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


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

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

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

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

Chapters:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Book Review – ‘Ask a Historian: 50 Surprising Answers to Things You Always Wanted to Know’ by Greg Jenner


I absolutely ADORED this book! It took me a while to read it because I had to keep going back to reread bits and pieces, and I was sending snapshots to friends as I was reading. There were times when I was rolling around in bed laughing while I was reading it.

Greg Jenner really has a way of writing that is so engaging, no matter whether the subject is one you’re completely interested in or not. My favourite questions I think were ‘Why do Greek statues have small penises?’, ‘Is it true that a dead Pope was put on trial?’, and ‘Who invented meringue and why?’, though the historiography section was also particularly interesting for me as a historian myself, particularly looking at how we name periods.

I would love a series of these books with different questions from members of the public – it’s such an engaging way to learn about different parts of history that you might not know much or anything about, but this makes you want to go away and learn more, I think in large part because Jenner is so good at writing about these things in a way that you can understand it without having a lot of contextual knowledge.

I needed something like this to read right now given where my head is at, and I’d been eyeing up this book for a while and I just thought, sod it, I’m going to buy it, and I am so unbelievably glad that I did! I will come back to it over and over again, and now I just want to read ‘Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen’ and I can’t wait for the next series of the ‘You’re Dead to Me’ podcast either!

Book Update


If you follow me on Instagram or my page on Facebook you would have seen my news a couple of weeks ago that I have signed a contract with Pen and Sword books for my second book, which is incredibly exciting!

As many guessed from the above image, my second book will look at executing the Tudor nobility which is something that I’ve been researching and thinking about for a while so it’s particularly exciting to write about something that I’ve been researching for so long and, of course, it will include a chapter on my favourite Tudor figure – Anne Boleyn. Others will include Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, along with many others.

My first book, Elizabeth Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue and Treason is currently with the editor, and we are aiming for a January 2023 release. I have also today received a proof for the jacket cover, which is so strange, to see my own name on a book cover! It still feels quite surreal to be honest; I’m quite nervous to see what people think of it, but I really hope it goes down well because I’m so proud of the work that’s gone into it.

Big thanks once again to my friends and family who have been so supportive during this process and continue to amaze me with their support and encouragement. I couldn’t be writing without them.

History Books


I have had a re-organise of my bookshelves this week; there wasn’t enough room on my nonfiction shelves anymore as I have had quite a few books gifted to me from lovely publishers for review!

I organise my books chronologically as far as I can – how do you organise yours?

I start at the top move downwards, as follows:

  • General monarchy, kings and queens
  • Plantagenets
  • Wars of the Roses general
  • Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville
  • Princes in the Tower
  • Richard III and Anne Neville
  • Tudors general
  • Henry VII and Elizabeth of York
  • Henry VIII
  • Six Wives
  • Katherine of Aragon
  • Anne Boleyn
  • Jane Seymour
  • Anne of Cleves
  • Katherine Howard
  • Katherine Parr
  • Edward VI
  • Lady Jane Grey and her sisters
  • Mary I
  • Elizabeth I
  • Mary Queen of Scots
  • Reformation
  • Places, palaces, castles, houses, guidebooks
  • General history

Obviously this list will expand as my interests and book collection expands, I’m hoping to add books on Jack the Ripper, Regency England, and the Holocaust. I have already read around this subjects, but many borrowed from the library rather than books I own.

I have a long list from publishers still to review so look out for reviews on these in the coming months!

  • John Ashdown-Hill – ‘Elizabeth Widville: Lady Grey, Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’ (Pen and Sword)
  • John Matusiak – ‘Martyrs of Henry VIII: Repression, Defiance, and Sacrifice’ (The History Press)
  • Matthew Lewis – ‘Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me’ (Amberley Publishing)
  • Robert Stedall – ‘Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester’ (Pen and Sword)
  • Amy Licence – ‘1520: the Field of the Cloth of Gold’ (Amberley Publishing)
  • Heather Darsie – ‘Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister’ (Amberley Publishing)
  • Nathen Amin – ‘Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck, and Warwick’ (Amberley Publishing)
  • Linda Collins & Siobhan Clarke – ‘King and Collector: Henry VIII and the Art of Kingship’ (The History Press)
  • Jan-Marie Knights – ‘The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life’ (Amberley Publishing)
  • Sarah Bryson – ‘La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters’ (Amberley Publishing)
  • John Jenkins – ‘The King’s Chamberlain: William Sandys of the Vyne, Chamberlain to Henry VIII’ (Amberley Publishing)
  • Amy Licence – ‘Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I’ (Amberley Publishing)
  • Mickey Mayhew – ‘House of Tudor: A Grisly History’ (Pen and Sword)
  • Stephen Browning – ‘On the Trail of Sherlock Holmes’ (Pen and Sword)
  • Tony Morgan – ‘Power, Treason, and Plot in Tudor England: Margaret Clitherow: An Elizabethan Saint’

