Book Review: “The Sunne in Splendour” by Sharon Kay Penman

1321064._SY475_A banner decorated with three suns flaps in the wind on the field of battle. The young man behind this emblem is Edward, Earl of March, whose father Richard Duke of York and brother Edmund Earl of Rutland were tragically slain at the Battle of Wakefield. His younger brothers, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, will help Edward carry their father’s cause for the family of York to rule England. When loyalty is questioned even among family members, only one man would truly stand behind Edward until the bitter end. That man would be Richard Duke of Gloucester, or as we know him today, the much-maligned King Richard III. He is often viewed as a treacherous child-killer who coveted the throne after Edward IV’s death, but is that accurately portraying the last Plantagenet king? Who was the real King Richard III? In her magnum opus, “The Sunne in Splendour,” Sharon Kay Penman presents her case for Richard III as a man betrayed, both in life and after his death.

I want to thank everyone who has recommended this book to me in the past. I know that Sharon Kay Penman recently passed away, and I felt that the only way to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field this year was to read this novel. I knew that it was well beloved in the Ricardian and the Wars of the Roses communities, so I wanted to see what made this novel so memorable.

Penman chooses to tell this story through multiple points of view, which, contrary to popular belief, works cohesively and allows each character to have their voice. We are introduced to Richard as a young boy before his father and Edmund die in battle. He is a timid child who witnesses death and destruction all around him and is trying to process everything. We see him grow from a scared child to a warrior duke and later into a king who had to deal with betrayal and heartache around every corner.

What Penman does brilliantly is how she writes her characters to make them so realistic that you forget that you are reading a novel. She fleshes out the conflicts exceptionally well, like the struggle between the brother Richard, George Duke of Clarence, and Edward IV. The love between Richard and his bride Anne Neville is pure and wholesome. The loyalty between Richard and Edward IV and towards Edward’s children, especially the princes in the tower is undeniable. Then there is the tension between the brothers and their cousin Richard Earl of Warwick trying to establish this new York dynasty. And what would a series of wars be without those fighting to keep their rule, which was the Lancastrians led by the ferocious Margaret of Anjou. It felt like I was being introduced to a new side of the Yorkist cause when I read this novel.

The action scenes are intense, and the betrayals hit harder than what you usually read in nonfiction books about the Wars of the Roses. This novel is truly a love letter to this period and a brilliant work of literature. I am not sure why I waited so long to read this masterpiece, but I am glad I finally read it. If you want an exceptional novel about the Wars of the Roses and Richard III, “The Sunne in Splendour” by Sharon Kay Penman is a must-read.

Book Review: “Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Founding an Empire” by Matthew Lewis

50419849If you go to Fontevrault Abbey in France, you will find two rather extraordinary tombs. These tombs belong to King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first King, Queen of the Plantagenet Dynasty, and the Angevin Empire. Their effigies tell us a lot about the couple that was buried side by side. The husband was restless; his model shows him ready to take action at any moment, with his crown upon his head and a scepter in his hand. His queen lays beside him, reading an unknown book. They seem to be prepared to watch over their kingdom and their family even beyond the grave. Those who know English history recognize their names and understand the family drama behind the scenes. We think we know the truth about Henry and Eleanor, but is there more to their story and their feuding family? In Matthew Lewis’s latest dual biography, “Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Founding an Empire,” he explores the relationship between this dynamic king and queen and how it shaped European and English history forever.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Matthew Lewis’s previous books, and when I heard about this one, I was pleasantly surprised. There is just something so intriguing about the lives of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and I could not wait to see how he would approach this famous couple.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was a grand heiress of France who attracted the young French King Louis VII; they would eventually marry and take on the monumental task of protecting French territories and embark on the 2nd Crusade. Eleanor showed her strength and resilience during the Crusade as rumors tried hard to tarnish her good name. Unfortunately, her marriage did not last long as the couple realized that they would never have a male heir.

As soon as they divorced, Eleanor fell in love with a young noble who was the son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey Duke of Anjou, Henry Plantagenet. Empress Matilda fought hard against her cousin King Stephen for Henry to become Stephen’s heir during The Anarchy. Henry and Matilda would prevail, allowing Henry and Eleanor to become King and Queen of England after Stephen’s death.

It was when Henry became a father when troubles began to arise. His sons, Henry the Younger, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, Richard, and John, would be a thorn at his side as they fought against each other and Henry for power. Eleanor was woefully caught in the middle as she strived to do what was best for her sons, even if it pitted her against her beloved husband. To top it all off, Henry had to deal with a man who he felt was right to help him reign in the power of the Church; Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. The disastrous end to their friendship would be the lowest point in Henry’s reign.

