Three Sisters, Three Queens – by Philippa Gregory – independent book review – Historical Fiction (England)

The title sort of overpromises and while I am a fan of Philippa Gregory, this is not one of my favorites from her. Awarded three stars on Goodreads.threesistersDespite the title of the book, make no mistake, this novel is really a first person account of Margaret Tudor, who lived at a pivotal time in the history of the British Isles.

As a refresher, she is:
– Daughter of King Henry VII, whose marriage united the Houses of Lancaster and York, ending the Wars of the Roses.
– Sister to King Henry VIII, of the multiple marriages melodrama
– Wife to King James IV of Scotland, whose reign kept unruly Scottish clans under control
– Mother to King James V, father to Mary Queen of Scots.
– Grandmother to Mary, Queen of Scots, whose son James would eventually unite the crowns of England and Scotland after the death of Queen Elizabeth I.

Yes, the other two queens (Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, and Mary Tudor, Margaret’s sister and briefly the wife of the much older King Louis XII of France) figure into the novel but largely through the letters they write to Margaret. Philippa Gregory’s explains in her Author’s Note that there is little written about Margaret so this novel explores what Gregory imagines would be the bond between the three women over decades of contact.

Margaret comes across as a not particularly likable figure. Impulsive, petty, jealous, tempestuous, judgmental and self-centered. Maybe that IS the most likely result of growing up as a pampered princess. The other two queens don’t fare much better.

Gregory begins the book with Margaret’s childhood (when Katherine of Aragon first appears) and covers Margaret’s own three marriages, struggle for power in Scotland and conflicted relationship with her reigning brother in England. The most interesting aspect for me was the exploration of the place women held during this time period and the ways in which they were dominated by the males in their lives — both family members and courtiers. From this perspective, Margaret comes across as a bit of a pioneering feminist — fighting to exercise power in a time when women just didn’t do that.

I felt the book ended a bit abruptly — not really finishing Margaret’s story. And using the device of the three queens was only somewhat successful. But it was great fun to learn MUCH more about Margaret’s life and of course, it’s another offering from the current Queen of Tudor novels, Phillippa Gregory. So, I had to read it.

More about author, Philippa Gregory.

You may be interested in my reviews of other books by Philippa Gregory:

The Last Tudor

The King’s Curse

The Taming of the Queen


Dark Tides


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