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Of Letters and of Sciences

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A Pre-Shakespearean Tragedie of Errors

The Red Queen (The Cousins' War, #2) - Philippa Gregory

So, I re-reviewed this on Goodreads, but since this is my blog, I thought I'd explain a little more. When I first reviewed this book on the Interwebs, it was after a weird reading/skimming experience (two years ago) in which everything in the book seemed like chaos. Then, after listening to The Kingmaker's Daughter audiobook this year, I decided to listen to this on audiobook as well. I was like "WHOA. IS THIS THE SAME BOOK I READ WAY BACK WHEN? I HAVE MADE A GROSS ERROR."


So, this is a classic case of reading the right book at the right time. Okay, it's more like...being able to give a book your full input, attention, and patience at the right time. 


So, there.


Updated review: 2014. 

I'm afraid, my friends, that I have made a deep mistake. The first time I "read" this book, I more like skimmed it. Also, I was a little distracted at the time and didn't/couldn't get into it's details and nuances. While lightly reading "The White Queen" does no harm, I didn't realize that Philippa was setting up a new chronicle of books; leaving the Tudors behind (still her most brilliant works, in my mind), she sought to do (AND DAMN SUCCEEDED) in doing for the Plantagenets what she did for the Tudors: to explain them. To teach them. To make them accessible (not "to a modern audience", but to, essentially, do what historical fiction does best: teach and inform and analyze while novelizing.) 

I think I have to stress that this book is NOT a mess. My apologies to Philippa Gregory. 

The Cousins' War, a series of which I was skeptical for a very long time, finally all comes tied together now. Now that I've read all the books in the series (over a few years), I realized the way in which what Philippa did was so much more ambitious than anything she'd done before: she sought to knit, to SYNC, the stories of key women and queens (and men too) during the height and end of The War of the Roses, releasing a book about a different person but having each exist (relatively) DURING THE SAME TIME PERIOD. This might be the ultimate Philippa calling-card: she can sometimes be wordy and repetitive, and what is a more thematic way to do that than write FIVE books all centered on the same years, differing only in point of view?

But it is brilliant. Because she starts with The White Queen, a stable if slightly unspectacular book that introduces us to Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV. Chronologically, I believe she then released The Red Queen, which chronicles the EXACT SAME YEARS, but from Margaret Beaufort's (Henry VII's religiously fanatical and ambitious mother) as she navigates through a young marriage, a difficult birth to her only child, into whom she pours a frighteningly large amount of divine faith and hope, and her machinations from the time between Edward IV's rule to the infamous Richard III to the accession of her son Henry to found the new Tudor royal house. 
YES, this is the series that finally explained (to me, at least) the so called "tyrant" Richard III of such Shakespearean villainous fame (Shakespeare *was* a bit of a Tudor propagandist...) AND THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER. 

I had gone literally two decades without understanding the "case of the two little princes in the tower". I didn't get it, and I wasn't really much interested because I may like medieval clothes, but I'm much more interested in Tudor British history than in the thick imbroglios of the Plantagenets and their predecessors. 

So. Hwæt. This series did it. Collectively, these five books *are* the historical fiction version of "A History of the late Plantagenets and the Transition to Tudor Power". 

I SO wish I'd understood this before, but I'm so happy to have been opened, enlightened, and spirited away by the Plantagenets. 

I see specifically and exactly why, now, the Tudors were considered "upstarts". All those vague references to the reasons behind Henry VIII's obsession for a son so that the "turmoil of the past would be repeated" makes crystal-clear sense. And his father's shrewdness (he lived in exile half his life, awaiting one failed invasion of England after another until he finally won at Bosworth). No wonder the Tudors were so...intense. They literally fought their way to the throne and fought to keep it. 

Additionally, I am SO GLAD that Philippa infused this series with "The Kingmaker's Daughter". It is the book I thought I'd care the least about because I couldn't figure out why I should care about Anne Neville, but---BAM! Yet another narrative describing the exact years chronicled in The White Queen and The Red Queen. It's brilliant, really, and shows her skill as both a historian and as a novelist. How do we solve the mystery of the princes in the tower? Well, as a historian, let us analyze (she says) all possible motives from all possibly involved parties who might have had an interest in seeing Prince Edward and Richard killed. 

Was it really the "evil" Richard III? (Spoiler alert: in Gregory's opinion, no. At least not directly). WAS I'd Margaret Beaufort? (Spoiler alert, she certainly gives an order to that effect), but how do we know who REALLY murdered the princes in the Tower---if they *were* murdered at all? And *is* it possible that (spoiler alert), Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville managed to smuggle one of her sons out of the country, thus avoiding said fate? *Could* any of the early pretenders of Tudor rule *actually* have been one of the little princes?

The genius of this series is that, though not in chronological order when published, it takes us from the Burgundian courts and the mystical Jacquetta to her daughter, who becomes queen and the penultimate Plantagenet queen. Then, she tells us of said queen's archrival; then, she describes the lives of the daughters of the Earl of Warwick (the "kingmaker "), one of whom, after all, became *another* queen with an interest in getting rid of the little princes and may well have caused it. Possibilities. We'll never know. 

And knit through all of this is love, fleeting love, defeat, fanaticism, mysticism, and utter ambition in a series that really shouldn't be considered a "women's history" of the Plantagenets, but a FULL history of the Plantagenets. 

I wax poetic about Philippa Gregory because she is my favourite author EVER. And I'm so pleased I've now detangled the late Plantagenets. (And I've even been inspired to finally read Katherine by Anya Seton about Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. Onward!)

Once again, we owe a debt to Philippa Gregory.