Book Review – ‘Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England’ by Carol McGrath


Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the gifted copy of this book to review.

I really enjoyed this book. It was so interesting, and I learnt quite a lot about the way the Tudors thought about sex and the roles of women and gender. It is irrevocably tied in to the Reformation and changing religious views across the long Tudor century. This is all discussed throughout as McGrath dives into several different areas.

The perceptions of sex are discussed including when you should and shouldn’t have sex, words related to sex, and some humorous sections, as there was bound to be when discussing sex! It’s a great mix of informative and entertaining which I really enjoyed. It’s not too ‘heavy’ to read and quite a concise and clear read.

It offers a different view on Tudor England, though there is still quite a lot of focus on Henry VIII and his relationships with his wives. There could have been more on the general populace, and maybe looking more at court cases about women i.e. scolding, adultery, fornication, and children.

The main reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars was because I felt there was too much focus on the royal history, as well as a few errors as below:

  • Page 12/64 – Thomas Howard referred to as Earl of Norfolk when he was Duke of Norfolk
  • Page 27 – It was said that Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur were married at Westminster Abbey when they were actually married in St Paul’s Cathedral
  • Page 58 – Field of the Cloth of Gold said to have happened in 1521, but it was actually 1520
  • Page 88 – Anne Boleyn’s father was described as Duke of Wiltshire when he was Earl of Wiltshire
  • Page 88 – Francis Byron questioned over Anne Boleyn’s fall, but it was Francis Bryan
  • Page 92 – McGrath says that Catherine Carey was acknowledged as Henry VIII’s daughter, but she was never acknowledged, it was only rumoured

Resolving these errors would make the book read a lot better and make me feel more like I could trust what else the author was saying. Errors make me feel like I can’t believe everything the author is saying, but this book was so interesting that I didn’t want to knock more than 1 star off my review.

Chapters:

  1. The Church, the Lady and Sexuality
  2. Tudor Marriage and Matters Sexual
  3. Medical Practices and Beliefs Associated with Childbirth and Contraception
  4. Attracting the Opposite Sex
  5. Dress to Impress & Tudor Dance and Music
  6. Courtly Romance and Poetry
  7. Noli Me tangere, for Caesar’s I am & Court Mistresses
  8. A Visit to a Brothel and Illicit Sex Issues & Aphrodisiacs and Love Potions
  9. Sex and Witchcraft
  10. Renaissance Art and Sex
  11. The Commoner, Villages, Towns and Sex
  12. Naughty Vocabulary during the Tudor Era

Book Review – ‘The Pocket Guide to Royal Scandals’ by Andy K. Hughes


A fun romp through royal history, looking at some of the most scandalous royals and what they did. There is very much a focus on English history, with just some of the more famous foreign rulers thrown in like Catherine the Great and Vlad the Impaler. The focus is also largely on the modern period, with nearly half of the book covering just the 20th century. There is only one Roman Emperor discussed, when they must have had enough scandals to fill most of the book!

It is a fun read, but with a couple of errors that I spotted including the Pilgrimage of Grace as happening in 1541 when it was 5 years earlier, and one of Anne Boleyn’s ‘lovers’ Mark Smeaton being hanged and quartered when he was actually beheaded. There are also a few grammatical errors where it doesn’t read as well as it could.

A fun short book to dip in and out of but seemed to gloss over some of the scandals of history to focus on the modern royals, which was a little disappointing for me, being a history buff. However, the sections on the modern royals were also very interesting, reading back on things that I heard on and off in the news growing up, but reading about them now as an adult puts a bit of a different spin on things.

Chapters:

  1. A Summary of Monarchs Since 1066
  2. Scandalous Rulers Before the Fifteenth Century
  3. Scandalous Rulers of the Fifteenth to Nineteenth Centuries
  4. Scandalous Rulers of the Twentieth Century
  5. No End in Sight!
  6. And Finally, Did You Know …

Book Review – ‘Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I’ by Amy Licence


I was so excited to get a review copy of this book from Amberley Publishing. It doesn’t disappoint as it discusses the Tudor women across the whole period and how they compare to each other in their styles of motherhood, queenship, and relations with the men in their lives. It shows how resilient the women were and how essential they were to the dynasty. It doesn’t just examine the period 1485 to 1603 but looks at the women before this period who shaped it, like Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort, the matriarchs of the dynasty, without whom it wouldn’t have existed.

