Book Review – ‘Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower’ by Andrew Beattie


Andrew Beattie 'Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower'

Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this.

The story of the Princes in the Tower is well known: the grim but dramatic events of 1483, when the twelve-year-old Edward Plantagenet was taken into custody by his uncle, Richard of Gloucester, and imprisoned in the Tower of London along with his younger brother, have been told and re-told hundreds of times. The ways in which the events of that year unfolded remain shrouded in mystery, and the fate of the young princes forms an infamous backdrop to Richard III’s reign and the end of the Wars of the Roses. Although little about the princes’ lives is commonly known, Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower tells the story in a way that is wholly new: through the places they lived in and visited. From Westminster Abbey to the Tower of London, and from the remote castle of Ludlow in the Welsh borders to the quiet Midlands town of Stony Stratford – via major medieval centres such as Northampton and Shrewsbury – the trail through some of England’s most historic places throws a whole new light on this most compelling of historical dramas. [Description from Pen & Sword Books]

I really enjoyed this trip through the lives of the Princes in the Tower. I’d been eyeing this book up for a while so was thrilled when Pen and Sword offered me the chance to read it. The book doesn’t look so much at the disappearance of the Princes, although that is covered in the section on the Tower of London, but at where they spent their lives. The Princes in the Tower is one of my absolute favourite historical mysteries, along with Jack the Ripper, and I don’t think I will ever tire of reading about it because it is so fascinating and there are so many different tendrils to research and discover. The places where they lived and where the great events of their lives took place is just one part of it.

There are excellent sections on the aforementioned Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Palace, Stony Stratford, and Ludlow. It’s a really interesting way of looking at something that has been examined over and over for the past 500 years. There is also a section at the end looking at the possibility that one or both of the princes could have survived the Tower, and what could have happened to them afterwards, including the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions, and some lesser known myths and legends.

There were plenty of images of the different places discussed which helped to place the events in the locations, and portraits from the time. It helps to link everything together when you have visual aids as well as descriptions and analysis.

However, I didn’t think that the constant references to fictional works like those by Philippa Gregory, Emma Darwin, Terence Morgan and Vanora Bennett really added anything. I skipped past a lot of them. In my opinion, it would have been better to discuss some of the historiography of the places – what other people have thought about these places and how views have changed over time. That is what I felt was missing from this book.

Nevertheless, an enjoyable and interesting read, and I am looking forward to reading another in the series which I have on my shelf – ‘Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor’, about Henry VII and places he visited before the Battle of Bosworth.

Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


A King, three Queens, a handful of nobles and a host of former courtiers… In the Tower of London, the dead outnumber the living, with the likes of Tudor Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard rubbing shoulders with one man who has made his way back from his place of death at Bosworth Field to discover the truth about the disappearance of his famous nephews. Amidst the chaos of daily life, with political and personal tensions running high, Richard III takes control, as each ghostly resident looks for their own peace in the former palace – where privacy was always a limited luxury. With so many characters haunting the Tower of London, will they all find the calm they crave? But foremost – will the young Plantagenet Princes join them? [Description from Amazon UK]

I’d heard of this book long before I actually got around to reading it. Jennifer C. Wilson is a fairly local author to where I live – on the coast in the wet and windy north-east coast of England. She was going to give a talk at my local library, but it was sadly cancelled. I certainly wasn’t disappointed by this book, and it exceeded my expectations!

This book had a really interesting premise for me, surrounding two of my favourite historical figures – Anne Boleyn and Richard III. The idea is that the ghosts with a connection to the Tower of London haunt the grounds and buildings of the Tower. These ghosts include, not only Anne and Richard, but the Duke of Clarence, William Hastings, Jane Lady Rochford, Katherine Howard, Jane Grey, George Boleyn and Thomas Culpeper. These are some of the most famous figures of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty.

The main narrative involves Richard III and his search for what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Wilson’s narrative suggests that Richard III wasn’t guilty of their murder, and didn’t actually know what happened to them. Anne Boleyn is determined to help Richard, and there even seems to be a kind of romantic relationship between them. The only thing that disappointed me about this book was that we never do find out what happened to the Princes in Wilson’s narrative.

