Book Review: “Murder in the Cloister” by Tania Bayard

55421664The year is 1399 in Paris and the royal family is concerned about the Priory in Poissy. Something has happened behind the cloistered walls and only one person who is extremely loyal to the king and queen can figure out what is amiss, Christine de Pizan the famous medieval writer. Christine goes to Poissy to act as a copyist for the prioress, but she soon finds herself in the middle of a sinister murder case. A nun has been found dead and it is up to Christine and her allies, plus one frenemy, to figure out who killed the nun while protecting the king’s youngest daughter who calls the priory home. Can Christine figure out who murdered the young nun and make it out of the priory alive? This is the premise of Tania Bayard’s latest installment of her Christine de Pizan murder mystery series, “Murder in the Cloister”.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Severn House Publishers for sending me a copy of this novel. When I was browsing, the cover is what drew my attention. I had not heard of this series or of Tania Bayard before reading this novel. I did not know that this book was part of a series until I started reading it. I have heard about Christine de Pizan and her writing legacy, but I sadly knew nothing about her family life and her connection to King Charles V, King Charles VI, and Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, which would have been useful information to know before reading.

We begin this novel with Christine surrounded by her family and her mother. We find out that Christine is a single mother now as her husband has recently passed away and she is trying to earn money through her writing. As the daughter of Thomas de Pizan, the famous astrologer to King Charles V, she has earned the trust of the royal family. King Charles VI, who is suffering from some sort of mental malady, and his wife Queen Isabeau of Bavaria have asked Christine to go to the Priory in Poissy to copy a manuscript for the prioress and to visit her daughter Marie. She is allowed to bring her son Thomas, but the queen insists on Henri le Picart, a man who Christine despises, to come along and protect her. I found Henri’s character annoying with how he belittles women and their abilities, but he did have some redeeming qualities as the story went along.

I found the actual murder investigation a bit slow for my taste. Bayard tends to focus on the subplot of sorcery a bit too long. I wanted an action-packed adventure full of danger and intrigue, like a novel by CJ Sansom or Toni Mount, but the action fell flat for me. I think Bayard was able to describe the priory and the inner workings very well and the characters were all well written and dynamic. As someone who jumped into this series rather late, it took me a while to figure out the relationship between the characters and what happened in previous cases, which is imperative in solving this particular case.

Overall, I found this medieval murder mystery rather enjoyable. I have not read many medieval novels set in France and I have not read anything about Christine de Pizan, so it was different yet intriguing at the same time. If you want to read this series, I would suggest starting at the very beginning. If you are however familiar with the life of Christine de Pizan and this series, I think you will find, “Murder in the Cloister” by Tania Bayard rather enjoyable and a great medieval escape from reality.

Book Review: “The Colour of Evil (Sebastian Foxley Book #9) by Toni Mount

57299292._SY475_ (1)Money problems litter the streets of London like debris. Those who have money have power. Yet, there are those who try to beat the system by making their own counterfeit currency to beat the system. When this counterfeit currency leaves to murder, only Seb Foxley and his merry band of friends and family members can bring justice to those who were killed. When unexpected complications arise, like Seb’s wayward brother Jude coming home with an Italian child bride and a commission from King Edward IV himself, can Seb solve the case before anyone else becomes the next victim in this vicious cycle of greed and exploitation? Toni Mount takes her readers on another thrilling adventure in, “The Colour of Evil”, the ninth installment of the Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery series.

I would like to thank Toni Mount for sending me a copy of her latest mystery novel. When I was introduced to the colorful characters of Seb Foxley and his friends in the last novel, “The Colour of Shadows”, I became attached to them and I wanted to see what new adventures Toni Mount had for them.

We are reunited with Seb and his household two months after the conclusion of “The Colour of Shadows” as they adjust to a new normal. Life moves on and Seb receives a very tempting offer from King Edward IV to craft a luxurious book for an Italian nobleman. As he begins this arduous task, his friend Bailiff Thaddeus Turner needs his help to uncover the truth about a murder that has some very grisly circumstances along with coins that are found out to be fake. To top it all off, Seb is visited by not one but two people from his past. One is a former apprentice of his master who bullied Seb and now seeks his help. The other is his older brother Jude who has traveled around Europe. With all of these distractions, it is a wonder Seb and his household were able to get any work done during this novel.

