‘The King’s Chamberlain: William Sandys of the Vyne, Chamberlain to Henry VIII’ by John Jenkins


Huge thanks to Amberley Publishing for gifting me a copy of this to review.

William Sandys wasn’t a person that I knew much about, to be honest. I’d heard of him mentioned in other Tudor history books I’ve read, but he wasn’t someone I really knew other than to recognise the name and that he was at the English court.

This was certainly an interesting read, though it did seem to get bogged down in details at times and was quite repetitive at other points. There is a slight dearth of surviving information on Sandys, as he wasn’t really massively involved in major events, though he did take part in the likes of the Battle of the Spurs, the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the fall of Anne Boleyn. He sounds like a it of a bureaucrat, determined to assist the crown however he could and whatever that meant, without too many scruples, though he was said to be a conservative rather than a reformer.

The world needs more research on figures like Sandys and others who played an important role in history but have been overlooked or underestimated. This book adds to the Tudor canon of the figures we know less about. Hopefully we will see more books like this in the coming years which open our minds to figures we know less about, although no doubt that will depend on the availability of sources and information.

A great book, well written, though feels like it gets a bit bogged down in places. The timeline at the back is helpful to know where Sandys was at various points, what he was doing, and the sources that allow us to know that.

Errors:

  • Wrong birth date of Elizabeth I given – said it was 9 September but was actually 7 September.
  • Said Anne Boleyn miscarried in 1565 when she died in 1536.
  • Claimed Henry VIII married Jane Seymour the day after Anne Boleyn’s execution, but that was the date of the betrothal not the wedding.

Chapters:

  1. William, Lord Sandys: His Ancestors and the Medieval Vyne, Hampshire
  2. The Young William Sandys
  3. Knight of the Body for Henry VII
  4. High Marshal of the Army
  5. The King’s Chamberlain
  6. Sandys’ Works and Patronage
  7. Descendants of William, the 1st Baron Sandys
  8. Summary and Conclusions
  9. Chronology of William, Lord Sandys’ Life
  10. Sandys’ Manors and Lands c. 1490-1612
  11. Transcription of William Sandys’ Will, December 1540

Book Review – ‘Gloriana: Elizabeth I and the Art of Queenship’ by Linda Collins & Siobhan Clarke


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

This book is the first one I’ve read of this type, looking at the Elizabethan age through portraiture, including the more famous Coronation, Rainbow, and Armada portraits, and the lesser-known Pelican and miniature portraits. Also includes portraits of people of the Elizabethan age like Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare, and Robert Dudley.

It is divided into digestible sections covering different parts of Elizabeth’s life and reign, in largely chronological order, though with dives in and out of the lives of Elizabeth’s courtiers and favourites. There are lots of implications raised about the portraits, and what little things you might overlook could mean, whether it’s a gift from a courtier trying to curry favour through jewels, or the symbolism of a flower, hourglass, or animal that appears.

It’s not a biography of Elizabeth I but an art history, looking at the life and reign of Elizabeth through the portraiture. It clearly links the portraits to different parts of her life and reign, giving the context of how the portraits link to different periods of her life, and how the imagery changes over her life.

A must-have for any fans or academics of the Elizabethan era because it looks at the age from a new perspective and can offer plenty of insights into self-fashioning, image, and power. It was utterly fascinating and so well-researched.

