Book Review: “Six Tudor Queens- Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen” by Alison Weir

9781472227713Henry VIII’s wives were some of the most fascinating women of the Tudor Dynasty.  Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, the mother of Mary I, and the first wife Henry divorced. Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth I and the first English queen to be executed. Anne of Cleves, the wife Henry did not like and divorced. Katherine Howard, the second wife Henry executed, and Katherine Parr, the wife who outlived Henry. All of these women were unique, however, there was only one who gave Henry the son that he so desperately desired. Her name was Jane Seymour. Her death was well documented since she died shortly after giving birth to Edward, yet we really don’t know who she was or what her life was like. Alison Weir decides to explore Jane’s life in her third book of the Six Tudor Queens series, “Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen”.

So what makes Jane such a mystery? In her author’s note, Alison Weir explains what we know about Jane and why she was a challenge to write about:

Jane Seymour’s career spanned three of the most tumultuous years in England’s history. She was at the centre of the turbulent and dramatic events that marked the Reformation, a witness to the fall of Anne Boleyn, and an adherent of the of traditional religion at a time when seismic changes were taking place in the English Church. Had she left behind letters giving insights into her views on these events, we would know much more about the role she played in them- but she didn’t and therefore she remains an enigma. Historians endlessly debate whether or not Jane was the demure and virtuous willing instrument of an ambitious family and an ardent and powerful king; or whether she was as ambitious as her relations and played a proactive part in bringing down the Queen she served. It is impossible, given the paucity of the evidence, to reach a conclusion. And yet a novelist approaching Jane Seymour must opt for one view or the other. For me, this posed a challenge, which set me poring once more over the historical evidence on which this book is closely based, looking for clues as to how to portray her. (Weir, 503).

Weir introduces us to Jane and the Seymour family on the wedding day of her eldest brother Edward to Catherine Fillol. This marriage was doomed to fail as there was a huge scandal that rocked the Seymour family to its core. During this time, at least according to Weir’s novel, Jane was contemplating becoming a nun, but alas, it was not the lifestyle for her. Jane would eventually move to the court of Katherine of Aragon to work for the Queen. Jane is content with her new life inside the royal court, but that all changes when Anne Boleyn starts to have a relationship with Henry VIII.

Jane was not the biggest fan of Anne Boleyn and she stayed with Katherine of Aragon for as long as she could. Eventually, Jane made her way into the court of Anne Boleyn and fell in love with Henry VIII. Jane sees a softer side of Henry, a side that is not often portrayed. As Anne fell from favor, Jane rose to become the next wife and queen of Henry VIII. It is Anne’s death that haunts Jane as she questions whether she did the right thing falling in love for the King. Jane is a strong and loving character who cares about her family, Henry and the Catholic Church. She works hard to bring Mary, Katherine of Aragon’s daughter, back to her father’s good side, as well as restoring the monasteries that Henry was destroying. Jane’s love and her courage to do what was right for her country and those who were close to her defined her life.

This third book in the “Six Tudor Queens” series is an absolute delight to read. It continues the trend that the first two books set, one of opening the readers’ eyes to another side of Henry VIII’s queens. Alison Weir’s Jane Seymour is full of strength and love for others that you can’t help but like her character. Weir combines events that happened with how Jane might have reacted to create a strong story full of love and heartache. Her life and her beloved son changed England forever. If you want a fascinating and complex story of Jane Seymour’s short life, I highly recommend you read the third book of the “Six Tudor Queens” series by Alison Weir, “Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen.” It is an absolutely eye-opening novel.

Book Review: “A Tudor Christmas” by Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke

imageChristmas is seen today as a time of gift giving, twinkling lights and joy. We often celebrate it only one day a year, on December 25th, and then we celebrate a few days later the New Year from December 31st to January 1st. However, in the past, Christmas and New Years were a part of 12 days of celebrations. We often think that our traditions for Christmas date from the time of the Victorians, but that may not be the case. In fact, some of our more time-honored traditions for the holidays may in fact date from the Tudors and further back in history. So what are these traditions and how was Christmas celebrated in the time of the Tudors? That is the topic that Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke wanted to explore in their book, “A Tudor Christmas”.

Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke lay out the premise of this fascinating book:

In this book, we will be exploring all the fascinating aspects of a Tudor Christmas: how it was kept by ordinary people, and how the court celebrated, for what happened at court had a strong influence on what happened elsewhere. The Tudor period was an age of momentous and divisive religious change, with the Reformation of the 1530s severing ties with the Pope and the Church of Rome, and the establishment in 1559, under Elizabeth I, of the Protestant Anglican Church; and it is interesting to explore how this impacted on the way people celebrated Christmas. We have also broadened the scope of the book to embrace the pagan and medieval origins of the various customs, and to look at what transpired in the seventeenth century- when England became a Puritan republic- to interrupt the centuries-old traditional celebration of  Christmas, and how those observances were preserved. (Weir and Clarke, 10-11).  

This delightful little book, which happens to be less than 200 pages, is broken down into chapters which represent the days of Christmastide, from December 24th until January 6th. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the Christmas season. Food, decorations, carols, games, pageants, and masques all had important roles to play in the entire Christmas season. The number of details, the drawings at the beginning of every chapter,  and the poetry included really enhanced the reading experience and made the whole idea of a Tudor Christmas come alive. It also shows how the changing religious environment really impacted the celebration of Christmas and even had it banned for a time.

As someone who is somewhat aware of some Christmas traditions and their origins, I found this book extremely informative. It is the perfect book to read while drinking a cup of hot chocolate or tea, sitting in a comfortable chair with a blanket. It will put you in the holiday spirit. I have always wondered what Christmas was like during the time of the Tudors and this book exceeded my expectations. If you want a book that gets you into the holiday spirit while learning more about how the Tudors celebrated Christmas, I highly recommend you read, “A Tudor Christmas” by Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke. It is the perfect book for the holiday season for any Tudor nerd.

Book Review:“Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World” by Alison Weir

91FsSB3hb9LThe Wars of the Roses was a dynastic battle between the houses of York and Lancaster for the throne of England that lasted for 30 years. There were plenty of people who lived during this time that continue to fascinate us even to this day. Men like Richard III, Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VII,  and Richard Neville duke of Warwick to just name a few. There were also women who worked hard on the sidelines to make sure that their sides would win the wars. Women like Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily Neville, and Margaret Beaufort. However, one of the most important person during this conflict tends to get left behind when discussing the most influential people of this conflict; Elizabeth of York, the wife of Henry VII. She was the mother of the Tudor dynasty, yet she does not get the attention that she rightfully deserves. In Alison Weir’s book “Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World”, Weir explores the life of this influential woman and her impact on the world around her.

Weir begins her book by explaining her role in history:

Elizabeth of York’s role in history was crucial, although in a less chauvinistic age it would, by right, have been more so. In the wake of legislation to give women the same rights in the order of succession as male heirs; it is interesting to reflect that England’s Elizabeth I would not have been celebrated Virgin Queen but Elizabeth of York. But in the fifteenth century, it would have been unthinkable for a woman to succeed to the throne. Elizabeth lived in a world in which females were regarded as inferior to men physically, intellectually, and morally. It was seen as against the laws of God and Nature for a woman to wield dominion over men: it was an affront to the perceived order of the world. Even so, Elizabeth of York was important. She was the daughter, sister, niece, wife, mother and grandmother of monarchs: daughter  to Edward IV, sister to Edward V, niece to Richard III, wife to Henry VII, mother to Henry VIII, and grandmother to Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I; and she was the mother of two queen consorts. She was also the ancestress of every English monarch since 1509, every Scots monarch since 1513, and every British monarch since 1603, including the present queen, Elizabeth II. (Weir, xviii).

Elizabeth of York obviously had a significant impact on English history from the end of the Wars of the Roses on to the present day, but what is more impressive is when you realize how much Elizabeth went through in her lifetime in order to achieve these accomplishments. Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.  She was going to be married to the Dauphin of France, until the French decided to pull out of the marriage agreement. When her father fled as Warwick marched against him for the Lancastrians, Elizabeth Woodville took her children into sanctuary, where she gave birth to the future Edward V. Her father was a strong man, but he tragically died at the age of 40. Her young brother Edward V was to be the next king, but Edward was taken into the custody of her uncle, the future Richard III. Elizabeth Woodville took her children back into sanctuary where Richard told Elizabeth to give up her younger son. She did comply. The young king and his brother were taken to the Tower, Elizabeth’s brothers were never seen again, and Richard III became king.

