Book Review: “Princess of Thorns” by Saga Hillbom

55613765 (1)The year 1483 proved to be a pinnacle point of change for the short-lived Yorkist dynasty. After finally defeating the Lancastrian army, King Edward IV and his family bring peace and order to England, but even their happiness cannot last as King Edward IV dies unexpectedly on April 9, 1483. A power struggle ensues between Richard Duke of Gloucester and Elizabeth Woodville over who should be King of England. Most of Elizabeth Woodville’s children side with her, but there is one child who is staunchly loyal to the Yorkist cause and her uncle Richard; Cecily of York. In her latest novel, “Princess of Thorns”, Saga Hillbom tells the heartbreaking tale of Cecily of York showing how deep her loyalty to her family was and how loyalty came with a cost.

I would like to thank Saga Hillbom for sending me a copy of her latest novel. This is the first novel by Saga Hillbom that I have read. When I heard that this novel was going to be about Cecily of York, I was intrigued since I have never read any novels where Cecily was the protagonist.

As the third daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily of York can be the vivacious white rose of York, without the pressures that her brothers and her eldest sister have on their shoulders of one-day ruling a country. She can observe life at court while waiting for the day when she is married to a nobleman who shares her Yorkist views. However, that wish she has for her life comes crashing down when her father dies and her brothers, known in history as the Princes in the Tower, go missing. Cecily’s beloved uncle Richard becomes King Richard III, which causes Cecily’s mother Elizabeth Woodville to side with her once mortal enemy, Margaret Beaufort, and her son Henry Tudor.

After the Battle of Bosworth Field and Henry Tudor becomes King Henry VII, the remnants of the Yorkist cause slowly accept the Tudor dynasty. All except Cecily, who believes that Henry VII is a false king. We see Cecily go from a spoiled Yorkist princess to a woman who will fight for what she believes in and will never back down from an argument, even if she is arguing with the King of England himself. Along the way, she does marry and have her children, but even in her happiest moments, Cecily experiences tragic losses that will shape her future.

I usually don’t read many novels that side with the Yorkists, but this book was different. There was something about Cecily’s story that I found compelling. Her love and her loyalty to her family was her sword and shield as she waged war with life. Hillbom does repeat some of the old myths about the people that are central to this novel. I also wish Hillbom gave her readers more detailed descriptions of locations to give us a fully immersive experience.

I think this was a fine novel about the life of Cecily of York. Hillbom’s creative writing style allows the audience, whether Yorkist or Lancastrian in beliefs, to feel sympathy for Cecily and her life. This was an engaging and heartbreaking look at how the end of the Wars of the Roses was not the brilliant introduction of a period of peace that the Tudors often portrayed. There were still those who dealt with the pain of the end of a dynasty. If you are interested in a novel that focuses on one of the Yorkist princesses who does not get a lot of attention, Cecily of York, check out “Princess of Thorns” by Saga Hillbom.

Book Review: “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror” by Georgios Theotokis

The Crusades have been recently examined as a whole or by individual Crusades to show the significance of these wars and why the Crusaders fought. It is only the main Crusaders, the leaders, whose names and legacies are remembered to this day. One such man was a Norman who was considered the unofficial leader of the First Crusade, Bohemond of Taranto. Bohemond was a true warrior who fought numerous enemies, including the Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos, and would become the Lord of Antioch. His deeds would earn him praise from his allies and ire from his enemies. The impact that Bohemond of Taranto left on the First Crusade cannot be underestimated, especially when it came to the military strategies that he employed to secure his numerous victories. In Georgios Theotokis’ latest biography, “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror”, he explores the life of this legendary man with a particular focus on his military prowess to better understand his legacy.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I was not familiar with Bohemond of Taranto and his story so I was keen to learn more about him and the First Crusade.

Bohemond of Taranto was the son of Robert Guiscard and his first wife Alberada of Buonalbergo, but when their marriage was annulled due to consanguinity, Bohemond was declared a bastard. Although he was viewed as illegitimate in the eyes of the church, Robert still treated Bohemond as an equal, especially when it came to military ventures. Under Robert’s tutelage, Bohemond cultivated the strategic skills that would be essential in his conquests of land in Italy, Sicily, the Balkans, and Anatolia. Along the way, Bohemond would become frenemies with the power Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos. The interactions between the two men were recorded in the Alexiad, which was written by Alexios’ daughter Anna Komnene; she was not the biggest fan of Bohemond, but Theotokis relies on her work heavily throughout this biography.

