Book Review – ‘Elizabeth I: The Making of a Queen’ by Laura Brennan


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

I really enjoyed reading this book about the life of Elizabeth I. There is a lot of focus on various different events of her reign and how they influenced her character and the way she ruled England. The split is pretty much half based around her queenship and half before her queenship, which is really interesting.

Much of the section on Elizabeth’s queenship focuses on Mary Queen of Scots and the relationship between the pair, as well as looking at how Mary’s actions influenced Elizabeth. Although there are a lot of chapters, they are quite short. Perhaps this isn’t the book for you if you are looking for something incredibly detailed, but it introduces a lot of different events and concepts and how the people and events relate to each other.

One thing that did annoy me and has knocked a star off my rating is that there are a few historical errors in the book. It says that the Duke of Cleves had two daughters, but he actually had three – Anne, Amelia and Sybille. John Dudley is described as the Duke of Warwick but was actually the Earl of Warwick. Warwick and Northumberland are described as being two different people but are actually the same person as the Earl of Warwick became the Duke of Northumberland. Anne Boleyn’s last miscarriage is said to have happened in January 1535, but it actually happened in January 1536, no rumours of anything in January 1535 as far as I know.

Despite these few errors I still enjoyed reading it, and I thought that the writing was clear and concise, and the sources were all documented, with plenty of use of primary sources which are quoted throughout. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read about Elizabeth I, easy to understand and pulling all the chapters back to how the event discussed in that chapter shaped Elizabeth as a queen and woman was fascinating.

Chapter Outline:

  1. The Birth of a Princess
  2. The Execution of Anne Boleyn
  3. The Birth of Prince Edward
  4. The Second and Third Stepmothers of Lady Elizabeth
  5. The Marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine Parr
  6. The Death of Henry VIII
  7. The Scandal of Thomas Seymour
  8. The Common Book of Prayer & The Prayer Book Rebellion
  9. The Premature Death of Edward VI – The Tudor’s Last King
  10. The Nine Day Queen
  11. The Wyatt Rebellion
  12. The Death of Queen Mary Tudor
  13. The Coronation of Elizabeth I & The Religious Settlement
  14. The Mysterious Death of Amy Robsart
  15. The Return of Mary Queen of Scots from France
  16. The Smallpox
  17. The Death of Lord Darnley
  18. The Abdication of Mary Queen of Scots & Her Escape to England
  19. The Northern Rebellion
  20. The Excommunication from Rome
  21. The Ridolfi Plot
  22. The St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre
  23. The Assignation of ‘William the Silent’
  24. The Babington Plot
  25. The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots
  26. The Spanish Armada
  27. The Essex Rebellion
  28. The Death of Elizabeth I

Top 5 Tudor Non-Fiction Books


I sometimes get asked what the best books are on the Tudors, or what my favourites are. I’ve decided to list my top 5 here with a short review, trying to mix different topics and styles, though my focus is primarily on the political history and the figures involved in the period rather than the social or military history that I know some people prefer. My favourite books also seem to be largely related to women, as I am fascinated by the ideas of gender and power in the Tudor period.

'The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn' by Eric Ives, first published in 2004.

TITLE – The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

AUTHOR – Eric Ives

FIRST PUBLISHED – 1986

REVIEW – Eric Ives’s offering about Anne Boleyn is one of the first books I read about Anne Boleyn when I was working on my undergraduate History dissertation. It gripped me from the very start as his arguments are clear and concise, and written in a way that is easy to just get sucked into. He talks about aspects of her life that were overlooked before this point like portraiture, her childhood, and her relationship with her daughter. Ives does Anne justice by not just focusing on the obvious angles.

