Book Review – ‘Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England’ by Carol McGrath


Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the gifted copy of this book to review.

I really enjoyed this book. It was so interesting, and I learnt quite a lot about the way the Tudors thought about sex and the roles of women and gender. It is irrevocably tied in to the Reformation and changing religious views across the long Tudor century. This is all discussed throughout as McGrath dives into several different areas.

The perceptions of sex are discussed including when you should and shouldn’t have sex, words related to sex, and some humorous sections, as there was bound to be when discussing sex! It’s a great mix of informative and entertaining which I really enjoyed. It’s not too ‘heavy’ to read and quite a concise and clear read.

It offers a different view on Tudor England, though there is still quite a lot of focus on Henry VIII and his relationships with his wives. There could have been more on the general populace, and maybe looking more at court cases about women i.e. scolding, adultery, fornication, and children.

The main reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars was because I felt there was too much focus on the royal history, as well as a few errors as below:

  • Page 12/64 – Thomas Howard referred to as Earl of Norfolk when he was Duke of Norfolk
  • Page 27 – It was said that Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur were married at Westminster Abbey when they were actually married in St Paul’s Cathedral
  • Page 58 – Field of the Cloth of Gold said to have happened in 1521, but it was actually 1520
  • Page 88 – Anne Boleyn’s father was described as Duke of Wiltshire when he was Earl of Wiltshire
  • Page 88 – Francis Byron questioned over Anne Boleyn’s fall, but it was Francis Bryan
  • Page 92 – McGrath says that Catherine Carey was acknowledged as Henry VIII’s daughter, but she was never acknowledged, it was only rumoured

Resolving these errors would make the book read a lot better and make me feel more like I could trust what else the author was saying. Errors make me feel like I can’t believe everything the author is saying, but this book was so interesting that I didn’t want to knock more than 1 star off my review.

Chapters:

  1. The Church, the Lady and Sexuality
  2. Tudor Marriage and Matters Sexual
  3. Medical Practices and Beliefs Associated with Childbirth and Contraception
  4. Attracting the Opposite Sex
  5. Dress to Impress & Tudor Dance and Music
  6. Courtly Romance and Poetry
  7. Noli Me tangere, for Caesar’s I am & Court Mistresses
  8. A Visit to a Brothel and Illicit Sex Issues & Aphrodisiacs and Love Potions
  9. Sex and Witchcraft
  10. Renaissance Art and Sex
  11. The Commoner, Villages, Towns and Sex
  12. Naughty Vocabulary during the Tudor Era

Book Review – ‘Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I’ by Amy Licence


I was so excited to get a review copy of this book from Amberley Publishing. It doesn’t disappoint as it discusses the Tudor women across the whole period and how they compare to each other in their styles of motherhood, queenship, and relations with the men in their lives. It shows how resilient the women were and how essential they were to the dynasty. It doesn’t just examine the period 1485 to 1603 but looks at the women before this period who shaped it, like Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort, the matriarchs of the dynasty, without whom it wouldn’t have existed.

This book tries to tackle some of the prevailing myths about these women and the dominating views of the past centuries. It opens up new areas for exploration and tries to redress the balance of views on these incredible women. It’s good to focus on the women, who are often seen as supporting rather than leading figures, as the focus is often on the men who wield the power. The women of the period may have often been side-lined, but they often wielded power behind the scenes more often than in the public eye.

Although it is a long book and can seem daunting to start with, it is well worth investing the time to read it, as Amy Licence manages to sprinkle little details throughout and asks questions which make you think and consider different angles. It makes me want to delve into others of Licence’s books which are sat on my shelves, but I haven’t gotten around to reading yet! It also makes me want to know more in particular about Henry VIII’s sisters, Margaret Queen of Scotland, and Mary Duchess of Suffolk.

I would thoroughly recommend this, even if you don’t know that much about the Tudors, as it offers different angles on people sometimes overlooked in the period or misunderstood. It is easy to read and written chronologically so that if you are looking for a particular thing, it is easy to find. Obviously well-researched and concisely written.

