Margaret Beaufort never surrenders her belief that her Lancaster house is the true ruler of England, and that she has a great destiny before her. Married to a man twice her age, quickly widowed, and a mother at only fourteen, Margaret is determined to turn her lonely life into a triumph. She sets her heart on putting her son on the throne of England regardless of the cost to herself, to England, and even to the little boy. Disregarding rival heirs and the overwhelming power of the York dynasty, she names him Henry, like the king; sends him into exile; and pledges him in marriage to her enemy Elizabeth of York’s daughter. As the political tides constantly move and shift, Margaret masterminds one of the greatest rebellions of all time—all the while knowing that her son has grown to manhood, recruited an army, and awaits his opportunity to win the greatest prize in all of England.
The Red Queen is a novel of conspiracy, passion, and coldhearted ambition, the story of a proud and determined woman who believes that she alone is destined, by her piety and lineage, to shape the course of history.
About the Author
Date of Birth:January 9, 1954
Place of Birth:Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa
Education:B.A. in history, Sussex University, 1982; Ph.D., 18th-century popular fiction, Edinburgh, 1984
Read an Excerpt
I go to bed uneasy, and the very next day, straight after matins, Dr Lewis comes to my rooms looking strained and anxious. At once I say I am feeling unwell, and send all my women away. We are alone in my privy chamber and I let him take a stool and sit opposite me, almost as an equal.
‘The Queen Elizabeth summoned me to sanctuary last night and she was distraught,’ he says quietly.
‘She had been told that the princes were dead, and she was begging me to tell her that it was not the case.’
‘What did you say?’
‘I didn’t know what you would have me say. So I told her what everyone in the City is saying: that they are dead. That Richard had them killed either on the day of his coronation, or as he left London.’
‘She was deeply shocked; she could not believe it. But, Lady Margaret, she said a terrible thing . . .’ He breaks off, as if he dare not name it.
‘Go on,’ I say but I can feel a cold shiver of dread creeping up my spine. I fear I have been betrayed. I fear that this has gone wrong.
‘She cried out at first and then she said: “At least Richard is safe”.’
‘She meant Prince Richard? The younger boy?’
‘The one they took into the Tower to keep his brother company.’
‘I know that! But what did she mean?’
‘That’s what I asked her. I asked her at once what she meant and she smiled at me in the most frightening way and said: “Doctor, if you had only two precious, rare jewels and you feared thieves, would you put your two treasures in the same box?”’
He nods at my aghast expression.
‘What does she mean?’ I repeat.
‘She wouldn’t say more. I asked her if Prince Richard was not in the Tower when the two boys were killed? She just said that I was to ask you to put your own guards into the Tower to keep her son safe. She would say nothing more. She sent me away.’
I rise from my stool. This damned woman, this witch, has been in my light ever since I was a girl, and now, at this very moment when I am using her, using her own adoring family and loyal supporters to wrench the throne from her, to destroy her sons, she may yet win, she may have done something that will spoil everything for me. How does she always do it? How is it that when she is brought so low that I can even bring myself to pray for her, she manages to turn her fortunes around? It must be witchcraft; it can only be witchcraft. Her happiness and her success have haunted my life. I know her to be in league with the devil, for sure. I wish he would take her to hell.
‘You will have to go back to her,’ I say, turning to him.
He almost looks as if he would refuse.
‘What?’ I snap.
‘Lady Margaret, I swear, I dread going to her. She is like a witch imprisoned in the cleft of a pine tree, she is like an entrapped spirit, she is like a water goddess on a frozen lake, waiting for spring. She lives in the gloom of sanctuary with the river flowing all the time beside their rooms and she listens to the babble as a counsellor. She knows things that she cannot know by earthly means. She fills me with terror. And her daughter is as bad.’
