Book Review – ‘The Spanish Queen’ by Carolly Erickson


Carolly Erickson 'The Spanish Queen'

When young Catherine of Aragon, proud daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, is sent to England to marry the weak Prince Arthur, she is unprepared for all that awaits her: early widowhood, the challenge of warfare with the invading Scots, and the ultimately futile attempt to provide the realm with a prince to secure the succession. She marries Arthur’s energetic, athletic brother Henry, only to encounter fresh obstacles, chief among them Henry’s infatuation with the alluring but wayward Anne Boleyn. In The Spanish Queen, bestselling novelist Carolly Erickson allows the strong-willed, redoubtable Queen Catherine to tell her own story-a tale that carries her from the scented gardens of Grenada to the craggy mountains of Wales to the conflict-ridden Tudor court. Surrounded by strong partisans among the English, and with the might of Spanish and imperial arms to defend her, Catherine soldiers on, until her union with King Henry is severed and she finds herself discarded-and tempted to take the most daring step of her life. [Description from Waterstones]

I was looking forward to reading this novel as I hadn’t read any of Erickson’s novels before, but I did enjoy her biography of Anne Boleyn. ‘The Spanish Queen’ was well-written and engaging, and the story kept moving, unlike some historical fiction which can be a little dry at times. Perhaps this increased engagement was sheer surprise at how much of the historical record has been changed!

Writers and filmmakers often take historical licence to weave a good story, but I don’t think that the story of Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, needed any additional drama or shock, as it is quite enough of a tale on its own. Some of the changes I really took affront at – like Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon seeing each other again after he left her for good, and Katherine being outside the room when Anne Boleyn gives birth to Elizabeth I. These would never have happened in real life, so I really struggled to believe it in the story as well. Perhaps that’s my downfall with historical fiction – if it’s a period I know so well all I can think about are the historical inaccuracies.

However, I did feel that the story was well-written and the characters came across as incredibly real, even if parts of the story I didn’t find entirely believable. I loved Katherine as a character, and how she inspired so much loyalty. The way that Anne Boleyn was portrayed seemed to be a bit of a caricature of how the people saw her – a witch who bewitched the king into loving her when she wasn’t even particularly pretty. I understand why Erickson portrayed her this way when it was told from Katherine’s point of view.

It was quite an easy read for historical fiction, and I think anyone who has an interest in the Tudor period should give it a go, but just take the history with a pinch of salt. I’m looking forward to reading other novels by Carolly Erickson and seeing how she portrays different historical figures, as looking at the perceptions in this novel I can imagine that there are other people and events that are very different from how I think they would be or what the historical record tells us.

Also published on my sister blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/

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Book Review – ‘Richard III: Fact and Fiction’ by Matthew Lewis


Matthew Lewis 'Richard III Fact and Fiction'

Matthew Lewis, Richard III: Fact and Fiction (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2019) ISBN 9781526727978

Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I really enjoyed this book. I liked the way that it was set out in sections so you could easily dip in and out of it, perfect for those who want to know more but don’t have the background. If you’ve watched ‘The White Queen’ and want to know more about Richard, I’d recommend this book as it clearly separates fact from fiction without assuming the reader is a complete ninny. Some books, in trying to set things out clearly, simplify the facts too much, but Lewis doesn’t make this error.

Each chapter is split into sections and each section asks a different question that is contentious over Richard III – did he kill the Princes in the Tower? Did he and the Woodvilles have a running feud? Was he betrayed at Bosworth? These and many others are explored in this book. It is written chronologically, starting with Richard’s birth and child, his time as Duke of Gloucester, his reign as King of England, and then his tragic end at the Battle of Bosworth. It also looks at how accurate or otherwise Shakespeare’s portrayal was, and what we’ve learned from the discovery of Richard III’s bones in Leicester.

Some of the things that Lewis brings up are really interesting and I hadn’t really thought about them before, but most of the conclusions he draws make sense. Lewis examines the evidence that exists, and puts forward his own opinions. I like that he doesn’t force his conclusions on you either, but gives you the evidence and allows you to make up your own mind. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Richard III: Fact and Fiction’ by Matthew Lewis”

In Memory of Anne Boleyn


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

As any Tudor historian will know, today, 19 May, is an important day – it marks the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn on what many now accept as trumped-up charges of adultery, incest and treason. If you need a refresher on the fall of Anne Boleyn, you can read my undergraduate dissertation chapter, published on this blog [https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/undergrad-dissertation-chapter-1/]. There is also a very succinct summary on The Anne Boleyn Files [https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/why-did-anne-boleyn-fall/3967/].

Why does Anne Boleyn continue to fascinate us, nearly 500 years after her death? Well, I came across this excellent summary on History Extra:

“The one thing that’s clear is that Anne, with her intelligence and sexiness, played a part in her own destiny. Her choices in life often make her seem more like a modern person than a Tudor woman. That’s why she’ll continue to fascinate us.” [https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/the-six-wives-in-a-different-light/]

Although we shouldn’t look at the 16th century through 21st century eyes, people today still seem to be able to connect with Anne Boleyn because many of her decisions, emotions and feelings we can still sympathise and empathise with today. Many of things that she went through still happen today, though on a much smaller and less deadly scale. The idea that she shaped her own destiny is not one we often associate with Medieval and Early Modern women; the idea still prevails that women were at the mercy of their men folk – their fathers, brothers or husbands. Anne Boleyn demonstrates that not all women fell into that mould, some stepped out and made their own futures. Continue reading “In Memory of Anne Boleyn”

Book Review – ‘Tudor Victims of the Reformation’ by Lynda Telford


Lynda Telford 'Tudor Victims of the Reformation'

This book describes a selection of people caught up in the turmoil that presaged the reformation – a period of change instigated by a king whose desire for a legitimate son was to brutally sweep aside an entire way of life. The most famous and influential of the victims were the two people closest to Henry VIII. His mentor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a great churchman and a diplomat of consummate skill. The other was to be the King’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. These two adversaries, equally determined to succeed, had risen above the usual expectations of their time. Wolsey, of humble birth, became a price of the church, enjoying his position to the full, before coming into conflict with a woman who had no intention of being another passing fancy for the king. She would become the mother of one of the greatest and most famous of England’s monarchs. They were brought down by the factions surrounding them and the selfish indifference of the man they thought they could trust. Though they succumbed to the forces aligned against them, their courage and achievements are remembered, and their places in history assured. [Description from Pen & Sword]

Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this in exchange for an honest review.

This book doesn’t really cover the victims of the Reformation, so much as it focuses on the lives of two of them: Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, so it only really covers up to 1536, which is really when the Reformation picked up pace. This means that there is nothing really about Katherine Parr, Anne Askew or the Pilgrimage of Grace, two key figure and one key event in the history of the Reformation, and it doesn’t go into the reign of Edward IV or Elizabeth I, or the counter-Reformation under Mary I, so the title is a little misleading.

There were also a few errors. For example, the Duke of Buckingham executed in 1521 was at a few points referred to as George Stafford, when he was actually called Edward. At one point it was also claimed that Henry VIII acceded to the throne in 1501 when he actually came to the throne in 1509. A good proof-reader would have caught and resolved these problems. They don’t, however, detract from the good tone and writing of the book in general.

I didn’t like that there were no chapter titles, as if you are looking for a particular year, especially when the book is written chronologically as this one is, it should be easy to find a particular period of time. The chapters also don’t always seem to finish where it feels natural that they should. The index is incomplete – for example the pages listed about Anne Boleyn don’t include when she was elevated to the peerage, or about her imprisonment and trial. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Tudor Victims of the Reformation’ by Lynda Telford”

Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Blount – Mother of the King’s Son


Elizabeth Blount Funeral Brass
Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Blount’s Funeral Brass

Today I’m shedding a light on what is fast becoming one of my favourite history blogs – Hisdoryan. I wrote a guest piece for the lovely Claire on Mary Boleyn – you can read it here: http://hisdoryan.co.uk/mary-boleyn.

However, this week Claire looks at Bessie Blount, probably the lesser known of the pair, but their relationship was actually better-known at the time, as Bessie gave Henry VIII the thing he most wanted – a son, Henry Fitzroy.

You can read Claire’s take on Bessie here – http://hisdoryan.co.uk/bessie-blount but I have also posted her ratings below, as I find this part of her Royal Mistresses series so fascinating!

Power **

Poor Bessie. You think after giving Henry VIII his heart’s desire she could have whatever she wanted. However, despite having the king’s son the only thing she was rewarded with was a marginally advantageous marriage. This was the same reward as other mistresses – like Mary Boleyn –  received. Bessie did get a certain degree of respect and recognition as mother of the king’s son, which earns her one more star than Mary B.

Beauty ***

While Bessie is described as beautiful by a handful of sources, most people seemed to comment on her personality. Basically she seemed to have been a really fun person to have been around, and we all know how Henry VIII preferred having fun to doing any actual ruling.

Longevity ***

We’re looking at a potential 4 to 5 year long relationship here. This was very long by Henry’s standards!

Scandal *

If a monarch was to have a child out of wedlock now it would be scandalous, but back then having illegitimate offspring – much like having a mistress – was almost the norm for male monarchs.

Overall Mistress Rating **

I think the fact that Bessie Blount has ended up with the same score as fellow mistress of Henry VIII Mary Boleyn is very interesting. Even though Bessie gave Henry a much longed for son, it didn’t leave her much better off in the scheme of things. I think this is indicative of the way Henry treated his mistresses generally, and also perhaps of the types of personalities he liked – women who conformed to the subservient norms of Tudor society, and who did what they were told when their king told them to do it. It really makes the actions and personality of his future queen Anne Boleyn stand out in stark contrast.

Guest Post on Hisdoryan Blog – Mary Boleyn


Mary Boleyn
Mary Boleyn

Today on the Hisdoryan blog (http://hisdoryan.co.uk/) has been published a guest post by yours truly!

The post is on one of Henry VIII’s mistresses, the other Boleyn girl, Mary Boleyn. Click on the following link to read it – http://hisdoryan.co.uk/mary-boleyn.

The wonderful Claire Miles (aka Hisdoryan) has done a series on royal mistresses, and rates them all according to various criteria like power, beauty, longevity, and scandal. Ratings for Mary Boleyn from Hisdoryan’s blog as below:

Power *

One thing Mary Boleyn did not have was power. If it wasn’t for rise of her sister Anne, she would probably have become another footnote in history.

Beauty **

Of course there’s lots written about Anne Boleyn and her striking appearance – but the little that is written about Mary suggests she was the prettier of the two sisters by the standards of the time. However, there is some debate amongst historians about what she actually looked like. Some say she fitted the curvy, blonde-haired, blue-eyed ideals of beauty of the time. Others examine the one surviving portrait of her and say she was a brunette!

Longevity **

Mary and Henry’s relationship lasted for approximately three years. That may not seem like long in the scheme of things, but it was longer that some of Henry’s marriages!

We must also remember that Mary packed giving birth to two children into these three years too. And these children were both possible illegitimate offspring of Henry. She may not have been in Henry’s bed long, but she was certainly busy!

Scandal *

Mary Boleyn probably didn’t know the meaning of the word scandal – unlike her sister…

Overall Mistress Rating **

Poor Mary. Another woman that was a candidate for the footnotes of history – all because she conformed to the womanly ideals of the time in terms of subservience to men, and didn’t go about shouting about her affair and trying to make the most of it.

 

Book Review – ‘The Western Wind’ by Samantha Harvey


The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

15th century Oakham, in Somerset; a tiny village cut off by a big river with no bridge. When a man is swept away by the river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, an explanation has to be found: accident, suicide or murder? The village priest, John Reve, is privy to many secrets in his role as confessor. But will he be able to unravel what happened to the victim, Thomas Newman, the wealthiest, most capable and industrious man in the village? And what will happen if he can’t? Moving back in time towards the moment of Thomas Newman’s death, the story is related by Reve – an extraordinary creation, a patient shepherd to his wayward flock, and a man with secrets of his own to keep. Through his eyes, and his indelible voice, Harvey creates a medieval world entirely tangible in its immediacy. [Description from Waterstones] 

I was really looking forward to reading this book when it was chosen as our Book Club read for March 2019, but I was disappointed in it, which I hate saying, but it’s true. It sounded right up my street – a Tudor-set murder mystery. 

What disappointed me most was the characterisation. I really wanted to like John Reve and Herry Carter, but I couldn’t seem to feel anything for them, or any of the other characters. However, some members of the book group loved it (though they were in the minority). One friend commented that she listened to the story on audiobook and really enjoyed it, partly because of the narrator, so I don’t know if it would be better if someone else was reading it; if that made it easier to get into. 

I also got quite annoyed by the way the story was told. The story happens over four days, but it is told backwards, from the fourth day back to the first, which can get confusing, and actually stopped me getting as involved as the story as I like to do with a good book, because I was constantly having to re-focus when I reached a new day. The ending was also a bit of a letdown because it just stopped, rather than having an epilogue, which I felt would have been a boon to tie back into the beginning of the novel, which is the end of the mystery (if that makes sense!). 

I think the story itself had potential, but that potential wasn’t reached, possibly because of the characterisation, or the way in which the story was told back to front. It felt forced at times, as though the author didn’t really know what to fill the gaps with. I was interested in the portrayal of religion throughout the novel, as I think a lot of books with a focus on religion or placed during the Reformation when Henry VIII uprooted the church, so it was interesting to get such an in-depth look at religion before these changes took place, as I think that is less explored.  

I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re looking for something light, but it is interesting for a more in-depth read, especially if you have an interest in Catholicism in England before the Reformation, as it is quite heavy on religion in a lot of places. 

This will also be published on my sister blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/

Book Review – ‘An Alternative History of Britain: Tudors’ by Timothy Venning


An Alternative History of Britain Tudors - Timothy Venning

Timothy Venning, An Alternative History of Britain: the Tudors (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2014) ISBN 9781783462728

Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I had been wanting to read this book for a while, so when I was given the chance to get a review copy, I was thrilled! I also wasn’t disappointed, as I thought that this book was thoroughly engaging and I just wanted to keep reading. The chapters each deal with a separate issue running chronologically through the Tudor period, though I could have done with more around Henry VII and the rebellions against his reign – what could have happened had one of them succeeded?

The sections I found particularly interesting were the ones on Henry VIII’s tiltyard accident of January 1536 and Jane Grey. They are two instances which have always really interested me, as it has been suggested that Henry’s tiltyard accident resulted in a change of personality and, had Jane Grey managed to hold onto the throne, would we still have had Queen Elizabeth I? There are questions stemming from questions in this book, and it covers a lot of the major possibilities, while also intertwining some of the more minor decisions that were made.

Continue reading “Book Review – ‘An Alternative History of Britain: Tudors’ by Timothy Venning”

Guest Blog Post – Anne of Cleves


I have been busy writing over the last few weeks and today a post has been published over on The Lassicist blog, part of Women’s History Month.

I decided to write on someone who is often overlooked in Tudor history – Anne of Cleves. The rumour of her as a Flander’s Mare persists, but she was so much more.

Head over to the blog and have a look, along with the other posts in this series.

https://thelassicist.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/womens-history-month-2019-anne-of-cleves/

Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein 1539
Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein 1539

Book Review – ‘The Tudor Crown’ by Joanna Hickson 


The Tudor Crown by Joanna Hickson

When Edward of York takes back the English crown, the Wars of the Roses scatter the Lancastrian nobility and young Henry Tudor, with a strong claim to the throne, is forced into exile. Recently widowed and vulnerable, his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, forges an uncomfortable alliance with Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Swearing an oath of allegiance to York, Margaret agrees to marry the king’s shrewdest courtier, Lord Stanley. But can she tread the precarious line between duty to her husband, loyalty to her son, and her obligation to God and the king? When tragedy befalls Edward’s reign, Richard of York’s ruthless actions fire the ambition of mother and son. As their destinies converge each of them will be exposed to betrayal and treachery and in their gruelling bid for the Tudor crown, both must be prepared to pay the ultimate price… [Description from Waterstones]

I enjoyed this book, but I did find it hard-going in places, as it seemed to be quite repetitive in places so I struggled to get through those bits. However, overall, it was a very engaging read and made me think about things that I hadn’t considered before, like what life was like for English exiles in France in the sixteenth century.

I thought that this book looked interesting because it focused on the lesser-known period of Henry VII’s life – his time in exile in Brittany and France before he became king. Alongside Henry, some chapters are also written from the point of view of his mother, Margaret Beaufort. It’s not something that you really see in novels about this period – everything is focused on Edward IV and Richard III in England rather than what is going on over the Channel.

I thought that the portrayal of Henry VII was particularly engrossing because it is so different to the way he is typically portrayed as a miserly and miserable old man – Hickson makes him handsome, exciting, and a bit of a daredevil, in ways which I didn’t expect. It was Henry’s portrayal that made me want to keep reading, to see what Hickson would do when it came to the Battle of Bosworth. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The portrayal of Margaret Beaufort was also quite different to what I’d expected, because most accounts seem to conclude that the marriage between her and Thomas Stanley was a marriage of convenience, but this novel suggests a deeper relationship, which I liked seeing. As for supporting characters, I really liked Davy Owen and Meg Woodville. Meg in particular was a surprise to me, but a nice one.

The writing itself was descriptive and quite evocative in places, as Henry sights Wales again for the first time in 14 years – that scene in particular was beautifully written and described. The differences between England and France were also painted starkly, as Henry and Margaret both see things differently. Henry in France sees the country through more childlike eyes for a large proportion of the book, while Margaret sees England through more adult and cynical eyes. It created an interesting juxtaposition.

Having read this book, I am looking forward to reading ‘Red Rose, White Rose’ and ‘First of the Tudors’ which I have on my bookshelf ready to read.

Review also available on my sister blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/