This book tries to tackle some of the prevailing myths about these women and the dominating views of the past centuries. It opens up new areas for exploration and tries to redress the balance of views on these incredible women. It’s good to focus on the women, who are often seen as supporting rather than leading figures, as the focus is often on the men who wield the power. The women of the period may have often been side-lined, but they often wielded power behind the scenes more often than in the public eye.

Although it is a long book and can seem daunting to start with, it is well worth investing the time to read it, as Amy Licence manages to sprinkle little details throughout and asks questions which make you think and consider different angles. It makes me want to delve into others of Licence’s books which are sat on my shelves, but I haven’t gotten around to reading yet! It also makes me want to know more in particular about Henry VIII’s sisters, Margaret Queen of Scotland, and Mary Duchess of Suffolk.

I would thoroughly recommend this, even if you don’t know that much about the Tudors, as it offers different angles on people sometimes overlooked in the period or misunderstood. It is easy to read and written chronologically so that if you are looking for a particular thing, it is easy to find. Obviously well-researched and concisely written.

Chapters:

  1. Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort 1437-1460
  2. Women as Witnesses 1460-1463
  3. A Queen is Made 1464-1469
  4. A Queen is Unmade 1469-1472
  5. Elizabeth of York 1472-1485
  6. The First Tudor Queen 1485-1486
  7. Dynasty in Danger 1487-1492
  8. Tudor Princesses 1489-1501
  9. The Spanish Bride 1501-1503
  10. The Two Margarets 1503-1509
  11. New Wives 1509-1515
  12. Widows 1513-1515
  13. Legacies of Love 1516-1520
  14. Gold 1520-1525
  15. Breaking the Queenship Model 1525-1533
  16. Wives and Daughters 1533-1534
  17. Queen, Interrupted 1534-1536
  18. The Search for Love 1533-1537
  19. Changing Times 1537-1540
  20. Women in Danger 1540-1542
  21. Weathering the Storm 1543-1546
  22. Such a Brief Happiness 1545-1549
  23. Dangerous Women 1547-1553
  24. Queens in Conflict 1553-1554
  25. The Half-Spanish Queen 1554-1555
  26. Saving the Nation’s Souls 1555-1558
  27. Autonomy 1558-1562
  28. Gender Politics 1563-1569
  29. The Queen’s Person 1570-1588
  30. Finale 1589-1603
  31. How the Tudor Dynasty was Built by Women 1437-1603

Book Review – ‘Three Sisters’ by Heather Morris


Having read Heather Morris’s other books in this trilogy: ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ and ‘Cilka’s Journey’, I couldn’t wait to read this final one in the series. I listened to it on audiobook from the library as I need to wait for it to come out in paperback as I have the others in paperback before I can buy it myself and I couldn’t wait that long!

As the title suggests, this is the story of three Jewish sisters who end up in Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War Two. Cibi, Magda, and Livia promised their father before he died that they would always be together and look after each other and it is this promise that runs throughout the book as the trio are separated at several points for various reasons but are always determined to reunite when they can. The story runs from the invasion of Slovakia by the Nazis to the settlement of Palestine as a home for the Jewish people, and into the modern day for the epilogue.

It’s a beautiful story of sisters determined to beat the odds and protect each other, and fight for the others of their faith to make sure that their children and grandchildren have a better life. But it is also about talking about experiences. No matter how bad the experiences we have in our lives they become a part of us and form who we are. We can’t shut them out. For me, that was the biggest thing to take away from this story. Although most of us probably cannot imagine what it was like to be in a concentration camp under the Nazis, and there are very few survivors left now, we all have our challenges, though the sisters faced more than most. They found their happy endings and their experiences have been shared, allowing us to work towards making sure the Holocaust never happens again.

This trilogy has been haunting and beautiful to read with tales of horror and hardship, but also of hope and love. A fitting end which sees the story through to the creation of Palestine and the journeys of the early Jews who travelled there after the Second World War.