‘You will have to summon your courage,’ I say briskly. ‘Be brave, you are doing God’s work. You have to go back to her and tell her to be of stout heart. Tell her that I am certain that the princes are alive. Remind her that when we attacked the Tower we heard the guards taking them back from the door. They were alive then, why would Richard kill them now? Richard has taken the throne without killing them, why would he put them to death now? Richard is a man who does his own work and he is hundreds of miles away from them now. Tell her I will double my people in the Tower and that I swear to her, on my honour, that I will protect them. Remind her that the uprising will start next month. As soon as we defeat Richard the king, we will set the boys free. Then, when she is reassured, when she is in her first moment of relief, when you see the colour come to her face and you have convinced her – in that moment quickly ask her if she has her son Prince Richard in safety already? If she has him hidden away somewhere?’
He nods, but he is pale with fear. ‘And are they safe?’ he asks. ‘Can I truly assure her that those poor boys are safe and we will rescue them? That the rumours, even in your own household, are false? Do you know if they are they alive or dead, Lady Margaret? Can I tell their mother that they are alive and speak the truth?’
‘They are in the hands of God,’ I reply steadily. ‘As are we all. My son too. These are dangerous times, and the princes are in the hands of God.’
That night we hear news of the first uprising. It is mistimed, it comes too early. The men of Kent are marching on London, calling on the Duke of Buckingham to take the throne. The county of Sussex gets up in arms, believing they cannot delay a moment longer, and the men of Hampshire beside them rise up too, as a fire will leap from one dry woodland to another. Richard’s most loyal commander, Thomas Howard, the brand new Duke of Norfolk, marches down the west road from London, and occupies Guildford, fighting skirmishes to the west and to the east, but holding the rebels down in their own counties, and sending a desperate warning to the king: the counties of the south are up in the name of the former Queen and her imprisoned sons, the princes.
Richard, the battle-hardened leader of York, marches south at the fast speed of a York army, makes his centre of command at Lincoln, and raises troops in every county, especially from those who greeted his progress with such joy. He hears of the betrayal of the Duke of Buckingham when men come from Wales to tell him that the duke is already on the march, going north through the Welsh marches, recruiting men and clearly planning to cross at Gloucester, or perhaps Tewkesbury, to come into the heart of England with his own men and his Welsh recruits. His beloved friend, Henry Stafford, is marching out under his standard, as proudly and as bravely as once he did for Richard; only now he is marching against him.
Richard goes white with rage and he grips his right arm, his sword arm, above the elbow, as if he were shaking with rage, as if to hold it steady. ‘A man with the best cause to be true,’ he exclaims. ‘The most untrue creature living. A man who had everything he asked for. Never was a false traitor better treated; a traitor, a traitor.’
At once he sends out commissions of array to every county in England demanding their loyalty, demanding their arms and their men. This is the first and greatest crisis of his new reign. He summons them to support a York king, he demands the loyalty that they gave to his brother, which they have all promised to him. He warns those who cheered when he took the crown less than sixteen weeks ago that they must now stand by that decision, or England will fall to an unholy alliance of the false Duke of Buckingham, the witch queen, and the Tudor pretender.
It is pouring with rain, and there is a strong wind blowing hard from the north. It is unnatural weather, witch’s weather. My son must set sail now, if he is to arrive while the queen’s supporters are up, and while Buckingham is marching. But if it is so foul here, in the south of England, then I fear the weather in Brittany. He must come at exactly the right moment to catch the weary victor of the first battle and make them turn and fight again, while they are sick of fighting. But – I stand at my window and watch the rain pouring down, and the wind lashing the trees in our garden – I know he cannot set sail in this weather, the wind is howling towards the south, I cannot believe he will even be able to get out of port.
The next day the rains are worse and the river is starting to rise. It is over our landing steps at the foot of the garden and the boatmen drag the Stanley barge up the garden to the very orchard, out of the swirling flood, fearing that it will be torn from its moorings by the current. I can’t believe that Henry can set sail in this, and even if he were to get out of harbour, I can’t believe that he could safely get across the English seas to the south coast.
My web of informers, spies and plotters are stunned by the ferocity of the rain, which is like a weapon against us. The roads into London are all but impassable; no-one can get a message through. A horse and rider cannot get from London to Guildford, and as the river rises higher, there is news of flooding and drowning upstream and down. The tides are unnaturally high and every day and night the floods from the river pour down to the inrushing tide and there is a boiling surge of water which wipes out riverside houses, quays, piers and docks. Nobody can remember weather like this, a rain storm which lasts for days, and the rivers are bursting their banks all around England.