It was not just international foes that Bohemond had to deal with as there was a succession battle between him and his brother Roger Borsa for control over their father’s land. On top of all of this, Bohemond of Taranto and his uncle Roger I of Sicily were asked to lead the First Crusade that was declared by Pope Urban II to reclaim the Holy Land. Along the way, Bohemond made the difficult decision to pay homage to Alexios Komnenos, which would prove beneficial up to a point. It was during this time that Bohemond and his Norman army helped capture Antioch for the crusaders and Bohemond was declared Lord of Antioch. While Bohemond was away conquering other cities, his nephew Tancred of Hauteville was his regent in Antioch.

I think Theotokis does an excellent job of showing the military strategies that made Bohemond such a dynamic leader. I found this account extremely fascinating and eye-opening on what one leader could do in a few decades. The one problem that I had with this biography was the fact that there were so many names of leaders and places that I had never heard of that I was getting a bit confused. I wish Theotokis had included a list of important names and places with a quick blurb about their significance in the front of the book to help the First Crusade novices such as myself. Overall, I think this is was a very well written and researched biography. If you want a solid biography about one of the leaders of the First Crusade, check out, “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror” by Georgios Theotokis.

Book Review: “The Evening and the Morning” by Ken Follett

49239093The year is 997 and England is in a dire situation. Fears of invasions from the Welsh and the Vikings leave the Anglo- Saxon residents rattled while those in power take advantage of their citizens. Chaos reigns supreme as those who rule the towns are in constant power struggles between themselves and their king, Ethelred the Unready, with the average villagers caught in the middle, like the villagers of Dreng’s Ferry. It is in this small village where three characters find their lives intertwined with the political and social drama. A young boatbuilder named Edgar endures heartache and sorrow when the Vikings attack his home. A Norman noblewoman named Ragna follows her heart to marry the man she loves and travels to a faraway land but soon finds out how difficult that love can be. Finally, a monk named Aldred works hard for the people while dreaming of transforming his meek abbey into a lively center of learning. Their tales are masterfully woven together in the much-anticipated prequel to the Kingsbridge series by Ken Follett. This is “The Evening and the Morning”. 

When I heard that Ken Follett was writing a prequel to his Kingsbridge series, I was ecstatic. I read the Kingsbridge series a few years ago for the first time and I fell in love with the town of Kingsbridge. I wanted to know more about the origins of this town and I wanted another engrossing tale of strength and struggle, which Follett delivers in this brilliant novel. 

Follett introduces his audience to his colorful cast of characters with a Viking raid in the small village of Combe, the home of Edgar the boatbuilder. He lost everything that he cared about in one night, so he and his remaining family must pick themselves up and rebuild their lives in the town of Dreng’s Ferry. Edgar shows grit and determination as he realizes what is truly important in his life. Ragna is a vivacious Norman noblewoman who fell head over heels in love when she met a charming Englishman named Wilwulf. She decides to leave everything that she knows behind to marry a man she believes she knows very well. However, she soon realizes that Wilwulf and his family are not who she imagined. Ragna fights with vigor for what she believes is right for her immediate family and the people she has sworn to protect from her husband’s family. Her tenacity and courage to weather the storms that life throws her way are truly admirable. Finally, there is the academic monk Aldred who wants to pursue knowledge to better humanity. He believes that Dreng’s Ferry can become greater than what the people believe is possible, which often puts him on a political collision course with Wilwulf’s power-hungry family. 

The stories of these three dynamic protagonists are interwoven to create a sensational prequel to the fabulous Kingsbridge series. This novel is riveting with the gorgeous storytelling that readers have come to expect from Ken Follett. What I love is that Follett’s focus is not on the royal family, King Ethelred and Queen Emma, but the people who built England from the ground up. It is the nobles and the village people that had to endure every decision and mistake that the crown made. They were the ones who suffered when raiders like the Vikings pillaged towns and killed their loved ones. They were the ones who had to fight back time after time to make sure that their families survived. To focus on three people from three different walks of life gives the audience a complete picture of the fictitious town of Dreng’s Ferry. 

