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.
‘The Mirror and the Light’ has to be one of the most anticipated books of 2020. It’s been 8 years since the previous book in the trilogy, ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, was published.
The trilogy as a whole focuses on the life of Henry VIII’s chief minister after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey – Thomas Cromwell. For those who don’t know the background, Cromwell was at the heart of Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s fall and execution, and Henry VIII’s 6-month marriage to Anne of Cleves. There is debate in the historical community over this involvement in these events, but Mantel puts him at the forefront.
It’s taken me around 2 months to read this – not because of any real problem with the book, but because of this COVID-19 outbreak. I’ve seen quite a few people saying that they’ve been struggling to read during lockdown, and I’ve fallen into that hole. Nevertheless, I have finished it finally and I’m really glad I finally got to see Cromwell’s end written in Mantel’s hand.
“Sometimes it is years before we can see who are the heroes in an affair and who are the victims.”
‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel
I loved the way that the last few chapters were written in particular. For anyone who knows how Cromwell’s life ends (I feel like most people reading this blog probably will, but I still won’t drop any spoilers!), it felt like a different way of ending than those we’ve seen before, either in books or on TV or film. It was a sympathetic way of seeing it, as Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell has been throughout the series. Whether her view is right or wrong her grasp of the historical context is demonstrated by the tiny details that are included, looking not just at the events established but what is hinted at in letters left behind.
One thing I will say, though, is that this is actually my least favourite of the trilogy; ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ was my favourite. In some ways this felt too long, like it dragged on – I didn’t feel like it had the same pace as the others. The section between Jane’s death in 1537 and the marriage to Anne in 1540 felt a little forced in places, as Mantel tried to fit in everything that happened and could have a bearing on Cromwell’s fall.
Nevertheless, a worthy ending to a series about a man that has often been maligned by history, rightly or wrongly; I’ll leave it to you to make up your own minds.
Broadcaster Jenni Murray’s history of Britain through 21 revolutionary women holds up a new mirror to the past, a catalogue of inspirational lives delivered with wit and verve. They were famous queens, unrecognised visionaries, great artists and trailblazing politicians. They all pushed back boundaries and revolutionised our world. Jenni Murray presents the history of Britain as you’ve never seen it before, through the lives of twenty-one women who refused to succumb to the established laws of society, whose lives embodied hope and change, and who still have the power to inspire us today. [Description from Waterstones]
I really enjoyed this book. I listened to it as an audiobook read by the author, Jenni Murray. She really brings the lives of these women to life and into the modern day, particularly the 17th and 18th century women like Mary Seacole, Ada Lovelace and Mary Somerville. I hadn’t even heard of some of the women, but they all seem like very sensible and imminent suggestions and I want to know more!
The history of these women is explored in great detail, looking briefly at their upbringing and relationships with their family and others around them, before moving on to their achievements and why they deserve inclusion in the list. Murray acknowledges that some of the women included on the list may be controversial, but she manages to explain why each is important and deserves inclusion, even if you might personally disagree or prefer someone else.
There is a lot of focus on the movement for gender equality and women’s rights, which I suppose is understandable, and most of the women come from the 18th century or later, again understandable I suppose, but disappointing. There just isn’t enough surviving evidence about these earlier women to justify a chapter, and women had a lot less freedom to make an impact anyway. As we can see from the list of women covered in the book, women in the earlier period are leaders and queens rather than women in other fields.
The writing style is clear and concise and easy to follow. I was listening to this at work and I don’t feel like I missed a single detail, even though I was focusing on something else. Even when I had to take a break from listening I wanted to get back to it and find out more about these women, some of whom I hadn’t really heard of before or didn’t really know anything about.
What I did like about this book is that every woman is discussed in her own right in her own times, largely without 21st century bias, and giving credit to others where it was due. It’s a really interesting take on the history of women, choosing just 21 from across history.
This is a really interesting read, even if you are looking for something quite light – it isn’t too heavy in detail or complicated concepts. If you have an interest in history, particularly in the role of women in history I would thoroughly recommend this book!
Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper. Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women. For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman. [Description from Waterstones]
I really found this book totally engaging and interesting. It’s not about the murders so much as the lives of the victims before their deaths, which is an avenue not much discussed, even among Ripperologists as far as I can tell – the focus is on the murders and the identity of the Ripper himself. Here Rubenhold looks at what some term “the forgotten victims”.
The main supposition of the book is that the women killed by Jack the Ripper weren’t all prostitutes, as is generally accepted, but instead were killed while sleeping – the idea of them being prostitutes is “arbitrary supposition informed by Victorian prejudice”. The only exception to this is Mary Jane Kelly, the final victim, who was the only one who associated herself with the sex trade at the time of her death. This is a suggestion I’ve never heard before, but the way that Rubenhold puts it forward really makes it seem logical and possible.
I knew the basic background of the women – Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stryde, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly – but some of the detail in this book really shocked me and made me question some assumptions about the victims and made me think more about their lives before they met the Ripper. From their births to their deaths, and even what was revealed about the women in the inquests, Rubenhold covers it all, and makes a good case for her argument that the women weren’t all prostitutes. However, whether it will change long-established presumptions remains to be seen.
It’s engagingly written and Rubenhold lets it be known where she found her information, and where facts are sure, or it’s merely supposition (the latter largely in the case of Mary Jane Kelly). I listened to it as an audiobook rather than reading it, but it was very easy to listen to and well done. I think perhaps I might have found it a bit too difficult to read in places, given how the lives of these women panned out, but it was great to be able to listen to it instead.
Anyone interested in Jack the Ripper, or in social history during the Victorian period needs to read this book. It is really engaging and might change your mind about something you thought you knew.
In the ancient city of York, something sinister is stirring… What do a highwayman, an infamous traitor, and two hardened soldiers have in common? Centuries of friendship, a duty to the town, and a sense of mischief – until they realise that someone is trying to bring chaos to their home. Joining forces with local Vikings, the four friends keep an eye on the situation, but then, disaster strikes. Can peace be restored both inside and out of the city walls? [Description from Amazon UK]
This one was definitely darker than the previous books in the series, but I thought it was really good. It was quite nice to see a different side to Wilson’s writing, though I still insist that ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’ was my favourite! Not your typical ghost story or historical fiction, but really interesting to read in the way that it was written and the conception of the story as well.
The previous books in the series never really tackled how a new ghost is accepted into the ghostly community and how that is dealt with, so that was interesting, as was the method of her death (without giving too much away!). I also liked the idea that ghosts could still be harmed and fade out of existence, I hope that’s dealt with further in other books in the series. I think this one marked a turning point in Wilson’s writing, combining the historical fact and legends with living fictional characters, which has never really happened in any of her previous novels.
I loved the camaraderie between Richard Duke of York, Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes – characters that I wouldn’t have put together but provided a lot of the drama as well as comedy in this story. They all come from different periods and wouldn’t have known each other in life, so to see the way they banded together in death was totally intriguing, and I think that’s what draws me back to this series in general – it is so unexpected but it manages to work!
You can tell that Wilson has spent time in the locations that she bases her novels in, as well as speaking to those who live there, because there are little snippets of detail that most people wouldn’t know or wouldn’t see. She weaves historical fact into the myths and legends, so you know that there has been a lot of research before pen even got close to paper. Maybe that’s why the ghost side of the story seems logical; because you know the locations are real you can imagine the rest.
This series is so good, and I would recommend it to anyone. The interactions between characters that you wouldn’t normally see in the same book alone make it worth reading, whether you are interested in history or ghost stories or not! More please, Jennifer!
‘Did all women have something of the witch about them?’ Jane Chandler is an apprentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane will soon learn that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world. From his father’s beatings to his uncle’s raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witch-finder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft. Inspired by true events, Widdershins tells the story of the women who were persecuted and the men who condemned them. [Description from Amazon UK]
This was our book club pick for January 2020, and I really enjoyed reading it. It’s based in my hometown of Newcastle Upon Tyne and is based on a true story of 15 (or 16) witches executed on the Town Moor in 1650. Witchcraft is an interesting subject, and this novel didn’t disappoint as it examines the lead-up to an accusation in the lives of two very difference people. It’s cleverly done, and everything comes together in the end, if not in the way that you expect.
