Book Review: “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors” by Dan Jones

24611635._SY475_England throughout the centuries has known internal strife with civil wars to determine who had the right to rule the island nation. None more so than in the fifteenth century when a tug of war for the English crown broke out. Today, we call this time period “The Wars of the Roses”, but what was it all about? Who were the main figures during this time? What were the crucial battles that defined these wars? How did the Plantagenet Dynasty fall and how did the Tudors become the new dynasty to rule England? These questions and more are explored in Dan Jones’ book, “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors”.

I will admit that this was not my first time reading this particular book. I did borrow it from my local library and read it a few years ago, but I enjoyed it so much that I decided that I wanted to add it to my personal collection.

Jones begins his book with the horrific execution of the elderly Margaret Pole, the last white rose of York. Her death had more to do with her Plantagenet blood and the fact that she was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, than with any crime she committed. It was the royal blood and who had the right to rule that was at the heart of the Wars of the Roses, as Jones goes on to explain.

Although the true origins of the conflict go back to the sons of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Jones chooses to explore the reign of King Henry V, Catherine of Valois, and their son Henry VI. When Henry V tragically died of dysentery, his infant son Henry VI became king of both England and France. This wouldn’t have been a problem if Henry VI was as strong as his father, but alas, as king was very weak, which meant that he needed help to rule his kingdoms. It was the rivals between the powerful men and women behind the crown, like Richard, Duke of York and Margaret of Anjou, which led to the thirty years of civil wars.

What I appreciate about Jones’ book is that his focus is on the people who made the Wars of the Roses so fun to study. From Henry VI and his dynamic wife Margaret of Anjou to the sons of Richard duke of York; Edward IV, Richard III ( Ricardians might not agree with Jones’ assessment of Richard III) and George Duke of Clarence. Then there are figures who stand on their own who worked behind the scenes, like Warwick “The Kingmaker”, Margaret Beaufort, Owen and Jasper Tudor, the Princes in the Tower, and the ultimate victor, Henry VII.

Jones was able to weave the stories of these extraordinary people with the bloody battles and the politics that defined the era into this delightful book. It acts as a fantastic introduction to this turbulent time in English history that brought the downfall of the powerful Plantagenets and brought forth the Tudors. Another enjoyable and engaging book by Dan Jones. If you want to begin a study into this time, I highly recommend you read, “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors”.

New Book: “Mistress Whiddon- The Memoirs of Nora Basset of Umberleigh” by Joanne McShane

9781913425050Young Nora Basset has no memory of her father, John, as he died when she was very young. Her first years are spent at Umberleigh in Devon with her family. When she is three years old, she meets her grandmother, Honora Lisle, who has returned from imprisonment in Calais and has been tragically widowed. Nora and her grandmother form a close bond, as the child unwittingly assists the older woman to come to terms with her loss. The following year, Nora’s mother, Frances Plantagenet, remarries. Her new husband is Thomas Monk of Potheridge and the family leaves Umberleigh to begin their new life.

Nora spends a mostly happy childhood at Potheridge until she is called away at the age of eighteen to become a companion for her grandmother who has once again been visited by sadness. The bond between the two women becomes stronger than ever.

When she is twenty-seven Nora meets William Whiddon, the love of her life. They marry and the next years are blissful ones for the two soulmates.v When tragedy strikes, Nora must find a way to move forward in her life. The story is set against the backdrop of life in Elizabethan England and the continuing saga of the Basset family.

About the AuthorIMG_4652

Joanne spent her childhood on a sheep and cattle farm in Tasmania, Australia. After marrying and raising a family in Tasmania she moved to Wales in 2003 and still lives there, close to the Herefordshire border. Always a keen historian, she became fascinated by her own family history and by the lives of her ancestors – some of whom she discovered to be very colorful indeed. This led her to begin writing.