Mount has created yet another vivid mystery for Seb to solve, full of dangers and intellectual puzzles. She has lovingly crafted each and every character to make their circumstances believable that you forget that they are fictional. The relationships are truly the backbone of this novel, especially the tempestuous relationship between Seb and Jude and the cautiously romantic relationship between Seb and Rose. Of course, we cannot forget that the series of murders must be solved and the way that Mount crafted the solution to this case was brilliant. You will be on the edge of your seat until the end, trying to figure out who committed the heinous deed and whether your favorite characters will succeed.

I have found myself totally immersed in the world of 15th century England and Seb’s continuous adventures. This is a true page-turner with so many secrets and scenes that can rival those crafted by C.J. Sansom. Mount again succeeds to transport her readers to another time in this delightful novel. If you have never read a Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery, you really need to as they are a sheer delight for fans of historical fiction. “The Colour of Evil” is yet another brilliantly written and extremely well-researched novel by the talented Toni Mount. This is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of the Seb Foxley series or for anyone who wants to escape the modern-day for a little bit to explore the inner workings of 15th century England, full of greed and secrets.

Book Review: “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” by Robert Stedall

52718070._SX318_The last Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, was known for many things, but her main legacy is that she never chose to marry anyone. She was the infamous “Virgin Queen”. However, there were those around her who manage to capture her attention and her admiration for a time. The most famous of these men was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He was a massive supporter of the arts and the Protestant faith, gaining prestige and praise from his highly exalted monarch. Yet, his life and his relationship with his wives, his enemies, and Elizabeth I was full of dangers and numerous scandals. Who was this man who wooed the heart of the most eligible woman in all of 16th century Europe? Robert Stedall investigates the relationship between these two lovers destined to never marry each other in, “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am always interested in learning new aspects about the reign of Elizabeth I and her love life. When I saw the cover, I was instantly drawn to it and I wanted to know more about Elizabeth and Robert.

Stedall begins his biography by exploring the reigns of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, and Mary I to show how the Dudleys came to power and how they fell out of power. I noticed that Stedall included Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley in the family trees that he provided at the beginning of the book, but their death years are different, even though they both died in 1554 on the same day. I think that it was interesting to see how the fall of the Dudleys affected Robert and how it was truly through Elizabeth’s favor that they gained back their honor. This friendship between Elizabeth and Robert gradually developed into love, although it was quite taboo. Robert was Elizabeth’s Master of the Horse and he was already married to Amy Robsart. Even after Amy’s untimely death, Elizabeth and Robert could never be together as a couple because her council, especially Cecil, wanted her to marry a great European power to create a strong alliance, which was a reasonable request.

Sadly, Robert Dudley could not wait forever for Elizabeth, so he chose to marry again, this time to Lettice Knollys. To say Elizabeth was upset about this marriage would be an understatement. Even though she could never marry Robert, it did not mean she wanted another woman to marry him. Robert remained faithful to his queen as a military officer and a patron of the arts and building projects. It is impossible to discuss the Elizabethan Age without mentioning the contributions of Lord Robert Dudley.

I think Stedall has done his research very well. However, this book is a tad too dry for my taste. I was hoping to learn some new swoon-worthy facts about this notorious romance, but Stedall’s book was a bit too analytical for this to happen. It was a struggle for me to read this book as it took me a few weeks to finish it. With a title such as the one he provided, I was hoping for new romantic facts, but it fell flat for me.

Overall, I felt like this was a well-researched biography, but it fell flat on the delivery. I think if you are being introduced to the relationship of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, this is a decent introduction, but if you know the story, it might not be the best book to read. If you want to learn more about Robert Dudley and his influence in the Elizabethan court, check out, “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” by Robert Stedall.

