Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, August 9, 2016.
In this newest installment of Philippa Gregory’s Plantagenet/Tudor series, the narrator is Princess Margaret, daughter of Henry VII and sister to the infamous Henry VIII. Margaret, Henry and their sister Mary are the first generation of Tudors, following the uniting of royal families after the War of the Roses. As the novel begins, Margaret is only twelve years old, and she is a petulant and selfish pre-teen as she waits for her moment to shine over her siblings. We often forget how young these little kings and queens were, but here Margaret is presented truthfully, as the child that she was.
The three queens of the title are Margaret, her sister Mary, and finally Katherine of Aragon, first wife to Henry VIII. After Margaret becomes queen of Scotland, Mary leaves to rule France, and Katherine marries Henry in England. The three women are queens, but they are sisters first – regardless of the conflict between them. They are rivals throughout, and each one does their best to be the most important in the world of politics. As we read the letters between the girls, we watch them grow up – although Margaret never really loses her naivety.
Even when the sisters despise each other, family loyalty always comes first. Their fortunes move up and down – when one girl find success, the others face tragedy – but ultimately it is the Tudor name that they all wish to protect. Katherine has Margaret’s husband killed, but then loses her own child – the result is that widowed Margaret’s son becomes heir to the Tudor throne. There aren’t really any spoilers in this well-documented historical period, although Margaret is not usually the focus. It is Gregory’s character building that makes this novel special – Margaret becomes a real, relatable woman, while remaining grounded in her historical context.
Surrounded by betrayal, danger and shocking loss, the only constant in Margaret’s life is her sisters. My only complaint is that it would have been nice to see the world from the perspectives of Mary and Katherine as well. We only really get to know them through their letters, as interpreted by Margaret. She is whiny and entitled, although somehow still sympathetic. It is a very limiting point of view, almost like reading a teenager’s diary. Margaret is self-centred and annoying, but she does feel real.
Margaret is obsessed with the hierarchy, and she is willing to sacrifice everything to come out on top. It’s understandable when giving birth to the next king of England is her only opportunity to raise herself up above the female roles of the time period. Margaret is selfish, proud and ambitious – much like her brother Henry VIII. Unlikeable characters are always more interesting, but I still think there could have been more complexity to Margaret’s voice.
Like all of Gregory’s novels, this one is an entertaining blend of fact and fiction. It’s interesting to learn more about Margaret, who often gets eclipsed by her more famous brother and his many wives. Margaret, however, is also a very important part of history – Mary, Queen of Scots is her direct descendant. As demonstrated in this novel, Margaret did recognize that a woman could be more than a wife and mother, and she did her best to overcome traditional roles. There were many interesting scenes, although parts of the novel could have moved a bit faster. However, if you’re a fan of Gregory’s novels, this one is another great chapter in the Tudor family story.
I received this book from Touchstone/Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.