Book Review – ‘The Queen’s Agent: Francis Walsingham at the Court of Elizabeth I’ by John Cooper


This was a really interesting book. It’s the first book I’ve read with Francis Walsingham at the centre, though I do also have the biography of Francis Walsingham by Robert Hutchinson. If you’re interested in the secret life of Elizabethan England and how the fairly new idea of a spy network came into being and developed, then this is the book for you.

This book is also very good at discussing Walsingham’s involvement in the downfall and execution of Mary Queen of Scots. There is a huge variety of both primary and secondary sources used, given full credit in the notes and bibliography, which means that it is fairly easy to track the sources down if you want to investigate further. The one thing that I will say is that the primary sources themselves could be discussed more within the text, as I find it useful to see the wider context of the sources and the events they describe.

The index is also quite comprehensive so if you’re looking for something in particular within the book it’s simple to look and find it. There is a good selection of images in a book plate at the centre, with portraits, sketches, maps, paintings, places, and artefacts. These are all clearly captioned as to what they are, but the sources of the images could do with more information otherwise it’s difficult to research them further or verify their antecedents.

It’s the first real book I’ve read in researching my own book, and the section on the Babington plot in particular is fantastic, though I could have done with more detail about the Ridolfi and Throckmorton plots as they aren’t as well described, though perhaps that’s due to lack of sources and information. I’m not sure. The Spanish Armada from an intelligence point of view is also discussed in great detail, which was very interesting, not something that you usually read about the Armada.

This book was very detailed and incredibly interesting. I want to know more about Walsingham now. I didn’t know about his ongoing illness or about his origins. You only really tend to find out about his relationship with Elizabeth and Walsingham and how he saved England in most books about Elizabethan England, so this was really fascinating for me to read.

Chapters

  1. Exodus
  2. Massacre at Paris
  3. Armed with Innocence
  4. The English Mission
  5. Security Services
  6. Bonds and Ciphers
  7. Western Planting
  8. Eleventh Hour

Book Review – ‘Henry VIII in 100 Objects: The Tyrant King Who Had Six Wives’ by Paul Kendall


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

I really enjoyed this book, and I thought that the conception of 100 objects that could explain Henry VIII and his reign was an interesting one. What didn’t quite work for me, however, was that they aren’t all objects – there are people like Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and whole places like Eltham Palace.

The book was generally well-researched and much of the information matched what I had read in other places. However, there were several errors which concerned me hence I would give it a 3-star rating rather than the 4-star rating I would otherwise have given. It was said at one point that Anne Boleyn was arrested in 1533 but it was actually 1536, and Margaret Beaufort was described as the Duchess of Richmond when she was actually Countess of Richmond. There were several other similar errors which made me question how much I could believe.

The way the text was written was clear and concise, easy to understand even for those not versed in Tudor history. There were a huge number of images, on almost every page, highlighting the objects described; many from the author’s own collection, which demonstrates that the research was done, and that Kendall has visited and seen many of the places and objects that he describes.

The objects are listed chronologically from Henry VIII’s birth at Greenwich Palace to his burial at Windsor Castle. Each object is accompanied by a description of the events that accompany each object through Henry VIII’s life. It’s a very interesting way to explore the king’s life.

I would recommend this to any Tudor enthusiast, but you need to be aware of the errors throughout. What is particularly interesting about this is the information about the objects rather than the general history.

Errors:

  • Page 14 – Anne Boleyn arrested in 1533 but it should be 1536.
  • Page 23 – Margaret Beaufort as Duchess of Richmond but should be Countess of Richmond.
  • Page 56 – James VI of Scotland killed at Flodden but should be James IV.
  • Page 144 – Henry VIII and Jane Seymour married on 20th May but actually betrothed on 20th and married on 30th May.
  • Page 184 – Mark Seaton, should be Mark Smeaton.
  • Page 208 – Smeaton was hanged but he was actually beheaded.
  • Page 265 – Anne of Cleves betrothed to the Marquis of Lorraine, but it was actually the Duke of Lorraine.
  • Page 285 – Katherine Howard having an affair with Culpeper aided by Lady Rochford in 1533 but should be 1541.
  • Page 296 – Katherine Howard taken to the Tower in 1532 but should be 1542.
  • Page 329 – Henry VIII died on 8 January 1547 but should be 28 January 1547.

Book Review – ‘The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives’ by Tim Darcy Ellis


Thank you to the publicist for sending me a copy of this book.

This is a very interesting book about a person who is only really known about by Tudor historians as the tutor of Princess Mary (later Mary I). But this book is more wide-ranging, looking at the plight of Jews across Europe through Vives’s eyes in the early 16th century.

It is written in a series of diary entries across several years. There are poems interspersed throughout, though I don’t know the origin of these, whether they are contemporary or not. There is an interesting historical note at the end which offers some background on Vives and the plight of the Jews at this time.

There are some minor errors in the dating of the diary entries – for example, one entry is 1523 and the following entry is 1522, possibly an editorial issue. But this doesn’t detract from the overall atmosphere of the book. It is well-written and engaging, and the characters come across as real. You can tell that there is quite a lot of research that has gone into the story to make it as real as possible.

Vives is a hugely conflicted character as he tries to balance his humanism and learning with his desire to make himself and his family and those whom he loves safe. He has an interesting relationship with Sir Thomas More and his family, and we can track how this changes through the novel as Vives’s priorities change. The relationships between different characters are obviously well thought-out and researched and the fictional characters are seamlessly integrated with the real characters. The character list at the beginning is really helpful to distinguish real from fictional and for those less acquainted with the history of the period to keep the characters in line.

This is a really fascinating read for those interested in the plight of the Jews, or how Vives managed to get himself involved in the lives of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon and the English royal court.

This is also published on my sister blog BookBloggerish | For Everything Bookish (wordpress.com).

Book Review – ‘Princess of Thorns’ by Saga Hillbom


Thank you to the author for giving me a copy of this to review.

I really enjoyed this quite unique take on the Wars of the Roses and the reign of Henry VII. Told from the point of view of Cecily of York, daughter of Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII) it gives a different view almost from the outside in. It also offers a fictional account of a woman at the centre of the warring factions, essentially Yorkist but forced to marry a staunch Lancastrian.

This novel has certainly made me more interested in the other York sisters and following their lives a bit more closely. I know a bit about Elizabeth of York having studied the Tudors and been introduced to her through Henry VII, but the others seem to have led interesting lives as well, so I want to read more around them.

The writing is concise and the descriptions clear, making you believe that you can see the pieces of jewellery described or be in the places that the characters are in, picturing those same characters clearly in your head though, for me at least, influenced in part by historical TV dramas like ‘The White Queen’ (eye roll). The book is quite fast-paced, but sentimental in places, and the balance between the two is exceptional.

The sibling rivalry between Cecily and her eldest sister, Elizabeth, was brilliantly done, and echoes squabbling siblings across the ages, only this was a more high-stakes environment. The jealousy of what could be perceived as the less successful or powerful sibling (Cecily) juxtaposed against the more powerful and influential queen (Elizabeth) exacerbates what I’m sure siblings today will recognise. That gives a touch of the familiar into this otherwise unrecognisable world compared to today.

If there are any lovers of historical fiction based in the Wars of the Roses or early Tudor period I would thoroughly recommend this book as it offers something unique, being written from the point of view of a woman often overlooked in history, but who at the same time was at the centre of events and who suffered many personal tragedies in her life. Saga Hillbom tells her story with sensitivity and demonstrates just how perilous life and ambition could be.

This review is also published on my sister blog BookBloggerish | For Everything Bookish (wordpress.com).

Saga Hillbom has also written a guest post for this blog on the marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville, which can be found here.

Book Review – ‘Mary Tudor: A Story of Triumph, Sorrow and Fire’ by Anthony Ruggiero


Thank you to the author for sending me a proof of this book.

This is more of a thesis than a full-length book on the life and reign of Mary I. There are three main areas discussed – Mary’s early life and rise to the throne, her Spanish marriage to Philip II, and the French Wars during which England lost Calais.

The writing is strong, getting straight to the point the writer is trying to make. Many of the sentences I find quite long, and it could have benefitted perhaps from a more concise approach to sentence structure. Each chapter starts with a clear outline of what will be discussed, making it easy to follow. Some books it is sometimes difficult to figure out exactly what each chapter will be about, but not here.

The footnotes are well-done in the accepted academic style, but it feels like the same sources are used on repeat, lacking the variety of some other texts, in both primary and secondary sources. However, the sources used seem diverse, especially secondary sources, but could have benefitted from more exploration of primary sources. There are a few images used, but these could have benefitted from more involvement in the text, though the captions detail exactly what the image is and where it’s come from.

Nevertheless, an interesting read, especially around the French Wars, which I didn’t know as much about as the other sections. For anyone interested in Mary I, this is worth a read as it is concise and introduces some of the most important aspects of her reign.

Six Documentaries to Watch During Lockdown


I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries during lockdown so I thought I’d pull together some of my favourites here – not all Tudor so if you’re looking for something different, look no further!

