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.

Poetry: A Song of an English Knight

I believe that poetry can really help modern readers understand how historical figures and their legacies changed over time. That is why I have decided to start this project, to show poetry that people might not be familiar with to give us a new perspective about different Tudors. I have decided to include the entire poem so that others can read it.

The first poem I found in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.  According to Watkins, she found this poem in a book called “The Suffolk Garland: or, A collection of poems, songs, tales, ballads, sonnets, and elegies, legendary and romantic, historical and descriptive, relative to that county”, by James Ford. James Ford was an English antiquary, who compiled many antiquarian subjects into books for easy access for the public. This particular book was written in 1818. This poem is just one that he included in this book, but he sadly does not include the author of this poem. We may not know who wrote this poem, but we can take a guess that he might have been a Protestant by the last few lines of the poem. Who do you think wrote the poem and why do you think they wrote it?

A Song of an English Knight

Eighth Henry ruling this land,

He had a sister fair,

That was the widow’d Queen of France

Enrich’d with virtues rare;

And being come to England’s court,

She oft beheld a knight,

Charles Brandon nam’d, in whose fair eyes,

She chiefly took delight.

 

And noting in her princely mind,

His gallant sweet behaviour,

She daily drew him by degrees,

Still more and more in favour:

Which he perceiving, courteous knight,

Found fitting time and place,

And thus in amorous sort began,

His love-suit to her grace:

 

I am at love, fair queen, said he,

Sweet, let your love incline,

That by your grace Charles Brandon may

On earth be made divine:

If worthless I might worthy be

To have so good a lot,

To please your highness in true love

My fancy doubteth not.

 

Or if that gentry might convey

So great a grace to me,

I can maintain that same by birth,

Being come of good degree.

If wealth you think be all my want.

Your highness hath great store,

And my supplement shall be love;

What can you wish for more?

 

It hath been known when hearty love

Did tie the true-love knot,

Though now if gold and silver want,

The marriage proveth not.

The goodly queen hereat did blush,

But made a dumb reply;

Which he imagin’d what she meant,

And kiss’d her reverently.

 

Brandon (quoth she) I greater am,

Than would I were for thee,

But can as little master love,

As them of low degree.

My father was a king, and so

A king my husband was,

My brother is the like, and he

Will say I do transgress.

 

But let him say what pleaseth him,

He’s liking I’ll forego,

And chuse a love to please myself,

Though all the world say no:

If plowmen make their marriages,

As best contents their mind,

Why should not princes of estate

The like contentment find?

 

But tell me, Brandon, am I not

More forward than beseems?

Yet blame me not for love, I love

Where best my fancy deems.

And long may live (quoth he) to love,

Nor longer live may I

Than when I love your royal grace,

And then disgraced die.

 

But if I do deserve your love,

My mind desires dispatch,

For many are the eyes in court,

That on your beauty watch:

But am not I, sweet lady, now

More forward than behoves?

Yet for my heart, forgive my tongue,

That speaketh for him that loves.

 

The queen and this brave gentleman

Together both did wed,

And after sought the king’s good-will,

And of their wishes sped:

For Brandon soon was made a duke,

And graced so in court,

And who but he did flaunt it forth

Amongst the noblest sort.

 

And so from princely Brandon’s line,

And Mary did proceed

The noble race of Suffolk’s house,

As after did succeed:

And whose high blood the lady Jane,

Lord Guildford Dudley’s wife,

Came by decent, who, with her lord,

In London lost her life.

Sources:

https://archive.org/details/suffolkgarlandor00fordiala/page/120

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ford_(antiquary)

Watkins, Sarah-Beth. The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles — Henry VIIIs Nearest & Dearest. Chronos Books, 2016.

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”.

Book Review: “Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England” by Thomas Penn

61tqSL1PEdL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_The Tudor Dynasty and its beginning has often been viewed as a glorious dawn after the dark period that we call the Wars of the Roses. It established a firm foundation that the kingdom lost during the 30 years of civil war. It took a lot of effort from the victor of this tumultuous time, Henry VII, to transform England back to a relatively stable country.  To some, Henry VII was a virtuous leader who cared about his family and his country, saving money to make sure the dynasty was secure. For others, Henry VII was a figure who clung to his crown and his kingdom no matter the cost, which included conspiracies and underhanded methods. But what did Henry VII do in order to bring back order to England and how did he convince others that the Tudors were the rightful rulers? These are the questions that Thomas Penn wanted to answer in his book, “Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England.”