Chapters:

  1. Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort 1437-1460
  2. Women as Witnesses 1460-1463
  3. A Queen is Made 1464-1469
  4. A Queen is Unmade 1469-1472
  5. Elizabeth of York 1472-1485
  6. The First Tudor Queen 1485-1486
  7. Dynasty in Danger 1487-1492
  8. Tudor Princesses 1489-1501
  9. The Spanish Bride 1501-1503
  10. The Two Margarets 1503-1509
  11. New Wives 1509-1515
  12. Widows 1513-1515
  13. Legacies of Love 1516-1520
  14. Gold 1520-1525
  15. Breaking the Queenship Model 1525-1533
  16. Wives and Daughters 1533-1534
  17. Queen, Interrupted 1534-1536
  18. The Search for Love 1533-1537
  19. Changing Times 1537-1540
  20. Women in Danger 1540-1542
  21. Weathering the Storm 1543-1546
  22. Such a Brief Happiness 1545-1549
  23. Dangerous Women 1547-1553
  24. Queens in Conflict 1553-1554
  25. The Half-Spanish Queen 1554-1555
  26. Saving the Nation’s Souls 1555-1558
  27. Autonomy 1558-1562
  28. Gender Politics 1563-1569
  29. The Queen’s Person 1570-1588
  30. Finale 1589-1603
  31. How the Tudor Dynasty was Built by Women 1437-1603

Book Review – ‘House of Tudor: A Grisly History’ by Mickey Mayhew


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

This is quite a different take on the Tudor period which I really enjoyed. It’s written in really short chapters which makes it easy to read and dip in and out of and return to if you want to refresh your memory on a particular event.

The book covers 45 different events of the Tudor period which are the most grisly events of the period rather than the most common events. These include the poisoning of Bishop Fisher, the blackened heart of Katherine of Aragon, Mary I’s phantom pregnancies, and the kidnap of Mary Queen of Scots, among many others. Particular attention is paid to some of the more gory or unusual aspects of the events described which is quite novel and something that some history books skate over.

The book has a great selection of images, and a comprehensive index. There are two things I will say that stops this being a 5-star read for me, maybe just as a historian myself, there is a lack of original / contemporary primary sources listed in the bibliography though they have been used in the text itself, but that certainly doesn’t detract from the excellent discourse and ease of reading of this book which I thoroughly enjoyed! There is also only mention of Henry VII in the Bosworth chapter but no further mention of him really, even given the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions and the execution of the Earl of Warwick.

Aside from these two things I can’t really fault it! This is a fantastic addition to my Tudor bookcase and one that I will certainly come back to when working on my own writing! It really does cover so many different things that there will be something for everyone whatever your interests are; political, personal, medical, or death. A brilliant gory discourse on my favourite period of history!

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!

Book Update


If you follow me on Instagram or my page on Facebook you would have seen my news a couple of weeks ago that I have signed a contract with Pen and Sword books for my second book, which is incredibly exciting!

As many guessed from the above image, my second book will look at executing the Tudor nobility which is something that I’ve been researching and thinking about for a while so it’s particularly exciting to write about something that I’ve been researching for so long and, of course, it will include a chapter on my favourite Tudor figure – Anne Boleyn. Others will include Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, along with many others.

My first book, Elizabeth Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue and Treason is currently with the editor, and we are aiming for a January 2023 release. I have also today received a proof for the jacket cover, which is so strange, to see my own name on a book cover! It still feels quite surreal to be honest; I’m quite nervous to see what people think of it, but I really hope it goes down well because I’m so proud of the work that’s gone into it.

Big thanks once again to my friends and family who have been so supportive during this process and continue to amaze me with their support and encouragement. I couldn’t be writing without them.

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 – ‘A History of the Tudors in 100 Objects’ by John Matusiak


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

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a refreshing new look at the Tudor period through the objects that have survived. I’ve read several other books by John Matusiak before, including his biographies on Henry VIII and Thomas Wolsey. This one is my favourite because it is so different.