'Tudor the Family Story' by Leanda de Lisle (2013)

TITLE – Tudor: The Family Story

AUTHOR – Leanda de Lisle

FIRST PUBLISHED – 2013

REVIEW – I was excited when this book first came out, as it was the most comprehensive history of the Tudor dynasty up to this point. I wasn’t disappointed as it provided detailed biographies of the key figures including those prior to Henry VII taking the throne like his father, grandparents, and assorted other relatives. The book was excellently researched with an extensive bibliography – I’m tempted to call it a Tudor Bible! A must-read for any Tudor historians to keep on their bookshelf.

Continue reading “Top 5 Tudor Non-Fiction Books”

Who Was … Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester?


Lettice Knollys was the wife of two great nobles – Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, and Elizabeth I’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. It is also possible that she was an illegitimate granddaughter of Henry VIII through her grandmother, Mary Boleyn’s, affair with Henry, possibly resulting in her mother, Catherine Carey. Lettice lived in the reigns of six different monarchs – Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I.

Name: Lettice Knollys (at birth) / Lettice Devereux (married name) / Lettice Dudley (married name)

Title/s: Viscountess Hereford /Countess of Essex /Countess of Leicester

Birth: 8 November 1543 at Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire, England

Death: 25 December 1634 at Drayton Bassett, Staffordshire, England

Burial: Beauchamp Chapel of the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, England

Spouse: Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex 1541-1576 / Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester 1532-1588 / Sir Christopher Blount c.1555 – 1601

Children: (by Walter Devereux) Penelope Blount, Countess of Devonshire c.1563-1607 / Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland c.1564-1619 / Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex 1565-1601 / Walter Devereux 1569-1591 / (by Robert Dudley) Robert Dudley, Baron Denbigh 1579-1584

Parents: Sir Francis Knollys c.1511-1596 & Catherine Carey c.1524-1569

Siblings: Sir Henry Knollys c.1541-1582 / Mary Stalker 1542-1593 / William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury c.1544-1632 / Edward Knollys 1546-1580 / Sir Robert Knollys 1547-1626 / Elizabeth Leighton 1549-c.1605 / Richard Knollys 1552-1596 / Sir Thomas Knollys c.1558-c.1596 / Sir Francis Knollys c.1552-1643 / Anne West, Baroness de la Warr 1555-1608 / Katherine Fitzgerald, Baroness Offaley c.1560-1632 / Dudley Knollys 1562-1562

Noble Connections: Lettice was the grand-daughter of Mary Boleyn through her daughter, Catherine Carey, and thus the great-niece of Anne Boleyn, second wife to Henry VIII. Lettice’s mother was a favourite of Elizabeth I and Lettice herself married Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, as her second husband, having first been married to Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Continue reading “Who Was … Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester?”

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”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory


  1. Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley were childhood playmates and also have in common the experience of being accused of treason and locked in the tower. How does Dudley use this shared history to influence Elizabeth? Is he successful?

'The Virgin's Lover' by Philippa Gregory (2004).
‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory (2004).

I think Dudley was quite manipulative in a way. He used what he knew was Elizabeth’s weakness to get close to her, and make her almost dependent on him. He tried to ingratiate with her when she was vulnerable and alone. I think there were so few people who had things in common with Elizabeth that she was automatically drawn to someone who shared one of the most important experiences of her life and that shaped her into the monarch she was. I think there was also an element that no one really treated Elizabeth as a normal person apart from Dudley – everyone else saw her either as a bastard or a queen. I think he is successful at first, but that, as Elizabeth settles more into her role, she realizes how dangerous it could be and changes her approach to him, at least in public.

  1. What is your opinion of Amy? She says about Dudley, “In his heart I know that he is still the young man that I fell in love with who wanted nothing more than some good pasture land to breed beautiful horses” (105). Has Amy completely misjudged her husband, particularly how ambitious a man he is?