If there are any that you’ve particularly enjoyed watching, please leave a comment, always looking for new things to watch and learn from!


David Starkey’s ‘Monarchy’

Episodes: 16

Period: Anglo-Saxons to Queen Victoria

David Starkey explores how the British monarchy has evolved over time, from the patchwork of counties that made up Anglo-Saxon England to how they united under a single king, working through the monarchs right up to Queen Victoria. It focuses less on the monarchs themselves but rather how their actions informed the idea of monarchy.

David Starkey has been involved in some controversy over the last few years with some of his comments hitting the news headlines, so I was a bit wary of including this one on my list, but I don’t think that some of his personal opinions affect the historical research that went into this documentary series. I have this on DVD and have watched it several times, making me interested in aspects of our history that I haven’t been before.

Simon Schama’s ‘A History of Britain’

Episodes: 15

Period: Stone Age to Modern Day

Simon Schama takes a different approach to our history than David Starkey, looking less at the monarchs and more at the general population and how life changed for them from the Stone Age to the modern day through times that have shaped our history.

I have this on DVD as I thought it looked different to other histories of Britain, and I wanted something definitive to widen my area of interest and my knowledge. This certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s not completely definitive, being unable to cover the entire history of Britain in 15 episodes, but it covers some of the most pivotal moments in our history in detail, drawing extensively on primary source research.

Continue reading “Six Documentaries to Watch During Lockdown”

The Marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville


Today we have a guest post by Saga Hillborn, a historical fiction writer. Her new novel, ‘Princess of Thorns’ follows the story of Cecily Plantagenet, daughter of Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York.
Saga Hillborn has very kindly contributed a post about two people who play a big role in Cecily’s story – Richard III and Anne Neville.
Her novel, ‘Princess of Thorns’ will be released on 1st March 2021.

Richard III is obviously one of western history’s most controversial figures. His relationship to his wife Anne Neville is still being both romanticised and portrayed in a negative light painting him as having taken advantage of her. In my upcoming historical novel Princess of Thorns, both Richard and Anne feature as characters; in this guest post that Helene was kind enough to let me write, I will take a closer look at their marriage.

After Edward IV had taken the throne, he placed his much younger brothers George and Richard in the household of his cousin the Earl of Warwick. Richard, who was roughly nine years old, likely met five-year-old Anne Neville for the first time at Middleham Castle. Although they would have undergone entirely different educations, it is reasonable to assume that Anne and Richard were often in one another’s company, as were the other young nobles who grew up at Middleham. It is possible that the Earl of Warwick was already planning his daughters’ eventual marriages to the King’s brothers at this point. Hence, Anne and Richard would have become accustomed to the idea.

In 1465, perhaps slightly later, Richard left Warwick’s household and spent more time at his brother Edward’s court. When Warwick and George, Duke of Clarence, rebelled for a second time in 1470, Richard fled with the King into exile in Flanders. Meanwhile, Anne was married off to the Lancastrian Edward of Westminster. What either she or Richard felt about this match is of course not recorded, but suffice to say that Edward of Westminster was a stranger and an enemy who was described by an ambassador as talking of nothing but cutting off heads.

Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Continue reading “The Marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville”

‘The Dig’ on Netflix


At the weekend I watched ‘The Dig’ on Netflix, starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, and Lily James. A lot of people seem to have been talking about this film, even before it was released. The film follows the story of Basil Brown (Fiennes), who discovers an Anglo-Saxon burial ship under a mound in a field in rural Suffolk. The land belongs to the widowed Edith Pretty (Mulligan) who asks Brown to excavate the mounds. The discovery takes place in the run-up to the Second World War and the preparations to go to war.

I’ve known about Sutton Hoo from a young age, as my grandparents live not far from the dig site. Obviously as a child I didn’t really know the history or what I was seeing when we visited the site, but when I visited the British Museum a few years ago and saw the Sutton Hoo treasures it really hit home what I had seen at the dig site, and now I want to go back.

I really enjoyed the film; it was excellent Saturday watching. I told a friend of mine how much I enjoyed the film, and he went and watched it. He didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as I did, saying that the interpersonal drama seemed contrived to liven it up, and the social commentary has been done before. I can understand that, but the film is brilliantly done, and the cast are fantastic. Carey Mulligan really carries the film for me.

Basil Brown, who made the initial discovery at Sutton Hoo, has largely been left out of history, but now he gets a film based on what he discovered. The film itself is based on a book called ‘The Dig’ by John Preston (click here to see the book on Hive). The excitement of finding an Anglo-Saxon boat buried under a mound in a field is really portrayed in the film, and I really felt it myself watching the action unfold on screen.