Elizabeth’s mother never liked Richard so she arranged a marriage between Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor, the son of Margaret Beaufort. When Richard III’s wife Anne Neville died there were rumors circulating that Richard would marry his niece, but Weir explains thoroughly the relationship between Elizabeth and her uncle. After Richard was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry VII waited to marry Elizabeth of York and have her crowned queen, which angered many Yorkist supporters, but Elizabeth loved Henry and kept her cool. Elizabeth took her role as wife and mother very seriously. When there were those who tried to take Henry’s throne by pretending to be Elizabeth’s brothers, she stood by Henry and by his claim to the throne. Elizabeth was the mother of Arthur Tudor, Margaret Tudor, Mary Tudor and the future Henry VIII. When Arthur died, Elizabeth consoled her husband in his sorrow and helped him realize that they did have another heir in Henry. She would die on February 11, 1503. Her husband Henry VII would never marry again and mourned her greatly.

Alison Weir brought Elizabeth of York’s life and her world to life in this book. As many of you know, I love the Wars of the Roses and one of the reasons I do is because of the life of Elizabeth of York. There is just something about her story that completely fascinates me. I have read a few fiction books about the life of Elizabeth of York,  but this was the first biography that I have read about Elizabeth of York. Like any Alison Weir book, Weir is able to balance her unique writing style with amazing details to create a vivid description of the person’s life, in this case the life of Elizabeth of York. This is a beautiful book about the life of a pious queen who united the houses of York and Lancaster to create the Tudor Dynasty through her marriage with Henry Tudor. I highly recommend “Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World” by Alison Weir for anyone who is interested in the Wars of the Roses or the love story of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII. An amazing woman who lived in an extraordinary time.

Book Review: “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir

911GmwfEpdLThe Wars of the Roses was a series of wars from 1455 until 1487 for the throne of England. It is traditionally taught that it was between the houses of York and Lancaster, yet there were a lot more players involved than these two families. In fact the conflict started much earlier with the children of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. The Lancasters were the descendants of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche of Lancaster while the Yorks were descendants of Edmund of Langley Duke of York. This was a series over the question of who had the strongest claim to the throne. This question and the series of wars that would try to answer it is explored in depth in Alison Weir’s book “The Wars of the Roses”.

Alison Weir explains the struggle of studying this time period and what she is trying to accomplish in her book:

Sources for this period are meagre and often ambiguous, yet much research has been done over the last hundred years to illuminate a little for us what is often described as the twilight world of the fifteenth century. Many misconceptions have been swept away, yet even so the dynastic conflict still confuses many. My aim has been throughout to eliminate that confusion and try to present the story in chronological sequence, clarifying the problems of the royal succession in an age in which no certain rules of inheritance applied. I have also tried to bring the world of the fifteenth century to life by introducing as much contemporary detail as space permits, in order to make the subject relevant to any read, academic or otherwise. Chiefly, however, I have tried to re-tell an astonishing and often grim story of power struggles in high places that involved some of the most charismatic figures in English history. (Weir, xix).

Weir begins her book by explaining  what England in the fifteenth century was like before diving into the history of Edward III and the Plantagenets in the late 1300s. This may seem a little complex since there were many sons of Edward III, but the throne first went to Richard II, but when he was forced to abdicate, the throne went to Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. He was the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. John of Gaunt and his third wife Katherine Swynford had children who would become known as the Beauforts. They would become important later on.

Henry IV’s son would become Henry V who was married to Katherine of Valois. When Henry V died, their son Henry VI became king; he was a baby. His mother would remarry a Welsh man named Owen Tudor and they would have a few children, including Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Henry VI would marry Margaret of Anjou. Richard Earl of Cambridge, the son of Edmund of Langley, would have a son with his wife Anne Mortimer named Richard Plantagenet Duke of York. He would marry the “Rose of Raby” Cecily Neville and they would be the parents of Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

This all may seem a bit complex, but it is important to understand how all of the players in the Wars of the Roses were connected. Henry VI was a weak king who was known for his madness and so someone had to lead the government. Richard Duke of York believed that he should have been Lord Protector, however Margaret of Anjou and her party at court had other ideas. The beginning of this conflict was a battle between court factions, but eventually it escalated rather quickly into a full on rebellion by Richard Duke of York. This was now a battle between the Yorks and the Lancasters. When Richard Duke of York died at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460, his son Edward took on the Yorkist cause and would become king after the battle of Towton on March 29, 1461, the bloodiest battle on English soil. After Towton, it was a battle between Edward IV and those who supported Henry VI, until 1471 when Edward IV ultimately won, thus ending the conflict between the Yorks and the Lancasters.

