The Red Queen (The Cousins War, Book 2) by Philippa Gregory

Even at the age of twelve, Lady Margaret Beaufort knew that God had destined her for greatness. Looking for visions similar to what her idol Joan of Arc experienced, Margaret spent so much time praying she had nuns knees. Wanting to enter a convent and become a Mother Superior, she was disappointed when her mother married her off to Edmund Tudor, an advantageous match. Since her mother, Margaret Beauchamp, only bore one daughter with no heirs for the Duke of Somerset, it was up to Margaret Beaufort, cousin to King Henry VI of England, to beget the next Lancaster as a potential heir to the throne. By marrying Edmund, her son would be a Tudor, doubly blessed.

Not in the plans was the rebellious York family who were determined to take the throne for their own. The reigning King of England suffered numerous maladies, often sitting silently staring out into space for extended periods of time. The subjects became weary of an invalid ruler, paving the way for Edward of York to become the reigning monarch. Some felt Edward’s good luck came from his beautiful wife, Elizabeth Woodville who many believed was born a witch from a mother who was also a witch. Margaret knew for sure that she had bewitched Edward with her beauty. The fertile Queen bore many children, including two sons, who were imprisoned in the Tower of London for their safety when Richard claimed the throne from his brother after Edmund succumbed to illness. Both boys, who were the true heirs, mysteriously disappeared with only speculation to determine who actually was responsible for their supposed deaths.

Margaret, widowed when her first husband was killed in battle, was given to another man, Henry Stanford, and remarried at the age of fourteen. While they never conceived any children, he was gentle with her. Yet it was her brother-in-law Jasper who she secretly loved, and it was also Jasper who raised her son, Henry Tudor. At first the two lived in Wales, but they had to escape and go into hiding in Brittany to escape threats from those loyal to Edward. As Tudors they believed that the Lancaster family were the true royals, not the imposter Yorks. Margaret has a hard time convincing her husband to fight beside her son, and in the end Stanford pledged his loyalty to King Edward who had promised peace. When he, too, was killed in battle, Margaret, now that her mother was also deceased, finally got to choose her own husband.

Thomas Stanley was a man who hedged his bets, always choosing the winning side. This was not a love match, but a marriage between two conniving individuals seeking their own agenda. They bidded their time, patiently serving the York King and Queen, first Edward and Elizabeth Woodville, then Richard and Anne Neville, until their chance to seize the throne could be realized. Yet when Margaret’s plan to bring her son Henry to power failed, she was imprisoned in her own home, her land and belongings all given to Stanley. Still she waited and plotted, arranging the promise of a betrothal between Elizabeth’s daughter to her son, a brilliant match done with the foresight to align both the Lancaster and York names together to appease the fickle public. Yet complications ensued when King Richard became besotted with the comely miss, wishing to marry her despite her pledge to marry Henry. Since she was also his niece, this idea did not go over well with his subjects, so when Queen Anne died he sent Elizabeth of York to Margaret, her future mother-in-law, to safe guard her reputation.

After Margaret witnessed an eclipse of the sun, she was convinced this was a sign from God that Henry would soon be King. With a group of mercenaries, Henry and Jasper set out once more to take the throne by force. King Richard’s troops outnumbered theirs but they had a new military trick up their sleeve which slowed down the battle and in the end, when Lord Stanley finally decided to intervene on behalf of his wife’s son, Richard was killed and King Henry VII attained the position he was destined to hold. At last Margaret received her rightful title, “My Lady the King’s Mother” and Lord Stanley assumed the role as father to the King of England, with the expectation of a generous reward for his loyal service as well as an opportunity to wield power from behind the throne.

Tales of the War of the Roses are not for the faint of heart. This book is filled with violence, self righteousness, pettiness, gluttony, and villanous acts fueled by ambitions which lead to ones friends quickly becoming ones enemies as even family members switched loyalties (depending upon who seemed to hold the most promising position of power). This is an intense, incredibly detailed text, which captures the flavor of the times, told from Margaret’s point of view, except for a few narrations of the vicious battles which determined the outcome of history. The reader gets a good taste of the egotistical nature of Lady Margaret, as well as the violent dishevelment of the times.

The CD is expertly read by Bianca Amato, who brings the reader into the fold, giving us a more complete understanding of Lady Margaret’s motivations beyond Philippa Gregory’s words. Despite a few historical discrepancies (yet who really knows exactly what happened in 1485) The Red Queen (The Cousins War, Book 2)is well researched, well told, and well received. Five stars.

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