It’s a well-written historical / supernatural crossover and the characters come to life, with characteristics we would recognise from the historical record, as well as novels by the likes of Philippa Gregory and Jean Plaidy. The interplay between characters from different periods was really intriguing, especially between the likes of George Boleyn and George, Duke of Clarence. The idea of choosing to haunt the living was also funny, and provided some comic moments. Wilson has obviously done her research about the atmosphere and timetable of the Tower of London and the history and relationships between some of these characters.

I am very much looking forward to reading the other books in this series on the Royal Mile, Westminster Abbey and York. It will be interesting to see how Wilson handles other historical characters and periods. I know the Royal Mile one is based around Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, another one based in my favourite Tudor period!

Book Review – ‘Tudor Folk Tales’ by Dave Tonge


Thank you to The History Press for a chance to read this book.

I really enjoyed this book. I felt that the way the book was written, split between the background of the period and the way that people lived and the folk tales that went alongside that history was a clever mix. I will definitely re-read and it will enhance other things I read about the period, being able to glimpse what the person on the street might have known or read.

The book is split into several sections examining different parts of Tudor society, including women, the youth, the poor and the religious. The folk tales within the pages of this book were all designed to teach a particular lesson or put across a specific view or opinion. The sections are then divided down into different stories, with names like ‘Of the Contrary Wife’ and ‘Of the Reward for Lying’. A lot of them seem to be morality tales, or tales of what can happen when people step out of their assigned boundaries in the hierarchy.

The drawings and copies of etchings were also really interesting to see as the people generally in the sixteenth century wouldn’t have been able to read so the drawings and etchings might have been all they saw and understood about the stories, to accompany word of mouth retellings. They’re really interesting to look at because in a lot of ways they tell us more about how people lived and thought than the kinds of paintings and cartoons we see today.

The way that the book was written is engaging and makes for a fairly easy read. The author makes it clear in the introduction that the stories he retells are not written in the original language, but have been changed for ease of reading for a modern audience. It has been very sympathetically done and, from what I can tell, the essence of the story is still the same as the original.

I would really recommend this book to any interested in the Tudor period as well as those who already have a solid grounding in the period, because it sparks an interest in things that you might not otherwise be aware still survive, and you can really sense what the general population of England thought about and felt about different people and what the relationships between them should be.

Chapters:

  1. The Struggle for the Breeches
  2. The Wit and Wisdom of Women
  3. Masterless Youth
  4. Poor Men Will Speak One Day
  5. A Caveat for Common Cursitors
  6. The Many-Headed Monster
  7. The Commotion Time
  8. Fact or Fiction, Truth or Lies?

Also published on my sister blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/

Book Review – ‘A Phoenix Rising’ by Vivienne Brereton


Thanks to Vivienne for sending me a copy of this book to read!

Thomas Howard. Head of a sprawling, hot-blooded, sensual brood. Soldier, courtier, politician, a man of great personal charisma. A phoenix rising from the ashes. Will Thomas’s ambitions be realised? Or will the phoenix come crashing down again? Every Howard, male and female, renowned for their good looks and charm, is born to dazzle at court. Luring admirers, even royal ones … like bees to sweet nectar. Equally, each member is expected to restore the family to the very pinnacle of achievement. April 1509. Seventeen-year-old Henry VIII inherits the throne of England. But who sits on the thrones of France and Scotland? Uneasy bedfellows at best. Intrigue and danger stalk the corridors of the royal courts of Europe. Secrets and lies are concealed behind the ancient walls of castles in three lands. [Description from Goodreads]

Series – House of the Red Duke #1

It took me a few chapters to get into this book, but once I did, I really enjoyed it. The descriptions of the characters were really engaging and gave me a very different perspective of people that I had quite set perceptions about, like the Howard family. I was also quite intrigued by Tristan and Nicholas, and their pasts as they were revealed throughout the story. The relationship between the two was interesting as well because they seemed so similar, but really didn’t get on, like people who are too different. It was an intriguing dynamic.

I sometimes struggle with books written from the point of view of several characters, as this one is, but this one worked quite well because it had to be told from the points of view of different characters because it is spread across several countries – England, France and Scotland. The juxtaposition of the three countries was very interesting as they all had people reacting to the same or similar events in different ways depending on where they were and what they believed. It makes for a very intriguing read, though the amount of characters does sometimes throw you.

The addition of Tudor recipes was a nice touch, and demonstrated that the writer had really done her research. From a brief discussion with Vivienne about the book, it seems she has tried the recipes herself at home so it’s not just a theoretical recipe either! There were also nods to primary sources with sections based around these.

