Philippa Gregory writes books about women. So, I was unsure of what to think about her new book about the middle ages’ best-known murdering nutcase misogynist tyrant, Henry VIII. It turns out that it is not quite about him, it is told from the perspective of Margaret Plantagenet/Pole, Countess of Salisbury and governess to Princess Mary She was a descendent of the royal family previous to the Tudors and second cousin once removed (or something) of said nutcase.
This is one of my favourites for several reasons. One is that it spans a very long period, Margaret lived to a good age for her time and she got herself involved in plenty of dramas. Of course we do not really know how much of the things that happened in this novel really happened this way, because Margaret was just a woman so there is not a lot of records about her life. I very much admire Gregory’s version of her, though. Another reason why I like it so much is because this (fictional) Margaret is a wise one, she keeps her ear to the ground and her mouth shut most of the time, which is very probably what you had to do in those days to not get your head chopped off. Spoiler alert: she gets her head chopped off. It was Henry VIII’s reign; everyone got their head chopped off.
This is more or less the story of all the crazy shit that went down when Henry VIII was running the country, but it would have been extremely difficult to tell the story from Henry’s point of view, since such a lot of what he did was irrational. So, Margaret Plantagenet is a good choice of storyteller, because she was one of the few who might have had an idea of how and why Henry ended up the way he did. Gregory has a good go at explaining his behaviour. He pushes his luck a little bit, then a bit further, then a bit further, until he realises that he can get away with whatever he wants.