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The King’s Curse By Phillipa Gregory 

Perhaps you missed the series, The White Queen, STARZ’s beautifully adapted story of the War of the Roses, c.1464. As described by BBC Network, “War ravages England in 1464 during a blood feud between the House of York and the House of Lancaster over whom is the country’s true king.

If you’re a fan of The White Queen, or even if you’re not – do yourself a favor and pick up the first book of that series (The Lady of the Rivers) and keep right on reading through to the Tudor saga, where this book resides.

Young Edward IV, heir to the House of York, is crowned king with help from master manipulator Lord Warwick, known as “The Kingmaker,” who has a plan to control the throne. But that plan comes crashing down when Edward falls in love with Lancastrian commoner Elizabeth Woodville. A violent struggle for the crown ensues between Woodville, adversary Margaret Beaufort and Anne Neville, a pawn in her father’s power game.” This series is soon to be followed by The White Princess, and both are based on the books of Phillipa Gregory.

Gregory is one of the most prolific and knowledgeable writer’s of British historical fiction that I have read. And, in fact, I’ve been reading her novels for a long time! The Lady of the Rivers was an early favorite, dabbling as it did in the slightly supernatural – the Lady being, in fact, the mother of this series’ Elizabeth Woodville, and a practitioner of spells, if neither evil nor a witch. 

For quite a while in this turbulent period of English history, noble families tore the country asunder with wars, intrigues with Spain and France, marriages and open alliances – dalliances and secret agreements. Confusingly, there are so many Edwards, Richards, and Henrys it’s difficult to keep them all straight – but suffice to say that the stories all lead up to, or center around, the famous Henry VIII.

Briefly: the House Plantagenet (and yes, this will sound a bit like Game of Thrones) was headed up by Edward III in the 1300s. This King spawned the Lancasters and the Yorks. The Lancasters spawned the many Henrys until the Beaufort side of the family, marrying a Tudor, gave birth to Henry VII, who married a York, giving birth to Henry VIII, who had a double claim to the throne, through both the Lancaster and York branches of the family.

Meanwhile, the ambitious Neville family produced the Earl of Warwick, a very rich and powerful title, with eyes on the throne, through marriage or other means.

It is roughly here that the TV series are playing in the long, bitter and bloody struggle that ultimately leads up to Henry VIII, who brings both stability and madness to the English throne, to be followed by another powerful monarch, Elizabeth I, who would extend the relative sureness of succession of the monarchy.

As Edward IV dies, leaving his widow Elizabeth Woodville to fend off her enemies at court in the series, he is succeeded by his brother Richard, married to Anne Neville (in a bid for Neville royalty) without issue. Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter Elizabeth of York, then marries Henry VII, and they spawn Henry VIII.

Phillipa Gregory is one of the most prolific and knowledgeable writer’s of British historical fiction that I have read.

Confused yet? Me, too. However, it is at this point that The Kings Curse picks up. 

The story is told from the point of view of  Margaret Pole, nee Margaret of York, daughter of George,brother to Edward IV (remember that TV series). She is now older, and has seen several of the royal Plantagenet family killed off to make way for the upstart Tudors (though she would hardly dare to call them that). 

Margaret is a wise woman, but like all of Gregory’s female protagonists, she has a flaw: pride. She is of royal blood, and while she would love to see her children raised up, she also is clear that Henry is perhaps, a little mad.

Margaret is a friend and lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII – and erstwhile wife to his older, departed brother. Determined to marry her, Henry demands that the Pope grant annulment so that he can marry this woman, on the grounds that the marriage was never consummated. The Pope, even under pressure, won’t do this, though Catherine marries him, thinking all is well. They do not produce a boy heir, and Henry’s once passionate interest in his older wife wanes as he looks to the clever Anne Boleyn for comfort – and an heir. 

Now you probably know the story of  Henry’s many wives, and his various ways of getting rid of them – but what fascinates about this book is the point of view: a woman’s, an older woman, and a woman who plays a dangerous game near the throne under the rule of one of, if not the most dangerous kings of the old world.

Told as almost a diary, the reader must keep flipping back and forth to the convenient family tree diagrams, and consulting the dates at the head of each entry, to stay on top of who-what-when and where. The why is the art of the tale, and Gregory certainly has that down to a gripping T. For Tudor? 

If you’re a fan of The White Queen, or even if you’re not – do yourself a favor and pick up the first book of that series (The Lady of the Rivers) and keep right on reading through to the Tudor saga, where this book resides. You should enjoy the read, and you may come away feeling that perhaps our political climate is not nearly as fraught as it sometimes seems!

The White Queen, STARZ’s beautifully adapted story of the War of the Roses is based on the books of Phillipa Gregory.

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.