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/

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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”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Red Queen’ by Philippa Gregory


'The Red Queen' by Philippa Gregory (2010).

  1. In the beginning of The Red Queen, young Margaret Beaufort is an extremely pious young girl, happy to have “saints’ knees” when she kneels too long at her prayers. Discuss the role of religion throughout Margaret’s life. What does she see as God’s role for her?
  • Margaret has always seen religion as her calling in this novel – right from the beginning she wants to enter a religious life and not marry as she is expected to do.
  • Margaret sees it as her role to work for the return of Henry VI and the house of Lancaster to the throne of England, and the overthrow of the Yorks.
  • After the death of Henry VI in 1471 Margaret sees god’s role for her as being to put her son on the throne of England and depose the Yorks.
  • Right until the end of her life there is plenty of evidence that Margaret was devoted to god and her religion – it doesn’t seem that she ever really wanted to marry but saw it as a necessity.
  1. As a pious young girl, Margaret wants to live a life of greatness like her heroine, Joan of Arc. However, her fate lies elsewhere, as her mother tells her, “the time has come to put aside silly stories and silly dreams and do your duty.” (Page 26). What is Margaret’s duty and how does she respond to her mother’s words?
  • The duty of all girls in the 15th century was to marry and advance their families, especially heiresses, who had a lot of worth to bring to a marriage.
  • Margaret’s duty and destiny certainly looked good when she was married to Henry VI’s half-brother, Edmund Tudor, and birthed a Lancaster heir to the throne.
  • Margaret seems to have had a strong will and tried to resist her mother’s wishes, but ultimately had to comply as she didn’t really have a choice.
  • I think Margaret knew that she would have to do what her mother told her to, but she also hoped that her mother would give in and allow her to do what she wanted and dreamed of.
  1. At the tender age of twelve, Margaret is married to Edmund Tudor and fourteen months later she bears him the son who will be the heir to the royal Lancaster family line. During the excruciating hours of labour, Margaret learns a painful truth about her mother and the way she views Margaret. Discuss the implications of what Margaret learns from her mother, and what is “the price of being a woman.” (63)
  • Margaret learns that, as a woman, she is disposable, and that her son is more important than she is (assuming it is a son of course).
  • Being a woman in the 15th century wasn’t easy because you were expected to marry young, make a good marriage and bear children, and that was it.
  • It was more likely for a man to outlive his wife, as women died in childbirth from a lack of hygiene, or issues which would be considered easy to deal with now.
  • I think that moment was a wake-up for Margaret because she realises that her mother will never be proud of her – she sees her as something to be used to better the family.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Red Queen’ by Philippa Gregory”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Queen’s Confidante’ by Karen Harper


'The Queen's Confidante' by Karen Harper (2012)
‘The Queen’s Confidante’ by Karen Harper (2012)
  1. Whom did you find the most interesting character in The Queen’s Confidante?
  • For me the most interesting character was Elizabeth of York, wife and queen to Henry VII, and mother of Prince Arthur.
  • I thought that the way that Elizabeth was portrayed in this novel was interesting – obsessed with what happened to her brothers, the Princes in the Tower, and determined to remember them.
  • The historical record doesn’t tell us much about what the Tudors thought about the fate of the Princes, aside from an insinuation that Richard III killed them.
  • I thought that Elizabeth’s love for and obsession with finding out what happened to her brothers and her son was admirable, and it also showed a softer side to Henry VII in the end.
  1. Who would ever expect tyrannical Henry VIII to have had such a beautiful, loving mother? Do you know of children who have turned out very differently from their parents, in personality, values, and general attitude toward life? Does a parent really have so little influence over his or her children?
  • I think, had Elizabeth of York still been alive after 1503, she would have had a more marked influence on the future Henry VIII – her gentler ways would have softened Henry VII’s harsher approach.
  • I think a lot of children turn out very differently from their parents’ – I know I am very different from both of my parents, but not necessarily in a good or a bad way, just different.
  • A lot of what makes the child the adult they become is the environment they grow up in – if you grow up in a loving environment you are more likely to be loving to other people.
  • Henry VIII was loving like his mother, but his love had a darker edge and his love turned to hate, especially with Anne Boleyn.
  1. If Prince Arthur had lived, how might English history have turned out differently?
  • Without Henry VIII having taken the throne, there likely wouldn’t have been an English Reformation, no Bloody Mary or Elizabeth I, and the English royal family probably wouldn’t have descended through the Stuart line.
  • Some historians suggest that Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur were in love and that their marriage was consummated and, if this were true, Katherine may well have had a son as well as daughters, without her seven-year widowhood affecting her fertility, as has also been suggested.
  • England might have entered a new golden age, as Henry VII had hoped, and the Tudor dynasty might have survived, but this is one of the great what-ifs of history – we might not have had the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution or countless other events which now define English history.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Queen’s Confidante’ by Karen Harper”

Discussion Questions – ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory's 'The White Princess' (2013).

