As a fan of both historical fiction and author Philippa Gregory, I expected to like this book. But I did NOT expect to like it as much as I did. Because this book actually surprised me! Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
I’ve read many, MANY versions of the story of Henry VIII and his six wives. But these have all been consistently from the perspective of either Henry OR one of his wives. In THE KING’S CURSE you get a different perspective.
The main character is actually Margaret Pole, a first cousin of Henry’s mother (Elizabeth of York) and a Plantagenet, the royal family that preceded the Tudors. Because of her royal blood, Margaret naturally plays an important role in the Tudor court, assigned various roles that bring her close to Henry’s older brother Arthur, to his first wife Catherine of Aragon, and to his firstborn daughter Mary.
But in this telling of Margaret’s 40 year story, the author skillfully presents the unfolding events of Henry’s reign, as they must have appeared to those outside the Tudor family, to people who (unlike us) had no idea how it would all turn out. Just think how many “firsts” Henry is responsible for? Questioning the sacrament of marriage, putting a sitting queen on trial, taking on the Catholic Church, enacting multiple new laws about the succession — just to name a few.
Gregory provides rich details about how Henry’s decisions impacted the everyday lives of the English and she also offers some believable speculation on how contemporaries might have processed Henry’s edicts. For example, she imagines courtiers contemplating questions like,
• Can anyone question the legitimacy of a marriage and if so, who could rightfully decide such an issue?
• Why is the King assuming greater power over the church and nobility and would we be right to challenge him?
• What will happen to travel and who will care for the sick and poor if the monasteries are closed?
It’s all fascinating to consider and I applaud the author’s ability to present this remarkable sequence of dramatic events in England’s history and show how each might have been seen at the time they occurred.
You might be interested in my reviews of other books by Philippa Gregory: