Interesting that Gregory names Margaret Beaufort ďThe Red Queen.Ē The mother of Henry VII, Beaufort is bloodless and cold as the stone of a statue of the Virgin Mary, so sure in her convictions as a child of ten that she will not be swayed by reason or passion in her pursuit of destiny. Ironically, as the mother of the Duke of Richmond, Henry VII, Beaufort is right in the end, justified in all her prayers and certitude of Godís will. But she is never a likable character - and there is plenty of blood in the final chapters of the infamous Cousinsí War (War of the Roses) as England is torn apart in the quest for the throne.
From this long conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York - the red rose and the white - great myths have evolved: Warwick, the Kingmaker, who put Edward IV on the throne then betrayed him; the disputed reign of Richard III (made evil and crook-backed in Shakespeare), who claimed the throne after the deaths of his brothers and the uncertain fate of the princes in the Tower; and the triumph of Henry VII, who finally trades blows on a blood-drenched battlefield and joins the houses of York and Lancaster in his marriage to Elizabeth Woodvilleís daughter. Through it all, Beaufort clings to her belief: ďAny boy you have will keep Richard of York at bay forever. Donít think about anything else.Ē
This novel opens with the tenacious prayers of the ten-year-old Beaufort, who harbors dreams of Joan díArc and believes herself Godís champion. Blinded to political reality by her passion for righteousness in Godís name, Margaret never doubts her mission on earth nor ceases in her prayers, a woman bound by convention and society to the dictates of her family and certain marriage contracts but destined to be the mother of a king. Bow she must before the laws of men, but Beaufortís heart belongs only to God and his will for her son, her callused knees a testament to her piety.
In the era of the rule of Edward IV, Bess Woodville, the Kingmaker and the upstart Richard of Gloucester, Beaufort has the endurance of a fanatic, bedeviled by the continuing successes of the fertile commoner Woodville, the York throne secure but for the inevitable greed for power that turns family member against family member. Ultimately, Beaufortís blind faith and all but barren life of sacrifice is rewarded when Henry VII invades England and meets Richard III on the battlefield.
Thanks to the loyalty of the Stanleys to their own pragmatic course, the battle swings in favor of Henry, Beaufortís third marriage securing what she feels is rightfully hers. Beaufort achieves her dream with Richardís demise and the marriage of her son to the young York princess. The long years on her knees in disciplined prayer and fasting have finally been rewarded by God and by history.
None of this makes Margaret Beaufort any more palatable, but one can imagine the fascination for a writer like Gregory, who burrows into the psyches of her chosen characters and wrings every bit of historical detail from them. Unlike the passionate, troubled Yorks, Beaufort stands in great contrast, blinded to her own faults but attentive to the flaws of others, a self-appointed judge of those who fall outside the realm of her favor. The purity and beauty of true faith is polluted by Beaufortís righteousness and lack of humility, although clearly Gregory enjoys this respite from the predictable appetites of the York family.
After three marriages, the last most politically advantageous to her cause, Beaufort has never raised her son or known the joy of a loving union, too obsessed with purpose to look beyond her chapel. But triumph she does, Gregory successfully writing another protagonist into flesh and blood (almost) in a turbulent era when God shines his favor, not on the holiest, but on the victor. This time itís Margaret Beaufort.