  1. How would you describe the grief Elizabeth experiences in the aftermath of her uncle, Richard III’s death? What notable details about their relationship does her grief expose? How does Richard’s untimely demise imperil the future of the York line?
  • It’s not just the grief of a niece for her uncle but a young girl grieving for the loss of the man she loved, and whom she hoped to marry.
  • Her grief exposes just how close she and Richard were and her hopes for their relationship – she really doesn’t want to marry Henry VII because she knows she can’t love him as she did Richard.
  • Richard’s death imperils the York line because there are no more direct male descendents not touched by treason or bastardy – Warwick is the only notable survivor of Richard Duke of York’s line, and his father was executed for treason.
  • Elizabeth of York is the true heir to the Yorkist line, and it is this which underpins Henry VII’s claim to the throne and his ability to hold the throne in the face of so much opposition; people believed Elizabeth was on the throne as well and so the civil wars were at an end with the two houses united.
  1. “Henry Tudor has come to England, having spent his whole life in waiting…and now I am, like England itself, part of the spoils of war.” (3) Why does Elizabeth consider herself a war prize for Henry, rather than his sworn enemy for life? What role does politics play in the arrangement of royal marriages in fifteenth-century England?
  • Through his marriage to Elizabeth of York Henry VII gained the support of the Yorkists in his attempt to keep the throne – in that sense she is a prize for him, the rightful heir of the York to unite the two warring houses of York and Lancaster.
  • Elizabeth can’t realistically be Henry’s enemy while they are married, or the marriage would never be successful.
  • I don’t think Henry ever really saw Elizabeth of York as an enemy – she was a pawn in the games of others to an extent in the same way that he was.
  • Politics is really the sole reason for a royal marriage – it is used to create alliances and gain new titles and wealth, but Edward IV, Elizabeth’s father, was the exception and married for love, as would Elizabeth’s son, Henry VIII.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory”

Book Review – ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory's 'The White Princess' (2013).

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

From the bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl comes the haunting story of the mother of the Tudors, Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII. Beautiful eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville – the White Queen – the young princess Elizabeth faces a conflict of loyalties between the red rose and the white. Forced into marriage with Henry VII, she must reconcile her slowly growing love for him with her loyalty to the House of York, and choose between her mother’s rebellion and her husband’s tyranny. Then she has to meet the Pretender, whose claim denies the House of Tudor itself. [Description from Waterstones]

I’d heard mixed reviews about ‘The White Princess’ before I started reading it and, to be honest, I’m still not sure whether I liked it or not. There were parts that I really enjoyed like the furore over Perkin Warbeck and the Earl of Warwick at the end, but it took me a while to get into it.

I found the beginning slow and it felt like Gregory was adding sensational details to try and hook the reader, which I didn’t think were necessary. The character of Elizabeth Woodville really annoyed me in this one, which she didn’t in ‘The White Queen’ so I’m not sure what changed, but I loved the character of Maggie Pole and I am now quite looking forward to reading her story in ‘The King’s Curse’ by Philippa Gregory, as I think she was a very intriguing woman and her own story doesn’t seem to get told, except as part of the wider story of the Tudors. It’s about time someone wrote a fictional account of her life.

Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory”

Henry VIII and his Six Wives – Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 1


Henry VIII c.1537.
Henry VIII c.1537.

Henry VIII most infamous monarch in English history

38 year reign, 6 marriages

Divorced, beheaded died, divorced, beheaded, survived

Women more than wives – also queens

Formidable individuals, all changed history and shaped Henry VIII and England

What was it really like to be married to Henry VIII?

Passions, obsessions and betrayals

 

Katherine of Aragon

Often overlooked

Warrior queen who taught Henry how to be a king

Love, passions and tragedies that tore them apart

November 14 1501 Katherine prepared for wedding night in London, aged 15

1000 miles from home speaking little English

In front of thousands of people in St Paul’s Cathedral married Prince Arthur, heir to English throne

Katherine was to be English queen Continue reading “Henry VIII and his Six Wives – Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 1”

On This Day in History – 20 September


Event– Birth of Prince Arthur

Year– 1486

Location– Winchester Cathedral Priory, England

Anonymous portrait of Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York c.1501.
Anonymous portrait of Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York c.1501.

Prince Arthur was the eldest son and heir of Henry VII, King of England, and his wife, Elizabeth of York. Arthur was the symbol of the union of the warring houses of Lancaster and York. His father, Henry VII, was Lancastrian and his mother, Elizabeth of York, was a Yorkist. Arthur himself was the symbol of the union of the houses, ending the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VII decided to name his firstborn son after the legendary King Arthur and he decided that Winchester was representative of Camelot. In the 16th century the location was St Swithin’s Priory in Winchester (today Winchester Cathedral Priory). He was born at around 1am on 20 September 1486, just 8 months after the marriage of his parents, meaning he was either 1 month premature, or his parents had consummated their union without waiting for an official marriage.

