Book Review – ‘The Pocket Guide to Royal Scandals’ by Andy K. Hughes


A fun romp through royal history, looking at some of the most scandalous royals and what they did. There is very much a focus on English history, with just some of the more famous foreign rulers thrown in like Catherine the Great and Vlad the Impaler. The focus is also largely on the modern period, with nearly half of the book covering just the 20th century. There is only one Roman Emperor discussed, when they must have had enough scandals to fill most of the book!

It is a fun read, but with a couple of errors that I spotted including the Pilgrimage of Grace as happening in 1541 when it was 5 years earlier, and one of Anne Boleyn’s ‘lovers’ Mark Smeaton being hanged and quartered when he was actually beheaded. There are also a few grammatical errors where it doesn’t read as well as it could.

A fun short book to dip in and out of but seemed to gloss over some of the scandals of history to focus on the modern royals, which was a little disappointing for me, being a history buff. However, the sections on the modern royals were also very interesting, reading back on things that I heard on and off in the news growing up, but reading about them now as an adult puts a bit of a different spin on things.

Chapters:

  1. A Summary of Monarchs Since 1066
  2. Scandalous Rulers Before the Fifteenth Century
  3. Scandalous Rulers of the Fifteenth to Nineteenth Centuries
  4. Scandalous Rulers of the Twentieth Century
  5. No End in Sight!
  6. And Finally, Did You Know …

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


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

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

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

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

Chapters:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Book Update


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

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

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

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

History Books


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

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

I start at the top move downwards, as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapters:

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

Book Review – ‘The Nine Day Queen’ by Ella March Chase


'The Nine Day Queen' by Ella March Chase (2013).

This is the story of the Nine Day’s Queen, Lady Jane Grey, and her sisters, Katherine, and Mary. They all encountered the wrath of queens themselves and this is a fictional retelling of how they all dealt with that and how the legacy of the Nine Day’s Queen influenced her sisters.

I think I was expecting more from this book as I so enjoyed ‘The Virgin Queen’s Daughter’. Perhaps I enjoyed that one more because it was based on an idea that there is no historical evidence for, rather than following the historical timeline.

This book, according to the title, you would expect to focus on Lady Jane Grey, but she dies about halfway through, so it is actually the story of the three Grey sisters and how Jane’s legacy affects her surviving sisters, Katherine, and Mary. The basic storyline is historical fact but there are several instances where this deviates. Some are covered in the afterword by the author, but some not, so don’t take this as being historically accurate in all cases.

As to the writing, it is engaging to read, but I did feel that it was lacking in some storyline respects especially in the second half of the book. Katherine and Mary Grey are two very intriguing characters that not enough is really written about, so it would have been nice, as their stories after Jane’s death were covered, to get a little more. It almost felt as though the writer wanted to cover their stories but didn’t have the same knowledge as for Jane’s story. The second half felt lacking somehow as a result.

Not the best fictional rendition of the story of Lady Jane Grey and the Grey sisters – I much preferred ‘The Lady of Misrule’ by Suzannah Dunn and I am looking forward to reading ‘Sisters of Treason’ by Elizabeth Fremantle.

Book Review – ‘The Queen’s Spy’ by Clare Marchant


Thank you to Avon Books for sending me a copy of this for review.

I really enjoyed this book, and it was interesting to see the spying in the Elizabethan court from a fictional point of view, having read a lot of nonfiction about it recently for my own book. It’s quite a complex subject and period of time but Clare Marchant deals with it in a sympathetic and concise manner, keeping the story moving along.

The Babington Plot was a pivotal moment in the history of Elizabethan and Tudor England, because it led directly to the execution of an anointed monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, although the book doesn’t cover the execution itself. We see the background to the plot through the eyes of a deaf and mute apothecary’s assistant, Tom Lutton, who is pulled into the dark world of Francis Walsingham and back-street spying and conspiracy.

In the end he pays a high price for his involvement, but this is contrasted with the parallel story of one of Lutton’s descendants in 2021, Mathilde and Rachel. I’m never entirely sure about a book written both in the present and in the past, having had bad experiences with parallel narratives before. However, this was startlingly clear, and the two parts worked really well together.

Mathilde, Rachel, Fleur, and Oliver, all added something to the narrative of the past, even though they are characters based in the present. The way they explored the triptych and the history behind it added more depth to Tom’s story in his chapters, and the ending tied everything together really nicely, making it feel like a completed whole.

An excellent fictional exploration of a complex period in English history, with characters that make you want to read on and find out how their stories end. I was completely gripped.

Elizabethan Rebellions – Writing Update!


For those who don’t know, I am writing my first book to be published by Pen and Sword History, on Elizabethan Rebellions.

When I first started writing this book I was intending to write at least fortnightly updates on my blog, but the time has just overtaken me! If you follow me on social media, you’ll probably have seen some updates, but I have been struggling to write anything at the moment aside from my book, hence the lack of posts on this blog.

I am over halfway through the writing, having written 50,000 words. I like to edit as I go along so my process is to write a couple of thousand words and then edit what I’ve written. The manuscript deadline is January 2022 to get it to the publisher.

I’ve had some problems with sourcing images, however. Wikimedia Commons was suggested as a way to get images that are in the public domain. However, images on Wikimedia Commons are only public domain in the US, the rules for the UK are less obvious, described as ‘inconclusive’.[i] Rather than risk any copyright infringement I have looked into images under the Creative Commons License.[ii] It’s interesting because there are images that I maybe wouldn’t have looked at, but are quite intriguing – I’m using the Wellcome Collection at the moment to source images.[iii]

Understanding Elizabethan Rebellions takes quite a bit of brain power I’ve learnt. There is so much plotting and conspiracy that people get confused and the exact order of what happened. There is also a lot of missing evidence or propaganda replacing the real story.

It has been a real eye-opener working on this book and now I have all kinds of ideas running through my head for things I’d like to write in the future.


[i] Commons:Reuse of PD-Art photographs – Wikimedia Commons

[ii] CC Search (creativecommons.org)

[iii] Collections | Wellcome Collection

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