Discussion Questions – ‘The Red Queen’ by Philippa Gregory

'The Red Queen' by Philippa Gregory (2010).

  1. In the beginning of The Red Queen, young Margaret Beaufort is an extremely pious young girl, happy to have “saints’ knees” when she kneels too long at her prayers. Discuss the role of religion throughout Margaret’s life. What does she see as God’s role for her?
  • Margaret has always seen religion as her calling in this novel – right from the beginning she wants to enter a religious life and not marry as she is expected to do.
  • Margaret sees it as her role to work for the return of Henry VI and the house of Lancaster to the throne of England, and the overthrow of the Yorks.
  • After the death of Henry VI in 1471 Margaret sees god’s role for her as being to put her son on the throne of England and depose the Yorks.
  • Right until the end of her life there is plenty of evidence that Margaret was devoted to god and her religion – it doesn’t seem that she ever really wanted to marry but saw it as a necessity.
  1. As a pious young girl, Margaret wants to live a life of greatness like her heroine, Joan of Arc. However, her fate lies elsewhere, as her mother tells her, “the time has come to put aside silly stories and silly dreams and do your duty.” (Page 26). What is Margaret’s duty and how does she respond to her mother’s words?
  • The duty of all girls in the 15th century was to marry and advance their families, especially heiresses, who had a lot of worth to bring to a marriage.
  • Margaret’s duty and destiny certainly looked good when she was married to Henry VI’s half-brother, Edmund Tudor, and birthed a Lancaster heir to the throne.
  • Margaret seems to have had a strong will and tried to resist her mother’s wishes, but ultimately had to comply as she didn’t really have a choice.
  • I think Margaret knew that she would have to do what her mother told her to, but she also hoped that her mother would give in and allow her to do what she wanted and dreamed of.
  1. At the tender age of twelve, Margaret is married to Edmund Tudor and fourteen months later she bears him the son who will be the heir to the royal Lancaster family line. During the excruciating hours of labour, Margaret learns a painful truth about her mother and the way she views Margaret. Discuss the implications of what Margaret learns from her mother, and what is “the price of being a woman.” (63)
  • Margaret learns that, as a woman, she is disposable, and that her son is more important than she is (assuming it is a son of course).
  • Being a woman in the 15th century wasn’t easy because you were expected to marry young, make a good marriage and bear children, and that was it.
  • It was more likely for a man to outlive his wife, as women died in childbirth from a lack of hygiene, or issues which would be considered easy to deal with now.
  • I think that moment was a wake-up for Margaret because she realises that her mother will never be proud of her – she sees her as something to be used to better the family.

  1. How does Jasper Tudor aid Margaret in her plans for herself and her son, Henry? What does he sacrifice in order to keep Henry Tudor safe? In what ways are Jasper and Margaret alike?
  • Jasper sacrifices pretty much everything he ever had to make Henry Tudor safe and keep him from harm – he leaves his country, his wealth and his property behind, though he likely would have had those forfeit had he remained in England anyway as a staunch Lancastrian.
  • I think that Jasper, because Henry is his nephew, sees his claim to the throne as a God-given right and a family connection – he knows that all he had would be restored if his nephew sat on the throne, so he gives up what he has to make that come true.
  • Jasper and Margaret are very alike, which is possibly why they are drawn to each other throughout the story. Neither got what they really wanted from life, so put their efforts into young Henry instead, to try and live vicariously through him.

A portrait of Margaret Beaufort. None survive from the time, but she is always shown devoutly.