Thank you to Pen and Sword, Amberley Publishing, and The History Press for sending me complimentary copies of the above, and I promise I will try and get reviews of these up as soon as possible!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review – ‘A History of the Tudors in 100 Objects’ by John Matusiak


Thanks to The History Press for a copy of this book to review.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a refreshing new look at the Tudor period through the objects that have survived. I’ve read several other books by John Matusiak before, including his biographies on Henry VIII and Thomas Wolsey. This one is my favourite because it is so different.

Objects examined in the book include the silver-gilt boar badge found at Bosworth, Lady Jane Grey’s prayer book, and a lock of Elizabeth I’s hair. These more famous artefacts are examined alongside things like a sun mask, a birthing chair, a pocket pistol, and the world’s oldest football. There are so many different objects and some that you didn’t realise even existed in this period.

There are images of all of the artefacts discussed and a discussion of each object, along with the context in which they would have been used and were discovered. Some are quite recent discoveries, like the bedhead of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and others had been handed down through generations or are in museums. The history of these individual objects is almost as interesting as the contextual history.

The writing is clear and concise, giving plenty of detail without going overboard. I also like how each object has its own section, so no one object is given more attention and information than any other, even the more famous and well-known ones. In a way this book gives more attention to the lesser known and general objects because there are more of them, which is quite nice.

I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone with an interest in Tudor history or of historical objects and the history of them. One that I’ll definitely come back to!

Chapters:

  1. Dynasty, Politics, Nation
  2. Birth, Childhood, Marriage, and Death
  3. Women, Work, Craftsmen, and Paupers
  4. Food, Drink, and Fashion
  5. Home, Hearth, and Travel
  6. Culture and Pastimes
  7. Health and Healing
  8. Religion
  9. Superstition
  10. Warfare, Weapons, and Defence
  11. Crime and Punishment
  12. Novelties and New Horizons

Book Review – ‘Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools’ by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly


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

This is certainly something new in Tudor history. There has been a spurt of ‘new’ history books, for instance looking at black Tudors and disability. It’s worth reading about to get a more rounded knowledge of the period and context of it.

This book has chapters on all sorts of things from disability at court including court fools, disability in the common people, effects on fertility, depictions in portraits, etc. I found it a thoroughly interesting read. Some sections I found quite hard going, perhaps the sections I found more technical to read. There are several sections of quite extensive repetition, which is probably due to the fact that there is limited information on disability in Tudor times.

I got a sense part way through that I’d read the same sentences before and looking at other reviews just before I wrote this, and after I finished reading the book, I noticed how many instances of plagiarism had been noted by other readers. I won’t indulge in pointing them out as I didn’t notice them when reading myself, but it seems some of them were quite obvious. Something to bear in mind when reading.

But it offers a lot to history and is well-written and researched, looking not only at the disabilities that might have been suffered and how they were perceived then, but also how perceptions and even naming of disabilities has changed. It’s certainly not perfect, but it offers something new to sink our teeth into and expansion of knowledge is never a bad thing. You can tell that the author has experience personally with disability in the sympathetic way she tackles the subject and in perceptions of those with a disability.

Chapters:

  1. Everyday Life in the Community
  2. Tudor Laws and Disability
  3. Superstition and Disability
  4. Religion, Reformation, and Disability
  5. Almshouses and Hospitals
  6. Physicians, Surgeons, Barber-Surgeons, and Healers
  7. The Health of a King and His Decline into Disability
  8. Disabled People in High Places
  9. Disability in the Tudor Court

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 …

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