Prince Arthur would later marry Katherine of Aragon, but would die just short of his 16th birthday in 1502, leaving his brother to become the future Henry VIII.

Further Reading
Brigden, Susan, New Worlds, Lost Worlds (2000)
Gunn, Steven & Monckton, Linda, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales: Life, Death and Commemoration (2009)
Lisle, Leanda de, Tudor: the Family Story (2013)
Loades, David, The Tudors: History of a Dynasty (2012)
Weir, Alison, Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy (2008)

Timetable of Tudor Events


Royal Badge of England, including the Tudor Rose.
Royal Badge of England, including the Tudor Rose.
1457 28 January Birth of Henry VII
1466 11 February Birth of Elizabeth of York
1485 22 August Henry VII defeats Richard III at Battle of Bosworth
16 September Birth of Katherine of Aragon
30 October Coronation of Henry VII
1486 18 January Marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York
20 September Birth of Prince Arthur
1487 17 June Defeat of Lambert Simnel at Battle of Stoke
1489 28 November Birth of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland
1491 28 June Birth of Henry VIII
1496 18 March Birth of Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk
1499 28 November Execution of Edward, Earl of Warwick
1501 14 November Marriage of Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur
1502 2 April Death of Prince Arthur
1503 11 February Death of Elizabeth of York
8 August Marriage of Margaret Tudor and James IV of Scotland
1509 21 April Death of Henry VII and accession of Henry VIII
11 June Marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon
24 June Coronation of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon
29 June Death of Margaret Beaufort
1511 1 January Birth of Henry, Duke of Cornwall
1513 16 August Battle of the Spurs
9 September Defeat of James IV of Scotland at Battle of Flodden
1515 22 September Birth of Anne of Cleves
1516 18 February Birth of Mary I
1519 15 June Birth of Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy
1520 7 June Beginning of the Field of the Cloth of Gold
24 June End of the Field of the Cloth of Gold
1521 17 May Execution of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham
17 October Pope grants Henry VIII title ‘Defender of the Faith’
1533 25 January Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
1 June Coronation of Anne Boleyn
7 September Birth of Elizabeth I
1534 20 April Execution of Elizabeth Barton, Nun of Kent
1535 6 July Execution of Thomas More
1536 7 January Death of Katherine of Aragon
19 May Execution of Anne Boleyn
30 May Marriage of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour
23 July Death of Henry Fitzroy
2 October Beginning of the Lincolnshire Rising / Pilgrimage of Grace
1537 12 October Birth of Edward VI
24 October Death of Jane Seymour
1540 6 January Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves
9 July Annulment of marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves
28 July Marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine Howard, execution of Thomas Cromwell
1541 27 May Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
1542 13 February Execution of Katherine Howard
1543 12 July Marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine Parr
1545 19 July Sinking of the Mary Rose
1546 16 July Execution of Anne Askew
1547 19 January Execution of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
28 January Death of Henry VIII and accession of Edward VI
10 September Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
1548 5 September Death of Katherine Parr
1549 20 March Execution of Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour
1552 22 January Execution of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset
1553 6 July Death of Edward VI
10 July Proclamation of Jane Grey as queen
19 July Overthrow of Jane Grey and accession of Mary I
22 August Execution of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland
1 October Coronation of Mary I
1554 12 February Execution of Jane Grey
25 July Marriage of Mary I and Philip II of Spain
1555 16 October Execution of Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London
1556 21 March Execution of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury
1557 16 July Death of Anne of Cleves
1558 17 November Death of Mary I and accession of Elizabeth I
1559 15 January Coronation of Elizabeth I
1587 8 February Execution of Mary Queen of Scots
1588 19 July First sighting of the Spanish Armada off the English coast
29 July Battle of Gravelines and defeat of Spanish Armada
1601 25 February Execution of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex
1603 24 March Death of Elizabeth I and accession of James I

Continue reading “Timetable of Tudor Events”

Who’s Who of Tudor History


Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte
Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte

Aragon, Katherine of = First Queen to Henry VIII, marriage annulled 1533, died 1536.

Ashley, Kat = Governess and close friend to Elizabeth I from her childhood. Died 1565.

Aske, Robert = One of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. Executed 1537.

Beaufort, Margaret = Mother to Henry VII. Outlived her son and saw the accession of her grandson, Henry VIII.

Blount, Bessie = Henry VIII’s mistress, and the only one to give him an acknowledged illegitimate child – Henry Fitzroy.

Boleyn, Anne = Second Queen to Henry VIII, executed 1536 for adultery and incest.

Boleyn, George = Brother to Henry VIII’s second Queen. Accused of adultery and incest with his sister. Executed 1536.

Boleyn, Mary = Sister of Henry VIII’s second Queen. Mistress of Henry VIII. Died 1543.

Brandon, Charles  Duke of Suffolk and best friend to Henry VIII. Married Henry VIII’s sister, Mary. Died 1546. Continue reading “Who’s Who of Tudor History”