  1. After the death of Edmund Tudor, Margaret marries the wealthy Sir Henry Stafford. How is Stafford different from Edmund? Margaret laments that she is “starting to fear that my husband is worse than a coward” (p. 105). What are her reasons for this? Do you see any sense in Stafford’s careful diplomacy?
  • Stafford is different from Edmund because he isn’t so closely linked to either Lancastrians or Yorkists, where Edmund was very definitely a Lancastrian.
  • Margaret believes that Stafford is a coward because he won’t commit to either side, which is understandable as that means he can protect his family.
  • However, not fighting on either side means that he won’t get any rewards either, and it seems like he doesn’t really believe in anything worth fighting for, as Margaret does.
  • I do think that Stafford has thought very carefully about where he stands, but in some ways I don’t think he cares who sits on the throne – I think he wants peace and stability more than anything else.
  1. On Easter of 1461, violence breaks out between the armies of Lancaster and York. This time, Sir Henry Stafford goes out to fight for Lancaster, only to witness a terrible battle. What does he understand about war and politics and why are these truths so difficult for Margaret to grasp?
  • I think in the 15th century it was difficult for women to understand what men faced on the battlefield because they weren’t allowed to fight, or even to be there.
  • Stafford would have witnessed complete carnage, with men killing each other, and many men not going home to wives or children, and I don’t think he wanted to be one of the dead.
  • Stafford comes to understand that the wars won’t end until one side is victorious, and he comes to realise that York is stronger in its leadership (Edward IV) than Lancaster is (Henry VI).
  • Margaret thinks that right will triumph, because she believes that God is on the side of Lancaster, where Stafford knows it isn’t that clean-cut.
  1. Ever since she was a young girl, Margaret believed she was destined for greatness. How does her pride in her destiny manifest itself throughout the story? Identify key moments where Margaret’s pride overwhelms her judgment.
  • Margaret believes all the time that Lancaster will triumph and that God is on their side – she puts what resources she can into the Lancaster cause without always thinking of the consequences. It shocks her when things don’t go their way.
  • One of Margaret’s greatest errors, where she lets her pride overwhelm her judgment, is in the botched attempt to rescue the Princes from the Tower where, as a result, she has all of her considerable wealth and property removed from her care in put into that of her husband.
  • Margaret’s treatment of Elizabeth of York before her son’s coronation is also a moment when her pride gets the best of her. She believes that Elizabeth was against them from the beginning (as she understandably probably was) but thinks that she will risk her son’s life to avenge her brothers.
  1. In the spring of 1471, Stafford sides with York and supports Edward in his quest to take the throne of England once and for all. Do you understand Stafford’s reasons for doing this? Is Margaret’s rage at her husband’s decision understandable?
  • I can understand Stafford’s decision, especially if he was looking for a stable and strong government, as it seemed that Edward IV had provided this over the previous decade where Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou had failed to do so.
  • However, Margaret’s rage at her husband’s decision is also understandable as she is willing to die for what she believes in, where Stafford just seems to switch sides to suit him and his family, which is something that Margaret can’t seem to understand.
  • I think that the relationship between Stafford and Margaret is quite strange and I struggle to understand why she married him at all, as they seem too different to ever get along comfortably, especially when Stafford declares he will fight for the Yorks. I wonder what Margaret would have done had Stafford survived.

Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery

  1. Sir Henry Stafford suffers a mortal wound in battle. After his death, Margaret decides she must be strategic in her next marriage and so she approaches Thomas, Lord Stanley, who Jasper describes as “a specialist of the final charge” (217). What does Jasper mean by this? How is Stanley different from Stafford and what does it mean for Margaret that she decides to unite her fortunes with this man?
  • Jasper means that Stanley has a habit of being the decision-maker in any altercation – he brings his forces in at the last minute on the side of the victor, as he does at Bosworth.
  • The Stanleys were notorious for having one man on each side – Thomas Stanley and his brother, William, tended to be on different sides so that they wouldn’t fall whichever side triumphed.
  • Stanley is different from Stafford because he measures things more carefully and considers all of his options and their consequences before acting where Stafford did what he felt right.
  • I think it is because of Stanley and Margaret’s marriage that Stanley’s forces come in on Tudor’s side during the battle of Bosworth – without that link and expectation of rewards I doubt he would have done so.
  1. In April 1483, Margaret tries to enlist Stanley in helping to get her son, Henry, and Jasper back on English shores. An argument ensues between the two of them, and the ever-shrewd Stanley confronts Margaret with his view of her true nature, much to her horror (236). Do you think Stanley’s assessment of her is correct? Why is this so significant?
  • I think this is the first time that Margaret is confronted with this view of herself and it does shock her into thinking things through more carefully as I don’t think anyone had put it to her so bluntly before or would have dared to do so.
  • In a way Stanley is good for Margaret because he forces her to confront things she hasn’t confronted before and so helps Jasper and Henry as well by opening herself up to the Yorkists Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville in the first place.
  • Stanley is correct, at least in the way that Margaret is portrayed by Gregory, because she is very selfish and focused on what other people can do for her, rather than the sharing approach where people expect something in return, which I think shocks her.
  1. Discuss Margaret’s feelings towards the White Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Why does she cause her so much anger? How does Margaret’s view of Elizabeth change as she becomes her lady-in-waiting, and then as she actively plots with her—and against her—for the throne of England?
  • I think Elizabeth Woodville causes Margaret so much anger because her and her family were passionate Lancastrians, but when a better chance came along they changed sides.
  • Margaret’s view of Elizabeth changes as she realises that Elizabeth really is in love, and wants what is best for her children as Margaret does for her son.
  • Margaret and Elizabeth worked well together because they were just two women who wanted what was best for their children, and that aligned into marriage between their families.
  • When Margaret began working against Elizabeth it was because she had achieved her aims, but she saw Elizabeth as threatening her power and position so had to act to remove her.
  1. Once King Richard has installed himself on the throne, Margaret and Lord Stanley scheme to replace him with her son, Henry Tudor. Margaret must make the difficult decision about whether to sacrifice the two princes in the Tower for her own ambitions (271). Is there any way to justify Margaret’s actions? Do you sympathize with her plight?
  • Margaret’s decision to sacrifice the Princes in the Tower I cannot understand, but I think that is because my view is coloured because I have grown up in the 20th and 21st centuries and things were more brutal in the 16th century with hindsight.
  • I think Margaret justifies her actions to herself because she sees the Yorkists Edward IV, Richard III and Edward V as usurpers and the Lancastrians, of which her son is the final male heir, to be the rightful rulers of England, so she believes she is restoring the rightful royal line.
  • In some ways I do sympathise with Margaret because she has suffered through so much, including the destruction of everything she held dear, but I don’t think she can ever condone the murder of innocent children, as has been proven with public opinion towards Richard III.