Book Review: “Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck, and Warwick” by Nathen Amin

50419850August 22, 1485, marked the end of the Plantagenet Dynasty with the death of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. The man who succeeded him as King of England after his death was young Henry Tudor, whose dynasty would live in infamy in English history, thought that he was done fighting on the battlefield for his right to rule. This was only the beginning of a decades-long war against those who claimed to be lingering shadows of the past. They claimed to be the Princes in the Tower, whose disappearances in 1483 left to doubt and confusion on what happened to them and gave those who despised this new dynasty opportunity to exploit a young king’s fear of being overthrown. The young men who made this king who won his way to the throne on a battlefield quake in his boots are known today as “the Pretenders”, but who were they? In Nathen Amin’s much-anticipated book, “Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck, and Warwick”, he traces the origins of each pretender to show what type of threat that they posed to the first Tudor king.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. When Nathen Amin announced that he was writing this particular book, I was instantly interested in reading it. I thoroughly enjoyed his “ The House of Beaufort”, so I wanted to see how he would approach the enigmas of the pretenders. I was not disappointed as this was a historically riveting masterpiece.

To understand why the pretenders were able to gain supporters, Amin takes his readers to the Tower where the two sons of King Edward IV disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Since neither King Richard III nor King Henry VII could answer if the princes were either alive or dead, we have been left with Schrodinger’s cat-like situation. This proved to be a mistake on Henry VII’s part as it allowed young men with relatively obscure origins to take advantage and try to overthrow the king and his family. Two of the most famous pretenders were Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, who had help near and far to try to end the Tudor dynasty before it really began. However, there were others including the tragic tale of Edward, Earl of Warwick, whose only crime was to be born of Yorkist royal blood.

There have been other books that have touched on the topic of the pretenders, but what Amin has done in this particular book is nothing short of remarkable. By acting as a historian/detective, Amin dived deep into the archives to follow the path that these men took from obscurity to prominent threats to the crown. Along the way, Amin kept Henry VII and his actions central to the narrative to show a different side to the first Tudor king that many might not have anticipated.

To write such a definitive and thought-provoking nonfiction book on such shadowy figures like the pretenders is no easy feat. Amin created an outstanding narrative that balances scrupulous attention to details with a coherent and engaging writing style to bring the complex story of Henry VII and the pretenders to life for the modern age. If you love learning about new aspects of the Tudor dynasty, “Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck, and Warwick” by Nathen Amin is the book for you. This is easily my favorite book Nathen Amin has written thus far.

Book Review: “Chronos Crime Chronicles- The Death of Amy Robsart: An Elizabethan Mystery” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51132911On September 8, 1560, a woman was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs inside Cumnor Place. The only visible marks on her body were two wounds on the side of her head, yet her neck was clearly broken. If she was an ordinary woman, her death would not have been remembered through the centuries, yet she was no ordinary woman. She was the wife of Robert Dudley, the man who was considered as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite courtiers. Amy Robsart was a third wheel in the relationship between her husband and the queen, but does that mean that she was murdered? In her latest book, “Chronos Crime Chronicles- The Death of Amy Robsart: An Elizabethan Mystery”, Sarah-Beth Watkins plays detective to uncover the cause of death and the possible motive for those who wanted to see Amy dead.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Watkins’ previous books, so when I found out she was writing another book about the case of Amy Robsart, I knew that I wanted to read it.

Amy Robsart, the wife of Robert Dudley, was a woman whose life was an enigma, but her death caused a sensation. In this short book, Watkins gives her readers a brief outline of what we know about her death and the coroner’s report on her case. As someone who has read about this case in the past, I found that she was able to touch on the significant points of the case in a succinct yet engaging manner.

Watkins then moves to the main topic of her book, which is if someone did have Amy murder, who were the possible suspects, and what could have been their motives for the crime. Obviously, she does mention Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I as suspects because they were subject to the rumors swirling around this particular case. Watkins does also brings up others who could have committed the crime because they were jealous of the relationship between Dudley and Elizabeth I. If Amy Robsart was indeed murdered, it seems likely it was her husband’s enemies who wanted to blacken his name, not because they had an extreme hatred towards Amy herself.

As someone who believes that Amy Robsart’s death was indeed a terrible accident, I found that some of Watkins’ arguments rather compelling. I think that Watkins’ easy-to-understand writing style is a benefit for a case as complex as this one. This is a good introduction book for those who are not familiar with the death of Amy Robsart, but I wish Watkins did dive a bit more in-depth into some of the theories that she does mention. If you want a book that introduces you to the mysterious death of Amy Robsart, “Chronos Crimes Chronicles- The Death of Amy Robsart: An Elizabethan Mystery” by Sarah-Beth Watkins is the book for you.