For my own personal point of view I really enjoyed the tantalising glimpses of Anne and Mary Boleyn as young girls, and Thomas Boleyn really just starting out on his career, knowing how important the family will become. It was also an interesting perception of Edmund Howard, son of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, as he would become the father of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s ill-fated fifth wife. He doesn’t really get much page or screen time in fictional portrayals of the Tudors so it was nice just to get a small glimpse. I’m sure we’ll see more of him in later books as well.

I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series, so don’t wait too long, Vivienne!

Also published on my sister blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/

Book Review – ‘The Spanish Queen’ by Carolly Erickson


Carolly Erickson 'The Spanish Queen'

When young Catherine of Aragon, proud daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, is sent to England to marry the weak Prince Arthur, she is unprepared for all that awaits her: early widowhood, the challenge of warfare with the invading Scots, and the ultimately futile attempt to provide the realm with a prince to secure the succession. She marries Arthur’s energetic, athletic brother Henry, only to encounter fresh obstacles, chief among them Henry’s infatuation with the alluring but wayward Anne Boleyn. In The Spanish Queen, bestselling novelist Carolly Erickson allows the strong-willed, redoubtable Queen Catherine to tell her own story-a tale that carries her from the scented gardens of Grenada to the craggy mountains of Wales to the conflict-ridden Tudor court. Surrounded by strong partisans among the English, and with the might of Spanish and imperial arms to defend her, Catherine soldiers on, until her union with King Henry is severed and she finds herself discarded-and tempted to take the most daring step of her life. [Description from Waterstones]

I was looking forward to reading this novel as I hadn’t read any of Erickson’s novels before, but I did enjoy her biography of Anne Boleyn. ‘The Spanish Queen’ was well-written and engaging, and the story kept moving, unlike some historical fiction which can be a little dry at times. Perhaps this increased engagement was sheer surprise at how much of the historical record has been changed!

Writers and filmmakers often take historical licence to weave a good story, but I don’t think that the story of Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, needed any additional drama or shock, as it is quite enough of a tale on its own. Some of the changes I really took affront at – like Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon seeing each other again after he left her for good, and Katherine being outside the room when Anne Boleyn gives birth to Elizabeth I. These would never have happened in real life, so I really struggled to believe it in the story as well. Perhaps that’s my downfall with historical fiction – if it’s a period I know so well all I can think about are the historical inaccuracies.

However, I did feel that the story was well-written and the characters came across as incredibly real, even if parts of the story I didn’t find entirely believable. I loved Katherine as a character, and how she inspired so much loyalty. The way that Anne Boleyn was portrayed seemed to be a bit of a caricature of how the people saw her – a witch who bewitched the king into loving her when she wasn’t even particularly pretty. I understand why Erickson portrayed her this way when it was told from Katherine’s point of view.

It was quite an easy read for historical fiction, and I think anyone who has an interest in the Tudor period should give it a go, but just take the history with a pinch of salt. I’m looking forward to reading other novels by Carolly Erickson and seeing how she portrays different historical figures, as looking at the perceptions in this novel I can imagine that there are other people and events that are very different from how I think they would be or what the historical record tells us.

Also published on my sister blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/

Book Review – ‘Richard III: Fact and Fiction’ by Matthew Lewis


Matthew Lewis 'Richard III Fact and Fiction'

Matthew Lewis, Richard III: Fact and Fiction (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2019) ISBN 9781526727978

Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I really enjoyed this book. I liked the way that it was set out in sections so you could easily dip in and out of it, perfect for those who want to know more but don’t have the background. If you’ve watched ‘The White Queen’ and want to know more about Richard, I’d recommend this book as it clearly separates fact from fiction without assuming the reader is a complete ninny. Some books, in trying to set things out clearly, simplify the facts too much, but Lewis doesn’t make this error.

Each chapter is split into sections and each section asks a different question that is contentious over Richard III – did he kill the Princes in the Tower? Did he and the Woodvilles have a running feud? Was he betrayed at Bosworth? These and many others are explored in this book. It is written chronologically, starting with Richard’s birth and child, his time as Duke of Gloucester, his reign as King of England, and then his tragic end at the Battle of Bosworth. It also looks at how accurate or otherwise Shakespeare’s portrayal was, and what we’ve learned from the discovery of Richard III’s bones in Leicester.

