Book Review: “Elizabeth I’s Last Favourite: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

56283014A man who was young and had charisma would attract the attention of the Virgin Queen herself, yet that attention came with a price. The young man could not do what he desired and was buried in debt. His anger could not be quenched and he would end up rebelling against the very queen who brought him so much glory and honor. This rebellion would lead to his execution. The man’s name was Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and his story is told in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ latest bite-size biography, “Elizabeth I’s Last Favourite: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex”.

I would like to thank Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I had heard that Sarah-Beth Watkins was releasing this book around the same time that Tony Riches released his novel about Robert Devereux, so I thought it might be nice to read about this man through fiction and nonfiction.

The son of Walter Devereux and Lettice Knollys, Robert Devereux was destined to his father’s heir when he passed away. However, when Walter died, he left his young heir a mountain of debt. His mother would remarry, but her choice would cause her to be an enemy of the queen herself. Lettice Knollys married Elizabeth I’s most prized favorite at court, Robert Dudley. The legacies that Robert’s mother and father left him forced the penniless earl to think big and to strive to gain the queen’s favor.

His looks helped win the queen’s favor, but Robert wanted more. He wanted power, money, and military prestige, which was typical of an earl during the Tudor time. However, Robert was pretty terrible at being a military leader. No matter if it was in France, Spain, or Ireland, Devereux managed to fail on his missions and irritating the queen. Watkins included transcripts of poems and letters that Devereux and Elizabeth I exchanged and you can feel the anger and frustration centuries later. Devereux comes off as a spoiled brat who whined when he didn’t get his way and Elizabeth just continued to exasperate him.

Devereux would redeem himself slightly when he uncovered a plot by Elizabeth’s doctor Lopez to assassinate the queen with poison. Yet for the most part, the queen was almost always upset with the young man, which made him act recklessly. Although he did marry the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, he was known to have a few mistresses and illegitimate children on the side. When he was really upset with the queen, he would break into her chamber or he would sulk at home feigning illness until she would beg for him to come back to court. This was his routine until he was pushed over the edge and would stage a rebellion against the woman who raised him so high, ultimately leading to his own demise.

.Robert Devereux was the moody last favorite of Elizabeth I who depended too heavily on her influence to guide his life choices. Watkins does a very good job at portraying Devereux’s numerous attempts to change his fate and how he failed miserably. The length of this biography was reasonable and it did allow readers to get to know the truth about the young man who would be the final favorite. If you want a short biography about the man behind the Essex Rebellion, you should check out, “Elizabeth I’s Last Favourite: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

Book Review: “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia

57165143A man ahead of his time who never finished the tasks that he was given as his mind was constantly racing, thinking of new ideas. This is what we consider a genius or a Renaissance Man today, but during Leonardo da Vinci’s time, it was just considered odd. Leonardo da Vinci was an enigma. He could make the impossible possible. His art seemed to leap off the canvas with its realism. However, there are still so many mysteries surrounding his life and his works. What made this one artist/inventor so fascinating for centuries? In her book, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” Rose Sgueglia opens the curtain to reveal Leonardo da Vinci’s truth and inner circle.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am one of those people who is familiar with da Vinci’s works, but not so much with his actual life and what made him tick. I have always wanted to read biographies about the great artists of the Renaissance, but I didn’t know where to start. This was the perfect book to start my journey into art history.

To understand da Vinci’s lifestyle later in life, we have to understand his origins. His mother was an absent figure in his life as Leonardo was her illegitimate son, but his father seemed to have taken care of him. Leonardo was trained under Verrocchio where he would learn the skills that would be vital for his art career, however, it was his insatiable appetite for exploring new subjects that would make him a polymath to many.

Sgueglia dives into the intricacies of da Vinci’s life, including his love life which has been debated for centuries. As an illegitimate son, he was not tied down to one location so he frequently traveled and would be employed by some of the greatest families in Italy, including the Borgias, the Medicis, and Ludovico Sforza. Along the way, he would create his own following of artists that were loyal to him until the bitter end. Da Vinci would also encounter fellow masters Donatello and Michelangelo as he competed for commissions.

I think Sgueglia does a decent job introducing the Leonardo da Vinci that she has gotten to know through her research. She also included interviews between her and a researcher of the Mona Lisa as well as the director of a movie about Leonardo da Vinci within this book, which I found fascinating. I think it is these interviews and including the transcripts as part of the book that sets it apart from other biographies about Leonardo da Vinci.

There were a few things about this book that I found a bit off or lacking. My big concern was the lack of illustrations of his lesser-known pieces of art and the artwork of other artists that Sgueglia references. If this is a biography about a well-known artist and inventor, then let’s celebrate the masterpieces and the inventions. I had to find the obscure artworks online while I was reading to act as a companion to get the full impact of what she was writing about. I also think it was a tad repetitive and I would have personally liked to have seen more books in the bibliography for research purposes.