“Mistress Whiddon- The Memoirs of Nora Basset of Umberleigh” is Joanne McShane’s second book and is the sequel to her first novel, “Honora and Arthur – The Last Plantagenets”.

If you are interested in purchasing “Mistress Whiddon- The Memoirs of Nora Basset of Umberleigh”, you can follow this link: https://www.youcaxton.co.uk/mistress-whiddon/

 

Book Review: “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands” by Dan Jones

43899574The story of the Crusades has been told in many different ways from numerous directions. The epic conflict between Christianity and Islam for the Holy Lands that went on for centuries that has lived in infamy. Many questions have arisen as historians try to separate facts from the myths surrounding this topic. How and why did it start? Why did it continue to go on for so long? Was there really a winner in this conflict? Who were the people who defined this conflict? Dan Jones has taken on the challenge of writing a comprehensive history of this conflict and the people who fought during this time in his latest book, “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands”.

I wanted to read this book since the day that it was announced. I did not know a whole lot about the Crusades and what I did know about this time was from quick overviews from history classes that I took while in school. I wanted a book that told the story of the Crusades from all sides to fully understand this struggle as a whole. This book delivered everything that I wanted and more.

Like the title suggests, Jones’s focus is more on the people, the crusaders, and how their decisions led to the numerous crusades from 1099 until 1492 when the Reconquista ended. But what separates this book from other books about the Crusades is that he doesn’t focus on one group of people, his focus is on multiple stories to paint a complex story of the time. Jones includes the tales of the dynamic and colorful people we think of when we study the crusades; Alexios I Komnenos, Anna Komnene, Pope Urban II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, Simon de Montfort, Saladin, Henry Bolingbroke, and many others. However, the story of the crusades was not limited to royalty, generals and popes. Jones includes the tales of the lowly monks who preached for fellow Christians to defend the Holy Lands, scholars and poets who told the tales of those who fought, servants and peasants who fought for their homes and their religions.

This particular subject may feel like a daunting challenge to tackle, but this book is so easy to understand. With a more human-centric approach, Jones is able to present the history of the Crusades in a rather enlightening way. It was not just a series of wars about religion, Christianity versus Islam or, in some cases, against pagan groups. In fact, it was a lot more complicated. They were wars about politics, monetary gains, and to regain lands from other groups of people.

I was blown away with how truly remarkable this book was to read. Jones’s combination of a plethora of facts with an engaging and comprehensive writing style brought the Crusades back to life. There were so many people who I was introduced to by reading this book that I really want to study more in the future. “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands” by Dan Jones was an absolute delight to read. If you want an excellent book that gives you a comprehensive look at the Crusades and the Crusaders, no matter if you are a novice or someone who has studied this period before, I highly recommend you read this book.

Book Review: “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount

27109857The medieval era was one of the most turbulent times in all of English history, full of family feuds, gruesome wars, and so many twists and turns. We tend to focus on the big stories, but, it was not just about the royalty and the nobility, there were also lower classes whose lives went on in the background. What was everyday life like for both the rich and the poor? What ceremonies and recipes did they use? What were wills and court cases like? These questions and more are explored in Toni Mount’s delightful book, “A Year in the Life of Medieval England”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. This book looked really intriguing and I really wanted to read a book covering medieval England.

This book was an absolute joy to read. Mount’s book is like a diary, it documents every day of the year with new facts and events. From January 1st to December 31st, Mount dives into the lives of both the rich and the poor alike. Unlike normal diaries, Mount does not stay with one specific year. Instead, she includes events from 1066 all the way through 1500 to give a full view of what life was like in Medieval England. I normally do not like it when a book jumps around chronologically, yet it worked rather well in this book.

From William the Conqueror to King Henry VII and every king in between, Mount explores the lives of the monarchy, highs, and lows. Coronations, battles, births, and deaths, with numerous treaties in-between. Naturally, there were a lot more members of the lower classes than the royal houses, but Mount chose a handful of their colorful stories to include in this book. What is wonderful is that you truly understand what they might have been going through since Mount has transcribed letters, lawsuits and wills so that the readers can get that window into the past.

What I really loved about this book was that Mount was able to include a plethora of facts while keeping the writing style comprehensive so that even a novice can understand. Mount does site each of her sources at the end of each passage for convenience, but it also acts as a stepping stone for those who want to do their own independent research. Of course, with any dive into a new area of study, there will be terms that might be unfamiliar to new students, but Mount takes the time to define these terms.

From Plantagenets to peasants, the stories of Medieval England come back to life in this rather handy companion book for inspiring medievalists. An easy and thought-provoking read that anyone who is interested in Medieval England would be delighted to have in their own collections. If you want a book that explores what medieval people, both rich and poor, experienced in a year, I highly recommend you read, “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

Book Review: “A Journey Through Tudor England” by Suzannah Lipscomb

42659772In history, we tend to focus on the stories of the men and women who shaped the era. This is obviously important, but the locations where the events of the past happened are equally as important. Sadly, many of the buildings that the men and women from the past knew no longer exist. However, there are a few, especially from the Tudor period, that we can still visit. Suzannah Lipscomb explored over 50 of these remarkable buildings and decided to tell their tales in her book, “A Journey Through Tudor England”.

This book is quite delightful and simple to understand. As someone who has never been to England, I have always wondered what these places must be like to be there in person. Obviously, I have read different descriptions of these places in biographies and historical fiction novels, but the amounts of details that Lipscomb includes is truly a breath of fresh air.

Lipscomb breaks down her book into sections that correspond with where the locations are in England, making it easier to plan a trip for any Tudor fan. Naturally, she does discuss the castles, palaces, theatres, and abbeys that we are all familiar with like Hever Castle, the Tower of London and Fountains Abbey. But, Lipscomb does include locations that fans of the Tudor dynasty may not be familiar with, places like Kett’s Oak or The Vyne.

Although these places by themselves can be interesting, it is truly their connections with the historical figures and important events that define their significance. This is where Lipscomb’s book truly shines. The stories that Lipscomb includes in this book are so engaging and gives a new perspective to the Tudor dynasty. It is not just stories of triumphs and failures by those who we are familiar with, like Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots, but men and women that we may be being introduced to for the first time. Along the way, Lipscomb includes little facts about everyday Tudor lives to give the readers an idea of what life might have been like back then.

Like any good travel guide, Lipscomb includes a list of the locations, their hours and how to get in contact with them. My only real issue with this book is that I wanted to see pictures of these locations. As someone who doesn’t live in England, it would have made the reading experience a bit better and I could visualize the places Lipscomb was describing and would make me want to visit the places in this book even more.

As the first travel guide that I have ever read and reviewed, I found this book really enjoyable. It was light, engaging, and extremely informative. If I ever travel to England, I will bring this along with me and visit the sites in this book. If you want a well-written travel guide to Tudor sites, I highly recommend you read, “A Journey Through Tudor England” by Suzannah Lipscomb.

Book Review: “Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance” by Stephen Spinks

34411942._SX318_ (1)When we think of medieval kings of England, we tend to think about strong warriors who did things their own way. Men like Edward I and Edward III often come to mind. Yet, there was a king in between these two legendary warriors whose name lives on in infamy, King Edward II. He is known for his numerous favorites, his relationships with men like Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, his disagreements with the barons who were trying to help him run the country, his relationship with his equally famous wife and son, Isabella of France and Edward III, and his dramatic death. But who was the man known as King Edward II? What was he really like? Stephen Spinks explores these questions in his latest biography, “Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I remember hearing briefly about Edward II’s story in different documentaries that I have watched, but I have never read a biography about him before. This book was rather enlightening.

Spinks naturally begins with the birth of Edward of Caernarfon (the future King Edward II) to his parents, King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. What is interesting is that Edward was their only son who survived long enough to become king, since his elder brothers would all pass away. His father, Edward I, was truly a warrior king, fighting against Wales and Scotland, yet he accumulated absolutely staggering debts which Edward II had to deal with when he was king. With his father’s victory in Wales, Edward of Caernarfon was made the first English Prince of Wales.

When Edward I died, Edward became King Edward II, with an inheritance filled with issues that would come to define his reign. Edward II had to deal with the crippling debt, war from numerous countries, and barons that were constantly trying to control how he ran the country. On top of all of this, Edward decided to rely heavily on men like Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, his “favorites”, which really did not sit well with the barons or his wife, Isabella of France. It is the belief of Spinks that Edward’s relationships with Gaveston and Despenser were more than platonic, that they were Edward’s lovers and that is why he always took their advice above his barons and gave them massive rewards. Personally, I am not sure how I feel about this theory since this was the first biography I read about Edward II, and I think I would need to study a bit more before I settle on a theory about this topic.

Another huge topic that Spinks addresses in his book is the split between Edward and Isabella that ultimately led to his downfall and his death. It was interesting to see how even though they did split up, Edward did indeed cared for his family, although he did have a rather unusual way of showing it. His abdication, death, and the stories of how he survived are really compelling and makes you wonder what happened to Edward II after his son became King Edward III.

Overall, I found this book extremely informative. Spinks was able to combine the complex nature of the government that was run by the barons with an easy to understand writing style. Spinks also discusses other theories written by other historians to allow readers to understand why he believes what he believes. After reading this book, I do want to learn more about King Edward II and his reign. If you want a great introductory book into the reign of King Edward II, I highly recommend you read, “Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance” by Stephen Spinks.

Book Review: “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer

8800906The Tudor dynasty and the enigmatic figures who made this time period so fascinating have been hotly discussed for centuries. Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII after defeating  King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. King Henry VIII, the second son whose numerous wives and his split from the Catholic Church made his name infamous in history. King Edward VI, Henry VIII’s beloved son who died before he really could accomplish the reformation that he had planned for England. Queen Mary I, who was the first Queen of England to rule in her own right and wanted to restore the Catholic Church. Finally, Queen Elizabeth I, who never married and led England to a “Golden Age”. Many historians have viewed the Tudor dynasty as a time of great change and England was in a good place. However, G.J. Meyer paints a darker picture of the era in his book, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty”.

Unlike many of the books on my blog, I did read this book before when I was in college. It was the only Tudor book that I read as an assigned book and I do have fond memories reading it, so I decided that I would go back and reread it years later. 

I will say that the title “Complete Story” is a little bit misleading. Meyer tends to focus on Henry VIII (over 300 pages on Henry VIII and the Great Matter) and his children, but he briefly mentions Henry VII and Lady Jane Grey. I feel like if Meyer wanted to have a “complete story” about the Tudors, it should have included these two figures a bit more. I did want more about Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. They were wives of Henry VIII, but they felt like afterthoughts in Meyer’s book. I also wanted more about Elizabeth I’s reign, since she did reign for a long time and without a husband, but her section in this book felt rushed. 

 When Meyer does talk about Henry VIII and the other Tudors, he seems to use the same negative stereotypes that have been used in the past, (Henry VII was a miser, Henry VIII was a monster, Edward was a sick child, Mary as “Bloody Mary”, and Elizabeth was concerned about keeping her youth and her ruthlessness). Of course, this book was written in 2011 and many of these myths have been proven untrue by more modern books about the Tudors. 

This book does not revolve around the popular history tales of the Tudors. Instead, Meyer tends to focus on the political and ecclesiastical issues that dominated the time period, in England and throughout Europe. This is where Meyer shines as he goes into details about these issues, both in regular chapters and in background chapters that help bring this time period to life. Meyer does have a good writing style that helps novices of Tudor history understand the complex time period. 

