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).

Six Documentaries to Watch During Lockdown


I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries during lockdown so I thought I’d pull together some of my favourites here – not all Tudor so if you’re looking for something different, look no further!

If there are any that you’ve particularly enjoyed watching, please leave a comment, always looking for new things to watch and learn from!


David Starkey’s ‘Monarchy’

Episodes: 16

Period: Anglo-Saxons to Queen Victoria

David Starkey explores how the British monarchy has evolved over time, from the patchwork of counties that made up Anglo-Saxon England to how they united under a single king, working through the monarchs right up to Queen Victoria. It focuses less on the monarchs themselves but rather how their actions informed the idea of monarchy.

David Starkey has been involved in some controversy over the last few years with some of his comments hitting the news headlines, so I was a bit wary of including this one on my list, but I don’t think that some of his personal opinions affect the historical research that went into this documentary series. I have this on DVD and have watched it several times, making me interested in aspects of our history that I haven’t been before.

Simon Schama’s ‘A History of Britain’

Episodes: 15

Period: Stone Age to Modern Day

Simon Schama takes a different approach to our history than David Starkey, looking less at the monarchs and more at the general population and how life changed for them from the Stone Age to the modern day through times that have shaped our history.

I have this on DVD as I thought it looked different to other histories of Britain, and I wanted something definitive to widen my area of interest and my knowledge. This certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s not completely definitive, being unable to cover the entire history of Britain in 15 episodes, but it covers some of the most pivotal moments in our history in detail, drawing extensively on primary source research.

Continue reading “Six Documentaries to Watch During Lockdown”

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.

‘Katherine Howard: Henry VIII’s Slandered Queen’ by Conor Byrne


Big thanks to The History Press for sending me a review copy of this book, and sorry it’s taken so long to review it!

This book had an interesting premise that I think should have been explored long before now. The idea is that Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife wasn’t actually an empty-headed teenager who acted according to her basest instincts, but instead was a young woman who acted as best she could according to her experience and was sexually manipulated by the men in her life. This book challenges the more traditional view.

Byrne makes a good case, but I am unconvinced by his arguments. A lot of the book is repetitive about the nature of Katherine’s relationships with Manox and Dereham, and how the two men had manipulated Katherine into sexual relationships, and even abused her. However, I think it is an intriguing argument.

The book is well-researched with a complete bibliography and notes. There are primary sources cited throughout, and the historiography is discussed in full in the first chapter, including works by Retha Warnicke, Josephine Wilkinson and Gareth Russell. The notes are detailed and advise further reading as well as where the primary sources can be found.

The book could have been shorter had you taken out the repetitiveness, as I felt it was over-stated. However, it is well-worth reading as Conor Byrne discusses a new possibility on Katherine Howard’s sexual relationships and her suitability as queen consort to Henry VIII. It’s quite interesting and if you are fascinated by the six wives of Henry VIII it is accessible and erudite to read.

Chapter List:

  1. Introduction: Historiography of Queen Katherine Howard
  2. Henry VIII’s Accession and the Howards
  3. A Howard Queen
  4. ‘His Vicious Purpose’: Manox and Dereham 1536-9
  5. ‘Strange, Restless Years’: The Howards at Court 1537-40
  6. The Fourth Queen
  7. Queen Katherine
  8. Queenship 1540-1
  9. The Culpeper Affair
  10. Disgrace and Death

‘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/

Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 4, Katherine Howard & Katherine Parr


Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
  • Katherine Howard was a teenager when she married the king
  • She was petite, pert, and pretty
  • She liked men and men liked her – the king thought he was her first and only and that she loved him as much as he loved her
  • Katherine’s problems began when Henry found out that she had a past
  • From age 10 Katherine was raised in the household of the dowager duchess of Norfolk
  • Katherine’s mother was dead and her father constantly in debt
  • Katherine’s behaviour was anything but conventional even if her upbringing was
  • She enjoyed the attentions of several men, her favourite being Francis Dereham
  • Katherine and Dereham were caught kissing and given a hiding by the dowager duchess
  • The unmarried women slept together in a dormitory
  • In theory the maiden’s chamber was out of bounds to the men of the household and the door locked at night
  • In reality, the key was stolen, and the men came and went as they pleased
  • Katherine was a member of the second most powerful family in England – the Howards – who married well, into power and wealth
  • Katherine’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk was head of the house, and a Catholic
  • Katherine was cousin to Anne Boleyn
  • Mary Norris and Katherine Howard were granted places at court in 1539
  • Katherine left the duchess’s household to become lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves
  • It was a dream come true for Katherine – music, dancing, clothes, banquets, and men
  • The king began to lavish Katherine with gifts and attention – for him it was love at first sight but nothing of the sort for Katherine
  • Norfolk and his conservative allies wanted to use Katherine as a pawn in a political game to get rid of Anne of Cleves
  • Under Anne of Cleves the Catholics had been attacked and they wanted to restore their fortunes
  • Katherine was given advice on how often to see the king, what to wear and what to do
  • The king sent Anne away to court and Katherine withdrew to Lambeth
  • The king visited Katherine and his boat was routinely seen going down the Thames
  • In mid-July 1540 Henry and Anne’s marriage was annulled and 2 weeks later at Oaklands the king married Katherine
  • The honeymoon lasted 10 days and Henry was infatuated, wanting time alone with her
  • Henry suspected Anne of Cleves wasn’t a virgin and was unable to have sex with her
  • He thought Katherine Howard was pure
  • Katherine was cheerful and loving towards Henry and he was satisfied with her
  • Katherine saw Henry as old – he wasn’t like the men she was used to
  • Henry had been the youngest king in Europe when he came to the throne
  • At Hampton Court the celebrations continued with banquets and hunts, but Henry was slowed down by an abscess on his leg
  • Katherine was in the prime of life and loved to dance – Henry indulged her, but sometimes could only watch her
Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 4, Katherine Howard & Katherine Parr”

Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 3, Jane Seymour & Anne of Cleves


These notes are from part 3 of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ documentary with David Starkey. For part 1 on Katherine of Aragon, click here and part 2 on Anne Boleyn, click here.

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
  • The day after Anne Boleyn’s execution her lady-in-waiting was rowed up the Thames to the royal palace
  • Jane Seymour was to be Henry VIII’s new wife
  • Anne Boleyn’s body was barely cold, but Jane was getting betrothed to the king who banished one wife and beheaded another
  • There was a complete contrast between Anne and Jane
  • Anne Boleyn was a dramatic brunette with dark eyes with a spirit and temper to match, arousing Henry to rage
  • Jane was fair, almost pallid with pale blue eyes, a receding chin, and a doormat personality
  • She had helped to engineer Anne’s downfall
  • Could she really have been such a doormat to step over Anne’s body to the throne?
  • To marry Anne Boleyn Henry made himself Supreme Head of the Church
  • Traditional Catholics were appalled by Henry’s religious changes, including Jane
  • Jane had served Katherine of Aragon
  • As Henry flirted with Jane traditionalists wanted to take advantage
  • Thomas Cromwell would always fight Jane’s influence
  • Henry wasn’t taking Jane seriously at first, wanting her as a mistress
  • He sent her a letter and purse of money, but she rejected the money and returned the letter unopened
  • She flung herself on her knees, saying that she had no greater riches in the world than her honour – she would only accept a gift of money when she was married
  • “Masterpiece of seduction”
  • For Henry it was powerfully attractive
  • Jane was coached by Nicholas Carew to play up her demureness
  • Carew had chosen the right moment and the right woman
  • Henry’s behaviour transformed from seducer to suitor, only seeing her with a chaperone
  • Jane, her brother and her sister-in-law moved into an apartment beside the king
  • 10 days after Anne Boleyn’s execution Henry and Jane were married in private
  • She took as her motto ‘bound to obey and serve’
  • She kept her traditional Catholic faith
  • She put her own stamp on the court, with her ladies told to be demure and dress in the English style rather than the French
  • “We have come from a hell into heaven”
  • Religion was a key area where women had a certain freedom of action
  • Anne had pushed that freedom for reform, but Jane’s beliefs were the opposite
  • Would Jane be as persuasive as Anne had been?
  • The first test of Jane’s influence was in defence of the Princess Mary, a devout Catholic who refused to accept the illegality of her mother’s marriage
  • Nicholas Carew urged Jane to approach Henry directly
  • Jane made Mary’s cause her own – even to name Mary heir was treason
  • Jane’s position wasn’t secure, but she was prepared to risk everything out of conviction
  • Jane begged Henry to restore Mary to the succession, saying that their children would only be safe if Mary was restored
  • Jane was playing with fire as Henry still required Mary to surrender to his will
  • Mary’s friends were summoned before the council and questioned about their activities on her behalf
  • Mary confronted with a choice between her friends and her conscience gave in and submitted to the king’s will
  • Jane had hoped Mary’s restoration would signal a Catholic resurgence
  • This backfired, but she would try again whatever the risks
Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 3, Jane Seymour & Anne of Cleves”