Book Review: “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis

39330966._SY475_“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” This famous quote from William Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part III has been used throughout the centuries to describe how difficult it is to rule a country for any duration of time. Most kings and queens of the past lasted for a few years, but there was one queen who lasted for a handful of days. She was the successor of Henry VIII’s only male son, King Edward VI, and was meant to replace his eldest half-sister, who would become Queen Mary I. It was a battle between Protestantism and Catholicism with a 17-year-old scholar caught in the middle. Her name was Lady Jane Grey, but many refer to her as the “Nine Day Queen of England”. Lady Jane Grey’s tragically short story, how she became queen, and the consequences of her reign are discussed thoroughly in Nicola Tallis’ beautifully written debut biography, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey”.

I have been a fan of Nicola Tallis’ other biographies, “Uncrowned Queen: The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Monarch” and “Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Life of the Countess of Leicester: The Romance and Conspiracy that Threatened Queen Elizabeth’s Court”. I had heard about this one through recommendations from other Tudor history fans, so naturally, I wanted to give it a try. Lady Jane Grey has been one of those historical figures that I have felt sympathy for in the past and I wanted to learn more about her life.

Lady Jane Grey was born into a royal family full of fighting for the throne of England and for the right to either be Protestant or Catholic. She was the eldest daughter of Henry and Frances Grey. It was through her mother Frances that Jane had a claim to the throne because Frances Grey was the daughter of Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII, and Charles Brandon. If Frances and Henry Grey had sons, we would not have to talk about Jane’s claim to the throne, but Jane had two sisters, Katherine and Mary Grey. Jane was a rather unusual royal girl because she was not concerned about who she would one day marry. Lady Jane Grey has been known throughout history as a young scholar and a martyr for Protestantism. Her zeal for learning is so admirable and relatable. It makes you really wonder what her life might have been like if she had not been coerced to become Queen of England.

Unfortunately, on his deathbed Jane’s cousin King Edward VI declared that Lady Jane Grey would be his heir, not his eldest half-sister Mary, who his father had named as Edward’s heir if Edward had no children of his own. Jane never coveted the throne, but her father-in-law, John Dudley 1st Duke of Northumberland saw the opportunity to make his son Guildford king of England. It was not the role that Jane wanted in her life, but she was outspoken and courageous about things that mattered to her, even as she approached the scaffold that would seal her fate on earth.

Tallis’ writing style and her attention to detail brought Jane out of the shadows to uncover the truth behind the myths that surrounded her young life. This biography could have easily become a Mary vs. Jane book, but Tallis took the utmost care to make sure it was balanced for both women. It was dynamic and thoughtful, full of drama and revelations of the life of Lady Jane Grey. In short, it is a magnificent biography of one of the Tudor monarchs whose reign was quickly forgotten. Jane may have been a scholar, a lady, and a martyr, but she should also be remembered for another position she held in life. Jane was a Queen of England. If you want a stunning biography about Lady Jane Grey, I highly suggest you read, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis.

Guest Post: “John Foxe in State of Treason” by Paul Walker

State of Treason Tour BannerToday, I am pleased to welcome Paul Walker, the author of “State of Treason” Book one of the William Constable Spy Thriller series, to my blog as part of his book tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. Paul Walker will be discussing one of his characters, John Foxe. 

One of the delights in writing historical fiction is discovering real characters from the past, translating bare facts recorded about them into thoughts and actions, then weaving these into your story. When I started researching the reign of Elizabeth I for State of Treason, the first book in the William Constable series, I came across Doctor John Foxe. Until then, I knew little about Foxe; having only a vague notion of him as an author and scholar in the sixteenth century. Delving deeper, it soon became apparent that Foxe was a celebrated figure and his Book of Martyrs was a bestseller in its time, second only to the Bible, and an important tool of Protestant propaganda.

Foxe was born around the year 1516 in Lincolnshire to a prosperous yeoman family and entered Oxford University when he was 18. He became a supporter of Martin Luther and was active in condemning the practice of selling pardons by the Catholic Church. While at Oxford he witnessed the burning of William Crowbridge for his role in publishing the Bible in English. During the reign of Henry VIII, he was critical of the church and when Mary came to the throne he fled to Europe with his wife where he befriended several continental Protestant scholars.  It was in Basel that he wrote and published the first edition of his Book of Martyrs in Latin. 

The full title runs to a long paragraph and could be considered a work of flash fiction itself. The book contains many gruesome illustrations of the executions of Protestant martyrs. This, and an understanding that Foxe was fiercely anti-Catholic, gave the initial impression of a stern, unbending religious fanatic. I was surprised, therefore, when I came upon an engraving, which, to my mind, showed a thoughtful and gentleman. In particular, he had a kind twinkle in his eyes. Reading more, I discovered he had a benign and forgiving nature and abhorred cruelty, even for those whose views he strongly opposed. He favoured the use of logical and theological arguments rather than maltreatment and execution to persuade those of different faiths.

J Foxe

An instance that demonstrates his compassion and humour was when he advised against the execution of an Anabaptist, Joan Boucher, in the reign of Edward VI. Boucher was examined by a man named James Rogers, who insisted she should die by burning. Instead of burning, Foxe pleaded, “at least let another kind of death be chosen, answering better to the mildness of the Gospel.” When Rogers answered that in his opinion burning alive was gentler than many other forms of execution, Foxe said to Rogers, “… maybe the day will come when you yourself will have your hands full of the same gentle burning.” 

In 1559, with Elizabeth on the throne, Foxe returned to England where he continued his scholarly work. I decided to incorporate Foxe as a character in State of Treason, which is set in London in 1578. The protagonist is William Constable, a fictitious physician, and scholar of mathematics and astronomy. Foxe’s faith becomes a foil for Constable’s man of science and logic. Together they form an unlikely friendship and formidable partnership in the fight to protect the English state against foreign and domestic intrigue. 

Four editions of his Book of Martyrs were printed in Foxe’s lifetime with the fourth published in 1583 and derived works were published after his death. The first English edition was published in 1563 and contained 1,700 pages and 1.5 million words. These statistics were surpassed by the fourth edition which was four times the length of the Bible and described as the most physically imposing, complicated, and technically demanding book of its era.

Francis Walsingham, William Cecil, and other Protestant statesmen decided that Foxe’s Book of Martyrs could be used in the anti-Catholic propaganda campaign deployed against Mary, Queen of Scots, and her supporters. A copy was placed in almost every church and wealthy household and it was required onboard all ships that sailed to the New Lands or fought against Spain. It has been argued that it was one of the most influential books in the English language. Despite its renown and popularity, it is said that Foxe never earned a penny from any of the editions. He was an unworldly man who largely depended on the benevolence of wealthy patrons.

John Foxe died peacefully at his home in Grub Street, London in 1587.

State_of_Treason

London, 1578

William Constable is a scholar of mathematics, astrology, and practices as a physician. He receives an unexpected summons to the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham in the middle of the night. He fears for his life when he spies the tortured body of an old friend in the palace precincts.

His meeting with Walsingham takes an unexpected turn when he is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.

Constable is swept up in the chase to uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion. He schemes to gain the confidence of the adventurer John Hawkins and a rich merchant. Pressured into taking a role as court physician to pick up unguarded comments from nobles and others, he has become a reluctant intelligencer for Walsingham.

Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?

Constable must race to unravel the threads of political manoeuvring for power before a new-found love and perhaps his own life is forfeit.

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Paul Walker

Paul Walker

Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first three books in the series are State of Treason; A Necessary Killing; and The Queen’s Devil. He promises more will follow.

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Book Review: “Sex, Love, and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age” by R.E. Pritchard

Action, adventure, drama, heartache, and love are what people crave when they read fictional stories. Yet, these elements are ever-present in the stories from the past. Each one of these topics could be explored in numerous ways when we are discussing history, but an area in history where romance and love were intermingled with politics was Elizabethan England. Queen Elizabeth I was obviously known as the “Virgin Queen” because she chose not to marry, but that did not mean that her subjects were banned from love and marriage. How did Elizabethans view the ideas of love, marriage, and sex? In this book, “Sex, Love, and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age”, R.E. Pritchard sets out to explore what love, marriage, and the intimate moments meant to Elizabethans of every class.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. The Elizabethan era has been one of my favorites time periods to study so I am always interested in learning some new aspects about that period in history.

