Book: The Red Queen (NEW: August 2010) by Phillipa Gregory
Boy, for a small island, and a relatively brief history (after all we don’t know much about them before the Romans) the British sure have had a lot going on. For all those who despair of ever figuring out all those branches of the royal family and the numerous (numbered) Henrys and Williams and whatever, historical novels come to the rescue.
The Red Queen, by Phillipa Gregory not only introduced me to a formidable British woman, but helped me sort out the lengthy, and sometimes seemingly pointless War of the Roses. And sorting out British history becomes essential if you want to enjoy the many castles and shires and Royal roads of England.
The new historical novel reminded me that the Big Red Bus took me to the Tower of London. Those who went to the Tower of London in olden days did not have the privilege of riding in a double-decker sightseeing bus. And their “ticket” did not include a river cruise on the Thames.
We arrived at Heathrow at 6:00 a.m., stowed our luggage at the airport and took a train in to town. With only one day to get for our first visit to London, we chose the zippy way. We found the bus a block away and rode through the drizzle, half listening to the recorded spiel while we gaped at all the history around us.
Jet lag soon began to win out over my usual excitement at seeing new things, and the Tower remains a bit blurry in my mind. I do recall that the gray walls looked even gloomier in the rain on the day we visited.
I also remember the low passageway leading to the river from within the walls. Prisoners could be brought in quietly at night and dead bodies spirited away. That setting plays a part in the book The Red Queen. Margaret Beaufort, our heroine, wears the red rose of Lancaster. The other Queen–the one who married a York–is tossed into the Tower. (Gregory wrote about The White Queen in a previous book.) A visitor reports back to Margaret that the York Queen communes with the River Spirits, beings still be be feared in the fifteenth century.
Margaret, determined to become Queen, or a very least Queen Mother, gained later fame as the matron of the Tudor line (mother of Henry Tudor) and one of those rarities of the middle ages–a female scholar. As the rival armies of York and Lancaster go marching back and forth, Phillipa Gregory gives us quite the tour of England, which underlines why this makes a good addition to a traveler’s library.
Unlike some historical novels that get waterlogged in detail, The Red Queen skims through Margaret’s life and keeps the reader turning the pages to see when she and her house will finally triumph. The novel is a story told by Margaret, from her strong-willed point of view, in the present tense, which helps build suspense–even for those well versed in British history.
You may find The White Queen a more sympathetic character when you realize that it was her two little boys who were imprisoned by Richard III and then disappeared. Shakespeare talks about them in his drama, Richard III, and Gregory, true to historical fact, throws plenty of false clues around but does not give us a firm answer as to what happened to the unfortunate children.
Gregory has more than 25 novels to her credit, but is best known for her series on the Boleyn sisters, particularly after The Other Boleyn Girl became a movie. Her attractive web site includes a nice interview with CNN. She has a Facebook page, too, if you want to keep track of her on the Internet. Once you’ve read The Red Queen, you may want to go back and dip into more of her views of British history, particularly if you are traveling to England.
The Red Queen was provided by Simon and Schuster for review purposes. The gloomy picture of the Tower comes from Flickr with Creative Commons license. Click on the picture to learn more.
Our first choice of sights in London, was The Tower. It might have been the British Museum, but I knew that I would be frustrated if I had only a few hours there. I think I was influenced by Shakespeare’s dramas. Anybody who was anybody wound up in the Tower. What is the first thing you wanted to see–or want to see–in London?