BLURB: “As an heir to the Plantagenets, Margaret is seen by the King’s mother (The Red Queen) as a rival to the Tudor claim to the throne. She is buried in marriage to a Tudor supporter – Sir Richard Pole, governor of Wales – and becomes guardian to Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. But Margaret’s destiny, as cousin to the Queen (The White Princess), is not for a life in the shadows. Tragedy throws her into poverty and only a royal death restores her to her place at young Henry VIII’s court where she becomes chief Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Katherine. There she watches the dominance of the Spanish Queen over her husband and her tragic decline. Amid the rapid deterioration of the Tudor Court, Margaret must choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical Henry VIII or to her beloved Queen. Caught between the old and the new, Margaret must find her own way, concealing her knowledge that an old curse cast upon all the Tudors is slowly coming true…”
REVIEW: I have been a fan of Philippa Gregory for many years, and thank her Tudor Court novels for bringing to life my love of history, leading me to not only undertake my own historical research into the period but also to go on to study history at university. I was so excited when she began the Cousin’s War series and look forward to a new read every summer! This book was certainly not a disappointment. I knew the story of Margaret Pole but had never read of her in any historical fiction novels, and she came very vividly to life for me in Gregory’s work. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, had an extraordinary life, serving Elizabeth of York and Katherine of Aragon, as well as getting to see Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour take their place as Queens of England also. Her constant fighting for Queen Katherine and for her daughter, Princess Mary, was something I had not known about before and which actually made me emotional at several points. The struggles Margaret faces between her loyalty to Katherine and her need to keep the King’s favour in order to protect her family is wonderfully portrayed, and the reader is led to think about the challenges she faces and to conclude that they, in her place, would also find themselves in an impossible position. Margaret’s story is even more heartbreaking when we learn of her tragic and brutal end – she did not ask to be born into a noble family and yet she seems to spend her life fighting for survival because of it.
I also enjoyed how Gregory linked the novel to her previous books set in the Tudor Court. In her novel on the early years of Katherine of Aragon, ‘The Constant Princess’, Gregory writes of a great love blossoming between Katherine and Arthur, and a promise made by Katherine at Arthur’s death that she would swear the marriage had been unconsummated so that she could marry his brother Henry and fulfill her destiny as Queen of England. I have always been quite attached to this suggestion and am glad that Gregory continued it. I also enjoyed the brief flashes we saw of the characters of Mary, George and Anne Boleyn, characters dealt with so thoroughly in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ but given only fleeting and often amusingly different impressions in this text.
Overall, I believe this to be one of my favourite Philippa Gregory novels to date (my others are ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, ‘The Kingmaker’s Daughter’ and ‘The Boleyn Inheritance’) and hugely enjoyed learning more about Margaret Pole, a woman I now admire even more for her intelligence and bravery in the face of impossibly difficult circumstances.