Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


Kindred Spirits Royal Mile by Jennifer C Wilson

Along Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, royalty and commoners – living and dead – mingle amongst the museums, cafés and former royal residences. From Castle Hill to Abbey Strand, there is far more going on than meets the eye, as ghosts of every era and background make their home along the Mile. Returning to the city for her annual visit, Mary, Queen of Scots, is troubled by the lacklustre attitude of her father, King James V of Scotland, and decides to do something about it, with the aid of her spiritual companions. More troubling, though, is the arrival of a constant thorn in her side: her second husband, Lord Darnley. Can Mary resolve both her own issues and those of her small, ghostly court? [Description from Amazon UK]

I am thoroughly enjoying this series. This is the second one I’ve read after ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’. I preferred Tower of London, maybe just because it focused around Richard III and Anne Boleyn, two of my favourite historical figures.

However, this one about Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was equally fascinating, though Mary didn’t come across entirely as I expected her to. She has always been seen as a fanatical martyr for her faith, but in this story we see a more light-hearted side. It was unexpected and took me a while to get used to it, but I did love her relationship with the father she never knew in life, and I would like to think it would have been like that had James V lived longer and got to know his daughter. The melding of different myths, legends and hauntings was clever, and I particularly enjoyed the addition of Boy, who was sent into the tunnels under Edinburgh and trapped.

The Royal Mile comes alive with a mixture of the modern Mile and the historical figures, and comparisons between the historic city and the modern city of Edinburgh. The description is quite detailed and the characters really come alive. It feels perfectly normal that the ghosts are there, possibly because it’s something I have imagined before visiting historical places – do ghosts really exist and where would they be if they did?

It’s nice to think that ghosts wouldn’t necessarily haunt where they died but where they were happy or had unfinished business, and could move around fairly freely. It goes against the traditional views that ghosts are tied to a particular place, and the idea of the white light and choosing whether to leave and go on or not also goes against these traditional views. It was interesting to explore these different ideas and think about what Mary Queen of Scots would do if she saw the white light or if her friends and confidantes left her.

The story was well-written and the narrative moved along at a good pace, combining several different strands into a whole, which felt completed at the end, like things had come full circle but with one particular problem seemingly solved. I am really looking forward to reading the other two that I haven’t read – Westminster Abbey and York.

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Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


A King, three Queens, a handful of nobles and a host of former courtiers… In the Tower of London, the dead outnumber the living, with the likes of Tudor Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard rubbing shoulders with one man who has made his way back from his place of death at Bosworth Field to discover the truth about the disappearance of his famous nephews. Amidst the chaos of daily life, with political and personal tensions running high, Richard III takes control, as each ghostly resident looks for their own peace in the former palace – where privacy was always a limited luxury. With so many characters haunting the Tower of London, will they all find the calm they crave? But foremost – will the young Plantagenet Princes join them? [Description from Amazon UK]

I’d heard of this book long before I actually got around to reading it. Jennifer C. Wilson is a fairly local author to where I live – on the coast in the wet and windy north-east coast of England. She was going to give a talk at my local library, but it was sadly cancelled. I certainly wasn’t disappointed by this book, and it exceeded my expectations!

This book had a really interesting premise for me, surrounding two of my favourite historical figures – Anne Boleyn and Richard III. The idea is that the ghosts with a connection to the Tower of London haunt the grounds and buildings of the Tower. These ghosts include, not only Anne and Richard, but the Duke of Clarence, William Hastings, Jane Lady Rochford, Katherine Howard, Jane Grey, George Boleyn and Thomas Culpeper. These are some of the most famous figures of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty.

The main narrative involves Richard III and his search for what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Wilson’s narrative suggests that Richard III wasn’t guilty of their murder, and didn’t actually know what happened to them. Anne Boleyn is determined to help Richard, and there even seems to be a kind of romantic relationship between them. The only thing that disappointed me about this book was that we never do find out what happened to the Princes in Wilson’s narrative.

It’s a well-written historical / supernatural crossover and the characters come to life, with characteristics we would recognise from the historical record, as well as novels by the likes of Philippa Gregory and Jean Plaidy. The interplay between characters from different periods was really intriguing, especially between the likes of George Boleyn and George, Duke of Clarence. The idea of choosing to haunt the living was also funny, and provided some comic moments. Wilson has obviously done her research about the atmosphere and timetable of the Tower of London and the history and relationships between some of these characters.

