Book Review – ‘Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools’ by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly


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

This is certainly something new in Tudor history. There has been a spurt of ‘new’ history books, for instance looking at black Tudors and disability. It’s worth reading about to get a more rounded knowledge of the period and context of it.

This book has chapters on all sorts of things from disability at court including court fools, disability in the common people, effects on fertility, depictions in portraits, etc. I found it a thoroughly interesting read. Some sections I found quite hard going, perhaps the sections I found more technical to read. There are several sections of quite extensive repetition, which is probably due to the fact that there is limited information on disability in Tudor times.

I got a sense part way through that I’d read the same sentences before and looking at other reviews just before I wrote this, and after I finished reading the book, I noticed how many instances of plagiarism had been noted by other readers. I won’t indulge in pointing them out as I didn’t notice them when reading myself, but it seems some of them were quite obvious. Something to bear in mind when reading.

But it offers a lot to history and is well-written and researched, looking not only at the disabilities that might have been suffered and how they were perceived then, but also how perceptions and even naming of disabilities has changed. It’s certainly not perfect, but it offers something new to sink our teeth into and expansion of knowledge is never a bad thing. You can tell that the author has experience personally with disability in the sympathetic way she tackles the subject and in perceptions of those with a disability.

Chapters:

  1. Everyday Life in the Community
  2. Tudor Laws and Disability
  3. Superstition and Disability
  4. Religion, Reformation, and Disability
  5. Almshouses and Hospitals
  6. Physicians, Surgeons, Barber-Surgeons, and Healers
  7. The Health of a King and His Decline into Disability
  8. Disabled People in High Places
  9. Disability in the Tudor Court

Jack the Ripper Walking Tour


While I was in London with a friend back in November we went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour in Whitechapel. It’s something that had been on my bucket list for a while, and I was so excited when I finally got to do it. They’re obviously popular as we saw three other tours when we were out as well! Jack the Ripper is one of those enduring historical mysteries that is still fascinating today, and there is such a long list of suspects of who might have done it, including royalty, artists, Polish Jews, and authors. The fact that the murders were never solved gives infinite scope for people to come up with their own suspect.

It was so interesting to see the places where the murders took place, even if they have changed a lot in the over a hundred years since they happened. It really gives a sense of place and atmosphere, and the layout of the streets is interesting to understand how the murderer was able to get away and avoid the police on the streets.

Jack the Ripper killed five women between August and November 1888, possibly more but five are accepted as canonical victims – Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols on 31st August, Annie Chapman on 8th September, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on 30th September, and Mary Jane Kelly on 9th November. Although I think that a prior victim in early August 1888 was actually a Ripper victim as well – Martha Tabram.

The Ripper walking tour took in Osbourne Street, Hanbury Street, the Ten Bells pub, Goulston Street, Dorset Street, and Mitre Square. Osbourne Street was the location of the murder of Emma Smith, which happened before that of Martha Tabram and isn’t generally considered to be a Ripper murder but is included in the Whitechapel murder sequence. Hanbury Street was the location of the murder of Annie Chapman, although the exact building no longer survives. The Ten Bells pub still survives today although it did go through a period in the 1980s of being renamed the Jack the Ripper pub. Goulston Street was the location of the infamous graffiti which was left after the murder of Catherine Eddowes, and where part of her apron was dropped after the murderer wiped his knife on it. Dorset Street was the location of the murder of the Ripper’s final canonical victim, Mary Jane Kelly. Mitre Square was the location of the fourth murder, the second of the double night; that of Catherine Eddowes.

Although many of these locations have drastically changed since the 1880s, the atmosphere of the East End is still there and you can still get a sense of what it would have been like for these women living on the streets or in boarding houses, packed together. George Yard, where Elizabeth Stride was murdered, is now Gunthorpe Street. Bucks Row, where Polly Nichols was murdered, is now Durward Street.

Big thanks to our tour guide, Angie, who was so knowledgeable and such an engaging person to tell this gruesome tale. Visit the website to book a tour of your own if you’re ever in London!

Jack The Ripper Tour – The Original London Terror Walk (jack-the-ripper-tour.com)

Book Review – ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ by Antonia Fraser


I think that this biography of Mary Queen of Scots is really detailed and interesting, but it is quite difficult to read in places. It doesn’t seem to flow, and you do need to concentrate in order to take it all in and digest the sheer volume of information.

