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16th Century / Tudor
There are many tragic women in medieval and Tudor times and Margaret Pole was one of the shrewdest, for she managed to live through much of the intrigue and danger that faced many at the court of Henry VIII. You did not have to be one of Henry’s wives to take the wrong turning, or let the wrong words fall from your mouth, or associate with the wrong person to find yourself in the Tower. Nor did you have to be guilty of anything but an opinion; however, Margaret was a survivor, who navigated the very troubled waters that flowed throughout the reign of the second Henry Tudor.
Margaret Pole was the daughter of George of Clarence, who supposedly died immersed in a barrel of Malmsey on the orders of his brother King Edward IV. Margaret was married to Richard Pole and gave him four boys and a girl. In her life she would encounter tragic circumstances that if happened to us, today, without the resilience that one must have built up to avoid falling totally apart in these dangerous times, would surely break us.
Thirty-eight-year-old Margaret becomes the matriarch of her family as the book opens when her beloved husband, Richard, is sadly taken from her through illness. It is not her first tragic milestone, for she has already lost her father, and her brother, Edward, who is locked in the tower, eventually beheaded for treason by Henry VII. When the handsome and gregarious son of the late Henry VII ascends to the throne, he decides that he wants to draw his mother’s Yorkist family closer to him and invites Margaret to court and gives places to her children, restoring her as the Countess of Salisbury. As the head of her family, Margaret shows her ability to network and sets out planning her children’s future, and along the way, she falls by accident into schemes that will one day set the ball rolling for her eventual downfall.
Wilcoxson’s Margaret Pole is a resilient woman, who believes in her principles and when the King does the inevitable and has an affair and eventually weds the vivacious Anne Boleyn, Margaret is devastated for her friend, the Queen, and her friend’s headstrong daughter, the Princess Mary. The author shows Margaret’s strength and courage, but also her weaknesses. We see her grow throughout the years, and we are shown the events of Henry’s reign through Margaret’s eyes.
Margaret is regularly visited by various messengers and given news of the notable events that happen at court. This is where I would have preferred to have witnessed these scenes as there is rather a lot of ‘telling’ in the story which disappointed me, because I felt the book could have benefited from a more rounded view of what was going on around Margaret. The book’s strengths lie in the prose, which is thoughtfully and very well written. Ms Wilcoxson has an excellent command of language and the dialogue is congruent with the place and time. It felt like a ‘Tudor’ book, and Ms Wilcoxson’s ability to create mood and tension:
‘The statement hung in the air as he reclined into the cushions piled into his chair and continued to examine her. Margaret stood unwavering, knowing that the slightest expression of doubt would be jumped upon. She would not reduce her dignity by denying a vague accusation of a crime she had not committed.’
Faithful Traitor walks us through the life of this Yorkist daughter at an even pace, the tone is set at a dignified level and only rises when the dramatic tension increases. This is a tale that leaves you drawing in breath at the end, wondering, if the fates had been spun differently, what this likeable family of York would have achieved had they been given that chance. The characters I enjoyed most were the Princess Mary, and Margaret herself, and the one I disliked (a preconception not disappointed) was Henry, who comes across as a self-centred fool who desired everyone’s love and couldn’t cope when it was not freely given.
All in all a book I would recommend to Tudor lovers, especially those who like learning about the characters outside the usual conventions of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII etc. They will love this book.
© Paula Wilcox<previous next >
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