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.

Book Review – ‘Henry VIII in 100 Objects: The Tyrant King Who Had Six Wives’ by Paul Kendall


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

I really enjoyed this book, and I thought that the conception of 100 objects that could explain Henry VIII and his reign was an interesting one. What didn’t quite work for me, however, was that they aren’t all objects – there are people like Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and whole places like Eltham Palace.

The book was generally well-researched and much of the information matched what I had read in other places. However, there were several errors which concerned me hence I would give it a 3-star rating rather than the 4-star rating I would otherwise have given. It was said at one point that Anne Boleyn was arrested in 1533 but it was actually 1536, and Margaret Beaufort was described as the Duchess of Richmond when she was actually Countess of Richmond. There were several other similar errors which made me question how much I could believe.

The way the text was written was clear and concise, easy to understand even for those not versed in Tudor history. There were a huge number of images, on almost every page, highlighting the objects described; many from the author’s own collection, which demonstrates that the research was done, and that Kendall has visited and seen many of the places and objects that he describes.

The objects are listed chronologically from Henry VIII’s birth at Greenwich Palace to his burial at Windsor Castle. Each object is accompanied by a description of the events that accompany each object through Henry VIII’s life. It’s a very interesting way to explore the king’s life.

I would recommend this to any Tudor enthusiast, but you need to be aware of the errors throughout. What is particularly interesting about this is the information about the objects rather than the general history.

Errors:

  • Page 14 – Anne Boleyn arrested in 1533 but it should be 1536.
  • Page 23 – Margaret Beaufort as Duchess of Richmond but should be Countess of Richmond.
  • Page 56 – James VI of Scotland killed at Flodden but should be James IV.
  • Page 144 – Henry VIII and Jane Seymour married on 20th May but actually betrothed on 20th and married on 30th May.
  • Page 184 – Mark Seaton, should be Mark Smeaton.
  • Page 208 – Smeaton was hanged but he was actually beheaded.
  • Page 265 – Anne of Cleves betrothed to the Marquis of Lorraine, but it was actually the Duke of Lorraine.
  • Page 285 – Katherine Howard having an affair with Culpeper aided by Lady Rochford in 1533 but should be 1541.
  • Page 296 – Katherine Howard taken to the Tower in 1532 but should be 1542.
  • Page 329 – Henry VIII died on 8 January 1547 but should be 28 January 1547.

Book Review – ‘The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives’ by Tim Darcy Ellis


Thank you to the publicist for sending me a copy of this book.

This is a very interesting book about a person who is only really known about by Tudor historians as the tutor of Princess Mary (later Mary I). But this book is more wide-ranging, looking at the plight of Jews across Europe through Vives’s eyes in the early 16th century.

It is written in a series of diary entries across several years. There are poems interspersed throughout, though I don’t know the origin of these, whether they are contemporary or not. There is an interesting historical note at the end which offers some background on Vives and the plight of the Jews at this time.

There are some minor errors in the dating of the diary entries – for example, one entry is 1523 and the following entry is 1522, possibly an editorial issue. But this doesn’t detract from the overall atmosphere of the book. It is well-written and engaging, and the characters come across as real. You can tell that there is quite a lot of research that has gone into the story to make it as real as possible.

Vives is a hugely conflicted character as he tries to balance his humanism and learning with his desire to make himself and his family and those whom he loves safe. He has an interesting relationship with Sir Thomas More and his family, and we can track how this changes through the novel as Vives’s priorities change. The relationships between different characters are obviously well thought-out and researched and the fictional characters are seamlessly integrated with the real characters. The character list at the beginning is really helpful to distinguish real from fictional and for those less acquainted with the history of the period to keep the characters in line.

This is a really fascinating read for those interested in the plight of the Jews, or how Vives managed to get himself involved in the lives of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon and the English royal court.

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

New Find: Tudor Warrant Book Describing the Execution of Anne Boleyn


I was sent a very interesting article this morning which I thought I’d share with you all.

It is about a Tudor warrant book in the National Archives, “but this one has an extraordinary passage, overlooked until now, which bears instructions from Henry VIII explaining precisely how he wanted his second wife, Anne Boleyn, to be executed.”

The warrant book reveals that Henry VIII planned Anne’s execution down to the last detail, even choosing the exact spot where she would die, but this instruction at least wasn’t followed as Anne wasn’t executed on Tower Green as Henry instructed, but actually opposite the Waterloo Barracks.

Most historians believe that the charges against Anne Boleyn were false, and she was executed simply for failing to give Henry VIII a son and heir, which he so desperately wanted.

The article also reveals that there is an upcoming series with Tracy Borman on The Fall of Anne Boleyn, due to be broadcast on Channel 5 in the UK in December, where the warrant book will be discussed in more detail.

Click on the link below to read the article:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/25/chilling-find-shows-how-henry-viii-planned-every-detail-of-boleyn-beheading

Book Review – ‘Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen’ by Alison Weir


This was a very interesting take on the life of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, particularly her early life. Alison Weir’s writing always engages me; more so when she writes novels than her non-fiction works actually. It was quite mesmerising to read and once I got engaged in it, I did find it very difficult to put down.

Katherine’s relationship with her sister, Lady Baynton, was especially poignant for me. It was amazing to see a different side to Katherine, even a fictional take, and there isn’t very much written about her relations with her family. It was lovely to see that possible family dynamic and imagine what her life might have been like in those early years as her life seemed to crumble around her. I think in many biographies of Katherine her family is kind of pushed to the side – focuses very much on the Duke of Norfolk and the dowager duchess.