I am very much looking forward to reading the other books in this series on the Royal Mile, Westminster Abbey and York. It will be interesting to see how Wilson handles other historical characters and periods. I know the Royal Mile one is based around Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, another one based in my favourite Tudor period!

Book Review – ‘Tudor Folk Tales’ by Dave Tonge


Thank you to The History Press for a chance to read this book.

I really enjoyed this book. I felt that the way the book was written, split between the background of the period and the way that people lived and the folk tales that went alongside that history was a clever mix. I will definitely re-read and it will enhance other things I read about the period, being able to glimpse what the person on the street might have known or read.

The book is split into several sections examining different parts of Tudor society, including women, the youth, the poor and the religious. The folk tales within the pages of this book were all designed to teach a particular lesson or put across a specific view or opinion. The sections are then divided down into different stories, with names like ‘Of the Contrary Wife’ and ‘Of the Reward for Lying’. A lot of them seem to be morality tales, or tales of what can happen when people step out of their assigned boundaries in the hierarchy.

The drawings and copies of etchings were also really interesting to see as the people generally in the sixteenth century wouldn’t have been able to read so the drawings and etchings might have been all they saw and understood about the stories, to accompany word of mouth retellings. They’re really interesting to look at because in a lot of ways they tell us more about how people lived and thought than the kinds of paintings and cartoons we see today.

The way that the book was written is engaging and makes for a fairly easy read. The author makes it clear in the introduction that the stories he retells are not written in the original language, but have been changed for ease of reading for a modern audience. It has been very sympathetically done and, from what I can tell, the essence of the story is still the same as the original.

I would really recommend this book to any interested in the Tudor period as well as those who already have a solid grounding in the period, because it sparks an interest in things that you might not otherwise be aware still survive, and you can really sense what the general population of England thought about and felt about different people and what the relationships between them should be.

Chapters:

  1. The Struggle for the Breeches
  2. The Wit and Wisdom of Women
  3. Masterless Youth
  4. Poor Men Will Speak One Day
  5. A Caveat for Common Cursitors
  6. The Many-Headed Monster
  7. The Commotion Time
  8. Fact or Fiction, Truth or Lies?

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

Book Review – ‘A Phoenix Rising’ by Vivienne Brereton


Thanks to Vivienne for sending me a copy of this book to read!

Thomas Howard. Head of a sprawling, hot-blooded, sensual brood. Soldier, courtier, politician, a man of great personal charisma. A phoenix rising from the ashes. Will Thomas’s ambitions be realised? Or will the phoenix come crashing down again? Every Howard, male and female, renowned for their good looks and charm, is born to dazzle at court. Luring admirers, even royal ones … like bees to sweet nectar. Equally, each member is expected to restore the family to the very pinnacle of achievement. April 1509. Seventeen-year-old Henry VIII inherits the throne of England. But who sits on the thrones of France and Scotland? Uneasy bedfellows at best. Intrigue and danger stalk the corridors of the royal courts of Europe. Secrets and lies are concealed behind the ancient walls of castles in three lands. [Description from Goodreads]

Series – House of the Red Duke #1

It took me a few chapters to get into this book, but once I did, I really enjoyed it. The descriptions of the characters were really engaging and gave me a very different perspective of people that I had quite set perceptions about, like the Howard family. I was also quite intrigued by Tristan and Nicholas, and their pasts as they were revealed throughout the story. The relationship between the two was interesting as well because they seemed so similar, but really didn’t get on, like people who are too different. It was an intriguing dynamic.

I sometimes struggle with books written from the point of view of several characters, as this one is, but this one worked quite well because it had to be told from the points of view of different characters because it is spread across several countries – England, France and Scotland. The juxtaposition of the three countries was very interesting as they all had people reacting to the same or similar events in different ways depending on where they were and what they believed. It makes for a very intriguing read, though the amount of characters does sometimes throw you.

The addition of Tudor recipes was a nice touch, and demonstrated that the writer had really done her research. From a brief discussion with Vivienne about the book, it seems she has tried the recipes herself at home so it’s not just a theoretical recipe either! There were also nods to primary sources with sections based around these.

For my own personal point of view I really enjoyed the tantalising glimpses of Anne and Mary Boleyn as young girls, and Thomas Boleyn really just starting out on his career, knowing how important the family will become. It was also an interesting perception of Edmund Howard, son of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, as he would become the father of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s ill-fated fifth wife. He doesn’t really get much page or screen time in fictional portrayals of the Tudors so it was nice just to get a small glimpse. I’m sure we’ll see more of him in later books as well.

I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series, so don’t wait too long, Vivienne!

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

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/

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.