Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory is my absolute guilty pleasure. I do not like historical romance novels. But I love Philippa Gregory and her novels. The contradiction is in the absolute perfection of the writing that takes you back to this time period and makes the characters so vibrant and alive. In the Three Sisters, Three Queens, which is the eighth book in the Plantagenet and Tudor novels, Gregory tells the story of three women whose bond as sisters and queens is tested by the politics and the greed of their kingdoms.
Margaret Tudor is the eldest daughter of the new Tudor King, with two brothers and a younger sister Mary; Margaret is the vision of an English princess. The King, Henry VII, seeking an alliance with Spain, arranges a marriage between his eldest son Arthur and the princess Catherine of Aragon. When Catherine comes to the English court, the three young girls quickly become sisters, rivals and allies. All three would become Queens and all three would wear their crowns in glory and in turmoil.
Catherine of Aragon would be married to the Prince and Heir to the Throne of England and would then bury her husband, Prince Arthur the following year. Widowed and childless, Catherine would then make a play to marry Arthur’s younger brother, Henry Tudor, the new Prince and Heir.
Mary, the youngest Tudor daughter and thought by many to be the most beautiful woman in the world would marry Louis XII of France, and become Queen of France. Mary was 18 and Louis was 52 years old. One of her maids that traveled with Mary to France was a young girl named Anne Boleyn. Less than three months after she married Louis, he was dead.
Margaret, the eldest Tudor Princess would be betroth to James IV, the King of Scotland. This marriage was made to unite the two countries and it was believed that while the marriage existed that the alliance could never be broken between England and Scotland.
For a time, when Henry VIII becomes King of England and takes Catherine of Aragon to be his wife (the widow of his dead brother) all three women become Queens. A bond that should have strengthened all of them, but instead would end up with the three as rivals and set against one another. It would be Catherine who would order the beheading of Margaret’s husband James. His body taken from the battlefield and not allowed to be taken back to Scotland where it would receive a King’s burial.
It would be Mary, who would steal the betrothed of her sister, the widow Margaret as she tries to protect her kingdom and son from the enemies both within Scotland and in England. It would also be Mary who marries Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, a commoner at the time and takes from Henry and Catherine the ability to marry her off a second time for political purposes. Though they would eventually forgive her, Mary and Charles would be heavily fined for their disobedience to the crown and be destitute for their entire lives, having to rely on the mercy and charity of Catherine and Henry for their lives.
Margaret would also marry after the death of James for love and not political power. She would marry Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus and it is this love affair that would bring her the greatest misery in her life. She would be kidnapped, exiled, held hostage, disowned and betrayed by the man she loved. Even to the point of placing her son James, heir to the throne of Scotland and to the Tudor prince while Catherine could not produce an heir, in harm’s way at the hand of Archibald and his clan.
Catherine of Aragon, who believes herself to be ordained by God to be Queen of England, who would pay the heaviest price in the end and set the groundwork for the tale that would be Anne Boleyn.
Three Sisters, Three Queens is truly the story Margaret Tudor, a woman whom history has not painted in a good light. Gregory’s detailed research brings out another side of Margaret, a side that history itself may not be so kind as to tell. At a time when women did not hold power, Margaret held together a country whose very existence is that of warring clans. She also did the unforgivable act of marrying for love and not political gain. Then when that marriage threaten not only her but her children, dared to ask the church to grant her a divorce.
Philippa Gregory brings each of these women to life, not only as queens, but as sisters and wives and lovers and eventually, for Margaret, as a mother. The story of Margaret Tudor is perhaps one of the best stories I have read concerning the Tudors and definitely for that of a woman battling in a time when women did not do so.
A terrific book!