Overall, I found this book was an adequate biography about Leonardo da Vinci. It is easy to read with intriguing facts that will captivate those who are new to da Vinci’s story. There is something intriguing about looking at the man behind these masterpieces and I think Sgueglia does an excellent job of showing a unique side of this artist’s life. If you want a great book that will introduce you to this polymath’s life and times, I recommend you read, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia.

Book Review: “Charles II and His Escape into Exile: Capture the King” by Martyn R. Beardsley

53073376._SX318_SY475_On January 30, 1649, the Stuart monarchy took a major hit when Charles I was tried and executed by the Rump Parliament, making way for the Commonwealth of England to take control. His eldest son, Charles II, fled England leaving the control of the country in the hands of Oliver Cromwell. Two years later, in 1651, Charles tried to make his triumphant return to restore the monarchy. However, it failed miserably at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651; Charles II was able to escape with the help of those loyal to the crown. The story of his escape from Cromwell’s men and his exile in Europe are told in Martyn R. Beardsley’s book, “Charles II and His Escape into Exile: Capture the King.”

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I know that this book is not in the particular timeline that I normally read, but it looked intriguing to me for some reason. It is one of those subjects that I knew absolutely nothing about, so I was looking forward to learning something new.

Charles II was known as the “Merry Monarch” who restored the monarchy, his very extravagant lifestyle, and his numerous mistresses who produced quite a few illegitimate children. His wife, Catherine of Braganza, was unable to provide him with the desired heir that would be able to continue his legacy. He would also endure plots that would try to remove him from the throne and the quagmire of religious struggles between Catholics and Protestants, plus a small event known as the Great Fire of London of 1666. This legacy would come after he became king, but his struggle to achieve his father’s crown was just as dramatic as his actual reign.

Charles II had been in exile ever since his father, Charles I, was executed and replaced by the Commonwealth led by Oliver Cromwell. He returned to his native England with the support of the Scottish soldiers and decided to engage Cromwell’s men in battle at Worcester on September 3, 1651, which ended in a horrific defeat for the royalists. Charles II was able to miraculously escape the carnage with the help of those loyal to the crown, like the Penderel brothers and Jane Lane, Lady Fisher. His rescuers did everything they could to smuggle the young king out of the country, from hiding the king in a tree to disguising him as a Shropshire countryman.

Beardsley does an excellent job to take his readers along the same route that Charles II took to freedom. He uses the writings of Samuel Pepys to start each chapter, goes into depth about each stop, and includes a few fun notes at the end.

It is a relatively easy book to follow, but the problem for me is the fact that I did not the background behind the conflict between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists. Beardsley tries to explain the concepts behind the conflict, but it a bit too brief for my liking.

Overall, I think this was a very well written book about a king on the run for his life. It makes me wonder if other kings escaping their countries had a similar experience. It takes guts to return to a country that you called home after your own countrymen kick you out time after time to become king. The adventures of Charles II and the stories of those who helped him escape to fight another day are thrilling. If you are like me and want to read a daring story from a different dynasty full of action and danger, check out “Charles II and His Escape into Exile: Capture the King” by Martyn R. Beardsley.

Book Review: “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

To survive during the reigns of the Norman and Plantagenet Kings of England, one must understand where their loyalty and trust lied. Did they follow the crown or did they take a risk and follow those who opposed the person who wore the crown? For one family, there was no question who they were loyal to, which was the crown. The Warenne Earls of Surrey served the Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Edward III, gaining titles, prestige, and marriages that would cement their names in history books. They survived some of the most turbulent times in English history even if they did have a few scandals in their illustrious history. In Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest non-fiction adventure, “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey ”, she explores this family’s history that spanned over three centuries.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s books for a while now, so when I heard about this title, I knew I wanted to read it. I was going in a bit blind since I have never heard of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, but that is part of the fun of studying a new aspect of history.

The first Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne began this family’s tradition of royal loyalty as he joined William the Conqueror on his journey to England and fought alongside him to establish Norman rule at the Battle of Hastings. William’s descendants would be involved in some of the most important events of the time, from the crusades to the 1st and 2nd Baron’s Wars and the sealing of the Magna Carta. At some points, the earls would briefly switch sides if they thought the king was not in the best interest of the country, but they remained at the heart of English politics and worked hard to help guide the king and the country to become stronger.

What made the Warennes a tour de force when it came to noble families was their ability to marry well, except for the final earl and his scandalous relationships. The second earl desired to marry into the royal family, which did not happen, but his daughter, Ada de Warenne would marry William the Lion, King of Scotland. One of the daughters of Hamlin and Isabel de Warenne would be the mistress of King John and would give birth to his illegitimate son Richard of Chilham. The only woman of the family who inherited the earldom of Surrey, Isabel de Warenne, was married twice and so both of her husbands, William of Blois and Hamelin of Anjou, are considered the 4th earl of Surrey.

Connolly does a wonderful job explaining each story in de Warenne’s long history, including the minor branches of the family. I was able to understand the difference between family members who shared the same first name, (like William, John, and Isabel) but I know that others might have struggled with this aspect. I think it would have been helpful if Connolly had included either a family tree or a list of family members of the de Warennes at the beginning of this book to help readers who did struggle.

I found this particular title fascinating. The de Warennes were a family that proved loyalty to the crown and good marriages went a long way to cement one’s legacy in medieval England. Connolly proved that she has a passion for bringing obscure noble families to the spotlight through her impeccable research. If you want a nonfiction book of a noble family full of loyalty, love, and action, you should check out “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Review: “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival” by Kate Williams

40554521Two cousins fighting for the right to rule England during the 16th century. One was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn who fought tooth and nail to rule without a man by her side. The other was the daughter of Mary of Guise and King James V of Scotland whose marriage record would prove to be fatal. Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, may have been sister queens, but the way they were treated in their own countries differed completely. While Elizabeth I was praised and protected from harm in England, Mary was a scapegoat for so many in Scotland. The way that Mary was used as a pawn even though she wore a crown was nothing short of extraordinary. The story of how these two queens came on a collision course that would leave one queen beheaded and the other forever changed has been told in many different ways from both sides of the tale, but it has rarely been told as a cohesive nonfiction book. That is until Kate Williams’ marvelous biography, “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival”.

Before we get to the part of the tale that many Tudor fans know very well, the end of the tale, we must understand what shaped Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots to be the queens of England and Scotland respectfully. As someone who knows quite a bit about Elizabeth I’s story, I found Williams’ explanation of her childhood informative and relatively brief.

Williams chooses to focus on the much-maligned Mary, Queen of Scots. We tend to assume that Mary’s life as a pawn with a crown began after her first husband, King Francis II of France, tragically died and she had to go back to her native Scotland. However, Mary was a pawn in someone else’s game her entire life. The only man that Mary loved and who loved her back was Francis. Her other relationships with Darnley and Bothwell were trainwrecks that would cause Mary immense pain and sorrow. Bothwell was the epitome of a disastrous relationship that was doomed to ruin Mary’s life. The two people who Mary thought she could depend on, Elizabeth I and Mary’s own son King James VI, ultimately chose to save face than to help protect a queen who had nowhere else to go.

I will be honest and say that before I read this book, I felt that Mary was the villainess of Tudor propaganda. She, after all, was wanting to dethrone Elizabeth I so that she could become the Catholic Queen of England. I have always been someone who has been a big fan of the reign of Elizabeth I, so I assumed that I would not be a fan of Mary, Queen of Scots. However, that all changed after reading this book. To see Mary put her faith and trust into those who she thought had her best interest at heart and to be betrayed every single time was utterly heartbreaking.

This is a gorgeously written biography of Mary, Queen of Scots that shows Mary in a sympathetic light while portraying how cataclysmic the numerous betrayals she endured affected her life. It was my first time reading a biography about Mary, Queen of Scots, or a book by Kate Williams, and I have to say it is one of my favorite biographies that I have read so far this year. I did not want to stop reading this biography. It made me feel so sympathetic towards Mary and her plight. If you want an exceptional biography about Mary, Queen of Scots, “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival” by Kate Williams is a must to have in your collection.

Book Review: “Essex: Tudor Rebel (Elizabethan, Book 2) by Tony Riches

Essex Tudor Rebel Tour BannerToday, I am pleased to share my book review of the latest Elizabethan novel by Tony Riches as my contribution to his “Essex: Tudor Rebel” blog tour. Thank you to Tony Riches for sending me a copy of his latest novel, and to The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to take part in this tour. 

Being a favorite of a queen is not all glitter and fame. Take, for example, the men who were considered the favorites of Elizabeth I. They had to deal with a queen whose temper and praise were interchangeable. One of the most famous examples of a favorite enduring the wrath of the queen was Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. A handsome rascal who had a mountain of debt to his name, Essex tries to follow his queen’s orders while staying true to his nature. His road from loyal man to Elizabeth I, his numerous adventures, and his ultimate rebellion are masterfully told in Tony Riches’ latest Elizabethan novel, “Essex: Tudor Rebel”.

I would like to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I enjoyed his first venture into the Elizabethan era about Sir Francis Drake. When I heard about this novel, I was excited to dive in. Obviously, I knew about the Essex Rebellion and Essex’s fall from grace, but I really wanted to know about the man behind it all.

Robert Devereux was the son of Lettice Knollys and Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. Many recognize Robert’s rather remarkable mother Lettice Knollys as she would gain the ire of Queen Elizabeth when she married the Queen’s favorite, Robert Dudley. Essex’s father Walter would die with a mountain of debt when Essex was a boy. The fact that Essex grew up as a poor Earl does not make him stray away from the lavish lifestyle that he craves. In fact, he adds to his father’s debt with his own, making it nearly impossible to pay off.

What makes him so appealing to Queen Elizabeth I is his youthful bravado. Essex is like a son to Elizabeth I. They were so close that some assumed that they were lovers. Riches puts this myth to rest in this novel. That does not mean that Essex was single like his queen. In fact, he did marry the daughter of the famous spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. His daughter, Frances, is extremely loyal to her children and is not afraid to speak her mind when she believes that Essex is in the wrong. Essex is not exactly the most loyal of husbands as he does have affairs and illegitimate children.

Essex did not shy away from battles. He was known for his ventures in France, Cadiz, and Ireland, but his reputation would be battered like the numerous storms he encountered. He wanted the glory to restore his reputation, but his naivete and anger towards the queen who treated him like a son would lead to his downfall.

There is something magical about a new novel by Tony Riches. He is able to capture the audience’s attention with realistic scenarios, characters that jump from the pages of the past, and dialogue that is entirely believable. Essex may seem like an outlandish character, but his desire to restore his honor and to pay back his debt is understandable. There were moments where I was getting frustrated with Essex because of his poor decision-making skills, but Riches really made me feel sympathetic for this naive young rogue by the end. If you want another brilliant escape into the late Tudor age, I highly recommend you read book two in Tony Riches’ enchanting Elizabethan series, “Essex: Tudor Rebel”.

Essex---Tudor-rebel-Kindle(Blurb)

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.

The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.

Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Buy Links:

This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/bwo16Y

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09246T7ZT
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Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B09246T7ZT
Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B09246T7ZT

 

Tony Riches AuthorAuthor Bio

Tony Riches

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess, Brandon – Tudor Knight and The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham.

Social Media Links:

Website: https://www.tonyriches.com/
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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tonyriches.author/
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Tony-Riches/e/B006UZWOXA
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5604088.Tony_Riches

Book Review: “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II” by Douglas Boyd

55182667._SX318_One of the most infamous families in the history of England lasted for over three hundred years and it was filled with numerous princes that fought for their right to rule, much to the chagrin of the Tudor dynasty. The Plantagenet Dynasty was full of scandals and bloodshed, testing the core values of what it meant to be a family and rulers of an emerging country like England. This dynastic clash for power that came to define this dynasty began with Henry II and his sons by his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. When their father refused to give the boys any true power, which was to be excepted with all princes, his sons waged war against Henry II and their brothers. The stories of these bonds and what ultimately tore them asunder are told in Douglas Boyd’s latest collection of biographies aptly titled, “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II”.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I read the description of this one, I was drawn in. I am always looking for more information about this fractured family, so I decided to give this book a try.

Boyd begins by describing the lifestyles of a knight and how they went into battle, which was essential for a medieval prince. He also dived into the complicated relationship between Eleanor of Aquitaine, her first husband Louis VII of France, and her second husband Henry II. Since Eleanor did not have any make children with Louis VII, she decided to divorce him to marry the soon-to-be King Henry II of England. It is Eleanor’s children with Henry II that are remembered for their feuds. Their sons; Henry the Young King, Richard I, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, and King John fought against one another and their father to some extent for the throne of England. I found the chapters about the sons engaging albeit short.

The big problem that I had with this particular title is that it only spent a portion of the book on the actual princes of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. I was craving more depth, more information out of these chapters, but Boyd decided to go all the way through until the crowning of Henry IV. Once he started to go onto the descendants, I will be honest that I started to find the writing a bit dry.

It is fine as an overview, but I was hoping for a bit more. Boyd also used a lot of research that has been used numerous times. He did not present any new information and reused some myths about these figures. I wanted to hear Boyd’s voice and his opinions about these figures, but it felt lost in this book.

Overall, this book is just okay. I was looking for a bit more depth with the research that focused on the sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, not their descendants. Boyd knows a lot about the Plantagenet dynasty, but it just fell flat for me. If you want a book that gives an overview of the Plantagenets until the coronation of Henry IV, check out “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II” by Douglas Boyd.

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.

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.