Philippa Gregory

  1. In the winter of 1483-84, Margaret despairs when her plans fail miserably. Under house arrest by the king, she looks back on her schemes and declares, “the sin of ambition and greed darkened our enterprise” (305). Discuss Margaret’s conclusion about her behaviour. Do you think she takes responsibility for her actions? What blame does she place on Elizabeth Woodville?
  • In the 15th century it was believed that bad things were a punishment from god, so maybe Margaret believed that god was punishing her for her ambition and greed.
  • Margaret seems to blame Elizabeth Woodville for a lot of things, even things which couldn’t have possibly been her fault like her own mistakes.
  • Margaret realises that she has been plotting and planning for her own reasons, rather than because she believes that it was god’s will for her to put her son on the throne.
  • Margaret doesn’t seem to like taking responsibility for her actions – she blames others like Elizabeth Woodville, or declares that it is the will of god, and not her fault.
  1. As the fortunes of England shift once again, Margaret finds herself playing host to the young Lady Elizabeth, the beautiful daughter of Elizabeth Woodville. Discuss the interaction between these two headstrong women. How does Lady Elizabeth treat Margaret and what does she say on page 344 that leaves Margaret stunned into silence?
  • The two are both very headstrong and sure of themselves, but they both believe fervently in different things and very different causes.
  • Elizabeth is determined that she will be queen one way or the other – whether Richard III or Henry Tudor win the Battle of Bosworth she is confident she will marry the victor.
  • I think Margaret is shocked at Elizabeth’s certainty that she will be Queen of England because I think she believes herself favoured by god and doesn’t want to believe that her son could lose.
  • I think Margaret is also stunned by the idea that Elizabeth would consider marrying her uncle, Richard III, as there had been rumours circulating to that effect for a while.
  1. Discuss the final battle scenes in The Red Queen. How does Henry Tudor, young and inexperienced, eventually gain the upper hand, and how does King Richard lose his throne, and his life?
  • Richard III loses his throne by treachery from the Stanleys who had pledged their loyalty to him but, in the heat of battle, supported Tudor instead.
  • I think Richard III also lost support because he was blamed for the murder of the Princes in the Tower (whether rightfully or not is unknown) and Tudor didn’t have that stain.
  • Tudor had a lot of experienced military commanders like the Earl of Oxford and Jasper Tudor, and although Richard had a larger army, some of it refused to engage on either side.
  • Tudor gains the upper hand because Richard III is reckless and decides on a confrontation between himself and Tudor to decide the matter, and this gives the Stanleys the opportunity to attack from behind.
  1. By the end of the book, Margaret, now Margaret Regina, the King’s mother, has achieved all she wanted. Do you respect her and her ideals? Do you think her achievement justifies her actions?
  • I do respect her because she has achieved so much that no one ever thought she would achieve, and all on her own belief that her son should be King of England. It was unusual for women to achieve any real power, but Margaret managed it, in some ways having more than Elizabeth of York.
  • I don’t think her achievements justify all of her actions. It is put across in ‘The Red Queen’ that the Princes in the Tower were killed by Margaret and I don’t think this was justified by her achievements as I think killing innocent children, however well it was meant, will always be wrong.
  • I appreciate Margaret’s devotion to a cause and how she never wavered from it her whole life, unlike the Woodvilles who changed sides to suit them. Loyalty is an admirable quality and Margaret certainly had that in spades, along with determination, but it was also partly selfish and ambitious.

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