Second in Gregory’s series about the War of the Roses, this time featuring a determined matriarch of the Lancastrian clan.
Margaret Beaufort, a cousin of Henry VI, vows from an early age to be as pious and staunch as Joan of Arc, and to someday be known as “Margaret R.,” for Regina. She spends hours on her knees praying, preferably when others are watching. After a brief, loveless childhood, 12-year-old Margaret is married off to Edmund Tudor, a Welsh earl. Before Margaret gives birth to their son, Edmund is kidnapped by a Yorkist rival and dies of plague. Margaret has high ambitions for her newborn, Henry. However, she will not see him grow up. Once again, noblesse obliges her to get married, this time to Henry Stafford, a cowardly homebody. The Yorkists mount a campaign to put their pretender, Edward, on the throne, and soon he is ruling with his fetching and fecund Queen, Elizabeth, a clairvoyant commoner (eponymous narrator of series opener The White Queen, 2009) reputed to be descended from water sprites. The battles rage on, Henry VI is reinstated and redeposed, and Stafford is killed in the crossfire. Meanwhile, young Henry takes refuge in Brittany with his uncle and guardian, Jasper Tudor. Margaret contracts a marriage of convenience with Lord Stanley, and both ingratiate themselves with King Edward’s court, secretly plotting to restore the Lancastrian dynasty. When Edward dies unexpectedly, his brother Richard III takes power and the rest is history, except not the one familiar from Shakespeare. Richard, though unscrupulous and paranoid, is neither a hunchback nor the murderer of the two young princes in the Tower—that crime, still a mystery today, is all but laid at Margaret’s door. Since we know Henry Tudor will invade and unseat Richard from horse and throne, the outcome is not in doubt: The suspense inheres in wondering whether Margaret’s prodigious hubris will be her downfall.
Gregory once again demonstrates her flair for dramatizing history.