A Historical Fiction Win: The King’s Curse

Uncharacteristically I’ve been away from the blog for a while! I got really sick, which luckily only happens once every couple of years but when it does happen it is usually pretty terrible. I didn’t even have the energy for reading, so you know it was bad. It did give me a chance to take down two seasons of The Mindy Project though so it wasn’t all bad. That said, here’s a return to our regular programming.

Many years ago I read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. And then I read The Queen’s Fool and the Wideacre books (I’ve said it before and I will say it again, those books are messed up) and anything else she had written and when any new book came out, I bought and read that too. Somewhere around The White Queen my interest started waning. By the time we got to The Kingmaker’s Daughter I thought that I was done with Gregory for good. I still read The White Princess though. And at a library sale where The King’s Curse was available for $2, I still bought it.

But you guys? The King’s Curse was SO GOOD.


Margaret Pole is one of the last York heirs. She is the daughter of George, the Duke of Clarence, the one who was executed in a cask of wine. So her father is dead, her brother was in the tower for years, his only crime being the fact that he was a York when the Tudors took the throne. Then her brother is executed as well and Margaret is married off to a knight, to hide the fact that she is in fact a York heiress. Margaret is friends with her cousin, Elizabeth of York, the new Queen. It is Queen Elizabeth who confides in Margaret that she is afraid that there may be a curse on her own family -that she and her mother cursed whoever had murdered her brothers in the tower, that all their sons should die and the line end with girls. Margaret’s husband is the steward of Prince Arthur, the Prince of Wales and it’s their job to look after him and his young wife, Princess Katherine of Aragon. When Prince Arthur dies soon after he is wed, Katherine makes Margaret promise to keep it a secret that they ever consummated their marriage. This is also when Margaret begins to be dogged by the whispers of the curse.

So begins Margaret’s life at the new Tudor court. Always aware that she is a York, heiress to the the real royal family of England and how dangerous that is with suspicious Henry VII on the throne. When her husband dies, leaving her with 4 young sons and a daughter to look after, Margaret desperately sends her two eldest sons to the household of a York cousin, one son to live with a religious order and keeps her daughter and youngest son with her to live in a nunnery.

However, when Henry VII dies and his son, that laughing golden boy Henry VIII becomes king, live changes again for Margaret. This time she and her sons must carefully navigate the ups and downs of life under a king who no one says no to, who is so desperate for God’s favour in the form of a son to carry on the destiny, that he will do just about anything.

Here’s the difference from The Kingmaker’s Daughter and The White Princess: the reigns of Henry VII and VIII are fairly peaceful. That is there are no huge wars that men need to fight on battlefields, leaving their wives and daughters at home. The battles in The King’s Curse are fought with gossip and intrigue and that is very much a woman’s game. With her husband dead and a place at court, Margaret Pole becomes the head of her family, her sons looking to her for what they should do next. She is a woman to be reckoned with and even Henry VIII knows it.

I loved this book. I loved reading about a woman who knows herself and wants to bring honour to her once great family again. I loved that she was the one that her sons looked to for approval and answers, that she ran her own houses and fortunes, that she was the one who arranged marriages and appointments for her children.

Margaret Pole was a real person who suffered cruelly at the hands of Henry VIII in the end. I loved reading her story and am hopeful that this book marks a return to the kinds of historical fiction I can’t get enough of from the incomparable Philippa Gregory.

18 thoughts on “A Historical Fiction Win: The King’s Curse

    • There isn’t really an order to her early books – The Other Bolelyn Girl, The Queen’s Fool etc are standalone books. If you want to read the Wideacre books (and be warned there are some sex scenes and some of them are incestuous so…) then you start with Wideacre, then The Favoured Child and then Meridon. The Cousins’ War series I think that The Lady of the Rivers is technically first. Her website actually does a really great job of laying out when each of the books happens: philippagregory.com/books

  1. You make this sound so good! I hate to admit that I had never even heard of Margaret Pole. I also have never read anything by Gregory, although I have owned The Other Boelyn Girl for a few years. I found it at a book sale, and was all excited to read it, then my mood changed, and that was that.
    Sorry to hear you were sick, but happy to see you are on the mend! (And you have it over with now for another couple of years!)

    • Oh you should definitely get onto The Other Boleyn Girl. That’s good. And this book IS really good. Margaret Pole is an excellent choice of heroine. She starts the book when she’s like 30 so it’s not like she’s a young, hot piece of court ass you know? She’s a mature woman. And she’s awesome.
      YES! Fingers crossed I’m good for a while!

  2. I rather enjoyed ‘The White Queen’ but it’s the only series of Gregory’s that I’ve read so far! I’ve wanted to read ‘The other Boleyn Girl’ for a while but I’ve seen this floating around in my local book store. From your review it looks like I may have to go pick it up!!

    • Oh definitely go get that book! It’s so great. Perfect historical fiction. I love that Gregory is able to look at each of the characters so differently, depending on who’s story she’s telling. All together they paint quite a picture!

  3. There was a time when I was utterly obsessed with historical fiction, but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t yet read any Phillipa Gregory! Which one should I start with first?

    • Always and forever The Other Boleyn Girl. It remains my very favourite but I’m not sure if it’s because it was the first I read or if it’s because it’s truly great. But come on, sisters basically battling it out for the king’s affection? DRAMA.

  4. Glad to hear you’re feeling better after your illness. It’s somehow always worse when you get sick in the summer. I hit a Gregory slump as well a few years ago, and then all of her books kinda sounded the same. But Margaret Pole sounds like a very interesting person, so I’ll go ahead and look into this one. I’d love for me to like her books again.

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