Happy 2022 Everyone!

Here’s to the New Year…hope all of you are keeping healthy, happy & safe!

Today, I thought I would share one of the most fascinating novels I have ever read: THE KING’S CURSE by British Historical Novelist Philippa Gregory. As you will see, some of Ms. Gregory’s instincts about her characters have been borne out by recent research. Something for you to enjoy this New Year’s Day!

Philippa Gregory’s THE KING’S CURSE

Portrait of an unknown woman, possibly Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury painted in 1535, when Margaret would have been about 62 years old.

Philippa Gregory has done it again, found a compelling, forgotten woman, in the shape of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, and woven a whole tale around this character.

Margaret of Salisbury (1473-1541) had an impeccable pedigree. She was the elder child of George, Duke of Clarence, brother to both Edward IV and Richard III. Her mother was Isabel Neville, daughter and co-heiress with her sister Anne, of Warwick the Kingmaker. Margaret was comfortable at court and knew most of its players. She was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth of York (wife to Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII.) She became close friends with Henry VIII’s first wife Katherine of Aragon. So she is an excellent choice for the ending of Gregory’s series on the Cousin’s War (aka The Wars of the Roses).

Philippa Gregory is known for her unorthodox takes on history, and this novel is no exception. Many people have wondered why Henry VIII and his first and second wives (Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn) were plagued by so many stillbirths and miscarriages. Between them, these two women produced only two children who were born alive and survived more than a few days: Princess Mary, later Mary I (1516-1558) and Princess Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I (1533-1603).

Ms. Gregory’s research led her to the work of some scientists who believe that Henry VIII may have suffered from the rare Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths:

There has been much work on the loss of Henry VIII’s babies. Current…research from Catrina Banks Whitley and Kyra Kramer suggests that Henry may have had the rare Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths when the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. 

~ Philippa Gregory, Author Note

If true, this disease may explain why Henry plunged England into a bloodbath beginning in 1535 when he executed Sir Thomas More for failing to support his marriage to Anne Boleyn. The following year, he not only executed Anne herself, but many of her male companions including her brother Sir George Boleyn. The charge was treason, but many historians believe this was a trumped-up charge that had much more to do with Henry’s desire to get rid of her. For having given birth to the future Elizabeth I and suffered three additional miscarriages, it seemed clear she was not going to provide Henry with the male heir he craved. (No sooner had Anne been murdered on 19 May 1536, Henry married Jane Seymour who subsequently provided him with that male heir the following year, a son Edward, who became Edward VI (1537-1553). Sadly, Jane Seymour, died shortly after Edward’s birth.) Whitley and Kramer’s research sheds light onto Henry’s horrific behavior towards Anne Boleyn:

Whitley and Kramer also suggest that Henry’s later symptoms of paranoia and anger may have been caused by McLeod syndrome—a disease found only in Kell positive individuals. McLeod syndrome usually develops when sufferers are aged around forty and causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior.

~ Philippa Gregory, Author Note
Portuguese Cover

As Henry was born in 1491, he would have reached the age of forty in 1531, around the time he married Anne Boleyn, which perhaps explains why he turned from a seemingly jovial young man, content to let others govern the country for him, to a terrifying ogre in the 1530s.

What makes THE KING’S CURSE so fascinating is that author Philippa Gregory found an eerie corollary between the actions of some of the characters in her previous novels (LADY OF THE RIVERS and THE WHITE QUEEN ) and modern-day science. Reading this gave me the shiver

Whitley and Kramer trace Kell syndrome back to Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, the suspected witch and mother of Elizabeth Woodville. 

Sometimes, uncannily, fiction creates a metaphor for an historical truth: in a fictional scene in the novel, Elizabeth, together with her daughter Elizabeth of York, curse the murderer of her sons, swearing that they shall lose their son and their grandsons, while in real life her genes—unknown and undetectable at the time—entered the Tudor line through her daughter and may have caused the deaths of four Tudor babies to Katherine of Aragon and three to Anne Boleyn.

~Philippa Gregory, Author Note

Five stars for a tremendous novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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