Philippa Gregory had her first novel Wideacre published in 1987, and in the years since she has written eighteen historical fiction novels for adults. Her nineteenth novel, Three Sisters, Three Queens, hits our shelves in early August.
Philippa took some time out of her busy schedule to tell us a bit about the latest book and what inspired her to write the story of Margaret Tudor.
My new book is about a little known but groundbreaking princess: Margaret Tudor. She is a genuinely unusual medieval woman. Sister to Henry VIII, she was demanding a divorce from her unfaithful husband while her brother and his first wife Katherine warned her that they would throw her off if she dared to do something so shocking. She ruled the difficult country of Scotland and got her son James V to the throne, surviving a rebellion that sent her home to England, and then a triumphant return.
She held on to power by a combination of fierce courage – once she even turned the cannon on her own husband – and shameless dishonesty – making agreements and breaking them as needed. She had a bad reputation, especially with the Victorian historians – who have given us so much of our Tudor history with their translations of original documents – probably because she was unscrupulous with power and passionately sexual. They called her dishonest and morally weak – I think in our time I would re-evaluate her as determined both as a queen and as a woman to get what she wanted in political and personal life.
As I explored her story I became more and more interested in her as a sister and a sister-in-law. I believe she was deeply influenced by other interesting women in her life, including her sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon, who met the young princess Margaret when Katherine first came to England to marry into the royal family. In the novel I suggest that Margaret saw Katherine as a role model of how to be a young woman married and sent away to a strange kingdom to be its queen. When Scotland and England were at war and Katherine, as Regent of England, sent a killing army to Flodden to defeat the Scots and murder the king, it was a terribly betrayal not only of the peace treaty between the countries, but also of the trust between sisters, and sister-queens.
The other important relationship for Margaret was the love she had for her famously beautiful younger sister, Princess Mary, who was sent away to France to marry the old lecherous king. I think Margaret would have been torn between concern for her sister and jealousy of her enormous prestige and fortune in the sophisticated country that led Europe in fashion and style.
Looking at Margaret as a sister – with two very different influences in her life – was a particularly interesting way to study this woman who spent so much time battling male power and male opinion – whether in trying to rule a country which was divided into warring tribes, or facing down an adulterous husband and insisting on a divorce from an all-powerful patriarchal church.
I came to like Margaret in my years of research on her. I think I see her in a new way that makes a change from the disapproval of her critics both at the time and more recently. I am sympathetic to her ambition and to her desire for happiness.
She is a typical Tudor in her impulsivity and her grand vision for herself and for her reign, and she is a typical Tudor in her messy but fascinating personal life. She may not be a woman to emulate; but she is certainly one that is good to know.
Three Sisters, Three Queens
is available for pre-order both in stores and online and will be released nationwide on 10 August 2016.