Book Review: “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy

43211731 (1)Strong medieval women who helped lead armies were unusual phenomena. Women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and  Margaret of Anjou, have been seen as “she-wolves” and their stories have lived on for centuries. They were all queens, but strong women from the past could be of any rank, even though their stories are not celebrated as much. Take, for example, the story of Joanna of Flanders, Countess of Montfort and Richmond, Duchess of Brittany. She was a wife and mother who protected Hennebont Castle in Brittany from the French in 1342 while her husband was held captive. She then leaves her beloved Brittany for the court of Edward III of England and all but disappears from the historical record until her death in 1374. What happened to this extraordinary woman and why did she disappear from the historical records? Julie Sarpy answers these questions and more in her book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Before I read this book, I knew absolutely nothing about Joanna of Flanders or the part she played in protecting Brittany from France.

In the past, historians, especially Arthur Le Moyne de La Borderie,  have claimed that Joanna was held in confinement by Edward III because she went “mad”. However, Sarpy does not agree with this assessment of her life and she hopes to change that view with this book, as she explains in her introduction:

This book strives to set the record straight about Joanna of Flanders through a fresh reading of legal and administrative records, narrative accounts and comparative studies. It seeks to reveal the pretense behind her guardianship and the means by which Edward III of England perpetrated a hoax. I have tried to separate the facts from fiction and reconcile the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life after October 1343 when she retired to Yorkshire with the known record. Centrally, it is an attempt to demonstrate that her captivity at the hands of Edward III was purposeful and politically motivated. Unfortunately, since then, some authors have been complicit in the sullying of her reputation by claiming she was incarcerated due to mental defect and I seek to correct that. (Sarpy, 10). 

Sarpy introduces her readers to the complex relationship between Brittany, France, and England, as well as the de Montforts and the Blois- Penthievre faction that all played a part in the First Breton Civil War. It is these relationships that are crucial to understanding the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life. The siege of Hennebont showed Joanna as a threat to Edward III’s plans for Brittany, so he had to do something about her. Joanna takes her children to England and Edward III will eventually send her to Tickhill Castle. Sarpy explores mental illness, the medieval laws towards protecting them and about the confinement of the nobility. What Sarpy does very well is that she shows examples of legal cases as well as those who were mad and compared their stories to Joanna’s own story. 

Sarpy’s book contains a ton of information, both historical and legal, but it is relatively easy to understand. As I stated earlier, I didn’t know anything about Joanna of Flanders before I read this book and I did take copious amounts of notes. This book tells the story of Joanna of Flanders in such a way that those who are not familiar with her legacy can understand, yet it also sheds new light for those who knew her story beforehand. Julie Sarpy’s book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” was an enlightening read and I recommend it to those who are interested in learning about Joanna of Flanders, Edward III, the early years of the Hundred Years’ War, and mental illness and confinement in medieval Europe. 

“Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy will be released in the US on October 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order this book, you can find more information here: https://www.amazon.com/Joanna-Flanders-Heroine-Julie-Sarpy/dp/1445688549/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Joanna+of+Flanders%3A+Heroine+and+Exile&qid=1562077490&s=digital-text&sr=1-1-catcorr

 

Guest Book Review by Maya Cherny: “Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?” by James Shapiro

65300494_321122425441366_7196908601477169152_nFirst of all, great Shakespeare questioned? How unthinkable, controversial, bizarre…

I had scraps of information on Shakespeare’s authorship question, from “The Everything Shakespeare Book”, that I read years ago and some recently viewed TV programs, such as “Shakespeare Uncovered” and “Shakespeare: The legacy”. Nevertheless, it was appealing enough for the skeptical mind to question – was really William Shakespeare of Stratford the writer behind these great comedies, tragedies, historical plays, and sonnets?

Looking into the materials on authorship, James Shapiro’s book “Contested Will: Who wrote Shakespeare” came up. How exciting! I would finally know who wrote Shakespeare.

James Shapiro is an English and Comparative Literature professor and the book feels quite academic at first, although well structured.

Then book unfolds to a quest through principal candidates to Shakespeare himself. The division of text by a candidate gives the opportunity to read it by paying attention to one particular contestant, allowing to step out and research other materials, before continuing to the next one.

James Shapiro is leading the reader on a path to rediscover Shakespeare. He navigates the wide historical timeframe from 15xx to modern days, up to 2007. On that journey, that is full of caveats, the reader will meet Freud, Mark Twain and number of Shakespeare’s followers and doubters and discover how authorship movement was born and how political inclinations affected it.

And as in life, the journey feels more important than the outcome.

I definitely came up with much more understanding what is behind the authorship question as well as learning along the way some fascinating tidbits (such as why intermissions in theaters were introduced) – an additional benefit to history nerds!

We might never know the truth behind historical events and personages, although research brings us as close as possible to a realistic version.

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers interested in Shakespeare’s life and works. Though it’s not a book for a novice – some historical interest in medieval times, Britain’s history or 18-19 century’s literature exposure would help to appreciate this meticulously researched and well-written work.

Note:

Just after completing this review and verifying some of the titles, one more interesting resource came up on Amazon Prime “Shakespeare: The King’s Man”, the series by James Shapiro as well. This is on my watch list now!

About the Guest Author:

Hi

My name is Maya Cherny,

I’m a software engineer and mathematician by profession, ballet dancer at heart and recently (about 2 years ago) discovered my interest in British medieval and Tudor history. Started with Philippa Gregory books and then continued to look for authors of fiction and non-fiction for that period in British and medieval history. I picked up Alison Weir “Innocent Traitor” and was enchanted with her style. This prompted me to dive into Alison Weir’s non-fiction (Princes in the Tower were the first, of course), and now almost through her published books.

My favorite historical personages so far are Elizabeth Woodville (started with Elizabeth I and Elizabeth of York) and Reginald Pole (Richard of York and Richard III were on the list as well 😉.

Expanding my learning resources, I completed courses on FutureLearn “The Tudors” and “Learning Shakespeare”.  Thus – “Contested Will”, the book which I’m posting a review, seemed to be a good addition to the Shakespearean course.

This is an enjoyable learning process, starting at the point “why they all were called the same name and is it possible to distinguish them?” and moving on to talking only about history and looking for the kids’ history books to involve them as well.

Book Review: “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals” by Amy Licence

9188WGCCbpLHistorically, royal marriages have been viewed with such interest. A king and a queen who can come from either similar or different backgrounds in order to make their country better, or in some cases, worse. During the Wars of the Roses, there were some legendary relationships that shaped the war between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville. Richard III and Anne Neville. Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. However, these relationships fail in comparison to the impact that the marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou had on England during this time. Henry VI was seen as a weak, pious ruler; Margaret was seen as too strong for a woman. They have been viewed separately for a long time, never as a couple. That is until Amy Licence wrote her latest biography, “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this lovely book. I have always been fascinated by Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou so this book was a delight to read.

In her introduction, Licence explains how Henry and Margaret have been viewed in the past, separately and as a couple.

Little attention has been given to Henry and Margaret as a pair, in terms of their marriage, their life together and their joint rule. This is partly because less evidence survives about their intimate relationship, leading it to be reduced to a few simple anecdotes about Margaret being already a woman at the time of her marriage and Henry’s reputed prudery…. Contemporary and subsequent historians have exploited a far more subtle relationship dynamic to undermine Henry and Margaret as individuals, as a couple and as rulers, by playing on fifteenth-century gender expectations…. Almost six hundred years after Henry’s birth, the time is right for a reappraisal of their lives and marriage, which has no need to adhere to strict cultural codes about gender, but can use them as a starting point to deconstruct the identities of two atypical individuals. (Licence, x)

Licence starts her biography by exploring the lives of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou before they became husband and wife. They had very different upbringings. Henry was the son of Henry, the strong warrior King,  and Catherine of Valois. He was declared King of England and France at a very young age since his father died while he was a few months old. Margaret was the daughter of Rene of Anjou, who was a king without a kingdom. Their union seems very unlikely, but it worked rather well, although there were some in England who wasn’t exactly thrilled for the royal couple.

It wasn’t until the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses broke out that we see how strong the relationship between Henry and Margaret truly was. Henry was weaker than his father Henry V and he did suffer from some sort of mental illness, so Margaret had to step in to help take care of him and their son while defending the throne from the Yorkists. They had to make tough choices, but Henry and Margaret did them together. Licence shows the dynamic of this relationship, not only by using English sources but by using reports from foreign ambassadors. Reading these sources allows the reader to understand that Henry and Margaret were more complex individuals than what we see in history books.

Licence presents a fresh new look at this power couple. Henry and Margaret’s story is one of love and heartache, full of both joy and struggles.  Henry might have been a weaker medieval king than his father and Margaret might have been a bit stronger than most medieval women, but that is what makes them so unique. This book packed a lot of wonderful information in it about not only their relationship, but the Wars of the Roses, and the cult of Henry VI which formed after his death. It was an absolute pleasure to read. I did not want to put this book down.  I highly recommend that you have “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals” by Amy Licence in your personal library if you are interested in Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou and the Wars of the Roses.

Book Review: “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence

61lJBy4FGrL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I, is one of the unique characters of the Tudor era. She was the sister of one of the king’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn, which she could have been, but Henry wanted Anne as his queen. Unfortunately, he was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. It is Henry’s divorce to Catherine and his relationship with Anne, the rise and fall, is what many people look at, but there is more to Anne’s story than just her life with Henry. What was Anne’s life really like and what really caused her fall? These are just a few questions that Amy Licence tackles in her latest biography, “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire.”

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review. I haven’t read many biographies about Anne Boleyn so this was a unique experience.

In her introduction, Amy Licence explains her approach to Anne’s life and why she is such an interesting figure to study:

Anne’s is very much a Tudor story, a narrative that balances on the cusp of old and new, equally informed by both. It has been told many times before, but what this version aims to offer afresh is a sense of continuity with earlier Boleyn generations. She was born into an ambitious dynasty, with each generation taking a step forward in terms of career and martial advancements…. That she was the most successful Boleyn cannot be disentangled from her gender and class. By the definitions of her time, Anne was an overreacher in more than one sense. She was a woman, born to be a wife, but not that of the king. She was an aristocrat, descended from the influential Howards, observing but not trained in the demands of queenship. She transcended boundaries of expected behaviour on both counts, which was both her most remarkable achievement and created her two areas of greatest vulnerability. This account of Anne’s life prioritises her relationship with the defining issues of gender and class, tracing their role in her rise and fall. (Licence, 8).

Licence begins her biography by going back to the origins of the Boleyn family, with Anne’s ancestor, Geoffrey Boleyn. Geoffrey came from very humble beginnings, but he worked hard and rose to become the Lord Mayor of London, as well as a knight. His descendants continued this tradition of working hard, which Licence takes the time to explain thoroughly so that the reader can understand that they were not necessarily overreachers; they were hard workers. This background information is extremely helpful to understand the Boleyn family as a whole.

The main focus of Licence’s book is  Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII, her husband. By including the letters between Anne and Henry, the reader can see how the relationship started and how their relationship ended in a dramatic fashion. Henry was the one who really took control of the relationship.  Anne may have learned how to be a strong woman from working in the French court, but she was no match for Henry VIII.

Although there have been many biographies about Anne Boleyn, this one stands out because Anne is seen in more of a sympathetic light. Licence combines a plethora of details with a writing style that is easy to understand to bring Anne out of the dark side of history. I learned so much about a queen I thought I knew.“Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence was an absolute delight to read. It is a real page-turner and is a must for anyone who loves to read about the Tudors, the wives of Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn.

Book Review: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ by Heather R. Darsie

61mfurP7xALThe wives of Henry VIII are some of the most hotly-discussed women of the Tudor Dynasty. They all had unique lives and origins before and after they met the man that connects them all. Two of his brides, Catherine of Aragon and Anna, Duchess of Cleves, were foreign princesses and their marriages were used to create alliances with Spain and Germany respectfully. While Catherine of Aragon and the rest of the wives of Henry VIII get a ton of attention, Anna Duchess of Cleves tends to be brushed aside. She is often seen as the wife that Henry did not approve of because of her looks. However, Heather R. Darsie decided to change how we view Anna with her groundbreaking debut biography, “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. Anna, Duchess of Cleves has been one of those women who I wanted to learn more about, so I was very excited to read a biography about her.  

Anna’s story is often told through the English perspective, but it does not tell the entire story. Anna was born in Germany so it makes sense to tell her story using both English and German sources. Darsie explains her approach to this book and her purpose for writing her biography of Anna in the way she does:

Anna’s life and experiences from the German experiences are very different in some ways than what has been described in English-language books. This is not to say that any English biographies about Anna are wrong, but rather that the German sources help make more sense of Anna’s life and short marriage. The German sources show what a valuable bride Anna was to any suitor, and why she stayed on in England after moving there in December 1539. It is my sincere hope that this biography augments the generally accepted view of Anna, her family, and the political entanglements in which she was enmeshed. I also hope it brings more knowledge about German history to English speakers. (Darsie, 8-9).

