Review: Three Sisters, Three Queens

Three Sisters, Three Queens
Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A gripping read on the life of Queen Margaret of Scotland, the unknown older sister of the infamous Henry VIII.

The story begins with the arrival of Katherine of Aragon to marry Prince Arthur. As the first born generation of the new and fragile Tudor dynasty, Margaret and her siblings Arthur, Henry and Mary experienced inflated self-importance and deep insecurities. Margaret is a strange mixture of jealous, competitive and proud with Katherine from the first moment they meet as young teenagers, till Katherine’s death.

There is very little written record of Margaret and that is why she has remained unknown. Surprisingly she is a rather modern woman in that she marries for love twice (which didn’t happen in those days for women of her social status who were married off for political alliances).

Margaret (Scotland), Katherine (England) and Mary (France) have bonds of sistership by blood, they support and betray each other, are enemies and have to play political games. It’s the worst kind of sibling rivalry imaginable.

Margaret gets married off to King James IV of Scotland when she’s a teenager. He goes off to fight England in the Battle of Flodden, where Queen Katherine infamously gives a ‘take no prisoners’ order and transfers James IV body from the battlefield (her own brother in law) as a war trophy for her husband Henry VIII. While Margaret mourns her husband’s death and contemplates which European ruler she should next marry, she gives her consent to marry Louis of France, but her younger sister Mary grabs the French king, a marriage agreed by Henry VIII. So Margaret on the rebound elopes with her handsome young carver, an inconsequential lord, Archibald Earl of Angus, who turns out to be a bigamist and only after power and the Scottish throne.

The disastrous second marriage ruins Margaret’s reputation and causes her to flee for her life to England and sanctuary at her brother’s court, because the rest of the Scottish noblemen are outraged by her poor choice of second husband. Archibald meanwhile stays behind in Scotland, collects his wife’s rents from all her properties (without sending her any money) and lives in her castles with his second wife! He’s charming, manipulative and a mass murderer. Katherine, Henry and Mary send Margaret coercive priests and letters that she must reconcile with her estranged husband to remove scandal from her name and the Tudor name and that she must value the ‘sanctity of marriage’. She returns to Edinburgh and turns the castle cannon on Archibald. A universal warning to all cheating husbands from their angry wives! 😀

She does eventually get a papal agreement to divorce Archibald, though it takes most of her life. The dispensation only comes because Henry wants to divorce Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn.
Margaret then marries a toy boy as her third husband, Henry Stewart, another lesser known noble.

Though Margaret starts off terribly insecure and shallow at the beginning, the obstacles in her life following her first husband’s death, creates a gritty character who takes charge of her own destiny and becomes a power player in her own right. I can’t help but admire and respect her.

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