I applaud Follett for going back and giving his fans the prequel to the Kingsbridge series that they craved. To see how the town of Dreng’s Ferry became King’s Bridge was a delight. I had to slow down my reading pace to make sure I was fully immersed in the tale that Follett wrote. I loved every minute of reading this prequel and now I want to reread the Kingsbridge series. If you are a fan of Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series or if you want to jump into a series that is a fabulous historical escape, “The Evening and the Morning” is a must-read. A sensational prequel to one of my all-time favorite historical fiction series. 

Book Review: “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall

One of the most dynamic queens in 16th century Europe who spent most of her youth in a country that was not her homeland, but was fighting for the right to rule England. Her name was Mary Queen of Scots, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth I. Many know of her tragic tale, but there was a man who was behind the scenes trying to guide Scotland to a brighter future. He was not married to Mary Queen of Scots, but he was influential in her life and choosing who she might marry and who she would end up divorcing. He was a politician and a religious reformer whose decisions would alter history dramatically. His name was William Maitland and he served as Mary’s secretary. He is always mentioned as a footnote in history, until now. Robert Stedall’s latest biography, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator”, explores the life and legacy of this rather extraordinary secretary.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this book, I was intrigued since I had never heard of William Maitland, except in footnotes in books about Mary Queen of Scots that I have read in the past. I wanted to know more about the man who knew Mary so well and helped her with such significant decisions in her life.

After Mary Queen of Scots’ first husband, Francis II of France passed away at a young age, she made the journey back to the country of her birth, Scotland, where she was introduced to William Maitland. As a Protestant reformer, he believed that the best thing for the country and the Scottish Reformation would be to break the Auld Alliance with France and to gain closer ties with England. Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley, is less than agreeable to Maitland, so he and others help plot his murder. This decision led to Mary’s imprisonment and the succession of her son James as king.

Stedall’s whole premise revolves around the idea that Maitland helped plan Darnley’s murder. I do have a few problems with this book. First, for a biography that should revolve around Maitland, it felt like Maitland was more of a background character to Mary’s story. Second, the case that he lays out for Maitland being involved in the murder revolves around the validity of the infamous Casket Letters, which many believe are forgeries and have disappeared. It is hard to prove a case when the evidence in question may have been forgeries and are lost to history. Finally, I felt like Stedall’s writing style was a bit dry for my personal taste. I know that this was supposed to be academic in nature, with the focus on the political and religious nature of Maitland’s life, but it just fell flat to me.

Overall, I felt like this book was okay. It may have shown how the political and religious divides influenced the decisions of Mary Queen of Scots’ reign, but it needed a stronger focus on William Maitland. I feel like Stedall has a passion for this period of Scottish history and he has done his research, but he needed to rein it in a bit more. I think if you enjoy reading about Mary Queen of Scots, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall might be a book you should check out.

Book Review: “Queens of the Crusades: England’s Medieval Queens Book Two” by Alison Weir

52355570 (1)One of the most prominent royal families of English history was the Plantagenets, who reigned for over three hundred years. In the first one hundred years of this family’s infamous history, five kings ruled (the first two are considered kings of the Angevin dynasty): Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, and Edward I. These five kings saw England change drastically, but they also participated in the international political landscape of the day, which involved the series of wars that today we simply refer to as the Crusades. The early Plantagenet kings saw much bloodshed and war, but they were not alone in their struggle to keep the dynasty going. These men would not have gotten as far as they did without their wives who stood by their sides. In Alison Weir’s latest installment of England’s Medieval Queens series, “Queens of the Crusades”, she takes a deep dive into the lives of the first five Plantagenet queens to show how remarkable these women truly were to stand beside their husbands during the times of the Crusades in Europe.

I would like to thank Ballantine Books, Random House, and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a massive fan of Alison Weir’s nonfiction books for years now. To have an opportunity to read this title and review it is simply astounding. As soon as Weir announced this new installment of England’s Medieval Queens series, I knew I wanted to read it because I had enjoyed Queens of the Conquest immensely.

The five queens that Weir covers in this particular book are Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria of Navarre, Isabella of Angouleme, Alienor of Provence, and Eleanor of Castile. Many are familiar with the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II and how it soured as their sons fought against their father, but it is worth noting that every queen in this book led a rather remarkable life. Eleanor of Aquitaine may have been alive during the time of Thomas Becket’s murder and Isabella of Angouleme witnessed her husband King John seal the Magna Carta, but some of these queens witnessed battles of the Crusades being fought as they traveled with their husbands to distant lands. There was also the matter of ruling two kingdoms, England and parts of France plus keeping the peace with Wales and Scotland, all while raising their children. There was never a dull moment for the lives of the early Plantagenet queens.

