[Review] Margaret Tudor: The Life of Henry VIII’s Sister by Melanie Clegg

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When the thirteen year old Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York, married King James IV of Scotland in a magnificent proxy ceremony held at Richmond Palace in January 1503, no one could have guessed that this pretty, redheaded princess would go on to have a marital career as dramatic and chequered as that of her younger brother Henry VIII. Left widowed at the age of just twenty three after her husband was killed by her brother s army at the battle of Flodden, Margaret was made Regent for her young son and was temporarily the most powerful woman in Scotland – until she fell in love with the wrong man, lost everything and was forced to flee the country. In a life that foreshadowed that of her tragic, fascinating granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots, Margaret hurtled from one disaster to the next and ended her life abandoned by virtually everyone: a victim both of her own poor life choices and of the simmering hostility between her son, James V and her brother, Henry VIII.

I always enjoy reading about historical women who seem to be outshone by their male contemporaries, and Melanie Clegg has written a number of books on amazing historical women who deserve far more attention from historians. She has previously written books on Marie de Guise and Henrietta Anne and now has written a wonderful introduction to Margaret Tudor, sister of the infamous Henry VIII.

From the moment I picked this book up I found it incredibly easy to read – Clegg’s prose truly makes it a page turner. And indeed she makes a complicated history incredibly accessible to those who are new to the subject, as well as to those who already have some interest in the history surrounding Margaret Tudor. It is a book suited to newcomers and old hands, and it makes a nice change to read a book that is so full of information but doesn’t come across as overly academic.

This book tells the story of Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, whose life was full of betrayal and tragedy. She married the King of Scotland as a young girl yet was widowed at the age of just twenty three, when her husband King James IV at the Battle of Flodden. This battle has gone down in history thanks to the particularly callous actions of Catherine of Aragon, who sent the bloodied tunic of the Scottish King to her husband, and brother of Margaret, King Henry VIII. And things only got worse from there for poor Margaret with her struggling to balance the powerful Scottish factions as well as the whims of her later husbands and brother. Yet as Clegg shows, Margaret had the same will as her brother Henry – it just so happened that her sex made it so that, despite how much she tried and how much she wanted something, she couldn’t get her way.

Really the only gripe I have with this book is the lack of referencing. It would have been nice to be able to see where precisely the many letters that Clegg quotes were found – but that is a minor gripe and one that can easily be looked over.

All in all this book is exceptionally readable and tells the story of a woman much overlooked by history, and a woman whose future family members would go on to rule England.

4/5 stars

A huge thank you to Pen & Sword books for sending me a review copy of this book.

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