Some of the things that Lewis brings up are really interesting and I hadn’t really thought about them before, but most of the conclusions he draws make sense. Lewis examines the evidence that exists, and puts forward his own opinions. I like that he doesn’t force his conclusions on you either, but gives you the evidence and allows you to make up your own mind. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Richard III: Fact and Fiction’ by Matthew Lewis”

Book Review – ‘Tudor Victims of the Reformation’ by Lynda Telford


Lynda Telford 'Tudor Victims of the Reformation'

This book describes a selection of people caught up in the turmoil that presaged the reformation – a period of change instigated by a king whose desire for a legitimate son was to brutally sweep aside an entire way of life. The most famous and influential of the victims were the two people closest to Henry VIII. His mentor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a great churchman and a diplomat of consummate skill. The other was to be the King’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. These two adversaries, equally determined to succeed, had risen above the usual expectations of their time. Wolsey, of humble birth, became a price of the church, enjoying his position to the full, before coming into conflict with a woman who had no intention of being another passing fancy for the king. She would become the mother of one of the greatest and most famous of England’s monarchs. They were brought down by the factions surrounding them and the selfish indifference of the man they thought they could trust. Though they succumbed to the forces aligned against them, their courage and achievements are remembered, and their places in history assured. [Description from Pen & Sword]

Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this in exchange for an honest review.

This book doesn’t really cover the victims of the Reformation, so much as it focuses on the lives of two of them: Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, so it only really covers up to 1536, which is really when the Reformation picked up pace. This means that there is nothing really about Katherine Parr, Anne Askew or the Pilgrimage of Grace, two key figure and one key event in the history of the Reformation, and it doesn’t go into the reign of Edward IV or Elizabeth I, or the counter-Reformation under Mary I, so the title is a little misleading.

There were also a few errors. For example, the Duke of Buckingham executed in 1521 was at a few points referred to as George Stafford, when he was actually called Edward. At one point it was also claimed that Henry VIII acceded to the throne in 1501 when he actually came to the throne in 1509. A good proof-reader would have caught and resolved these problems. They don’t, however, detract from the good tone and writing of the book in general.

I didn’t like that there were no chapter titles, as if you are looking for a particular year, especially when the book is written chronologically as this one is, it should be easy to find a particular period of time. The chapters also don’t always seem to finish where it feels natural that they should. The index is incomplete – for example the pages listed about Anne Boleyn don’t include when she was elevated to the peerage, or about her imprisonment and trial. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Tudor Victims of the Reformation’ by Lynda Telford”

Book Review – ‘An Alternative History of Britain: Tudors’ by Timothy Venning


An Alternative History of Britain Tudors - Timothy Venning

Timothy Venning, An Alternative History of Britain: the Tudors (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2014) ISBN 9781783462728

Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I had been wanting to read this book for a while, so when I was given the chance to get a review copy, I was thrilled! I also wasn’t disappointed, as I thought that this book was thoroughly engaging and I just wanted to keep reading. The chapters each deal with a separate issue running chronologically through the Tudor period, though I could have done with more around Henry VII and the rebellions against his reign – what could have happened had one of them succeeded?

The sections I found particularly interesting were the ones on Henry VIII’s tiltyard accident of January 1536 and Jane Grey. They are two instances which have always really interested me, as it has been suggested that Henry’s tiltyard accident resulted in a change of personality and, had Jane Grey managed to hold onto the throne, would we still have had Queen Elizabeth I? There are questions stemming from questions in this book, and it covers a lot of the major possibilities, while also intertwining some of the more minor decisions that were made.

Continue reading “Book Review – ‘An Alternative History of Britain: Tudors’ by Timothy Venning”

Book Review – ‘The Tudor Crown’ by Joanna Hickson 


The Tudor Crown by Joanna Hickson

When Edward of York takes back the English crown, the Wars of the Roses scatter the Lancastrian nobility and young Henry Tudor, with a strong claim to the throne, is forced into exile. Recently widowed and vulnerable, his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, forges an uncomfortable alliance with Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Swearing an oath of allegiance to York, Margaret agrees to marry the king’s shrewdest courtier, Lord Stanley. But can she tread the precarious line between duty to her husband, loyalty to her son, and her obligation to God and the king? When tragedy befalls Edward’s reign, Richard of York’s ruthless actions fire the ambition of mother and son. As their destinies converge each of them will be exposed to betrayal and treachery and in their gruelling bid for the Tudor crown, both must be prepared to pay the ultimate price… [Description from Waterstones]

I enjoyed this book, but I did find it hard-going in places, as it seemed to be quite repetitive in places so I struggled to get through those bits. However, overall, it was a very engaging read and made me think about things that I hadn’t considered before, like what life was like for English exiles in France in the sixteenth century.

