The latest installment in Philippa Gregory’s Tudor epic follows the life of Margaret Plantagenet, Countess of Salisbury. The daughter of Isabelle Neville and George, Duke of Clarence, granddaughter of the Earl of Warwick, also known as the Kingmaker, and the niece of two kings, Edward IV and Richard III, Margaret is no stranger to the perils that come with being close to the throne. Her brother Edward was locked in the tower from boyhood and executed, her cousin Elizabeth married to the Tudor usurper, Henry VII and her father drowned in a barrel of wine.
With her title stripped from her, she is married off to a Tudor loyalist and renamed plain Lady Pole. But she can’t escape her lineage, and is soon drawn back into the centre of the scheming and unpredictable Tudor court. Keeping the household of her cousins oldest son and heir to the throne, Arthur, Prince of Wales, Margaret becomes a close friend and confident of his young bride, Catherine of Aragon. Over the years, Margaret witnesses Catherine marry Arthur’s younger brother, the soon to be Henry VIII of England. She stands by her side as she loses child after child, and takes on the role of governess and protector to the treasured Princess Mary.
But when his wife fails to give Henry a male heir, Margaret has no choice but to watch as Catherine slips from his favour. Through the troubled times ahead, as more and more people are sent to the tower and the executioners block, Margaret has to make a choice – whether to defy the king and stand up for what she believes in, or to pull back and protect her family in any way she can.
Over the course of the novel, we watch as Margaret transforms from a scared young woman desperate to fly under the radar to a powerful matriarch in her own right, advancing herself and her family by asserting her rights as a member of one of England’s most influential families.
Comparing this latest novel to the previous books in Gregory’s ‘Cousins War’ series, Margaret stands out as a woman who is able to influence events and wield real, demonstrable power. She is one of few women to be made a peer in her own right without a husband, she runs her households and business with precision and, in Philippa Gregory’s imagining, she guides each and every member of her family in their careers and choices. She is the one who makes decisions about if and how they will make a stand against the King, and as a true Plantagenet, her name gives her the authority to influence the common people.
She’s an interesting character to get an insight into, and Gregory, as the undisputed queen of this genre, has a gift for creating characters with strong, believable voices that bring the past to life.