Book Review – ‘Princess of Thorns’ by Saga Hillbom


Thank you to the author for giving me a copy of this to review.

I really enjoyed this quite unique take on the Wars of the Roses and the reign of Henry VII. Told from the point of view of Cecily of York, daughter of Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII) it gives a different view almost from the outside in. It also offers a fictional account of a woman at the centre of the warring factions, essentially Yorkist but forced to marry a staunch Lancastrian.

This novel has certainly made me more interested in the other York sisters and following their lives a bit more closely. I know a bit about Elizabeth of York having studied the Tudors and been introduced to her through Henry VII, but the others seem to have led interesting lives as well, so I want to read more around them.

The writing is concise and the descriptions clear, making you believe that you can see the pieces of jewellery described or be in the places that the characters are in, picturing those same characters clearly in your head though, for me at least, influenced in part by historical TV dramas like ‘The White Queen’ (eye roll). The book is quite fast-paced, but sentimental in places, and the balance between the two is exceptional.

The sibling rivalry between Cecily and her eldest sister, Elizabeth, was brilliantly done, and echoes squabbling siblings across the ages, only this was a more high-stakes environment. The jealousy of what could be perceived as the less successful or powerful sibling (Cecily) juxtaposed against the more powerful and influential queen (Elizabeth) exacerbates what I’m sure siblings today will recognise. That gives a touch of the familiar into this otherwise unrecognisable world compared to today.

If there are any lovers of historical fiction based in the Wars of the Roses or early Tudor period I would thoroughly recommend this book as it offers something unique, being written from the point of view of a woman often overlooked in history, but who at the same time was at the centre of events and who suffered many personal tragedies in her life. Saga Hillbom tells her story with sensitivity and demonstrates just how perilous life and ambition could be.

This review is also published on my sister blog BookBloggerish | For Everything Bookish (wordpress.com).

Saga Hillbom has also written a guest post for this blog on the marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville, which can be found here.

The Marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville


Today we have a guest post by Saga Hillborn, a historical fiction writer. Her new novel, ‘Princess of Thorns’ follows the story of Cecily Plantagenet, daughter of Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York.
Saga Hillborn has very kindly contributed a post about two people who play a big role in Cecily’s story – Richard III and Anne Neville.
Her novel, ‘Princess of Thorns’ will be released on 1st March 2021.

Richard III is obviously one of western history’s most controversial figures. His relationship to his wife Anne Neville is still being both romanticised and portrayed in a negative light painting him as having taken advantage of her. In my upcoming historical novel Princess of Thorns, both Richard and Anne feature as characters; in this guest post that Helene was kind enough to let me write, I will take a closer look at their marriage.

After Edward IV had taken the throne, he placed his much younger brothers George and Richard in the household of his cousin the Earl of Warwick. Richard, who was roughly nine years old, likely met five-year-old Anne Neville for the first time at Middleham Castle. Although they would have undergone entirely different educations, it is reasonable to assume that Anne and Richard were often in one another’s company, as were the other young nobles who grew up at Middleham. It is possible that the Earl of Warwick was already planning his daughters’ eventual marriages to the King’s brothers at this point. Hence, Anne and Richard would have become accustomed to the idea.

In 1465, perhaps slightly later, Richard left Warwick’s household and spent more time at his brother Edward’s court. When Warwick and George, Duke of Clarence, rebelled for a second time in 1470, Richard fled with the King into exile in Flanders. Meanwhile, Anne was married off to the Lancastrian Edward of Westminster. What either she or Richard felt about this match is of course not recorded, but suffice to say that Edward of Westminster was a stranger and an enemy who was described by an ambassador as talking of nothing but cutting off heads.

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.
Continue reading “The Marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville”

Book Review – ‘Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen’ by Samantha Wilcoxson


I’ve really enjoyed this view on Elizabeth of York. There are a lot of historical fiction books about Henry VIII and his wives, but fewer about Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, so this was really interesting for me. I’ve read ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory, but I thought that this was much better, and more enjoyable.