Penn explains the premise of his book and why he chose to explore the last years of this particular king’s reign:

The last, claustrophobic decade of Henry VII’s reign, with an ageing, paranoid king and his dynamic young son at its heart, forms the focus of this book. It is one of the strangest episodes in English history. An atmosphere of fear and suspicion radiated from the royal court into the streets and townhouses of London and throughout England’s far-flung estates and provinces. Established forms of rule and government were bent out of shape, distorted in ways that people found both disorienting and terrifying. But these are also the dawning years of a dynasty. They see the coming of age of Catherine of Aragon, the young Spanish princess who would become Henry VIII’s first wife, and of Henry VIII himself- or rather, Prince Henry, as he is here. To explore these precarious years, and to gain a sense of how and why Henry VII behaved and ruled in the way he did, is to reveal much about the house of Tudor, the family that would, over the course of the sixteenth century, dominate and transform England. (Penn, xxi).

Penn begins his book by explaining how Henry came to the throne after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and how he proved that the Tudors had royal blood within their veins, therefore they were able to rule England. Henry and his beloved wife, Elizabeth of York,  would have four children who would survive infancy; Arthur, Margaret, Henry, and Mary. It is really Henry’s relationships with his two sons, Arthur and Henry, that Penn focuses on when it comes to Henry’s family. Arthur is married to the beautiful Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon in order to establish a strong alliance with Spain. Their marriage would not last long. Arthur tragically died a few months into their marriage, sending Henry VII into a deep despair, which only deepened when Elizabeth of York died a year later. Henry VII’s only heir was his son Prince Henry, a son who Henry VII did not really have a relationship with and now had to teach him how to become king.

On top of all the personal tragedies during the last decade of Henry VII’s reign, we see men in England and around Europe, trying to earn the king’s trust in order to gain prestige and power. One of these men was Sir Richard Empson who was in charge of the Council Learned, which was a legal committee who collected feudal dues and kept a close eye on the king’s land. Empson, as Penn explains, tended to use underhanded ways to get what he wanted, not only for his king but for himself. Henry VII also used his vast network of connections across Europe in order to gain information about those who wanted to remove him from power. Penn’s view of Henry VII is of a king who was extremely suspicious, aloof and a Machiavellian ruler. A man who trusted no one and valued financial gains over his own people. To Penn, Henry VII’s reign was dark and full of fear.

This is my first time reading a book by Thomas Penn and I must say it was a unique experience. I have to applaud Penn for the amount of details that he used when it came to ceremonial events at the court, such as the arrival of Catherine of Aragon and when Philip of Habsburg, Duke of Burgundy arrived in England. The way Penn described these events was quite enlightening. Penn also introduced a bunch of figures, from England to Italy, which are all fascinating and play a role in the running of Henry VII’s England. However, for those who are not familiar with these particular people might get confused. I know it was difficult for me to figure out who was who, which is why I wished Penn had a list of important people located somewhere in this book that the reader could refer to if they got lost. Overall, I thought Thomas Penn’s book,  “Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England”, was a fascinating and different, darker view of the founder of the Tudor Dynasty as well as what the relationship between Henry VII and his heir Henry VIII was like.

Favorite Couples from the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor Dynasty

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the couples that we all enjoy studying from the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor Dynasty. These are couples that went through a lot together and stayed together. That is why people like Henry VIII will not be on this list since we all know his marriage track record. This is a list combining your favorites, which you stated as answers to a question I posted on the Facebook page, as well as some of my own. These couples are in chronological order, not by favorites, and the first two couples are before the time that we would call “Wars of the Roses” but they are still important. I did have to narrow down this list quite a bit so if you don’t see a couple that is on this list, let’s discuss it.  I hope you enjoy!

1.) John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford

200px-johnofgauntJohn of Gaunt, the son of King Edward III and one of the wealthiest men in Europe, and Katherine Swynford, the woman who was the governess to John’s children. It seems like an unlikely match, but these two made it work. Of course, when these two lovebirds first met, they were both married to other people, John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster and Katherine to Hugh Swynford. When both Blanche and Hugh died, rumors began to fly that John and Katherine were having an affair. John decided to quite these rumors by marrying a second time, to Constance of Castile. This marriage was one for political gains, not of love. His hope for marrying Constance was to become King of Castile, similar to how he became the Duke of Lancaster after marrying Blanche of Lancaster, but it ended up being a disaster. After his father’s death, John’s nephew Richard II became king and John gave up his claim to the throne of Castile. While he was married to Constance, John began to see Katherine and they had 4 children out of wedlock. Constance would die in 1394.  John would marry Katherine in 1396 and their children would be given the name “Beaufort”. Their children would be considered legitimate, but they could not inherit the throne. John would die 3 years later in 1399 and would be buried beside his first wife Blanche. John and Katherine’s love for one another lasted decades.

