Saint defeated by Tudor despot in Philippa Gregory’s “King’s Curse”

Great novel, 6th in the Philippa Gregory's Cousin's War series.

The King’s Curse, the 6th novel in Philippa Gregory’s Cousin’s War series. Very well done. Recommended.

You can tell Philippa Gregory enjoyed writing Margaret of Warwick’s story in The King’s Curse – her 6th novel in the Cousin’s War series.  The novel is one of her best, bringing to life one of the great Plantagenet women — one lucky, or canny, enough to survive the Tudor period into old age.  And Margaret is a survivor, adept at hiding her true feelings of grief at the loss of family and fortune and shielding her remaining Plantagenet family.  She was adept at managing courtly intrigue — and keeping secrets.  Secrets like the truth about the marriage of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon, and  the truth about the curse cast by her cousin Elizabeth — a curse that affects the Tudor succession.

Margaret of Warwick was the daughter of Isabelle Neville (one of the Earl of Warwick (aka Kingmaker’s daughters) George, Duke of Clarence — the brother of Edward IV and Richard III.   Even listing Margaret’s famous kin should give you an idea of the tragedies she experienced:  her grandfather the Earl of Warwick was beheaded by Edward IV, her father was drowned in a barrel of Malmsey; and her uncle Richard III was slain on Bosworth field by a victorious Henry VII who eventually executed her brother Edward of Warwick, several cousins, and her eldest son.  The book has several telling family trees that show the Plantagenet’s at the start of Henry VII’s reign and those surviving at the end of Henry VIII.Screenshot 2014-09-25 19.20.42

This was definitely one of my favorite novels in the Cousins’s War.  The first-person narration brings into Margaret’s thoughts, fears and hopes, triumphs and tragedies.  Through Margaret, you understand what it was like to be a Plantagenet in the aftermath of the Tudor victory, on the losing end the War of the Roses and at the mercy of Henry VII and Henry VIII.   Margaret herself was favored by Henry VII — enough that she and her husband attended Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon at Ludlow.  But her fortunes — and those of her family—fall afterwards while Henry VII reigns.  Margaret thinks and hopes that Henry VIII — the son of her good friend and cousin Elizabeth of York — will be a good, merciful King in the style of the Plantagenets.  Her fortune rises again as she waits upon Queen Katherine,  eventually becoming governess to Princess Mary, is named a Countess in her own right and becomes one of the richest people in England.  But Henry is not the King she hoped for and as any student of history knows, so many of those close to Henry VIII found themselves in the Tower awaiting execution.  Margaret’s execution is one of the low points of Henry’s reign, still shocking ~450 years later.

Henry VIII character arc is one of the novels strengths, for me.  I loved the way Gregory portrayed his descent from the good-looking, most-favored ruler in Christendom to the obese, distrusting, vengeful tyrant he became.  His failures as a monarch lead Margaret to  act on the hope for a new rule — Princess Mary — and in that lies her doom.  Gregory does an excellent job of showing the impact of the Dissolution of the Monasteries on the people of England, who lost their long-held traditions as Reformation swept the nobility.

I appreciated that this novel was consistent with others — “The Constant Princess” “The Boleyn Inheritance” and the others in the series in terms of character histories.

Here are links to my reviews of other Gregory novels — I did not review all of them, but read them all and think for the most part they were well done (“The Red Queen” being my least favorite and “The White Princess” one of my favorites).

“The Kingmaker’s Daughter” — Best So Far in Gregory’s Cousins War Series

Best in the Cousin's War Series!

Best in the Cousin’s War Series!

Philippa Gregory‘s latest novel, “The Kingmaker’s Daughter” is her best since “The Other Boleyn Girl.”  It is Gregory at her finest, excelling at coloring between the lines of history and bringing a lesser-known character to life. “The Kingmaker’s Daughter” is every bit as good and juicy a read as “The Other Boleyn Girl,” which I consider to be her finest work.

This was the first novel I’d read with Anne Neville as the main character, although she appears as a secondary character in many historical fiction novels about the War of the Roses.  As a background figure Anne—daughter of the powerful “Kingmaker,” Richard, Earl of Warwick and wife of Richard III—is often portrayed as a kindly but quiet, and sickly figure.

Gregory does not necessarily seek to change person Anne presented to the world, but she gives Anne an internal dialogue and spirit that reveals a character with fierce, determination.   The novel is written in the first person, which Gregory has used for throughout the Cousins’ War series. Perhaps it captivated me because Anne seems outwardly calm and inscrutable but we hear her inner thoughts and feelings that are so much at odds with her public persona.  I loved it.  I loved the suspicion and fear, and power politicking and strength that Anne had. It would never have come across so strongly in another point of view.

The novel tells the story of Anne and her older sister Isabel who grow from contented pawns of their father into significant players in their own right  War of the Roses.

Warwick was called the Kingmaker because he marshaled the resources to catapult Edward of York to the throne, snatching it out from under Henry VI.  But Warwick expected that in return he would unique power in England.  Edward VI had his own ideas.

Edward VI’s hasty, surprise marriage to Elizabeth Woodville wrecked havoc with Warwick’s ambitions for his family, and for England.  Elizabeth Woodville large extended family received favors – favors that Warwick believes should have been bestowed elsewhere. “If you crown a gannet, then she will gobble up everything,” observes young Anne Neville.

Warwick and his supporters feel they have been slighted and begin a destabilizing plot to overthrow Edward VI and bring back Henry VI, the “sleeping king.”  Key components of the plot are the marriages of Anne and Isabel to the Lancaster and York heirs – Edward of Lancaster and George, Duke of Clarence.  One way or the other, the Kingmaker is determined to get one of his daughters on the throne.

Anne and her sister Isabel are every inch Kingmaker’s Daughters. They each believe in their own manifest destiny to be the Queen of England, fulfilling their father’s dreams of glory for his family.  For a while after Warwick rebellion fails and he is executed, the girls believe the cause is lost.  Isabel and her husband struggle to regain favor with Edward, while Anne – a widow of the Lancaster heir – remains in disgrace until Richard, Duke of York claims her as his bride.  It is as his bride that Anne begins to shape her own destiny – quietly, behind the scenes.

Anne was not, in places, particularly sympathetic, but she was a real, emotionally solid character.   Isabel Neville, too, was well drawn but ultimately less likeable.

This was a thoroughly engrossing story, and one of Gregory’s best.  Her next novel in the series “The White Princess” is due out in a month, in which the story of Elizabeth of York – the wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII – is told.  I can’t wait.