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.

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Bloodline” by Conn Iggulden

51nExUGFrkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The deaths of the Duke of York, Earl Salisbury and Edmund Earl of Rutland at the Battle of Wakefield at the end of 1460 marked a changing point for how the Wars of the Roses was fought. Now it was not going to be simply a matter of who was going to be the King of England, but it was a war of revenge. What the Lancastrians did not realize at the time was the fact that these deaths would unleash two men who would mark the destruction of the Lancastrian cause; Edward Duke of York, the future King Edward IV, and Richard Neville Earl of Warwick “the Kingmaker”. In the third book of Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses series called “Bloodline”, Iggulden explores the rise of these two dynamic men and how family matters tore the two best friends apart.

After the victory at Wakefield, Margaret of Anjou marched her Lancastrian forces to London, but they were not allowed to enter. The Lancastrians decided to keep marching until they meet the Yorkists at St. Albans for a rematch, on February 17, 1461. The Lancastrians were able to win the battle and regain control of King Henry VI. However, this was a small victory. After the defeat, Edward Duke of York decided to take up the claim to the throne that his father left behind, and declared himself King Edward IV of England. That’s right, there were two kings of England in 1461. Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians were not about to give without a fight. They met Edward IV, Warwick and the Yorkists forces outside Towton on March 29, 1461, during a snowstorm. The Battle of Towton is known to be the bloodiest battle on English soil and the way Iggulden described the onslaught is masterful. In the end, the Yorkists are victorious and Edward IV is officially the King of England while Henry VI is held captive in the Tower of London while Margaret of Anjou and her son flee to France for help.

After Towton, Edward IV and Warwick are closer than ever. Warwick wants to do what he can to help support his friend and king so he tries to arrange a marriage between Edward and a French princess, to form an alliance. However, Edward has other ideas and marries Elizabeth Woodville and decides to tell Warwick later. I find it fascinating that Iggulden decided to change how Edward and Elizabeth met as it is quite different from what traditionally is told about how they met, but it works really well. Edward’s brother George Duke of Clarence falls in love with Warwick’s daughter Isabel and wants to marry her.  This is the moment when Edward and Warwick really begin to feud.

Iggulden explains in his Historical Note why he decides to focus on this aspect of their relationship quite a bit:

In the first two books, I have tried to explore the sheer awe felt by some for the person of the king of England. It is the only thing that explains why King Henry remained alive despite being captured by York and held for months at a time. Yet it is also true of human nature that “awe” is less likely when one witnessed a boy growing up and becoming king. No man is a prophet in his own home- and Warwick was sufficiently exasperated with Edward and his wife to throw it all into the air and arrange Edward’s capture and imprisonment. (Iggulden, 402).

It is interesting to read about the relationship between these two friends and how that friendship turned into hatred because Edward decided to marry for love. Iggulden is able to capture the shifting relationships between the main characters extremely well in the third book of this amazing series. The blend of battles, political intrigue and romance is perfect and keeps the reader engaged. This is the fall of the Lancasters and the rise of the Yorks.  If you were a fan of the first two books of the Wars of the Roses series, I highly encourage you to read “Wars of the Roses: Bloodline” by Conn Iggulden.

Book Review: “The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King” by Keith J. Coleman

cover156859-mediumA king who died on the battlefield and his remains were never found. His story and his legacy went through many revisions throughout history. This sounds like a certain English king, King Richard III, but this story actually takes place decades after Richard’s death in Scotland. This is the story of King James IV of Scotland, who died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. It was this event and how James IV was viewed afterward which Keith J. Coleman explores in his book, “The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King”.

I would like to thank Chronos Books for sending an advance copy of this book. I was not very familiar with Scottish history before reading this book so it was a very interesting read.

Coleman explains why James IV’s reign is so unique and why there were some who questioned whether the king actually died at Flodden:

Whispers about James IV defying fate and living on after his catastrophic last battle were a widespread reflex to unexpected tragedy common with many countries. Other kings are said to have cheated death and gone into hiding, or become religious penitents who went to Jerusalem or Rome. Some of these lost leaders shared another of the king’s rumoured fates: murdered by some person they knew and trusted. But very few have been believed to be actually resident in another, supernatural dimension, as one tradition of James IV insisted. This was the destiny of the truly elite, such as the primal warlord Arthur.  No ruler, not even the great emperor Charlemagne, attracted so many diverse tales about himself so immediately after his apparent death. (Coleman, 5-6).

