Book Review – ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ by Antonia Fraser


I think that this biography of Mary Queen of Scots is really detailed and interesting, but it is quite difficult to read in places. It doesn’t seem to flow, and you do need to concentrate in order to take it all in and digest the sheer volume of information.

My previous experience with Mary Queen of Scots was in her relationship with Elizabeth I of England and her struggle for release in England and her execution. It was interesting to read about Mary’s earlier life in France, and her marriage to Darnley. It was a scandalous and intriguing life and well worth such a long biography.

It feels dry but it was interesting to see Mary from the Scottish point of view, where I’m so used to reading about Mary from the perspective of Elizabeth I. Mary was a Queen effectively from birth and juxtaposed against Elizabeth who never really expected to become Queen, they have two very different lives and perspectives on queenship.

Power struggles are central to Mary’s life, power in France with Catherine de Medici, with her husbands – Francis II, Darnley, and Bothwell – and trying to get power in England. The struggle with Elizabeth and succession to the English throne. These power struggles also led to some of Mary’s stupidest mistakes like marrying Bothwell and getting involved in rebellions in England to overthrow Elizabeth.

It was obviously very well-researched and must have taken years to collect all the research and write. Fraser has put together almost an encyclopaedia about Mary Queen of Scots, her relationships, and the events of her life. There are very detailed endnotes and an extensive bibliography, as well as a great index which makes it easy to find the sections that you are looking for, especially about particular people.

A book for the serious history Stuart fan and not for one hoping for a light read about an almost mythical woman.

Chapters:

  1. All Men Lamented
  2. England’s Rough Wooing
  3. The Most Perfect Child
  4. Betrothal
  5. Queen-Dauphiness
  6. The White Lily of France
  7. Mary the Widow
  8. The State of the Realm
  9. Conciliation and Reconciliation
  10. Governor Good and Gracious
  11. The Fall of Huntly
  12. A Husband for a Girl
  13. The Carnal Marriage
  14. Our Most Special Servant
  15. Breakdown
  16. The Murder of Darnley
  17. The Mermaid and the Hare
  18. Lochleven
  19. In Foreign Bands
  20. Her Privy Letters
  21. My Norfolk
  22. The Uses of Adversity
  23. Mother and Son
  24. The Babington Plot
  25. Trial
  26. The Dolorous Stroke
  27. Epilogue: the Theatre of the World

Book Review – ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland, Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator’ by Robert Stedall


Thank you to Pen and Sword for gifting me a copy of this book for review.

I’m not very knowledgeable about Mary Queen of Scots’ early life in France and Scotland. I know more about the period after she fled to England in 1568. I hoped that this would fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge.

William Maitland isn’t a person I had ever heard of before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect though “Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator” gave me some suggestions. He was involved in the early plotting of Mary Queen of Scots during the Darnley period after her return from France to rule Scotland. He is certainly an interesting figure, though Mary Queen of Scots is far more so. I know that we can learn a lot from the figures on the edges of a famous person’s life, but Maitland didn’t seem to really interest me.

I found the book quite complex and difficult to read in places. This was perhaps because I didn’t know much about the period, or that I didn’t find Maitland a very interesting person. I felt that the dates were given so you could tell how much research had gone into it, but I had to keep flicking backwards to check which year we were in. This is one of my pet peeves in history books – assuming that 4 or 5 pages later you can still remember which year you’re in! This is particularly annoying if you’re using the index to look for references to a particular person or event.

The book is divided down into easily digestible chunks in chronological order, so if you are looking for a particular event it is fairly easy to find it. Maitland comes across as a shadowy figure, never really at the heart of things but with plenty of opinions and involvement on the periphery of events surrounding Mary Queen of Scots. Some of the reference notations were a little sparse for my liking, constantly having to cross-check with the full bibliography and list of abbreviations to find sources which was annoying.

I think this is a book I’ll have to come back to once I’ve read some more of the background to Scotland in this period as I did feel a little out of my depth, but I’ll hope to understand and discover more when I reread it!

Chapters:

  1. Maitland established his standing under Marie of Guise
  2. The Lords of the Congregation challenge French authority
  3. The return of the widowed Mary Queen of Scots
  4. Diplomatic efforts to establish Mary as Elizabeth’s heir
  5. Lord James (soon to be Earl of Moray) and Maitland establish authority
  6. The negotiations for Mary’s remarriage
  7. Mary’s efforts to take up the reins of government
  8. Marriage to Darnley
  9. Moray’s rebellion
  10. Riccio’s murder
  11. Restored as Secretary of State
  12. Ending Mary’s marriage to Darnley
  13. The Chameleon
  14. The plot for Darnley’s murder unfolds
  15. Providing evidence of a crime of passion
  16. Enticement for Mary to marry Bothwell
  17. Bothwell’s exonerations and marriage to Mary
  18. The Confederates challenge Mary and Bothwell
  19. Negotiations while Mary is held at Lochleven
  20. Mary’s escape and Maitland’s signs of sympathy
  21. The Conferences at York and Westminster
  22. A last hurrah for Mary’s cause

Book Review – ‘The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk’ by Kirsten Claiden-Yardley


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

I was quite intrigued to read this book when I got sent a copy – the 2nd Duke of Norfolk isn’t someone I know a lot about, having focused more on the events of Henry VIII’s divorce, so I am more familiar with the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. He was an interesting man and he seems to have achieved and survived quite a lot; a trait of both the 2nd and 3rd Dukes I think. The Howards are one of the most intriguing families of the 16th century and this book opens up a chapter that hasn’t been much written about I don’t think.