Overall, I think this was a pretty good book. It was a bit darker than other Tudor books that I have read previously, but the Tudor time period was not all sunshine and roses. There were dark times and really good times that happened during the rule of this rather remarkable dynasty. If you want a decent book that will give you an introduction to this family drama, I recommend you read, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer.  

Tudor Event: Try Me, Good King- Immersive Classical Concert of Tudor Tales and Shakespearean Stories

I was recently informed of an interesting event for those who enjoy music, Tudor tales, and Shakespeare. Thank you, Eleanor Penfold, for letting me know about this event. If you are in London, please consider going to this concert. 

CopyrightBenDurrantLandscapeTry Me, Good King- Immersive Classical Concert of Tudor Tales and Shakespearean Stories

Catch the ‘must-see’ Tudor concert tour (Alternative Classical) coming to London this November. Transposed will be presenting an immersive evening of contemporary classical music with Soprano Eleanor Penfold and Pianist Eleanor Kornas.

Performing in exclusively Tudor and Elizabethan buildings around the UK (York, Cambridge, and London) in specially tailored Tudor dress, Transposed are bringing Tudor history to life in concert.

Their final performance will be at the only remaining Elizabethan Church in London, Old Church in Stoke Newington, on 23rd November.

Try Me, Good King is a powerful performance where modern meets medieval. It offers a collection of contemporary classical works inspired by medieval women both historical and imagined. The programme celebrates a feast of fiery female characters (including the wives of Henry VIII) and includes works by Libby Larsen, Benjamin Britten, William Walton, Joseph Horovitz and more. The evening features some rarely performed Elizabethan love songs as well as a haunting encounter with Lady Macbeth.

Penfold has performed in the BBC Proms as well as the Paris Opera House. ‘This tour is a real celebration of music, Shakespearean theatre and the Tudor period’, said Penfold. ‘Performing within exclusively Tudor buildings in a tailor-made Tudor dress brings audiences the spectacle of the operatic stage or the Globe in completely unique settings’.

Penfold first discovered the song cycle Try Me, Good King during her time at the Royal College of Music in London. ‘I was completely blown away by the power of the work’, said Penfold. ‘The work breathes life into the letters and speeches of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. Far from the well-known list, ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,’ these songs give visceral energy and humanity to each woman’s testament and individual voice.’

Transposed is a dynamic new ensemble exploring the powerful relationship between live performance and the space in which it comes to life. Transposed invites audiences to step into the frame and experience a new approach to classical music.

Join Transposed on 23rd November in London and journey back in time.

Tickets:

Online: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/try-me-good-king-an-immersive-classical-concert-tickets-63971177514?aff=eand/

Full price: £15

Under 18, Students, Disabled: £12.50

Social links:

Website: http://www.Transposed-ensemble.com

Facebook: @TransposedEnsemble

Twitter: @_Transposed

Instagram: @Transposed_ensemble

Book Review: “The Peasants’ Revolting…Crimes” by Terry Deary

47135242In history, we tend to look at people based on their class. There are the upper class (royalty and nobility), the middle class, and the underclasses (peasants). Most of the focus tends to be on the deeds of the upper and middle classes, yet the underclasses had there own struggles, some of which resulted in them committing crimes. What was life like for the criminals of the underclasses? What type of crimes did they commit and what sort of punishments did they suffer once they were caught? Terry Deary decided to explore the crimes of the British peasants throughout history, in his own humorous way, in his latest book, “The Peasants’ Revolting….Crimes”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The description sounded really intriguing and I had never read a book by Terry Deary, so I decided to give it a try.

For those who are not familiar with Terry Deary, he is the author of a popular UK book series for kids about history called, “Horrible Histories”, a funny look at the past to get kids interested in historical figures. I will admit that I had heard people mention “Horrible Histories” and the video series, but I was not sure what to expect when it came to Deary’s writing style. I don’t normally read humourous history books because I love diving large biographies that contain minute details of the lives of historical figures, but I found myself enjoying this entertaining, yet rather unusual, history book.

