Philippa Gregory has done it again, found a compelling, forgotten woman, in the shape of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, and woven a whole tale around this character.
Margaret of Salisbury had an impeccable pedigree. She was the elder child of George, Duke of Clarence, brother to both Edward IV and Richard the III. Her mother was Isabel Neville, daughter and co-heiress with her sister Anne, of Warwick the Kingmaker. Margaret was comfortable at court and knew most of its players. She was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. She became close friends with Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. So she is an excellent choice for the ending of Gregory’s series on the Cousin’s War (aka The Wars of the Roses).
Gregory is known for her unorthodox takes on history, and this novel is no exception. She found an eerie corollary between the actions of some of the characters in her previous novels (LADY OF THE RIVERS and THE WHITE QUEEN ) and modern-day science. I will let her explain it to you in the following, taken from her Author’s Note:
“There has been much work on the loss of Henry VIII’s babies. Current…research from Catrina Banks Whitley and Kyra Kramer suggests that Henry may have had the rare Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths when the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. Whitley and Kramer also suggest that Henry’s later symptoms of paranoia and anger may have been caused by McLeod syndrome—a disease found only in Kell positive individuals. McLeod syndrome usually develops when sufferers are aged around forty and cause physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior.
“…Whitley and Kramer trace Kell syndrome back to Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, the suspected witch and mother of Elizabeth Woodville. Sometimes, uncannily, fiction creates a metaphor for an historical truth: in a fictional scene in the novel, Elizabeth, together with her daughter Elizabeth of York, curse the murderer of her sons, swearing that they shall lose their son and their grandsons, while in real life her genes—unknown and undetectable at the time—entered the Tudor line through her daughter and may have caused the deaths of four Tudor babies to Katherine of Aragon and three to Anne Boleyn.” (582)
Reading this gave me the shivers. Five stars.