My previous experience with Mary Queen of Scots was in her relationship with Elizabeth I of England and her struggle for release in England and her execution. It was interesting to read about Mary’s earlier life in France, and her marriage to Darnley. It was a scandalous and intriguing life and well worth such a long biography.

It feels dry but it was interesting to see Mary from the Scottish point of view, where I’m so used to reading about Mary from the perspective of Elizabeth I. Mary was a Queen effectively from birth and juxtaposed against Elizabeth who never really expected to become Queen, they have two very different lives and perspectives on queenship.

Power struggles are central to Mary’s life, power in France with Catherine de Medici, with her husbands – Francis II, Darnley, and Bothwell – and trying to get power in England. The struggle with Elizabeth and succession to the English throne. These power struggles also led to some of Mary’s stupidest mistakes like marrying Bothwell and getting involved in rebellions in England to overthrow Elizabeth.

It was obviously very well-researched and must have taken years to collect all the research and write. Fraser has put together almost an encyclopaedia about Mary Queen of Scots, her relationships, and the events of her life. There are very detailed endnotes and an extensive bibliography, as well as a great index which makes it easy to find the sections that you are looking for, especially about particular people.

A book for the serious history Stuart fan and not for one hoping for a light read about an almost mythical woman.

Chapters:

  1. All Men Lamented
  2. England’s Rough Wooing
  3. The Most Perfect Child
  4. Betrothal
  5. Queen-Dauphiness
  6. The White Lily of France
  7. Mary the Widow
  8. The State of the Realm
  9. Conciliation and Reconciliation
  10. Governor Good and Gracious
  11. The Fall of Huntly
  12. A Husband for a Girl
  13. The Carnal Marriage
  14. Our Most Special Servant
  15. Breakdown
  16. The Murder of Darnley
  17. The Mermaid and the Hare
  18. Lochleven
  19. In Foreign Bands
  20. Her Privy Letters
  21. My Norfolk
  22. The Uses of Adversity
  23. Mother and Son
  24. The Babington Plot
  25. Trial
  26. The Dolorous Stroke
  27. Epilogue: the Theatre of the World

Visit to the Tower of London


White Tower

So, as you might have guessed from my previous post on the ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ exhibition (click here) I have been on holiday in London. How could I not visit some Tudor-related sites? I was with a friend who had never visited the Tower of London before, so we used the tickets that had been booked way back at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic hit.

We arrived early and spent five hours wandering around, stopping for a café break as well. We walked the walls, and took in the exhibitions, seeing displays on the Medieval Palace, Imprisonment at the Tower, and the Tower in War. We were using my guidebook from 2010 as I haven’t got an updated version and, in one display, there were guidebooks from the past and the same copy as mine was in a glass case! That was weird.

Dudley coat of arms carved in the Beauchamp Tower

The Beauchamp Tower is where we saw all of the graffiti left by those imprisoned there, notably this coat of arms likely carved by one of the Dudleys in 1553-4 after Jane Grey’s failed reign (the photo isn’t great because of the light from behind). There were also several pieces of graffiti left by those involved in rebellions against Elizabeth I which was especially interesting for me to see.

The Bloody Tower includes Walter Raleigh’s study and an exploration of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, something that I’ve read quite a lot about. Raleigh wrote his ‘The History of the World’ while imprisoned here. The Salt Tower was the place of imprisonment of Hew Draper who was incarcerated for sorcery during the reign of Elizabeth I. There are some fascinating astrological drawings on the walls of various places in the Tower where he was kept. A zodiac design contains the date 30 May 1561.

Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

Of course, a visit to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (Peter in Chains) was a must. It’s an absolutely beautiful space where lie buried the remains of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford, Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset, John Dudley Duke of Northumberland, and Guildford Dudley within the main body of the chapel. In the crypt are the remains of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher of Rochester who were executed on nearby Tower Hill.

The armouries in the White Tower were fascinating, though I had seen them before. I almost looked at the rooms anew and visited St John’s Chapel in the White Tower for the very first time. It’s starkly simple but incredibly profound with plain walls and some stone carving, quite a contrast to the better-known St Peter ad Vincula in the grounds. The armouries themselves contain armour from Henry VIII, Charles I, and James II, and a collection of swords, cannon, and other arms from across the ages and across the world. Possibly of more interest to a military historian but seeing the detail on the armour was a highlight of the White Tower for me.

