Tudor queen who was a kingmaker

The Red Queen
By Philippa Gregory
Simon & Schuster
Rs 399, 405 pages

Overshadowing a large chunk of the 15th century, The War of the Roses raged in England for a shade over 30 years as the descendants of Edward III divided themselves into Yorkists (white rose) who traced their line back to Edward’s youngest son, Edmund Duke of York, and Lancastrians (red rose) who traced their line back to Edward’s second son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Cousins all, Plantagenets all, the bitterly feuding adversaries played a deadly game of chess over the chequerboard of England’s fields which were churned to bloody mud as kings and princes from the Houses of York and Lancaster rose and fell and rose again, with four coronations during the 30 years of battle. The end of this war resulted also in the end of the Plantagenets and gave rise to a new dynasty — that of the Tudors.

The eponymous Red Queen of Philippa Gregory’s riveting new bestseller is Margaret Beaufort, descended from John of Gaunt’s liaison with his mistress Katherine Swynford whom he married after the death of his Duchess, thus conferring legitimacy upon his Beaufort offspring. An interesting sidelight on Katherine Swynford that Gregory doesn’t mention is that she was the sister-in-law of Chaucer who disapproved of her shenanigans with the husband of his adored patroness, Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, to whom he dedicated his great poem, The Boke of the Duchess.

This story starts when Margaret is 12 years old and much influenced by tales of Joan of Arc whom the English have recently burned at the stake in France. She sees herself as an English Joan and spends hours on her knees, convinced that she is destined to be the mother of the rightful king of England. As a study of monumental egomania and self-delusion, Margaret Beaufort as portrayed by Gregory has few equals in literature. A coldblooded, mean-minded, grasping and vicious woman, she is able to rationalize ingratitude, hypocrisy, treachery, betrayal and even murder as ‘the will of God’ as she plots and schemes to put her son Henry Tudor on the throne of England just so that she can be elevated to the status of the King’s mother, finally a queen, with the right to sign her name ‘Margaret Regina, Margaret R’.

The absorbing story of this hideously fascinating woman is rivetingly told, the battle scenes are brilliantly recreated, and the politics and intrigues that are played out as the top names in the land jockey for position and privilege are disconcertingly similar to the sordid tales of our own power-hungry politicians that we read about in the newspapers every day.

What is particularly gratifying is Gregory’s take on the most enduring mystery of those times: who killed the Princes in the Tower? Earlier historians, taking their cue from Shakespeare, accused Richard III of the heinous murder of his young nephews, sons of his dead brother Edward IV. Gregory vindicates Richard III, and although the mystery of the murder is not solved, she introduces several likely suspects who had means and opportunity exceeding those of Richard.
With The Red Queen Gregory has come up with a corker. A fastpaced political thriller driven by human motivations and ambition which are as relevant today as they were six centuries ago.

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— Besttopic

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