Chapters:

  1. Elizabeth I and the English Renaissance
  2. Family and Survival: The Early Years
  3. ‘God Hath Raised Me High’: Accession and Religion
  4. ‘One Mistress and No Master’: Marriage Game
  5. Nicholas Hillard: The Queen’s Painter
  6. Secrets and Codes: Mary, Queen of Scots
  7. Elizabethan Arts: The Golden Age
  8. Gold and Glory: Exploration and Armada
  9. Dress, Dazzle and Display: Mask of Youth
  10. Final Years: Death and Legacy

On This Day in History – 1 May – Death of Pope Pius V


Portrait by Bartolomeo Passarotti
(c. 1566, Walters Art Museum in Baltimore)

Event – Death of Pope Pius V

Year – 1572

Location – Vatican City, Italy

After Northern Rising of 1569 against Elizabeth I of England, Pope Pius V issued the Regnans in Excelsis bull in 1570 which excommunicated Elizabeth I, absolved her subjects of their loyalty to her, and encouraged her overthrow. This would provide Catholic Englishmen with the support they needed to act more brazenly against their Protestant Queen in the future, with the Ridolfi Plot in 1571, the Throckmorton Plot in 1583 and the Babington Plot in 1586.

Pope Pius V had been Pope since 1566 and had been born as Antonio Ghislieri in 1504 in the Duchy of Milan in Italy. He played a large role in the Council of Trent which embodied the counter-Reformation and aimed to clamp down on Protestant heresies across Europe. His excommunication of Elizabeth I can be seen in this vein, as Elizabeth was considered to be one of the greatest heretics, the daughter of Anne Boleyn who was believed to have pushed Henry VIII to Break with Rome.

Pope Pius V was canonised in 1712 by Pope Clement XI for his efforts on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church in the face of the Protestant heresies sweeping Europe in the sixteenth century.

Further Reading

  • Richard McBrien – Lives of the Popes (1998)
  • John O’Malley – A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present (2009)
  • John O’Malley – Trent: What Happened at the Council? (2013)
  • Charles Phillips – An Illustrated History of the Popes (2017)

Book Review – ‘Ask a Historian: 50 Surprising Answers to Things You Always Wanted to Know’ by Greg Jenner


I absolutely ADORED this book! It took me a while to read it because I had to keep going back to reread bits and pieces, and I was sending snapshots to friends as I was reading. There were times when I was rolling around in bed laughing while I was reading it.

Greg Jenner really has a way of writing that is so engaging, no matter whether the subject is one you’re completely interested in or not. My favourite questions I think were ‘Why do Greek statues have small penises?’, ‘Is it true that a dead Pope was put on trial?’, and ‘Who invented meringue and why?’, though the historiography section was also particularly interesting for me as a historian myself, particularly looking at how we name periods.

I would love a series of these books with different questions from members of the public – it’s such an engaging way to learn about different parts of history that you might not know much or anything about, but this makes you want to go away and learn more, I think in large part because Jenner is so good at writing about these things in a way that you can understand it without having a lot of contextual knowledge.

I needed something like this to read right now given where my head is at, and I’d been eyeing up this book for a while and I just thought, sod it, I’m going to buy it, and I am so unbelievably glad that I did! I will come back to it over and over again, and now I just want to read ‘Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen’ and I can’t wait for the next series of the ‘You’re Dead to Me’ podcast either!

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!

Book Review – ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ by Antonia Fraser


I think that this biography of Mary Queen of Scots is really detailed and interesting, but it is quite difficult to read in places. It doesn’t seem to flow, and you do need to concentrate in order to take it all in and digest the sheer volume of information.

My previous experience with Mary Queen of Scots was in her relationship with Elizabeth I of England and her struggle for release in England and her execution. It was interesting to read about Mary’s earlier life in France, and her marriage to Darnley. It was a scandalous and intriguing life and well worth such a long biography.

It feels dry but it was interesting to see Mary from the Scottish point of view, where I’m so used to reading about Mary from the perspective of Elizabeth I. Mary was a Queen effectively from birth and juxtaposed against Elizabeth who never really expected to become Queen, they have two very different lives and perspectives on queenship.

Power struggles are central to Mary’s life, power in France with Catherine de Medici, with her husbands – Francis II, Darnley, and Bothwell – and trying to get power in England. The struggle with Elizabeth and succession to the English throne. These power struggles also led to some of Mary’s stupidest mistakes like marrying Bothwell and getting involved in rebellions in England to overthrow Elizabeth.

It was obviously very well-researched and must have taken years to collect all the research and write. Fraser has put together almost an encyclopaedia about Mary Queen of Scots, her relationships, and the events of her life. There are very detailed endnotes and an extensive bibliography, as well as a great index which makes it easy to find the sections that you are looking for, especially about particular people.

A book for the serious history Stuart fan and not for one hoping for a light read about an almost mythical woman.

Chapters:

  1. All Men Lamented
  2. England’s Rough Wooing
  3. The Most Perfect Child
  4. Betrothal
  5. Queen-Dauphiness
  6. The White Lily of France
  7. Mary the Widow
  8. The State of the Realm
  9. Conciliation and Reconciliation
  10. Governor Good and Gracious
  11. The Fall of Huntly
  12. A Husband for a Girl
  13. The Carnal Marriage
  14. Our Most Special Servant
  15. Breakdown
  16. The Murder of Darnley
  17. The Mermaid and the Hare
  18. Lochleven
  19. In Foreign Bands
  20. Her Privy Letters
  21. My Norfolk
  22. The Uses of Adversity
  23. Mother and Son
  24. The Babington Plot
  25. Trial
  26. The Dolorous Stroke
  27. Epilogue: the Theatre of the World

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 – ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland, Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator’ by Robert Stedall


Thank you to Pen and Sword for gifting me a copy of this book for review.

I’m not very knowledgeable about Mary Queen of Scots’ early life in France and Scotland. I know more about the period after she fled to England in 1568. I hoped that this would fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge.

William Maitland isn’t a person I had ever heard of before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect though “Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator” gave me some suggestions. He was involved in the early plotting of Mary Queen of Scots during the Darnley period after her return from France to rule Scotland. He is certainly an interesting figure, though Mary Queen of Scots is far more so. I know that we can learn a lot from the figures on the edges of a famous person’s life, but Maitland didn’t seem to really interest me.

I found the book quite complex and difficult to read in places. This was perhaps because I didn’t know much about the period, or that I didn’t find Maitland a very interesting person. I felt that the dates were given so you could tell how much research had gone into it, but I had to keep flicking backwards to check which year we were in. This is one of my pet peeves in history books – assuming that 4 or 5 pages later you can still remember which year you’re in! This is particularly annoying if you’re using the index to look for references to a particular person or event.

The book is divided down into easily digestible chunks in chronological order, so if you are looking for a particular event it is fairly easy to find it. Maitland comes across as a shadowy figure, never really at the heart of things but with plenty of opinions and involvement on the periphery of events surrounding Mary Queen of Scots. Some of the reference notations were a little sparse for my liking, constantly having to cross-check with the full bibliography and list of abbreviations to find sources which was annoying.

I think this is a book I’ll have to come back to once I’ve read some more of the background to Scotland in this period as I did feel a little out of my depth, but I’ll hope to understand and discover more when I reread it!

Chapters:

  1. Maitland established his standing under Marie of Guise
  2. The Lords of the Congregation challenge French authority
  3. The return of the widowed Mary Queen of Scots
  4. Diplomatic efforts to establish Mary as Elizabeth’s heir
  5. Lord James (soon to be Earl of Moray) and Maitland establish authority
  6. The negotiations for Mary’s remarriage
  7. Mary’s efforts to take up the reins of government
  8. Marriage to Darnley
  9. Moray’s rebellion
  10. Riccio’s murder
  11. Restored as Secretary of State
  12. Ending Mary’s marriage to Darnley
  13. The Chameleon
  14. The plot for Darnley’s murder unfolds
  15. Providing evidence of a crime of passion
  16. Enticement for Mary to marry Bothwell
  17. Bothwell’s exonerations and marriage to Mary
  18. The Confederates challenge Mary and Bothwell
  19. Negotiations while Mary is held at Lochleven
  20. Mary’s escape and Maitland’s signs of sympathy
  21. The Conferences at York and Westminster
  22. A last hurrah for Mary’s cause

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


I really enjoyed this book. I am currently working on my first non-fiction book about Elizabethan Rebellions, so this was a really interesting fictional account of the Babington plot which led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots the following year. This is the fifth in a series of books revolving around Giordano Bruno.