Steadman’s writing is engaging and swapping between the two different sides – one chapter from the view of a witch hunter and one from the view of an accused witch. Both have very different demons to deal with, and it takes them in very different directions, but their lives will ultimately intertwine. Jane is very much an innocent throughout the novel, taking things at face value and not asking too many questions, almost accepting. John had so many bad experiences that he translated it into blaming someone else and wanting those people punished. He moved from victim to abuser and watching that journey is enlightening, but I still don’t fully understand it.
The book is very atmospheric and really brings to mind what life must have been like at that time. There was also great period detail which reminds you of when the book is set even when you’re focused on the characters rather than the time period or events. The author depicts a time when misguided judgements and superstitions were commonplace and led to a fear-driven craze as people wanted to remove what they didn’t understand.
The afterword adds a lot of clarity to what you’ve read when you’ve finished the novel, listing the women who, in real life, were executed in the Newcastle witch trials. The author handles the whole event sympathetically and makes sure in her note at the end to separate fiction from fact and what changes she made to the factual account.
It is a fictional portrayal of an event I knew very little about, though I have studied the European witch-craze as part of my degree. My favourite thing about the book is the way it is written because it’s so atmospheric and really gets into the heads of the two main characters, from whose point of view the story is told.
Popular history writer Terry Deary takes us on a light-hearted and often humorous romp through the centuries with Mr & Mrs Peasant, recounting foul and dastardly deeds committed by the underclasses, as well as the punishments meted out by those on the right side’ of the law. Discover tales of arsonists and axe-wielders, grave robbers and garroters, poisoners and prostitutes. Delve into the dark histories of beggars, swindlers, forgers, sheep rustlers and a whole host of other felons from the lower ranks of society who have veered off the straight and narrow. There are stories of highwaymen and hooligans, violent gangs, clashing clans and the witch trials that shocked a nation. Learn too about the impoverished workers who raised a riot opposing crippling taxes and draconian laws, as well as the strikers and machine-smashers who thumped out their grievances against new technologies that threatened their livelihoods. Britain has never been short of those who have been prepared to flout the law of the land for the common good, or for their own despicable purposes. The upper classes have lorded and hoarded their wealth for centuries of British history, often to the disadvantage of the impoverished. Frustration in the face of this has resulted in revolt. [Description from Waterstones]
Thanks to Pen & Sword for the chance to read and review this book.
I think this was one of the most enjoyable history books I’ve read in a while. I thoroughly enjoyed the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary when I was younger, and I think it was those books that made me want to study history. This book on the crimes of peasants throughout history doesn’t disappoint when compared – the only thing I miss in comparison to the Horrible Histories are the cartoons, which I suppose have been removed to make this book better for adults.
Deary brings in primary sources throughout, and quotes from various famous people from history, both fictional and real. The book is split down into easily digestible chunks chronologically from the Normans, through the Medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods and on to the Georgians and Victorians, discussing all kinds of crimes from football hooliganism, rioting, grave robbing, poisoning and murder. The whole spectrum is covered, along with different punishments.
I’m not normally a big fan of footnotes – I actually prefer endnotes as it means that you can read without getting distracted by them, and just look at the endnotes that are interesting to you. Some books have really long footnotes, which also really annoys me, but this book doesn’t have that problem. The footnotes in this book are actually really enjoyable, as they seem to add some comic relief and jokes, which are very much like what I remember of Terry Deary.
The chapters are all broken down into sub-sections, making this easy to dip in and out of, or if you are interested in a particular type of crime or a particular period. He goes deeply into some cases where there is a lot of evidence or a moral tale. Deary has a great writing style which makes his work easy to read and engage with, and makes you want to keep reading, which is great in a non-fiction history book, as some of them can be a bit dry. This definitely isn’t a problem with Terry Deary’s books and writing!
This book is definitely worth a read and apparently there will be more in the series with the next one entitled ‘The Peasants’ Revolting Lives’. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to the next one, it’s already on my wish list!
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.
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.
Westminster: Sanctuary, Palace and Abbey
Ludlow, Shrewsbury and the Marches
A Coup on Watling Street – Northampton and Stony Stratford
Palace and Prison: The Tower of London
The Aftermath – Ghosts and Tombs, Imposters and Battlefields
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!