Book Review – ‘Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I’ by Amy Licence


I was so excited to get a review copy of this book from Amberley Publishing. It doesn’t disappoint as it discusses the Tudor women across the whole period and how they compare to each other in their styles of motherhood, queenship, and relations with the men in their lives. It shows how resilient the women were and how essential they were to the dynasty. It doesn’t just examine the period 1485 to 1603 but looks at the women before this period who shaped it, like Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort, the matriarchs of the dynasty, without whom it wouldn’t have existed.

This book tries to tackle some of the prevailing myths about these women and the dominating views of the past centuries. It opens up new areas for exploration and tries to redress the balance of views on these incredible women. It’s good to focus on the women, who are often seen as supporting rather than leading figures, as the focus is often on the men who wield the power. The women of the period may have often been side-lined, but they often wielded power behind the scenes more often than in the public eye.

Although it is a long book and can seem daunting to start with, it is well worth investing the time to read it, as Amy Licence manages to sprinkle little details throughout and asks questions which make you think and consider different angles. It makes me want to delve into others of Licence’s books which are sat on my shelves, but I haven’t gotten around to reading yet! It also makes me want to know more in particular about Henry VIII’s sisters, Margaret Queen of Scotland, and Mary Duchess of Suffolk.

I would thoroughly recommend this, even if you don’t know that much about the Tudors, as it offers different angles on people sometimes overlooked in the period or misunderstood. It is easy to read and written chronologically so that if you are looking for a particular thing, it is easy to find. Obviously well-researched and concisely written.

Chapters:

  1. Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort 1437-1460
  2. Women as Witnesses 1460-1463
  3. A Queen is Made 1464-1469
  4. A Queen is Unmade 1469-1472
  5. Elizabeth of York 1472-1485
  6. The First Tudor Queen 1485-1486
  7. Dynasty in Danger 1487-1492
  8. Tudor Princesses 1489-1501
  9. The Spanish Bride 1501-1503
  10. The Two Margarets 1503-1509
  11. New Wives 1509-1515
  12. Widows 1513-1515
  13. Legacies of Love 1516-1520
  14. Gold 1520-1525
  15. Breaking the Queenship Model 1525-1533
  16. Wives and Daughters 1533-1534
  17. Queen, Interrupted 1534-1536
  18. The Search for Love 1533-1537
  19. Changing Times 1537-1540
  20. Women in Danger 1540-1542
  21. Weathering the Storm 1543-1546
  22. Such a Brief Happiness 1545-1549
  23. Dangerous Women 1547-1553
  24. Queens in Conflict 1553-1554
  25. The Half-Spanish Queen 1554-1555
  26. Saving the Nation’s Souls 1555-1558
  27. Autonomy 1558-1562
  28. Gender Politics 1563-1569
  29. The Queen’s Person 1570-1588
  30. Finale 1589-1603
  31. How the Tudor Dynasty was Built by Women 1437-1603

Book Review – ‘House of Tudor: A Grisly History’ by Mickey Mayhew


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

This is quite a different take on the Tudor period which I really enjoyed. It’s written in really short chapters which makes it easy to read and dip in and out of and return to if you want to refresh your memory on a particular event.

The book covers 45 different events of the Tudor period which are the most grisly events of the period rather than the most common events. These include the poisoning of Bishop Fisher, the blackened heart of Katherine of Aragon, Mary I’s phantom pregnancies, and the kidnap of Mary Queen of Scots, among many others. Particular attention is paid to some of the more gory or unusual aspects of the events described which is quite novel and something that some history books skate over.

The book has a great selection of images, and a comprehensive index. There are two things I will say that stops this being a 5-star read for me, maybe just as a historian myself, there is a lack of original / contemporary primary sources listed in the bibliography though they have been used in the text itself, but that certainly doesn’t detract from the excellent discourse and ease of reading of this book which I thoroughly enjoyed! There is also only mention of Henry VII in the Bosworth chapter but no further mention of him really, even given the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions and the execution of the Earl of Warwick.

Aside from these two things I can’t really fault it! This is a fantastic addition to my Tudor bookcase and one that I will certainly come back to when working on my own writing! It really does cover so many different things that there will be something for everyone whatever your interests are; political, personal, medical, or death. A brilliant gory discourse on my favourite period of history!

‘Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens’ at the British Library


I’ve been so busy recently it’s taken me a while to get round to putting this up on my blog – back in November when I was in London, as well as going to the Tower of London, Natural History Museum, and on a Jack the Ripper walking tour I, of course, had to find time to visit the British Library to see their exhibition on Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. This was just perfect timing, given that I was writing my first book on Elizabethan Rebellions which Mary was a huge part of.

There was so much to see and take in during the exhibition: portraits, books, letters, papal bulls, and jewellery. It was a real insight into the minds of these women and how they were trying to negotiate the murky political waters of the sixteenth century. Here I’m going to talk about just a couple of things in the exhibition which made a huge impact on me.

Letter from the Privy Council to the Earl of Kent giving permission for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots

The first is the letter from the Privy Council agreeing to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. The original warrant long ago went missing, so this is the closest thing that we have. To see the signatures of William Cecil, Henry Carey Lord Hunsdon, Francis Knollys, and Charles Howard demonstrates just how willing these men were to go over and above their Queen and threaten the very idea of divine right in order to safeguard Elizabeth I’s throne. Mary was just too dangerous to be allowed to live and Elizabeth wouldn’t be safe while she did.

‘Gallows Letter’ from Mary Queen of Scots to Anthony Babington 1586

The second was the Babington ‘gallows’ letter which Mary Queen of Scots sent to Anthony Babington in 1586 during the Babington Plot and which led directly to her own execution the following year. The original was written in code and then burnt by Babington once he’d read it. This is a copy made by Walsingham’s codebreaker, Thomas Phelippes. When Phelippes realised that the letter incriminated Mary Queen of Scots in treason he drew a gallows on his copy before sending it onto Walsingham as evidence, hence the name ‘gallows letter’.

