Saturday, October 11, 2014

The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory

Wow! Wow! Wow!   Philippa Gregory's The King's Curse (Touchstone: $28.99) is the best book so far in The Cousin's War series.  After the disappointment of her last historical novel, The White Princess, I was ready to be underwhelmed by The King's Curse, which focuses on Margaret Pole, the daughter of the Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville's, whose sister, Anne, was the primary character in Gregory's last but one book, The Kingmaker's Daughter.  (The Earl of Warwick, father of Isabel and Anne, was known as the King Maker.)

I loved The King's Curse.  Got comfy on my floatie and read it in the middle of the pool.  I could not put it down. 

Margaret, a first cousin to Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV, and consort of Henry VII, is fond (and loyal) to Elizabeth.  But she remains a threat to the Tudors, at least in the eyes of Henry VII's mother,  Margaret Beaufort (whose story was told in The Red Queen). 

Her brother, Edward, the Earl of Warwick, is arrested and sent to the Tower on the orders of Henry VII, the victor at Bosworth Field.   Warwick is only 10 years old when he is sent to the Tower.  He would spend the rest of his life as a prisoner, and was executed in 1499.

Margaret Beaufort arranged for Margaret's marriage to a Tudor loyalist, Sir John Pole, a minor nobleman.  The death of her husband left Margaret and her children in poverty.  She is forced to send one son, Reginald, to become a priest.

The death of her cousin brings Margaret Pole back to court. Her estates and her title, Countess of Salisbury, are restored, and she serves as the chief lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon, the wife of Arthur, the Prince of Wales.  Margaret's loyalty to Katherine is never doubted, and she remains close to her after Katherine is widowed and marries Henry VIII.

But Margaret's loyalty would be tested (and her family, too), when Henry VIII decides that he needs a new wife because Katherine could not give him a son.   This would lead to further tensions as Margaret was chief governess to Katherine and Henry's daughter, Mary.

Philippa Gregory knows how to tell a story, and she succeeds here with a breathtaking, page turning first rate historical saga as Margaret and her family are caught up in the growing maelstrom of Henry VIII's increasing tyrannical reign. 

Religion and politics make bad bedfellows, certainly during the reign of Henry VIII.  As the king went from marriage to marriage, seeking a woman who would bear him a healthy son, his reign degenerated into paranoia.

Henry VIII proceeded to eliminate people he perceived to be his rivals, just as his father ordered the death of the Earl of Warwick.

Margaret Salisbury and her several of her children were arrested and sent to the Tower on charges largely based on their ties and correspondence with Reginald Pole, once a devoted supporter of the King.  But Reginald, a devout Catholic, was determined to save the Church.  There were reports of plots orchestrated by Reginald, safe in Rome.  His family would suffer.  His brother, Henry, and other family members, were executed.  Another brother, Geoffrey, ratted on his mother and brothers, and was pardoned. 

Margaret was stripped of her property, and her peerage.  On May 27, 1541, at the age of 67, she was executed without ever having been tried.  She was the oldest of all of Henry's victim, and her death was particularly violent as the executioner botched the job, and "hacked her head and shoulder to pieces."

This is historical fiction at its very best.  Philippa Gregory is to be commended for the magnificent The King's Curse.

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