I have no-one to talk to but my God, and I cannot always hear His voice, as if the rain is blotting out His very face, and the wind blowing away His words. This is how I know for sure that it is a witch’s wind. I spend my day at the window overlooking the garden, watching the river boil over the garden wall and come up through the orchard, lap by lap, till the trees themselves seem to be stretching up to the heavy clouds for help. Whenever one of my ladies comes to my side, or Dr Lewis comes to my door, or any of the plotters in London ask for admittance, they all want to know what is happening: as if I know any more than them, when all I can hear is rain, as if I can foretell the future in the galeripped sky. But I know nothing, anything could be happening out there; a waterlogged massacre could be taking place even half a mile away, and none of us would know. We would hear no voices over the sound of the storm, no lights would show through the rain.
I spend my nights in my chapel, praying for the safety of my son and the success of our venture, and hearing no answer from God but only the steady hammer of the torrent on the roof and the whine of the wind lifting the slates above me, until I think that God Himself has been blotted from the heavens of England by the witch’s wind, and I will never hear Him again.
Finally, I get a letter from my husband at Coventry.
The king has commanded my presence and I fear he doubts me. He has sent for my son Lord Strange too, and was very dark when he learned that my son is from his home with an army of ten thousand men on the march, but my son has told nobody where he is going, and his servants only swear that he said he was raising his men for the true cause. I assure the king that my son will be marching to join us, loyal to the throne; but he has not yet arrived here at our command centre, in Coventry Castle.
Buckingham is trapped in Wales by the rising of the river Severn. Your son, I believe, will be held in port by the storm on the seas. The queen’s men will be unable to march out on the drowned roads and the Duke of Norfolk is waiting for them. I think your rebellion is over, you have been beaten by the rain and the rising of the waters. They are calling it the Duke of Buckingham’s Water and it has washed him and his ambition to hell along with your hopes. Nobody has seen a storm like this since the Queen Elizabeth called up a mist to hide her husband’s army at the battle of Barnet, or summoned snow for him at Tewkesbury. Nobody doubts she can do such a thing and most of us only hope she will stop before she washes us all away. But why? Can she be working against you now? And if so, why? Does she know, with her inner sight, what has befallen her boys and who has done it? Does she think you have done it? Is she drowning your son in revenge?
Destroy what papers you have kept, and deny whatever you have done. Richard is coming to London for his revenge and there will be a scaffold built on Tower Green. If he believes half what he has heard he will put you on it and I will be unable to save you.
I have been on my knees all night, but I don’t know if God can hear me through the hellish noise of the rain. My son sets sail from Brittany with fifteen valuable ships and an army of five thousand men and loses them all in the storm at sea. Only two ships struggle ashore on the south coast and learn at once that Buckingham has been defeated by the rising of the river, his rebellion is washed away by the waters, and Richard is waiting, dry-shod, to execute the survivors.
My son turns his back on the country that should have been his, and sails for Brittany again, flying like a faintheart, leaving me here, unprotected, and clearly guilty of plotting his rebellion. We are parted once more, my heir and I, this time without even meeting, and this time it feels as if it is for ever. He and Jasper leave me to face the king, who marches vengefully on London like an invading enemy, mad with anger. Dr Lewis vanishes off to Wales, Bishop Morton takes the first ship that can sail after the storms and goes to France, Buckingham’s men slip from the City in silence and under lowering skies, the queen’s kin make their way to Brittany and to the tattered remains of my son’s makeshift court, and my husband arrives in London in the train of King Richard, whose handsome face is dark with the sullen rage of a traitor betrayed.
‘He knows,’my husband says shortly as he comes to my room, his travelling cape still around his shoulders, his sympathy scant. ‘He knows you were working with the queen, and he will put you on trial. He has evidence from half a dozen witnesses. Rebels from Devon to East Anglia know your name and have letters from you.’
‘Husband, surely he will not.’
‘You are clearly guilty of treason and that is punishable by death.’
‘But if he thinks you are faithful . . .’
‘I am faithful,’ he corrects me. ‘It is not a matter of opinion but of fact. Not what the king thinks – but what he can see. When Buckingham rode out, while you were summoning your son to invade England, and paying rebels, while the queen was raising the southern counties, I was at his side, advising him, loaning him money, calling out my own affinity to defend him, faithful as any northerner. He trusts me now as he has never done before. My son raised an army for him.’
‘Your son’s army was for me!’ I interrupt.
‘My son will deny that, I will deny that, we will call you a liar and nobody can prove anything, either way.’
I pause. ‘Husband, you will intercede for me?’
He looks at me thoughtfully, as if the answer could be ‘no’.
‘Well, it is a consideration, Lady Margaret. My King Richard is bitter, he cannot believe that the Duke of Buckingham, his best friend, his only friend, should betray him. And you? He is astonished at your infidelity. You carried his wife’s train at her coronation, you were her friend, you welcomed her to London. He feels you have betrayed him. Unforgiveably. He thinks you as faithless as your kinsman Buckingham; and Buckingham was executed on the spot.’
‘Buckingham is dead?’
‘They took off his head in Salisbury market place. The king would not even see him. He was too angry with him and he is filled with hate towards you. You said that Queen Anne was welcome to her city, that she had been missed. You bowed the knee to him and wished him well. And then you sent out messages to every disaffected Lancastrian family in the country to tell them the cousins’ war had come again, and that this time you will win.’
I grit my teeth. ‘Should I run away? Should I go to Brittany too?’
‘My dear, how ever would you get there?’
‘I have my money chest, I have my guard. I could bribe a ship to take me, if I went down to the docks at London now, I could get away. Or Greenwich. Or I could ride to Dover or Southampton . . .’
He smiles at me and I remember they call him ‘the fox’ for his ability to survive, to double back, to escape the hounds. ‘Yes, indeed, all that might have been possible; but I am sorry to tell you, I am nominated as your gaoler, and I cannot let you escape me. King Richard has decided that all your lands and your wealth will be mine, signed over to me, despite our marriage contract. Everything you owned as a girl is mine, everything you owned as a Tudor is mine, everything you gained from your marriage to Stafford is now mine, everything you inherited from your mother is mine. My men are in your chambers now collecting your jewels, your papers and your money chest. Your men are already under arrest, and your women are locked in their rooms. Your tenants and your affinity will learn you cannot summon them; they are all mine.’
I gasp. For a moment, I cannot speak, I just look at him. ‘You have robbed me? You have taken this chance to betray me?’
‘You are to live at the house at Woking, my house now; you are not to leave the grounds. You will be served by my people, your own servants will be turned away. You will see neither ladies in waiting, servants, nor your confessor. You will meet with no-one and send no messages.’
I can hardly grasp the depth and breadth of his betrayal. He has taken everything from me. ‘It is you who betrayed me to Richard!’ I fling at him. ‘You who betrayed the whole plot. It is you, with an eye to my fortune who led me on to do this and now profit from my destruction. You told the Duke of Norfolk to go down to Guildford and suppress the rebellion in Hampshire. You told Richard to beware of the Duke of Buckingham. You told him that the queen was rising against him and I with her!’
He shakes his head. ‘No. I am not your enemy, Margaret, I have served you well as your husband. No-one else could have saved you from the traitor’s death that you deserve. This is the best deal I could get for you. I have saved you from the Tower, from the scaffold. I have saved your lands from sequestration, he could have taken them outright. I have saved you to live in my house, as my wife, in safety. And I am still placed at the heart of things, where we can learn of his plans against your son. Richard will seek to have Tudor killed now, he will send spies with orders to murder Henry. You have signed your son’s death warrant with your failure. Only I can save him. You should be grateful to me.’
I cannot think, I cannot think through this mixture of threats and promises. ‘Henry?’
‘Richard will not stop until he is dead. Only I can save him.’
‘I am to be your prisoner?’
He nods. ‘And I am to have your fortune. It is nothing between us, Margaret. Think of the safety of your son.’
‘You will let me warn Henry of his danger?’
