Book Review – ‘A History of Britain in 21 Women’ by Jenni Murray


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!

The 21 women discussed in this book are:

  • Boadicea
  • Elizabeth I
  • Aphra Behn
  • Caroline Herschel
  • Fanny Burney
  • Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Jane Austen
  • Mary Somerville
  • Mary Seacole
  • Ada Lovelace
  • Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
  • Millicent Garrett Fawcett
  • Emmeline Parkhurst
  • Ethel Smythe
  • Constance Markievicz
  • Gwen John
  • Nancy Astor
  • Barbara Castle
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • Mary Quant
  • Nicola Sturgeon

Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


On hallowed ground… With over three thousand burials and memorials, including seventeen monarchs, life for the ghostly community of Westminster Abbey was never going to be a quiet one. Add in some fiery Tudor tempers, and several centuries-old feuds, and things can only go one way: chaotic. Against the backdrop of England’s most important church, though, it isn’t all tempers and tantrums. Poets’ Corner hosts poetry battles and writing workshops, and close friendships form across the ages. With the arrival of Mary Queen of Scots, however, battle ensues. Will Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I ever find their common ground, and lasting peace? [Description from Amazon UK]

Kindred Spirits #3

Another great novel from Jennifer Wilson. I absolutely adore this series, and I’m really hoping for a book eventually set around Windsor with Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. I think that would be great. I did thoroughly enjoy this installment in the series though because there were so many different characters from different periods coming together and it was interesting to see how those relationships developed.

This one focuses on the kings and queens, and literary and scientific minds buried or commemorated at Westminster. I loved the developing relationship between Richard III and Henry VII and I understand that this is explored more in the fourth book in the series based in York. As for the relationship between Mary I and Elizabeth I, I can imagine that this is actually how the two would have been in real life had they been raised as siblings rather than rivals for the throne. All siblings argue and fight, but these two took it to the next level.

It’s history but not as we know and Wilson’s knowledge of and passion for medieval and early modern history is obvious as she brings historical figures into the present, without losing the sense of who they were in their own time. One of my favourite moments was when Anne of Cleves snuck onto the Abbey computer to alter her Wikipedia page and any references to ‘Flander’s Mare’, and the reappearance of Richard III, who I loved in ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’.

This series is so unique, and very cleverly done. You can tell that a great amount of research has gone into the book, as there are little titbits of historical fact, as well as the ghosts trying to dispel, or arguing about, rumours swirling about their lives. It’s really interesting to read and imagine what these historical figures would think about how we view them today, and what they would make of today’s world, incredibly distant from what they knew in their lives. I want more, please, Jennifer!?

Another bonus is that is was written by an author who lives in the same area as me! Well-written and worth a read for anyone with an interest in historical fiction, or historical ghost stories, rumours and a bit of humour thrown in!

Who Was … Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester?


Lettice Knollys was the wife of two great nobles – Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, and Elizabeth I’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. It is also possible that she was an illegitimate granddaughter of Henry VIII through her grandmother, Mary Boleyn’s, affair with Henry, possibly resulting in her mother, Catherine Carey. Lettice lived in the reigns of six different monarchs – Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I.

Name: Lettice Knollys (at birth) / Lettice Devereux (married name) / Lettice Dudley (married name)

Title/s: Viscountess Hereford /Countess of Essex /Countess of Leicester

Birth: 8 November 1543 at Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire, England

Death: 25 December 1634 at Drayton Bassett, Staffordshire, England

Burial: Beauchamp Chapel of the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, England

Spouse: Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex 1541-1576 / Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester 1532-1588 / Sir Christopher Blount c.1555 – 1601

Children: (by Walter Devereux) Penelope Blount, Countess of Devonshire c.1563-1607 / Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland c.1564-1619 / Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex 1565-1601 / Walter Devereux 1569-1591 / (by Robert Dudley) Robert Dudley, Baron Denbigh 1579-1584

