The King’s Curse

Written by Philippa Gregory
Review by Arleigh Johnson

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, is an often mentioned background character in Tudor fiction. Though her name is well known, her life as a Yorkist heir married into obscurity and then plunged back into court life with the crowning of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon has never been closely detailed in fiction. Gregory has taken on this White Rose matriarch and given her a chance to tell her version of England’s destruction during the Reformation and the maniacal deterioration of Henry VIII.

Beginning with the marriage of Arthur Tudor to Katherine of Aragon and ending with the countess’s execution almost four decades later, this story covers many triumphs and tragedies as the Plantagenet-born Pole family finds and falls from favor many times over, hiding alliances though never truly overstepping into treason. The madness of the king is the theme, and seen through the eyes of his eldest daughter’s governess, he turns from a beloved young king into a paranoid tyrant over the course of his reign.

The curse is extended from the author’s previous Cousins’ War novels, but readers uninspired by the witchcraft featured in the earlier books won’t find anything otherworldly in the pages of Margaret Pole’s telling. Though loyal to Princess Mary, Lady Pole is always aware of the danger of her royal blood and the positions of her four sons, all in the service of the king. Though devoted to Queen Katherine, Margaret is ever diligent on the matter of her sons’ birthright.

This story covers the deaths of four queens, the disinheritance of Princess Mary, the Reformation, and the Pilgrimage of Grace in detail and is an excellent addition to the Tudor royalty genre, not only for its unique perspective, but also the easy flow of the narrative and the intriguing complexities of characters’ personalities.