Another chapter in this series, in which Philippa Gregory imagines history from the perspective of the women behind the scenes. This time, she looks at Margaret Tudor, older sister of Henry VIII who was married to James, King of Scotland.
Margaret’s life was as turbulent as Scotland’s political history. She was widowed, remarried, divorced, remarried again and constantly in flux in terms of her relationship to her royal brother.
Beneath it all, Gregory keeps coming back to Margaret’s relationship with her two sisters; Mary her younger sister who was a greater beauty and married the King of France before choosing her own husband and returning to the British Court, and her sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon, more clever and more powerful, but ultimately more tragic.
Margaret does not play a key role in history, but Gregory does try to create some interest by teasing out the relationship these women have to each other. But there are some issues – and ones that make this inferior to other books in this series. Firstly, Margaret’s choices are difficult to fathom at times. While a loving mother, she often leaves her son behind in the clutches of enemies as she repeatedly tries to save herself or better her own position. Secondly, she makes some very silly decisions in regards to men, which put herself and her son at risk. This makes her a difficult character to like and understand at times, especially when it is weak will that seems to be behind much of this.
Finally, the relationship to her sisters plays on every negative female stereotype you can imagine. For a start, Margaret is competitive. She wants to be more beautiful and more important than each. She sometimes rejoices in their failures and is harsh when she could be kind. But then when she has her own tragedies, she turns to them looking for comfort. She is perplexed when Katherine orchestrates the murder of her first husband, a bitterness that returns time and time again, even when Katherine, once proud and powerful, begins to lose her husband to Anne Boleyn.
These factors make this book difficult to really like, although it is always interesting to read history from another perspective. There are some interesting chapters here in regards to Scottish history – if only we had more of the information we need.