Parents: Sir Francis Knollys c.1511-1596 & Catherine Carey c.1524-1569

Siblings: Sir Henry Knollys c.1541-1582 / Mary Stalker 1542-1593 / William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury c.1544-1632 / Edward Knollys 1546-1580 / Sir Robert Knollys 1547-1626 / Elizabeth Leighton 1549-c.1605 / Richard Knollys 1552-1596 / Sir Thomas Knollys c.1558-c.1596 / Sir Francis Knollys c.1552-1643 / Anne West, Baroness de la Warr 1555-1608 / Katherine Fitzgerald, Baroness Offaley c.1560-1632 / Dudley Knollys 1562-1562

Noble Connections: Lettice was the grand-daughter of Mary Boleyn through her daughter, Catherine Carey, and thus the great-niece of Anne Boleyn, second wife to Henry VIII. Lettice’s mother was a favourite of Elizabeth I and Lettice herself married Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, as her second husband, having first been married to Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Continue reading “Who Was … Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester?”

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”

Documentary Notes – British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the Wars of the Roses


  • Story of past open to interpretation 
  • Carefully edited and deceitful version of events 
  • Not just a version of what happened – more a tapestry of different stories woven together by whoever was in power at the time 
  • Wars of the Roses was invented by the Tudors to justify their power 
  • Immortalised by Shakespeare – darkest chapter in English history 
  • Lancaster and York locked in battle for the crown of England – kings deposed, innocent children murdered, cousin fought against cousin 
  • 1485 Richard III slain and Henry Tudor took the throne 
  • Henry VII’s victory hailed the ending of the Medieval period 
  • Line between fact and fiction often gets blurred 

Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.

  • 1455 Stubbins in Lancashire scene of a legendary battle in the Wars of the Roses beginning with volleys of arrows but ran out of ammunition 
  • Lancastrians pelted the Yorkists with black pudding – local legend 
  • Yorkists pelted the Lancastrians with Yorkshire puddings – local legend 
  • Wars of the Roses in national memory 
  • History books – rivalry between Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) – bloody rivalry largely a creation of the Tudors 
  • 1461 bloodshed real in the middle of a snowstorm at Towton 
  • Lancastrians started out well but tide turned against them, chased by the Yorkists down the slope to a river and so a massacre began 
  • Blood stained the snow red, so location became known as the bloody meadow 
  • Shakespeare portrayed the battle as a bloody Armageddon – represented a country torn apart by war, nothing as bad in our history 
  • Somme 19,000 British soldiers killed on the first day, Towton 28,000 killed 
  • 20 years ago Bradford University revealed barbarity of fighting with remains of 43 men killed at Towton 
  • Head forced down into the spine, poleaxes – exceptional even for the Wars of the Roses 
  • Skirmishes, but real battles only around 8 in 30 years 
  • Not ravaged by all-out war – later myth 
  • Out of 32 years of wars, fighting on lasted a total of 13 weeks 

Continue reading “Documentary Notes – British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the Wars of the Roses”

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/. 

International Women’s Day – Favourite Tudor Women


On International Women’s Day I thought I would give the lowdown on some of my favourite Tudor ladies – Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, Jane Grey and Elizabeth I. All were queen in one way or another, and were strong successful women in their own ways. Here I look at some of the highlights of their lives, and why I enjoy studying them so much. 

Tudor Women

Anne Boleyn 

Anne Boleyn seems to be a popular choice for people’s favourite wife of Henry VIII or favourite Tudor queen in general. But why? She is controversial, inspired great devotion alive and dead, and was (it is widely accepted) innocent of the crimes for which she was executed. However, Katherine Howard was also executed, and it isn’t sure that she was entirely guilty of that which she was accused of, but she doesn’t get the same kind of following or academic interest.  

For me, what makes Anne Boleyn so interesting is that she was a woman, not quite out of her time, but looking to the future. She realised that women were capable of so much more than had been believed, and she had seen women take power and rule – namely Margaret of Austria – and women who enjoyed learning and bettered themselves – Marguerite of Navarre. 