I thought that this book looked interesting because it focused on the lesser-known period of Henry VII’s life – his time in exile in Brittany and France before he became king. Alongside Henry, some chapters are also written from the point of view of his mother, Margaret Beaufort. It’s not something that you really see in novels about this period – everything is focused on Edward IV and Richard III in England rather than what is going on over the Channel.

I thought that the portrayal of Henry VII was particularly engrossing because it is so different to the way he is typically portrayed as a miserly and miserable old man – Hickson makes him handsome, exciting, and a bit of a daredevil, in ways which I didn’t expect. It was Henry’s portrayal that made me want to keep reading, to see what Hickson would do when it came to the Battle of Bosworth. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The portrayal of Margaret Beaufort was also quite different to what I’d expected, because most accounts seem to conclude that the marriage between her and Thomas Stanley was a marriage of convenience, but this novel suggests a deeper relationship, which I liked seeing. As for supporting characters, I really liked Davy Owen and Meg Woodville. Meg in particular was a surprise to me, but a nice one.

The writing itself was descriptive and quite evocative in places, as Henry sights Wales again for the first time in 14 years – that scene in particular was beautifully written and described. The differences between England and France were also painted starkly, as Henry and Margaret both see things differently. Henry in France sees the country through more childlike eyes for a large proportion of the book, while Margaret sees England through more adult and cynical eyes. It created an interesting juxtaposition.

Having read this book, I am looking forward to reading ‘Red Rose, White Rose’ and ‘First of the Tudors’ which I have on my bookshelf ready to read.

Review also available on my sister blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/

Book Review – ‘Fatal Throne’ by Candace Fleming


Fatal Throne by Candace Fleming

He was King Henry VIII, a charismatic and extravagant ruler obsessed with both his power as king and with siring a male heir. They were his queens–six ill-fated women, each bound for divorce, or beheading, or death. Watch spellbound as each of Henry’s wives attempts to survive their un-predictable king and his power-hungry court. See the sword flash as fiery Anne Boleyn is beheaded for adultery. Follow Jane Seymour as she rises from bullied court maiden to beloved queen, only to die after giving birth. Feel Catherine Howard’s terror as old lovers resurface and whisper vicious rumours to Henry’s influential advisors. Experience the heartache of mothers as they lose son after son, heir after heir. Told in stirring first-person accounts, Fatal Throne is at once provocative and heart-breaking, an epic tale that is also an intimate look at the royalty of the most perilous times in English history. [Description from Amazon UK] 

Co-written by several authors – Candace Fleming, M.T. Anderson, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, and Deborah Hopkinson – and received as a Christmas present. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened this book as, when I have previously read novels co-written with different authors, there is sometimes a jarring effect where the different voices don’t go together and it doesn’t sound like the same story, but that didn’t happen here. I actually really enjoyed it, and I thought that the emotions of each woman in particular came across very strongly, and gave the story an emotional centre – these were real women who got involved with one of the most notorious of British monarchs, Henry VIII. 

I did wonder whether, because the book was quite short to be covering the lives of six women who had quite full lives it might be a bit sparse, but the authors were very clever in the way that they covered the events of the period – it was only revealed what each individual woman would have known, and not what was going on more generally, because it was written from the point of view of each of the women.  

What did let the book down for me slightly was, perhaps because I know the stories of these women so well, there were sections of their lives that I was hoping to see that didn’t make the cut, and little details that added to the story but that didn’t quite ring true. However, generally it was a very enjoyable story, and well-handled. I particularly enjoyed the section told from the point of view of Anne of Cleves, as I think she is often overlooked as she was only queen for 6 months, and replaced by a younger woman. 

I liked the fact that, between each wife we get a short section from the viewpoint of Henry VIII, and it’s clever how much manages to come across in that short section to contrast with the views of the women. I also liked the final page from the point of view of Elizabeth I as she was really Henry VIII’s success story, though he considered her his biggest disappointment. 

This is also published on my other blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/.