Visit to the Tower of London


White Tower

So, as you might have guessed from my previous post on the ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ exhibition (click here) I have been on holiday in London. How could I not visit some Tudor-related sites? I was with a friend who had never visited the Tower of London before, so we used the tickets that had been booked way back at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic hit.

We arrived early and spent five hours wandering around, stopping for a café break as well. We walked the walls, and took in the exhibitions, seeing displays on the Medieval Palace, Imprisonment at the Tower, and the Tower in War. We were using my guidebook from 2010 as I haven’t got an updated version and, in one display, there were guidebooks from the past and the same copy as mine was in a glass case! That was weird.

Dudley coat of arms carved in the Beauchamp Tower

The Beauchamp Tower is where we saw all of the graffiti left by those imprisoned there, notably this coat of arms likely carved by one of the Dudleys in 1553-4 after Jane Grey’s failed reign (the photo isn’t great because of the light from behind). There were also several pieces of graffiti left by those involved in rebellions against Elizabeth I which was especially interesting for me to see.

The Bloody Tower includes Walter Raleigh’s study and an exploration of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, something that I’ve read quite a lot about. Raleigh wrote his ‘The History of the World’ while imprisoned here. The Salt Tower was the place of imprisonment of Hew Draper who was incarcerated for sorcery during the reign of Elizabeth I. There are some fascinating astrological drawings on the walls of various places in the Tower where he was kept. A zodiac design contains the date 30 May 1561.

Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

Of course, a visit to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (Peter in Chains) was a must. It’s an absolutely beautiful space where lie buried the remains of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford, Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset, John Dudley Duke of Northumberland, and Guildford Dudley within the main body of the chapel. In the crypt are the remains of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher of Rochester who were executed on nearby Tower Hill.

The armouries in the White Tower were fascinating, though I had seen them before. I almost looked at the rooms anew and visited St John’s Chapel in the White Tower for the very first time. It’s starkly simple but incredibly profound with plain walls and some stone carving, quite a contrast to the better-known St Peter ad Vincula in the grounds. The armouries themselves contain armour from Henry VIII, Charles I, and James II, and a collection of swords, cannon, and other arms from across the ages and across the world. Possibly of more interest to a military historian but seeing the detail on the armour was a highlight of the White Tower for me.

Tower Hill Memorial

On the way back to our hotel we visited the memorial on Tower Hill where the likes of Edward Stafford 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, and Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex were executed, among many others. The names and dates of execution are places on blocks around a small square within the First World War memorial gardens. It’s very easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. More were executed there than are named, but the names of those who were the most notable are written. It is worth a visit if you’re going to the Tower of London as many of those executed there spent time in the Tower itself.

All in all, an incredibly fascinating historical day out, even if we were exhausted afterwards having been on our feet most of the day and then going on a Jack the Ripper walking tour that evening! A blog post on that to follow …

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 – ‘The Queen’s Spy’ by Clare Marchant


Thank you to Avon Books for sending me a copy of this for review.

I really enjoyed this book, and it was interesting to see the spying in the Elizabethan court from a fictional point of view, having read a lot of nonfiction about it recently for my own book. It’s quite a complex subject and period of time but Clare Marchant deals with it in a sympathetic and concise manner, keeping the story moving along.

The Babington Plot was a pivotal moment in the history of Elizabethan and Tudor England, because it led directly to the execution of an anointed monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, although the book doesn’t cover the execution itself. We see the background to the plot through the eyes of a deaf and mute apothecary’s assistant, Tom Lutton, who is pulled into the dark world of Francis Walsingham and back-street spying and conspiracy.

In the end he pays a high price for his involvement, but this is contrasted with the parallel story of one of Lutton’s descendants in 2021, Mathilde and Rachel. I’m never entirely sure about a book written both in the present and in the past, having had bad experiences with parallel narratives before. However, this was startlingly clear, and the two parts worked really well together.

Mathilde, Rachel, Fleur, and Oliver, all added something to the narrative of the past, even though they are characters based in the present. The way they explored the triptych and the history behind it added more depth to Tom’s story in his chapters, and the ending tied everything together really nicely, making it feel like a completed whole.

An excellent fictional exploration of a complex period in English history, with characters that make you want to read on and find out how their stories end. I was completely gripped.

Book Review – ‘The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I’ by Stephen Alford


This was a very intriguing read largely regarding the secret network of spies and informants built up around Elizabeth I, with William Cecil, Baron Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Sir Robert Cecil at its heart. It explores in detail the Throckmorton Plot of 1583 and the Babington Plot of 1586 where the use of spies and ciphers really came into their own.

It was well-written and clearly a lot of research had been done, much of which I hadn’t read about before. However, I felt that in places it also seemed overly complicated, and I couldn’t wrap my head around some of it until I’d read it at least three times. I also had to keep going back to check on the people involved in various plots. There was a lot of jumping about from person to person which I think is sometimes where I got a bit lost, and the writing then lost some of its cohesiveness.

