Monday, September 17, 2007

A Novel About Margaret Beaufort

Ouch! Has it been so long since I last posted? Sorry, Richard--I've had deadlines.

Having read so many Wars of the Roses-related novels featuring Richard, I was intrigued when I ran across one about Margaret Beaufort, who in a few recent Ricardian novels has had the dubious honor of being named the killer or would-be killer of the Princes. Leaving aside this theory, which I find far-fetched (to put it mildly), Margaret Beaufort had a fascinating life, so I was looking forward to reading this novel--Destiny's Child by Iris Gower, a 1999 reprint of a novel originally published in 1975 as Bride of the Thirteenth Summer by Iris Davies.

Unfortunately, I found Destiny's Child to be disappointing. Margaret and her husbands are portrayed attractively, but Gower makes little effort to put Margaret's story in its historical context or even to explain to the poor reader what is going on outside Margaret's great hall. For instance, when Buckingham joins with Margaret in a rebellion against Richard III, we're never told that Buckingham had been instrumental in bringing Richard III to power. Earlier, Thomas Stanley is described as standing by Lord Hastings, but we're never told who Hastings is or that Hastings has been executed. Perhaps Gower assumed that a reader interested in Margaret Beaufort would know all of these things, but it strikes me as a somewhat unlikely assumption.

Historically, there are some right peculiar goings-on here. When Elizabeth of York comes out of sanctuary, she goes not to Richard III's household, but to Thomas and Margaret's. Gower also has Stanley agree to bring Margaret to the battlefield where Richard III's troops are preparing to meet Henry Tudor's so that Margaret can watch the battle, a rather unlikely plot device since Stanley is depicted as being unsure which side to support.

Aside from depicting Margaret's love for her first husband and for her son, there's very little effort made to show Margaret's inner workings. In the chapter where Margaret agrees to marry Thomas Stanley, she's suddenly shown as worldly-wise and rather cynical, a contrast to the way she's previously been depicted. Such a development isn't implausible, but in the context of the novel, it isn't well prepared for.

Richard himself doesn't appear at all, except as someone who's mentioned by the other characters. Margaret says she can't imagine that he would kill the Princes, and she doesn't appear to bear him any grudge, but she plots to have her son supplant him anyway. His death at Bosworth isn't even depicted.

All in all, Margaret could have been served much better. On the positive side, reading this historical novel did make me want to learn more about Margaret, so I ordered The King's Mother by Michael K. Jones and Malcolm Underwood, the standard biography of Margaret Beaufort, which just arrived in my mailbox today. Having read only bits and pieces of it before, I'm looking forward to reading it from cover to cover.


Daphne said...

I've been on the fence about buying a copy of this from ebay. I think I'll wait a while longer.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Yeah, I would wait if I were you! Fortunately, I got my copy on loan from the Richard III Society's fiction library. If I'd paid for it, I'd be mildly miffed.