The relationships Katherine had with Manox, Dereham and Culpeper were portrayed in very contrasting ways, so it was interesting to see how they were juxtaposed against each other. They all in a way seem to be portrayed almost as child abuse, particularly those with Manox and Dereham, as older men took advantage of a vulnerable child. Katherine was portrayed as being quite naïve in the way she thought about things, even while at court.

It is a fascinating and intriguing account, well-written with tiny details, great description, and one of the best fictional accounts of Katherine Howard’s life that I’ve read. The entire series is a great arc of the wives of Henry VIII throughout his life, and it’s interesting to see Henry through their eyes.

I would thoroughly recommend this series, because it’s very well-written and offers a slightly different perspective to other works, both fictional and non-fiction, particularly on the lesser-known queens I’ve found like Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

Review also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

Book Review – ‘Anna of Kleve: Queen of Secrets’ by Alison Weir


I think I’ve put off reading this book because I read some reviews when it first came out that said that Alison Weir had portrayed Anne of Cleves as having a pregnancy before she married Henry VIII. I don’t believe that and there isn’t really anything in the historical record to back it up.

However, I was really interested to read Weir’s take on Katherine Howard, ‘Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen’, so I really wanted to read the Anne of Cleves book to get the background. I was actually pleasantly surprised when it came down to it and I got really involved in the story. I actually preferred Weir’s take on Anne of Cleves to that of Katherine Howard, now I’ve read both books.

I’ve always loved Weir’s style of writing when it comes to her fiction books – she seems to have a better writing style for fiction than non-fiction. Weir really engages the reader in the story she’s telling, and makes you believe that you’re really there with vivid descriptions and great characterisation.

Once I started reading I found it quite hard to put down actually, maybe that’s because there was so much that wasn’t a part of the historical record and it made reading it that much more exciting and unexpected. The historical record is described in an additional chapter at the end, and where the novel deviates from what has been recorded.

I’d really recommend this series of books to anyone with an interest in the Tudors, or who loves historical fiction. It’s really well-written, with excellent description and full of tiny details.

This review is also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

Henry VIII Cross Stitch


For anyone who follows me on Instagram (@tudorblogger) you might have been following my lockdown sewing journey to sew Henry VIII and his Six Wives.

The pattern can be found here – https://smile.amazon.co.uk/DMC-Henry-Stitch-Cotton-Various/dp/B0046AADZ2/

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind with some weeks where I have sewn a lot more than other weeks, depending on what has been going on in my life. It has been a difficult few months, but sewing this project has given me a much-needed distraction and when I get it framed it will look amazing hanging above the desk in my study.

To see my progress, click through the below gallery.

‘Kindred Spirits: Ephemera’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


“The afterlife is alive with possibility”

I have loved Jennifer Wilson’s writing since I discovered her books while working at my local library. When I found out that this was a collection of short stories, I was a little disappointed – I really wanted a story set at Windsor Castle with Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Henry VIII, but hopefully that will come in the future.

There are characters both old and new including Richard III, John of Gaunt, and Charles Brandon. The variation of characters from so many different periods is one of the things that I love about this series, and this short story collection is brilliant in that respect.  It was interesting to see how the different personalities interacted, particularly the likes of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, who hadn’t seen each other since Katherine left court in 1531, as well as Edward IV and Richard III, who hadn’t seen each other since Edward IV died in 1483.

Locations include York, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, and St Paul’s Cathedral. There are so many important historical locations in Britain, and what I really liked about this collection was that we got to visit so many of them.

My favourite story in the collection is the one at Hampton Court where the six wives of Henry VIII get together. I really wanted the story to be longer actually, but I don’t think it would have been as good had it been longer. It was brilliantly done the way it was. There is a great cliff-hanger at the end, which I really hope lays the foundation for the next book in the series.

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/

‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel


‘The Mirror and the Light’ has to be one of the most anticipated books of 2020. It’s been 8 years since the previous book in the trilogy, ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, was published.

The trilogy as a whole focuses on the life of Henry VIII’s chief minister after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey – Thomas Cromwell. For those who don’t know the background, Cromwell was at the heart of Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s fall and execution, and Henry VIII’s 6-month marriage to Anne of Cleves. There is debate in the historical community over this involvement in these events, but Mantel puts him at the forefront.

It’s taken me around 2 months to read this – not because of any real problem with the book, but because of this COVID-19 outbreak. I’ve seen quite a few people saying that they’ve been struggling to read during lockdown, and I’ve fallen into that hole. Nevertheless, I have finished it finally and I’m really glad I finally got to see Cromwell’s end written in Mantel’s hand.

“Sometimes it is years before we can see who are the heroes in an affair and who are the victims.”

‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel

I loved the way that the last few chapters were written in particular. For anyone who knows how Cromwell’s life ends (I feel like most people reading this blog probably will, but I still won’t drop any spoilers!), it felt like a different way of ending than those we’ve seen before, either in books or on TV or film. It was a sympathetic way of seeing it, as Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell has been throughout the series. Whether her view is right or wrong her grasp of the historical context is demonstrated by the tiny details that are included, looking not just at the events established but what is hinted at in letters left behind.

One thing I will say, though, is that this is actually my least favourite of the trilogy; ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ was my favourite. In some ways this felt too long, like it dragged on – I didn’t feel like it had the same pace as the others. The section between Jane’s death in 1537 and the marriage to Anne in 1540 felt a little forced in places, as Mantel tried to fit in everything that happened and could have a bearing on Cromwell’s fall.

Nevertheless, a worthy ending to a series about a man that has often been maligned by history, rightly or wrongly; I’ll leave it to you to make up your own minds.

If you want to read more about the fall of Thomas Cromwell, see my earlier blog post https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/the-fall-of-thomas-cromwell-1540/

This review has also been published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com.