Objects examined in the book include the silver-gilt boar badge found at Bosworth, Lady Jane Grey’s prayer book, and a lock of Elizabeth I’s hair. These more famous artefacts are examined alongside things like a sun mask, a birthing chair, a pocket pistol, and the world’s oldest football. There are so many different objects and some that you didn’t realise even existed in this period.

There are images of all of the artefacts discussed and a discussion of each object, along with the context in which they would have been used and were discovered. Some are quite recent discoveries, like the bedhead of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and others had been handed down through generations or are in museums. The history of these individual objects is almost as interesting as the contextual history.

The writing is clear and concise, giving plenty of detail without going overboard. I also like how each object has its own section, so no one object is given more attention and information than any other, even the more famous and well-known ones. In a way this book gives more attention to the lesser known and general objects because there are more of them, which is quite nice.

I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone with an interest in Tudor history or of historical objects and the history of them. One that I’ll definitely come back to!

Chapters:

  1. Dynasty, Politics, Nation
  2. Birth, Childhood, Marriage, and Death
  3. Women, Work, Craftsmen, and Paupers
  4. Food, Drink, and Fashion
  5. Home, Hearth, and Travel
  6. Culture and Pastimes
  7. Health and Healing
  8. Religion
  9. Superstition
  10. Warfare, Weapons, and Defence
  11. Crime and Punishment
  12. Novelties and New Horizons

Book Review – ‘The Traitor’s Mark’ by D.K. Wilson


I think what really attracted me to this book is that it’s based on a real historical mystery, not something completely made up and inserted into the historical context. The Prebendaries Plot was real, and Holbein did die at the time the story is set. But combining the two is really clever, especially given that we don’t know exactly how Holbein died.

It’s a gripping mystery with so many different strands that all come together. There are plenty of twists, turns, and red herrings to contend with which keep you gripped to the end, until the mystery is resolved. The cover says that you’ll love this series if you love the Shardlake books, but I do think the Shardlake books are actually slightly better because Shardlake is a more interesting character I’ve found. But that doesn’t deduct from the genius of this mystery.

The 4 stars rather than 5 was because the writing in parts felt clunky and didn’t flow as well as it could have, but the engaging mystery rescued it. Perhaps it felt clunky because there was a lot of, obviously well-researched, information about the religious discord in England at this time and how it was affecting people, but it didn’t really add to the story. I didn’t feel that the amount of information given was entirely necessary to the story.

What was interesting to me was the potential insight into Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, as a person. I haven’t really read much about him as a person, though he obviously comes up as part of my research into Tudor England, so it was intriguing to think of him as a person thrust into one of the highest positions in England but not very good at the political machinations and having to rely on others to assist him.

It’s good that, at the end of the book, there is an explanation from the author of what is actually history and what is fiction, it helps to keep it clear for those looking to research further. I wish more authors would do this when writing fiction as otherwise lines become blurred.

Book Review – ‘Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor’ by Phil Carradice


Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for a copy of this to review.

I’ve already read ‘Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower’ from the same series, so I was looking forward to this one, expecting it to be in the same vein, but I was a little disappointed. I didn’t find it very engaging and perhaps it isn’t fair to compare it to another book in the same series by a different author.

I was expecting a breakdown of each place that Henry travelled through, and although it is a comprehensive exploration of the route Henry Tudor took from his birth to his accession to the throne, the places themselves seem to take a back seat, not what I’d expect from a book called ‘Following in the Footsteps’ but I know that’s my personal opinion and others might disagree.

There were also a few errors – for example, the Duke of Norfolk is in several places referred to as the Earl of Norfolk, and Rhys ap Thomas sometimes referred to as Rhys ap Tudor. Perkin Warbeck and the Earl of Warwick were said to have been executed in 1497, but it was actually 1499. I also had a problem with the bibliography. For the amount of information given in the book I expected quite a comprehensive bibliography, but it was surprisingly short, and a book doesn’t instil me with confidence when it lists Wikipedia and the Daily Mail as sources, to be honest.