2.) Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois

Catherine_of_France.jpgThe Dowager Queen of England marrying a man who worked in her own household. That is the gist of the love story of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. Catherine of Valois was married to King Henry V of England and in return, under the Treaty of Troyes, Henry V and his descendants became kings of both England and France. A really great deal, except Henry V, died of dysentery a few months after his son and heir Henry VI was born. Catherine was 21 when she became the Dowager Queen and there was a real concern that she would marry again so Parliament passed a bill that stated that if Catherine wanted to remarry, she had to ask Parliament’s permission to do so. Well, she didn’t listen to this bill at all. She met and fell in love with a Welshman named Owen Tudor, who worked for her as either as the keeper of her household or her wardrobe.  They would marry sometime between 1428 and 1429. Later, in May 1432, Owen was granted the same rights as an Englishman.

To say this match was totally taboo would be an understatement, but for them, it worked. Catherine and Owen were willing to risk everything for their love. They would have anywhere between 4 to 6 children Two of their children would become famous during the Wars of the Roses, Jasper and Edmund Tudor. Catherine would die on January 3, 1437, and would be buried beside her first husband Henry V.   After Catherine’s death, Jasper and Edmund would receive titles and meet their half-brother King Henry VI, but Owen would face jail time. Owen would later be captured and executed after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross on February 2, 1461.

3.) Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg

Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Another story of a wealthy woman marrying a man well below her station for love. Jacquetta was born in France during the height of the Hundred Years War. Her first husband was the brother of King Henry V, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford and they were married in April 1433. Their marriage was controversial because John’s first wife Anne died only a few months before they were married. The couple moved back to England and in a matter of weeks, Jacquetta was given the rights of an English woman. In 1434, she was made a member of the Order of the Garter, a huge honor. Their marriage would not last long as John would die a year later in France.

Jacquetta was a widow and Henry VI wanted her sent back to England so he sent  Sir Richard Woodville, a knight, to bring Jacquetta back. This backfired spectacularly as Jacquetta and Richard fell in love and got married in secret while on their way back to England (just like another couple on this list). Henry VI was furious and fined the couple 1000 pounds, but on March 23, 1437, Parliament recognized their marriage as valid. Jacquetta and Richard were happily married and had 14 children, including Elizabeth Woodville, who would become Queen of England.  Jacquetta and Richard were with Margaret of Anjou as she made her way to England and to her marriage to Henry VI and the birth of their son. They were together when their daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, married her first husband and he died in battle when she met and married Edward IV, and Jacquetta was there for the birth of her first granddaughter Elizabeth of York. Jacquetta’s world came crashing down when Richard and their son John were captured and executed on August 12, 1469, after the Battle of Edgecote Moor. Jacquetta was arrested by Warwick and charged with witchcraft, but the charges were dropped. Jacquetta would die only a few years after Richard, on May 30, 1472. Jacquetta and Richard’s marriage lasted through decades and hardships, but it was full of love and a large family, the Woodvilles, that would change English politics forever.

4.) Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

edbe20edb2d4ed4682369c7eb997b6dfKing Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of a soldier and a mother of two young boys. In a way, their love story is like a Cinderella story. Elizabeth Woodville was the eldest daughter of Richard and Jacquetta Woodville. She was a maid of honor for Margaret of Anjou and because of her high position at court, her parents arranged a marriage for her to Sir John Grey of Groby in 1452. The couple would have two sons, Thomas, and Richard Woodville. Their marriage would not last long as Sir John Grey was killed at the Second Battle of St. Albans in 1461.

The story of how Edward IV met Elizabeth is often embellished. The story goes that Edward IV met Elizabeth under an oak tree at her family home at Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire, where she pleaded with Edward to help her get an inheritance for her two sons. It is very unlikely that they met underneath this oak tree, but they did fall in love and would eventually get married in May 1464. Edward then told his Parliament, including the man who helped him the most Warwick “the Kingmaker”,  that he couldn’t marry any of the women that they suggested because he was already married. Elizabeth’s large family was given advantageous marriages and titles that helped shaped English politics, much to the chagrin of those who were already in power. Elizabeth was crowned Queen consort on May 16, 1465, and the following year, she gave birth to the couple’s first child, Elizabeth of York.

