby-making vessel, except for Jasper. The secret romance between Jasper and Margaret is fictional.
The lines are blurred as to whether Margaret wants to be Queen of England or her son to be King. She confides to Jasper that she will sign her letters as Margaret Regina: Margaret R. Jasper is surprised at this admission, and Margaret argues that:
I shall be the mother of a king. I shall be all-but Queen of England.
Margaret is certainly ambitious and she has delusions of grandeur. Still, she has a strong determination and never wavers in her belief that her son Henry is the rightful heir to the throne and should be King of England. Margaret’s pride in her destiny clouds her judgement, though. She does not bless her second husband, Sir Henry Stafford, when he goes out to battle. In fact, Margaret acts harshly toward Henry Stafford throughout their marriage. Henry Stafford is probably the only decent male character in this book.
Margaret is a smart woman and her third marriage to Lord Stanley is strategic. She takes her life into her own hands. I think Stanley sussed out Margaret’s true nature when they have an argument and he states:
…you think God wants your son to be King of England. I don’t think your God has ever advised you otherwise. You hear only what you want. He only ever commands your preferences.
Margaret is adamant that she does not want power and wealth but her actions in the novel suggest otherwise. She secretly plots a rebellion against Richard III. Everything she does is for her son.
Gregory does a good job of bringing Margaret Beaufort’s character to life. Margaret is the exact opposite of the White Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. She feels resentment and jealousy towards Elizabeth. There is a great passage in the novel when Margaret is under house arrest and she has a realisation:
At last I recognise that the sin of ambition and greed darkened our enterprise, our plans were overshadowed by a sinful woman’s desire for revenge. The plans were formed by a woman who thought herself the mother of a king, who could not be satisfied to be an ordinary woman. The fault of the enterprise lay in the vanity of a woman who would be a queen, and who would overturn the peace of the country for her own selfish desire. To know oneself is to know all, and I will confess my own sin and the part it played in our failure.
You would think Margaret is talking about herself but she’s actually referring to Elizabeth Woodville! Even when she is under house arrest, Margaret doesn’t take responsibility for her actions. Instead, she states: ‘Elizabeth Woodville is to blame for everything’.
There is a good balance of historical fact and fiction in this novel. If it wasn’t for Margaret Beaufort’s determination, the Tudors would probably have never come into power. Not only does Margaret pray to God that her son will be King, she actively helps bring it about. Whilst I don’t like Margaret’s character, I enjoyed reading this novel.
My rating: ★★★★☆