Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: Regal Retribution’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


Another triumph in the Kindred Spirits series – I adore this series, and I think this may have been the best one yet, but definitely on par with ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’ which has been up to now my favourite of the series. These books make me laugh so much and I wish that these communities of ghosts living at the likes of the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and Windsor Castle were real.

It was hinted at in the last in the series, ‘Kindred Spirits: Ephemera’ that this book would feature that most famous King Henry VIII, and it doesn’t disappoint, as those ghosts who were closest to Henry VIII in life come together – the likes of Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. Richard III again takes centre stage as he struggles with his relationship with Henry VII and the haunting of ghosts he cares for.

The story pushes on, with every chapter adding something to the storyline, and nothing wasted. We see more and more of these characters from history – potential vulnerabilities and how they adjust to the changing modern world, and confront difficult decisions and relationships.

It’s a different way of looking at figures from the past and I really enjoy it. This book seems to bring together the communities at the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey as the previous books haven’t so it’s interesting to see ghosts intermingling in a way we haven’t in the series before. I absolutely adore these books and cannot wait for more ghostly adventures!

Book Review – ‘The Pocket Guide to Royal Scandals’ by Andy K. Hughes


A fun romp through royal history, looking at some of the most scandalous royals and what they did. There is very much a focus on English history, with just some of the more famous foreign rulers thrown in like Catherine the Great and Vlad the Impaler. The focus is also largely on the modern period, with nearly half of the book covering just the 20th century. There is only one Roman Emperor discussed, when they must have had enough scandals to fill most of the book!

It is a fun read, but with a couple of errors that I spotted including the Pilgrimage of Grace as happening in 1541 when it was 5 years earlier, and one of Anne Boleyn’s ‘lovers’ Mark Smeaton being hanged and quartered when he was actually beheaded. There are also a few grammatical errors where it doesn’t read as well as it could.

A fun short book to dip in and out of but seemed to gloss over some of the scandals of history to focus on the modern royals, which was a little disappointing for me, being a history buff. However, the sections on the modern royals were also very interesting, reading back on things that I heard on and off in the news growing up, but reading about them now as an adult puts a bit of a different spin on things.

Chapters:

  1. A Summary of Monarchs Since 1066
  2. Scandalous Rulers Before the Fifteenth Century
  3. Scandalous Rulers of the Fifteenth to Nineteenth Centuries
  4. Scandalous Rulers of the Twentieth Century
  5. No End in Sight!
  6. And Finally, Did You Know …

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!

Visit to the Tower of London


White Tower

So, as you might have guessed from my previous post on the ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ exhibition (click here) I have been on holiday in London. How could I not visit some Tudor-related sites? I was with a friend who had never visited the Tower of London before, so we used the tickets that had been booked way back at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic hit.

We arrived early and spent five hours wandering around, stopping for a café break as well. We walked the walls, and took in the exhibitions, seeing displays on the Medieval Palace, Imprisonment at the Tower, and the Tower in War. We were using my guidebook from 2010 as I haven’t got an updated version and, in one display, there were guidebooks from the past and the same copy as mine was in a glass case! That was weird.

Dudley coat of arms carved in the Beauchamp Tower

The Beauchamp Tower is where we saw all of the graffiti left by those imprisoned there, notably this coat of arms likely carved by one of the Dudleys in 1553-4 after Jane Grey’s failed reign (the photo isn’t great because of the light from behind). There were also several pieces of graffiti left by those involved in rebellions against Elizabeth I which was especially interesting for me to see.

The Bloody Tower includes Walter Raleigh’s study and an exploration of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, something that I’ve read quite a lot about. Raleigh wrote his ‘The History of the World’ while imprisoned here. The Salt Tower was the place of imprisonment of Hew Draper who was incarcerated for sorcery during the reign of Elizabeth I. There are some fascinating astrological drawings on the walls of various places in the Tower where he was kept. A zodiac design contains the date 30 May 1561.

Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

Of course, a visit to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (Peter in Chains) was a must. It’s an absolutely beautiful space where lie buried the remains of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford, Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset, John Dudley Duke of Northumberland, and Guildford Dudley within the main body of the chapel. In the crypt are the remains of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher of Rochester who were executed on nearby Tower Hill.

The armouries in the White Tower were fascinating, though I had seen them before. I almost looked at the rooms anew and visited St John’s Chapel in the White Tower for the very first time. It’s starkly simple but incredibly profound with plain walls and some stone carving, quite a contrast to the better-known St Peter ad Vincula in the grounds. The armouries themselves contain armour from Henry VIII, Charles I, and James II, and a collection of swords, cannon, and other arms from across the ages and across the world. Possibly of more interest to a military historian but seeing the detail on the armour was a highlight of the White Tower for me.

Tower Hill Memorial

On the way back to our hotel we visited the memorial on Tower Hill where the likes of Edward Stafford 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, and Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex were executed, among many others. The names and dates of execution are places on blocks around a small square within the First World War memorial gardens. It’s very easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. More were executed there than are named, but the names of those who were the most notable are written. It is worth a visit if you’re going to the Tower of London as many of those executed there spent time in the Tower itself.

All in all, an incredibly fascinating historical day out, even if we were exhausted afterwards having been on our feet most of the day and then going on a Jack the Ripper walking tour that evening! A blog post on that to follow …

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”

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

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”
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