As a devotee of all kinds of historical fiction, as someone who has a particular passion for Tudor history, and as someone who thinks Margaret Beaufort (mother to King Henry VII) is one of most fascinating and shrewd women in English history — you can imagine how much I was looking forward to this book. And how much I wanted to enjoy it. Alas, it was not to be.
This VERY prolific author (of no less than 100 historical novels) has created a wildly convoluted mystery based around the rivalry and deception so central to the Wars of the Roses. So, let me begin by setting the scene.
King Edward IV, of the House of York, sits on the English throne. But Lady Margaret Beaufort (mother of the rival House of Lancaster’s surviving heir) still hopes to see HER son on the throne. Around her are a loyal band of retainers – Reginald Bray (real historical figure), Christopher Urswicke (real), and Gareth Morgan (fictional as best I can tell). That all sounds promising enough.
Unfortunately, despite the book’s title, Margaret Beaufort is more of a secondary character. Primarily as either a figurehead for loyal Lancaster followers or a focal point for York hatred. Most of the action of the novel involves men, brutal murders, some torture, and the relationship between a father and son who are on opposite sides of the York-Lancaster rivalry.
But aside from feeling misled by the book’s title, and turned off by the blasé violence, my chief criticisms are two-fold:
PROBLEM ONE. The story is slow partly because it is so over-burdened by the kind of description authors often insert when they have done TOO much research and feel the need to include everything.
Here, by way of example, an excerpt when Reginald Bray is being followed in a marketplace:
“Bray moved purposefully. He fully acknowledged he was being followed, if not by some hooded figure then by one or two of the flocks of street sparrows who darted along the narrow gaps between the many stalls. Bray felt an acute sense of danger. He recalled the two murderous assaults on him and wondered if these were all part of a well-laid plot to dig up and destroy the very roots of all those who supported Countess Margaret and her exiled son. Bray then wondered how his mistress and Urswicke were faring. As he crossed Cheapside, Bray glimpsed a finely carved statue of Our Lady of Walsingham standing on its plinth. He murmured a swift prayer to the ‘Fragrantly beautiful Queen of Heaven’ for the safety of the countess and those who served her. Now and again Bray would pause, as if to buy from a stall or listen to a storyteller fresh from Outremer chanting a tale about a strange creature which had the head of a hare, the neck of an ox, the winds of a dragon, the feel of a camel and so on. On this occasion Bray glanced around and caught two men at a nearby stall; they were studying him closely then quickly looked away.”
Really? While he’s being followed and feeling his life might be threatened, he considers street sparrows, Margaret Beaufort, Urswicke, a statue, and listens to a storyteller? After two attempts on his life, wasn’t the adrenaline helping him focus exclusively on who might be following him? Or, perhaps I am being uncharitable and Bray was actually a victim of a Medieval case of ADHD.
PROBLEM TWO. Way too much of the plot is explained by characters sitting around a meal together. Long, and frankly unrealistic monologues that make sure every aspect of the relevant history of the Wars of the Roses is covered. Including an exceptionally long-winded final scene where Margaret Beaufort and friends confront a traitor and painstakingly review ALL the evidence of his guilt. Assuming, I can only guess, that the reader needs to have everything explained in order to successfully tie up the mystery. Instead, it felt more to me like an Agatha Christie mystery where the reader can’t possibly solve the mystery alone and needs Miss Marple to point out unimportant but key details that the author made sure readers overlooked.
Okay, I think you get the idea. If you are interested in the still-remarkable historical figure of Lady Margaret Beaufort, there are better historical novels around.
More about the author, Paul Doherty.
If you want to read more about Lady Margaret Beaufort, I recommend this engaging 3-part series by Judith Arnopp: