Saturday 16 December 2017

THE KING'S MOTHER by Judith Arnopp @JudithArnopp

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I'd read the first two parts in this trilogy, and had been looking forward to the last, to the extent that I'd made a note on my calendar of its release date.

Review: The Beaufort Woman with a link to the review for The Beaufort Bride.

Genre: Historical fiction.

'All England for her death had cause of weeping'

Margaret Beaufort is one of my favourite women of history.  Being known not for her beauty or charm but for her piety and single-minded dedication to the fortunes of her son, Henry VII, she is often overlooked as an historical heroine.  I give a round of applause to this exploration of her character in Judith Arnopp's trilogy.

The King's Mother covers the period of her life when her beloved Henry had become king, and travels through the triumphs, the threats to the security of the new Tudor reign, the births of her grandchildren, and the deaths.  All the deaths.  It's always a challenge to write a historical novel from this time from the point of view of a woman, because the reader does not get to see the battles and other decisive moments that fill the history books; mostly, women were excluded from these.  But Ms Arnopp works around this masterfully, and I was engrossed in this book all the way through, completely absorbed in Margaret's life.

There are some lovely passages; as she gets older, she reflects on her life.  On her marriage to Henry Stafford: ' the time I had not known I was happy.  Perhaps happiness is a feeling that can only be enjoyed in retrospect'

Also: 'As I grow older I realise our lives are nothing but a collection of memories, flawed recollections of a time and place that will never come again.  Once life is extinguished ... we become nothing more than an imperfect jumble of half-recollected stories in the minds of our children'.

I enjoyed how fact was so seamlessly merged with the author's imagination; especially entertaining were the prophetic scenes featuring Henry VIII as a child. From a midwife, when he is less than one hour old: '..with a temper like that, if he is not given what he wants, he will stop at nothing until he gets it'.  And, later, Henry himself saying that he wanted to be a king not like his father, but like his grandfather; of course, he would come to make the lusty, ebullient Edward IV look positively abstemious.  I also liked Margaret's mention of a certain adventurer called Mr Cabot who had gone in search of new lands and had no idea of what awaited him...!

Played by Amanda Hale in BBC's The White Queen

For all Margaret's good intentions, Ms Arnopp shows us well how far removed the aristocracy and nobility were from the common man, and how Henry VII gained a reputation for miserliness, with his insistence on heavy taxes that meant extreme poverty for some.  Margaret says: 'The people grumble against us.  I fail to understand why they cannot see it is for the good of England.'  Yet Arnopp shows Margaret as an extraordinarily strong but modest and contemplative woman who acknowledges her own faults, and, in later life, gives much to one of her favourite causes: education.

There are a few punctuation and editing errors that were a mild irritation (including my pet 'grrrr': the use of the word 'I', as in 'Henry and I', in instances when it should be 'Henry and me'), but I am sure they would not bother many readers as they did me, and I still have no hesitation in giving this book 5 stars, which I give neither lightly nor frequently. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend the whole trilogy most highly.

Margaret's tomb in the Henry VII Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey

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