He rises to his feet. ‘Of course. You can write to him as you wish. But all your letters are to come through me, they will be carried by my men. I have to give the appearance of controlling you completely.’
‘The appearance?’ I repeat. ‘If I know you at all, you will give the appearance of being on both sides.’
He smiles in genuine amusement. ‘Always.’
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Red Queen includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Philippa Gregory. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Heiress to the red rose of Lancaster, Margaret Beaufort never surrenders her belief that her house is the ruler of England and she has a great destiny before her. Married to a man twice her age, quickly widowed, and a mother at fourteen, Margaret is determined to turn her lonely life into a triumph. She sets her heart on putting her son of the throne of England regardless of the cost. As the political tides constantly shift, Margaret charts her way through two more loveless marriages, treacherous alliances, and secret plots. She masterminds one of the greatest rebellions of all time, knowing that her son has grown to manhood, recruited an army, and now waits for his opportunity to win the greatest prize.
1. In the beginning of The Red Queen, young Margaret Beaufort is an extremely pious young girl, happy to have “saints’ knees” when she kneels too long at her prayers. Discuss the role of religion throughout Margaret’s life. What does she see as God’s role for her?
2. As a pious young girl, Margaret wants to live a life of greatness like her heroine, Joan of Arc. However, her fate lies elsewhere, as her mother tells her, “the time has come to put aside silly stories and silly dreams and do your duty.” (Page 26). What is Margaret’s duty and how does she respond to her mother’s words?
2. At the tender age of twelve, Margaret is married to Edmund Tutor and fourteen months later she bears him the son who will be the heir to the royal Lancaster family line. During the excruciating hours of labor, Margaret learns a painful truth about her mother and the way she views Margaret. Discuss the implications of what Margaret learns from her mother, and what is “the price of being a woman.” (63)
3. How does Jasper Tudor aid Margaret in her plans for herself and her son, Henry? What does he sacrifice in order to keep Henry Tudor safe? In what ways are Jasper and Margaret alike?
4. After the death of Edmund Tudor, Margaret marries the wealthy Sir Henry Stafford. How is Stafford different from Edmund? Margaret laments that she is “starting to fear that my husband is worse than a coward” (p. 105). What are her reasons for this? Do you see any sense in Stafford’s careful diplomacy?
5. On Easter of 1461, violence breaks out between the armies of Lancaster and York. This time, Sir Henry Stafford goes out to fight for Lancaster, only to witness a terrible battle. What does he understand about war and politics and why are these truths so difficult for Margaret to grasp?
6. Ever since she was a young girl, Margaret believed she was destined for greatness. How does her pride in her destiny manifest itself throughout the story? Identify key moments where Margaret’s pride overwhelms her judgment.
7. In the spring of 1471, Stafford sides with York and supports Edward in his quest to take the throne of England once and for all. Do you understand Stafford’s reasons for doing this? Is Margaret’s rage at her husband’s decision understandable?
8. Sir Henry Stafford suffers a mortal wound in battle. After his death, Margaret decides she must be strategic in her next marriage and so she approaches Thomas, Lord Stanley, who Jasper describes as “a specialist of the final charge” (217). What does Jasper mean by this? How is Stanley different from Stafford and what does it mean for Margaret that she decides to unite her fortunes with this man?
9. In April 1483, Margaret tries to enlist Stanley in helping to get her son, Henry, and Jasper back on English shores. An argument ensues between the two of them, and the ever-shrewd Stanley confronts Margaret with his view of her true nature, much to her horror (236). Do you think Stanley’s assessment of her is correct? Why is this so significant?
10. Discuss Margaret’s feelings towards the White Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Why does she cause her so much anger? How does Margaret’s view of Elizabeth change as she becomes her lady-in-waiting, and then as she actively plots with her—and against her—for the throne of England?
11. Once King Richard has installed himself on the throne, Margaret and Lord Stanley scheme to replace him with her son, Henry Tudor. Margaret must make the difficult decision about whether to sacrifice the two princes in the Tower for her own ambitions (271). Is there any way to justify Margaret’s actions? Do you sympathize with her plight?
