NOTE: I was given early access to this arc in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you booksirens and Renaissance Editions. Publication Date: March 7, 2023.
One thing I admire about author Rozsa Gaston is her commitment to writing stories about important WOMEN in history who have traditionally gotten little or no attention. Margaret of Austria (1480-1530) is one of these. (Anne of Brittany another.) And I most definitely learned a lot about Margaret in this novel. Hers is a fascinating story but the novel itself was just so-so. Awarded three stars on Goodreads.
First, to set the stage, who was Margaret? During the early 16th century, Archduchess Margaret of Austria was solo governor of the Hapsburg Netherlands at two different times. She was also widowed twice after two short marriages to John, Prince of Asturias and Philibert II, Duke of Savoy. It’s her second marriage that gives her another title she’s known by – Margaret of Savoy.
Margaret was also surrounded by many impressive A-List royals.
- Her father was Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.
- Her mother was Mary, Duchess of Burgundy.
- Her brother, Philip I of Castile (the Handsome) married to Queen Joanna/Juana of Castile (the Mad?).
- Her mother-in-law is Queen Isabella I of Ferdinand and Isabella fame.
- Her childhood friend and sister-in-law, Louise of Savoy, turned out to be the mother of the future King Francois I of France.
- Margaret is a surrogate mother to her nephew who becomes Charles V.
- She is courted by King Henry VII of England.
- Queen Anne Boleyn was once Margaret’s lady-in-waiting.
But what makes Margaret so historically noteworthy is her finely honed strategic skills and business acumen — that she consistently put to work in the service of her people — thereby helping them thrive and remain at peace. Also, her ability to negotiate resolutions to long-standing disputes between foreign powers (i.e. Treaty of Cambrai). Quite an accomplishment at a time when women were seldom permitted to rule alone.
Unfortunately I found the book reads more like a non-fiction biography (even a textbook at times) than historical fiction. Lots of recitation of facts and dates about battles and meetings and little success in getting inside Margaret’s head. What was it like to be a woman ruler moving through decidedly patriarchal societies? How did the men around her handle her wielding such power? Where did her wisdom, skill, and good sense come from? All questions that weren’t answered.
There’s also a lack of subtlety in the story. The omniscient narrator makes sure to explain everything quite directly to the reader. But for me, I think the main problem with this narrator was TELLING me everything Margaret felt and thought, rather than the author allowing me to hear it from Margaret herself.
Bottom line: if you’re interested in learning more about Margaret of Austria and many of the players of her era, this may be one of your only opportunities. But maybe keep your expectations modest.
More about the author, Rozsa Gaston.
You may be interested in my reviews of Gaston’s series on Anne of Brittany:
Anne and Charles: Passion and Politics in Late Medieval France
Anne and Louis: Passion and Politics in Early Renaissance France