The King’s Curse – Philippa Gregory

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The King’s Curse is the final novel in Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ Wars series and it focuses on the life of Margaret Pole, daughter of the Duke of Clarence and cousin of Elizabeth of York and the princes in the Tower. The novel begins just after the death of Margaret’s brother, the Earl of Warwick and takes us through to the last years of Henry VIII’s reign. There is a bit of repetition from her other books, The Constant Princess in particular, but when writing novels about a period from different people’s perspectives I suppose that is to be a bit expected.

I don’t really have an issue with historical accuracy in this novel. Philippa Gregory tends to get her facts right. She is known for taking a position on facts that are still debated today and going with it – Anne Boleyn, who killed the princes in the Tower – and this novel is no different. I did, however, find it hard to warm to the main character of Margaret even though she is a sympathetic figure in most history books, known as a victim of Henry VIII’s paranoia. In the novel she is arrogant and smug, constantly reminding us that she is a Plantagenet and comes across extremely haughty. Despite everything that has happened to her and her countless relatives she just can’t stand to be away from court for any length of time despite its dangers and still pushes her sons forward. She constantly bemoans Henry VIII then does a complete u-turn and cannot praise him enough when he gives her a title. The focus is not just on Margaret but also on her sons and it seems as if it was not actually Margaret that was the centre of things as the blurb makes out. It seems to be her sons and relatives that do all the work while Margaret sits, constantly waiting. She constantly rails against Henry but never actually does anything. Near the end of the novel when everything is going wrong Margaret says “I too tried to keep us hidden” and I actually felt like shouting at the book “NO YOU ABSOLUTELY DID NOT”. Throughout the novel her main focus is pushing herself and her sons into the spotlight even though she knows that it is the most dangerous place to be. Ambition wins over protecting her family every single time.

There is quite a bit of repetition throughout the book. Margaret constantly tells you she is a Plantagenet. She talks of her brother’s death over and over again. And she constantly mentions the Tudor curse and the sweating sickness Henry VII brought to England. It got a bit wearing after a while. I noticed this when I read The Red Queen as well.

The scene of Margaret’s beheading is brutal but we know that it was brutal from the history books so we know it’s coming. I did like the fact that Gregory portrayed Margaret as a fight-till-the-end type, defying Henry until her last breath, presenting this as a possible reason as to why the axe had to fall so many times (eleven) to behead her fully.

I think you can always tell when Philippa Gregory really doesn’t like a historical character. I remember reading The Other Boleyn Girl and thinking “wow, this woman hates Anne Boleyn”. In this novel it’s Henry VII (as in The White Princess), Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. We get the spoilt-brat version of Henry VIII in stereo.

I liked The King’s Curse. It isn’t the best book in the Cousin’s Wars series but by this point there is bound to be repetition of the previous books. I’m still looking forward to Gregory’s next novel where she goes back to the Tudors and explores the life of Catherine Parr.

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