Book Review – ‘The Spanish Queen’ by Carolly Erickson


Carolly Erickson 'The Spanish Queen'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review – ‘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”

Book Review – ‘The Western Wind’ by Samantha Harvey


The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An Alternative History of Britain Tudors - Timothy Venning

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

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

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

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

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

Documentary Notes – British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the Wars of the Roses


  • Story of past open to interpretation 
  • Carefully edited and deceitful version of events 
  • Not just a version of what happened – more a tapestry of different stories woven together by whoever was in power at the time 
  • Wars of the Roses was invented by the Tudors to justify their power 
  • Immortalised by Shakespeare – darkest chapter in English history 
  • Lancaster and York locked in battle for the crown of England – kings deposed, innocent children murdered, cousin fought against cousin 
  • 1485 Richard III slain and Henry Tudor took the throne 
  • Henry VII’s victory hailed the ending of the Medieval period 
  • Line between fact and fiction often gets blurred 
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.
  • 1455 Stubbins in Lancashire scene of a legendary battle in the Wars of the Roses beginning with volleys of arrows but ran out of ammunition 
  • Lancastrians pelted the Yorkists with black pudding – local legend 
  • Yorkists pelted the Lancastrians with Yorkshire puddings – local legend 
  • Wars of the Roses in national memory 
  • History books – rivalry between Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) – bloody rivalry largely a creation of the Tudors 
  • 1461 bloodshed real in the middle of a snowstorm at Towton 
  • Lancastrians started out well but tide turned against them, chased by the Yorkists down the slope to a river and so a massacre began 
  • Blood stained the snow red, so location became known as the bloody meadow 
  • Shakespeare portrayed the battle as a bloody Armageddon – represented a country torn apart by war, nothing as bad in our history 
  • Somme 19,000 British soldiers killed on the first day, Towton 28,000 killed 
  • 20 years ago Bradford University revealed barbarity of fighting with remains of 43 men killed at Towton 
  • Head forced down into the spine, poleaxes – exceptional even for the Wars of the Roses 
  • Skirmishes, but real battles only around 8 in 30 years 
  • Not ravaged by all-out war – later myth 
  • Out of 32 years of wars, fighting on lasted a total of 13 weeks 

Continue reading “Documentary Notes – British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the Wars of the Roses”

Book Review – ‘Fatal Throne’ by Candace Fleming


Fatal Throne by Candace Fleming

He was King Henry VIII, a charismatic and extravagant ruler obsessed with both his power as king and with siring a male heir. They were his queens–six ill-fated women, each bound for divorce, or beheading, or death. Watch spellbound as each of Henry’s wives attempts to survive their un-predictable king and his power-hungry court. See the sword flash as fiery Anne Boleyn is beheaded for adultery. Follow Jane Seymour as she rises from bullied court maiden to beloved queen, only to die after giving birth. Feel Catherine Howard’s terror as old lovers resurface and whisper vicious rumours to Henry’s influential advisors. Experience the heartache of mothers as they lose son after son, heir after heir. Told in stirring first-person accounts, Fatal Throne is at once provocative and heart-breaking, an epic tale that is also an intimate look at the royalty of the most perilous times in English history. [Description from Amazon UK] 

Co-written by several authors – Candace Fleming, M.T. Anderson, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, and Deborah Hopkinson – and received as a Christmas present. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened this book as, when I have previously read novels co-written with different authors, there is sometimes a jarring effect where the different voices don’t go together and it doesn’t sound like the same story, but that didn’t happen here. I actually really enjoyed it, and I thought that the emotions of each woman in particular came across very strongly, and gave the story an emotional centre – these were real women who got involved with one of the most notorious of British monarchs, Henry VIII. 

I did wonder whether, because the book was quite short to be covering the lives of six women who had quite full lives it might be a bit sparse, but the authors were very clever in the way that they covered the events of the period – it was only revealed what each individual woman would have known, and not what was going on more generally, because it was written from the point of view of each of the women.  

What did let the book down for me slightly was, perhaps because I know the stories of these women so well, there were sections of their lives that I was hoping to see that didn’t make the cut, and little details that added to the story but that didn’t quite ring true. However, generally it was a very enjoyable story, and well-handled. I particularly enjoyed the section told from the point of view of Anne of Cleves, as I think she is often overlooked as she was only queen for 6 months, and replaced by a younger woman. 

I liked the fact that, between each wife we get a short section from the viewpoint of Henry VIII, and it’s clever how much manages to come across in that short section to contrast with the views of the women. I also liked the final page from the point of view of Elizabeth I as she was really Henry VIII’s success story, though he considered her his biggest disappointment. 

This is also published on my other blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/. 

Book Review – ‘Bloody Mary: Tudor Terror 1553-1558’ by Phil Carradice


Phil Carradice - Bloody Mary Tudor Terror

Phil Carradice, Bloody Mary: Tudor Terror 1553-1558 (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2018) ISBN 9781526728654

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 was pleasantly surprised when I saw how short this book was, that it managed to cram in so much detail. There are so many little details throughout the book that I didn’t expect. It’s a great introduction to the reign of Mary I, and especially her role in the Catholic Counter-Reformation in England in the 1550s. There is lots of detail about the Protestant martyrs of her reign who I didn’t really know much about to be honest, but I do now!