Weir chooses to end her book here at 1471 even though the Wars of the Roses will pick back up with the death of Edward IV in 1483 when his brother Richard becomes Richard III. Weir truly brought this time period to life. I have been studying the Wars of the Roses for a few years now and I have to say this book really simplified this complex family struggle in a way that makes sense. I love this book and I have read it several times. If you really want a great book that explains the causes of the Wars of the Roses, I highly recommend this book, “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir. It is a fantastic introduction to this tumultuous time period.

Book Review: “The Life of Elizabeth I” by Alison Weir

111222Elizabeth I was perhaps the most influential monarch in English history. There are episodes in her life that became legendary. From her tumultuous childhood to her reign where everyone either wanted her to marry or put someone else on the throne, Elizabeth’s life was hardly easy. Even though much is known about her public life as queen, we really do not know a lot about her private life. In Alison Weir’s book, “The Life of Elizabeth I”, the gap between the public Elizabeth and the private Elizabeth is bridged in order to give a more complete biography of this fascinating English queen.

Alison Weir explains what Elizabeth had gone through in her early life and how it shaped her as a queen:

When she came to the throne her subjects knew relatively little about her. Nurtured in a hard school, having suffered adversity and uncertainty from her infancy, and having gone in danger of her life on at least two occasions, she had learned to keep her own counsel, hide her feelings and live by her wits. Already, she was a mistress of the arts of deception, dissimulation, prevarication and circumvention, all admired attributes of a true Renaissance ruler. At twenty-five years old, she was at last in control of her destiny, and having lived in one kind of constraint or another for the whole of her existence so far, she was determined to preserve her independence and autonomy. She had learned from her sister’s mistakes and resolved never to repeat them. She would identify herself with her people and worked for their common interests. She would bring peace and stability to her troubled kingdom. She would nurture it, as a loving mother nurtures a child. For this, she believed, God had preserved her life. (Weir, 9-10)

Weir begins her book with the coronation of Elizabeth, touching briefly on Elizabeth’s childhood and how she got to the throne. She explains the England that Elizabeth knew and how right after she was crowned, her people desired for the queen to have a husband and to know what religion she would adopt for her own and for her country. Although Elizabeth liked to have quite a few favorites, including Robert Dudley and Francis Duke of Anjou, she never gave her heart solely to one man. Instead she chose to be the mother of her country and to be married to the job of protecting her people. Elizabeth not only had to keep her people happy but she had to deal with threats from other countries, including King Philip II of Spain and his Armada, the  St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots in France, and the religious feuds in the Netherlands. One of her biggest external threats was her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, who claimed that she should be Queen of England. Elizabeth eventually had to make the decision to execute another queen, very similar to the decision her father had to make when he had Elizabeth’s mother executed a few decades before.

Elizabeth also had to deal with internal threats such as favorites, especially  Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, becoming jealous of others in court and throwing fits. There were those who would dare to marry without the Queen’s permission and had their own children. In these instances, Elizabeth’s anger would come out in full force. She didn’t trust many people and tended to keep her feelings to herself. To the outside world, she was “Gloriana” or “The Virgin Queen”, but to those who truly knew her, she was just Elizabeth, a woman who became queen and who was just trying to survive for herself and her country.

Elizabeth I has always been my favorite Tudor monarch. Her story was the one that really got me interested in the Tudors and this book made me fascinated with her all over again. Alison Weir was able to yet again combine her engaging writing style with amazing details to tell the full story of the reign of Elizabeth I, from her coronation at age of 25 to her death at the age of 69, and how she changed England for the better. I loved reading this book. There was so much information about Elizabeth that I didn’t know about in this book, it was like discovering a whole new side to a person I thought I knew very well. If you want to learn more about Elizabeth I, the woman behind the legend, and her impact on England and the 16th century world, I highly recommend you read this book, “The Life of Elizabeth I” by Alison Weir. An absolutely fascinating read on one of England’s most remarkable rulers.  