History is often reduced to objects that we can see and touch, and this is certainly the case with Sutton Hoo – it was said to be a burial ship and the most famous part of Sutton Hoo even today seems to be the treasure: the helmet, brooches, and jewels. What ‘The Dig’ demonstrates is that there are human stories behind the objects that we see today. Not just the stories of the Anglo-Saxon people who buried the ship, but the stories of those who unearthed it as well.

If you want to visit Sutton Hoo, it is looked after by National Trust (Sutton Hoo | National Trust) and the treasure is on show in the British Museum in London (Sutton Hoo and Europe | British Museum).

Book Review – ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris


This book is beautiful. Stunning. Haunting. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get round to reading it. I think in a way it’s the idea of reading about Auschwitz. The name itself has a kind of sickening fascination. The subject matter will be distressing for some and I think you probably have to be in the right frame of mind to really enjoy this book but find that frame of mind and you’ll be blown away.

Based on a true story, ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ follows the story of Lale and Gita and how their lives intertwine during those fateful years during the Second World War that Auschwitz became infamous for the extermination of the Jews. Lale tattooes the numbers onto the arms of those who live and work in the camp, and his own personal struggles with this job, and how he uses it to try and make the lives of those around him easier is inspiring. There are so many facets to the characters that come out and it’s beautiful.

Morris weaves a tale of hope and help in the midst of such horrifying events, and the juxtaposition of the two is incredibly powerful in the way that it’s told. Reading this with the hindsight of history in some ways makes it harder because we know how many people died as a result of camps like Auschwitz, but you can see the love and hope in these characters. A love story and hope for the future in the midst of so much death really does provide optimism and hope in the present.

“To save one is to save the world”.

This line sums up the promise in this book. It echoes throughout the story and is taken to heart. If you help or save just one person then your existence is worth it. I can’t even express how much this book moved me. If you haven’t read it, go out and read it now. If you haven’t already seen it, I have published my review of the sequel, ‘Cilka’s Journey’, already.

I don’t think it’s possible to explain this book – you just have to go and read it!

This has also been published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com.

Book Review – ‘The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk’ by Kirsten Claiden-Yardley


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

I was quite intrigued to read this book when I got sent a copy – the 2nd Duke of Norfolk isn’t someone I know a lot about, having focused more on the events of Henry VIII’s divorce, so I am more familiar with the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. He was an interesting man and he seems to have achieved and survived quite a lot; a trait of both the 2nd and 3rd Dukes I think. The Howards are one of the most intriguing families of the 16th century and this book opens up a chapter that hasn’t been much written about I don’t think.

There were some really interesting chapters on the Battles of Bosworth and Flodden in particular, and his role in those battles. But overall I thought that it was quite dry in places, much like a textbook in fact but not always so clear. It was difficult in a way to get to know Thomas Howard personally, which I feel is a bonus in history books where the person really comes alive. I didn’t feel it here, which was disappointing.

I also got really confused in places by who was who. There are a lot of Thomas Howards, and it wasn’t always made entirely clear which one was which, I had to keep double-checking. Although I know it is about the 2nd Duke, I would have appreciated maybe a slightly longer epilogue to look into his closest descendants and keep the line straight in my head. However, there are some excellent family trees in the book which do help.

It is quite an exhaustive study, and the sources are discussed in depth, including bias and reliability, pulling apart arguments and making it clear where it is the author’s opinion, or where the evidence is questionable, and what any assumptions are based on. This demonstrates a clear grasp of the subject material, and a confidence in what is being written, which makes you want to trust and believe what Claiden-Yardley is saying, and makes you want to look into it more.

The images included in the book were interesting, some that I hadn’t seen before, which always adds to the allure of a book. The bibliography was quite extensive, and you could tell it had been well-researched, but the writing style let it down for me, just a bit too dry. Nevertheless incredibly informative, and not a person that there seems to be much written about, so a welcome addition to my history book collection.

Chapter Breakdown:

  1. Ancestry and childhood 1420-67
  2. Early royal service 1467-83
  3. Edward V and Richard III 1483-5
  4. Battle of Bosworth 1485
  5. Rehabilitation and the North 1485-1501
  6. Royal councillor and diplomat 1501-9
  7. The Road to Flodden 1509-13
  8. Battle of Flodden 1513
  9. Final years at the Royal Court 1513-23
  10. High and Mighty Prince in Norfolk
  11. Death and Burial 1524
  12. Memory and Legacy