Coleman begins his book by exploring the relationship between James IV and his father James III, as well as exploring what James IV’s reign was like. James IV did not have the best relationship with his father since James IV became the figurehead of the opposition party who wanted to see his father dead. After his father’s death, James IV became king and is said to have worn an iron belt to atone for his sins against his father. James IV was something of a ladies’ man and had numerous illegitimate children, but he did marry Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, and had legitimate children with her. Under their marriage arrangement, James IV was not to attack England and vice versa, but James IV decided to attack while Henry VIII was away fighting in France. The one flaw in his plan was the fact that Henry VIII had his wife Catherine of Aragon take over military command while he was away and she was not going to let James IV invade. The Scottish and English armies met at the Battle of Flodden on September 9, 1513.

Since we don’t have accurate records of the Battle of Flodden, Coleman explains how the Scottish viewed the battle versus how the English and the rest of Europe viewed this event through literature. It is a very typical historiographical study, but what makes it unique is the addition of the legends and folklore about the king that came after his death. In some parts, this book does read like a ghost story combined with history. It is different, but it does capture the fascination with the supernatural that the Scottish had. In addition, Coleman explores how other historical figures received similar treatments throughout history.

This was the first book that I have read solely on Scottish history and it was a compelling read. It was a bit confusing at points when the history and supernatural elements combine, which was different to be sure, but overall it was a thought-provoking book. This may not be the best book for those who are being introduced to Scottish history, but it is one for those who are familiar with the eclectic approach of Scottish history and those who are interested in King James IV. Keith J. Coleman achieves a unique balance of the historical and supernatural elements to this specific king’s life and legacy in his book, “The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King”.

“The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King” by Keith J. Coleman, published by Chronos Books, comes out on April 26, 2019. If you are interested in ordering this book, you can find more information about how here: https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/chronos-books/our-books/afterlife-king-james-iv

Book Review: “World Without End” by Ken Follett

Europe during the 14th century was full of danger, the start of a conflict that would be91zMJG7u8vL known as the Hundred Years’ War, and the massively destructive illness that we know today as either “the Black Death” or “the Black Plague”. This was a time of despair, but it was also a time where we see a shift from old traditions of the church and the state. It is also two centuries after the events of Ken Follett’s massively popular book, “The Pillars of the Earth”. Follett explores how the people of Kingsbridge survived during this tumultuous time in his second book of the Kingsbridge series, “World Without End”.

Follett begins his book with his main characters as children in the church that he wrote about in the first book, Kingsbridge Cathedral. They are the descendants of the protagonists of “The Pillars of the Earth”, but they all come from different backgrounds. Their names are Merthin, Caris, Gwenda, and Ralph. These children decide one day to play in the forest near Kingsbridge, where they come across a man named Thomas and they witness a killing. They promise to keep the secret until Thomas dies, but this one act will intertwine the lives of the friends forever.

Like “The Pillars of the Earth”, “World Without End” focuses on the growth of these characters over decades and how their lives and their hard work change the town of Kingsbridge. Merthin takes on the role of the builder, just like his ancestor Jack Builder, who believes in his radical new ideas to help the town, even though his elders think his ideas are too far out there. Ralph is Merthin’s brother who strives to be the best soldier he can be in order to bring honor to himself and to impress those around him. Ralph does whatever it takes to make sure his ambitions are realized, even if it means stepping over his family and friends. Caris is an independent woman who has a love of helping others, learning how to dye and sell wool, and learning medical practices. She has a complicated relationship with the church and with Merthin. Finally, Gwenda is a woman in love with the handsome  Wulfric and would do anything to make sure his dreams come true.

At the center of their world is the Kingsbridge cathedral and the struggle between the guild, the monks and the nuns. All three groups are fighting against each other for the power to control the town. It is the struggle between the monks and the nuns that adds a layer of depth to this story as we see that although both groups are focused on bringing glory to God, they have different means of achieving that goal and they often get in each other’s way. The nuns want to help heal the people of Kingsbridge, especially during the time of the plague, but the monks don’t believe the nuns know what they are doing.

To top it all off, this was the time of King Edward II’s murder, Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer, and King Edward III. It was a complex time for English politics and to add a cherry on top, Edward III declared war on France because he believed he was the rightful King of France, thus starting the Hundred Years’ War. We see elements of the repercussions of the start of this conflict as we see some characters in France, fighting at the Battle of Crecy, which was a victory for the English. If I do have one thing to criticize about this novel, it would be that I wish Follett included more with King Edward III in the story. The actual historical figures feel sprinkled in and I wish they were more incorporated into the story.

As a whole, I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the story. Like in “The Pillars of the Earth”, there were moments in this sequel which did bother me a bit because of the graphic detail, but the actual story was very engaging. I would spend hours at a time binge reading this book. The characters and their individual stories were well written. Sequels, especially for extremely popular books, can fall flat. Not this book. It is the perfect sequel for “The Pillars of the Earth” as it continues the legacy left behind by Prior Philip and Jack Builder. If you enjoyed the first book in the Kingsbridge series, “The Pillars of the Earth”, I highly recommend you read Ken Follett’s book, “World Without End”.  

Book Review: “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett

91wIRMJzYSLWhen one thinks about epic tales stories of adventures and romance tend to come to mind. One hardly thinks about the construction of a magnificent building as an “epic tale” with monks and builders as the main characters. We see cathedrals as these massive buildings from the past used as churches, but we rarely think about how they were constructed and why. Who were the people who decided to make these spectacular buildings and what might have their lives have been like? These are just some of the questions that Ken Follett wanted to try and answer in his monumental historical fiction masterpiece, “The Pillars of the Earth”.

Ken Follett is known worldwide as an author of spy thrillers, but for decades the story of a 12th-century cathedral in a town called Kingsbridge and the people who helped build it was always in the back of his mind. In 1989, he decided to take a risk and publish his first ever historical fiction novel. To say the book was a sensation would be an understatement. In the 25th anniversary edition of this wonderful novel, Follett explores why he thinks this particular story made such a splash:

Many times in the last twenty-five years, I have been asked why “Pillars” has had such a big impact. There’s no simple answer, because a novel is so complex. But I come back again and again to the people who built the cathedrals. Those men and women were, by modern standards, poor and ignorant. They lived in wooden huts and slept on the floor. Yet they created the most beautiful and awesome buildings the world has ever known. Human beings have the capacity to rise above mundane circumstances and touch the eternal. This is what “Pillars” is about, and, in the end, I think that may be why it has so profoundly touched the hearts of so many readers for so many years. (Follett, xxii).

Follett introduces his readers to the world of 12th-century Kingsbridge, England with the execution of a thief. Compared to the rest of the story this prologue seems a bit odd since it happened over a decade before the actual story begins, but Follett was able to use the details of the prologue throughout the entire novel. Twelve years after the execution, we are introduced to Tom Builder and his family as they struggle to survive after he was fired from a building job for William Hamleigh, who was dumped by Lady Aliena. Tom’s life is turned upside down when his wife Agnes dies giving birth to a son and he falls in love with a woman named Ellen, who is the mother of Jack Jackson. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Prior Philip, a man who wants to reform Kingsbridge Priory. Tom and Philip both have a dream of making a wonderful cathedral in Kingsbridge.

This is the story of the building of Kingsbridge Cathedral, but it is also a story of those who lived in Kingsbridge. It is about their triumphs and tragedies. It is about family and love, revenge and heartache. There were some very dramatic scenes that shocked me, however, I believe Follett used these scenes to grow his characters to be strong; physically, mentally and emotionally. Follett may not be a spiritual man, but he was able to capture the spirituality of the age through Prior Philip and the struggle between the church and the state through the building of the cathedral. The cast of characters, both good and bad, are very well-rounded and complex and you really want to know what will happen to them by the end of the story.

I usually read books about the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty, but I decided to take a chance and read the Kingsbridge series because I heard amazing things about this series. I did have to remind myself about Queen Maud, King Stephen, King  Henry II, and Thomas Becket since I don’t study this time period often. Follett was able to make the 12th-century to come alive. I did not want to stop reading this book. I absolutely loved the story, the scenery, the amount of details and the colorful cast of characters. This was a huge risk for Follett to jump into the world of historical fiction, but it paid off extremely well. “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett is a stunning masterpiece and I highly recommend it to anyone who really enjoys a thrilling historical fiction novel.

Book Review: “Jane the Quene” by Janet Wertman

513yHRNsuFLHenry VIII may have had six wives, but only one could give him the desired son that he wanted. She was kind, demure and everything that Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn was not. Her name was Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. Sadly, she is often remembered for the birth of her son and her death. However, there was a lot more to Jane’s story than the ending. What was her relationship with her family like? How did she fall in love with the King? And how was her relationship with her romantic rival, Anne Boleyn? These are just some of the questions that Janet Wertman strives to answer in her first novel of her new Seymour Saga called, “Jane the Quene”.

I would like to thank Janet Wertman for sending me a copy of “Jane the Quene”. This was a delightful read and a fantastic start to the Seymour Saga.

Wertman begins her book with a prologue of Jane Seymour entering the services of Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. In this opening scene, we begin to see a rivalry bloom between Jane and her cousins Anne and Mary Boleyn. After Catherine and Henry divorce, Anne Boleyn becomes Queen and Jane Seymour is in the services of the new queen, hoping to help and serve while looking for a husband. Her brother Edward does not think that having Jane in court is really working to help her find a husband. He wants to send her home so that her younger sister can possibly find a husband, but things change when King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn visit Wolf Hall. Wertman description of how the king and Jane become friends during this visit is rather charming and very natural. Jane tries to ignore the king’s interest in her, but Henry can’t forget the kind and demure nature of Jane and eventually, the two fall in love, even though Henry is still married to Anne.

In the middle of this tangled love mess is Thomas Cromwell, a clerk who wants to please his king in order to make his own career grow. Henry is not happy with his marriage to Anne Boleyn since she has not been able to give him  a son, so he gives Cromwell the task of “getting rid of her”. However, Cromwell needs to find another wife who would be the opposite of Anne Boleyn. That is when he comes up with a plan to make Jane Seymour Henry’s next wife and queen, which does succeed.  

Wertman’s Jane Seymour is a complex character who cares about her family and her husband. She is not just some plain wallflower who merely followed Anne Boleyn as Henry’s wife for a short time. With strong allies, like Cromwell and her brothers Edward and Thomas, Jane rises like a phoenix and survives all of the hate from Anne to become Henry’s beloved wife and queen. Wertman portrays Henry VIII as a man who is intelligent, caring and who struggles with how to reform the church.

Wertman breathes new life into the story of Jane Seymour. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, which is the first book in her Seymour Saga, as it balances the political intrigue of the Tudor court with the romance between Henry and Jane. Their love story is one that is often forgotten in the chaos of Henry’s marriage track record, but one that needs to be told. Jane will not be just the “third wife” or “the mother of Edward VI” after this book. She was a strong woman who truly loved Henry VIII.  If you really want to read a novel about Jane Seymour, I highly recommend you read “Jane the Quene” by Janet Wertman.

Book Review: “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51M3PWFQLjLThe children of Henry VIII have been the center of historical studies for centuries. Edward VI, Mary I,  and Elizabeth I were all considered Henry’s “legitimate” children and were able to obtain the crown of England. Henry Fitzroy was the illegitimate son of the king, but he was still able to gain titles and a good marriage before he died. They all had something in common; they were all recognized by their father, Henry VIII. However, there was another child who many believed to have been the daughter of the king. The name of this intriguing lady was Lady Katherine Knollys and her story comes to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this great book. I have never read a biography on Lady Katherine Knollys and I found this a delight to read.

Katherine’s mother was the sister of Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn. For a time before Anne came into the picture, Mary was Henry VIII’s mistress. Henry VIII did have a child by another mistress, which he did declare as his own, so why did he not acknowledge Katherine as his child? Watkins offers an explanation on why Katherine was not acknowledged by the king and what her life was like:

Katherine would grow up never to be acknowledged as King Henry VIII’s daughter. Henry had every reason not to acknowledge her. He has his daughters, one already born when Katherine came into the world, and he needed no more. His denial of his affair with Katherine’s mother, Mary, would be something that would always position Katherine as a bastard. Yet Katherine joined the Tudor court as maid of honour to Queen Anne of Cleves and she went on to serve Catherine Howard as well as becoming one of Elizabeth I’s closest confidantes- cousins for definite, more likely half-sisters. Katherine lived through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and on into Elizabeth I’s. Never far from court, she lived in a world where she would never be a princess but a lady she was born to be. (Watkins, 1).

Watkins begins her book by exploring Mary Boleyn’s life and her relationship with Henry VIII and the birth of Katherine. As Mary fell out of favor with the king, we see the rise and fall of her sister, Anne Boleyn. As Katherine grows up, we see her becoming a maid of honour for Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, until she marries Francis Knollys at the age of 16. Katherine and Francis went on to have quite a large family. Their children included Lettice Knollys, who scandalously married Elizabeth I’s favorite, Sir Robert Dudley. Katherine spent a lot of her life serving others, never flaunting who her father might have been. The only time that Katherine’s life was in danger was when Mary I came to the throne. Katherine and Francis decided to take their family and flee abroad since they were Protestants, but they did return when Elizabeth returned. Elizabeth came to rely on Katherine as a close confidante and when Katherine did die, Elizabeth gave her an elaborate funeral.

This was my first time reading a biography about Lady Katherine Knollys and I really enjoyed it. I go back and forth whether I believe she was the daughter of Henry VIII or not, but I found it interesting to learn more about this fascinating woman. Watkins does a superb job of balancing letters, facts and an easy to understand writing style to tell the story of Lady Katherine Knollys, her family, and the life inside the Tudor court. If you want to learn more about the life of the remarkable daughter of Mary Boleyn, I highly recommend you read, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.  

Book Review: “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles – Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Tudor-Brandons-cover-pic-FBLove stories tend to be rare during the Tudor dynasty. They are often of royal women marrying men well below their station in life and then the ruling monarch throwing them in the Tower until they ended up divorcing or dying. Nothing really romantic about these stories. However, there is one story that breaks the mold of disastrous love. It is the story of Mary Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII and the Dowager Queen of France, who married the charming knight and best friend of her brother, Charles Brandon. Their story is often told in historical fiction novels, but Sarah-Beth Watkins decided to dive deep into the lives of these two lovebirds, before and after they were married, in her book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this delightful book. The relationship between Mary and Charles has been something that has fascinated me for a while now and I always like learning new information about their lives and their family.

When it comes to studying the relationship between Mary and Charles, one would think that it would be best to start by studying Mary, since she is the Tudor princess. However, Watkins decides to start her book about these two with Charles:

As Charles Brandon lay in his cradle, his father took to the field as standard-bearer for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth, on 22 August 1485. This defining moment in history, when the Plantagenet dynasty ended and the Tudor began, was also to be a defining moment in this small child’s life. Both Charles’ father and his grandfather were soldiers in the Wars of the Roses and the events leading up to this momentous day. Coming from mercantile beginnings, the men of the Brandon family all rose to positions of importance, but Charles would rise higher than them all to become King Henry VIII’s most favoured companion, and husband to his sister, Mary Tudor. (Watkins, 1).  

Watkins explores the origins of the Brandons, starting with Charles’ grandfather, who was quite an interesting figure. After reading what kind of man Charles’ grandfather was, it is kind of amazing to see how the Brandons rose to be loyal to the Tudors. Before Charles fell in love with Mary, he had a complex love life with Anne Browne and Margaret Mortimer, Anne’s rich aunt. Charles eventually married Anne after and she gave him two daughters before she died, Anne and Mary Brandon. During the time after Anne’s death and before he married Mary, Charles got into an international incident when he attempted to woo Margaret of Savoy. Charles may have looked the part of a knight, but his love life was a mess. That was until he went to France to pick up Mary Tudor, who was the Dowager Queen of France after her husband, King Louis XII, died shortly after their marriage.

