herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Femme bookend: A right royal power struggle

The Red Queen
Philippa Gregory
Simon & Schuster €16

SEXY REDHEAD?

Powercrazy red-headed Tudor. Usually books about the Tudors— the crowd that included Elizabeth I and Henry VIII — try to make them cuddly, but not The Red Queen, by Philippa Gregory.

SOUNDS LIKE THE MOTHER FROM ALIENS.

Kinda. We first meet Lady Margaret Beaufort as a religious maniac child who models herself on Joan of Arc. But she’s briskly told that her job is to produce heirs for the Lancaster side in the 15th century Wars of the Roses.

SO, A HAPPY MARRIAGE?

Not as such, dearie. Married off to Edmond Tudor at the shocking age of 12, Margaret is regularly raped by her husband, but gets the hots for his sexy brother Jasper— who’s a self-serving nothing if you believe writer Gregory.

A BAD MAN IS GOOD TO FIND.

Good if he wants you, and Jasper wants power. So Mags obediently pops out the heir demanded — who will be Henry VII of England — and starts a life of plotting on his behalf. Unfortunately, she’s not well got. Her father committed suicide, disgraced for his incompetence as a war leader. Her kingly cousin, Henry VI, is basically batso.

SHE’S A TOUGH BABE, THOUGH?

Down one husband, she’s married off again, this time to a creaky oldster twice her age (Henry Stafford was in his 30s). A kind, decent, gentle and intelligent man — so she treated him with contempt.

BUT THEN SHE FALLS IN LOVE WITH HIM?

But nothing. Poor Stafford goes off to war, and dies of his wounds. Now at last maybe she can be with darling Jasper, the hot stuff she’s still pining for (and with her son, the centre of her ambitions and affections).

CHANCE WOULD BE A FINE THING.

Nothing goes right for our Mag: Jaz has snapped up another heiress, and is already married. (Factoid: Jasper was an ancestor of Oliver Cromwell.)

STILL . . . ANY ROMANCE?

Eh . . . she marries again — this time Thomas Stanley, an ambitious kingmaker. Maggie has scarcely seen young Hen since babyhood, but she’s unstoppable. She will (briefly) even be his regent when he becomes Henry VII, but this book ends with her triumph in putting her son on the throne.

GRIPPING READ?

It’s selling like gangbusters, despite not having a nice heroine. But it does have plenty of blood and guts and sex and rage.

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