It’s certainly an interesting book and did offer a lot of insight especially into the journey Henry VII took on landing in Wales in August 1485 to Bosworth Field where Richard III died. That section is particularly detailed, but the sources are questionable sometimes I think. For the story I think it is intriguing, but I wouldn’t trust the sources used – if you’re planning on referencing or believing anything in this book, go back to the original sources.

Chapters:

  1. A Homecoming
  2. The Wars of the Roses
  3. Birth, Adolescence and Exile
  4. Brittany and Home Again
  5. The Return
  6. The Long March
  7. Into England
  8. Drawing the Battle Lines
  9. Bosworth Field
  10. After Battle
  11. The Aftermath

Book Review – ‘Usurpers: A New Look at Medieval Kings’ by Michele Morrical


Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for giving me a copy of this to review.

I was so excited to receive a copy of this book for review! I couldn’t wait to get stuck in after finishing writing my own book and I wasn’t disappointed.

This book looks at the kings through the medieval period who could be considered to be usurpers – William the Conqueror, King Stephen, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. Each section goes through the context of the seizure of power, the consequences of that seizure, and then a short discussion of whether the king could be considered a usurper.

The book has obviously been well-researched and is a concise and easy read. There are several sections of repetition where monarchs overlapped, especially with the final three kings who did all overlap with each other, so sections are repeated from the views of the different kings. There are also a couple of historical errors which I noticed when reading. These two points knocked it down to 4 stars for me, for what otherwise I might have given 5 stars.

Errors:

  • Page 129 – Richard Woodville, Earl Rivers, father of Elizabeth Woodville, met Edward IV when he landed at Ravenspur in March 1471 wasn’t possible as Richard Woodville had been killed in 1469.
  • Page 144 – The son born to George, Duke of Clarence, and Isabel Neville in 1476 which resulted in Isabel’s death was not their “first living son” as Edward, Earl of Warwick, had been born a year earlier in 1475.

It is a different view of kings in the Medieval period, looking at only those who could be considered usurpers, and how many there actually were. There were always several contenders for the throne, and it was when there were a lot of contenders that issues arose and prompted civil war. This is a very interesting book which I know I will come back to again and again.

Chapters:

Part 1: William the Conqueror 1066-1087
  1. The Anglo Saxons
  2. William the Bastard
  3. The Norman Invasion
  4. The Subjugation of England and Normandy
  5. Family Betrayal
  6. The Domesday Book
  7. Was William the Conqueror a Usurper?
Part 2: King Stephen 1135-1154
  • The Empress Matilda
  • Stolen Crown
  • Almost Queen of England
  • The Anarchy Continues
  • Changing of the Guard
  • Henry’s Final Invasion
  • Was King Stephen a Usurper?
Part 3: King Henry IV 1399-1413
  1. Edward III and the Succession Problem
  2. Rival Cousins
  3. The Lords Appellant
  4. Henry’s Invasion
  5. Was Henry IV a Usurper?
Part 4: King Edward IV 1461-1470 & 1471-1483
  • The Inept King Henry VI
  • The Wars of the Roses
  • The Rose of Rouen
  • The First Reign of Edward IV
  • Warwick’s Rebellion
  • The Second Reign of Edward IV
  • Was Edward IV a Usurper?
Part 5: Richard III 1483-1485
  • Loyalty Binds Me
  • The Unravelling of George, Duke of Clarence
  • The Road to the Throne
  • Unsteady Crown
  • Fall of the Last Plantagenet King
  • Was Richard III a Usurper?
Part 6: Henry VII 1485-1509
  • The Tudors and Beauforts
  • Henry’s Childhood and the Wars of the Roses
  • The Rise of Richard III
  • Henry Tudor’s Invasion
  • Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck
  • Henry’s Last Years
  • Was Henry VII a Usurper?
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