Gentle, Loving Sisters; Scheming, Rival Queens

Power and Love! The sister queens fought for both.

Three Sisters, Three Queens, by Philippa Gregory, is the story of Katherine of Aragon, Margaret of Scotland and Mary of France,  and how they were at times the greatest support to each other and, at times, the bitterest of enemies and rivals.

The story is told through the eyes of Margaret, the elder daughter of Henry Tudor (Henry VII)  and Elizabeth of York. Katherine of Aragon was her sister-in-law, firstly when she married Margaret’s elder brother Arthur, then when she became the first wife of her younger brother, Henry, later Henry VIII. Mary was Margaret’s younger sister.

The story of Katherine is well known, though her name is more frequently spelt, Catherine. Her failure to provide a male heir, lead to Henry’s divorcing her, and to the formation of the Church of England. There was bitter rivalry between Margaret and Katherine, as they vied for place and position at court.

3 sisters, 3 queensMargaret was married to James IV of Scotland to keep the peace and left England, virtually for ever. Her loyalties lay with England, though she was sorely tested at times. Her husband was killed at the Battle of Flodden, and his body ordered to be taken to England by Katherine who was acting as regent at the time. Margaret had one living son, James. She married Archibald, with whom she had a daughter, but their relationship was tempestuous. She was granted a divorce and married Henry Stewart.

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Mary, the younger Tudor sister, agreed to marry Louis XII of France, thirty years her senior. She did this on the condition her second marriage would be for love. At Louis’ death, she married Charles Brandon, first Duke. Of Suffolk.

The bare facts of these women’s lives can easily be established. Philippa Gregory gives us real women who fought for their own power and position in a world dominated by the power of men in church and state. They fought too, for their children’s birthrights, to inherit the throne and to be acknowledgement as legitimate and royal.

Gregory paints wonderful pictures of life in the good times of these women, the honour accorded, the rich clothes and jewels, the revelry at court. She also paints a vivid picture of their privations, when they were denied money for food and heating. Their children were political pawns, often separated from their mothers as punishment to their mothers. The descriptions of the Royal nurseries and birthing practices are fascinating. Childbirth was a physically dangerous time for mother and child. Surviving infancy was fraught. Margaret and Katherine were particularly unfortunate.

There are also wonderful descriptions of the castles, palaces and countryside, particularly Edinburgh.

These women”s stories have to be seen against the power plays of the kings of Europe and the power of the Pope. Marriage was an important element in that power play. Each country had the struggle between the noble families. In England, the families vied for influence at court and for wealth in land. In Scotland, the clans vied for power and influence and their ancient honour.

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Gregory presents an interesting exploration of these women’s lives, their struggles, their rivalry,but their love and solidarity against the powers aligned against them. She has used the device of occasional letters between the sisters to give the others’ viewpoints.

This is a book for the romantic, the historian, the feminist. A  most enjoyable read!

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory is available from Dymocks.

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