Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


On hallowed ground… With over three thousand burials and memorials, including seventeen monarchs, life for the ghostly community of Westminster Abbey was never going to be a quiet one. Add in some fiery Tudor tempers, and several centuries-old feuds, and things can only go one way: chaotic. Against the backdrop of England’s most important church, though, it isn’t all tempers and tantrums. Poets’ Corner hosts poetry battles and writing workshops, and close friendships form across the ages. With the arrival of Mary Queen of Scots, however, battle ensues. Will Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I ever find their common ground, and lasting peace? [Description from Amazon UK]

Kindred Spirits #3

Another great novel from Jennifer Wilson. I absolutely adore this series, and I’m really hoping for a book eventually set around Windsor with Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. I think that would be great. I did thoroughly enjoy this installment in the series though because there were so many different characters from different periods coming together and it was interesting to see how those relationships developed.

This one focuses on the kings and queens, and literary and scientific minds buried or commemorated at Westminster. I loved the developing relationship between Richard III and Henry VII and I understand that this is explored more in the fourth book in the series based in York. As for the relationship between Mary I and Elizabeth I, I can imagine that this is actually how the two would have been in real life had they been raised as siblings rather than rivals for the throne. All siblings argue and fight, but these two took it to the next level.

It’s history but not as we know and Wilson’s knowledge of and passion for medieval and early modern history is obvious as she brings historical figures into the present, without losing the sense of who they were in their own time. One of my favourite moments was when Anne of Cleves snuck onto the Abbey computer to alter her Wikipedia page and any references to ‘Flander’s Mare’, and the reappearance of Richard III, who I loved in ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’.

This series is so unique, and very cleverly done. You can tell that a great amount of research has gone into the book, as there are little titbits of historical fact, as well as the ghosts trying to dispel, or arguing about, rumours swirling about their lives. It’s really interesting to read and imagine what these historical figures would think about how we view them today, and what they would make of today’s world, incredibly distant from what they knew in their lives. I want more, please, Jennifer!?

Another bonus is that is was written by an author who lives in the same area as me! Well-written and worth a read for anyone with an interest in historical fiction, or historical ghost stories, rumours and a bit of humour thrown in!

Book Review – ‘Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower’ by Andrew Beattie


Andrew Beattie 'Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower'

Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this.

The story of the Princes in the Tower is well known: the grim but dramatic events of 1483, when the twelve-year-old Edward Plantagenet was taken into custody by his uncle, Richard of Gloucester, and imprisoned in the Tower of London along with his younger brother, have been told and re-told hundreds of times. The ways in which the events of that year unfolded remain shrouded in mystery, and the fate of the young princes forms an infamous backdrop to Richard III’s reign and the end of the Wars of the Roses. Although little about the princes’ lives is commonly known, Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower tells the story in a way that is wholly new: through the places they lived in and visited. From Westminster Abbey to the Tower of London, and from the remote castle of Ludlow in the Welsh borders to the quiet Midlands town of Stony Stratford – via major medieval centres such as Northampton and Shrewsbury – the trail through some of England’s most historic places throws a whole new light on this most compelling of historical dramas. [Description from Pen & Sword Books]

I really enjoyed this trip through the lives of the Princes in the Tower. I’d been eyeing this book up for a while so was thrilled when Pen and Sword offered me the chance to read it. The book doesn’t look so much at the disappearance of the Princes, although that is covered in the section on the Tower of London, but at where they spent their lives. The Princes in the Tower is one of my absolute favourite historical mysteries, along with Jack the Ripper, and I don’t think I will ever tire of reading about it because it is so fascinating and there are so many different tendrils to research and discover. The places where they lived and where the great events of their lives took place is just one part of it.

There are excellent sections on the aforementioned Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Palace, Stony Stratford, and Ludlow. It’s a really interesting way of looking at something that has been examined over and over for the past 500 years. There is also a section at the end looking at the possibility that one or both of the princes could have survived the Tower, and what could have happened to them afterwards, including the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions, and some lesser known myths and legends.

There were plenty of images of the different places discussed which helped to place the events in the locations, and portraits from the time. It helps to link everything together when you have visual aids as well as descriptions and analysis.

However, I didn’t think that the constant references to fictional works like those by Philippa Gregory, Emma Darwin, Terence Morgan and Vanora Bennett really added anything. I skipped past a lot of them. In my opinion, it would have been better to discuss some of the historiography of the places – what other people have thought about these places and how views have changed over time. That is what I felt was missing from this book.

Nevertheless, an enjoyable and interesting read, and I am looking forward to reading another in the series which I have on my shelf – ‘Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor’, about Henry VII and places he visited before the Battle of Bosworth.

Chapters:

  1. Westminster: Sanctuary, Palace and Abbey
  2. Ludlow, Shrewsbury and the Marches
  3. A Coup on Watling Street – Northampton and Stony Stratford
  4. Palace and Prison: The Tower of London
  5. The Aftermath – Ghosts and Tombs, Imposters and Battlefields

Documentary Notes – British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the Wars of the Roses


  • Story of past open to interpretation 
  • Carefully edited and deceitful version of events 
  • Not just a version of what happened – more a tapestry of different stories woven together by whoever was in power at the time 
  • Wars of the Roses was invented by the Tudors to justify their power 
  • Immortalised by Shakespeare – darkest chapter in English history 
  • Lancaster and York locked in battle for the crown of England – kings deposed, innocent children murdered, cousin fought against cousin 
  • 1485 Richard III slain and Henry Tudor took the throne 
  • Henry VII’s victory hailed the ending of the Medieval period 
  • Line between fact and fiction often gets blurred 

Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.