Lewis gives his readers a brand new perspective on the relationship between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although I knew this story rather well before reading this biography, I still found myself entranced by Lewis’s narrative with scrupulous attention to detail. I thought I knew the nature of their relationship, but I was wrong. If you want a biography that is elegant while it challenges your views on the first Plantaganet couple, I highly suggest you read “Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Founding an Empire” by Matthew Lewis.

Book Review: “A Wider World” by Karen Heenan

56860771._SY475_The year is 1558, and Queen Mary I is dying. England is engaged in a war between the Reformation and Catholicism. Caught in the middle is an older man named Robin Lewis, who is being taken to London to face his death as a heretic. Fearful that his story may never be told, Robin Lewis tells his captor his tale through the reigns of three Tudor rulers, Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I. Can his story save his life from certain destruction, or is Robin doomed for all eternity? This is the premise of Karen Heenan’s second book in The Tudor Court series, “A Wider World.”

I want to thank Karen Heenan for sending me a copy of this book. I really enjoyed her first novel, “Songbird,” so I was looking forward to seeing where Heenan would take the series.

We have met Robin Lewis in “Songbird” as the rival of Bess and the stuck-up kid in Music. We don’t see much of his story in the first novel. Heenan has decided to take this side character that is a bit polarizing and write a novel about his life, which I love.

It is a bold choice to start a novel with the protagonist being sentenced to death for being a heretic, but the way Heenan structures this story is brilliant. Heenan begins her novel with Robin’s arrest and his captor, William Hawkins, taking him from the countryside to London to be locked in the Tower. Robin acts like a Tudor Scheherazade to delay the inevitable, telling his story through flashbacks to Hawkins.

What makes this story so unique are those flashbacks that are so vivid and filled with men and women that shaped Robin into the man that he became. Robin is a bookworm who prefers the company of texts to other people, so to see him interact with others is just a delight. They include brothers of a monastery, a servant named Seb, and a beautiful Italian woman named Bianca, who shared Robin’s love of learning. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tudor novel without famous figures such as Wolsey, Cromwell, and Holbein. Heenan uses these figures as secondary characters to enhance Robin’s story.

At the heart of this novel is the dissolution of the monasteries and Robin’s travels abroad, especially his stops in Italy. Although Cromwell forces Robin to help dissolve the monasteries, his past with monks makes him question the assignment he has been given. Robin’s faith and his relationships with the church in England and Italy are very distinct and shape how he views the charges brought against him at the beginning of this novel.

Heenan has once again made a delightful tale of struggles inside the Tudor court by someone on the sidelines. The blending of English history with elements from other cultures was inspiring. Weave current events with a character’s past is extremely difficult, yet Heenan does it seamlessly. This enchanting novel is the perfect sequel to “Songbird.” If you are a fan of Tudor historical fiction, “A Wider World” is a must-read.

Book Review: “Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom” by Annie Whitehead

38243840._SY475_England’s history is full of daring moves and colorful characters, but it is also very ancient compared to other countries. We often considered the “start” of English history in school as the Norman Conquest in 1066. Nevertheless, this was just a stage in the massive story of the island. We have to consider those who called England their home; those who knew England, not as a unified country, but seven kingdoms known as the heptarchy. The most famous of these seven kingdoms was Wessex, the last kingdom, but their mortal enemy had a rich history of their own. Mercia was a thriving kingdom for hundreds of years, with colorful characters that many people are not familiar with. Annie Whitehead has taken the tales of this forgotten kingdom to the forefront with her book, “Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom.” 

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I was looking forward to learning about the Mercians and why their stories are significant in Anglo-Saxon England. My knowledge about this kingdom is minutiae, although I know some famous figures, including Lady Godiva, Penda, and Aethelflaed, from other books written by Whitehead. 

Whitehead begins her journey into this kingdom’s rich history with the story of the 7th-century ruler Penda, the Pagan King of Mercia. His tale of surviving savage battles and making Mercia into a powerhouse set the standard for Mercian kings that would follow. His son and successor, Peada, would bring Christianity to Mercia, and the diocese of Lichfield, which still exists today, would be formed shortly afterward. Mercia was a kingdom that fought for survival against the remaining six realms of the heptarchy, especially against Wessex. Of course, it was not just other Anglo-Saxons that the Mercians were pitted against, as we see the rise of the Vikings with their Great Heathen Army and  Welsh princes fight for control of the isle. 

Mercia’s kings would fall into obscurity as Mercia turned from a kingdom to an earldom with the uniting of the heptarchy into one nation under one king. We know about Mercia’s history through scant details included in annuls and accounts written by men like Henry of Huntingdon and Bede and chronicles like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Whitehead has combed every source to give her readers the most comprehensive history of a realm that has been forgotten over time. The very nature is academic, yet Whitehead tries to engage those armchair historians who might be familiar with characters like Godiva, Aethelbad, and Offa with tales of murder and intrigue. My advice for future readers of this title is to take notes as there is a plethora of information, especially royal genealogy. 

Mercia is a bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to my knowledge of its history, but that just made reading this title even more thrilling. If you want a story of one of the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England, you should check out, “Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom” by Annie Whitehead. Whitehead has brought the tales of Mercia to a modern audience in the best way possible.

Book Review: “Songbird” by Karen Heenan

57859999._SY475_We all know about the man who would become King Henry VIII. We know about his love life and his ever-changing views on religious reform, yet a side of the infamous king rarely explored; his love of music. Henry’s court in literature is often viewed through the lenses of those who held power in government and the lady’s maids, but what if it was considered from a different perspective? What if it was viewed from the perspective of one of the performers of King Henry VIII’s court? What might their experiences have been like singing their hearts out for the rich and glamorous? Karen Heenan tries to give her readers a better look into the world of Music with Bess, the titular character of her first novel in The Tudor Court series, “Songbird.”

I want to thank Karen Heenan for sending me a copy of this novel. I hosted a book tour for Karen a few months back for this book, so I was intrigued by this novel.

Beth is a ten-year-old girl who has a voice like an angel. One day, her father brought her to the court of Henry VIII to serve the king as one of his majesty’s minstrels. It is there that Bess meets a boy a year younger than her named Tom, who plays numerous instruments, but he prefers the lute. They form a bond that will last for years. Yet, as the friends grow closer, romance enters the picture, and the friends must navigate the ever-changing world of Henry VIII’s court during the time of the Great Matter.

What makes this book sensational is that the Tudors that we are familiar with, Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn, tend to act as secondary characters, quite like a work by CJ Sansom. The focus is really on the music and the lives of the musicians. It shows just enough of the glitz and the glam of court life to get. The songs that Heenan included in this novel are so melodic that I could imagine the scenes without hearing the pieces aloud.

Oh boy, this book was an absolute treat. It was also a ride in the best sense. Bess and Tom go through many hurdles, including death, heartbreak, politics, and a good old-fashioned love triangle as a cherry on top. The world of the minstrels is full of its scandals, and it is just as brilliant as the court they entertain. There were points in this book where Bess or Tom made a mistake, and I just wanted to scream at them, but I couldn’t put this book down. These characters are so loveable that you will get emotionally attached to them.

To combine the story of the Great Matter with the lives of the minstrels like Beth and Tom is simply brilliant. If you want a historical fiction novel that gives a fresh take on the tumultuous Tudors, you should check out “Songbird” by Karen Heenan. Heenan gorgeously wrote this novel to portray the human experience through the reign of Henry VIII vividly.

Guest Post: “Historical Aspect of Queen of Blood” by Sarah Kennedy

Queen of Blood Blog Tour Banner
Today, I am pleased to welcome Sarah Kennedy to my blog to discuss the historical aspect of her latest novel Queen of Blood. Thanks to the Coffee Pot Book Club and Sarah Kennedy for allowing me to be part of this tour.

The most obvious historical aspect of my latest novel, Queen of Blood, is the Wyatt Rebellion, which occurred early in the reign of Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”). It was carried out, unsuccessfully, by a group of men who opposed her rule and her marriage to Philip of Spain. The uprising was soon put down, partly because some of the other nobles who were initially involved in the plot failed to raise their armies, and so the band that descended on London was small—and they did not get the support from Londoners that they expected.

That’s the historical context of the book, and it may be the most compelling part of the narrative for some readers. But it’s not the historical aspect that interests me the most. As in all of the novels in my Tudor series, The Cross and the Crown, the element that draws me in the most is the daily lives of everyday people. We know quite a lot about the lives of royals and nobles—and life was not easy even for people with vast resources of wealth and land—but my attention is always on people who lacked these privileges. I’ve always had sympathy for ordinary people who found (and still find) themselves tossed and turned by changes in their governments and their cultures; such changes occurred dramatically during the Tudor years in England.

I try to imagine what daily life was like, particularly for women, who had to worry about childbirth (or the inability to bear children); maintaining and running a household (or working in a household); and caring for extended family members. Just thinking about the number of chores and tasks that had to be accomplished every day, just to stay alive, is exhausting. Women like my main character, Catherine, sometimes had to keep the books for their husbands’ businesses; sometimes had to work in the business (Catherine’s current husband is a wool dealer), and they surely had to stop everything sometimes to show a young maid how to pluck a chicken correctly or how to make soap. I think, too, about the bodily needs that we take for granted today: staying clean; treating wounds and injuries; maintaining personal hygiene during menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childbirth.

Can you imagine how time-consuming and difficult it was just to get through a day with enough food, shelter, and clothing?

My Catherine is fortunate in that she knows how to read and write because she was raised in a convent. She knows quite a lot about herbs and medicines, so she generally knows what to do if someone in her household falls ill or, say, cuts herself. She also has maids to help out around the house. But having a household staff means looking out for those people, and that job often fell to the lady of the house.

Now, when all of that daily toil is combined with turmoil in the government and the religion of the country, everything becomes more complicated. England, at the beginning of Mary Tudor’s reign, was Protestant. The convents and monasteries had been closed, and their lands and goods seized by the Crown. Mary, of course, remained Catholic, and one of her goals was to return England to Rome.

This goal was supported by some, opposed by others, and just entirely frustrating and confusing to many. A person could be arrested, imprisoned, and possibly executed for failing to submit to the current requirements of the current church, and I’m sure that this created anxiety, anger, and resentment. Which prayers was a person supposed to say? In what language? What if those requirements violated a person’s conscience? Those were questions that, under the Tudor monarchs, ordinary people often simply had to keep to themselves. They had to follow the rules or suffer the consequences, even if the rules were completely different from what they had been in the previous year.

So, on top of all the necessary daily, drudging work, everyday people were forced to submit to the requirements of church attendance, following the dictates from the throne. It’s no wonder that people rebelled. And it’s no wonder that those rebellions were met with force from the court.

People often adapt to the circumstances in which they find themselves if they can. And if they can’t? If they don’t understand the enormous changes, or don’t approve of them, or can’t bear them? The possible answers to those questions are at the center of my historical interest, and those questions, to me, are the most important historical aspect of my Cross and Crown series.

unnamed(Blurb)

Queen of Blood, Book Four of the Cross, and the Crown series continue the story of Catherine Havens, a former nun in Tudor England. It is now 1553, and Mary Tudor has just been crowned queen of England. Still a Roman Catholic, Mary seeks to return England to its former religion, and Catherine hopes that the country will be at peace under the daughter of Henry VIII. But rebellion is brewing around Thomas Wyatt, the son of a Tudor courtier, and when Catherine’s estranged son suddenly returns from Wittenberg amid circulating rumors about overthrowing the new monarch, Catherine finds herself having to choose between the queen she has always loved and the son who seems determined to join the Protestants who seek to usurp her throne.

Buy Links

Universal Link: mybook.to/QueenofBloodBookFour

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1950586758
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Blood-Sarah-Kennedy/dp/1950586758
Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1950586758
Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/1950586758

unnamedAuthor Bio

Sarah Kennedy

Sarah Kennedy is the author of the Tudor historical series, The Cross and the Crown, including The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, The King’s Sisters, and Queen of Blood. She has also published a stand-alone contemporary novel, Self-Portrait, with Ghost, as well as seven books of poems. A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing. She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Social Media Links:

Website: http://sarahkennedybooks.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KennedyNovels
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarah.kennedy.520125
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Sarah-Kennedy/e/B0054NFF6W
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6538009.Sarah_Kennedy

Book Review: “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador” by Lauren Mackay

25266205The story of King Henry VIII and his six wives has been regaled for centuries in different mediums. We love the marital problems of this one English king because of how much of an impact it made on all of Europe in the 16th century and beyond. Yet our love affair with the Tudor dynasty would not have gotten to the point that it is today without the tireless efforts of the ambassadors who went to England to report the news of the day to their respected kings and emperors. We tend to think that the ambassadors are better left in the shadows, working to promote peace between countries and report what was happening, but one man made a name for himself as an ambassador and transcended time. His name was Eustace Chapuys. His story and his mission are finally being told in Lauren Mackay’s brilliant debut book, “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador”.

I have heard about this book in the past and how much of an impact it has made in the Tudor community in the past. I have read Lauren Mackay’s two other books and I have enjoyed them thoroughly and so I really wanted to read this book.

To understand the man behind the now-infamous words about the Tudors, especially Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, we have to go back to Chapuys hometown of Annecy. It is here where we see the Chapuys family rise in prominence to the point where Eustace Chapuys was employed by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as the Spanish Ambassador to England. His main job was to report information back to Charles about the Henirican court as accurately as possible.

Chapuys started his job as ambassador at a critical junction in English history when Henry VIII was in the middle of his divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon in 1529. Chapuys admired Katherine of Aragon’s strength and worked tirelessly to protect her daughter Mary. Since Chapuys had a close connection to those who were essential in the Tudor court, he has given historians fabulous insights into these tumultuous times. It was really his relationship with Anne Boleyn which has caused a lot of controversy over the years and has blackened Chapuys’ name for centuries. Mackay has masterfully examined Chapuys’ correspondences to uncover the truth about how he felt about the Tudor court from 1529 until 1545.

You cannot separate Tudor history during the reign of Henry VIII and the works of Eustace Chapuys, which is why this biography and Mackay’s research are so essential in understanding the 16th century. It sheds new light on the stories of Henry VIII and the lives of his six wives; Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. Chapuys was not afraid to speak his mind and to share the rumors of the day, which gives us significant insight into how the royal family was perceived by their public, both the positive and the negative aspects.

Eustace Chapuys has been one of those ambassadors who we think we know, but do we really? Mackay has rescued the much-maligned messenger of Charles V and restored him to the glory that he so rightfully deserves. Chapuys’ story was hidden in plain sight, but it took an extraordinary historian to bring his story to the spotlight. If you think you know about Eustace Chapuys and the Henrician court, you need to read this sublime biography, “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador” by Lauren Mackay. It might change how you view the Tudor dynasty.

Book Review: “The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings” by Sarah Bryson

50419855Loyalty to one’s king was imperative during times of war and strife. This statement was painfully true during periods of civil war when cousins fought against cousins. The Wars of the Roses was where we see families rise and fall like the tides, depending on which side they were loyal to and who was on the throne. One family who was able to navigate this political quagmire and end up on the side that would win in the end was the Brandons. Many recognize the name Brandon because of Charles Brandon and his rise in the court of Henry VIII, but how did they reach that point? What are the origins of the Brandon family? In her latest book, “The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings”, Sarah Bryson takes her readers on a ride to find out what loyalty to the crown gave this family and why their legacy lives on today.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I have read Bryson’s first book on Mary Tudor and her marriage to Charles Brandon, which I found a delightful read. When I heard about this book, I was interested in reading it as I have always enjoyed the story of Charles Brandon and I wanted to know more about his family.

Bryson begins her journey into the Brandon family with William Brandon, who lived during the reign of King Henry VI and the origins of the Wars of the Roses. William’s gradual rise in power is nothing short of extraordinary and it extended to his son, also named William. William Sr would serve Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III, even when his son William decided to work with Henry Tudor. William’s loyalty to Henry Tudor would ultimately cost him his life as he died at the Battle of Bosworth Field as the standard-bearer for the would-be king.

The bulk of this particular title explores the life of Charles Brandon and his relationship with his best friend, King Henry VIII. We have seen how loyal the Brandons can be with the first two generations, but Charles took it to a whole new level. Since Bryson had mentioned a good portion of Charles’ life in her previous book, this felt a bit like a review. I know Charles is her favorite Brandon man, but I wish she would have focused a bit more on his grandfather, father, and his uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon. These men were crucial to understanding what kind of man Charles would become and why he was so loyal to the crown, even if he didn’t agree with all the decisions that Henry VIII made.

Overall, I found this book informative and easy to follow. Bryson has a passion for the Brandon family, and it shows with this particular title. The family trees and the letters that she included in this book are impressive and give the reader a deeper understanding of the family dynamic as well as the dynamic between the Brandons and the kings that they served. If you are interested in learning more about the Brandon family and the depth of their loyalty to the English crown, I highly suggest you read, “The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings” by Sarah Bryson.

Book Review: “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

The future King of England married a Spanish princess to create an alliance between the two countries through their children. This may sound like the marriage of Henry VIII and his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon. However, this story is much older and the happy couple was Edward I and Leonor of Castile. Unlike the Tudor match, Edward and Leonor have numerous children, including Edward’s heir who would one day become Edward II, whose story has been told in various ways. The stories that Kathryn Warner has chosen to focus upon in her latest book, “Daughters of Edward I”, are the princesses who tend to be hidden behind their brother’s legacy.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have read a few books by Kathryn Warner in the past and I have enjoyed them in the past for their complex nature. I enjoy a challenge and when I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to give it a shot. I, unfortunately, was not familiar with these princesses before partaking in this new adventure, so I was excited to hear their stories for the first time.

Edward I and Leonor of Castile had around fourteen children, but only six lived into adulthood; their heir Edward II and his five sisters. The names of the sisters were Eleanor of Windsor, Joan of Acre, Margaret of Brabant, Mary of Woodstock, and Elizabeth of Rhuddlan. Their marriages and children, except for Mary of Woodstock who would become a reluctant nun, would connect the Plantagenet bloodline to some of the most important families in England and beyond. When it comes to the marriages of the sisters, they tend to follow the counsel of the crown, except for Joan of Acre who chose to follow her heart and marry a man who she loved for her second marriage.

Warner’s specialty is unraveling the convoluted nature of certain family trees to uncover members who tend to slip into the shadows of the past. She explores the sisters’ relationships with their father Edward I, their brother Edward II, their nephew who would become Edward III, as well as the families that were essential to understanding England during the 13th and 14th centuries. I will admit that I did find myself using the lists in the back that gave brief descriptions of the daughters and their children as I was getting a tad confused on who was who and their relationship to others. However, I am really glad that Warner included that resource as it added something to this book.

Warner has taken on the difficult task of trying to uncover the stories of the daughters of Edward I and Leonor of Castile and has given readers a resource that can prove valuable in understanding this complex family dynamic. There were parts where the writing was a touch dry for my taste, but overall I found it a stimulating reading and that is because of the laborious research that Warner partook to tell their tales and the tales of their descendants. If you want a meticulously researched resource that tells the stories of women who knew Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III well, “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner is the perfect book for you to add to your collection.

Book Review: “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream” by Charles Spencer

53604802._SY475_In the middle of the night on November 25, 1120, screams could be heard from the English Channel. A ship known as The White Ship hit a rock and began to sink. Those on board were the glamorous English elite, including the legitimate son of King Henry I, William Aetheling. In an era where people feared the sea and could not swim, those on board sank to their watery death on that cold winter night that began with such frivolity. No one knew that night that this one disaster at sea would cause a dynastic struggle that would lead to the founding of the infamous Plantagenet dynasty. In his latest book, “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream”, Charles Spencer takes his readers on a journey to fully understand the impact that this tragedy had on the English royal family.

Charles Spencer has written many nonfiction books in the past, but they have all been out of the time periods that I enjoy reading about. I might go back and read them in my own time, but when I saw that this particular title was going to be published and how much praise it had received from prominent historians, I decided to give it a try.

Spencer’s tale into this tragedy begins with a vivid account of the night of November 25th and then it jumps to the first part of the tale. To understand why this event was so horrific for Henry I, we have to understand what it took for Henry I to become King of England. Henry, I was one of three sons of William the Conqueror. After his father died in 1087, the third son, William Rufus became King William II, much to the chagrin of the eldest son, Robert Curthose, who remained Duke of Normandy, but he continued to be a thorn at his brother’s side. When William II died after a hunting accident, Henry knew that it was his chance to beat Robert to the throne, which he did, becoming Henry I, who fought hard to restore order to England.

His two legitimate children, William Aetheling and Matilda, allowed Henry I to breathe a sigh of relief, although he had numerous illegitimate children. This is why this tragedy hit me so hard. With William’s death, it meant that anyone could take the throne after Henry I’s death, which is exactly what happened. The period we know as The Anarchy was a battle between Matilda, who was Henry’s heir, and her cousin Stephen of Blois for the throne of England.

Spencer has painted a dramatically dark portrait of the fall of the Norman dynasty. The Normans were notorious for their cruelty towards those who opposed them, even their own family. What I thoroughly enjoyed with this book was Spencer’s tone. It is as if you are having a casual conversation with Spencer about Henry I’s reign and his family’s drama for the throne. I was impressed with how well researched this book was and the new information that Spencer provided to present the bigger picture of this catastrophe.

I found this book to be a thrilling read full of information and vivid descriptions. This may be Charles Spencer’s first dive into the world of medieval nonfiction, but I hope it is not the last. If you want a brilliant read about the aftermath of the Conquest, the rise and fall of Henry I, and the Anarchy, I highly recommend you read, “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream” by Charles Spencer.