I found each queen in this book fascinating to read about, even though I did not know much about their lives. I obviously knew about Eleanor of Aquitaine, but the other queens have been briefly mentioned in other books that it felt like I was discovering their stories for the first time. The way they governed England and the way that they showed their love for their husbands and their children were different, but they each made a significant impact on the story of the Plantagenet dynasty. If I did have a problem with this book it would be that I found myself confused on which Eleanor was which, especially when Alienor of Provence and Eleanor of Castile were alive during the same time.

Overall, I found this book extremely informative and meticulously researched. Alison Weir has yet again made the lives of these queens that time seemed to have forgotten come to life. I believe that this is an excellent introductory book for anyone who wants to learn about the early queens of the Plantagenet dynasty. It is engaging, thought-provoking, and masterfully written. If this sounds like you, check out the second book in the England’s Medieval Queens series by Alison Weir, “Queens of the Crusades”.

Book Review: “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen” by Alison Weir

52802802._SX318_SY475_The year is 1540 and King Henry VIII has grown tired of his fourth wife from Germany, Anne of Cleves. The aging king longs for another heir to make sure that his dynasty is secure, which means he is searching for his fifth wife. Henry’s wandering eye lands on a young girl who happens to be a cousin of his second wife of Anne Boleyn. The young woman’s name who caught the king’s attention is Katheryn Howard. Henry believes that his new bride is virtuous as well as being very beautiful, but what secrets does this young queen hide? In her latest installment of the Six Tudor Queens series “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen”, Alison Weir takes a look into the life of this young woman and the men who loved her.

As a fan of Alison Weir’s other books, I knew that I wanted to read this title. I have been enjoying the Six Tudor Queens series so far, even though I don’t necessarily agree with how she has characterized certain historical figures. I have not read any books with Katheryn Howard as the protagonist, so I was intrigued to see how it would go.

We begin our adventure with Katheryn Howard’s childhood and how she entered the household of her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. This is where Katheryn fell in love with men like Henry Mannox and Francis Dereham. I enjoyed seeing how Weir fleshed out these two relationships and how drastically different they were in Katheryn’s eyes. We see Katheryn try to keep the secrets of her past relationships as she works hard to capture the heart of the aging king, Henry VIII. Katheryn’s relationship with Henry is a bit one-sided at first, but it develops into love on both sides, but not like the love that Katheryn has known before. I found myself feeling sorry for Henry and Katheryn as they suffered a few miscarriages. But none of her other relationships are like her connection with Thomas Culpeper.

I think one of my problems with this particular book is how she viewed certain characters, like Katheryn Howard and Jane Boleyn, the wife of the late George Boleyn. To me, it felt like Weir was repeating the traditional view about these two women. Katheryn Howard has been seen as a young and naïve girl who was used as a pawn by her family to manipulate the King. Jane Boleyn has been viewed as a manipulator who despised her husband and suffered from mental trauma in the end. I think that there is so much more to their stories than how they have been portrayed in fictional representations of their lives. We see Weir try to go a bit further into their personalities, but for the most part, she stays along these lines.

Just because I don’t agree with how these two characters were represented does not mean that I thought the book was bad. I think the story itself was intriguing and Weir’s writing style is engaging like her other books. I think it is a fine novel that shows Katheryn Howard’s rise and fall from power and how dangerous love can be, especially for a young queen. If you want a great escape with a novel about Henry VIII’s fifth wife, check out Alison Weir’s, “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen”.

Book Review: “Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction and Succession” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

The story of the Tudor dynasty has been told from many different angles. Each monarch has been explored through lenses like social and political history numerous times. However, there is a new approach that is coming into the forefront of historical research and that is the focus on the medical history of the Tudors. Each Tudor monarch, from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, had some sort of bout with illness that would drastically alter the course of their reigns and the future of the dynasty. In Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction and Succession”, she explores the more intimate aspects of this turbulent dynasty to discover the truth about why they fell.

I would like to thank Sylvia Barbara Soberton for sending me a copy of her latest book. I have talked to Sylvia in the past and I have hosted her on my blog before, but I have never read one of her books. When I heard about this particular title, I was intrigued since I find the medical history of the Tudors an area that needs to be explored a bit more.

Soberton begins her book by explaining the different diseases and medical maladies that were going around England during the reign of the Tudors. I found her knowledge about these different medical conditions quite fascinating. She explains in detail what the symptoms were and includes different descriptions of the conditions.

After this quick overview, Soberton dives into the main topic of her book, which is exploring the medical maladies of the Tudor monarchs and their significant others. She takes the time to explain each illness and rumors of pregnancy for each monarch, showing how fragile this dynasty truly was and how concerned those who were close to the throne were to preserve the health of the Tudors. I found this part a tad repetitive as many biographies do mention these maladies. However, Soberton does include possible theories about what the obscure maladies were and cures for the different conditions.

If I did have a suggestion on something that I wish Soberton would have included the prescriptions that the doctors would have prescribed their royal patients. Show the readers what some of the more unusual ingredients for these cures looked like and why they were used. I also wanted to see how the diagnosis of the royal family was different from those who were average citizens in England.

Overall, I found this book enjoyable. Soberton’s style of writing is easy to follow, yet her audience can tell she has researched her topic thoroughly. This may be the first time that I have read by Soberton, but now I want to explore her other titles. I think this book would be perfect for those who are still being introduced to the Tudor dynasty. If you are interested in the medical history of the Tudors or you are a fan of Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s books, you should check out “Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction, and Succession.”

Book Review: “Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things” by Wendy J. Dunn

48815162._SY475_A journey to a foreign land for a long-promised marriage that will unite the royal families of Spain and England. Two friends caught in the middle far away from their beloved Spain. One is Princess Katherine of Aragon, who will marry Prince Arthur. The other is her cousin and close confidant, Maria de Salinas. Their journey like their friendship will last for decades, full of loyalty and love. Katherine’s story has been told many times in different ways, while Maria de Salinas has remained faithfully in the shadows. That is until now. In Wendy J. Dunn’s continuation of her Katherine of Aragon story, “Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things”, Maria de Salinas is the protagonist telling the tragic tale of love and heartache from her perspective.

I would like to thank Wendy J. Dunn for sending me a copy of her latest novel. I have heard wonderful things about Wendy’s novels from my friends. When I heard that Dunn was writing a novel about Maria de Salinas, I was intrigued by the concept. I only knew about Maria de Salinas through brief mentions of her in biographies and other novels about Katherine of Aragon, so I was excited to read her story.

Dunn’s novel begins as a letter that Maria de Salinas is writing to her only daughter. It is the story of her life with Katherine with the intention that her daughter understands the tough decisions that she made throughout her life and how unbelievably loyal she was to her queen, Katherine of Aragon. By having Maria recalling the story, Dunn adds another layer of depth to Katherine’s story. Maria knew Katherine her entire life so she knew how Katherine was feeling even when Katherine hid her emotions from the rest of the world. Her initial reactions to her new home, England. The love she had for Arthur and what happened on their wedding night. Katherine’s opinions of her father and her father-in-law. And of course, her tumultuous relationship with her second husband, Henry VIII.

Maria’s personal story is full of love and tragedy as well. Her love story with the man of her choice, who will be her husband, is gut-wrenching yet so beautiful. You will root for Maria to get her happily ever after. There were so many points in this book that I was on the brink of tears. I did not want this novel to end. Dunn created a protagonist with her own strength and a story that is nothing short of remarkable. The vivid descriptions that are in this work of art create a realistic Tudor world that you never want to leave.

This novel was a masterpiece in Tudor historical fiction. Maria’s story and how she helped Katherine of Aragon is riveting you will find yourself wanting to know more about Maria de Salinas. I wish we did have more of the relationship between Maria and her daughter, but that is because I wanted more of the tale. I have read many historical fiction novels about the Tudors and their world and I have to say this novel is one of the pinnacle Tudor novels that I have ever read. This is the first time that I have read a novel by Wendy Dunn, but now I want to read her other works. If you want a sensational novel centered around the astounding friendship of Maria de Salinas and Katherine of Aragon, “Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things” by Wendy J. Dunn is a must-read for any Tudor nerd.