There were detailed endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography, easy to track down the research used. The book plate section in the centre I also felt was well-chosen and linked to what was written about in the text. It was nice to also have some images spread throughout the text when they were particularly appropriate, it made a nice change actually.

There was an interesting introduction of ‘what if’ Elizabeth I had been assassinated after the spy network failed and how this could have influenced English and European history. It illustrated Alford’s point of just how important the Tudor spy network was in keeping monarch and country safe and prosperous.

This was a very helpful book to read for my own writing on Elizabethan Rebellions, but I did have to make a lot of notes and then go back through them to make sure I understood it. Not an easy read, but a very informative one, nonetheless.

Chapters:

Part One – Spying Out the Land

  1. Ten Days in November
  2. The Lion’s Mouth
  3. English Roman Lives
  4. ‘Judas his parts’
  5. Paris and London
  6. Hunting Edmund Campion
  7. Out of the Shadows

Part Two – Enemies of the State

  1. ‘Sundry wicked plots and means’
  2. The Secret Lives of William Parry
  3. ‘The enemy sleeps not’
  4. ‘A very unadvised enterprise’
  5. Dangerous Fruits
  6. Alias Cornelys
  7. Sleights of Hand
  8. Framing the Labyrinth

Part Three – Politics and Money

  1. An Axe and an Armada
  2. ‘Good and painful long services’
  3. Platforms and Passports
  4. The Fall and Rise of Thomas Phelippes
  5. Politics and Prognostications
  6. Ends and Beginnings

Book Review – ‘Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife’ by Alison Weir


I have thoroughly enjoyed this whole series from Alison Weir and what a way to end! Although the previous two for me were the weakest (‘Anna of Kleve’ and ‘Katheryn Howard’). This one brought the series back up to the levels of the first three books in the series. Katherine Parr is often just remembered as the sixth wife and the one who survived, but this offers a new insight into her life and the people who she affected and who affected her most.

Katherine Parr has always fascinated me – she was the only one of Henry’s wives to have married twice before her marriage to the King (Katherine of Aragon was married once before) and then once after as well! She is a really intriguing woman who suffered so much through her life and died tragically as well, though at least it was a natural death rather than a beheading!

The book was full of detail and well-paced. I had thought that maybe Weir would rush through Katherine’s first two marriages, but she didn’t, and I think that was actually my favourite part of the book – the bit that I know least about, and certainly is least written about Katherine. The focus tends to be on her royal marriage and her fourth marriage to Thomas Seymour and the controversy with Elizabeth, but it was these early marriages which really shaped her, so it was super interesting to read about those in a fictionalised way.

The ideas of betrayal and religion run throughout as Katherine struggles not to betray her own religious beliefs, or her feelings about Thomas Seymour, to those around her. This was a tumultuous period in English history where religion was very much an open question and Weir handles it sensitively with the views of the time not marred too much by the sensibilities of the present.

This was an excellent book to finish the series off on and this is certainly a series I will come back to again and re-read.

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.

Book Review – ‘Essex: Tudor Rebel’ by Tony Riches


Thank you to Tony Riches for giving me a copy of this book to review.

I really enjoy Tony Riches’ writing. He has a way of bringing the world of the Tudor court to life that makes these historical figures who lived over 400 years ago seem very real in the present. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is an intriguing character with plenty of history. All I really knew about him was the end of his life – the rebellion that resulted in his execution, from my own research. This book opened my eyes to some of the events of his earlier life.

I’ve been researching Elizabethan rebellions, so it was interesting to find out more about this figure who was central to a rebellion in 1601 against Elizabeth I. The story follows him from his childhood, and the death of his father, to his death by execution. It explores scandal, romance, and treason. We really get to see the changeable attitude of the Queen and how fortunes could change on just one roll of the die.

It features a wide range of real historical characters along Essex, like Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, William Cecil Lord Burghley, Robert Cecil, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Philip Sidney. These characters come together to create a richly detailed storyline with plenty going on which keeps the story moving. I was really intrigued by the supporting character of Lettice Knollys, Essex’s mother, who herself was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn. Her relationships with her children and partners were particularly interesting.

What is particularly interesting for me in this story is to see the development of Essex from a boy who loses his father at a young age and has to step suddenly and unexpectedly into his shoes, to the Queen’s favourite at court, to an attainted rebel who ends on the scaffold. The story is full of ups and downs and makes you want to keep reading.

If you don’t know much about key characters in Tudor history, then I would really recommend reading books by Tony Riches because he introduces them without too much fuss, but with enough detail to bring them to life, and makes you want to find out more about them. I can’t wait to fill in the gaps and read the ones I haven’t read yet.