Giordano Bruno as a character was intriguing and keeps being so throughout each book in the series. He is complex, with different strands like his religious history, academic studies, and his spy and undercover work. Bruno was a real person who was in England spying for Francis Walsingham, although the exact nature of his assignments doesn’t seem to be known, and it look as though he left England in 1585 so couldn’t have been involved in the Babington plot in 1586.

A bit of historical license is OK, and Bruno is such an interesting character that I can imagine he would have been involved in the Babington conspiracy if given the opportunity. The conspiracy was the interesting bit for me and the relationships between those involved in the conspiracy – Babington, Titch, Ballard, and Savage. In historical sources we don’t see these relationships so that was what drew my attention.

Those who know the history will know how it ends and the basics of the progression of the plot, but Parris manages to hold you on the edge of your seat anyway, weaving the real history through with fictional sub-plots which blend in seamlessly to the rest of the story. The reason I didn’t give it five stars is because I found the beginning quite slow and hard going. It didn’t seem necessary to spin it out for so long.

I’ve always enjoyed reading this series because of the interactions between the characters and their involvement in various conspiracies. Whether there will be further books in the series, I don’t know, but there are several unresolved issues, so I really hope so!

Book Review – ‘The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk’ by Kirsten Claiden-Yardley


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

I was quite intrigued to read this book when I got sent a copy – the 2nd Duke of Norfolk isn’t someone I know a lot about, having focused more on the events of Henry VIII’s divorce, so I am more familiar with the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. He was an interesting man and he seems to have achieved and survived quite a lot; a trait of both the 2nd and 3rd Dukes I think. The Howards are one of the most intriguing families of the 16th century and this book opens up a chapter that hasn’t been much written about I don’t think.

There were some really interesting chapters on the Battles of Bosworth and Flodden in particular, and his role in those battles. But overall I thought that it was quite dry in places, much like a textbook in fact but not always so clear. It was difficult in a way to get to know Thomas Howard personally, which I feel is a bonus in history books where the person really comes alive. I didn’t feel it here, which was disappointing.

I also got really confused in places by who was who. There are a lot of Thomas Howards, and it wasn’t always made entirely clear which one was which, I had to keep double-checking. Although I know it is about the 2nd Duke, I would have appreciated maybe a slightly longer epilogue to look into his closest descendants and keep the line straight in my head. However, there are some excellent family trees in the book which do help.

It is quite an exhaustive study, and the sources are discussed in depth, including bias and reliability, pulling apart arguments and making it clear where it is the author’s opinion, or where the evidence is questionable, and what any assumptions are based on. This demonstrates a clear grasp of the subject material, and a confidence in what is being written, which makes you want to trust and believe what Claiden-Yardley is saying, and makes you want to look into it more.

The images included in the book were interesting, some that I hadn’t seen before, which always adds to the allure of a book. The bibliography was quite extensive, and you could tell it had been well-researched, but the writing style let it down for me, just a bit too dry. Nevertheless incredibly informative, and not a person that there seems to be much written about, so a welcome addition to my history book collection.

Chapter Breakdown:

  1. Ancestry and childhood 1420-67
  2. Early royal service 1467-83
  3. Edward V and Richard III 1483-5
  4. Battle of Bosworth 1485
  5. Rehabilitation and the North 1485-1501
  6. Royal councillor and diplomat 1501-9
  7. The Road to Flodden 1509-13
  8. Battle of Flodden 1513
  9. Final years at the Royal Court 1513-23
  10. High and Mighty Prince in Norfolk
  11. Death and Burial 1524
  12. Memory and Legacy
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