Anne has taught me to be myself and not to be afraid to show my intelligence as she did. 

Continue reading “International Women’s Day – Favourite Tudor Women”

Talking Tudors Podcast with Natalie Grueninger


Talking Tudors Podcast Logo

‘Talking Tudors’ is a podcast by Natalie Grueninger, author of ‘Discovering Tudor London’ and co-author of ‘In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn’ and ‘In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with Sarah Morris. Along with Kathryn Holeman Natalie has also released two Tudor colouring books – ‘Colouring Tudor History’ and ‘Colouring Tudor History: Queens and Consorts’. 

Natalie interviews guests about their particular interests and the Tudors in general. Each episode ends with “10 To Go” and a “Tudor Takeaway”, and at the beginning often starts with a piece of Tudor-inspired music. 

The first 21 episodes guests and topics are listed below (everything live up to this date 8th February 2019). 

Continue reading “Talking Tudors Podcast with Natalie Grueninger”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Last Tudor’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory 'The Last Tudor'

  1. What role do faith and religion play during the time period represented in The Last Tudor? What is the relationship between religion and politics, and how does this relationship affect the cultural climate of England? Is the country mostly united in their faith or divided? What impact does this have on the royals of England?
  • After the Henrician Reformation, there was the mid-Tudor crisis, already with differences of faith across England.
  • Edward VI was a devout Protestant as he had been raised, Mary I was a devout Catholic as her mother Katherine of Aragon had been, and Elizabeth I looked for a middle way in religion having seen the chaos of her brother’s and sister’s reigns.
  • Edward VI altered his Device for the Succession to stop Mary I succeeding to the throne and returning the English church to Rome.
  • Politics was based on religion – generally people who supported Edward VI and Jane Grey were protestant, and those who supported Mary I were Catholic, although Mary I did at first also attract the support of protestants as the real claimant to the throne by Henry VIII’s will.
  1. What is “the true religion” according to Lady Jane Grey? Why does Jane believe that she and her family do not need to earn their place in heaven as others do? Does her faith ultimately serve her well? Discuss.
  • Jane Grey believes the true religion is protestant – each is influenced in religion in the way that they were raised.
  • Protestants believe in pre-destination – that it is already decided whether you go to heaven or hell before you’re even born and you can’t influence that through good works.
  • Good works leading to heaven is a Catholic doctrine.
  • Jane Grey relies on her faith and it ultimately helps her to die, but she wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place if she wasn’t staunchly Protestant.
  • Edward VI settles the succession on Jane Grey because she is Protestant, rather than his Catholic half-sister Mary I.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Last Tudor’ by Philippa Gregory”

Book Review – ‘Treachery’ by S.J. Parris


Treachery by S.J. Parris

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

Perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose, the fourth historical thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, heretic, philosopher and spy. August, 1585. England is on the brink of war… Sir Francis Drake is preparing to launch a daring expedition against the Spanish when a murder aboard his ship changes everything. A relentless enemy. A treacherous conspiracy. Giordano Bruno agrees to hunt the killer down, only to find that more than one deadly plot is brewing in Plymouth’s murky underworld. And as he tracks a murderer through its dangerous streets, he uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the future of England itself. [Description from Waterstones]

I wasn’t sure about this series at first, because it reminded me of the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom which I absolutely love. However, if you go into it with no expectations you will be pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable and well written it is in fact. It is shorter than the books in the Shardlake series which is to its advantage as the size of the Shardlake books initially put me off, but Parris manages to pack quite a lot into the book.

Giordano Bruno as a character is fascinating, being an ex-Dominican Italian monk, excommunicated by the Pope for heresy, and chasing banned books across Europe. This is the fourth book in the series, but actually one of my favourites, along with the first in the series ‘Heresy’. I think this is because the enigmatic figure of Sir Francis Drake appears in this story, and cleverly joins the fictional with the real, combining a political and religious plot with a personal vendetta.

Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Treachery’ by S.J. Parris”