Things went downhill as politics took their marriage for a rollercoaster ride. Warwick decided that he was going to switch from York to Lancaster and placed Henry VI back on the throne, sending Edward IV into exile. Elizabeth Woodville was forced to seek sanctuary where she gave birth to their first son, the future Edward V. Edward IV would come back with a vengeance and defeated Warwick, reclaiming his crown, and found his wife and children in sanctuary. The family was reunited and happy. Their second son, Richard Duke of York, was married to Anne of Mowbray and they had arranged a marriage for their eldest daughter Elizabeth of York to the Dauphin of France. Elizabeth Woodville’s world came crashing down when her beloved husband, Edward IV, died on April 9, 1483. The crown passed to their young son Edward V, but before he was crowned king, Edward and his brother Richard were sent to the Tower of London, never to be seen again.

Elizabeth would arrange a marriage between her daughter Elizabeth of York, with the son of Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor. On August 22, 1485, Henry Tudor was able to defeat Richard III and become King Henry VII. He would marry Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Woodville would be present for the birth of her grandchildren Arthur, Henry, Mary, and Margaret. Elizabeth Woodville would die less than a decade after Edward IV, on June 8, 1492. Edward and Elizabeth are buried by each other in St. George Chapel in Windsor Castle. Their love was something of legends and even though people did not agree with their union, they made each other stronger.  

5.) Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

89947Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, and Elizabeth of York. The couple that united the houses of York and Lancaster and started the Tudor Dynasty. This is the only couple on this list that was arranged to be married to each other, but they made it work extremely well. Henry Tudor was the son of Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor who would go into hiding after the Yorkist believed he would be the one who could bring back the Lancasterian cause in the Wars of the Roses. After Edward IV died, Edward V and Richard Duke of York were sent to the Tower never to be seen again, and Richard III became king. Elizabeth Woodville and the Yorkists loyal to her did not like Richard III and knew something had to be done in order to end his reign. In order to bring an end to the Wars of the Roses, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort agreed that their children, Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor, would be married if Henry could invade England successfully and overthrow Richard III. Henry and his uncle Jasper tried to invade in October 1483, but it failed. In December 1483, Henry made an oath in Rennes, France to marry Elizabeth of York.

Finally, in August 1485, Henry and Jasper Tudor made their way back to England, and it worked. They met against Richard III’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, where with sheer luck, and the forces of Lord Stanley ( Henry’s stepfather), Henry was able to defeat Richard and become King Henry VII. Henry kept his promise and married Elizabeth of York the following year, on January 18, 1486. A few months later, on September 20, 1486, Henry and Elizabeth welcomed their firstborn son, Arthur Prince of Wales. They would have more children including Henry Tudor (future Henry VIII), Mary and Margaret Tudor. Things started off relatively stable for the first few months of Henry’s reign, but that would change in 1487.

1487 was the year that a young boy named Lambert Simnel claimed to be the earl of Warwick, Elizabeth’s cousin. This was a lie and Henry met Lambert Simnel at the Battle of Stoke Field on June 16, 1487, where Lambert was defeated in the last battle of the Wars of the Roses. Lambert would be a first in a long line of pretenders, trying to usurp the throne from Henry. One of the biggest pretenders was Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Richard Duke of York, Elizabeth’s younger brother. This may have been a recipe for a disaster between Henry and Elizabeth, but it actually strengthened their relationship. Elizabeth believed that Perkin Warbeck was not her brother. Perkin Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on November 23, 1499.

The last few years of Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage was filled with joy and heartache. The couple had arranged advantageous marriages for their children Arthur and Margaret. Margaret was arranged to be married to King James IV of Scotland, to unite England and Scotland under the Treaty of Perpetual Peace.  Arthur was married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, on November 14, 1501, uniting Spain and England. The following year, on April 2, 1502, Arthur died unexpectantly, leaving Elizabeth to console her husband and to remind him that they were still young and that they could still have more children. Elizabeth did give birth to a daughter Katherine on February 2, 1503, but she would not live long. Elizabeth of York would die on February 11, 1503, leaving Henry alone in his grief. He never married again and when Henry VII died a few later on April 21, 1509, he wished to be buried next to his beloved wife. Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage may have been arranged, but they developed a deep love for one another that endure many hardships and created the Tudor Dynasty.

6.) Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor

Mary_Tudor_and_Charles_BrandonCharles Brandon and Mary Tudor. A Tudor knight who fell in love with the dowager Queen of France and the sister of the King of England. Their love story is one for the ages. Mary Tudor was the youngest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and she was very close to her brother Henry VIII. She was known as the most beautiful princess in Europe. Her first marriage was to the King of France, Louis XII, who was much older than she was and had been married two times before. Their marriage did not last three months as King Louis XII died and they did not have any children. The new King of France, Francis I, tried to arrange a new marriage for Mary, but Henry VIII sent an envoy to collect his sister, which included the charming knight, Charles Brandon.

