‘What is the point of love if it does not make us kind?’ Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory is a story of three women, princesses all, who marry for duty, for their country but who long to marry for love. It is a not a tale of sisterly love, more of sisterly rivalry, envy and spitefulness. The three women become sisters of England, Scotland and France but each knows despair and great unhappiness, they are alternately supportive to each other and shamelessly selfish.
The three women are Margaret, older sister of Henry VIII; Mary, his younger sister; and Katherine of Aragon, his first wife. All women have been raised to do their duty, to behave correctly, to smile when in pain, to nod to their husband when they disagree, and to always put themselves second. It is a story of English and Scottish politics, the switching of allegiances, the lies and flattery, the convenient silences. The story is told by Margaret, married young to James IV of Scotland, who is horrified after their wedding to be presented with a mob of children, his illegitimate sons and daughters. She appeals to Katherine for advice who tells her to swallow her anger and humiliation and get on with being a good queen to her husband.
The novel tends to repetition and could be shorter, and it is true that in the early pages Margaret is rather mean-spirited and complains repetitively about what she wants and what her sisters have that she doesn’t. But as the pages turned I got more involved in her story, the twists and turns, riches and poverty, love and betrayal, lies and more lies. It is not Gregory’s best Tudor novel, but it is still a fascinating account of a little known queen and sheds a light on complicated Scottish politics of the time. That, and the manipulation of the English/Scottish borders by Henry VIII and his lords, makes modern politics look lily white.
I did expect the viewpoints of each of the three sisters, which the title does imply, but in fact the story is told completely by Margaret aided by letters she receives from her sisters.
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