  • 1455 Stubbins in Lancashire scene of a legendary battle in the Wars of the Roses beginning with volleys of arrows but ran out of ammunition 
  • Lancastrians pelted the Yorkists with black pudding – local legend 
  • Yorkists pelted the Lancastrians with Yorkshire puddings – local legend 
  • Wars of the Roses in national memory 
  • History books – rivalry between Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) – bloody rivalry largely a creation of the Tudors 
  • 1461 bloodshed real in the middle of a snowstorm at Towton 
  • Lancastrians started out well but tide turned against them, chased by the Yorkists down the slope to a river and so a massacre began 
  • Blood stained the snow red, so location became known as the bloody meadow 
  • Shakespeare portrayed the battle as a bloody Armageddon – represented a country torn apart by war, nothing as bad in our history 
  • Somme 19,000 British soldiers killed on the first day, Towton 28,000 killed 
  • 20 years ago Bradford University revealed barbarity of fighting with remains of 43 men killed at Towton 
  • Head forced down into the spine, poleaxes – exceptional even for the Wars of the Roses 
  • Skirmishes, but real battles only around 8 in 30 years 
  • Not ravaged by all-out war – later myth 
  • Out of 32 years of wars, fighting on lasted a total of 13 weeks 

Continue reading “Documentary Notes – British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the Wars of the Roses”

On This Day in History – 15 January – Coronation of Elizabeth I


Elizabeth I Coronation Portrait c.1610 Copy of a Lost Original

Event- Coronation of Elizabeth I

Year- 1559

Location- Westminster Abbey, London

On this day, 15th January 1559, Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey.  She acceded to the throne on the death of her half-sister, Mary I, in November 1558. It has often been said that John Dee predicted the date for Elizabeth’s coronation, as being a prophetic day, but this is still debated among historians.

The day before, on her procession from the Tower of London to Westminster, Elizabeth had been faced with several pageants, one of which showed her father, Henry VIII, and mother, Anne Boleyn, together again after the latter’s execution in 1536.

At the coronation itself, it was said that Elizabeth took communion behind a curtain and that few people could tell how Catholic or Protestant the service was. Other historians disagree and claim that Elizabeth left the abbey before communion. She was crowned by Owen Oglethorpe, a junior bishop from Carlisle – the Archbishop of Canterbury was dead and the Archbishop of York claimed to be unwell. On exiting the abbey, she held the orb and sceptre in one hand and the imperial crown in the other.

It was alleged that Elizabeth I spent £16,000 of crown money on her coronation, and the London city fathers also contributed. The people celebrated and Elizabeth kept the hearts of her people throughout most of her reign.

Further Reading

  • Christopher Haigh, Elizabeth I (2001)
  • Anne Somerset, Elizabeth I (2002)
  • David Starkey, Elizabeth (2001)
  • Alison Weir, Elizabeth the Queen (2009)

Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer’ Part 1


Henry VIII c.1520.
Henry VIII c.1520.

Jonathan Foyle.

April 1509 Henry VIII takes refuge in the Tower of London.

Public image – kills Empson and Dudley.

Coronation = cloth of gold, jewels on horseback, Hall’s Chronicle, Thomas More – lawyer commissioned to make a speech, “golden age”.

Humanism influenced More and Henry, also chivalry – Erasmus,

Eltham Palace – Henry was raised away from the centre of London.

Glenn Richardson.

John Skelton taught him Latin, French, etc. Influenced by Margaret Beaufort and William Blount Lord Mountjoy.

New learning – grammar, rhetoric, morals, history. History of his own ancestors.

1503 Prince Henry was betrothed to Katherine of Aragon.

Strength of the Tudor family – influence, wealth, power. Demonstrated by buildings like King’s College Chapel.

Propaganda. Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer’ Part 1”

‘Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty’ Part 2 – Henry III – 04/12/2014


 

Henry III funeral effergy in Westminster Abbey
Henry III funeral effergy in Westminster Abbey

Henry III and Simon de Montfort – “friendship that turned to hatred”
Led to civil war and changed monarchy forever
Henry III 1216-1272, came to the throne aged 9
1230 has been on the throne for fourteen years, but powers scaled back by Magna Carta, signed by his father, King John
Fourth Plantagenet king
Henry II was his grandfather – French lands lost by his father
Tough, warfare, politically savvy, justice, energy and appetite needed – Henry III lacks these qualities needed to be a king
Henry tried twice, but ended in expensive defeat
Barons stop lending him money, allowed to by Magna Carta; can’t raise taxes
Dreamer – big dreams like Westminster Abbey which he built
Henry not seen as a great king by his barons – not strong enough to take them on alone
Autumn 1230 Henry III first meets Simon de Montfort (minor French knight) who is a fanatic, backs belief with action
Henry sees a man with single-mindedness needed to achieve his dreams
So young when he takes the throne that others had always made his decisions for him – Henry drawn to de Montfort and vice versa Continue reading “‘Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty’ Part 2 – Henry III – 04/12/2014”