Philippa Gregory tells the fascinating story of Margaret Pole, cousin to the “White Princess,” Elizabeth of York, and lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon.
Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (known as the White Princess) and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, is married off to a steady and kind Lancaster supporter—Sir Richard Pole. For his loyalty, Sir Richard is entrusted with the governorship of Wales, but Margaret’s contented daily life is changed forever with the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple, hiding her own royal connections in service to the Tudors.
After the sudden death of Prince Arthur, Katherine leaves for London a widow, and fulfills her deathbed promise to her husband by marrying his brother, Henry VIII. Margaret’s world is turned upside down by the surprising summons to court, where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine. But this charmed life of the wealthiest and “holiest” woman in England lasts only until the rise of Anne Boleyn, and the dramatic deterioration of the Tudor court. Margaret has to choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, or to her beloved queen; to the religion she loves or the theology which serves the new masters. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret Pole has to find her own way as she carries the knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors. (Goodreads)
It’s hard to believe that this is already the 6th and last book of the Cousins’ War series, because it doesn’t feel like all that long ago when I bought and read The White Queen, the first book in the series. And once again Gregory has delivered a stunning book. It’s a captivating read, well researched, and I love how it neatly wraps up the Cousins’ War series, as well as establishes the final connections to her Tudor Court novels. I do think that it was wise to leave it at 6 novels, because Gregory does start to get in danger of repeating herself. Each of the novels is told from a different perspective, and they span the period from the reign of Edward IV up until Henry VIII, which is a relatively long and turbulent period. Yet throughout the 6 novels there are quite a number of recurring characters, and some key events are therefore told several times but seen through the eyes of different people. Initially this was very interesting, but I did feel in this last novel that a lot of old plot lines were being rehashed, and I was frankly starting to get a bit bored of it. This bears no reflection on Gregory’s ability to write or tell a story, but it’s just that the events of the time have been discussed at great length and I think by the end of the last novel she was definitely done telling the story.
Having said this, I enjoyed reading about the period through the eyes of Margaret Pole, daughter of Isabelle Neville and George, Duke of Clarence. As the last Plantagenet and rightful heir to the throne of England, she would always be a threat to the Tudor monarchs, and was therefore married off into relative obscurity, while her brother Edward spent most of his younger years in the Tower before finally being beheaded. You follow the rise and fall of Margaret Pole, and see how her change of fortune is tied to the whims of Henry VIII and his increasing paranoia as he grows older. What is most important to Margaret is to ensure that her children are safe and are successful in life, and for a while everything seems to run relatively smoothly. But in the end her luck runs out, and her biggest fears that have haunted her all her life unfortunately come true at last.
I would definitely recommend this novel, especially to those who have been following the series since the beginning. Since it’s historical fiction you could read it as standalone as well, though I think readers would enjoy it more with some knowledge of what has gone before. I’m looking forward to see what Gregory will bring us next, and which period she will focus her writing on.