It was really well-written, and it paid attention to the historical record, while filling in any gaps in the established knowledge with plausible explanations. For example, the fate of the Princes in the Tower is interweaved through the story, going through Richard III’s reign, and the rebellions of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. Wilcoxson at the end does reveal through the story what she believes happened to them (without spoiling it!).

Elizabeth as a character is interesting, trying to juxtapose her Plantagenet beginnings with her Tudor marriage. The comparison of Prince Arthur as a Tudor prince and Prince Henry (later Henry VIII) as a Plantagenet prince is fascinating, and not something that I’ve really thought about before, but it does make a certain amount of sense. Elizabeth’s relationship with Henry is also quite interesting as she is portrayed as not wanting to marry him, but gradually falls in love with him, although they have ups and downs, as in any marriage.

Other books seem to portray Elizabeth as a kind of victim, and at the mercy of her husband and mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, but in this book she is seen as a true Queen who influenced events and made her own decisions. Henry VII was also a fascinating character, as he is often seen in history as a miser, but this didn’t really seem to happen until after Elizabeth’s death, so it’s interesting to see him with Elizabeth and the possibilities of their relationship.

I am looking forward to reading the other books in this series about Margaret Pole and Mary I, and how they might be portrayed, as they have also not been written about very much, so it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to, although I need to get through my unread books first!

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

The Month of May


In the Tudor world, the month of May tends to be seen as Anne Boleyn month where the internet (and me, I have to admit!) goes a bit bananas over Henry VIII’s second wife. Of course, she was executed on the 19th of the month in 1536 on what is now generally accepted as fabricated charges of adultery, incest and treason. Those hellish weeks were immortalised in verse by Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger:

“These bloody days have broken my heart.

My lust, my youth did them depart,

And blind desire of estate.

Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.

Of truth, circa Regna tonat.”

Thomas Wyatt, ‘Circa Regna Tonat’

Those chilling last words translate from the Latin to “thunder rolls around the throne” – well it certainly did when Henry VIII was sitting on the throne.

But what else happened in May in England in the Tudor period?

  • 3rd May 1544 – Thomas Wriothesley was made Lord Chancellor of England
  • 4th May 1547 – Katherine Parr married her fourth husband, Thomas Seymour
  • 6th May 1541 – Henry VIII ordered a new Bible placed in every church
  • 8th May 1559 – Elizabeth I assented to new Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity
  • 9th May 1509 – Henry VII’s body was taken to St Paul’s Cathedral from his place of death at Richmond Palace
  • 10th May 1533 – The Dunstable enquiry opened under Archbishop Cranmer which resulted in the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon
  • 11th May 1500 – Birth of Reginald Pole, later Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary I
  • 13th May 1516 – Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk at Greenwich Palace
  • 15th May 1567 – Mary Queen of Scots married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
  • 16th May 1532 – Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor of England
  • 17th May 1521 – Execution of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, for treason
  • 19th May 1499 – Katherine of Aragon was married by proxy to Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII
  • 19th May 1554 – Mary I released Princess Elizabeth from imprisonment in the Tower of London
  • 25th May 1553 – Jane Grey married Guildford Dudley
  • 26th May 1520 – Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon met the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Dover
  • 27th May 1541 – Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, for treason
  • 29th May 1543 – Katherine Parr’s ‘Prayers’ or ‘Meditations’ was published
  • 30th May 1529 – The court at Blackfriars opened to try the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon
  • 30th May 1536 – Henry VIII married Jane Seymour

So why Anne Boleyn?

With all these other events happening in May, why the focus on Anne Boleyn? Possibly because her fall was so spectacular and her execution so unexpected. Never before had an English queen been executed, and there was so much controversy surrounding the charges and the men accused with her. I mean, incest? And not just adultery with one man, but five, one her own brother? Unparalleled and shocking and still so many unanswered questions which draw historians back to her time after time, year after year.

Fascination with the unanswered and inherently shocking will never go away, no matter how old the mystery, and this one is now 484 years old.

Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Portrait of Anne Boleyn kept at Hever Castle, Kent

Other posts which discuss Anne Boleyn

Undergraduate Dissertation Chapter – Why Did Anne Boleyn Fall from Power?

https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/undergrad-dissertation-chapter-1/

In Memory of Anne Boleyn – Why Does She Still Fascinate Us?

https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/in-memory-of-anne-boleyn/

The Legacy of Anne Boleyn

https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/the-legacy-of-anne-boleyn-died-19th-may-1536/

History Bookshelves


I thought I’d do a walkthrough of my history bookshelves, as pictures on my Instagram of different books that I’ve bought or been sent by publishers are always very popular. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt through the #HistoryGirls community on Instagram, it’s that historians and history lovers are always looking for new reading material!

And, no, before anyone asks, I haven’t read all of these yet. I’m steadily working my way through them. I’ve had some very lovely publishers (The History Press and Pen & Sword Books) send me some complimentary copies for review and these are currently top of my list, though this lockdown has slowed me down rather than speeding me up! I promise, I will get there.

Shelf 1 – Monarchy and Wars of the Roses

This shelf starts with my books on the monarchy in general, before moving onto the Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, the Princes in the Tower, and Richard III.

From left to right:

  • John Burke – An Illustrated History of England
  • David Loades – The Kings and Queens of England
  • J.P. Brooke-Little – Royal Heraldry: Beasts and Badges of Britain
  • The Royal Line of Succession: Official Souvenir Guide
  • Andrew Gimson – Kings and Queens: Brief Lives of the Monarchs Since 1066
  • David Starkey – Monarchy: England and Her Rulers from the Tudors to the Windsors
  • Mike Ashley – A Brief History of British Kings and Queens
  • Elizabeth Norton – She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England
  • Alison Weir – Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy
  • Peter Ackroyd – History of England Volume 1: Foundation
  • E.F. Jacob – The Fifteenth Century 1399-1485
  • Ian Mortimer – The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England
  • Desmond Seward – The Demon’s Brood: The Plantagenet Dynasty That Forged the English Nation
  • David Grummitt – A Short History of the Wars of the Roses
  • Desmond Seward – A Brief History of the Wars of the Roses
  • Sarah Gristwood – Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses
  • Michael Jones – Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle
  • John Ashdown-Hill – Elizabeth Widville: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’
  • Amy Licence – Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance
  • Jeffrey James – Edward IV: Glorious Son of York
  • Andrew Beattie – Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower
  • Alison Weir – The Princes in the Tower
  • David Horspool – Richard III: A Ruler and His Reputation
  • Philippa Langley & Michael Jones – The Search for Richard III: The King’s Grave
  • Michael Hicks – The Family of Richard III
  • Kristie Dean – The World of Richard III
  • Amy Licence – Richard III: The Road to Leicester
  • Matthew Lewis – Richard III: Fact and Fiction
  • Peter A. Hancock – Richard III and the Murder in the Tower
  • Matthew Lewis – Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me

Shelf 2 – General Tudors and Henry VII

This shelf consists of all my books on the Tudor dynasty as a whole, then just manages to start Henry VII and Elizabeth of York on the end.

From left to right:

  • David Loades – Chronicles of the Tudor Kings
  • Frances Wilkins – Growing Up in Tudor Times
  • Peter Marsden – 1545: Who Sank the Mary Rose?
  • Rosemary Weinstein – Tudor London
  • Peter Ackroyd – The History of the England Volume 2: Tudors
  • Amy Licence – In Bed with the Tudors: The Sex Lives of a Dynasty from Elizabeth of York to Elizabeth I
  • Leanda de Lisle – Tudor: The Family Story
  • David Loades – The Tudors: History of a Dynasty
  • Chris Skidmore – The Rise of the Tudors: The Family That Changed English History
  • Terry Breverton – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Tudors But Were Afraid to Ask
  • Tracy Borman – The Private Lives of the Tudors
  • Timothy Venning – An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors
  • Kirsten Claiden-Yardley – The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk
  • A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits
  • John Matusiak – A History of the Tudors in 100 Objects
  • David Loades – The Tudor Queens of England
  • Alex Woolf – The Tudor Kings and Queens
  • Carola Hicks – The King’s Glass: A Story of Tudor Power and Secret Art
  • J.D. Mackie – The Earlier Tudors 1485-1558
  • Annie Bullen – The Little Book of the Tudors
  • Alison Weir – The Lost Tudor Princess
  • Alison Plowden – The House of Tudor
  • Dave Tonge – Tudor Folk Tales
  • Jane Bingham – The Tudors: The Kings and Queens of England’s Golden Age
  • Elizabeth Norton – The Lives of Tudor Women
  • Ruth Goodman – How to be a Tudor
  • Jasper Ridley – A Brief History of the Tudor Age
  • G.J. Meyer – The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty
  • John Guy – The Tudors: A Very Short Introduction
  • Christopher Morris – The Tudors
  • Phil Carradice – Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor

Shelf 3 – Henry VIII and the Six Wives

This shelf has the rest of my books about Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, all of my Henry VIII books and those overarching books about the Six Wives.

From left to right:

  • Thomas Penn – Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England
  • Alison Weir – Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen
  • Joan MacAlpine – The Shadow of the Tower: Henry VII and His Background
  • David Loades – Henry VIII
  • David Starkey – Henry: Virtuous Prince
  • John Matusiak – Martyrs of Henry VIII: Repression, Defiance, Sacrifice
  • J.J. Scarisbrick – Henry VIII
  • George Cavendish – The Life of Cardinal Wolsey
  • John Guy – The Children of Henry VIII
  • Robert Hutchinson – Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII
  • Alison Weir – Children of England: The Heirs of King Henry VIII
  • John Matusiak – Henry VIII: The Life and Rule of England’s Nero
  • Philippa Jones – The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards
  • Kelly Hart – The Mistresses of Henry VIII
  • Alison Weir – Henry VIII: King and Court
  • David Starkey – The Reign of Henry VIII: Personalities and Politics
  • Robert Hutchinson – Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister
  • Derek Wilson – A Brief History of Henry VIII
  • Robert Hutchinson – The Last Days of Henry VIII
  • Sarah Morris & Natalie Grueninger – In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII
  • Amy Licence – The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII
  • Karen Lindsey – Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII
  • Alison Weir – The Six Wives of Henry VIII
  • Lauren Mackay – Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and His Six Wives Through the Eyes of the Spanish Ambassador
  • Antonia Fraser – The Six Wives of Henry VIII
  • David Starkey – Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII

Shelf 4 – Six Wives

This shelf is broken down into books on each of the Six Wives – Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn (by far the biggest section, as you can see!), Jane Seymour (zero books), Anne of Cleves (zero books), Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr.

From left to right:

  • David Loades – The Six Wives of Henry VIII
  • Amy Licence – Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife
  • Giles Tremlett – Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen
  • Patrick Williams – Katharine of Aragon
  • Paul Friedmann – Anne Boleyn
  • Elizabeth Norton – Anne Boleyn: In Her Own Words and the Words of Those Who Knew Her
  • Alison Weir – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn
  • Elizabeth Norton – The Boleyn Women: The Tudor Femmes Fatales Who Changed English History
  • David Loades – The Boleyns: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Family
  • Amy Licence – Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire
  • Lissa Chapman – Anne Boleyn in London
  • Lacey Baldwin Smith – Anne Boleyn: The Queen of Controversy
  • Susan Bordo – The Creation of Anne Boleyn: In Search of the Tudors’ Most Notorious Queen
  • Alison Weir – Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore
  • Carolly Erickson – Mistress Anne
  • Eric Ives – The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
  • Francis Bacon – The Tragedy of Anne Boleyn
  • Love Letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn
  • Retha Warnicke – The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn
  • Josephine Wilkinson – Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress
  • Josephine Wilkinson – Anne Boleyn: The Young Queen to Be
  • Elizabeth Norton – Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s Obsession
  • G.W. Bernard – Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions
  • Joanna Denny – Anne Boleyn
  • Marie Louise Bruce – Anne Boleyn
  • Josephine Wilkinson – Katherine Howard: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Queen
  • Conor Byrne – Katherine Howard: Henry VIII’s Slandered Queen
  • Robert Hutchinson – House of Treason: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Dynasty
  • Linda Porter – Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr, the Last Wife of Henry VIII

Shelf 5 – The Later Tudors

This shelf goes through Edward VI, Jane Grey, Mary I and Elizabeth I, onto Mary Queen of Scots and the English Reformation. As you can probably tell from the number of books on the later Tudors compared to the likes of Henry VIII, my primary focus is on the earlier period.

