My friend read this and told me she loved it, I read it and really struggled with it. I often find with Gregory that some of her books are great and some of the earlier ones less so, such as The Queens Fool. This novel is based upon the life of John Tradescant, the famous gardener to Robert Cecil, George Villiers the Duke of Buckingham and Charles I.
The Duke of Buckingham – don’t fancy him much
The general story is Tradescant is devoted to his masters at the expense of his wife and child, he goes on various trips to discover new plants or to fight the French, he plants gardens and that’s pretty much it. The descriptions of the gardens and flowers are lovely but the book is simply too long. I also became frustrated with Tradescant’s unquestioning submission to his masters, I recognise that was the way of the world then, but this simply became boring. I also found the gay relationship in the novel unconvincing and based on no historical facts whatsoever. Tradescant’s adoration of the so-called beautiful Buckingham (possibly both James I’s and Charles I’s lover) was simply annoying. The portrayal of Charles I makes you wonder why nobody cut his head off sooner, so maybe Gregory did this part well.
John Tradescant – not too tempted by him either.
There seem to be lots of prudes (or bigots, I cant work out which) on goodreads who didn’t like it because of the gay sex scenes, whereas I just didn’t like it because it was unconvincing and boring. Oh dear, this is quite harsh isn’t it?
A friend said to me when she saw these on my bookshelves, ‘I didnt think you would like her at all’ . It is true that I am a historical fiction snob and difficult to please, after all I will criticise Wolf Hall whilst everyone else loves it, and also Gregory’s The Queen’s Fool is one of the most ridiculous historical novels I have ever read (the protagonist is present for every major hisorical event under the later Tudors). Well, yes in some ways they are a bit popular and obviously have had to have lots of fictional parts but once I got into them both I found them to be page-turners. They remind me of Jean Plaidy books and I loved her from about the age of 12 and I think they got me even more interested in 15th and 16th century history.
I studied the Wars of the Roses at A-level and it is one of the most interesting periods of English history. The White Queen focuses on Elizabeth Woodville the Queen of Yorkist Edward IV, she has been mentioned in the press recently as an example of another ‘commoner’ who married a royal, but as Suzanne Moore pointed out in the Guardian it’s not as if Kate Middleton worked at Lidl is it? By the same token Woodville was the daughter of an earl but her lack of royal blood made her hugely unpopular with the English nobility. I have personally always been interested in the fact that she looks bald in the most famous portrait of her. In order to make this a bit more scandalous Gregory argues that Woodville did use witchcraft in some frankly unconvincing ways in order to gain her position. However if she was really a witch she wasn’t a very good one, considering she could not stop half of her family being murdered.
The Red Queen deals with Margaret Beaufort who I never liked much as she was a Lancastrian (boo!) and mother of the most boring King of England, Henry VII. I have always been interested in the fact that she got married at the age of 12 and gave birth at the age of 13 (which nearly killed her). I was glad to read in this that she is presented as a religious bigot who is inspired by Joan of Arc. She is manipulative and will do whatever she needs to, to ensure the succession of her son to the throne. Gregory even puts forward the theory that she considered the murder of the Princes in the Tower and doesn’t support the widely held view that Richard III did it (hurrah, I love Richard III). For more on this look at the Richard III society pages.
Overall these are page turners with horrible covers with very modern looking women dressed in 15th century clothes, which are well-researched and bring this period alive. You can read more about Gregory’s historical novels at