Book Review: “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

Boleyn Soberton coverThe story of Anne Boleyn and her rise and fall has been told throughout the centuries in numerous ways. With tales of this memorable monarch came rumors of what happened inside her court and the women who served her during her reign. We tend to look at her life through the lens of the men who interacted with Anne Boleyn at court, but what about the women who knew her? Stories of ladies-in-waiting selling the queen out and secret romances ran rampant throughout the centuries, but how much truth is in these tales? Sylvia Barbara Soberton explores these questions in her latest book, “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn.”

I want to thank Sylvia Barbara Soberton for sending me a copy of this book. I have found Soberton’s previous books fascinating, and when I heard about this book focusing on the women who served Anne Boleyn, it was compelling.

Soberton begins her book by exploring Anne Boleyn’s origins and services as a lady in waiting and a maid of honor for several prominent women across Europe like Mary Tudor and Archduchess Margaret of Savoy. We also look at the relationships between Anne and her female family members, including her sister Mary Boleyn and her Howard relatives.

The bulk of this book focused on Anne Boleyn when she caught the attention of King Henry VIII when she was a lady-in-waiting for Katherine of Aragon. It was fascinating to see how Anne Boleyn interacted with her female friends during this transition time and how they became ladies-in-waiting when she became queen. These friends and ladies-in-waiting included Elizabeth Holland, Bridget Wiltshire, Margery Horsman, Jane Ashley, Mary Zouche, Mary Shelton, and Jane Seymour. We all know this worked out as it resulted in the Great Matter, the ultimate divorce of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.

These ladies-in-waiting were separated by rank and would help Anne navigate the tumultuous court of Henry VIII until the bitter end. The women around Anne saw her become queen, how she dealt with Henry’s other mistresses, including Bessie Blount and Jane Seymour, the birth of Princess Elizabeth, and how Anne tried to build a relationship with Princess Mary. They also witnessed the queen interacting with influential men in court, including the king and Thomas Cromwell. These men used some of Anne’s closest confidants to bring her ultimate demise through a sham trial and multiple executions.

Soberton does an excellent job telling the Anne Boleyn story through the eyes of those who knew her the best, the women who served the queen. Many of these tales were unfamiliar to me, and I think the Tudor community will find them rather illuminating. If you want to learn more about Anne Boleyn and her inner circle during her reign, I highly recommend you read “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton.

Book Review: “Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici” by Estelle Paranque

9781529109221-usTwo queens; one a wife and the mother of kings and the other a virgin who had to fight for the right to rule her country independently. Two women who found friendship and a rivalry between each other with only a sea that divided them and religious discord to drive them apart. Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I would define what it meant to be female rulers in the 16th century for France and England, respectively. The tales of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici have been covered in numerous books, but a joint biography of these two powerhouses is a rarity until now. Estelle Paranque demonstrates how both queens greatly affected each other’s lives in her latest book, “Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici.”

Paranque begins her book with a short story about an encounter between Elizabeth I’s English ambassador to France, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, and Catherine de Medici, who acted as regent for her son Charles IX. It is an example of how each queen viewed diplomacy and the dance they had to do to keep their respective dynasties on the thrones of England and France.

Catherine de Medici was the daughter of Lorenzo II de Medici, Duke of Urbino, and Madeline de La Tour, d’Auvergne. Her parents died when Catherine was young, leaving her to be a wealthy heiress and a powerful pawn in the marriage market. Her husband would be King Henry II, known to have several mistresses, including Diane de Poitiers, who was her husband’s, true love. Despite issues with Diane, Henry and Catherine had a huge family, including several sons, including King Francis II, King Charles IX, King Henry III, and Francis, Duke of Anjou. After the death of her husband, Catherine worked hard to be the regent for her sons until they came of age to rule and continue the Valois dynasty.

In England, Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and the notorious King Henry VIII; their relationship was the most infamous of the 16th century for obvious reasons. After the deaths of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, and Queen Mary I, Elizabeth got her chance to rule England in her way. When the issue of Elizabeth’s marriage came into play, Catherine de Medici entered Elizabeth I’s life, starting a 30- year relationship that began as a friendship but changed into a rivalry in the end.