From left to right:

  • Hester Chapman – The Last Tudor King: A Study of Edward VI
  • Leanda de Lisle – The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey
  • Nicola Tallis – Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey
  • Alison Plowden – Lady Jane Grey: Nine Days Queen
  • Anna Whitelock – Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen
  • Phil Carradice – Bloody Mary: Tudor Terror 1553-1558
  • J.A. Froude – The Reign of Mary Tudor
  • Alison Plowden – Elizabethan England
  • David Cecil – The Cecils of Hatfield House
  • Robert Stedall – Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
  • John Guy – Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years
  • Anna Whitelock – Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court
  • Carole Levin – The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power
  • J.B. Black – The Reign of Elizabeth 1558-1603
  • David Birt – Elizabeth’s England
  • Robert Hutchinson – Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England
  • David Starkey – Elizabeth
  • Nicola Tallis – Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester
  • Chris Skidmore – Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart
  • Alison Weir – Elizabeth the Queen
  • David & Judy Steel – Mary Stuart’s Scotland
  • Mary Was Here: Where Mary Queen of Scots Went and What She Did There
  • Antonia Fraser – Mary Queen of Scots
  • Lynda Telford – Tudor Victims of the Reformation
  • Diarmaid MacCulloch – Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700
  • Derek Wilson – A Brief History of the English Reformation

Shelf 6 – Palaces and Places

The bottom shelf currently stores largely my guidebooks and BBC History magazines, along with a couple of my more general history books.

From left to right:

  • David Souden – The Royal Palaces of London
  • Christopher Hibbert – Tower of London
  • The Private Life of Palaces
  • Simon Thurley – Houses of Power: The Places That Shaped the Tudor World
  • Suzannah Lipscomb – A Journey Through Tudor England
  • Nigel Jones – Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London
  • Terry Deary – The Peasants’ Revolting … Crimes
  • Merry Wiesner-Hanks – Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe

Guidebooks:

  • Richard III and Henry VII Experience in York
  • Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens
  • Framlingham Castle
  • The Jewel Tower
  • The Palace of Westminster
  • Westminster Abbey
  • The Church of Saint Michael at Framlingham
  • St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
  • Tower of London
  • Hampton Court Palace
  • The Mary Rose
  • Imperial War Museum London
  • Windsor Castle
  • Tower Bridge

Are there any books missing that you would thoroughly recommend? Sound off in the comments!

Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


On hallowed ground… With over three thousand burials and memorials, including seventeen monarchs, life for the ghostly community of Westminster Abbey was never going to be a quiet one. Add in some fiery Tudor tempers, and several centuries-old feuds, and things can only go one way: chaotic. Against the backdrop of England’s most important church, though, it isn’t all tempers and tantrums. Poets’ Corner hosts poetry battles and writing workshops, and close friendships form across the ages. With the arrival of Mary Queen of Scots, however, battle ensues. Will Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I ever find their common ground, and lasting peace? [Description from Amazon UK]

Kindred Spirits #3

Another great novel from Jennifer Wilson. I absolutely adore this series, and I’m really hoping for a book eventually set around Windsor with Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. I think that would be great. I did thoroughly enjoy this installment in the series though because there were so many different characters from different periods coming together and it was interesting to see how those relationships developed.

This one focuses on the kings and queens, and literary and scientific minds buried or commemorated at Westminster. I loved the developing relationship between Richard III and Henry VII and I understand that this is explored more in the fourth book in the series based in York. As for the relationship between Mary I and Elizabeth I, I can imagine that this is actually how the two would have been in real life had they been raised as siblings rather than rivals for the throne. All siblings argue and fight, but these two took it to the next level.

It’s history but not as we know and Wilson’s knowledge of and passion for medieval and early modern history is obvious as she brings historical figures into the present, without losing the sense of who they were in their own time. One of my favourite moments was when Anne of Cleves snuck onto the Abbey computer to alter her Wikipedia page and any references to ‘Flander’s Mare’, and the reappearance of Richard III, who I loved in ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’.

