The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory is the re-telling of King Henry VII and VIII’s reign and the rise and eventual descent into madness of the House of Tudor. This time through the eyes of Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (see the novel The White Princess) who is wife to King Henry VII. Margaret is wife to Sir Richard Pole who supported Henry and for his loyalty is given the Governorship of Wales. One of Margaret’s duties is the care of Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry and Elizabeth.
In confidence, Queen Elizabeth tells Margaret of a Curse. A Curse spoken by herself and her Mother (The White Queen)upon the murderers of her brother. A young boy killed because he was next in line for the crown.
“…’Margaret. I have to tell you. There was a curse.’ She puts her hand in mind and I can feel her tremble.
‘It was that whoever took my brothers from the Tower, whoever put my brothers to death, should die for it…”
“…’But Elizabeth, if it was they who killed your brothers, then your curse will fall on her son, your own husband, and on his son also.’
‘I know, I know,’ she moans softly. ‘It’s what I have been afraid of since I first thought it. What if the murderer’s grandson is my son Prince Arthur? My boy? What if I have cursed my own boy?…”
Margaret is entrusted with the young Prince’s care and his raising. She sees him wed to the Spanish princess Katherine of Aragon. She also sees young Prince Arthur eventually die of the sickness that was brought into England by the invading armies of the Tudor House. A disease called by many as the Tudor Curse.
Together with the young Spanish Princess, Margaret aids the young royal in a daring plan to say that the marriage between Arthur and her was never consummated and that she is to be wed to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry who is now heir to the throne. It works but with cost, for the Tudors are a paranoid and brutal family. And Margaret and her family the Plantagenets are about to find out what one ruler can do.
“…So since they could not take his name from him, they took his fortune and his lands. Then they took his liberty, packing him away like a forgotten banner, among other worthless things, into the Tower of London, among traitors and debtors and fools. But though he had no servants, no lands, no castle, no education, still my brother had his name, my name. Still Teddy had his title, my grandfather’s title. Still he was the Earl of Warwick, the White Rose, heir to the Plantagenet throne. A living constant reproach to the Tudors, who captured the throne and now call it their own. They took him into the darkness when he was a little boy of eleven and they did not bring him out until he was a man of twenty-four. He had not felt meadow grass under his feet for thirteen years. Then he walked out of the Tower, perhaps even enjoying the smell of the rain on the wet earth, perhaps listening to the seagulls crying over the river, perhaps hearing behind the high walls of the Tower the shouts of free men, free Englishmen, his subjects. With a guard on either side of him, he walked across the drawbridge and up to Tower Hill, knelt before the block, and put his head down as if he deserved to die, as if he were willing to die; and they beheaded him…”
Margaret Pole would watch as the Tudors came for her family, one by one and would take them. Fearful of the rightful heirs to the throne of England. She would watch as the Princess, the Queen Katherine of Aragon would be put aside for a younger maid. She would watch as the cruel and powerful Cromwell rose to power and fell. The deceptions and death of Anne Boleyn. The betrayals of her own sons, one against the other to keep safe from the Tudors. Until one day they even came for her.
She also watched as the Tudor family itself fell apart. Babies born in still birth, dying as babies and children. The cruel and spiteful King, denied an heir. The King cursed. The King gone mad.
The King’s Curse is the sixth edition of the Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory and you may feel in reading it that you have heard this story before. It’s true, Gregory has used this time and this setting many times over but in her fashion she continues to make the story fresh.
The King’s Curse has the perspective of being on the outside of the Tudor reign. How the madness of King Henry affected not only those in his court but those who lived on the periphery of the events.
Margaret Pole is a powerful character, fighting to save her family and name while hiding them at the same time. Its a battle she cannot win and in the end pays the ultimate price. Margaret Pole was the oldest victim of King Henry’s paranoia. She was sixty-seven when she was beheaded. She was never charged. There was no trial and she is larger forgotten.
A very good read.