Tower Hill Memorial

On the way back to our hotel we visited the memorial on Tower Hill where the likes of Edward Stafford 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, and Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex were executed, among many others. The names and dates of execution are places on blocks around a small square within the First World War memorial gardens. It’s very easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. More were executed there than are named, but the names of those who were the most notable are written. It is worth a visit if you’re going to the Tower of London as many of those executed there spent time in the Tower itself.

All in all, an incredibly fascinating historical day out, even if we were exhausted afterwards having been on our feet most of the day and then going on a Jack the Ripper walking tour that evening! A blog post on that to follow …

Natural History Museum – ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ Exhibition


Today I’ve been to the Natural History Museum to see the ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ exhibition. It was incredibly interesting to see creatures that inspiration may have come from in real life and how some fantasy creatures were thought to be real in the not too distant past and why that might be.

There were props from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films alongside actual historical artefacts including books, skeletons, and replicas. It’s worth seeing for any Wizarding World fan and for anyone who is interested in fantasy creatures and their origins as the exhibition does go into creatures that we know about today that exhibit some of the same characteristics or that Rowling and the filmmakers could have drawn inspiration from in designing their own creatures.

Buxton Mermaid

One of the objects that I found the creepiest was this mermaid. It’s known as the Buxton Mermaid, lent to the exhibition by Derbyshire County Council, and Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, date unknown. She is mummified and may have held a comb and mirror to brush her hair at one point. The maker of this remains a mystery but sailors were sometimes known to keep them as lucky charms or exhibit them. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the mermaids are part of the second Triwizard task where the four champions have to rescue something that has been taken from them. The chief merman speak to Professor Dumbledore after the task to say that Harry was first to the hostages but was determined to rescue them all, not just his, demonstrating moral fibre.

‘The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents’ by Edward Topsell (1658)

There was a beautiful book called ‘The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents’ by Edward Topsell (1658) which has some drawings of dragons and other creatures. Bestiaries were very popular in the Middle Ages and into the Early Modern period across Europe and combined real creatures with imagined ones. Topsell’s work is no different. People used to believe, however, that dragons were real, a possible descendent of the dinosaurs. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Harry has to fight his way past a dragon in the first task to retrieve a golden egg with a clue for the second task. The four champions each face a different type of dragon – Welsh Green, Swedish Shortsnout, Hungarian Horntail, or Chinese Fireball. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Harry, Ron, and Hermione escape from Gringotts Bank on the back of a dragon they’ve set free.

Dracorex hogwartsia

Something that I didn’t know is that there is a dinosaur named after Hogwarts – the Dracorex hogwartsia which was discovered in 2004. A cast of the skeleton is part of the exhibition. The dinosaur itself was part of the pachycephalosaur family (bone-headed dinosaurs). The name means ‘Dragon King of Hogwarts’. The remains were discovered in the Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota, U.S.A., by three amateur palaeontologists.

It’s well-worth a visit to the Natural History Museum in London just to see this exhibition, though they also have fantastic exhibitions on dinosaurs, volcanoes and earthquakes, and the development of humans.

‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ is on at the Natural History Museum in London until 3 January 2022.

Book Review – ‘The Nine Day Queen’ by Ella March Chase


'The Nine Day Queen' by Ella March Chase (2013).

This is the story of the Nine Day’s Queen, Lady Jane Grey, and her sisters, Katherine, and Mary. They all encountered the wrath of queens themselves and this is a fictional retelling of how they all dealt with that and how the legacy of the Nine Day’s Queen influenced her sisters.

I think I was expecting more from this book as I so enjoyed ‘The Virgin Queen’s Daughter’. Perhaps I enjoyed that one more because it was based on an idea that there is no historical evidence for, rather than following the historical timeline.

This book, according to the title, you would expect to focus on Lady Jane Grey, but she dies about halfway through, so it is actually the story of the three Grey sisters and how Jane’s legacy affects her surviving sisters, Katherine, and Mary. The basic storyline is historical fact but there are several instances where this deviates. Some are covered in the afterword by the author, but some not, so don’t take this as being historically accurate in all cases.

As to the writing, it is engaging to read, but I did feel that it was lacking in some storyline respects especially in the second half of the book. Katherine and Mary Grey are two very intriguing characters that not enough is really written about, so it would have been nice, as their stories after Jane’s death were covered, to get a little more. It almost felt as though the writer wanted to cover their stories but didn’t have the same knowledge as for Jane’s story. The second half felt lacking somehow as a result.

Not the best fictional rendition of the story of Lady Jane Grey and the Grey sisters – I much preferred ‘The Lady of Misrule’ by Suzannah Dunn and I am looking forward to reading ‘Sisters of Treason’ by Elizabeth Fremantle.

Book Review – ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland, Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator’ by Robert Stedall


Thank you to Pen and Sword for gifting me a copy of this book for review.

I’m not very knowledgeable about Mary Queen of Scots’ early life in France and Scotland. I know more about the period after she fled to England in 1568. I hoped that this would fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge.

William Maitland isn’t a person I had ever heard of before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect though “Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator” gave me some suggestions. He was involved in the early plotting of Mary Queen of Scots during the Darnley period after her return from France to rule Scotland. He is certainly an interesting figure, though Mary Queen of Scots is far more so. I know that we can learn a lot from the figures on the edges of a famous person’s life, but Maitland didn’t seem to really interest me.

I found the book quite complex and difficult to read in places. This was perhaps because I didn’t know much about the period, or that I didn’t find Maitland a very interesting person. I felt that the dates were given so you could tell how much research had gone into it, but I had to keep flicking backwards to check which year we were in. This is one of my pet peeves in history books – assuming that 4 or 5 pages later you can still remember which year you’re in! This is particularly annoying if you’re using the index to look for references to a particular person or event.

The book is divided down into easily digestible chunks in chronological order, so if you are looking for a particular event it is fairly easy to find it. Maitland comes across as a shadowy figure, never really at the heart of things but with plenty of opinions and involvement on the periphery of events surrounding Mary Queen of Scots. Some of the reference notations were a little sparse for my liking, constantly having to cross-check with the full bibliography and list of abbreviations to find sources which was annoying.

I think this is a book I’ll have to come back to once I’ve read some more of the background to Scotland in this period as I did feel a little out of my depth, but I’ll hope to understand and discover more when I reread it!

Chapters:

  1. Maitland established his standing under Marie of Guise
  2. The Lords of the Congregation challenge French authority
  3. The return of the widowed Mary Queen of Scots
  4. Diplomatic efforts to establish Mary as Elizabeth’s heir
  5. Lord James (soon to be Earl of Moray) and Maitland establish authority
  6. The negotiations for Mary’s remarriage
  7. Mary’s efforts to take up the reins of government
  8. Marriage to Darnley
  9. Moray’s rebellion
  10. Riccio’s murder
  11. Restored as Secretary of State
  12. Ending Mary’s marriage to Darnley
  13. The Chameleon
  14. The plot for Darnley’s murder unfolds
  15. Providing evidence of a crime of passion
  16. Enticement for Mary to marry Bothwell
  17. Bothwell’s exonerations and marriage to Mary
  18. The Confederates challenge Mary and Bothwell
  19. Negotiations while Mary is held at Lochleven
  20. Mary’s escape and Maitland’s signs of sympathy
  21. The Conferences at York and Westminster
  22. A last hurrah for Mary’s cause

What do you do when you’ve thought about hurting yourself?


I’m not going to apologise for writing about this on my blog. It might be controversial and if you don’t want to read it then skip past. When I thought about writing this post I wasn’t sure what to say, but I knew I wanted to talk about it. Not what you’d expect to see on a history blog but important, nonetheless.

When you feel like you’d rather hurt yourself than go to work that’s when you know you need to make some changes. I was on sick leave earlier in the year and this is the closest I’ve felt to that again. Right now, I feel as bad, if not worse, than I did then.

I’ve been thinking about going back to my GP but that feels like giving up. Is it giving up? Admitting you need help and time to look after yourself isn’t giving up. It’s being strong and admitting that you can’t cope rather than struggling on alone.

I’m lucky in the fact that I have some fantastic friends. I’ve grown closer to them during this lockdown and I’m looking forward to being able to spend a lot more time with them now. They have helped me get through a lot of hard times and I don’t think I’ve really appreciated just how much they’ve helped me. You know who you are, so thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.

It’s the small things that can make you feel better. I went to the supermarket with my mum over the weekend. I haven’t been for a while as my mum has been ill and I’ve been ordering online as I can’t drive. I bought a new jumper and a new shopping bag. Small things but they made me feel better. Well, that and the roast dinner mum cooked that evening!

Going back to work – my job isn’t what I want to do. I have degrees in History and Library Management and I’m doing an admin job. I want to do a job where I can inspire people and make a real difference to lives, whether that’s working in a library or a university, or some other educational or publishing environment. My job drains me. I feel exhausted afterwards because I don’t feel like I’m using my brain and I don’t feel like I’m making a difference or being valued for what I can bring.

So, I’ve decided to make a change. Consciously. I’ve been looking out for jobs that I’d like but now I’m making a concerted effort. Maybe not the best time with a book deadline looming, but taking small steps is better than taking no steps at all. Maybe it’s my looming 31st birthday next week but I don’t want to still feel like this in 5 years time. I need to feel like I want to get up in the morning, not wishing that I hadn’t woken up at all.

What has kept me going is working on my book and a determination to see my name in print. And my friends. Without these two things I might have given up altogether. I still could but I’ll try not to.

It might take some time, but I’ll get there.

As someone wise keeps saying – kindly, keep going.

I hope this also goes some way to explaining why I haven’t been blogging much recently, for those who are missing my posts. I apologise, I’ve been writing and taking some me time!

Book Review – ‘The Familiars’ by Stacey Halls


I really enjoyed this book. I started listening to it on audiobook, but I wasn’t very into it. When I started reading the physical book, however, I really got into it and there were places where I really didn’t want to put it down.

I loved Fleetwood Shuttleworth as a character, and Alice Grey, but I couldn’t really seem to connect with the others. Richard Shuttleworth, Fleetwood’s husband, I thought was a wet blanket at first, but we started to see his backbone and it was interesting following his development as a character, and the change in his relationship with Fleetwood as well. Roger Nowell I think was the villain that you really didn’t like – he was completely manipulative and determined to get his own way and rise in the world, no matter the consequences. In a way he was quite a sad character.

The story of Fleetwood’s pregnancy is haunting, having lost so many babies before they were born, and believing that she wouldn’t live to see this one grow up either. That’s the overarching theme of the book – the struggle of women in childbed and in doing things of their own free will without the guiding hand of their husband. It was a dark time for women – accusations of witchcraft, the fear of dying in childbed, men taking mistresses and the women having to accept it, being totally at the beck and call of a man. We see Fleetwood battle against all of these things to find her place in the world and help a friend in dire need.

I wanted to see more of the Pendle witches and the trials. I felt that, for a book set in this fascinating area and based around accusations of witchcraft, that felt a little lacking in places. There were bits and pieces about the accusations and the women who were being accused but it was largely second-hand rumour and gossip. I wanted to see more from the first-hand accounts of the women involved. That’s what let it down for me, story-wise.

I really enjoy Stacey Halls’s writing, having read ‘The Foundling’ before, and I’m really glad I finally gave in and read this one! I’ll look forward to reading Halls’s new book ‘Mrs England’ in the future.

Book Review – ‘The Queen’s Spy’ by Clare Marchant


Thank you to Avon Books for sending me a copy of this for review.

I really enjoyed this book, and it was interesting to see the spying in the Elizabethan court from a fictional point of view, having read a lot of nonfiction about it recently for my own book. It’s quite a complex subject and period of time but Clare Marchant deals with it in a sympathetic and concise manner, keeping the story moving along.

The Babington Plot was a pivotal moment in the history of Elizabethan and Tudor England, because it led directly to the execution of an anointed monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, although the book doesn’t cover the execution itself. We see the background to the plot through the eyes of a deaf and mute apothecary’s assistant, Tom Lutton, who is pulled into the dark world of Francis Walsingham and back-street spying and conspiracy.

In the end he pays a high price for his involvement, but this is contrasted with the parallel story of one of Lutton’s descendants in 2021, Mathilde and Rachel. I’m never entirely sure about a book written both in the present and in the past, having had bad experiences with parallel narratives before. However, this was startlingly clear, and the two parts worked really well together.

Mathilde, Rachel, Fleur, and Oliver, all added something to the narrative of the past, even though they are characters based in the present. The way they explored the triptych and the history behind it added more depth to Tom’s story in his chapters, and the ending tied everything together really nicely, making it feel like a completed whole.

An excellent fictional exploration of a complex period in English history, with characters that make you want to read on and find out how their stories end. I was completely gripped.

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