Book Review: “Forest of Secrets” by Fiona Buckley

55873447The year is 1586 and Ursula Blanchard is on a mission to protect Queen Elizabeth I. After returning home from a previous mission, Ursula and her household come into contact with a countrywoman named Etheldreda Hope who has brought a peculiar case to the forefront. In the forest by the village that Etheldreda calls home, there have been strange rituals occurring that include reference to an evil queen. Are these rituals harmless or is there a sinister motive behind the beliefs of the pagans who meet in the forest? Will Ursula and her household solve the case in time? This is the premise of Fiona Buckley’s latest Ursula Blanchard Tudor mystery, “Forest of Secrets”.

I would like to thank Severn House Publishers and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. This was my first time reading a novel by Fiona Buckley and I was intrigued by the plot. I was looking for a new Tudor mystery series after finishing the Shardlake series, so I decided to give this series a try.

What I did not know when I went into this series was that this was part of the Ursula Blanchard series and it was book nineteen. Not the greatest place to start a new series, but I still decided to give it a try. Ursula is an older noblewoman who works for Sir Francis Walsingham to protect Queen Elizabeth I from threats, like Mary Queen of Scots. By her side is her loyal household who are willing to risk their lives to help Ursula solve the cases that she has been assigned by the royal court.

This particular case was given to her by a woman named Etheldreda who has an interesting problem. She has been declared a witch by her village because her mule gave birth to a foal. Because of this, no one believes her when she says that there have been peculiar rituals occurring in the New Forest. She turns to Ursula and her team to help solve this mystery.

Personally, I did have some issues with this novel. It was difficult for me to get attached to the cast of this novel. I know that this was because I started this series very late so I don’t know the relationships between Ursula and her household.

Another issue that I had was that I didn’t feel like this book was set in the Tudor times. It seems weird to say for a novel that is set in 1586, but with the jargon and the descriptions that Buckley included, you could have easily exchanged characters from different time periods and it would have made sense. When I want to read a Tudor novel, I want to feel like I am transported into the past. With this novel, I just felt like I was reading a novel not set in a particular time period.

Overall, I thought this novel was okay. Buckley has obviously written a world that is beloved, but it was difficult to navigate in that world. I think I will need to read the rest of the Ursula Blanchard series before I reread this book. If you are a fan of the Ursula Blanchard series, you will enjoy “Forest of Secrets” by Fiona Buckley.

Book Review: “The York Princesses: The Daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville” by Sarah J. Hodder

54363954The life of a medieval princess was not a life of luxury that we often see in fantasy films. It can be filled with lovely gowns and castles, but it can change in an instance. Take, for example, the lives of the daughters of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. One minute their father was King of England and life was comfortable; the next minute, they were in the sanctuary, hoping and praying that they would be able to be reunited with their father one day. Their lives were planned out for them when their father was alive, but when Edward IV died unexpectedly in April 1483, the princesses found their world taking another turn. We know what happened with the eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, as she married Henry VII and became the first Tudor queen, but what about her sisters? In her second book, “The York Princesses: The Daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville”, Sarah J. Hodder explores what happened to Elizabeth of York and her sisters once the House of York fell and the Tudors became the new dynasty.

I would like to thank Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have read Sarah J. Hodder’s previous book, “The Queen’s Sisters” and I enjoyed it. When I saw that Hodder was going to release this book, I knew that I wanted to read it.

I knew quite a bit about Elizabeth of York as she was the eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville and the wife of Henry VII. Hodder knew that she was the most popular of the princesses so she gave a brief overview of her life and moved onto the sisters who do not get enough attention. For those who are not familiar with this family, the other sisters are Mary, Cecily, Margaret, Anne, Katherine, and Bridget. Although Elizabeth’s sisters did not win a crown, it does not mean that their lives were not exciting.

To make sure that the sisters’ stories were told in an equal manner, Hodder dedicated a chapter to each one of their tales. From the youngest who died shortly after they were born to those who lived to see Henry VIII crowned King of England. The men who they married ranged from those who backed the Yorkist cause, leading to a very awkward family clash, to those who proved extremely loyal to the young Tudor dynasty. The sisters would never share the joys and heartbreaks that Elizabeth experienced as a mother (especially Bridget of York who would become a nun), but they were eyewitnesses to dramatic changes in England’s history.

I found it remarkable that Elizabeth accepted her sisters with open arms after she became Queen of England, even when their husbands disagreed with Henry VII. Elizabeth supported her sisters and their families whenever she could.

Hodder tells the story of strong family bonds that connected these sisters through the good times and the bad. You can tell that Hodder was passionate about the subject she was writing about as this book was very well researched. It is often difficult to tell the stories of siblings of monarchs as their sibling who sits on the throne tends to overshadow them, but Hodder brought the stories of the York princesses into the light. “The York Princesses: The Daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville” by Sarah J. Hodder may be small in size, but it is full of information for those who want to know more about this extraordinary royal family.

Guest Post: “Cecily Neville, Duchess of York: Inspiration for The Queen’s Rival” by Anne O’ Brien

The Queen's RivalToday, I am pleased to welcome Anne O’Brien to my blog to discuss the inspiration for her latest novel, The Queen’s Rival. I would like to thank Anne O’Brien and The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to be part of this blog tour. 

In past years I have written about a variety of medieval women, either royal or attached to the Court.  I enjoy investigating how these women played a role in the political manoeuvrings of their day.  Although we so rarely hear the voices of these women, since they lived in a man’s world and the history was invariably written by men, their involvement was often considerable and they deserve our interest.

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is one of the most appealing women of English medieval history, worthy of celebration.  Most medieval women verge towards the invisible, a two-dimensional entity without character or apparent influence; Cecily Neville is an exception.  The Wars of the Roses were both vast in scope and complex in the range of family connections.  So was Cecily’s own Neville family with its royal blood inherited through their mother Joan, Countess of Westmoreland, daughter of John of Gaunt. Cecily demanded in a regal fashion that she be allowed to speak for herself.  It was a challenge that lured me to become involved; I accepted the challenge and wrote about her. 

Without a doubt, Cecily was a remarkable woman, living for eighty years through five reigns, interacting with a vast dramatis personae of famous, infamous, and influential characters in these tumultuous years.  She was the mother of two kings, Edward IV and Richard III, and  grandmother to a Queen Consort, Elizabeth of York, who stepped across the divide between York and Lancaster and married King Henry VII.

On the surface, this would seem to be a life bringing Cecily immense satisfaction and personal achievement, but it was also a life of tragedy.  Cecily outlived all but two of her twelve children, both daughters, some dying in infancy, others meeting terrible ends.  George, Duke of Clarence, was executed for treason, on the orders of his brother King Edward, in the Tower of London.  Richard III died on the battlefield at Bosworth; Edmund of Rutland met his end in an act of revenge after the Battle of Wakefield.  What heartbreak this must have inflicted on her, added to the death of her husband, Richard, Duke of York, at Wakefield.

Cecily’s life also witnessed its share of scandal.  The rumour of her liaison with the common archer Blaybourne, thus prompting the blot of illegitimacy against King  Edward IV, was too valuable a rumour to ignore for those such as the Earl of Warwick and Duke of Clarence who would willingly depose King Edward.  Was the scandal true?  Unlikely, but the widespread gossip must be faced.  How difficult for a woman of Cecily’s pride to accept that her own family would dishonour her reputation.

Would such tragedy obliterate the strength of Cecily’s character?  Cecily worked tirelessly for the House of York. She stood by her children as far as it was possible, even George of Clarence, trying to bring him back into the Yorkist fold.  In Ludlow, abandoned by her husband, Cecily faced a leaderless Lancastrian army and howling mob intent on plundering the town. She proved to be a woman of great courage.  As old age approached, she devoted herself to a life of duty and formidable piety almost worthy of the life of a nun, a life of loyalty to the family she had always supported.

Cecily, Duchess of York, was the doyenne of late medieval history, the Queen who was never crowned.  It would have been unforgivable of me to leave her out of my pantheon of medieval ‘heroines’. 

The Queen's Rival final version(Blurb)

England, 1459. 

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandons her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

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Anne O'Brien promo picAuthor Bio

Anne O’Brien

Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.

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Book Review: “The Red Prince: The Life of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster” by Helen Carr

55710502When one studies the history of the English monarchy, we tend to consider those who ruled and those who advised the ruler as significant characters. We rarely study the family members of the monarch who did not win the right to rule the kingdom. Yet, they are often either extremely loyal or they desire the crown with such ferocity that they rebel against their own family. It seems like a rather cruel world, but that was the life of a medieval monarch. True loyalty for one’s family was a rare feat. One man showed the depth of his loyalty to his family, even when the people despised him. He was the son of King Edward III, the brother of the famous Black Prince, the uncle of King Richard II, and the father of Henry Bolingbroke who would become King Henry IV. Gaunt’s reputation and legacy have been marred by his wealth and the role that he played with the Peasants’ Revolt, but was he such a bad person? In Helen Carr’s brilliant debut biography, “The Red Prince: The Life of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster”, she looks to uncover the truth about the man behind the throne and why he never desired the crown for himself.

Carr has chosen to call John of Gaunt “The Red Prince”, which makes a lot of sense for someone who understands the significance of his legacy in history. His son by his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, King Henry IV, was the first Lancastrian King of England. Obviously, they were represented by the red rose in the rather poetic sounding Wars of the Roses in the 15th century and their half-siblings, the Beauforts (who were descended from the children of John’s third wife and former mistress Katherine Swynford) would continue the legacy in their own way. There would be no Lancastrian Kings of England or Wars of the Roses or Tudor dynasty without John of Gaunt.

I am getting a little ahead of myself. After all, during John of Gaunt’s lifetime, none of this happened. He was just the son of Edward III and the brother of the Black Prince when he earned the title of the first Duke of Lancaster. He earned his reputation as a loyal soldier fighting alongside his brother and father in the conflict with France that would be known in history as the Hundred Years’ War. His loyalty to his brother and father and his bravery as a knight was legendary. He gained vast amounts of wealth from his marriages to Blanche of Lancaster and Constance of Castile. He was a patron of the arts, especially to Geoffrey Chaucer, and championed those who wanted to challenge the way religion was understood during the 14th century.

He had everything he could ever want until his world came crashing down around him. The Black Prince died of illness and his father King Edward III would soon follow, leaving the throne to his nephew King Richard II. To say things got off to a rocky start would be an understatement as John of Gaunt and other government officials were accused of raising taxes so high that it triggered what we know as the Peasants’ Revolt. On top of all of the problems in England, John of Gaunt decided to become King of Castile with his wife Constance. John of Gaunt led a life full of adventure, risks, and above all, loyalty to his family.

Carr does a magnificent job of bringing Gaunt’s life into focus. So much of his reputation has been tainted over time, but Carr did not shy away from the challenge. This is one of the best biographies that I have read this year so far. John of Gaunt deserved to have his story retold and Helen Carr was the perfect historian to tell his story for a newer generation. Carr’s writing style is engaging with meticulous attention to detail. This is a gorgeous debut biography and I cannot wait to see what Helen Carr will write next. If you want to read a biography about the founder of the Lancastrian dynasty, “The Red Prince: The Life of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster” by Helen Carr is a must-read.

Book Review: “Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife” by Alison Weir

34020934._SY475_A woman twice widowed with no children of her own has the opportunity to choose who she will marry next. Will she marry the man of her dreams or marry the man who has been married numerous times and has killed two of his wives already? It seems like a no-brainer who she should choose, but the man she married for her third marriage was the man who was married numerous times before simply because he is the notorious King Henry VIII and you do not disobey the king. However, his last wife, Katharine Parr, is willing to fight for the religious reforms and her stepchildren that she loves dearly. In the last book of the Six Tudor Queens series, “Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife”, Alison Weir takes her readers on an extraordinary journey to explore who this brave woman was and why she is the one who survived Henry’s last days.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House/ Ballantine Books for sending me a copy of this novel. I have enjoyed the Six Tudor Queens series so far and I was looking forward to reading the last book. Like many people, I know what happened with Katharine during her marriage to Henry VIII and her fourth marriage to Thomas Seymour, but I am not well informed when it comes to her first two marriages. Katharine Parr has been my favorite wife of King Henry VIII for a while now and I wanted to read a novel about her life, to see what Weir’s interpretation of her life story would be like.

Katharine Parr’s story begins with her childhood and her connection with her family. It was unique to see how her childhood helped shaped what type of queen she would become as her mother pushed hard for her daughters to be well educated. Katharine’s first husband, Sir Edward Burgh, was just a boy who followed whatever his father, Sir Thomas Burgh, asked him to do. I think Weir has a unique spin on Katharine’s life with Edward Burgh and their marriage, but it did not last long as Edward Burgh would die in 1533.

Katharine’s second husband, John Neville 3rd Baron Latimer, was her longest marriage. Although they had no children of their own, like Katharine’s marriage to Edward Burgh, it was a happy relationship. They may have differed when it came to their views on religion, but they did seem to love each other. Their happy household was thrown asunder when the Pilgrimage of Grace and Robert Aske knocked on their door and asked for help. There was a real sense of danger during this episode and the bravery that Katharine showed was nothing short of astounding.

When John died, Katharine was left with a choice of who her third husband would be; either the ailing Henry VIII or the suave and debonair Thomas Seymour who deeply loved Katharine. Katharine’s choice was Henry VIII who she hoped she could sway to accept the religious reforms that she believed in strongly. She developed a friendship with the king and his children, but she was still in love with Thomas Seymour. She wrote books during this time that gave her comfort during the difficult times when the court tried to attack her for what she believed and wanted to pit her against Henry. In the end, love triumphed over sorrow and Katharine survived to live with her beloved until the end of her days.

I found this book an absolute treat to read. As someone who loves Katharine Parr and her story, this novel just made me love her even more. The one problem that I had was actually with the spelling of her name as Weir spelled it a bit differently than what I am used to, but it was really a minor detail. I am a bit sad that this is the last book in this wonderful series, but this book was worth the wait.

This novel was a delight to read. It was full of action and intrigue, intense love, and immense sorrow. Katharine was one remarkable woman, just like every wife of Henry VIII Weir has written about in this marvelous series. “Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife” by Alison Weir is a masterpiece in historical fiction and the perfect conclusion to the Six Tudor Queens series that will leave readers satisfied.

Guest Post: “Forsaking All Other” Excerpt by Catherine Meyrick

Forsaking All Other. Tour BannerpngToday, it is my pleasure to welcome Catherine Meyrick to my blog to share an excerpt from her novel, “Forsaking All Other”. I would like to thank Catherine Meyrick and The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to take part in this blog tour. 

Excerpt

Wyard studied Lucy Torrington. Was this the manner of woman his mother thought would suit him best? She was well-dowered and, no doubt, malleable. But she was not to his taste, insipid was probably the best way to describe her. It had been a mistake to allow Eloise to talk him into coming here, he should have gone straight to Bucklings Hall.

He glanced at Bess Stoughton. Of all the women present she was the most appealing. Despite his initial misgivings, she seemed honest and sensible. She was not predatory or flirtatious, nothing like that bold piece who had tried to get him to dance last night. Perhaps Bess Stoughton’s relationship with that serving man was some sort of protection—life could be difficult for a widow. And she looked at him with neither pity nor revulsion.

‘You know Mistress Torrington well?’

‘As well as any. Lucy is a good and gentle girl who deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.’

‘Who does not?’

Her eyelashes fluttered as if surprised at his comment. ‘Lucy would bloom best married to someone who loved her.’

‘Few have that blessing. Kindness and respect are the best that most of us can hope for.’

She bit her lip, frowning. ‘Are you considering marrying Lucy?’

Wyard shrugged, ‘She is one of a number of young women my mother thinks would make a suitable bride.’ He gave a wry smile. ‘It may be more accurate to say would make a suitable good-daughter.’

‘Do you have a list of requirements—number of hands high, girth, teeth, temperament? A list such as you would take to a horse market.’

It sounded ridiculous the way she described it. He gave a sudden bark of laughter. ‘In truth, I have no list.’

‘Do you always do as your mother wishes?’

‘Rarely, but it is probably time I married and she fears that, left to my own devices, I will either never marry or choose someone highly unsuitable.’

‘Who would be unsuitable?’

‘From my mother’s position, someone without money or connections.’

‘And from your own?’

‘I have not thought so far.’ If you could not marry the best, the most loving woman you had ever met, it really did not matter.

‘Well you should. Can you imagine what it is like for a woman married to a man who is forcing himself to his duty, who does not like her company or her person, who married her simply because his mother or his father told him to?’

He had never thought of it from a woman’s point of view. ‘Was your own marriage like that?’

‘You lack courtesy, Master Wyard.’

‘But you sound as if you speak from experience.’

‘That is none of your business,’ she snapped, colour flooding her cheeks. ‘If I were a man, if I had your freedom, I would do exactly as I pleased. I would never accept a bride who had been bundled up for me by my mother.’ She glared at him, ‘Now, if you will excuse me.’ She swept away towards the group of singers, her back straight and her head held high.

Wyard wanted to stop her, to explain it was never so easy. He watched her go, wondering why he had never imagined he could truly do as he wished.

Forsaking All Other by Catherine Meyrick(Blurb)

England, 1585.

Bess Stoughton, waiting woman to the well-connected Lady Allingbourne, has discovered that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and wrests from her father a year’s grace to find a husband more to her liking.

Edmund Wyard, a taciturn and scarred veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, is attempting to ignore the pressure from his family to find a suitable wife as he prepares to join the Earl of Leicester’s army in the Netherlands.

Although Bess and Edmund are drawn to each other, they are aware that they can have nothing more than friendship. Bess knows that Edmund’s wealth and family connections place him beyond her reach. And Edmund, with his well-honed sense of duty, has never considered that he could follow his own wishes.

With England on the brink of war and fear of Catholic plots extending even into Lady Allingbourne’s household, time is running out for both of them.

Love is no game for women. The price is far too high.

 

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Catherine MeyrickAuthor Bio:

Catherine Meyrick

Catherine Meyrick is a writer of historical fiction with a particular love of Elizabethan England. Her stories weave fictional characters into the gaps within the historical record – tales of ordinary people who are very much men and women of their time, yet in so many ways are like us today. These are people with the same hopes and longings as we have to find both love and their own place in a troubled world.

Catherine grew up in regional Victoria, but has lived all her adult life in Melbourne, Australia. Until recently she worked as a customer service librarian at her local library. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also an obsessive genealogist. When not writing, reading and researching, Catherine enjoys gardening, the cinema and music of all sorts from early music and classical to folk and country and western and, not least of all, taking photos of the family cat to post on Instagram.

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Book Review: “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England” by Ruth Goodman

38212150._SY475_In many books about the different mannerisms and routines of different dynasties, we tend to see how the average person lived in the most prim and proper manner. How they avoided trouble at all costs to provide the best life that they could for their families. Yet, we know that there were those who did not adhere to the rules. They chose to rebel against the natural way of life. Every social echelon had their own rule-breakers, but what were these rules that they chose to break? How are these troublemakers of the past similar and different from our modern-day rebels? Famed experimental archeologist and historian Ruth Goodman takes her readers on a journey through the Elizabethan and the early Stuart eras to show how the drunkards, thieves, and knaves made a name for themselves. The name of this rather imaginative book is “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England: A Guide for Knaves, Fools, Harlots, Cuckolds, Drunkards, Liars, Thieves, and Braggarts”.

I have enjoyed Ruth Goodman’s books in the past and her knowledge about how those from different periods of history lived. When I saw this particular title on the shelf at my local bookstore, I knew I wanted to read it. The title was so compelling to me as it seems to break the mold of what normal “How to Live in (certain time period)” books are supposed to be like.

Goodman’s structure for this book is very unique. She takes a look at different aspects which made a person a lawbreaker in the Elizabethan and Stuart eras. Things like insulting language, gestures that could be taken out of context, the way someone mimicked their betters in society, drinking too much or too little, and their cleanliness. To understand why certain behaviors were considered bad during these times, Goodman examines what was deemed acceptable in every level of society. Some of the rules and regulations seem rather self-explanatory, while others will be a bit foreign for modern readers.

What makes this book truly special is Goodman’s experiences with the different mannerisms. As an experimental archeologist, Goodman has practiced as much as she could to give the readers a bit more depth to what they are studying. It is one thing to study the actions of those who lived the past, but to act out those actions gives you a new appreciation of the time period you are studying. I actually took my time to copy the different bows and walks that Goodman outlined, which felt a bit awkward at first, but it gave me a different level of respect for the past.

The one problem that I had with this book is with the US title of this book. It is a bit misleading since it is not solely about Elizabethan England. It does dive into the complex nature of the Stuart dynasty, including the English Civil War between the Roundheads (the Parliamentarians) and the Cavaliers (the Royalists). As someone who mainly stays with medieval and Tudor England, I did have to take my time when Goodman mentioned the Stuarts to make sure I understood fully the transition from the Elizabethans in the way of mannerisms.

I found this book quirky, educational, and just pure fun to read. It’s one of those books that you can tell Goodman has wanted to write for a very long time. Goodman captures her audience’s attention with such an engaging writing style and vivid details. It is a wonderfully imaginative read for academics and novices alike. If you want to know what could get you into trouble in the past, check out Ruth Goodman’s latest nonfiction triumph, “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England”.

Book Review: “Revelations” by Mary Sharratt

53968576._SY475_Margery Kempe, the only daughter of the mayor of Bishop’s Lynn, England has made a tough decision in 1413. She has decided to leave her home, her husband, and her fourteen children to go on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem as a way to honor her late father’s dying wishes. As she begins her journey, she meets the famous anchoress Julian of Norwich, who entrusts Margery with an important mission. She gives Margery her book Revelations of Divine Love and tells her to spread her message throughout the world in secret. Margery’s pilgrimage, her connection to Julian of Norwich, and the aftermath of her journey are intricately woven together in Mary Sharratt’s stunning novel, “Revelations”.

I would like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I read the description of this novel, I was intrigued. I have heard the names Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich floating around in recent years, but I sadly knew nothing about their life stories. I hoped that this novel would shed some light on both women and why they are remembered in such high regard today.

Sharratt’s novel is based on the research of historians, such as Dr. Janina Ramirez, who have argued that Margery Kempe knew Julian of Norwich and that Julian gave Margery her precious book Revelations of Divine Love. Margery is no ordinary woman as she has visions that will guide her to the path in which she believes God has chosen for her.

We begin with Margery as a young maiden, who has no desire to marry the man that her family has told her to marry. Reluctantly, she does marry John Kempe and they have fourteen children together. It is during the birth of her fourteenth child, Margery almost dies and so she decided to make a vow of celibacy, which her husband reluctantly agrees to. It was not until her father’s death that Margery chooses to fulfill his dream for her, to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Since John chose not to go on pilgrimage with his wife, she decides to don the clothes of a bride of Christ, which means to dress all in white as a virgin.

Many believe that Margery’s visions, her sudden bursts of tears, and her choice to leave her family make her an evil woman. Except for Julian of Norwich, the famed anchoress, and someone who understood Margery’s struggles. Since Julian could not walk away from her duty as an anchoress to explore the world, she gave Margery the treacherous task of carrying her book throughout the world, giving it only those scholars who could be trusted with the knowledge of this scandalous text.

Margery’s journey to discover who she was meant to be is deep and riveting. It showed how even in the early 1400s, there was a struggle between different views of Christianity. From women accused of preaching in the streets to those accused of Lollardy, there was a real sense of danger and death for those who did not follow the status quo. Sharratt shows the dangers that a woman faced when she traveled on pilgrimage alone, but she also showed how deep Margery’s faith was and how willing she was to make sure that her message was heard. If I did have a small concern, it would be that I wish Sharratt delved into the writing of Margery Kempe’s autobiography, The Book of Margery Kempe.

As someone who has never read anything about Julian of Norwich or Margery Kempe, I found this novel enchanting. This was the first novel that I have read by Mary Sharratt and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a delightful escape into the past and the life of a friendship and a pilgrimage that would change the life of Margery Kempe forever. If this sounds intriguing to you, check out “Revelations” by Mary Sharratt.

Guest Post: “Life at the Tudor Court” by Karen Heenan

I am pleased to welcome Karen Heenan to my blog today to discuss life at the Tudor Court. This is part of the book tour to promote Karen Heenan’s book, “Songbird (The Tudor Court, book 1). Thank you The Coffee Pot Book Club and Karen Heenan for allowing me to participate in this tour. 

“Bess!”

The voice, close to my ear, startled me awake. I’m alone in the bed, and the small attic room shared by the female members of the music is empty but for Flora and one other girl. They are nearly dressed—I’m late. Bolting out of bed, I asked Flora, “Why didn’t you wake me?”

She shrugged. “The rest of us get up when Mistress Edith calls.” Relenting, she said, “Here, I’ll help you.”

I pulled my nightdress over my head and washed quickly at the basin. Flora handed me my shift, then helped lace my kirtle. My hair was braided for sleeping, so I pinned it into a hasty knot and settled a white linen coif over it, hoping I wouldn’t run into Nick Hawkins when I looked so untidy.

Breakfast was served in the great hall, which was filled with trestle tables and benches. Servants brought out great bowls of steaming pottage and pitchers of ale, and there were loaves of bread set along the length of the table, for us to cut with our knives.

When the trenchers have been cleared, and the remaining food was taken away for manners—to feed the beggars at the gate—we make out way to the chapel. I let my mind drift during mass until the choir begins to sing. It is impossible not to pay attention to every sound, every note—my dream, when I first arrived, had been to sing in the choir, but girls were not permitted to offer their voices to God. No one had still given me a good explanation as to why.

If we were at Greenwich—where we would travel in the morning, the king had decided to move from Westminster in London—we could also attend the local church, St. Nicholas. Their choir was inferior, but it was pleasing to get outside the palace. The king had less need of us at Greenwich than Westminster, where we were held constantly within call.

Once mass was done, I was free to do what I liked until dinner. Flora had gone off with friends, so I went up to the practice rooms. Someone might be willing to play for me, but if not, I would sing along. If I was fortunate, Tom would be there. He was my dearest friend, and a talented lutenist and composer, though he would blush and deny that his songs are any good.

Someday it would be known, and his songs would be sung all over the court, and perhaps all over England.

He was there, supervising the packing of the many musical instruments which would be transported to Greenwich, along with all the nobles and a good number of the court servants, and all their varied possessions.

 “Do you want me to play for you?” he asked, swaddling a lute in soft wrappings like a babe. His own instrument, I knew, would travel in his grasp; Tom would not trust it to the rough men who loaded the carts and barges for the trip between palaces.

“I can wait.” I leaned against the window, watching the flurry of activity below. In addition to the carts which would start this day so that things might be in place when King Henry stepped off his barge on the morrow, there were the usual clusters of men and horses, servants scurrying across the courtyard on some errand or another, and, to my delight, a certain gentleman atop a shining black horse. 

I let my eyes rest on him. A man such as Nick Hawkins would never pay any mind to a minstrel girl, no matter how lovely my voice. The fact that he had spoken to me on occasion proved nothing. He was handsome—beautiful, really—and powerful, a friend of the king. A man who could have any woman in the kingdom, save the queen. 

He would never look at me.

I turned to Tom, smiling. He would always look at me, always see me for who I was. But it wasn’t the same, and though I loved him as a friend and a brother, I did not think of him as I drifted off to sleep.

“What will you have me play?” Tom settled on a stool with his instrument on his lap, the light from the narrow window falling on his fair hair. “Bess?”

“Sorry.” I shook away my fancies. “We are to perform this evening for the French ambassador and his party.” 

“At least we will have time to eat.” He tuned the lute carefully. “And we will be in the gallery, so you can watch the gathering to your heart’s content.”

I ignored his words, knowing he was teasing. I did like singing from the gallery so I could watch the crowd, and not just because of Nick. It was more impressive, somehow, from above. Crowded in the narrow gallery with the other minstrels, with the horns and drums and shawms, and Tom’s lute singing a sure line beneath for me to follow, I was at peace and could watch the dancers and pretend I was one of them.

A gathering for the French ambassador was sure to run late; I should go back to the girls’ chamber and pack my things for the morning so that when we were done, I could just fall into bed. “Are you happy about going to Greenwich?”

“What does it matter?” he asked. Seeing my expression, he said, “I am if you must know. The stables are closer to the palace.”

Tom loved horses, and though our indoor lives gave us little contact with the beasts, when we were at Greenwich or visiting the cardinal at Hampton Court, he always found his way to the stables. I was glad he was happy, but prolonged time in the stables made me sneeze, and I preferred to walk in the gardens if I was to take my scant free time outdoors.

Other minstrels came in and we went over our evening’s program until the bells chimed eleven; then we all streamed downstairs to dinner. I stayed with Tom; even if the others left us after the meal, we would probably sing and play together until it was time to get ready for the evening’s entertainment. Despite my dreams of greater things, singing with him was when I was happiest, and when I knew that my father had done the right thing. 

I belonged in this place.

 Several hours later, changed into a green gown and clean coif, with my few things packed into a small chest for the morning, I reassembled with other members of the Music in the gallery overlooking the presence-chamber. The vast room was hung on all sides with vivid tapestries depicting scenes both secular and religious, interspersed with gold and silver plate that reflected the hundreds of candles lighting the space.

The king was all aglitter himself, clad head-to-toe in cloth of gold studded with diamonds and pearls. His queen, Katherine, was dressed more soberly, though her fabrics were equally rich. They sat on their thrones under the gold cloth of state, speaking quietly, until the music started. Then the king stopped, mid-sentence, his ear cocked toward the gallery. How fortunate that Tom had instructed the others to begin with one of Henry’s own songs. 

He leaned over to the French ambassador, who stood near the throne, and gestured toward us. I imagined he was telling the Frenchman that he’d written the song—though he praised us lavishly, it was much more likely that he was taking credit for the song.

I sang while the people below mingled and preened, showing off their finery for the king and each other. When the dancing started, I would step back; my voice did not lend itself to the stately pavanes which began the dancing each evening. Those were for the musicians—Tom, Harry, and Gilbert would play their instruments and the courtiers would parade slowly down the length of the room, bowing and circling, flirting with their eyes and their hands, the only parts of their bodies which touched during the dance.

King Henry began the dancing, leading Queen Katherine down from the dais and onto the floor. The jeweled crowd stepped back to give them room, and they traversed the floor alone, the focus of all eyes before the king raised his hand and called for everyone to join him. Then the courtiers paired off, men swiftly bowing before ladies and taking their chosen partner to join the king. 

Nick was there, I noticed almost immediately. He danced with the prettiest women, and once arrived before a woman at the same time as King Henry, bowing deeply and giving way to his monarch, who would dance until dawn if allowed. The queen would retire early, taking her women, though some of them crept back after Her Majesty had been settled for the night.

It was after midnight when the chamber finally began to empty. I sipped from the ale which had been set aside for us; my throat was dry from singing for hours in the stuffy gallery. Tom was yawning behind his hand, and several of the other looked as though they were asleep on their feet. I was still wide awake, but perhaps it was excitement: it was spring, and tomorrow we would journey to Greenwich, where I had begun my life with the Tudor court.

[Illustration #1 – Palace of Westminster, Wikipedia]

[Illustration #2 – Minstrels, Nikki Piggott, photographer, used w/permission]

[Illustration #3 – Greenwich Palace, Wikipedia]

Blurb

She has the voice of an angel…

But one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty.

After her father sells her to Henry VIII, ten-year-old Bess builds a new life as a royal minstrel, and earns the nickname “the king’s songbird.” 

She comes of age in the dangerous Tudor court, where the stakes are always high, and where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician.

Her world has only one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when Bess intrigues with Anne Boleyn and strains against the restrictions of life at court, will she discover that the biggest risk of all is listening to her own stubborn heart?

Buy Links:

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Narrated by Jennifer Summerfield

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Author Bio

Karen Heenan

Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams—which include gardening, sewing, traveling, and, of course, lots of writing.

She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is always hard at work on her next book.

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Guest Post: “A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, The Aragon Years” Excerpt by Judith Arnopp

I am pleased to welcome Judith Arnopp to my blog today to share an excerpt from her latest novel, “A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, The Aragon Years”. Thank you, The Coffee Pot Book Club and Judith Arnopp for allowing me to host a spot on this blog tour. 

