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 …

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

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.

Elizabethan Rebellions – Writing Update!


For those who don’t know, I am writing my first book to be published by Pen and Sword History, on Elizabethan Rebellions.

When I first started writing this book I was intending to write at least fortnightly updates on my blog, but the time has just overtaken me! If you follow me on social media, you’ll probably have seen some updates, but I have been struggling to write anything at the moment aside from my book, hence the lack of posts on this blog.

I am over halfway through the writing, having written 50,000 words. I like to edit as I go along so my process is to write a couple of thousand words and then edit what I’ve written. The manuscript deadline is January 2022 to get it to the publisher.

I’ve had some problems with sourcing images, however. Wikimedia Commons was suggested as a way to get images that are in the public domain. However, images on Wikimedia Commons are only public domain in the US, the rules for the UK are less obvious, described as ‘inconclusive’.[i] Rather than risk any copyright infringement I have looked into images under the Creative Commons License.[ii] It’s interesting because there are images that I maybe wouldn’t have looked at, but are quite intriguing – I’m using the Wellcome Collection at the moment to source images.[iii]

Understanding Elizabethan Rebellions takes quite a bit of brain power I’ve learnt. There is so much plotting and conspiracy that people get confused and the exact order of what happened. There is also a lot of missing evidence or propaganda replacing the real story.

It has been a real eye-opener working on this book and now I have all kinds of ideas running through my head for things I’d like to write in the future.


[i] Commons:Reuse of PD-Art photographs – Wikimedia Commons

[ii] CC Search (creativecommons.org)

[iii] Collections | Wellcome Collection

Book Review – ‘The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I’ by Stephen Alford


This was a very intriguing read largely regarding the secret network of spies and informants built up around Elizabeth I, with William Cecil, Baron Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Sir Robert Cecil at its heart. It explores in detail the Throckmorton Plot of 1583 and the Babington Plot of 1586 where the use of spies and ciphers really came into their own.

It was well-written and clearly a lot of research had been done, much of which I hadn’t read about before. However, I felt that in places it also seemed overly complicated, and I couldn’t wrap my head around some of it until I’d read it at least three times. I also had to keep going back to check on the people involved in various plots. There was a lot of jumping about from person to person which I think is sometimes where I got a bit lost, and the writing then lost some of its cohesiveness.

There were detailed endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography, easy to track down the research used. The book plate section in the centre I also felt was well-chosen and linked to what was written about in the text. It was nice to also have some images spread throughout the text when they were particularly appropriate, it made a nice change actually.

There was an interesting introduction of ‘what if’ Elizabeth I had been assassinated after the spy network failed and how this could have influenced English and European history. It illustrated Alford’s point of just how important the Tudor spy network was in keeping monarch and country safe and prosperous.

This was a very helpful book to read for my own writing on Elizabethan Rebellions, but I did have to make a lot of notes and then go back through them to make sure I understood it. Not an easy read, but a very informative one, nonetheless.

Chapters:

Part One – Spying Out the Land

  1. Ten Days in November
  2. The Lion’s Mouth
  3. English Roman Lives
  4. ‘Judas his parts’
  5. Paris and London
  6. Hunting Edmund Campion
  7. Out of the Shadows

Part Two – Enemies of the State

  1. ‘Sundry wicked plots and means’
  2. The Secret Lives of William Parry
  3. ‘The enemy sleeps not’
  4. ‘A very unadvised enterprise’
  5. Dangerous Fruits
  6. Alias Cornelys
  7. Sleights of Hand
  8. Framing the Labyrinth

Part Three – Politics and Money

  1. An Axe and an Armada
  2. ‘Good and painful long services’
  3. Platforms and Passports
  4. The Fall and Rise of Thomas Phelippes
  5. Politics and Prognostications
  6. Ends and Beginnings

Book Review – ‘Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife’ by Alison Weir


I have thoroughly enjoyed this whole series from Alison Weir and what a way to end! Although the previous two for me were the weakest (‘Anna of Kleve’ and ‘Katheryn Howard’). This one brought the series back up to the levels of the first three books in the series. Katherine Parr is often just remembered as the sixth wife and the one who survived, but this offers a new insight into her life and the people who she affected and who affected her most.

Katherine Parr has always fascinated me – she was the only one of Henry’s wives to have married twice before her marriage to the King (Katherine of Aragon was married once before) and then once after as well! She is a really intriguing woman who suffered so much through her life and died tragically as well, though at least it was a natural death rather than a beheading!

The book was full of detail and well-paced. I had thought that maybe Weir would rush through Katherine’s first two marriages, but she didn’t, and I think that was actually my favourite part of the book – the bit that I know least about, and certainly is least written about Katherine. The focus tends to be on her royal marriage and her fourth marriage to Thomas Seymour and the controversy with Elizabeth, but it was these early marriages which really shaped her, so it was super interesting to read about those in a fictionalised way.

The ideas of betrayal and religion run throughout as Katherine struggles not to betray her own religious beliefs, or her feelings about Thomas Seymour, to those around her. This was a tumultuous period in English history where religion was very much an open question and Weir handles it sensitively with the views of the time not marred too much by the sensibilities of the present.

This was an excellent book to finish the series off on and this is certainly a series I will come back to again and re-read.

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