Lady Margaret Beaufort, an heiress of the house of Lancaster, was the mother of Henry VII, the first Tudor king of England. She is now generally seen in the popular imagination as an austere scheming woman, politically ruthless and a religious fanatic. Margaret was the daughter and sole heiress of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset. She was married at the age of twelve in 1455 to 24-year-old Edmund Tudor, half-brother to the king, Henry VI. At this time the civil wars later known as the Wars of the Roses began. Edmund, a supporter of the House of Lancaster, was imprisoned by Yorkist forces the year after their marriage and died of plague, leaving thirteen-year-old Margaret widowed and seven months pregnant.
In The Beaufort Bride, Judith Arnopp imagines Margaret’s life from the age of six ,when she was living with her mother and half-siblings at Bletsoe Castle Bedfordshire, through to the birth of her son, Henry Tudor and the early period of her widowhood. Arnopp skilfully weaves the political history of the period into Margaret’s day to day life and the repercussions that had for her. The novel is also a psychological study which traces the development of a child to a young woman with responsibilities beyond her years, with glimpses too of the woman Margaret will become. Arnopp’s portrait of Lady Margaret Beaufort is plausible and touching. She brings the period to life, vividly imagining the sights, sounds and senses of Margaret’s world. The Beaufort Bride is also a good depiction of the position of women, particularly wealth women, in this period with young women treated as pawns in the power play of men. And while most, like Margaret, did as they were told, they still had the human yearning to have some say in the ordering of their lives. I particularly appreciated the depiction of religion of the period. Religion was a constant presence in the fifteenth century providing the pattern of the days, weeks and seasons and was a strong element in the life of this woman who was noted for her piety.
The story is beautifully written. Told in the first person, Margaret’s voice is consistent and believable. This gives the reader an immediate sense of the limitations of Margaret’s life and her very real fears and hopes. Lady Margaret Beaufort left no writings which tell us of what she thought or felt so there is wide scope for an historical novelist’s imagination. I thoroughly enjoyed this plausible and delicate imagining of Margaret’s life, far better than Philippa Gregory’s bitter caricature in The Red Queen. The Beaufort Bride is the first in a trilogy, The Beaufort Chronicles, which covers the whole of Margaret’s life. I am not fond of series and rarely read beyond the first book as I find most not compelling enough; however, this is one series I will definitely be reading to the end.
Another review here.
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