Darsie brings a fresh new perspective to Anna’s life by explaining her foundations and her family in the German court. This is critical for understanding what kind of woman Anna was like and why the marriage between Anna and Henry was necessary. We are introduced to Anna’s family; her mother Maria, her brother Wilhelm, and her sisters Sybylla and Amalia, who all play a crucial role in shaping the path Anna’s life will take. Anna’s family had a huge influence in German and European politics and the decisions that they made will shape not only German history but European history forever. This was also the start of the Protestant Reformation and the battle between Lutheranism and Catholicism ensues with Anna’s family caught directly in the middle.

This book is an eye-opening read. By exploring the political and religious factors of the time, as well as the German and English primary sources, Darsie is able to tell a complete story of Anna, Duchess of Cleves. She was not just some footnote in history. She was a strong, independent German princess who was doing what she could in order to survive. Darsie’s engaging writing style combined with her knowledge of not only German history but legal documents which shaped the agreements of Henry and Anna’s relationship as well as the understanding of the religious conflicts of the time, blend together masterfully to create a stunning debut. “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie is an absolute game-changer when it comes to studying the marriage between Henry VIII and his fourth wife Anna Duchess of Cleves and I highly recommend Tudor fans to read this book. This may be Heather R. Darsie’s first book, but I look forward to reading more of her books.

 

“Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie will be published in the US on July 1, 2019.

If you are interested in pre-ordering the book for the US, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister/dp/1445677105

Book Review: “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle

61tJwNfDrEL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)Every family has their own stories. Stories of how they became a family, how they fought hard to get where they are today. Stories filled with love, drama, and endurance. When it comes to royal families, their stories tend to be broadcast to the masses, and none more so than the Tudors, who have captured the imagination of history lovers for generations. The Tudor’s story is often told in parts, focusing on individual people like Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. The Tudor story is fascinating told in parts, but as a whole, one sees how hard they worked to become a dynasty that will be remembered for centuries after their deaths. It is time for the story of this extraordinary family to be told as a whole and Leanda de Lisle does so in her book, “Tudor”.

The Tudors and their story often starts in books with the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, but that does a disservice to the humble beginnings of Owen Tudor and how they struggled to survive during the Wars of the Roses. It is their origin story that the Tudors used to their advantage, as de Lisle describes in her introduction:

The Tudors believed they were building on the past to create something different- and better- even if they differed on how. The struggle of Henry VII and his heirs to secure the line of succession, and the hopes, loves and losses of the claimants- which dominated and shaped the history of the Tudor family and their times- are the focus of this book. The universal appeal of the Tudors also lies in the family stories: of a mother’s love for her son, of the husband who kills his wives, of siblings who betray one another, of reckless love affairs, of rival cousins, of an old spinster whose heirs hope to hurry her to her end. (de Lisle, 4).

De Lisle begins her book with the story of Owen Tudor and the Welsh Tudors. It is a story of an unlikely love between a Welsh man who served in the house of the mother of the King of England. However, their story is a bit more complex. Owen Tudor descended from those who were involved in a Welsh rebellion against Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king, he married the wife and mother of two other Lancastrian kings, and his sons were the half-brothers of a Lancastrian King, Henry VI. Talk about a twist of faith. To top it all off, his only grandson, Henry Tudor, was the only child of Margaret Beaufort, who was married four different times and did everything in her power to protect her son. It all culminated in one battle at Bosworth Field where the Tudors go from nobodies to a royal dynasty.

It is this thin line of royal blood that the Tudors cling to as a lifeline to hold onto their throne. Starting with Henry VII, who fought against usurpers and rebels to hold onto the crown that he won on the battlefield. Henry believed in the importance of his family and so he chooses marriages for his children that would benefit the family as a whole. What de Lisle does well is she gives each child of Henry VII the respect that they deserve; she does not just focus on Henry VIII but gives attention to Arthur, Mary, and Margaret Tudor and their children. This is so important as it gives the reader a broader sense of how far the Tudor family ties went. Sure, we all know the stories of Henry VIII, his wives, and his children, but the Tudor story is much deeper than just the family in England. It is a story full of European players all vying for the crown of England.

Leanda de Lisle is able to masterfully tell the story of the Tudors, which has been discussed for centuries and breathe new life into this complex family drama. De Lisle balances meticulous research with an easily accessible writing style in this book that fans of the Tudor dynasty, both scholars and casual readers, will appreciate. This is a book that you will not want to put down. I would recommend this book, “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle, to anyone who is enchanted with the story of the Tudors and their legacy on England. “Tudor” is an absolute triumph and a delight to read over and over again.

Book Review: “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman

91Fs0VzQnKLThe Tudor era has enchanted generations of history lovers with its interesting monarchs and scandals. The beautiful outfits, the political drama of the age, the legendary marriages of King Henry VIII, the children of Henry VIII, and how England grew into a dominant force in European politics. These are the things that people tend to focus on when studying the Tudors, yet this is a very narrow view of the time period. We tend to focus on the inner workings of the court system, but we don’t focus on the common people who lived in England during this time. What was it like to live in Tudor England for the common people? This is the question that Ruth Goodman explores in her book, “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life”.

In her introduction Ruth Goodman explains her journey into studying the lives of ordinary Tudors and why she chose to write this particular book:

There are many books and studies based on the lives of the Tudor elite, upon the powerful and well-documented, but my interest has always been bound up with the more humble sections of society. As a fairly ordinary person myself who needs to eat, sleep and change the occasional nappy, I wanted from the beginning to know how people coped day to day, to know what resources they really had at their disposal, what skills they needed to acquire and what it all felt like. Twenty-five years ago I could find no book to tell me, and even now when social history receives far more academic attention than before, information is still thin on the ground. So I set out to try and work it out for myself: hunting up period recipes and trying them out; learning to manage fires and skin rabbits; standing on one foot with a dance manual in one hand, trying to make sense of where my next move should be. The more I experimented, the more information I began to find within the period texts that I was looking at. Things that I had just skimmed past in the reading became quite critical in practice, prompting more questions and very much more intense research. (Goodman, xii-xiii).

Goodman has taken her research and her adventures in trying to live like a common Tudor and has written a book that everyone can enjoy. This book explores daily activities of the ordinary Tudor family, from morning to night, in order to give her readers a better understanding of this remarkable time period. It is a book that provides a plethora of information from which Tudor bed is the most comfortable to how normal Tudors bathed, to how to brew your own ale and how to make your own bread and cheese.

All of this information is rather interesting, but Goodman takes it a couple steps further. First, she explains her own experiences attempting to replicate what she found in manuals and sources from the Tudor time period. It is one thing to read primary sources, which Goodman does include, but by including experiences from the author herself, it adds another level of depth and credibility to the book and to her research. Another step that Goodman takes in her book to add depth is explaining the reasoning behind why the average Tudor did what they did. Some of it is because of religion and some had to do with how they understood how the human body operated through the four humours. By taking the time to understand these elements, the reader can understand why the Tudors did things a certain way, which may seem a bit foreign to a modern audience.

Ruth Goodman gives the lives of ordinary Tudors the attention they deserve. The Tudor dynasty was not just about the flashy monarchy. The majority of the people were common farmers and craftsmen. In order to understand this period of time, one has to look at the lives of the royalty and the regular people. “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman is a stunning example of how living history can help explain the past and should be on anyone’s booklist who is interested in seriously studying the Tudor dynasty.  This book is an absolute delight to read. 

Book Review: “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty” by Elizabeth Norton

9781445605784_p0_v1_s550x406The Wars of the Roses was a time of great hardships and strong men and women who did everything they could in order to survive. One of these remarkable people was a woman who did everything she could to make sure her only son lived and prospered. She was the daughter of a man who, allegedly committed suicide, she had four different husbands and gave birth to her son at the age of thirteen. She helped organize rebellions and a marriage that helped her son win the throne of England. Her name was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. Her remarkable story is told in Elizabeth Norton’s insightful book, “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty.”

This was a time of extraordinary men and women who knew both triumphs and tragedies. Margaret Beaufort was no exception as Fortune’s wheel gave her quite a ride, as Elizabeth Norton explains:

The idea of Fortune’s wheel, with its random changes from prosperity to disaster, was a popular one in medieval England, and Margaret Beaufort, with her long and turbulent life, saw herself, and was seen by others, as the living embodiment of the concept. Margaret was the mother of the Tudor dynasty in England, and it was through her that Henry VII was able to bid for the throne and gather enough strength to claim it. She knew times of great prosperity and power, but also times of deep despair. These were, to a large extent, products of the period in which Margaret lived, and her family, the Beauforts, had also suffered and prospered from Fortune’s random spin in the years before her birth. (Norton, 9).

Norton begins her book by explaining the origins of the Beaufort family, with the relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. It is through John of Gaunt that the Beauforts were able to go from illegitimate children to royal relations. This connection brought them a lot of favors, but it also brought a lot of heartaches. When the Beauforts fell, they fell hard, like Margaret’s father John Beaufort who allegedly committed suicide after a failed mission in France. His death meant that Margaret, his only child, was made a very wealthy heiress and a very eligible young lady on the marriage market. She was married to her first husband at the tender age of 10, but it did not last long. Her second marriage was to King Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor. He died before he could meet his son, leaving Margaret a mother and a widow before she turned 14. This might have been a dark moment in any young woman’s life, but Margaret grows from this experience, for herself and her only son Henry Tudor.

Margaret used her next two marriages, to Sir Henry Stafford and Lord Thomas Stanley, to her advantage to help her son’s cause. Henry was on the run with his uncle Jasper during this time since the Yorkist cause saw him as a potential heir to the throne. It was Margaret’s influence with the court and her financial support that helped her son and her brother-in-law survive during this time. It all paid off and after years apart, she was reunited with her son after the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry was victorious and declared King Henry VII. The Tudor Dynasty was created, and Margaret Beaufort began her new role as the King’s Mother. She was a mother-in-law to Elizabeth of York, a grandmother to Henry and Elizabeth’s children, and a patroness for colleges and universities. Margaret was a devout woman who also had control of her own finances, even though she was married. Fortune’s wheel gave Margaret Beaufort quite a ride, but she endured it and helped create one of the greatest dynasties in English history, the Tudor dynasty.

Elizabeth Norton sheds light on Margaret Beaufort’s story. In recent years, Margaret Beaufort has been vilified but reading the letters written by Margaret and from people who knew her shows who she really was, a strong and devout woman who would do anything for her son. Norton is able to balance the facts that we know about Margaret’s life and times with letters and poems about her and Norton’s engaging writing style to give Margaret a biography she deserves. This biography is meticulously researched and a delight to read. If you want a fascinating biography about this remarkable woman, I highly recommend you read Elizabeth Norton’s “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty”.

Book Review: “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462” by Hugh Bicheno

519b6FCcEGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In recent years, the study of the English conflict known as the “Wars of the Roses” has become rather popular. The Lancasters and the Yorks fighting for the English throne. Only one can be the winner. When we do look at this time period, we tend to focus on the people involved in the battles and the political aspect of the conflict. The battles, how they were fought, and why the conflict started in the first place tend to be pushed to the sideline. That is not the case with this particular book. In Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”, the political and military aspects combine with family histories for a comprehensive look into what made this time period so fascinating.

I came across this particular book by browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I saw that it was about the Wars of the Roses, but I was not familiar with the author. I decided to give it a shot and I am so glad I did. This book is a delight and a fantastic resource.

Bicheno starts his book by exploring two extraordinary women whose families would shape the direction that the Wars of the Roses would take; Jacquetta Woodville and Catherine de Valois. Both women married for love and this love would shape who would win the crown of England, as Bicheno explains:

Sometimes love does conquer all: despite having turned their backs on the game of power, Catherine and Jacquetta became the common ancestors of every English monarch since 1485. Before that could happen, all those with a superior claim to the throne had first to wipe each other out. This they did in what was, in essence, a decades-long, murderously sordid dispute over an inheritance within a deeply dysfunctional extended family. It became merciless not despite but because the combatants had so much in common, and projected their own darkest intentions onto each other….it was an extraordinary period in English history. Four of the six kings crowned between 1399 and 1485 were usurpers who killed their predecessors, undermining the concept of divine right as well as the prestige of the ruling class. (Bicheno, 10-11).

Family drama is the center of Bicheno’s book so he spends several chapters laying out the major players and how they were related to one another. This can get a tad bit confusing for those who are not familiar with the story, so Bicheno has included family trees and a list of protagonists and marriages to help readers. I will say that they became very useful for me as I was reading this book and I would highly suggest you use the resources that Bicheno has included in this book for future research. Bicheno also included maps, which corresponded with the different battles that were important between 1440 and 1462, not only in England but in France, Wales, and Scotland as well.

What really impressed me about this book was the amount of detail that Bicheno was able to include and making it understandable for any casual student of the Wars of the Roses, yet engaging enough for a scholar. That is not an easy feat, but Bicheno is able to do it. He uses modern data with extensive research of historical documents, knowledge of medieval military strategies, and interpreting all of this information for modern readers, which included a few nods to a certain popular show(Game of Thrones) that is roughly based off of the events of this time period.

Hugh Bicheno breathes new life into the study of the Wars of the Roses. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first started reading this book, but I am extremely glad I did. Even if you think you know tons about the Wars of the Roses, this book will surprise you with new information and make you question your previous knowledge about the battles in the first part of this tumultuous time. If you have an interest in the Wars of the Roses and understanding how it occurred from a military and a political point of view, I highly suggest you read Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”. It is an eye-opening, riveting reading experience.

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors” by Conn Iggulden

41+RQteGLUL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_By the year 1470, England had been embroiled in a civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster for nearly 20 years. Edward IV was king until he was driven out of the country by his former best friend Warwick and Edward’s own brother, George Duke of Clarence. The House of Lancaster is back in charge with Henry VI, but Edward IV and his other brother Richard Duke of Gloucester are not giving up without a fight. However, there is another family who wants to fight for the throne, the Tudors. How will it come to an end? Who will become King of England when all the major battles come to an end? These questions are answered in Conn Iggulden’s thrilling conclusion to his Wars of the Roses series, “Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors.”

We are thrown back into the story with Edward forced to leave England and his wife and children forced to go into sanctuary while the Lancasters, with Warwick and George Duke of Clarence taking over military control. We are also introduced to new characters. Jasper Tudor, his nephew Henry Tudor, and Edward’s other brother Richard Duke of Gloucester, who would one day become King Richard III. In his historical note, Conn Iggulden explains Richard, his twisted spine and the struggle he might have had on the battlefield:

For all those who have imbibed a romantic view of King Richard III, I think they have cause to be grateful to Shakespeare, for all the bard’s delight in making him a hunchbacked villain. Without Shakespeare, Richard Plantagenet was only king for two years and would have been just a minor footnote to his brother’s reign. There is not one contemporary mention of physical deformity, though we know now that his spine was twisted. He would have lived in constant pain, but then so did many active fighting men. There is certainly no record of Richard ever needing a special set of armour for a raised shoulder. Medieval swordsmen, like Roman soldiers before them, would have been noticeably larger on their right sides. A school friend of mine turned down a career as a professional fencer because of the way his right shoulder was developing into a hump from constant swordplay- and that was with a light, fencing blade. Compare his experience to that of a medieval swordsman using a broader blade, three feet long or even longer, where strength and stamina meant the difference between victory and a humiliating death. (Iggulden, 456-457).

Iggulden explores the relationship between the main characters; Edward IV, Warwick, Jasper Tudor, Richard III, George Duke of Clarence, and Henry Tudor, and how the events between 1470 and 1485 radically changed their lives forever. The betrayal of Warwick and George and how that affected Edward and Richard. How Edward and Richard leaving England for a time affected Elizabeth Woodville and her children. When Edward and Richard landed in Ravenspur and marched against Warwick and George at the Battle of Barnet. The final defeat of the Lancasterian cause at the Battle of Tewkesbury and what followed after the death of Edward IV in 1483. And of course, the Battle of Bosworth where Henry Tudor wins the crown and begins the Tudor dynasty.

“Ravenspur” is a well-written and thrilling conclusion to Iggulden’s “Wars of the Roses” series. He was able to combine exciting battle scenes with family drama, internal dialogue, and political intrigue to create a masterpiece of a series. The only problem I had with the book was that I did want more dialogue from Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort. They seemed to have been sprinkled in when it was convenient. Overall, I found “Ravenspur” engaging and enjoyable. If you have read the three previous books in Conn Iggulden’s series, I highly encourage you to read “Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors” as it brings the Wars of the Roses to a dramatic end.