An accurate portrayal at the expense of empathy? The Forgotten Queen by D. L. Bogdan

The Forgotten QueenI was keen to read a novel about Margaret Tudor, the feisty grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots.  Unfortunately, I liked Margaret Tudor less at the end of the book than I did at the beginning.

I’ve read a fair bit of history on Margaret and Mary, the sisters of Henry VIII – enough to know that D. L. Bogdan’s The Forgotten Queen is a fairly historically accurate, if fictionalized, account of the life and times of Margaret Tudor, Queen Consort of Scotland’s James IV.   It is a well-written chronological telling of Margaret’s life, from her childhood at Sheen to her three marriages in Scotland finally her last role as mother of James V.

Early in the novel, Bogdan does a good job of setting the stage for the later enmity Henry VIII had for his sister.  Keep in mind Henry VIII left Margaret and her heirs out of his will and out of the English succession.  Scotland and England were constantly on the brink of war–there were many Border skirmishes and several outright heartbreaking bloody battles, such as Flodden where James IV died.  Against this reality, Margaret struggled with where her loyalty lay – to England as a Tudor Princess, or to Scotland as a Stewart Queen and mother of the heir.  Bogdan captures this tension well.  Bogdan also does a great job evoking Scotland and its palaces – places I visited last year like Linlithgow, Holyrood, and Falkland.

But I’ll just say it.  As the main character in a novel, this Margaret Tudor left me cold.  I wanted to warm to her, but she was vain, greedy, petty and a bit of a narcissist.  Now perhaps she really was all those things, but it did not make me like her, or really want to read about her.  She was utterly lacking in humility.  (She might have been a bit like her brother Henry).  Ultimately, her negative character traits were not offset by enough positive traits.   It may have been an accurate portrayal of Margaret, but it could have used some empathy.  Perhaps that was hard given some of Margaret’s decisions.

This was my first D. L. Bogdan novel.  Despite my feelings for this Margaret Tudor, I would definitely read another.

So if you like all things Tudor, it is worth a read. And if you didn’t have much passion for Margaret Tudor before, you may not upon finishing the book.  I’d be interested to hear what you think.  Below I’ve linked to another review of The Forgotten Queen.

9 comments on “An accurate portrayal at the expense of empathy? The Forgotten Queen by D. L. Bogdan

  1. I think Margaret, Queen of Scots has had a very hard press – unfairly so. You may enjoy an excerpt from my new NON fiction book Tudor: The Family Story which is taken from a chapter about her. I suppose it wont be there long so I may transfer it to ‘articles’ later on my website. I do notice how history soon becomes fiction – several novels on the Grey sisters followed my last book on them, with new more sympathetic portrayals of their mother Frances (following my research on her), and I hope my new book will do the same for Margaret Tudor and also Margaret Douglas (see my article on her at )

  2. mariegm1210 says:

    I have to admit I didn’t warm to Margaret Tudor either but like her granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots she wasn’t prepared for the political shenanigans of the treacherous Scots lairds. As for the Earl of Angus Archie Douglas, – he did cause her ‘Anguish’ – he was a nasty piece of work. Have you read Jean Plaidy’s ‘The Thistle and the Rose’? bit old-fashioned but worth a read.

  3. I had the same problem when I read Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen. Her portrayal of Margaret made me dislike her very much. But…power hungry people probably really aren’t very nice, so maybe it wasn’t that far off from the truth. Still, it helps to imagine they had SOME redeeming qualities.

    • Is it Margarets in general?! Just kidding. I felt the same way about the Red Queen. But in fairness to both Gregory and Bogdan, it is hard to take not terribly likeable historical figures and make them likeable. And it is hard to take those character flaws and balance them. I note that Weir portrayed Elizabeth I as a really mean-spirited, jealous tyrant (which she likely was) and I didn’t mind one bit. Mind you, Elizabeth was not the main character, so maybe that’s my issue.

      But you are right, it is hard to be nice when you are playing power politics.

  4. Linda Schmalz says:

    Thanks for the review. Adding this one to my “To Be Read File” on Goodreads!

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