This series is so unique, and very cleverly done. You can tell that a great amount of research has gone into the book, as there are little titbits of historical fact, as well as the ghosts trying to dispel, or arguing about, rumours swirling about their lives. It’s really interesting to read and imagine what these historical figures would think about how we view them today, and what they would make of today’s world, incredibly distant from what they knew in their lives. I want more, please, Jennifer!?

Another bonus is that is was written by an author who lives in the same area as me! Well-written and worth a read for anyone with an interest in historical fiction, or historical ghost stories, rumours and a bit of humour thrown in!

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 – ‘The Tudor Crown’ by Joanna Hickson 


The Tudor Crown by Joanna Hickson

When Edward of York takes back the English crown, the Wars of the Roses scatter the Lancastrian nobility and young Henry Tudor, with a strong claim to the throne, is forced into exile. Recently widowed and vulnerable, his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, forges an uncomfortable alliance with Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Swearing an oath of allegiance to York, Margaret agrees to marry the king’s shrewdest courtier, Lord Stanley. But can she tread the precarious line between duty to her husband, loyalty to her son, and her obligation to God and the king? When tragedy befalls Edward’s reign, Richard of York’s ruthless actions fire the ambition of mother and son. As their destinies converge each of them will be exposed to betrayal and treachery and in their gruelling bid for the Tudor crown, both must be prepared to pay the ultimate price… [Description from Waterstones]

I enjoyed this book, but I did find it hard-going in places, as it seemed to be quite repetitive in places so I struggled to get through those bits. However, overall, it was a very engaging read and made me think about things that I hadn’t considered before, like what life was like for English exiles in France in the sixteenth century.

I thought that this book looked interesting because it focused on the lesser-known period of Henry VII’s life – his time in exile in Brittany and France before he became king. Alongside Henry, some chapters are also written from the point of view of his mother, Margaret Beaufort. It’s not something that you really see in novels about this period – everything is focused on Edward IV and Richard III in England rather than what is going on over the Channel.

I thought that the portrayal of Henry VII was particularly engrossing because it is so different to the way he is typically portrayed as a miserly and miserable old man – Hickson makes him handsome, exciting, and a bit of a daredevil, in ways which I didn’t expect. It was Henry’s portrayal that made me want to keep reading, to see what Hickson would do when it came to the Battle of Bosworth. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The portrayal of Margaret Beaufort was also quite different to what I’d expected, because most accounts seem to conclude that the marriage between her and Thomas Stanley was a marriage of convenience, but this novel suggests a deeper relationship, which I liked seeing. As for supporting characters, I really liked Davy Owen and Meg Woodville. Meg in particular was a surprise to me, but a nice one.

The writing itself was descriptive and quite evocative in places, as Henry sights Wales again for the first time in 14 years – that scene in particular was beautifully written and described. The differences between England and France were also painted starkly, as Henry and Margaret both see things differently. Henry in France sees the country through more childlike eyes for a large proportion of the book, while Margaret sees England through more adult and cynical eyes. It created an interesting juxtaposition.

Having read this book, I am looking forward to reading ‘Red Rose, White Rose’ and ‘First of the Tudors’ which I have on my bookshelf ready to read.

Review also available on my sister blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/

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”

Talking Tudors Podcast with Natalie Grueninger


Talking Tudors Podcast Logo

‘Talking Tudors’ is a podcast by Natalie Grueninger, author of ‘Discovering Tudor London’ and co-author of ‘In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn’ and ‘In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with Sarah Morris. Along with Kathryn Holeman Natalie has also released two Tudor colouring books – ‘Colouring Tudor History’ and ‘Colouring Tudor History: Queens and Consorts’. 

Natalie interviews guests about their particular interests and the Tudors in general. Each episode ends with “10 To Go” and a “Tudor Takeaway”, and at the beginning often starts with a piece of Tudor-inspired music. 

The first 21 episodes guests and topics are listed below (everything live up to this date 8th February 2019). 

Continue reading “Talking Tudors Podcast with Natalie Grueninger”