In the sixth of Gregory’s Cousins' War series, the last
Plantagenets wage a losing and mostly subterranean battle against the
unscrupulous Tudor upstarts.
Lady Margaret Pole, the principal of this installment, is cousin to many Plantagenet heirs of the house of York, including Elizabeth (The White Princess, 2013), who married Henry VII, the Tudor conqueror, after he deposed their uncle, Richard III. Elizabeth and her mother, a reputed sorceress, called down a curse upon the Tudors: that they would be unable to produce a healthy male heir and their line would die out in three generations, ending with a virgin queen. As we all know, that came true. However, somehow Gregory manages to keep us in suspense as to what will befall her characters. Lady Margaret, married to a lowly knight as Henry VII punishes the Yorks, is named guardian to the Prince of Wales, Arthur, in his Welsh castle. Arthur is clearly in love with his new wife, the Spanish infanta, Katherine of Aragon. But was the marriage consummated? This question, to which only Arthur, Katherine and Margaret know the answer, will trigger the tumult that follows. In deference to Arthur’s dying wish, Katherine marries his younger brother, Henry. As king, Henry magnanimously restores the Yorks, including Margaret, to their former lands and titles: She is now Countess of Salisbury and the richest woman in England. But as previous volumes predicted, the wheel of fortune keeps turning, particularly when a loose cannon like Henry rules. Ominously, Buckingham, the most powerful York next to Margaret, is executed for allegedly mentioning the curse. Then Wolsey falls. As the juggernaut of Anne Boleyn threatens to upend the English court; destroy Queen Katherine and Henry’s sole legitimate heir, Princess Mary; cause countless executions; change a national religion and civilization as they knew it, Margaret and the Yorks soldier on. It would be a spoiler to recount what happens next although we already know.
Under Gregory’s spell, we keep hoping history won’t repeat itself.