Pritchard begins his book by discussing what love and marriage meant for the commoners in Elizabethan England. These relationships were essential for how the average person identified themselves in society. He explores the scandalous relationships, rapes, adulterous affairs, and love of every kind through popular literature and journals that lesser-known figures kept during this time. I found this section particularly fascinating since I have never seen a book about Elizabethan England explore the literature of the time with such a narrow lens. I think it would have been cool if Pritchard would have done mini historiographical studies into why certain poets and authors wrote what they did to give more depth to the words that they wrote.

The second half of this book explores the romantic lives of Queen Elizabeth I and her Court. This is where I felt a disconnect with what Pritchard wanted to achieve with this particular book. It felt like a review of Elizabeth’s life and her numerous suitors vying for her hand in marriage. There are so many books out today about Elizabeth’s love life that explored this topic in so much depth and by comparison, it made this section of Pritchard’s book feel weaker than the first half.

I wish Pritchard would have focused on perfecting the first half of the book and exploring the amorous relationships of the average Elizabethan. There are sparks of brilliance, but they are marred by the second half of this book. If Pritchard wanted to include the section about the queen’s love life, I wish he had it at the beginning as a chapter or two to make it very brief and to set the mood, then jump into the lives of average Elizabethans as a comparison.

Overall, I felt like this book had the potential to be something special, but Pritchard tried to do too much in one book. He is passionate about the subject that he is writing about, which is obvious to those who read this book, but he was over-ambitious. I think his original research and ideas were fascinating and I want more of that new angle to romance in Elizabethan England that he was presenting. If you want a unique look at love and marriage in the late Tudor dynasty, you should give, “Sex, Love, and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age” by R.E. Pritchard a try.

Book Review: “Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII” by Gareth Russell

55728291._SY475_Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived. For those who study Tudor history, we have heard this unimaginative rhyme to refer to the wives of Henry VIII for the longest time. We all know the stories of the queens, especially Anne Boleyn, but the fifth wife and the second one to be beheaded tend to be cast aside for some of the more intriguing tales. Her name was Catherine Howard, Henry’s youngest bride. Her story is full of rumors and myths, just like her cousin Anne Boleyn. Most know of her romantic dalliances that, in the end, led to her demise, but what was her reign like as queen? What was the court of Henry VIII like during his fifth marriage as his health was failing? In Gareth Russell’s brilliant biography, “Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII”, he dives deep into the archives to shine a light on the life of this tragic and young queen.

I would like to thank everyone who has recommended that I read this biography for years now. I have heard the praises about this book and I have enjoyed reading posts by Gareth Russell so I decided that it was about time that I read the book that put him on the map for so many Tudor history fans.

Russell begins his exploration into Catherine’s life with an execution and a wedding. The person being executed on July 28, 1540, was Henry VIII’s former right-hand man Thomas Cromwell and the bride is Catherine Howard. The duality of this first chapter is stunning, showing how favor in Henry VIII’s court was like a wheel constantly turning. A person’s fate was always in the hands of the king. To understand how Catherine caught the roving eye of the ailing king, Russell takes his readers on a journey into her past to show how this young lady made it into the glamorous Tudor court. We all have an idea of what life must have been like for Catherine in her grandmother’s, Agnes Tilney dowager Duchess of Norfolk, household. However, as Russell explains, Catherine’s life and her early romances with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham were not like how it has been portrayed in novels about her life.

Catherine’s life took a dramatic turn when she is chosen to be one of the ladies in waiting for Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. This relationship does not last long and Henry casts his eyes upon Catherine and she becomes his fifth wife. However, while at court, Catherine falls in love with the charming Thomas Culpepper. Russell goes further than any other author has in the past to explore the different aspects of Catherine’s reign as queen consort. He explores her household, how she viewed religious issues and political issues that impacted Tudor England during this time. Finally, Russell explores the downfall, the trial, and the execution of Catherine Howard and how her foolish decisions cost her everything.

The way Russell combined his easy to read style of writing with scrupulous attention to detail to create such a vivid account of Catherine Howard’s tragic life is magnificent. It felt as if you could visualize the events as they happened in the Henrician court. Before I read this account, I felt no sympathy for Catherine’s demise, but this beautiful biography changed my view on her life. If you want a hauntingly beautiful biography about the life of Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard, you must read, “Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII” by Gareth Russell.

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.