Book Review: Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

ThreeSistersThreeQueensCoverOfficial Synopsis from Goodreads: From #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory, the little-known story of three Tudor women who are united in sisterhood and yet compelled to be rivals when they fulfill their destinies as queens.

As sisters they share an everlasting bond; as queens they can break each other’s hearts…

When Katherine of Aragon is brought to the Tudor court as a young bride, the oldest princess, Margaret, takes her measure. With one look, each knows the other for a rival, an ally, a pawn, destined—with Margaret’s younger sister Mary—to a unique sisterhood. The three sisters will become the queens of England, Scotland, and France.

United by family loyalties and affections, the three queens find themselves set against each other. Katherine commands an army against Margaret and kills her husband James IV of Scotland. But Margaret’s boy becomes heir to the Tudor throne when Katherine loses her son.

Mary steals the widowed Margaret’s proposed husband, but when Mary is widowed it is her secret marriage for love that is the envy of the others. As they experience betrayals, dangers, loss, and passion, the three sisters find that the only constant in their perilous lives is their special bond, more powerful than any man, even a king.

Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 1501-1533, England and Scotland
My copy came from: I purchased the paperback from my local bookstore, Copperfield’s Books.

Review: An intriguing read full of historical information, but the title and synopsis is a bit misleading, and the book was different than what I thought it would be.

When I first read the title and synopsis of Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory, I thought that the book would be told from the point of view from the three queens the book focuses on: Margaret (Queen of Scotland – Henry VIII’s older sister), Mary (Queen of France – Henry VIII’s younger sister), and Katherine (Queen of England – Henry VIII’s first wife). Nope! I was totally wrong! Three Sisters, Three Queens is told in first person, entirely from the POV of Margaret.

The book starts out when Margaret is very young, and Katherine comes to England to marry Arthur, Henry’s older brother who was supposed to be king. Alas, he died shortly after he and Katherine were married, so we never got to see how he, a boy trained to be king from birth, would’ve handled the throne.

We are princesses, we were born to be queens, we are sisters.

Young Margaret is arrogant and prideful, with a quick temper. She is sent to Scotland to marry James, the King of Scotland, in order to keep the peace between England and Scotland. I was unaware of all of this history, and found these sections fascinating. I enjoyed reading about the womanizing James, and I really was invested in his and Margaret’s relationship. After James’s untimely death, Margaret marries again, with disastrous consequences, and it was fascinating to read about how Margaret was attempting to divorce her second husband, in a time when this was not permitted.

This is how women are treated: when they act on their own account they are named as sinners, when they enjoy success they are named as whores.

Throughout everything that happens in the plot of the book, the relationship between the three queens is told primarily through letters. Since Mary is in France, and then later in England with Katherine, while Margaret is in Scotland, we really don’t get to see the three queens interact much. There’s a brief section where the three are together, and that was interesting, but I must admit to confusion as to why the book’s focus was the three sisters, but to have the book be told only through Margaret’s eyes. Katherine’s story is absolutely fascinating, and I’m again struck here with respect and admiration for her after everything she went through. Mary’s story is one I’ve always liked, especially the relationship between Mary and Charles Brandon, so was glad to see that be a part of this book. But I was also disappointed in that we really only got to see that relationship through letters.

When Margaret is not reading or writing letters to her sisters, she’s scheming ways to have control over the King of Scotland, and she’s trying to also keep a handle on her brother, King Henry VIII, and trying to keep peace between Scotland and England. Sometimes Margaret felt real and interesting, but other times she was far too whiny, arrogant, and jealous. It seemed like many times all she was doing was sitting there thinking jealous thoughts toward Katherine and Mary. It was extremely tiresome and repetitive. So, editing down was needed in these sections as I felt it was pages and pages of petty thoughts and sisterly competition, and I was reminded how cruel women can be to each other.

There is only one bond that I trust and that is between a woman and her sisters. Only the three of us are indissoluble. We never take our eyes off each other. In love and rivalry, we always think of each other.

Even though Margaret has quite a lot going on in Scotland, the way the story was told felt like Margaret was off in far-away Scotland brooding to herself, while her sisters went along with their life and didn’t think of her at all. So, I really would’ve liked to see POV chapters from Katherine and Mary in this book. I think that would’ve made it a standout entry in the Plantagenet and Tudor Novels series. The point of the sisters relationship/drama/friendship/rivalry was well done, almost hammered home a bit too hard, but I really wish we would’ve either had a total focus on Margaret, or brought other POVs into the picture.

“I don’t believe that God wants me ill-educated and poor,” I say staunchly. “I don’t believe that God wants any woman in poverty and stupidity. I believe that God wants me in His image, thinking with the brain that He has given me, earning my fortune with the skills that He has given me, and loving with the heart that He has given me.”