The final two things I’m going to talk about, I’m going to do together as they are related to one of my favourite Tudor people – Anne Boleyn. The exhibition included the written announcement of the birth of Elizabeth I in 1533 which was amazing to see, and the famous Chequers ring, which has portraits of Elizabeth I and, allegedly, Anne Boleyn, though this has never been conclusively proven. It seems likely, however, as Elizabeth wore it and never took it off until her death. It’s a stunning piece, smaller than I had imagined but absolutely beautiful. It links the two women together and helps us to consider what Elizabeth might have thought about her mother, who had been executed by her father when she was just 2 years old.

If you want to catch the exhibition before it closes, it is on at the British Library for another week, until 20th February 2022, or you can do a digital tour online.

https://www.bl.uk/events/elizabeth-and-mary

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 – ‘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 – ‘Rival Queens: The Betrayal of Mary Queen of Scots’ by Kate Williams


I really enjoyed reading this book. Reading it as part of my research for my own book puts a different perspective on it, I’m realising. I focus more on the sections that I myself am writing about rather than the overall work. But Williams writes really clearly and concisely and it’s easy to get pulled into the narrative she’s telling. There are plenty of primary sources discussed throughout, which gives an insider view on what people were thinking and feeling at the time.

The title perhaps is a bit misleading as it suggests that Mary Queen of Scots’s downfall was due entirely to Elizabeth, but that simply wasn’t the case. There were a lot of circumstances that combined to cause Mary’s downfall and execution, not least her own desperation and stupidity. The book does discuss Mary’s mistakes and how she created her own mess.

However, the book as a whole was very cohesive and explored the deep and complicated relationship between the two female monarchs, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, which lasted across decades although the two never met in person. It is an intriguing and at times convoluted relationship which does require a lot of explanation at points, especially regarding the rebellions which surrounded Mary and impacted Elizabeth greatly. This does get confusing at points, and I did have to go back reread to make sure I understood what was going on.

Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots come across as women in their own right, not just as queens, who had their own wants, hopes, dreams, thoughts, and feelings. Sometimes historical biographies can treat their subjects as objects rather than living people (or dead people now, but who were living and real, to be more precise). Kate Williams didn’t fall into that trap with her retelling of the relationship between the two.

The book is thoroughly well-researched and cited, and I must thank Kate for her excellent research which has pointed me to several other sources which I can use myself. One of the best and most interesting books about the tumultuous relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots you’ll ever read.

Book Review – ‘Essex: Tudor Rebel’ by Tony Riches


Thank you to Tony Riches for giving me a copy of this book to review.

I really enjoy Tony Riches’ writing. He has a way of bringing the world of the Tudor court to life that makes these historical figures who lived over 400 years ago seem very real in the present. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is an intriguing character with plenty of history. All I really knew about him was the end of his life – the rebellion that resulted in his execution, from my own research. This book opened my eyes to some of the events of his earlier life.

I’ve been researching Elizabethan rebellions, so it was interesting to find out more about this figure who was central to a rebellion in 1601 against Elizabeth I. The story follows him from his childhood, and the death of his father, to his death by execution. It explores scandal, romance, and treason. We really get to see the changeable attitude of the Queen and how fortunes could change on just one roll of the die.

It features a wide range of real historical characters along Essex, like Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, William Cecil Lord Burghley, Robert Cecil, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Philip Sidney. These characters come together to create a richly detailed storyline with plenty going on which keeps the story moving. I was really intrigued by the supporting character of Lettice Knollys, Essex’s mother, who herself was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn. Her relationships with her children and partners were particularly interesting.

What is particularly interesting for me in this story is to see the development of Essex from a boy who loses his father at a young age and has to step suddenly and unexpectedly into his shoes, to the Queen’s favourite at court, to an attainted rebel who ends on the scaffold. The story is full of ups and downs and makes you want to keep reading.

If you don’t know much about key characters in Tudor history, then I would really recommend reading books by Tony Riches because he introduces them without too much fuss, but with enough detail to bring them to life, and makes you want to find out more about them. I can’t wait to fill in the gaps and read the ones I haven’t read yet.

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


I really enjoyed this book. I am currently working on my first non-fiction book about Elizabethan Rebellions, so this was a really interesting fictional account of the Babington plot which led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots the following year. This is the fifth in a series of books revolving around Giordano Bruno.

Giordano Bruno as a character was intriguing and keeps being so throughout each book in the series. He is complex, with different strands like his religious history, academic studies, and his spy and undercover work. Bruno was a real person who was in England spying for Francis Walsingham, although the exact nature of his assignments doesn’t seem to be known, and it look as though he left England in 1585 so couldn’t have been involved in the Babington plot in 1586.

A bit of historical license is OK, and Bruno is such an interesting character that I can imagine he would have been involved in the Babington conspiracy if given the opportunity. The conspiracy was the interesting bit for me and the relationships between those involved in the conspiracy – Babington, Titch, Ballard, and Savage. In historical sources we don’t see these relationships so that was what drew my attention.

Those who know the history will know how it ends and the basics of the progression of the plot, but Parris manages to hold you on the edge of your seat anyway, weaving the real history through with fictional sub-plots which blend in seamlessly to the rest of the story. The reason I didn’t give it five stars is because I found the beginning quite slow and hard going. It didn’t seem necessary to spin it out for so long.

I’ve always enjoyed reading this series because of the interactions between the characters and their involvement in various conspiracies. Whether there will be further books in the series, I don’t know, but there are several unresolved issues, so I really hope so!

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