12. In the winter of 1483-84, Margaret despairs when her plans fail miserably. Under house arrest by the king, she looks back on her schemes and declares, “the sin of ambition and greed darkened our enterprise” (305). Discuss Margaret’s conclusion about her behavior. Do you think she takes responsibility for her actions? What blame does she place on Elizabeth Woodville?
13. As the fortunes of England shift once again, Margaret finds herself playing host to the young Lady Elizabeth, the beautiful daughter of Elizabeth Woodville. Discuss the interaction between these two headstrong women. How does Lady Elizabeth treat Margaret and what does she say on page 344 that leaves Margaret stunned into silence?
14. Discuss the final battle scenes in The Red Queen. How does Henry Tudor, young and inexperienced, eventually gain the upper hand, and how does King Richard lose his throne, and his life?
15. By the end of the book, Margaret, now Margaret Regina, the King’s mother, has achieved all she wanted. Do you respect her and her ideals? Do you think her achievement justifies her actions?
Enhancing Your Book Club
Learn more about the War of the Roses, Richard III, and the fall of the house of York at the homepage of the Richard III Society: http://www.r3.org/
Conduct a mock investigation of the murder of the princes in the Tower. Review the suspects and determine motive and guilt. Resources can be found at http://www.castles.me.uk/princes-in-the-tower.htm and http://www.r3.org/bookcase/whodunit.html
Visit Philippa Gregory's website, www.philippagregory.com, to learn more about the author, view the Plantagenet family tree, and read background information on The Red Queen.
A Conversation with Philippa Gregory
Margaret Beaufort is a very different character than Elizabeth Woodville, star of The White Queen. Was it difficult for you to shift perspective and write in the voice of a woman, in this case The Red Queen, who is the enemy of the main character of your previous book?
One of the most difficult things I have ever done in writing was shift my own perspective so that after three years of thinking entirely from the point of view of Elizabeth Woodville and from the point of view of the house of York, I had to convert to the view of Margaret Beaufort and the house of Lancaster. I thought at the time that the only way to do it would be to find some sort of key to the girl that Margaret was, in order to understand her as a woman. There are three extant biographies of her and I read them all and then thought that the secret to Margaret is her genuine and deep faith. That led me to the picture of this very precocious and serious little girl and once I could imagine and love her – I could imagine the woman that her hard life and disappointments create.
Margaret’s mother tells her “since you were a girl you could only be the bridge to the next generation.” (59) Do you feel sympathy for Margaret and her thwarted ambition? What would her life have been like if she were born a man?
Of course I feel intense sympathy for Margaret who is used by her family, as so many women of this period were used – as a pawn in a game of dynasties. However, to be cheerful about it – if she had been a man she would almost certainly have been killed in a battle or in an attack – all the other heirs on the Lancaster side were killed and she sent her son away to keep him safe. Perhaps the greatest disappointment for Margaret was that she was not allowed a religious life. There is no doubt in my mind that she would have made a wonderful abbess both as a landlord and community leader and as a scholar.
Taken together, The White Queen and The Red Queen present very different portraits of marriage in the fifteenth century. Was either woman’s experience more indicative of the time?
Margaret has the more typical life of a woman of her class. Many of the noblewomen of this time were placed in arranged marriages for the advantage of their families, she was exceptionally young, but most noblewomen could expect to be married at sixteen. What is unusual about Margaret is that it seems likely that her third marriage was indeed arranged by herself, to position herself at the York court, and to give her son a stepfather of immense wealth and influence. In this she was very powerfully taking control of her own destiny, and this was unusual, even for widows. Elizabeth Woodville’s first marriage is also very typical of the time. Her marriage was arranged when she was about sixteen to the wealthy heir of a great estate in a neighbouring county. The Grey family gained the Woodville’s connections at court and the royal and noble connections of Elizabeth’s mother, and the Woodvilles got their daughter into a wealthy house. Elizabeth’s second marriage was, of course, unique. She was the first English commoner to marry a king of England, and the first queen married for love. They married in secret without the knowledge the king’s advisor and mentor. It was an extraordinary marriage.
Sir Henry Stafford is an interesting contrast to so many of the striving, power-hungry men and women in this novel. How much of his thoughts did you base on real life and how much was your own interpretation of his character?
Sir Henry, like so many men and women of his time has left little or no record of his thoughts, and only scanty records of his actions. I had to look at what we knew about him: his age, his decision not to ride out to battle in any of the many battles of the wars: except when he went out for Lancaster in 1561, and for York a decade later. Therefore I had to consider why a man would have fought in the sixth and the fifteenth battle: but no others; and why a man tied to the house of Lancaster by family and habit would change his mind so completely as to fight for York. That was all I had to go on: as well as my general reading about the feelings of so many men who were forced to take difficult decisions about their private and family hopes and fears at a time of constant challenge.
There are three pivotal women in this novel, Elizabeth Woodville, her daughter, Lady Elizabeth and Margaret Beaufort. Do you think they are able to rise above what was considered acceptable for women’s roles in their time?
I think what these women demonstrate in this novel is the range of responses that were possible for women; and that this range is probably wider than we as readers of the period might generally think. Because the history of the period has been mostly written by men (for two reasons: that until the 20th century almost all historians were men since only men attended universities, and that histories of war seems to attract mostly male historians) we have very scanty records of what women were feeling thinking and even doing. And those reports we have are often biased against women who seek power. Thus we simply don’t know the extent of the involvement of Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort in the Buckingham rebellion or the Tudor invasion, we can only deduce that they were deeply involved. But we do have very negative views of Elizabeth Woodville as a mother failing to protect her children, as a panic-stricken woman fleeing into sanctuary, and as a hard-hearted manipulator sending her daughters out to the uncle who may have killed her sons. That these views of her are exaggerated and indeed contradictory does not seem to trouble some historians whose view of her is determinedly negative. In contrast, the positive views taken of Margaret Beaufort emphasize her suffering and endurance and not her political skill and manipulation. In this book I suggest that Princess Elizabeth fell in love with King Richard her uncle. This is based on a letter which was seen by an historian but is now missing, and it would suggest that she also had the courage and passion to try to choose her own life. These are women of exceptional courage and determination, but I think they show that even in a society where women are powerfully repressed both legally and culturally, that there are still women who will find ways to express themselves.
How does history remember Margaret Beaufort? Do you feel that she is dealt with fairly by historians and writers?
There are two main opinions on Margaret Beaufort that have emerged for me from my reading. One, very positive, is based on the Tudor hagiography which sees her as the matriarch of the house and a woman who spent her life in the service of her son. It follows the sermon preached by Archbishop Fisher who stressed her suffering as a young woman, and her very early sense of destiny when she believed that she was advised by the saints to marry Edmund Tudor and thus have a Tudor heir to the Lancaster throne. This view sees her as a divinely inspired matriarch, to a family called by God, and was incorporated into the Tudor history of their own line. The other, more modern view of her, is less admiring of her as a spiritual woman but emphasizes her political ambitions and her powers of manipulation. In this view she is sometimes regarded critically as a woman of excessive ambition and greed and suggests that she dominated the household of her son, and influenced the upbringing of her grandsons.
Can you tell us a little about the next book in the series? Is Lady Elizabeth going to feature prominently?
The next book tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville’s mother who is glimpsed in this novel. She was Jacquetta, daughter of the Count of Luxembourg, and kinswoman to half the royalty of Europe, who was married first to the great Englishman John Duke of Bedford, uncle to Henry VI. Widowed at the age of nineteen she took the extraordinary risk of marrying a gentleman of her household for love, and then carved out a life for herself as Queen Margaret of Anjou's close friend and a Lancaster supporter – until the day that her daughter Elizabeth Woodville fell in love and married the rival king Edward IV. Of all the little-known but important women of the period, her dramatic story is the most neglected. With her links to Melusina, the founder of the house of Luxembourg and her reputation for making magic, she is a most haunting heroine. The story opens as her uncle, Louis of Luxembourg captures Joan of Arc and Jacquetta sees, for the first time, the dangers facing a girl who dares to be extraordinary.