The Tudor women: Margaret Tudor, Katherine of Aragon who marries into the Tudors, and the youngest child Mary Tudor, are the three sisters of this latest work by Ms. Gregory. Oldest daughter Margaret sees her older brother Arthur marry Katherine of Aragon and die of plague whereupon her younger brother Henry becomes the last male hope for the Tudors. Margaret marries James V of Scotland to ensure peace between the Scots and the English. Katherine experiences penury after Arthur’s death but eventually marries Henry, only to be discarded when she can’t produce a male heir. Mary marries the aged King of France. When he dies shortly after their marriage, she elopes with Henry’s friend Charles Brandon before obtaining her brother’s permission. The parallels between these three sisters are amazing: all were queens, all married the first time for political reasons and the second time for love, and all three experienced the waxing and waning attentions of Henry VIII, all with disastrous results.
If you think that all three sisters have a voice (as the title implies), you will be disappointed, as this is told exclusively from Margaret’s POV. Katherine and Mary appear only in interactions with and letters to Margaret. The real issue with this book (which occurs often in Ms. Gregory’s works, please see below), is that Margaret is difficult to like. She is shallow, willfully ignorant, and easily manipulated by all who know her greed for prestige, jewels, and clothes. Even over the arc of the novel, it doesn’t seem that Margaret matures much. Even when Henry’s mistreatment of Margaret is eventually experienced by Katherine and Mary, Margaret can’t feel much sympathy for their plights even though she knows, first-hand, how awful Henry’s whims can be. The only thing we do see is Henry’s treatment of all three ladies, which shifts constantly but each experiences his displeasure at one time or another. Henry turns his back on those females closest to him, even in the worst of their troubles, even when he is one of the biggest reasons for their misery. All three were supported and rejected at various interludes.
I am growing tired of Ms. Gregory’s rather trite treatment of her female lead characters. The women are either love struck fools (Elizabeth of York for her uncle, Richard III), a religious fanatic (Margaret Beaufort), or consumed with petty jealousy and greed (Margaret Tudor). None of these women come off as anything other than one dimensional, which is a great shame. It diminishes these historically important women and makes them into a caricature, a particularly curious occurrence as Ms. Gregory goes to great lengths to mention in the author’s note how she tries to do justice to these women’s stories. I’m not sure how Margaret Tudor’s legacy is enhanced by these efforts.
I’ve reviewed other of Ms. Gregory’s novels. Please follow the links below to find them:
“The Taming of the Queen” review can be found here.
“The King’s Curse” review can be found here.
“The White Princess” review can be found here.
Amazon link for “Three Sisters” is here.