All in all, some parts of Three Sisters, Three Queens flew by. Others dragged. It isn’t my favorite of Gregory’s novels, but it isn’t my least favorite either. Every time I pick up a Philippa Gregory book I get the urge to re-read all of her books. This one especially made me want to re-read The Constant Princess (which focuses on Katherine of Aragon), and also The Other Queen (which focuses on Mary, Queen of Scots, who happens to be Margaret’s granddaughter). And oddly enough, those are the Gregory books that I have enjoyed the least.

Bottom Line: Intriguing history and characters, but the way the story was told was not what I was expecting.

Links to Three Sisters, Three Queens on   Amazon   |   Goodreads

Philippa Gregory’s The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels: (These can be read out of order. *starred books are ones I particularly enjoyed)

  • The Lady of the Rivers *
  • The Red Queen
  • The White Queen *
  • The Kingmaker’s Daughter *
  • The White Princess
  • The Constant Princess
  • The King’s Curse
  • The Other Boleyn Girl *
  • The Boleyn Inheritance *
  • The Taming of the Queen * – read my review here!
  • The Queen’s Fool *
  • The Virgin’s Lover
  • The Other Queen

Which is your favorite Philippa Gregory novel? Have you read other authors who focus on this time period?


15 thoughts on “Book Review: Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

    1. Thanks! It’s interesting because the current Queen’s lineage can be traced all the way back to Margaret, whom this book focuses on. And Margaret was a Tudor (she was Henry’s older sister), but just kind of a “forgotten” Tudor. So much of the history here was new to me, so I was fascinated by it. And it’s interesting to see how Margaret’s divorce impacted Henry and Katherine’s relationship.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I haven’t read any Gregory, but my bloggy friends sure do like her! No wonder I hear about her so many–that’s quite a few books in the list. It is really weird to think of the main character brooding away while the other two sisters aren’t think about her at all. Although it sounds petty and boring, it also sounds terribly realistic :/

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    1. Oh Philippa Gregory’s books are really a lot of fun. Lots of historical information, and the books tend to seem a bit long sometimes, but they are great reads! Especially if you are interested in the Wars of the Roses and Tudor history.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I feel like I get so lost in history books (no lost as in “day-dreamy,” but lost lost) because I don’t know much history. I tend to work better from a cross-discipline stand point. For instance, I took a grad class called “Black Detroit” in which we studied the music, housing, literature scene, politics, migration, and religion in the city. All of that together makes a picture for me. Are the Gregory books more like a full picture?

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        1. Well, they could be considered a full picture about one person, but I don’t know that I’d say they were a full picture of the time. For example, this book here is told from Margaret Tudors POV, so you get a good sense of her and what is going on in her mind & life, but you only see other events through her narration. And something that bugs me about Philippa Gregory’s writing is that she’ll sometimes talk about a big event coming up (like Margaret trying to divorce her husband at a time when that wasn’t allowed), and then when the actual event happens it is glossed over. There were also several battles that had a lot of buildup and then the next page was after the battle, so we didn’t get to see the actual event transpire. This happens in a lot of books and it drives me bonkers!
          I think for this particular series that you’d have to have at least an interest in the Wars of the Roses and Tudor history to get anything out of the books. It does explain it, but if you’re not a fan of historical fiction, then this might be a bit much. Even the ones that aren’t told in a first person style really only concern themselves with the main character & their interactions. You don’t get a sense of how the “regular people” of the time lived, just royalty.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Hmmm, sounds like this author isn’t for me, then. I wonder why she skips over big moments. Perhaps she feels like she spent so much time building them up that to write about them would be to rehash what she already said. I know I would be disappointed it I turned the page and it was after the battle when I’d just been reading how there is going to be one. I mean, she’s leaving out descriptions that could leave for some intense emotional moments, especially if it’s a vicious, bloody battle.

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            1. Good point about it possibly feeling like a rehash. I’ve noticed other authors doing this same thing and it just really bugs me. There must be some literary reason for it, or perhaps the battle or scene would take too much time and shift the focus of the book, but it’s super frustrating!


  2. I have to say I’ve never read a Philippa Gregory book before, even though they’ve always sounded really intriguing! I’m a big fan of the epistolary style but I have to agree with you here and say it would have been a much better choice to include the other women’s POVs as well. One POV is great but not when it becomes tiresome and repetitive, and especially when there seems to be so much more happening elsewhere and we have no way of finding out about it.
    Lovely review, Ami! Definitely made me want to try the Tudor novels 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Philippa Gregory’s books are really good. There are some duds, but as a whole they are pretty great 🙂 I’d recommend starting with either The Other Boleyn Girl (about Anne Boleyn & her sister Mary Boleyn) or start with either The Lady of the Rivers or The White Queen as those really launch the Wars of the Roses.

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