Book Review: “The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers” by Kathryn Warner

55182670._SY475_In the times of medieval kings, the power of the crown was dependent on the support that they maintained with noble families. One of the most notorious noble families in England was the baronial family known as the Despensers. Between the 13th and the 15th centuries, the Despensers were at the heart of royal politics and some of the biggest power plays during the reign of the Plantagenets. We know about the few members who truly made waves during this time, especially Hugh Despenser the Elder and Hugh Despenser the Younger, but this family’s story is much more than a few members. In Kathryn Warner’s latest book, “The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers”, she takes on the challenge of explaining the entire family story of this infamous baron clan.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Kathryn Warner’s writing style in the past and when I heard about this book, I was intrigued. I will be honest and say that I only knew about Hugh the Elder and Hugh the Younger when they were mentioned in other history books that I had read in the past. I was excited to learn more about this family.

To understand this book, it should be noted that this is unlike any other modern medieval history book. It is a bit different than what Kathryn Warner has written in the past. In truth, this book feels like a modern-day chronicle of the Despenser family. Warner begins with the reign of King Henry III in 1265 with the execution of the Despenser’s patriarch, Hugh the justiciar, and concludes with Isabella Despenser, who was the grandmother of Anne Neville, the wife of King Richard III. Warner includes the more scandalous tales of love and betrayal that encapsulate the fascination that historians have had with this family for centuries.

What was compelling to me about this book is the stories of those who were in the background of the more sensationalized figures. The tales of triumph and sorrow that the family had to endure are remarkable. For the family to survive, they needed to make waves in the medieval marriage market, which they did spectacularly. It is these marriages and their impacts that Warner focuses heavily on to show that even in disgrace, the Despensers continued to rise from the ashes.

If I did have a problem with this book, there were points where it was a tad dry to read. This book is very academic and is directed towards those who know the history of the Despensers. Warner takes her readers on a deeper dive into this infamous family. You can tell from Warner’s dedication to this task that she truly enjoyed studying about the Despensers. As someone who was not familiar with this family and its numerous family members named “Hugh”, I found myself going back to try and figure out who was who.

If you want to tackle this book, my advice would be to take your time to truly understand this complex family. This book is exceptionally well researched and a true chronological treat for those who love to dive into the intricacies of medieval families. If this sounds like you, check out, “The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers” by Kathryn Warner.

Book Review: “1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold” by Amy Licence

48849570In 1520, two larger than life kings met each other in France for two weeks. This may not sound astounding as many kings left their respected countries to meet other rulers throughout history. It was part of European diplomacy. However, what made this particular period of time extraordinary is the sheer size and the opulence of the event. The King of England, Henry VIII, met the King of France, Francis I, for two weeks of festivities and feasting that we now call The Field of the Cloth of Gold. We often think that this event accomplished nothing because the rivalry between Henry VIII and Francis I continued afterward. Was the purpose of this event to quell the rivalry between the two kings or was there something more behind all the glitz and glam of the Field of the Cloth of Gold? What do the behind the scenes records reveal about this event? Amy Licence explores this event from every angle in her latest book, “1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this book from Amy Licence, I knew that I wanted to read it. Since 2020 marks the 500th anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, it seemed extremely appropriate to read this book in 2020.

To understand why Henry VIII and Francois I met each other, Licence includes brief biographies of these two dynamic figures and the women that accompanied them to the field in France. Obviously, the information about Henry VIII and his wife Katherine of Aragon was a review for me, but I found the biographies of Francis I and his wife Claude quite fascinating. The relationship between the two kings shaped why this event took place. Licence explains the political negotiations that took place to make such an event happen. She also takes the time to show the role that a third party, Emperor Charles V, took in the timing of the event.

The bulk of this book is the grand event itself. Licence’s attention to detail is meticulous and readers can tell her passion for this subject. What I knew about the Field of the Cloth of Gold before reading this book was an overview of the event, which is why I appreciate the attention to detail in this book. Licence uses letters and descriptions from those who were able to attend this event to show the vast scale of each day. From jousting to feasts, balls, and masques, there was so much symbolism and revelry to be had by all. To pull off a spectacle such as this on both sides, it was the craftsmen, the cooks, and the temporary villages of people who made these two weeks a sensation. Licence shows how much planning and how expensive it was to throw a party of this magnitude and what impact it had on political decisions after the pavilions and temporary palaces went down.

I found myself thoroughly enjoying the intricate details that Licence included with her stylistic yet readable writing style. Licence made her readers feel like they had a front-row seat to the Field of the Cloth of Gold while being academic and very well researched. I found myself imagining the splendor of those two weeks. If you want a tremendous book on this extravaganza of 16th-century European grandeur, I highly recommend you read, “1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold” by Amy Licence.