Monday, 16 August 2010

Book Review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory.

Product details:
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd.
Hardcover, 432 pages.
Release date:  August 19th 2010.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Series: The Cousins' War #2.
Other books in series: The White Queen.
Source: Received from publisher for review.

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 Red Queen, the second book in Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War series focuses on deeply religious Margaret Beaufort, heiress to the house of Lancaster, and polar opposite to the enchanting Elizabeth Woodville, protagonist of The White Queen. When we are introduced to Margaret as a young girl she has already acquired “saints knees” from her hours spent in prayer, has what she believes to be visions from God, and believes she is blessed by Him, just like her heroine, Joan of Arc. But she is not destined to follow in the footsteps of Joan of Arc - she will not fight, but instead her purpose in life is just one. To produce an heir for the house of Lancaster. To this effect, she is married at age twelve, and becomes a mother at just age thirteen, to her only son, Henry Tudor, who she believes is destined to take the throne of England, a feat she will stop at nothing to accomplish.

In this book, I believe Gregory set herself a difficult task, in that she has presented to us a character who is near impossible to warm to. I felt some amount of sympathy for the loveless marriage and horrendous childbirth Beaufort had to suffer so early on in her life, but throughout the rest of the book, even though she presents herself as being deeply religious, in reality Beaufort is devious, cunning, spiteful and even brutal at times. She is unrelenting and absolutely single-minded in her quest to see her son, Henry ascend to the throne, and the measures she is prepared to take to ensure this are extremely unnerving. All that said, I believe Gregory succeeded in her aim to tell the story of Beaufort - she does not vilify her, but explains the thinking behind her actions to the point where I understood her motivations, even though I may not have agreed with them.

I very much enjoyed reading of Beaufort’s rivalry with Elizabeth Woodville in this book, and gaining a different perspective on Woodville and the House of York. Beaufort’s hatred of Woodville is not all politically motivated - she is also jealous of her beauty and her fruitful marriage. She sees Woodville as a commoner and a witch, who has  used her magic to attain the life which she believes is rightfully hers. The scenes between the two women, and those where Beaufort meets Woodville’s daughter Elizabeth of York, were some of my favourites in a book that was in parts too focused on battle scenes and political scheming for my tastes.

While I found the character of Beaufort less engaging than that of Woodville, I found this perspective on The Wars of the Roses told through the eyes of the House of Lancaster very compelling. These books have definitely piqued my interest in the history of this period, and I am especially interested in the tale of the lost princes in the tower, a mystery which is detailed in both books in this series. I am really looking forward to reading the forthcoming books in the series, The Rivers Woman, which will tell the story of Elizabeth Woodville’s mother Jacquetta, and The White Princess which will detail the life of Elizabeth of York.


  1. It looks like we completely agree that it was entertaining, but we both prefer Woodville to Beaufort. What's the deal with the next book? Will there definitely be White Princess in addition to Rivers Women? I've heard mixed reports. I hope she'll still write the White Princess, b/c I'm interested in Elizabeth of York's story. Another great review!

  2. Great review! I think most people's reviews indicate that Margaret Beaufort was a hard character to warm to, especially after Elizabeth Woodville.

  3. awesome review!! i feel very much the same about this one!

  4. @Christina - I hope The White Princess is still planned too. It's one of the questions I asked in my Q&A, but I don't have the answers yet. Hopefully we'll find out soon! :)

  5. Ok, yours is the second review of The Red Queen that I've seen, so I clearly need to get my hands on a copy of The White Queen then. It sounds so intriguing!

  6. I recently bought The white queen and I can't wait to read it and I hope I enjoy it as much as other people have been. Great blog post.


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