Book Review – ‘Rival Queens: The Betrayal of Mary Queen of Scots’ by Kate Williams


I really enjoyed reading this book. Reading it as part of my research for my own book puts a different perspective on it, I’m realising. I focus more on the sections that I myself am writing about rather than the overall work. But Williams writes really clearly and concisely and it’s easy to get pulled into the narrative she’s telling. There are plenty of primary sources discussed throughout, which gives an insider view on what people were thinking and feeling at the time.

The title perhaps is a bit misleading as it suggests that Mary Queen of Scots’s downfall was due entirely to Elizabeth, but that simply wasn’t the case. There were a lot of circumstances that combined to cause Mary’s downfall and execution, not least her own desperation and stupidity. The book does discuss Mary’s mistakes and how she created her own mess.

However, the book as a whole was very cohesive and explored the deep and complicated relationship between the two female monarchs, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, which lasted across decades although the two never met in person. It is an intriguing and at times convoluted relationship which does require a lot of explanation at points, especially regarding the rebellions which surrounded Mary and impacted Elizabeth greatly. This does get confusing at points, and I did have to go back reread to make sure I understood what was going on.

Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots come across as women in their own right, not just as queens, who had their own wants, hopes, dreams, thoughts, and feelings. Sometimes historical biographies can treat their subjects as objects rather than living people (or dead people now, but who were living and real, to be more precise). Kate Williams didn’t fall into that trap with her retelling of the relationship between the two.

The book is thoroughly well-researched and cited, and I must thank Kate for her excellent research which has pointed me to several other sources which I can use myself. One of the best and most interesting books about the tumultuous relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots you’ll ever read.

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”

On This Day in History – 8 June – Death of Elizabeth Woodville


Elizabeth Woodville c.1471.
Elizabeth Woodville c.1471.

Event– Death of Elizabeth Woodville

Year– 1492

Location– Bermondsey Abbey, England

Elizabeth Woodville died on 8 June 1492 at Bermondsey Abbey aged 55, where she had been rusticated on the orders of her son-in-law, Henry VII. She was suspected of having been involved in the plotting of Lambert Simnel in 1487 to seize the throne in the name of the Earl of Warwick and was sent to Bermondsey. It seems unlikely that she would work to topple her daughter and grandson, but it seems equally unlikely that she would willing retire from public life, from what we know of her.

Elizabeth was buried with her husband, Edward IV, in St George’s Chapel at Windsor on 12 June 1492 where her daughters, excepting Elizabeth and Cecily, attended her funeral. She specified a simple ceremony in her will, though some thought this not fitting for a Queen of England.

Further Reading

  • David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville (2002)
  • J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens (2004)
  • Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (2016)
  • David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville (2013)
  • Arlene Okerlund, Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen (2006)

On This Day in History – 1 May – Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville


Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

Event– Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

Year– 1464

Location– Grafton House, England

Although the date of the wedding isn’t certain, it is generally accepted that Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville on May Day 1464, at the bride’s home of Grafton Regis, with only a few witnesses, including the bride’s mother, in attendance.

It is said that Elizabeth first met Edward when she went to petition him for the return of her dead husband’s lands. It was said that Edward tried to force himself onto Elizabeth so she threatened to take her own life with a dagger. Edward became so enamoured of her that he married her. Elizabeth bought no dowry or international connections, which would be expected of a Queen of England.

The marriage was significant because it was first time that an English king married a commoner without having a foreign wife first. Not only that, but Edward IV was the first Yorkist king, but the Woodville family supported the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses, and Elizabeth’s first husband, John Grey, had died fighting for the Lancastrians. It was the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville that gave rise to the idea that a commoner could marry a King – this was the idea from which the likes of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour managed to rise up from ladies-in-waiting to Queens.

Elizabeth and Edward’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married the future Henry VII, and their two eldest sons, Edward and Richard, became the ill-fated Princes in the Tower.

Further Reading

  • David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville (2002)
  • J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens (2004)
  • Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (2016)
  • Charles Ross, Edward IV (1974)

Spotlight – Elizabeth Boleyn


Name: Elizabeth Boleyn (nee Howard)

Title/s: Lady Boleyn / Lady Rochford / Countess of Wiltshire & Ormond

Birth / Death: c.1480 – 3 April 1538

Spouse: Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire & Ormond c.1477-1539

Children: Mary Stafford c.1499-1543 / Anne Boleyn c.1501-1536 / George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford c.1504-1536

Parents: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk 1443-1524 & Elizabeth Tilney c.1444-1497

Siblings: Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk 1473-1554 / Edward Howard c.1476-1513 / Edmund Howard c.1478-1539 / John Howard c.1482-1503 / Henry Howard / Charles Howard c.1483-1512 / Henry Howard the Younger / Richard Howard c.1487-1517 / Muriel Grey, Viscountess Lisle 1486-1512 (full siblings) / William Howard, 1st Baron Howard c.1510-1573 / Thomas Howard 1511-1537 / Richard Howard ?-1517 / Dorothy Stanley, Countess of Derby c.1511-? / Anne de Vere, Countess of Oxford 1518-1558 / Catherine Daubeney, Countess of Bridgewater c.1499-1548 / Elizabeth Radclyffe, Countess of Sussex c.1500-1534 Continue reading “Spotlight – Elizabeth Boleyn”