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Book review – The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory has a real talent for bringing alive the characters of her stories. Those who lived and breathed during the Wars of the Roses over 500 years ago are brought to life on the pages of her books. The King’s Curse is no different as we follow Margaret Pole through 40 years of her life.

Margaret Pole, Plantagenet by birth and niece to King Edward IV and King Richard III is now living in the Tudor court. Her brother, Edward, is locked away in the Tower of London his only crime is being the true Plantagenet heir to the throne. We are first introduced to Margaret in The King’s Curse after her brother has been executed on the orders of Henry VII at the request of the Spanish monarchs before they send their daughter, Katherine of Aragon, to England for marriage to the King’s oldest son, Arthur.

Margaret is head of the household at Ludlow Castle serving Prince Arthur and his new bride Katherine. We see through her eyes the developing love between the newlyweds and the heart break when Arthur dies just months later.

Margaret is sent home to her husband, an arranged marriage at the hands of Henry VII in order to bury the Plantagenet name and memory of years past. Margaret and her husband struggle with money and to raise their own children and with the death of her husband the family are pushed into poverty. As a reader you really feel for Margaret who has to do anything she can to survive.

With Henry VIII taking the throne upon his father’s death he is keen to unite the once warring families, especially as his mother was also a Princess of York. He restores his aunt’s titles and lands to her and welcomes her to court once again running the household of the new Queen, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret is loyal to the new Queen as she was when she was in Ludlow. We stay with Margaret in the service of the Queen for more than a decade where she is witness to the Queen’s many miscarriages and stillbirths along with the birth of the only surviving child a daughter, Mary.

With the possibility of any more children born to the Queen we see Henry change from the boy that Margaret knew who was caring and loving to a bitter man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. This starts with putting aside Queen Katherine in favour of Anne Boleyn and raising his illegitimate son to a Dukedom.

Margaret remains loyal to the Queen and her daughter Mary, who she is the governess of. Margaret spends much of her time during this part of the story at her home and court news is relayed to her through hers son. Through this we learn of Henry’s break with Rome and the oath he makes every subject take throughout the country to the King’s new marriage and subsequently the birth of his new daughter, Elizabeth. With the news coming in the form of letters and her sons it does not place Margaret in the centre of the action so we are only told what is needed to be known and the less important details are left out.

Whilst at Margaret’s home we get to see the relationship with her family in particularly the strained relationship with her youngest son, Reginald. We are also able to see Margaret’s reactions to the Pilgrimage of the North and how the Pole family remain loyal to the Princess and want to act in her best interest as she is declared illegitimate.

Henry’s descent from the sweet child whose brother was destining to be King to the tyrant he became in his later life is really well documented in The King’s Curse his failures to produce many living heirs, his many wives and a country that drives him to be paranoid about anyone and everyone is clear to see and you have a clear understanding of what drove Henry to lose his way.

The tragic ending of the book shows just how far Henry’s paranoia stretched and I’d be surprised if you aren’t reaching for a tissue or calling out in support of Margaret.

As with many historical novels they don’t cover all the facts and truths but I find that they are a good starting place to jumpstart further readings to learn the truth.

The King’s Curse is well written each character is a good rounded person with their own personalities and the writing flows so easy that you find yourself constantly saying ‘just one more chapter’. Philippa Gregory once again shows why she is leading the way with historical novels.

The King's Curse