This book was a delight to dive into. Deary breaks down his book by exploring the underclasses, from the nefarious Normans and the terrible Tudors to the vivacious Victorians and everyone in between. He included tales of arsonists, murderers, pirates, hooligans, beggars, rioters, and more to give readers a full view of crimes committed by those who were part of the underclasses. The topics that Deary discusses in this book can be rather dark and macabre, but it doesn’t have a dark tone to it. Instead, Deary infuses his own sense of humor that makes reading about these horrific crimes enjoyable. There were points while I was reading that I actually laughed out loud, but other points the humor did fall flat for me because it dealt with elements of living in the UK that I didn’t understand.

Deary does jump around a lot when it comes to the chronological order of this book, which did bother me a tad bit because I do prefer reading a historical book in chronological order. Yet Deary does get away with this since it is a book that acts like a comedy sketch instead of a serious study in the crimes of the underclasses. What I did wish Deary would have included in his book is a list of resources on the crimes that he mentioned so that those who were curious could look into the trials themselves, to help promote independent historical studies of the subjects.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Deary combined the study of history with humor to create a light-hearted and fun experience for anyone interested in history. Every once in awhile, it is good to take a break from serious historical studies and read something for fun. If you want a nice, casual read that explores the lives and crimes of peasants, I highly recommend you read, “The Peasants’ Revolting…Crimes” by Terry Deary.

Book Review: “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I” by Erin Lawless

38507412._SY475_In English history, the story of the royal families tends to capture the imagination of those who study it. Full of dynamic tales of kings and queens, and numerous nobles, these are tales that make it into history books and history classes. We tend to focus on the same kings and queens, who have become the popular royals. But what about those who are left in the dust of those popular royals? Who were the royal women who lived in the shadow of the throne that time has forgotten? What were the lives of these women like? It is these women who are the focus of Erin Lawless’s latest book, “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The title of this book initially caught my eye and I really wanted to see what royal women Erin Lawless would be discussing in this particular book.

Lawless has decided to write about thirty different royal women, from Scota to Princess Charlotte, covering several centuries of vivacious women. Some of these women I have encountered in my own studies, like Margaret Pole, Margaret Tudor, Eleanor Cobham, and Mary Grey( who are obviously women from the Tudor dynasty). Others were women that I have never heard of, like Gwellian ferch Gryffydd and Isabella MacDuff, who lead armies for their respective countries, Wales and Scotland respectfully, to fight against the English. Grace O’Malley, also known as Granuaile, who was Queen of Umaill, chieftain of the O Maille clan, and a pirate from Tudor Ireland. And of course, plenty of royal women who married for love and suffered the consequences.

These tales are truly tantalizing, yet they are tragically too short as Lawless only spends a few pages on each woman. Just as you are starting to really get into the story, you move onto another lady and her history. It may seem a little bit unfair, but I think it should be noted that Lawless did this with a rather important purpose behind it. Lawless wanted to give an introduction to the lives of these women, both the fictional tales and the facts so that readers would be intrigued and decide to study more about them. It’s a great strategy to get more people interested in studying the obscure and forgotten royal women in history. Of course, I wanted more details, but that is because I love having a plethora of information about a subject in books that I read, yet in this case, I think the amount of details works in Lawless’s favor.

The one thing that I really wish Lawless did include was a bibliography or a list of books that helped her with her own research when it came to this book. I really like seeing an author’s research in the back of biographies or history books, especially for a book that covers different topics, so that I can have a starting point for my own personal research.

Overall, I found this book incredibly enjoyable. It is certainly a conversation starter for those who discuss the English monarchy. Lawless has a delightful writing style that feels like you are having a casual history conversation with her. This book is small in size, but it could be the stepping stone for new research for those novice historians who want to write about someone who has been stuck in the shadow for centuries. If you would like to read short stories about royal women who have stayed in the background for a long time, I highly recommend you read “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I” by Erin Lawless.