Thank you to NetGalley, Alison Weir and Ballantine Books for giving me the chance to read this book and share my thoughts with other readers. This review is for the ARC received through NetGalley.
In this book, Lady Margaret Douglas takes center stage. Even through extensive and impeccable research by Alison Weir, a still incomplete picture of Lady Margaret appears. This is through no fault of the author but rather a fault of how women were treated and remembered nearly 500 years ago. Even women in power or those with ambitions of power were at the mercy of those around them and much of the material that remains to give us a picture of what happened during Tudor England was left behind by the men who ruled. It was their papers, their books, their letters and their histories that ultimately tell the story of the women of this time.
Lady Margaret was an ambitious woman. Though questions arise around her legitimacy, she was in line of succession for the Throne throughout her life by being the niece of King Henry VIII (yep, that guy) and a direct blood descendent of the throne of England and Scotland. She would spend her life reasserting her claims and her bloodline. And the blood that flows through the reigning monarchs today came from Lady Margaret.
Like nearly all women of her time, she was a pawn. First, she was at the mercy of her parents and then when she came to the court of Henry VIII, she was at the mercy of her uncle, the King. Even the simple act of falling in love as a young woman put her life in jeopardy because, having a direct blood tie to the Throne, she was not allowed to make decisions about her own life without the direct permission of her King. Poems still exist that were passed between her and her lover, Thomas. Amazing given so many writings by women of the time have been lost. She was given in marriage to the Earl of Lennox and it seems to have been more than just an arranged marriage and held up for decades where they both seemed to be not only true to one another but shared at the very least a great respect for one another and it could very well have been a love match.
While she never gave up on her own titles and her own worth, she pressed the suit of her son and urged the widowed Mary, Queen of Scots, to marry her son, Henry. Earning the enmity of Queen Elizabeth I in doing so. Court intrigue, interrogations, imprisonment, everything you have come to expect in the Tudor court. But somehow Lady Margaret once again comes out unscathed and is able to once again enter into the fray and convince not only the Queen of Scots but also her own sovereign that the match between her son, Lord Darnley and the Scottish Queen is in everyone’s best interest.
It’s still hard to get a picture of who Lady Margaret really was because we’re forced to look at life through the eyes and words of her contemporaries and the scant letters and poems that survive in her hand. But what emerges is still a fascinating tale of an ambitious woman who wasn’t afraid to go after what she wanted in a time where women were rarely seen, heard or remembered.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to a casual history reader because they may feel that it’s a bit dry. This isn’t the Showtime version of the Tudor court, but it is an impeccably researched picture of what life was like nearly 500 years ago. It still has all the drama, intrigue, death, imprisonments, death threats that makes people love this period. Personally, I liked the book!