The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory

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I’m so glad that Philippa Gregory decided to write a book about Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, “the last Plantagenet princess”, because she (Margaret, not Philippa!) is often overlooked in works about the first two Tudor kings. The execution of Margaret, his 67-year-old cousin, on trumped-up charges, was one of the worst atrocities of Henry VIII’s reign. She was beatified by the Vatican as a martyr for the Catholic faith, but really she was a martyr for the Yorkists/Plantagenets, and that’s what comes across in this book … which is written in the present tense and the first person, something which doesn’t always work very well but in this instance does.

Whilst her books aren’t advertised as a series as such, Philippa Gregory does try to be consistent within her own writings, so this book sticks to the ideas that Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII were responsible for the deaths of the Princes in the Tower (which I don’t believe for a minute, but anyway!), that Perkin Warbeck really was Richard of York (although that’s skipped over), that Elizabeth of York and her mother put some sort of curse on the Tudor line (hence the title of the book) and that the marriage between Catherine of Aragon and Arthur, Prince of Wales was consummated. None of that actually affects this book all that much, though. It’s very much told from the viewpoint of Margaret, hence Anne Boleyn is viewed very negatively and Catherine of Aragon and Mary very positively, and it also serves as a reminder of just how many people with Yorkist blood were still around in Henry VIII’s time.

One of the main events covered in the book, which begins in the 1490s and ends with Margaret’s execution in 1541, is the Pilgrimage of Grace. That tends to be written off as a lesser event than it actually was: in this book, it’s shown as a very major event. There are other things which aren’t mentioned at all, though, notably the fact that the Pope was effectively a prisoner of Catherine’s nephew at the time that Henry was seeking a divorce/annulment. What does come across particularly well is the change in Henry VIII’s character, from the young Renaissance prince to the middle-aged tyrant. The afterword mentions the recent theory that this could have been due to a condition called McLeod syndrome, and I’m going to be reading about that theory next.

Slightly off the point, but it is pretty astounding to consider everything that so many members of one family, the Tudors, did for … I’ll say “love” because it sounds so much nicer than “lust” :-). Henry’s pursuit of Anne Boleyn was hardly the only reason for the English Reformation, but it was certainly a significant factor. His elder sister Margaret made two rather unsuitable marriages for love, and her daughter Margaret became secretly engaged to one of the Howards and later had an affair with another. His younger sister Mary secretly married Charles Brandon when Henry was probably planning a diplomatic second marriage for her. Mary’s daughter Frances, after being widowed, married her Master of Horse, and two of her daughters made secret marriages behind Elizabeth’s back. Mary’s great-grandson, William Seymour, and Margaret’s great-granddaughter, Arbella, married in secret, were imprisoned by James I for so doing, and ran off together … he escaped, she was brought back :-(. Better than any soap opera!

Getting back to The King’s Curse, I think this is one of Philippa Gregory’s best books yet. It’s a very good read and, unlike some of her other books, doesn’t contain anything which is wildly historically inaccurate, unexplained and misleading. I wonder whom she plans on writing about next …

2 thoughts on “The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory

  1. Sera Roberts

    It’s the strong strain of Welsh blood that makes the Tudors so passionate about love and lust After all, even those of their ancestors that weren’t in the Tudor family tree were descended from Llywelyn ab Iowerth (the Great)

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