I think that Dudley knew that he could never have that life, even if he wanted it, and I think that when he and Amy married he wasn’t so attached to Elizabeth. His father was on his way up, but not yet at the height of his power. He must have known that his future was at court. I think that Amy was blinded by her love for him, and assumed that he and she wanted the same kind of life. It was inevitable with who his father was that Dudley was destined for a life at court rather than in the country, and I don’t think that he really wanted any other kind of life. I don’t think Amy really understood Dudley, or his love for the court, because she had never been there, and I think it was difficult to understand the allure without having experienced it yourself. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory”

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”

Spotlight: Robert Dudley


Name: Robert Dudley

Title/s: Earl of Leicester / Master of the Horse

Birth / Death: 24 June 1532 – 4 September 1588

Spouse: Amy Robsart 1532 – 1560 & Lettice Knollys 1543 – 1634

Children: Robert Dudley (died young) / Robert Dudley 1574 – 1649 (illegitimate by Douglass Sheffield nee Howard)

Parents: John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland 1504 – 1553 & Jane Guildford 1508 – 1555

Siblings: Henry Dudley 1526 – 1544 / Thomas Dudley 1526 – 1528 / John Dudley, 2nd Earl of Warwick / Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick 1528 – 1589 / Guildford Dudley 1534 – 1554 / Henry Dudley 1535 – 1557 / Charles Dudley 1537 – 1542 / Mary Sidney 1532 – 1586 / Katherine Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon 1545 – 1620 / Temperance Dudley 1552 / Margaret Dudley / Katherine Dudley Continue reading “Spotlight: Robert Dudley”

Book Review – ‘The Marriage Game’ by Alison Weir


Alison Weir 'The Marriage Game' (2014)
Alison Weir ‘The Marriage Game’ (2014)

Alison Weir, The Marriage Game (London: Hutchinson, 2014) 432 pages, Hardback, ISBN 978-0-0919-26250

Genre/s: = Historical / Drama / Romance

Setting: = London, Kenilworth and Hatfield (England)

Characters: = Elizabeth I of England / Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester / Mary, Queen of Scots / Lettice Dudley, Countess of Leicester / Katherine Knollys / Kat Astley / William Cecil, Baron Burghley / Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex / Christopher Hatton / Sir Francis Drake / Sir Walter Raleigh / Francis Walsingham Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The Marriage Game’ by Alison Weir”

Analysis of Elizabeth I’s Speech at Tilbury before the Spanish Armada 1588


For this post analysing the speech made by Elizabeth I at Tilbury in Essex before the Spanish Armada in 1588, I have used a copy taken from the British Library website (http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item102878.html), which is also written below.

“My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm: to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”

Continue reading “Analysis of Elizabeth I’s Speech at Tilbury before the Spanish Armada 1588”

Discussion Questions – ‘A Court Affair’ by Emily Purdy


  1. Discuss the marriage of Robert Dudley and Amy Robsart. They married very young; both were only seventeen. Was their marriage doomed from the start? What, if anything, coujld they have done to save their marriage? Though our modern-day concept of domestic abuse did not exist in Tudor times, do you think Robert Dudley, as depicted in this novel, was an abusive husband? If you were a marriage counsellor and this couple were seated on your couch, what would you tell them?

'A Court Affair' by Emily Purdy (2012)
‘A Court Affair’ by Emily Purdy (2012)

I think that Robert and Amy’s marriage was doomed from the start because Robert’s love wasn’t love at all, but lust, whereas Amy’s was real. They were too young to really understand what they wanted and what it would mean in the long term. Amy was bound to get hurt as Robert’s ambition took control over his feelings. I think what would have been needed to save the marriage was a lack of ambition or an acceptance that marriages were generally not love matches, though the second was less likely. I think Robert Dudley was abusive towards Amy Robsart in an emotional way, not really physically. He pushed her aside and made it quite clear that he preferred someone else. I’d say that they needed to communicate more and come clear about their feelings and wants and needs, Amy in particular. I would also tell them that marriage should be for life and that even if you discover that you aren’t as well connected as you should be that there is always a way around it and that they shouldn’t give up too easily, as Robert does in this novel.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘A Court Affair’ by Emily Purdy”

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