On This Day in History – 1 May – Death of Pope Pius V


Portrait by Bartolomeo Passarotti
(c. 1566, Walters Art Museum in Baltimore)

Event – Death of Pope Pius V

Year – 1572

Location – Vatican City, Italy

After Northern Rising of 1569 against Elizabeth I of England, Pope Pius V issued the Regnans in Excelsis bull in 1570 which excommunicated Elizabeth I, absolved her subjects of their loyalty to her, and encouraged her overthrow. This would provide Catholic Englishmen with the support they needed to act more brazenly against their Protestant Queen in the future, with the Ridolfi Plot in 1571, the Throckmorton Plot in 1583 and the Babington Plot in 1586.

Pope Pius V had been Pope since 1566 and had been born as Antonio Ghislieri in 1504 in the Duchy of Milan in Italy. He played a large role in the Council of Trent which embodied the counter-Reformation and aimed to clamp down on Protestant heresies across Europe. His excommunication of Elizabeth I can be seen in this vein, as Elizabeth was considered to be one of the greatest heretics, the daughter of Anne Boleyn who was believed to have pushed Henry VIII to Break with Rome.

Pope Pius V was canonised in 1712 by Pope Clement XI for his efforts on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church in the face of the Protestant heresies sweeping Europe in the sixteenth century.

Further Reading

  • Richard McBrien – Lives of the Popes (1998)
  • John O’Malley – A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present (2009)
  • John O’Malley – Trent: What Happened at the Council? (2013)
  • Charles Phillips – An Illustrated History of the Popes (2017)

Book Review – ‘House of Tudor: A Grisly History’ by Mickey Mayhew


Thanks to Pen and Sword for gifting me a copy of this to review.

This is quite a different take on the Tudor period which I really enjoyed. It’s written in really short chapters which makes it easy to read and dip in and out of and return to if you want to refresh your memory on a particular event.

The book covers 45 different events of the Tudor period which are the most grisly events of the period rather than the most common events. These include the poisoning of Bishop Fisher, the blackened heart of Katherine of Aragon, Mary I’s phantom pregnancies, and the kidnap of Mary Queen of Scots, among many others. Particular attention is paid to some of the more gory or unusual aspects of the events described which is quite novel and something that some history books skate over.

The book has a great selection of images, and a comprehensive index. There are two things I will say that stops this being a 5-star read for me, maybe just as a historian myself, there is a lack of original / contemporary primary sources listed in the bibliography though they have been used in the text itself, but that certainly doesn’t detract from the excellent discourse and ease of reading of this book which I thoroughly enjoyed! There is also only mention of Henry VII in the Bosworth chapter but no further mention of him really, even given the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions and the execution of the Earl of Warwick.

Aside from these two things I can’t really fault it! This is a fantastic addition to my Tudor bookcase and one that I will certainly come back to when working on my own writing! It really does cover so many different things that there will be something for everyone whatever your interests are; political, personal, medical, or death. A brilliant gory discourse on my favourite period of history!

Book Review – ‘Ask a Historian: 50 Surprising Answers to Things You Always Wanted to Know’ by Greg Jenner


I absolutely ADORED this book! It took me a while to read it because I had to keep going back to reread bits and pieces, and I was sending snapshots to friends as I was reading. There were times when I was rolling around in bed laughing while I was reading it.

Greg Jenner really has a way of writing that is so engaging, no matter whether the subject is one you’re completely interested in or not. My favourite questions I think were ‘Why do Greek statues have small penises?’, ‘Is it true that a dead Pope was put on trial?’, and ‘Who invented meringue and why?’, though the historiography section was also particularly interesting for me as a historian myself, particularly looking at how we name periods.

I would love a series of these books with different questions from members of the public – it’s such an engaging way to learn about different parts of history that you might not know much or anything about, but this makes you want to go away and learn more, I think in large part because Jenner is so good at writing about these things in a way that you can understand it without having a lot of contextual knowledge.

I needed something like this to read right now given where my head is at, and I’d been eyeing up this book for a while and I just thought, sod it, I’m going to buy it, and I am so unbelievably glad that I did! I will come back to it over and over again, and now I just want to read ‘Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen’ and I can’t wait for the next series of the ‘You’re Dead to Me’ podcast either!

Book Review – ‘The Architecture Lover’s Guide to London’ by Sian Lye


Thanks to Pen and Sword for the chance to read and review this book.