Tudor Exhibitions at Royal Museums Greenwich


It has been a very difficult year for museums, many of which have remained closed, or have only been able to open for a month or two.  I was approached by Royal Museums Greenwich about their new upcoming exhibitions.  With my anxiety I don’t feel like I can travel at the moment to attend the exhibitions, but I am hoping to get the chance to visit before they close as they both look excellent!

If you want to attend one of the exhibitions, tickets are on sale now at the links below, open from 17 May 2021.

The first exhibition is called ‘Tudors to Windsors’ on royal portraiture from Henry VII to the present day. The second is called ‘Faces of a Queen’ which will bring together the three surviving Armada portraits for the first time.

‘Tudors to Windsors’ – Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits | Museum Exhibitions (rmg.co.uk)

“Come face-to-face with the kings and queens who have shaped British history for over 500 years.

Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits at the National Maritime Museum includes over 150 of the finest portraits from across five royal dynasties.

Discover how royal portraiture has developed over the last five centuries, from Henry VII to Elizabeth II.”

‘Faces of a Queen’ – Faces of a Queen | Royal Museums Greenwich (rmg.co.uk)

“Three portraits, one historic exhibition: see the Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I for free at the Queen’s House in Greenwich.

The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I is one of the most iconic portraits in British history.

Three versions of the painting survive, each offering a subtly different depiction of Queen Elizabeth I at the height of her power.

Now, for the first time in their 430-year history, these three works are on public display together.”

For anyone who loves Tudor history and / or portraiture these exhibitions look really exciting and interesting and you can find more information at the links above, as well as book tickets.

Book Review – ‘The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives’ by Tim Darcy Ellis


Thank you to the publicist for sending me a copy of this book.

This is a very interesting book about a person who is only really known about by Tudor historians as the tutor of Princess Mary (later Mary I). But this book is more wide-ranging, looking at the plight of Jews across Europe through Vives’s eyes in the early 16th century.

It is written in a series of diary entries across several years. There are poems interspersed throughout, though I don’t know the origin of these, whether they are contemporary or not. There is an interesting historical note at the end which offers some background on Vives and the plight of the Jews at this time.

There are some minor errors in the dating of the diary entries – for example, one entry is 1523 and the following entry is 1522, possibly an editorial issue. But this doesn’t detract from the overall atmosphere of the book. It is well-written and engaging, and the characters come across as real. You can tell that there is quite a lot of research that has gone into the story to make it as real as possible.

Vives is a hugely conflicted character as he tries to balance his humanism and learning with his desire to make himself and his family and those whom he loves safe. He has an interesting relationship with Sir Thomas More and his family, and we can track how this changes through the novel as Vives’s priorities change. The relationships between different characters are obviously well thought-out and researched and the fictional characters are seamlessly integrated with the real characters. The character list at the beginning is really helpful to distinguish real from fictional and for those less acquainted with the history of the period to keep the characters in line.

This is a really fascinating read for those interested in the plight of the Jews, or how Vives managed to get himself involved in the lives of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon and the English royal court.

This is also published on my sister blog BookBloggerish | For Everything Bookish (wordpress.com).

Book Review – ‘Princess of Thorns’ by Saga Hillbom


Thank you to the author for giving me a copy of this to review.

I really enjoyed this quite unique take on the Wars of the Roses and the reign of Henry VII. Told from the point of view of Cecily of York, daughter of Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII) it gives a different view almost from the outside in. It also offers a fictional account of a woman at the centre of the warring factions, essentially Yorkist but forced to marry a staunch Lancastrian.

This novel has certainly made me more interested in the other York sisters and following their lives a bit more closely. I know a bit about Elizabeth of York having studied the Tudors and been introduced to her through Henry VII, but the others seem to have led interesting lives as well, so I want to read more around them.

The writing is concise and the descriptions clear, making you believe that you can see the pieces of jewellery described or be in the places that the characters are in, picturing those same characters clearly in your head though, for me at least, influenced in part by historical TV dramas like ‘The White Queen’ (eye roll). The book is quite fast-paced, but sentimental in places, and the balance between the two is exceptional.

The sibling rivalry between Cecily and her eldest sister, Elizabeth, was brilliantly done, and echoes squabbling siblings across the ages, only this was a more high-stakes environment. The jealousy of what could be perceived as the less successful or powerful sibling (Cecily) juxtaposed against the more powerful and influential queen (Elizabeth) exacerbates what I’m sure siblings today will recognise. That gives a touch of the familiar into this otherwise unrecognisable world compared to today.

If there are any lovers of historical fiction based in the Wars of the Roses or early Tudor period I would thoroughly recommend this book as it offers something unique, being written from the point of view of a woman often overlooked in history, but who at the same time was at the centre of events and who suffered many personal tragedies in her life. Saga Hillbom tells her story with sensitivity and demonstrates just how perilous life and ambition could be.

This review is also published on my sister blog BookBloggerish | For Everything Bookish (wordpress.com).

Saga Hillbom has also written a guest post for this blog on the marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville, which can be found here.

%d bloggers like this: