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!

FutureLearn – The History of the Book in the Early Modern Period 1450-1800


I’ve been studying an online course for the last 4 weeks on the history of the book in the early modern period 1450 to 1800. It has turned out to be really interesting, looking at different texts, illustrations and events that have influenced the growth of books and printing.

Click on the following link if you’re interested!

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/history-of-the-book

The topics are divided over 4 weeks of study:

  • Week 1 – How book were made in Western Europe 1450-1800 (designing types, illustrating, sewing, binding and finishing books)
  • Week 2 – How books were sold in Western Europe 1450-1800 (bestsellers, collectors, advertising and book auctions)
  • Week 3 – How books were read in Western Europe 1450-1800 (books and readers, family libraries and annotating books)
  • Week 4 – How books changed the world 1450-1800 (reforming religion, transforming medicine and science and remaking the state)

I learnt some really interesting things that I didn’t know before, and I would be interested in looking in more detail at some of the texts and processes explained over the progress of the course.

I knew that making books would be a time-consuming business, but I don’t think I fully realised that there were so many steps, or about the different types and how the type used influenced the style of book.

Because of my curiosity about the Reformation and religion in the 16th century I think I found the analysis of the Gutenberg Bible and the early modern protestant Bible particularly interesting. However, I also found the discussion about the revolutionary literature of the French Revolution very intriguing.


There are several other courses that I am also interested in that you might be interested in as well, listed below. They also offer a course on the Tudors (top of the list):

The Tudors – https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/the-tudors

A History of Royal Fashion – https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-fashion

Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree – https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/genealogy

Learning from the Past: A Guide for the Curious Researcher – https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-from-the-past

England in the Time of King Richard III – https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/england-of-richard-third

World War 1: Trauma, Memory, Controversy – https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/ww1-trauma

Discussion Questions – ‘The Last Tudor’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory 'The Last Tudor'

  1. What role do faith and religion play during the time period represented in The Last Tudor? What is the relationship between religion and politics, and how does this relationship affect the cultural climate of England? Is the country mostly united in their faith or divided? What impact does this have on the royals of England?
  • After the Henrician Reformation, there was the mid-Tudor crisis, already with differences of faith across England.
  • Edward VI was a devout Protestant as he had been raised, Mary I was a devout Catholic as her mother Katherine of Aragon had been, and Elizabeth I looked for a middle way in religion having seen the chaos of her brother’s and sister’s reigns.
  • Edward VI altered his Device for the Succession to stop Mary I succeeding to the throne and returning the English church to Rome.
  • Politics was based on religion – generally people who supported Edward VI and Jane Grey were protestant, and those who supported Mary I were Catholic, although Mary I did at first also attract the support of protestants as the real claimant to the throne by Henry VIII’s will.
  1. What is “the true religion” according to Lady Jane Grey? Why does Jane believe that she and her family do not need to earn their place in heaven as others do? Does her faith ultimately serve her well? Discuss.
  • Jane Grey believes the true religion is protestant – each is influenced in religion in the way that they were raised.
  • Protestants believe in pre-destination – that it is already decided whether you go to heaven or hell before you’re even born and you can’t influence that through good works.
  • Good works leading to heaven is a Catholic doctrine.
  • Jane Grey relies on her faith and it ultimately helps her to die, but she wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place if she wasn’t staunchly Protestant.
  • Edward VI settles the succession on Jane Grey because she is Protestant, rather than his Catholic half-sister Mary I.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Last Tudor’ by Philippa Gregory”

Elizabeth I Episode 2 Starring Lily Cole


Episode 2 – The Enemy Within, aired 16.05.2017

Elizabeth I c.1563 Hampden portrait by Steven van der Meulen
Elizabeth I c.1563 Hampden portrait by Steven van der Meulen

Aged 25 Elizabeth is queen but not safe

1559 Elizabeth crowned queen, but her path to power had been a long battle

She had survived but could never drop her guard

War was raging across Europe as Catholics and Protestants tore each other apart – Elizabeth was plunged into the middle of the battle

Elizabeth most powerful protestant monarch surrounded by catholic enemies

 

Privy council believed Elizabeth needed to marry

Elizabeth declared she was already married to England – sounded great, but just words

Queen had a good reason for not wanting to wed – would reduce her power, wanted to be a real queen not queen in name only

Understandable but left a huge problem – who would rule if she suddenly died?

Continue reading “Elizabeth I Episode 2 Starring Lily Cole”

Areas of Study in History


History in Words.
History in Words.

PERIODICAL
This involves examining history within a certain period, i.e. Tudor period 1485-1603 or Victorian period 1837-1901. This could also be by century, for example, looking at the 20th century, or even decade i.e. 1940s. The ways historians divide history down into periods reflect judgments made on the past.
* Sample questions:-
1) How successful were Tudor rebellions between 1485 and 1603?
2) What were the most pivotal events in the Cold War 1945 – 1991 and why?
3) How did England grow into an industrial nation throughout the 19th century?
* Sample literature:-
1) A.N. Wilson, ‘The Victorians’
2) David Loades, ‘The Tudors: History of a Dynasty’
3) Henry Freeman, ‘Roman Britain: a History from Beginning to End’

GEOGRAPHICAL
Geographical history can involve examining history in a particular country, region or city. For example, local history is becoming more popular, like the history of north-east England or the history of Glasgow. Landscapes, weather and the availability of supplies all affect the people who live and work in a particular place. Continue reading “Areas of Study in History”

Discussion Questions – ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel


  1. The novel starts off with a description of hawks soaring in the sky and swooping in to slaughter their prey. In the same manner, the novel closes off with an image of a fox attacking a hen coop. What is the significance of these animals and what do they symbolise?

'Bring Up the Bodies' by Hilary Mantel (2012).
‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel (2012).

Hawks tend to symbolise awareness, intelligence and a regal bearing. Possibly this is a sense of what is to come – the intelligent and ambitious Anne Boleyn losing awareness of her position as queen and what it relies on (Henry VIII’s love) and ending up being beheaded on the orders of her husband, the king. In the case of the fall of Anne Boleyn the fox represents Cromwell, and the hens are Anne and her faction who are brought down. However, this could also foreshadow what is to come for Cromwell when he becomes one of the hens, along with the rest of the reformist party, and they are attacked by the foxes (the conservative faction).

2. How has Cromwell’s upbringing influenced him to become the shrewd and ambitious man that he is? What is the significance of Cromwell refusing to adopt the coat of arms belonging to a noble Cromwell family even as he widens the chasm between his father and himself? How does Cromwell view family and how is it different from his own experience growing up?

I think the fact that Cromwell had such a difficult relationship with his father encourages him to get away and prove himself. He wants to be a better person than his father. I think this difficult relationship also enhances Cromwell’s ambition and desire for power – he wants to feel the power that he didn’t have when at the mercy of his father. Cromwell doesn’t want to be a part of the inherited nobility – his religious beliefs encourage the rise of self-made men, and promoting them on the basis of their abilities and not their wealth or title. I think Cromwell doesn’t want his own wife and children to experience the family life he had when he was younger – he tries very hard not to exhibit the same characteristics as his father did, and tries to create a happier home. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel”

Discussion Questions – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel


  1. What does Holbein’s portrait capture about Thomas Cromwell’s character that even Cromwell, himself, recognises? What kind of man is Cromwell? In the rapacious world of Wolf Hall, do you find him a sympathetic character, or not?

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

I think that Cromwell becomes more ambitious when he gets a taste of power. I think he likes to thwart those in power with his knowledge, like when Wolsey is demanded to give up the great seal. I think that Cromwell doesn’t come across as more sympathetic in ‘Wolf Hall’ than in other books featuring him, as we see the deaths of his wife and daughters, and the fall of his mentor in his own eyes, rather than the eyes of Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn. I think he is a very caring person with a ruthless streak in his religious beliefs. I think Holbein’s portrait captures Cromwell’s essence in not flaunting his rising position, but still showing his power with the books and papers around him. It’s very clever that it’s not explicit, but it still shows the reined-in power.

  1. What effect did Cromwell’s upbringing have on his character and his later views about the privileged society that permeates the court? How does he feel about the aristocracy and its insistence on ancient rights?

I think that Cromwell’s relationship with his father affects a lot of his thoughts and actions now he is an adult. He seems to be very fixed on not ending up like his father, and having a better relationship with his children than his father had with him. He wasn’t brought up to a privileged way of life, so he can see more clearly than those at court the importance of promoting people for their abilities rather than their wealth and titles. He believes that, in the future, self-made men will have an important role in running the country, more so than the old nobility who represent the medieval period that has now been left behind – men like him represent the future. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel”

What were the Aims, Causes and Consequences of the Tudor Rebellions?


Lambert Simnel / Perkin Warbeck 1487-1499

Henry VII 1505 at the National Portrait Gallery.
Henry VII 1505 at the National Portrait Gallery.

The aims of the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions were to replace Henry VII on the English throne with what the people saw as the “true heir”.[1] Henry VII was a usurper, and the only Lancastrian claimant left since the death of Henry VI in 1471.

The cause of the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions was the fact that Henry VII was a usurper with no real claim to the throne. He had taken the throne from the Yorkist Richard III, who had usurped it from the rightful heir, the son of Edward IV – Edward V – and supposedly then had Edward and his younger brother, Richard, killed in the Tower of London. Henry’s claim to the throne came through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who was descended from the illegitimate line of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine Swynford. The Beaufort line had been legitimised but barred from succeeding to the throne.[2] The people of England weren’t entirely convinced that the Princes in the Tower were dead and, even if they were, the Earl of Warwick was another contender with a claim to the throne. Simnel pretended to be the Earl of Warwick, the son of Richard III’s elder brother, George Duke of Clarence.[3] Warbeck pretended to be Richard Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower.[4] Neither were entirely convincing. Continue reading “What were the Aims, Causes and Consequences of the Tudor Rebellions?”

Spotlight – Thomas Cromwell


Name: Thomas Cromwell

Title/s: Earl of Essex / Knight of the Garter / Lord Privy Seal / Baron Cromwell

Birth / Death: c.1485 – 28 July 1540

Spouse: Elizabeth Wyckes 1489-1528

Children: Gregory Baron Cromwell 1520-1551 / Anne Cromwell ?-1528 / Grace Cromwell ?-1528

Parents: Walter & Katherine Cromwell (dates unknown)

Siblings: Katherine Williams / Elizabeth Wellyfed (dates unknown)

Noble Connections: Cromwell was first in the service of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, before moving into the service of Henry VIII. He was liked by Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second queen, and assisted in achieving her marriage, as well as her execution 3 years later. His son, Gregory, married the sister of Henry VIII’s third queen, Jane Seymour. Cromwell also promoted the marriage of Henry VIII to Princess Anne of Cleves. Continue reading “Spotlight – Thomas Cromwell”

What Made the Tudor Dynasty Unique?


Royal Badge of England, including the Tudor Rose.
Royal Badge of England, including the Tudor Rose.

The Tudor dynasty was unique in several ways, not least that two of our most remembered monarchs were Tudors – Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Furthermore, the dynasty was unique in issues of marriage, succession, political unity, religion, and love. Read on to find out more.

Henry VIII is the only reigning monarch to have married more than twice. He was also only the second to have a wife who had already been married (the first was Edward IV whose Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, already had two sons when they married). He is also only the second King to have married a commoner (Edward IV was, again, the first). He is also the only monarch to have had one of his wives (let alone two!) executed. Even more shocking that the two executed were in fact cousins.[1]

Edward VI was the third reigning English monarch not to marry, the first two being William II and Edward V, the second of whom was too young to be married when he died, and the former appeared to have been too busy with wars and dissenters to think about a family. Continue reading “What Made the Tudor Dynasty Unique?”