There were some really interesting chapters on the Battles of Bosworth and Flodden in particular, and his role in those battles. But overall I thought that it was quite dry in places, much like a textbook in fact but not always so clear. It was difficult in a way to get to know Thomas Howard personally, which I feel is a bonus in history books where the person really comes alive. I didn’t feel it here, which was disappointing.

I also got really confused in places by who was who. There are a lot of Thomas Howards, and it wasn’t always made entirely clear which one was which, I had to keep double-checking. Although I know it is about the 2nd Duke, I would have appreciated maybe a slightly longer epilogue to look into his closest descendants and keep the line straight in my head. However, there are some excellent family trees in the book which do help.

It is quite an exhaustive study, and the sources are discussed in depth, including bias and reliability, pulling apart arguments and making it clear where it is the author’s opinion, or where the evidence is questionable, and what any assumptions are based on. This demonstrates a clear grasp of the subject material, and a confidence in what is being written, which makes you want to trust and believe what Claiden-Yardley is saying, and makes you want to look into it more.

The images included in the book were interesting, some that I hadn’t seen before, which always adds to the allure of a book. The bibliography was quite extensive, and you could tell it had been well-researched, but the writing style let it down for me, just a bit too dry. Nevertheless incredibly informative, and not a person that there seems to be much written about, so a welcome addition to my history book collection.

Chapter Breakdown:

  1. Ancestry and childhood 1420-67
  2. Early royal service 1467-83
  3. Edward V and Richard III 1483-5
  4. Battle of Bosworth 1485
  5. Rehabilitation and the North 1485-1501
  6. Royal councillor and diplomat 1501-9
  7. The Road to Flodden 1509-13
  8. Battle of Flodden 1513
  9. Final years at the Royal Court 1513-23
  10. High and Mighty Prince in Norfolk
  11. Death and Burial 1524
  12. Memory and Legacy

Book Review – ‘Anne Boleyn in London’ by Lissa Chapman


Romantic victim? Ruthless other woman? Innocent pawn? Religious reformer? Fool, flirt and adulteress? Politician? Witch? During her life, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s ill-fated second queen, was internationally famous – or notorious; today, she still attracts passionate adherents and furious detractors. It was in London that most of the drama of Anne Boleyn’s life and death was played out – most famously, in the Tower of London, the scene of her coronation celebrations, of her trial and execution, and where her body lies buried. Londoners, like everyone else, clearly had strong feelings about her, and in her few years as a public figure Anne Boleyn was influential as a patron of the arts and of French taste, as the centre of a religious and intellectual circle, and for her purchasing power, both directly and as a leader of fashion. It was primarily to London, beyond the immediate circle of the court, that her carefully ‘spun’ image as queen was directed during the public celebrations surrounding her coronation. [Description from Waterstones]

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the chance to read and review this book.

I did enjoy this book, and I thought that it was quite well-written and engaging. Chapman has a clear and concise tone and way of writing, which makes it easy to read and understand. Anne Boleyn was a divisive figure and this book looks at the positive and negative sides of her, without really choosing a side to fall on. It purports to examine Anne’s rise, queenship and fall through the eyes of the places she stayed in London. There are also sections on Anne’s coronation in 1533, London in general, and court in London.

I wouldn’t call this book so much a look at Anne Boleyn in London, but more a historical biography of Anne Boleyn, focused on her time in London from 1522 and her first court appearance to her death in 1536. I was expecting more about Anne’s involvement in different London locations like Whitehall, Durham House, Westminster, Hampton Court, Hatfield, Eltham, Greenwich and Richmond, but this part I felt was a little lacking. Perhaps the title of the book is a little misleading.

It has obviously been well-researched and there is plenty of reference to the primary sources, as well as to how reliable they may be, and cross-referencing different sources. There is discussion of bias and a look at different points of view about the same events, for example, ambassadors from Italy, the Papal courts, France and Spain. There is a short look at Anne’s earlier life, but it more focused on what we know about her later life.

There is a great selection of images in the centre of the book, varying from photos of places, to sketches, portraits of important people, and artefacts. The captions are all detailed and dated as far as they can be. It is a good selection from across Anne’s life and relates to what is talked about in the text itself. The cover image is also of great interest – it’s a photo of a recreation of a medal from 1534 by Lucy Churchill, one of the only definite images of Anne Boleyn.

This book is worth a read for the historical scholarship, but if you’re expecting a traipse through the London locations that Anne knew, then you might be a little disappointed. Nevertheless, an interesting and well-written biography of Anne Boleyn.

Chapters:

  1. A Walk Through London 1522
  2. ‘Your very humble obedient daughter’ 1501-22
  3. Queen in Waiting 1522-33
  4. The White Falcon Crowned 1533
  5. Earthly Powers: London
  6. Earthly Powers: Court
  7. Anne the Queen 1533-6
  8. Fall 1536
  9. Ever After

Book Review – ‘Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance’ by Amy Licence


Amy Licence 'Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville'Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2016) ISBN 978-1-4456-3678-8

First off, apologies, Amy, for being so tardy on my review when you so kindly sent me a review copy! I wanted to get it just right.

I first fell in love with Amy Licence’s writing after reading her book ‘In Bed with the Tudors’. She has a knack of writing in a different way about things that have been written before, but she can make it seem completely new and exciting.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve developed an interest in the Wars of the Roses. I’ve generally thought it too complicated, but it is books like this one that have helped to change my mind – it’s engaging and gives you the basics without feeling like you’re back in school!

But this book isn’t just about the battles and conflicts of the Wars of the Roses, it’s about something simpler – the love of a man for a woman. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance’ by Amy Licence”

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