Book Review – ‘Princess of Thorns’ by Saga Hillbom


Thank you to the author for giving me a copy of this to review.

I really enjoyed this quite unique take on the Wars of the Roses and the reign of Henry VII. Told from the point of view of Cecily of York, daughter of Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII) it gives a different view almost from the outside in. It also offers a fictional account of a woman at the centre of the warring factions, essentially Yorkist but forced to marry a staunch Lancastrian.

This novel has certainly made me more interested in the other York sisters and following their lives a bit more closely. I know a bit about Elizabeth of York having studied the Tudors and been introduced to her through Henry VII, but the others seem to have led interesting lives as well, so I want to read more around them.

The writing is concise and the descriptions clear, making you believe that you can see the pieces of jewellery described or be in the places that the characters are in, picturing those same characters clearly in your head though, for me at least, influenced in part by historical TV dramas like ‘The White Queen’ (eye roll). The book is quite fast-paced, but sentimental in places, and the balance between the two is exceptional.

The sibling rivalry between Cecily and her eldest sister, Elizabeth, was brilliantly done, and echoes squabbling siblings across the ages, only this was a more high-stakes environment. The jealousy of what could be perceived as the less successful or powerful sibling (Cecily) juxtaposed against the more powerful and influential queen (Elizabeth) exacerbates what I’m sure siblings today will recognise. That gives a touch of the familiar into this otherwise unrecognisable world compared to today.

If there are any lovers of historical fiction based in the Wars of the Roses or early Tudor period I would thoroughly recommend this book as it offers something unique, being written from the point of view of a woman often overlooked in history, but who at the same time was at the centre of events and who suffered many personal tragedies in her life. Saga Hillbom tells her story with sensitivity and demonstrates just how perilous life and ambition could be.

This review is also published on my sister blog BookBloggerish | For Everything Bookish (wordpress.com).

Saga Hillbom has also written a guest post for this blog on the marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville, which can be found here.

Book Review – ‘Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen’ by Samantha Wilcoxson


I’ve really enjoyed this view on Elizabeth of York. There are a lot of historical fiction books about Henry VIII and his wives, but fewer about Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, so this was really interesting for me. I’ve read ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory, but I thought that this was much better, and more enjoyable.

It was really well-written, and it paid attention to the historical record, while filling in any gaps in the established knowledge with plausible explanations. For example, the fate of the Princes in the Tower is interweaved through the story, going through Richard III’s reign, and the rebellions of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. Wilcoxson at the end does reveal through the story what she believes happened to them (without spoiling it!).

Elizabeth as a character is interesting, trying to juxtapose her Plantagenet beginnings with her Tudor marriage. The comparison of Prince Arthur as a Tudor prince and Prince Henry (later Henry VIII) as a Plantagenet prince is fascinating, and not something that I’ve really thought about before, but it does make a certain amount of sense. Elizabeth’s relationship with Henry is also quite interesting as she is portrayed as not wanting to marry him, but gradually falls in love with him, although they have ups and downs, as in any marriage.

Other books seem to portray Elizabeth as a kind of victim, and at the mercy of her husband and mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, but in this book she is seen as a true Queen who influenced events and made her own decisions. Henry VII was also a fascinating character, as he is often seen in history as a miser, but this didn’t really seem to happen until after Elizabeth’s death, so it’s interesting to see him with Elizabeth and the possibilities of their relationship.

I am looking forward to reading the other books in this series about Margaret Pole and Mary I, and how they might be portrayed, as they have also not been written about very much, so it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to, although I need to get through my unread books first!

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

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


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!

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/

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”

Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 1, Katherine of Aragon


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 “Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 1, Katherine of Aragon”