Over the thirty years, Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I dealt with many obstacles in their relationship. Catherine had to deal with the antics of her children and her daughter-in-law, Mary Queen of Scots, who would become one of Elizabeth’s biggest rivals. The bond between the two queens started over a desire for one of Catherine’s sons to marry Elizabeth and become King of England and France, but alas, this was wishful thinking. Catherine and Elizabeth also had to deal with other nations, like Spain, getting in the way of their relationship, as well as the issue of religion; Catherine was a devout Catholic, and Elizabeth was more Protestant. Catherine had to deal with several wars of religions and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, while Elizabeth had to deal with the Spanish Armada and what to do with Mary Queen of Scots.

Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I had to communicate through ambassadors and letters, which Paranque translated into modern English, making it easier for modern readers to understand. I cannot stress how much I loved this book and how Paranque was able to weave the stories of the two most powerful women in 16th-century Europe.

“Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici’ by Estelle Paranque is a tour de force dual biography of two influential badass queens. This book is a must-read for anyone passionate about the 16th century.

Book Review: “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England” by Kathryn Warner

cover260838-medium (1)When we think about the more intimate moments in the medieval period of European history, a few misconceptions and myths come to mind, thanks to historical fiction and medieval movies. The idea that girls as young as twelve were married off to much older men was the norm, and there were such things as chastity belts. Everyone was filthy and smelled awful, so they only married in the spring when they would take their annual baths. And the brilliant idea that the wealthiest lords of the village were able to have their way with the bride on her wedding day. The latest book by Kathryn Warner, “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England,” aims to eliminate these myths to reveal the truth of the intimate lives of those who lived during the medieval period.

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed the previous book in Pen and Sword’s Sex and Sexuality series on Tudor England by Carol McGrath, so when I heard that Kathryn Warner was writing the next book on Medieval England, I jumped at the chance to read it.

Warner begins this book by exploring the cleanliness of those from the medieval period and how they dressed. Cleanliness was vital in all aspects of life; the people took baths more than once a year. She then tackles the marriage myths, exploring everything from young marriages and marriages year-round to the moments when relationships did not work out well and even abductions and forced marriages. We also encounter stories of domestic violence, the rituals of birth and baptism, prostitution, adultery, illegitimacy, and sexuality. These tales also include their methods for healthy sex, how they dealt with abortions, and how same-sex relations were viewed at every level of society.

Warner examines literature, historical documents, and archeological clues to help her audience better understand the past. What Warner does brilliantly is the fact that she incorporates stories from every rank of society, from monarchs to peasants between 1250 and 1450, to tell a sweeping tale of sex and sexuality in medieval England. I found this book extremely enlightening and a fantastic resource for understanding the medieval period. It illuminates the shady areas of the past to dispel myths that have been circulating for a while now.

Warner has yet again combined her meticulous research with well-written prose to give her audience an informative read for medievalists and medieval history nerds alike. If you want to learn more about how medieval England viewed the more intimate moments in life, I recommend you read “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England” by Kathryn Warner.

Book Review: “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell” by Caroline Angus

cover260114-mediumWhen we think about the men who surrounded King Henry VIII, a few names come to mind. Cranmer, More, Wolsey, and Wroithesley are just a few, but the man who is synonymous with the infamous king’s reign is Thomas Cromwell. The man who helped Henry get his divorce from Katherine of Aragon saw both the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn. He also assisted in the dissolution of the monasteries and brought reform to England with the break from the Roman Catholic Church. To modern audiences, it feels as if we know everything that there was to know about Thomas Cromwell’s public life, but what was he like in his private life when his friends and family surrounded him? Caroline Angus gives her readers an insight into Cromwell’s personal life in her latest book, “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I love finding new perspectives about historical figures, like Thomas Cromwell, so when I heard that Caroline Angus was writing this book, I was delighted. I wanted to see what new information this book could provide about Thomas Cromwell’s life.

Angus begins her new nonfiction book on Cromwell by showing the origins of the Cromwell family and how Thomas went from the son of a blacksmith to his journeys in Italy, especially in Florence. It is impressive to see how Thomas’ influential friends from Florence would help shape how he conducted business later on in life as one of King Henry VIII’s top counselors. Thomas must have been a polymath to achieve the astronomical rise to power that we see him go through that landed him in the workforce of Thomas Wolsey.

Under Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell’s private and public life became insanely busy as he gained the king’s respect. He would be the principal architect for the dissolution of monasteries and helped Henry VIII gain his divorce from Katherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. As Cromwell became a player in Tudor politics, he married Elizabeth Williams and had several children. As Cromwell’s family grew, so did Thomas’ roles at the court of Henry VIII. He was the king’s number one advisor and was asked to perform the most difficult tasks, like bringing the downfall of Anne Boleyn and breaking England from the Roman Catholic Church. In a way, Thomas Cromwell was the Tudor equivalent of Alexander Hamilton.

I enjoyed this book because we see Cromwell as a human being, not just some lofty historical figure. He was a man who climbed the social ladder with his talents and his connections throughout England and Europe. With every title and every bill passed, Cromwell gained new enemies, who would lead to Thomas Cromwell’s downfall after the disastrous marriage between Henry VIII and Anna of Cleves. His fall was so dramatically quick that even Henry VIII regretted killing Thomas Cromwell.

Angus’s passion for comprehensively telling Cromwell’s story for scholars and students of Tudor history shines through this book. Her research is meticulous as she balances Thomas’ public life and private life to tell the whole story of the legendary man. If you are interested in understanding the life of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant and trusted advisor, I recommend reading “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell” by Caroline Angus.

Book Review: “Red Rose, White Rose” by Joanna Hickson

20892659One woman is torn between the loyalty to her birth family and the loyalty to her family by marriage. Now, this may sound like the story of Elizabeth of York, but alas, it is not. This story does take place in the fifteenth century, but it is the story of Elizabeth of York’s grandmother, “The Rose of Raby,” Cecily Neville. Born to the proud Neville family, who were proud Lancastrians, Cecily’s father, Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmorland, arranged a marriage for his daughter to the young and ambitious Richard, Duke of York. She is now one of the most powerful women in England, but with power comes risks of ruin as Cecily has a secret that could be disastrous. War looms between the Red Roses of Lancaster and the White Roses of York, one that will transform English history forever, with Cecily caught in the middle. Her story is told in Joanna Hickson’s novel, “Red Rose, White Rose.”

Hickson begins her book by showing the interaction between Cecily and her half-brother, Cuthbert or Cuddy. Cecily is engaged to Richard Duke of York when she is kidnapped but is later rescued by John Neville, a distant cousin. In John Neville’s care, Cecily Neville’s life takes an unexpected turn, and a secret relationship is formed between the two. Although I know this was a fictitious relationship invented for this book, it still did not sit well with me. I have always thought Cecily was loyal and devoted to her husband and family (even though there were rumors of her and a knight having an affair), so this did not fit my view of Cecily Neville.

The bulk of this novel explores how Cecily and Richard were able to navigate the complex world of 15th-century English politics while their family grew. We also see Cuthbert fall in love and have his own family while he stays by Cecily’s side during such a tumultuous time.

This novel did not spend much time on the Wars of Roses. We get to see the origins of the major battles and how Edward became king, but we don’t see Cecily trying to hold her family together. I wanted to see her interactions with her sons Edward, George, and Richard during their feuding years. I wanted to see her reactions to Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and her interactions with her daughter-in-law. In short, I wanted a longer story that focused more on the Wars of the Roses and how Cecily Neville dealt with the changes in her family dynamic due to the throne’s power.

Overall, this novel was enjoyable and well-written. Some elements were included that I disagreed with their concept. The story was engaging and gave Hickson’s audience a sneak-peek into Cecily Neville, Richard Duke of York, and their children. If you want a solid novel about Cecily Neville, I recommend reading “Red Rose, White Rose” by Joanna Hickson.

Book Review: “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son” by Julia A. Hickey

cover260109-mediumWhen we study the life of Queen Elizabeth I, the image of a virgin queen who never married tends to come to mind. Of course, she had a man who she favored above all others, Robert Dudley, but he married several times to Amy Robsart and Lettice Knollys. It was with Lettice Knollys that Robert Dudley was able to produce his heir, aptly named Robert Dudley Lord Denbigh, who unfortunately died at a young age. Robert Dudley was left without a legitimate heir, but he did have another son, albeit an illegitimate son, also named Robert Dudley. Julia A Hickey has decided to examine the life of the illegitimate Robert Dudley in her book, “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I am always in the mood to learn about someone from the Tudor period I have never heard about before. I did not know that Robert Dudley had an illegitimate son and that he might have been married before he married Lettice Knollys, so I was excited to learn more about this mysterious son.

Hickey begins her biography about this often forgotten Dudley by exploring the origins of the Dudley family and how his father was able to rise from the ashes to become Queen Elizabeth’s favorite. I think she did a decent job explaining Dudley’s history, but Hickey tends to jump around instead of staying in chronological order with specific issues, which is a pet peeve for me. I also felt like this background information went on for a bit too long, but that might have been because I had just recently read a biography about Dudley, so most of the background information was not new to me.

Robert Dudley had fallen in love and allegedly married one of Elizabeth I’s maids of honor, Douglas Sheffield, who was Robert “Robin” Dudley’s mother. Robert Dudley would later marry Lettice Knollys to the ire of Queen Elizabeth I and had a son named Robert Dudley to add to the confusion, known as Lord Denbigh or “the noble imp.” After Robert’s legitimate son, we see the rise of Robin Dudley, as he became an explorer and trader in the silk industry. We also see Robin Dudley dealing with romantic scandals, notably leaving England, his wife Alice Leigh, and their growing family to flee to France with his mistress and future wife, Elizabeth Southwell. Robin and Elizabeth were married even though Robin never divorced Alice, thus committing bigamy and making him an enemy of the Stuarts, especially King James I.

Robin was also allegedly involved in the Essex Rebellion but only stayed in prison for a short time. He tried to gain legitimacy through a court case arguing that his parents were indeed married, but it failed spectacularly. Besides the scandals, Robin was an adventurer and deeply fascinated with navigation; his most notable work, The Secrets of the Sea, was the 1st atlas of the sea ever published. It was interesting to see how Robin’s life transformed as he worked in Italy until the end of his life and how he dealt with living during the reigns of Elizabeth and the early Stuarts in different ways.

I wanted to learn more about the early Stuart kings and the different issues that Hickey included in this book that were unfamiliar to me. Robert “Robin” Dudley lived quite a fascinating life, and I think he would have made his father Robert Dudley proud with his adventures to new lands and the book The Secrets of the Seas. Suppose you are also interested in learning more about Robert Dudley and his illegitimate son. In that case, I recommend reading “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son” by Julia A. Hickey.

Book Review: “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

cover260113-medium (1)When we think of those who made an impact in history, we tend to think of those who have been born to a married couple and therefore were considered legitimate children, especially when it comes to royal children. However, we know that illegitimate royal children, like William the Conqueror, greatly impacted history. Illegitimate royal children may have been barred from becoming king or queen of their respective countries of birth, but that does not mean they didn’t impact how their home country was governed. One of these children who affected politics during the Tudor dynasty was Arthur Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of Edward IV. In her latest book, “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle,” she explores the life of this man who gives us extraordinary insight into the running of Calais and how Henry VIII treated other family members.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed the previous books I read by Sarah-Beth Watkins, and when I heard that she was writing a new book about Arthur Plantagenet, I was thrilled to read it. I have only heard about Arthur Plantagenet as a side character in other biographies and novels during Henry VIII’s reign, so I was looking forward to learning more about this man.

Watkins begins by exploring the possible birth dates and Arthur’s birth mother, which is a difficult challenge because Edward IV was known for having several mistresses that we know about and probably others who have remained secrets in history. While some illegitimate children were not acknowledged by their royal fathers, it looks like Edward IV accepted Arthur and allowed him to have a good education that would have followed his legitimate sons’ education regime. After the shocking death of Edward IV and the reign of Richard III, we see Arthur establishing himself in the court of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York; we have records of Elizabeth of York taking care of her illegitimate half-brother. Arthur was so close to Elizabeth of York that he attended her funeral.

Arthur’s rise during the reign of Henry VIII focuses on this title. We see how Arthur started as a Spear of Honour and worked his way up to Viscount Lisle after Charles Brandon became Duke of Suffolk. He was a Knight of the Garter, the Vice Admiral of the Tudor Navy, and finally became Lord Deputy of Calais. Arthur was married twice to Elizabeth Grey and Honor Greenville, and although Elizabeth was the one who gave Arthur his daughters, Honor was the one who we know the most about because of the Lisle Letters.

With the title of Lord Deputy of Calais came significant responsibilities for taking care of France’s last remaining English city. Arthur Plantagenet had to deal with your average repairs, preparing the town for battle, civil disputes, religious quarrels, and plots against King Henry VIII. The time that Arthur and Honor were in Calais was a tumultuous time for England and Henry, and we get to see how Arthur felt about these issues, like the Pole family drama, through his Lisle letters. The connection with the Pole family led Arthur to become a prisoner in the Tower of London for two years as he was connected to the Botolf plot to take the city of Calais for the Pope.

Watkins brings the life of Arthur Plantagenet to the forefront and gives this hidden illegitimate Plantagenet his time to shine. It was a fascinating read, especially learning about how Calais was maintained and about the Botolf plot, which I had never heard about before reading this book. If you want an excellent book that introduces the life of Arthur Plantagenet and his role during the reign of King Henry VIII, I would highly recommend you read “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

Book Review: “Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen” by Mickey Mayhew

cover258870-medium (1)Throughout history, there have been a select number of cases of monarchs becoming prisoners either in war or in times of peace. One of the most famous cases of a monarch’s imprisonment during the 16th century was the case of Mary Queen of Scots. While there have been many tales of her infamous imprisonment and execution, there has not been much attention to the men and woman who acted as Mary Queen of Scots’ jailers. Who were the men and woman Elizabeth I put in charge of guarding the Scottish queen while she was in England? What were the conditions of her imprisonment, and what were the castles and manors like when the queen arrived? Mickey Mayhew explores these questions in his book, “Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have heard good things about Mickey Mayhew’s previous books that Pen and Sword Books have published, so when I saw this title, I wanted to read it. I have not read many books about Mary Queen of Scots’ imprisonment in England, so I was looking forward to learning something new.

Mayhew begins his nonfiction book by exploring Mary Queen of Scots’ origins and how she ended up being a prisoner in England. Next, he looks at the jailers in charge of Mary’s well-being while she was in England. Mayhew focuses on jailers in this book: Sir William Douglas, Henry 9th Lord Scrope, Sir Francis Knollys, Thomas Howard 4th Duke of Norfolk, Bess of Hardwick, Ralph Sadler, Sir Amyas Paulet, and Sir Drue Drury. Remarkably, we as readers get background information about every jailer and how their time with the prisoner queen affected them differently. For example, the imprisonment was so much of a strain that it tore the marriage between Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and Bess of Hardwick apart. We also see how the conditions of the castles and manors that Mary was housed in affected her mentally and physically. Some places that Mary was housed in included Carlisle Castle, Bolton Castle, Tutbury Castle, Sheffield Manor Lodge, and the infamous Fotheringhay Castle.

Like any prisoner, there are always escape attempts and plots afoot, and Mary Queen of Scots was no exception. Mayhew explores the famous schemes like Ridolfi and Babington and more minor attempts by Mary and those loyal to her. He also explores how jailers lived their lives after Mary Queen of Scots died. He concludes by examining how each jailer has been portrayed in literature and film/TV shows.

The one thing I wish Mayhew had not done in this book would have been to call Mary I “Bloody Mary” and Elizabeth I “Elizabeth Tudor.” Elizabeth I and Mary I were queens like Mary Queen of Scots, and their nicknames, especially Mary I, should not define who they were as rulers.

Overall, I think Mayhew did an excellent job making the topic of Mary Queen of Scots’ jailers exciting for his audience. It was a well-researched book that allows you to view Mary’s imprisonment and jailers differently. If you want to learn more about Mary Queen of Scots and her jailers, I recommend reading “Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen” by Mickey Mayhew.

Book Review: “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People” by Kathryn Warner

60747108._SX318_The city of London has been around for over two millennia, and with each passing century, it changes ever so slightly. From the Roman Londinium to medieval London, we see the city grow from a settlement of between 30,000 to 60,000 people to a bustling town of around 80,000 to 100,000 people. With growth comes changes to the city that would become the capital of England, and one of the most significant periods of transformation for the capital was during the fourteenth century. What was life like in fourteenth-century London for the average citizen of this sprawling city? Kathryn Warner attempts to answer this question in her latest nonfiction book, “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am always fascinated by learning about how people from different centuries lived their everyday lives, so when I heard about this title, it piqued my interest.

London was an international melting pot for Europe, so Warner used many stories to show the city’s diversity. To narrow down the information used in this particular book, Warner explains to her audience that she would only use tales from the reigns of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III. This book is broken down into bite-sized chapters exploring different aspects of London life, from government and religion to medical, housing, and marriage. This may sound like your average time traveler guidebook, so those of us living in the 21st century can understand the fourteenth century, but Warner gives this genre a bit of a twist.

Instead of focusing on the different aspects and what was considered normal for citizens to eat or wear, Warner looks at unique cases that correspond with the elements that defined fourteenth-century London. They give great insights into how deadly the time was and how the average London citizens dealt with the legal restrictions of everyday life. Every aspect of fourteenth-century life had consequences for those who broke the rules, from charging too much for a loaf of bread or a mug of ale to stealing clothes or building violations. We also get great insight into how women and children were treated, the darker aspects of life, and how they were approached.

The one issue I had with this book was that it showed the cases that were the exceptions to the rules instead of showing what the standards were. Although I am glad Warner included the information she did, like her glossary, nicknames, and the introduction of surnames, I did want more facts to make this book feel complete. I wanted to know what the typical fashion was like for Londoners and what they ate during a normal day. What did a typical day look like for someone who lived in London during the fourteenth century?

“London, A Fourteenth-Century City, and its People” by Kathryn Warner is a well-researched and captivating look into London’s past for those who love learning new facts about medieval Europe. If you like learning new factoids about medieval London, you will find this book rather entertaining.

Book Review: “Lords of the North (The Saxon Stories Book #3) by Bernard Cornwell

2679014King Alfred and Uhtred have achieved a massive victory over the Danes, and as a reward, Alfred has allowed Uhtred to be free of his allegiance. Now, Uhtred travels north to his home, yet fate throws this hero another curveball. He encounters an enslaved person who claims to be the King of Northumbria named Guthred. This chance meeting sends Uhtred on a journey across the seas against his will and to finally face off against Kjartan the Cruel, who captured his stepsister Thyra. Bernard Cornwell takes his readers on another whirlwind adventure into 9th century England with Uhtred of Bebbanburg in the third novel of the Saxon Stories series, “Lords of the North.”

We are reunited with Uhtred in 878, a few months after the great battle from “The Pale Horseman.” Alfred has given Uhtred freedom from his oath, and he travels north to his home with the former nun Hild. Fate throws Uhted another curveball as when he is on an escort mission; he encounters a young, enslaved man named Guthred, the man who holy men believed would be king of Northumbria because of a message from Saint Cuthbert. Uhtred is made Guthred’s right-hand man, and Uhtred falls in love with the king’s sister Gisela. With Guthred, the audience sees the more extreme side of 9th century Christianity with Christian relics and saints that the young king believes will make him a great king like Alfred.

Fate is inevitable and has a path that Uhtred cannot escape, filled with betrayal and heartache. He is making a name for himself when fortune’s wheel takes another turn, and he is betrayed by Guthred and is sold to Sverri, a Danish trader, who uses Uhtred as an enslaved person. Uhtred spends two years on Sverri’s ship with another man, Finan the Agile, who would become Uhtred’s friend. At the end of the two years, Uhtred and Finan are rescued by Ragnar the Younger and Brida, who are now working with Alfred. This is a blessing in disguise because Alfred has a new mission for Uhtred to work with Father Beocca to make peace with Northumbria and Guthred. During this mission, Uhtred and Ragnar realize they have the opportunity to save Ragnar’s sister Thyra from Sven and Kjartan the Cruel.

The third novel in the Saxon Stories series gives the audience a chance to see Uhtred at the lowest point we have seen him so far, as an enslaved person. It is a story of revenge in multiple ways, and the way each revenge plot is executed is thrilling. I also enjoyed Cornwell’s new characters in this novel; the devout Christian convert King Guthred, the beautiful yet strong-willed Gisela, the survivor Thyra, Uhtred’s best friend, loveable warrior Finan, and Kjartan’s bastard son turned ally Sihtric.

I loved that the narrator of this series is an older Uhtred who is reflecting on his adventures as a younger man. It adds more depth to Cornwell’s tales of the Danes and the Saxons in 9th century England. If you have enjoyed the first two books in the Saxon Stories series, you are in for a treat with “Lords of the North” by Bernard Cornwell.