I’m really enjoying these books, having first read ‘The Book Lover’s Guide to London’. They are really handy and engaging little guides to London, and I plan to take both on my next trip down there!

This one focuses on the buildings and architecture of London and how it’s developed over time, starting with Roman Londinium, through Medieval, Tudor and Stuart London, into the Georgian and Victorian periods, and finishing in the present day. This includes locations like the Tower of London, Westminster Palace, 10 Downing Street, the British Museum, and the Shard, with everything in between.

It’s structured in chronological order, so it is easy to see the development of the city from the earliest buildings to the newest ones, and some revisited within the book as they changed or were destroyed and rebuilt in a later period. As someone who didn’t really know much about the general architecture of London – I’ve visited places like the Tower of London, Westminster, Windsor, and Hampton Court as part of my love of the Tudors but never really explored the wider development of the city – this was a really handy introduction and there are several places I would like to know more about.

It has an easy-to-follow, clear and concise layout, but I do wish there was just a bit more information, and a bibliography of where you can go for further reading and where the author got their information.

If you’re planning on doing a sightseeing tour of London this little book will give you information you might not get from the London tour guides, and you can strike out on your own quite easily to explore some of the most iconic buildings in London and discover the history of one of the oldest cities in the UK, and the men and women behind some of the architecture as well.

Book Update


If you follow me on Instagram or my page on Facebook you would have seen my news a couple of weeks ago that I have signed a contract with Pen and Sword books for my second book, which is incredibly exciting!

As many guessed from the above image, my second book will look at executing the Tudor nobility which is something that I’ve been researching and thinking about for a while so it’s particularly exciting to write about something that I’ve been researching for so long and, of course, it will include a chapter on my favourite Tudor figure – Anne Boleyn. Others will include Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, along with many others.

My first book, Elizabeth Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue and Treason is currently with the editor, and we are aiming for a January 2023 release. I have also today received a proof for the jacket cover, which is so strange, to see my own name on a book cover! It still feels quite surreal to be honest; I’m quite nervous to see what people think of it, but I really hope it goes down well because I’m so proud of the work that’s gone into it.

Big thanks once again to my friends and family who have been so supportive during this process and continue to amaze me with their support and encouragement. I couldn’t be writing without them.

Book Review – ‘On the Trail of Sherlock Holmes’ by Stephen Browning


Thanks to Pen and Sword for giving me a copy of this to review.

I’ve only read the Sherlock Holmes novels once, but I loved them, and this book certainly wants to make me read them again. I’m eyeing up the beautiful Wordsworth editions I have to admit. I’ve been to London quite a few times, where many of the Sherlock Holmes stories are set, but I didn’t think about the places I visited and how they tied into the stories, nor did I realise that Sherlock visited quite so many familiar places!

This book is set out as a series of walks around London, taking in locations frequented by Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle as well. It gives you the backstory to Conan Doyle and how he came to write the books. Sherlock Holmes is such an iconic character in literature and it’s really interesting to find out which places were actually real, and which were fictitious, with Conan Doyle mixing up the two seamlessly.

I don’t know what I expected from this book; I guess I thought that there wouldn’t be quite as much detail linking the London we know today with stories based in Victorian London. Browning tells you exactly where to go and what was there in the days of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle, and there is a surprising amount that doesn’t really seem to have changed.

I loved the appendices at the back as well, with lists of the stories in chronological order, lists of the actors who have played Sherlock Holmes on screen and a miscellany. A must have for any fan of Sherlock Holmes.

Chapters:

  1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Creation of His ‘most notorious character’, Sherlock Holmes
  2. London: Where it all began – a walk in Baker Street and immediate area
  3. London: A Walk along Northumberland Avenue, up the Strand, Fleet Street and on to St Paul’s Cathedral
  4. London: Walking along Oxford Street, Regent Street, around Piccadilly Circus and into Haymarket
  5. London: Around Tottenham Court Road and into Holborn and Covent Garden
  6. London: At the centre of Government – a walk in Westminster and Victoria
  7. London: Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall and Mayfair
  8. London: A Walk around the City and East End
  9. Walks and Trips elsewhere … in London; in the UK as a Whole
  10. On the Trail of Sherlock Holmes
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