Charles and Mary probably knew each other their entire life since Charles was a close friend of Henry VIII. While they were on their way to England, the couple decided to get married in secret on March 3, 1515, and to tell Henry later. Henry was angry, at first, and fined the couple 24,000 pounds and the remainder of Mary’s dowry. It was an enormous amount, but the couple took it in stride and their marriage was recognized later that year with an official ceremony on May 13, 1515. This was not Charles’ first marriage as he was married two times before and had two daughters by his first marriage, Anne and Mary. Mary accepted both daughters and raised them along with her four children that she had with Charles. The couple would make their opinion about politics clear to Henry, especially when it came to Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, which they were not thrilled with the idea.

Mary, who suffered from illnesses all of her life, died on June 25, 1533. Charles would marry again, this time to his ward Catherine Willoughby who would give him two sons. Charles died on August 22, 1545. Although both married other people before they married each other, one can sense how much Charles and Mary truly loved one another.

Who are your favorite couples from the Wars of the Roses or the Tudor Dynasty?

 

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

61793uzwgql._sx324_bo12c2042c2032c200_England is on the brink of civil war. Families with royal blood in their veins are fighting amongst each other as King Henry VI has fallen ill.  Mistrust runs rampant and sacrifices are made in order to gain the throne. This is the England of 1454 and the beginning of the period in English history that we know today as the Wars of the Roses. Families like the Nevilles,  the Percys, and the houses of York, Lancaster, and Tudor would gain fame and infamy during this time. Conn Iggulden decided to explore this tumultuous time after the Jack Cade rebellion, which he explored in his first book “Stormbird”, in the second book of his “Wars of the Roses” series called “Trinity”.

Many who study the Wars of the Roses believe that it started in 1455 with the First Battle of St. Albans. However, Conn Iggulden begins “Trinity” with a conflict between the Percys and the Nevilles, which is known as the Battle of Heworth Moor. Iggulden explains why he chose this point to begin his story in his Historical Note:

The ambush by some seven hundred Percy retainers and servants on the Neville wedding party took place a little earlier than I have it here, in August 1453- around the same time King Henry VI fell into his senseless state. It was a key event among years of low-level fighting between the families as they struggled to control the north and widen their holdings. That attack by Thomas Percy, Baron Egremont, was one of the most brutal actions in that private war, sparked by the marriage of Salisbury’s son to the niece of Ralph Cromwell, a union which placed estates claimed by the Percy family into Neville hands. The ‘Battle of Heworth Moor’ failed in its main aim of slaughtering Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. I have not included a dozen minor skirmishes, but that feud played a key part in deciding where the Nevilles and the Percys stood in the first battle of St. Albans in 1455- and its outcome. (Iggulden, 463).

The Battle of Heworth Moor is a unique place to start. We are thrust into the middle of the Percy family’s feud with the Nevilles. The plan is to attack the Nevilles during a wedding, but the Percys fail. It would not be a wedding that either family would forget for a long time. The Percy family decides to side with the Lancasters and the King, while the Nevilles side with the Yorkist cause. In the beginning, the Wars of the Roses was nothing but feuds between families to determine who should be taking care of the sick King Henry VI. Iggulden describes Henry VI in a way that shows the King as weak in body but his mind is sharp. When he wakes from his first bout of illness, he dismisses Richard Duke of York from being Lord Protector and reverses everything that  Richard did.

Richard and the Yorkist cause are not upset with the king, but rather those who they believe are responsible for being in control of the king; Queen Margaret of Anjou, the Duke of Somerset and the Nevilles. Anger boils until it bursts at the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455. This battle was so pivotal in the evolution of the conflict that Iggulden goes into great detail to explain how the battle unfolded. The Yorkist cause may have one the “first” battle of the Wars of the Roses, but it ignited a flame inside of Margaret of Anjou to not only protect her son and her husband but to also completely destroy Richard Duke of York. As the story progresses, we see both sides working hard to gain control of the king in a more complex version of “capture the king”.

Conn Iggulden delivers a high action and extremely descriptive sequel to “Stormbird” with “Trinity”. He incorporates beloved characters from the previous novel, like Margaret of Anjou and the charismatic Derry Brewer, with new faces like the Tudors, Thomas Percy Baron Egremont, Warwick, Richard Duke of York and his eldest son Edmund Earl of Rutland. Iggulden transports the reader to this volatile time in English history. This book is so engaging and it keeps the reader wanting more, so he included a side story that is equally entertaining. Once again, Iggulden makes the Wars of the Roses and all of its intrigue come alive. If you were a fan of Conn Iggulden’s first book in the “Wars of the Roses” series “Stormbird”, I strongly encourage you to read “Trinity”.