So, I feel like I must begin this review with the following disclaimer: I am a huge Philippa Gregory fan. I’ve read just about every book she’s written about the War of the Roses and the Tudors. That being said, there’s a reason that I’ve read so many of her books: she’s a phenomenal Historical Fiction writer.
For those who may not have heard of this genre before, Historical Fiction is when an author takes a person or event from history and uses facts to create fiction. My first foray into Historical Fiction was with Gregory’s “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Many of you may have seen the movie based on this novel which featured Eric Bana as Henry VIII. Trust me, the book was better
Anywho, on to “The King’s Curse.” This was not one of my favorite novels by Gregory, but I think it may be in part that I don’t know very much about the character Margaret Pole. Yes, she was touched upon briefly in the TV show “The Tudors,” but she was featured more in the show “The White Princess,” which was based on another of Gregory’s novels of the same name. However, it’s hard to really relate to the character, in my opinion. I think it may have been because she was more of a bystander to history rather than being a part of it, even though the whole book was based around the 40 or so years of her life.
The novel starts off with Margaret already married to her husband, Sir Richard Pole. She was married to him against her will in order to “get rid of her name,” as is mentioned multiple times in the novel. This is due to the fact that her birth name is Margaret Plantagenet. For those who do not know, the Plantagenet’s were the ruling family during the War of the Roses. They were usurped by Henry Tudor (Henry VII, Henry VIII’s father) who was married to Elizabeth of York, the daughter of a previous monarch. Tudor won his crown after the death of Richard III at the battle of Bosworth. This is a very important part of the story, as it pertains to the “King’s curse.”
The aforementioned curse is one that has been tossed around in Gregory’s novels multiple times. It states that the family who had ordered the death of the Princes in the Tower would have their line end with a barren woman within a few generations. Many believe that Richard III killed his nephews, but it was never proven. Some even think that the youngest son, Richard, was smuggled out of the Tower and showed up at court during Henry VII’s reign under the name Perkin Warbeck. He was executed as a caveat from Isabelle of Castille before her daughter Katherine of Aragon could marry Henry VII’s son Arthur, the Prince of Wales. So, if Warbeck really was Prince Richard, then the Tudors are indeed cursed.
Arthur and Katherine are married and put under the care of Margaret and her husband in Wales. Within a few months, Arthur dies of the Sweat, a sickness which is also called the “curse of the Tudors.” While many believed that the marriage was consummated, Katherine denies this and goes on to become the first wife of Henry VIII.
Margaret watches as Henry puts Katherine aside because he believed that the marriage between Katherine and Arthur was consummated and thus she could never give him an heir other than the Princess Mary. Margaret was Mary’s guardian since she was born, and she loves her like a mother. Many of Margaret’s actions trace back to this love between a guardian and her charge and Margaret’s desire to keep her royal family out of danger because of their name.
The curse is only believeable because Henry’s only surviving son Edward dies very young with no children of his own. The throne goes to Mary, who marries but also has no children. The Tudor line ends with Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.
As I said, I believe that the reason I could not get as engrossed in this novel, like I do with most of Gregory’s novels, is because Margaret is more of a bystander rather than an active participant. Her sons were much more active, especially in the Pilgrimage of Faith. Margaret’s inaction in most of these events is understandable, since she didn’t want to draw attention to her family with their Plantagenet blood. However, it doesn’t lead to a very exciting novel.
While I do recommend this novel, as it is very informative, I found it rather dull. I would not recommend this as your first Gregory novel, but if you’ve read some of her work before, it’s definitely a good read. It crosses over some with her other novel “The Constant Princess,” which is based on the life of Queen Katherine of Aragon. I highly recommend reading the War of the Roses novels before this one, since a lot of the events are pertinent to the events that came before. Reading those novels first will provide some more insight.
TLDR; A great read, but read it after the War of the Roses novels
Buy it on Amazon