Book Review – 'Mary: Tudor Princess' by Tony Riches


Would you dare to defy King Henry VIII? Mary Tudor watches her elder brother become King of England and wonders what the future holds for her. Henry plans to use her marriage to build a powerful alliance against his enemies…. Will she risk his anger by marrying for love? Will Mary’s loyalty to Henry be tested by the ambitious Boleyn family? Based on actual events of courage, passion and adventure in the turbulent and dangerous world of the Tudor court. [Description from Amazon UK]

Brandon Trilogy #1

Thank you to Tony Riches for the chance to read this novel.

This has been on my to-read for quite a while now, so I was thrilled when Tony Riches got in touch and offered me a copy for review. It’s taken me a while to get around to actually writing the review because I’ve been so busy, but finally here it is. To summarise: I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading the next in the series.

Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, has always fascinated me, as she went from a political marriage to Louis XII of France to a love match with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. It was interesting to see the two marriages explored and contrasted with each other. Riches portrays Mary’s marriage to Louis XII as one of respect and affection, whereas other depictions (notably in TV show, ‘The Tudors’) show Mary’s first marriage as an unhappy one. I like to think that she at least found some affection in her marriage, and I liked Riches portrayal of the marriage as such.

Riches’ style of writing is easy to read, but really seems to get to the heart of the period at the same time. He incorporates sights, sounds and smells with the characters that bring the Tudor court to life. The relationships between the different characters were different to how I had imagined them, but that heightened my enjoyment of the book because it wasn’t what I was expecting but I thoroughly liked a different point of view nevertheless.

Mary’s relationship with Brandon’s children from his earlier marriage I didn’t expect, and I want to know more, so if anyone can recommend a book about Charles Brandon and his children I would love to know about it.

Charles Brandon has also been a source of fascination to me as he seems to be the one constant in Henry VIII’s life, and he managed to survive the reign where so many others didn’t, so I am greatly looking forward to reading the second book in the series – ‘Brandon: Tudor Knight’. I will definitely be giving it a go, and the third in the series, ‘Katherine: Tudor Duchess’, about Brandon’s final wife, Katherine Willoughby. Reviews to follow in due course. This book was an eye-opener on a person who interests me, but I didn’t know all that much about, well worth a read for any Tudorstorians out there.

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


Kindred Spirits Royal Mile by Jennifer C Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review – ‘Tudor Folk Tales’ by Dave Tonge


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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapters:

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

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

Book Review – ‘A Phoenix Rising’ by Vivienne Brereton


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

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

Series – House of the Red Duke #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review – ‘The Spanish Queen’ by Carolly Erickson


Carolly Erickson 'The Spanish Queen'

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review – ‘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.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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/.