I especially enjoyed the introductory section about Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and the section about Thomas Cranmer’s recantation and execution. John Foxe’s book lists many of the people who were killed under Mary I as Protestant martyrs, and their beliefs and executions are covered in a surprising amount of detail. I haven’t yet got around to reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, just dipping in and out for assignments and blog posts, but this makes me want to spend more time with it.

Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Bloody Mary: Tudor Terror 1553-1558’ by Phil Carradice”

Book Review – ‘The First Horseman’ by D.K. Wilson


The First Horseman by D.K. Wilson

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

1536. In the corrupt heart of Tudor London a killer waits in the shadows… The Real Crime: Before dawn on a misty November morning in 1536, prominent mercer Robert Packington was gunned down as he crossed Cheapside on his way to early morning mass. It was the first assassination by handgun in the history of the capital and subsequently shook the city to its core. The identity of his assassin has remained a mystery. Our Story: Thomas Treviot is a young London goldsmith and a close family friend of Robert Packington. Through his own upstanding social connections – and some less upstanding acquaintances he has made along the way – Thomas launches a dramatic investigation into Packington’s death. As Thomas searches for revenge, he must travel from the golden heart of merchant London, to the straw-covered backstreets of London’s poorest districts before reaching the country’s seat of power: the court of King Henry VIII. Before long he is drawn into a dark conspiracy beyond his wildest imaginings and claiming justice for his friend starts to look impossible. Especially when Thomas realises that Robert wasn’t the man he thought he knew… [Description from Waterstones]

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel, but I was quite pleasantly surprised. Since I’ve read it, I have seen some reviews comparing it to the Matthew Shardlake books by C.J. Sansom. However, I think that Sansom is a better writer, and better at shaping his characters, so as long as you don’t go in expecting too much you won’t be disappointed.

I like the fact that the story was based on a real-life unsolved crime – the murder of Robert Packington in London in 1536. At this time London was split by divisions over religion and politics. This book deals with the religious divisions quite well, and explores what can be hidden in a man’s soul even when outwardly he is something else. I also loved the meld of real life characters like Thomas Cromwell and Robert Packington with the fictional like Thomas Treviot. It gives a sense that you can relate to the people you know even if the story is alien.

Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The First Horseman’ by D.K. Wilson”

Book Review – ‘Treachery’ by S.J. Parris


Treachery by S.J. Parris

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

Perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose, the fourth historical thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, heretic, philosopher and spy. August, 1585. England is on the brink of war… Sir Francis Drake is preparing to launch a daring expedition against the Spanish when a murder aboard his ship changes everything. A relentless enemy. A treacherous conspiracy. Giordano Bruno agrees to hunt the killer down, only to find that more than one deadly plot is brewing in Plymouth’s murky underworld. And as he tracks a murderer through its dangerous streets, he uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the future of England itself. [Description from Waterstones]

I wasn’t sure about this series at first, because it reminded me of the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom which I absolutely love. However, if you go into it with no expectations you will be pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable and well written it is in fact. It is shorter than the books in the Shardlake series which is to its advantage as the size of the Shardlake books initially put me off, but Parris manages to pack quite a lot into the book.

Giordano Bruno as a character is fascinating, being an ex-Dominican Italian monk, excommunicated by the Pope for heresy, and chasing banned books across Europe. This is the fourth book in the series, but actually one of my favourites, along with the first in the series ‘Heresy’. I think this is because the enigmatic figure of Sir Francis Drake appears in this story, and cleverly joins the fictional with the real, combining a political and religious plot with a personal vendetta.

Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Treachery’ by S.J. Parris”

Book Review – ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory's 'The White Princess' (2013).

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

From the bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl comes the haunting story of the mother of the Tudors, Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII. Beautiful eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville – the White Queen – the young princess Elizabeth faces a conflict of loyalties between the red rose and the white. Forced into marriage with Henry VII, she must reconcile her slowly growing love for him with her loyalty to the House of York, and choose between her mother’s rebellion and her husband’s tyranny. Then she has to meet the Pretender, whose claim denies the House of Tudor itself. [Description from Waterstones]

I’d heard mixed reviews about ‘The White Princess’ before I started reading it and, to be honest, I’m still not sure whether I liked it or not. There were parts that I really enjoyed like the furore over Perkin Warbeck and the Earl of Warwick at the end, but it took me a while to get into it.

I found the beginning slow and it felt like Gregory was adding sensational details to try and hook the reader, which I didn’t think were necessary. The character of Elizabeth Woodville really annoyed me in this one, which she didn’t in ‘The White Queen’ so I’m not sure what changed, but I loved the character of Maggie Pole and I am now quite looking forward to reading her story in ‘The King’s Curse’ by Philippa Gregory, as I think she was a very intriguing woman and her own story doesn’t seem to get told, except as part of the wider story of the Tudors. It’s about time someone wrote a fictional account of her life.

Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory”