The King’s Curse is the sixth book in the ‘Cousins War’ series of historical novels by Philippa Gregory which covers the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period as seen from the perspective of some of the women who were key players during this time. This final novel in the series is told from the perspective of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury and daughter to George, Duke of Clarence who was the brother of King Edward IV and King Richard III.
The story begins in 1499 with Margaret as a young woman, married to Sir Richard Pole, a humble knight, and trying to hide her name – Margaret Plantagenet – and with it her family’s claim to the throne, behind his. She is cousin to Queen Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII and her husband is guardian to Arthur, Prince of Wales. Over the course of the novel, various key events in the Tudor period – Prince Arthur’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and his death, the ascension of Henry VIII, his divorce from Katherine and marriages to Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard and the change from a beloved athletic young king into a tyrant are all viewed from Margaret’s perspective.
The curse of the title refers to the curse mentioned in earlier novels in the series – when Elizabeth Woodville, queen of Edward IV, cursed the murderer of her sons (the princes in the Tower). The outcome of this curse was that whoever was responsible for their murders would see their own sons die and their line eventually die out. And so throughout this novel, we see this curse unfolding through the Tudor line as firstly Prince Arthur dies and then the sons born to Henry VIII who are all either stillborn or live only a brief time with the exception of Henry’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, who dies shortly before the king can name him as heir, and Edward VI (his son by Jane Seymour).
It’s a fascinating view on forty years of Tudor history with links to many of Philippa Gregory’s other novels set around this period which led me to want to go back and re-read them all again. The first person present tense style immediately brings you right into the heart of the story and the action which is vividly described. It is clear that there has been meticulous research into the events of the period and as with all the previous novels, left me wanting to learn more about the lives of the characters mentioned.
A fitting end to a very enjoyable series of books and thoroughly recommended reading for anyone who has any interest in this period of history.