Excerpt

1505 – Henry is informed by his father that he must withdraw from his betrothal to Catherine of Aragon

Most of my companions, the older ones at least, have tasted the pleasures of women but I have no desire to dally with whores. Instead, when the curtains are drawn about my bed at night, I think of Catalina and the delights we will one day enjoy. Since there are no tutors to instruct me on such matters, I listen to the tales my friends tell of their conquests. The prospect of bedding my future wife fills me with a mix of excitement and terror. 

And then, on the eve of my fourteenth birthday, the king informs me that I must make a formal protest against the union with Spain.

“Why?” I exclaim. “I have no wish to protest against it!”

Father rubs his nose, dabs it with his kerchief, rolls it into a ball, and glares at me.

“Your wishes are of no moment. This is politics. You will do as you are told.”

I am furious but I know better than to argue. It would do me no good. I can feel my ears growing red with resentment. I clench my teeth until I hear my jaw crack. Oblivious to my feelings, Father shuffles through the papers on his desk, picks one up, and reads aloud the instruction he has written there.

“You must declare, before witnesses, that the agreement was made when you were a minor and now you reach puberty you will not ratify the contract but denounce it as null and void. Your words will be set in writing and then signed and witnessed by six men.

Protestations tumble in my mind but I cannot voice them. When he dismisses me with a flick of his fingers, I bow perfunctorily, turn on my heel, and quit the room. I find Brandon on the tennis court, loudly protesting the score while his opponent, Guildford, stands with his hands on his hips.

“You are wrong, Brandon, the point is mine. Isn’t that so?” 

He turns to the others, who are lounging nearby. Having only been half attending, they shrug and shake their heads noncommittally.

“My Lord Prince,” Brandon, noticing my arrival, turns for my support. “You witnessed it, did you not? The point was mine. Back me up, Sir.”

I pick up a racket, idly test it in my hand, and emitting a string of curses, hurl it across the court. Silence falls upon the company.

“What ails you, Sir?”

Brandon is the only one brave enough to come forward. He reaches out, his hand heavy on my shoulder. There are few men I allow to touch me. At the back of my mind, I am aware that Brandon is merely proving to others how high he stands in my regard. 

I should shrug him off, but I don’t.

“Walk with me,” I mutter between my teeth and then turn away, almost falling over Beau who dogs my every footstep.

“Out of my way!” I scream and he cowers from me, tail between his legs.

Tossing his racket to Thomas Kyvet, Brandon follows me.

“Henry, wait,” he calls, and I slow my step until he has caught up.

“What has happened?”

“My accursed father.” 

I am so angry, I can hardly speak; my lips feel tight against my teeth, my head pounds with repressed fury. “He demands that I denounce my union with Catalina.”

I stop, rub my hands across my face, the blood thundering in my ears. 

“I don’t know if I am angry because I have lost her, or because I am so sick of being told what I must do. What will Catalina think? What will happen to her?”

He shrugs. “In all probability, she will be sent home to Spain.”

I think of her leaving, imagine her sad little figure boarding ship for the perilous journey to her homeland. For four years she has lived at the mercy of my father’s generosity which, as we all know, is greatly lacking, and now is to be sent home like a misdirected package.

“Sometimes I feel this … this limbo will never end, and I will spend my whole life under my father’s jurisdiction.”

He flings a brotherly arm about me and I am suddenly grateful to have a friend. He speaks quietly, with feeling and I struggle not to weep like a woman.

“We are all told what to do by our fathers, Henry, and we are much alike you and me. I am also the second son. Had my brother not died, I’d like as not be languishing in the country, wed too young to some red-cheeked matron yet here I am, your honoured servant. One day, you will be king, and I will still be at your side. The future will soon be ours, and the time for following orders will be done with.”

Blurb

‘A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’

On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.

On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Catalina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys. 

But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished.

Christendom mocks the virile prince. Catalina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter and a baseborn son.

He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Catalina refuses to step aside.

As their relationship founders, his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.

A Matter of Conscience: the Aragon Years offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man-made dangerous by his own impossible expectation.

Buy Links:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08W48QQ9C

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Matter-Conscience-Henry-Aragon-Years-ebook/dp/B08W48QQ9C

Author Bio:

Judith Arnopp

A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies.

She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women but more recently is writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.

Her novels include:

A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years 

The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England

Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace

The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Beaufort Woman: Book two of The Beaufort Chronicle

The King’s Mother: Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry VIII

A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York

Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn

The Song of Heledd

The Forest Dwellers

Peaceweaver

Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and makes historical garments both for the group and others. She is not professionally trained but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic-looking, if not strictly HA, clothing. You can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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