The two decided to throw caution to the wind and get married to each other. They risked the wrath of Mary’s brother and huge fines, but they overcame it all and were still managed to be in Henry’s good graces. Charles and Mary were in the middle of court life during Henry’s marriage and divorce to Catherine of Aragon while they were taking care of their own family. Mary wasn’t thrilled about Anne Boleyn, but Charles kept his attitude about Henry’s mistress and future second wife to himself. Mary suffered from multiple bouts of illnesses and would die in 1533. Charles would marry again to Catherine Willoughby and have more children before he died in 1545.

The love story of Charles and Mary Brandon comes to life in Watkins book. What I love about this book is the combination of primary sources and poetry with Watkins’ easy to understand writing style. This book is an absolutely fascinating look into the lives of these two remarkable people and how their relationship helped change England. If you want a fantastic book to introduce you to the relationship between Charles and Mary Brandon, I highly recommend you read Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.

Book Review: “Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51d3s18bI5L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_When one thinks about Queens of Scotland during the time of the Tudors, many automatically think of Mary Queen of Scots and her tragic life. However, there was another queen who had a deep connection to the Tudors and was also a queen of Scotland. She tends to be pushed aside in favor of her more famous siblings; Arthur Tudor, Henry VIII, and Mary Tudor. Her story is full of turmoil and triumphs. Her only desire was to unite England and Scotland peacefully, but the choices that she made in her lifetime would prove foolish, leading to more troubles between the two nations. This is the story of Henry VIII’s oldest sister Margaret, which is brought to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister”.  

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. Before I read this book, I didn’t know a whole lot about Henry VIII’s eldest sister so it was quite a delight to learn a lot about this remarkable woman.

Watkins begins her book with the birth of Margaret Tudor on November 28, 1489. She was named after her formidable grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, and although she was not the desired second son that her parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York wanted, she was beloved. She proved herself to be a great big sister for her younger siblings, Henry and Mary. Margaret ’s early life in England was one full of love, but it was also full of training for her future role in life, that of a future queen. Her father, King Henry VII, like any good European ruler, wanted to build strong alliances with other European powers so he made advantageous marriages for his children. Margaret’s eldest brother Arthur was married to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon. Margaret’s first marriage was to the King of Scotland, James IV, through the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, which ceased hostility between England and Scotland.

Margaret married James IV through a proxy marriage ceremony on January 25, 1503. Later that year, Margaret made her way to Scotland, where she met her charismatic first husband. The first couple of days with James were quite happy until she found out that James had many mistresses and illegitimate children. Talk about an awkward situation, but Margaret and James were able to make their marriage work. Margaret did have six children with James but sadly only one survived infancy, the future King James V.  

The situation between England and Scotland was peaceful for a decade and then James decided to break the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1513 and attack England, in order to support his ally France. This was a huge mistake by James because it led to the Battle of Flodden on September 9, 1513, which was fought between English and Scottish forces, resulting in the death of James IV. His infant son, James V, was now King of Scotland and Margaret was named regent. Unfortunately, Margaret made a horrible decision in marrying her second husband Archibald Douglas 6th Earl of Angus, who the Scottish council hated. She had a daughter with Archibald named Margaret Douglas, who would later become the Countess of Lennox.

Margaret had to give up her regency to the Duke of Albany and had to rely on the aid of her brother Henry VIII to help her son James V. Margaret’s relationship with her brother is told through the letters that Watkins includes in this book. It adds another layer of depth to this book by including Margaret and Henry’s letters to one another. She would marry a third time, to Henry Stewart 1st Lord Methven but it was just as bad as her second marriage. Margaret would have three sons with Henry Stewart; Arthur, James, and Alexander.

Margaret struggles to keep the peace between  England and Scotland for her son. Through failed marriages and strained relationships with her family, Margaret finally sees her son become the rightful King of Scotland. It would take decades after Margaret’s death for her true vision of Scotland and England united under her great-grandson James I of England. Margaret Tudor was a woman who was strong, even if she did make some very foolish decisions, and would do anything to make sure her son James V was safe and secure. Margaret’s life and legacy comes to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ wonderful book. If you are interested in learning about the life of Henry VIII’s eldest sister and the politics between England and Scotland during the tumultuous time after James IV’death, I highly recommend you read “Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister”.