The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

In 2009 I read Philippa Gregory’s book The White Queen about Elizabeth Woodville and the first in Gregory’s series concerning the Wars of the Roses.  I really loved the book and eagerly anticipated the second novel, The Red Queen.  The Red Queen is a novel about Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII.  I read the book,  but I must say that I’m sorely disappointed.

First, a disclaimer:  I feel like The Red Queen didn’t have a fair chance of winning me over.  The last historical novel I read was Sharon Kay Penman’s magnificent The Sunne in Splendour.  Any historical author, I think, would say that Penman is one of the top historical authors.  The Sunne in Splendour was about 400 pages longer than The Red Queen allowing for greater depth of character and more historical context.

I had two main issues with The Red Queen.  First of all there is HEAVY Joan of Arc imagery.  I felt like I was being hit over the head with Joan of Arc references.  They often seemed forced and I literally rolled my eyes when Margaret Beaufort screams out “I was born for this.”   I know Gregory had the Joan of Arc imagery to counter the Melusina imagery, but that made it feel even more contrived.

The second problem was that Margaret Beaufort is constantly bemoaning her lot in life as a women:  a pawn of powerful men, a vessel for childbearing, etc…. All of this is true, but the plot was hampered by her whining and her mindset was too modern.  A sentence or observation (i.e. subtlety) would have gone effectively expressed her point without being pedantic.

I did like the novel on the whole, it was a quick and engaging read and Thomas Stanley’s villainous nature saved the novel.  I’ll finish out the series, but if you’re looking for a deeper historical novel I’d skip The Red Queen.

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2 comments

  1. Re: “constantly bemoaning her lot in life as a woman”

    I read “The Queens Fool” and “The Other Boleyn Girl” and both feature characters with this “modern mindset”. I totally agree with you that this less than subtle and anachronistic. I think Gregory does it so her modern reader can better empathize with the main character. I enjoyed both books as entertaining, but I won’t read any more Philippa Gregory books. Your review reinforces that!

  2. I’ve never read any of Gregory’s stuff, and I really have no idea where to start. Haven’t read Penman either, though. 😀 I’ve had her on my wishlist for years.

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