Book Review: “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir

6282683Anne Boleyn, the  second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Elizabeth I. Most of us know her story of how she fell in love with Henry VIII and how their relationship changed England forever as Henry broke off with Rome in order to get a divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne. Unfortunately, when Anne couldn’t give Henry the son he so desired, their love began to fade. Anne Boleyn’s story ends in tragedy as she was accused of having multiple affairs, plotting the death of Henry VIII, and witchcraft, Anne was found guilty and was killed. Her fall happened in May 1536, a month that changed everything, but how much of these charges are true? Did she indeed have these affairs? Did she plot to kill her husband? What is the truth behind her fall? These are the questions that Alison Weir try to answer in her book “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn.”

Alison Weir states that:

In assessing Anne’s character and impact on history, we should ask ourselves how she would be viewed today if she had not perished on the scaffold. Her end was one of the most dramatic and shocking episodes in English history, her last days the best documented period of her life, vividly described in the sources, while the powerful image of her on the scaffold, courageously facing a horrible death, has overlaid all previous conceptions of her. (Weir, 337-338).

Weir begins her book with the May Day joust of 1536, when Henry VIII abruptly left Anne all alone. A few months before, Anne had her last miscarriage, unable to provide Henry the son that he so desired. Henry’s attention began to wander towards Jane Seymour, even though, at this time, he still had feelings for Anne. After Katherine of Aragon’s death, a few weeks before the miscarriage,  Anne’s enemies began to make their moves. Anne had many enemies in court and the entire country was against her in her role in the divorce of Henry and Katherine of Aragon, who was extremely popular.Cromwell, who despised Anne, planned a way to get Anne off the throne with the help of Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador to England for Charles V.

Cromwell had enlisted the help of Anne’s servants, including her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, to make a tale of scandal. The story goes that Anne had affairs with five men: Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, and her brother George Boleyn. Alison Weir explores the validity of the claims of the affairs as well as the details of the trials. Of course, the trials did not go in a way that was what we would now today consider “fair” and the sentence of death was passed on all of the accused. Anne Boleyn and the men accused with her are executed. The only legacy Anne left behind was her daughter, who would become Queen Elizabeth I.

I have been a fan of Alison Weir’s for years. I love the amount of details that she puts into her books and how both her fiction and non-fiction books are so easy to read. “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” follows this trend. For me, Anne Boleyn has been one of those people in the Tudor time  that really has not interested me. That was until I read this book. The story of her fall is so dramatic and quick that it leaves a lot of intriguing questions about if Anne and the men who fell with her were indeed innocent. “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir is such a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in Anne Boleyn and her fall from grace.

Book Review: “Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth and the Dark Scandal that Rocked the Throne” by Chris Skidmore

41sbrm3axHL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_On September 8, 1560, a young woman’s body is discovered at Cumnor Place alone at the bottom of the stairs with her neck broken with no other marks on her body. This would have been declared an accidental death by normal people, however the woman was anything but a normal woman; this was the wife of Robert Dudley, Amy Robsart. It was because of who she was and who her husband was that people speculated that foul play was afoot.

 

For centuries, the death of Amy Robsart has caught the imagination of many people, including Chris Skidmore. In his book “Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth and the Dark Scandal that Rocked the Throne”, Skidmore takes a deeper look into this mysterious death of Amy Robsart. If you have read Alison Weir’s “Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley”, you will enjoy the way that Skidmore writes this book because it is very similar. The quote that really summed up his researching approach towards this mystery is as follows: “ For the historian, the truth is neither impossible nor improbable: it can only be, quite simply, whatever remains.”

 

Skidmore starts off by explaining the relationship between Amy and Robert before Elizabeth became Queen. These were two people who were in love, but once Robert Amyrobsartbecame the Master of the Horse for Elizabeth, Robert changed. He was at home less and Amy had to take over the household affairs. It is through letters that Amy wrote that Skidmore is able to paint a picture for us about how their household worked. The day that Amy died was very peculiar in the fact that she wanted to be left alone; her husband was with the Queen miles away. The original jury found that this was a case of accidental death, however Skidmore decided to take a deeper look into the case. He decided to explore the possibility of accidental death by stairs, the possibility of a medical explanation on why Amy could have fallen down the stairs,  and he found the original coroner’s report, which portrays a different story. The amount of research Skidmore pours into this one accidental death is admirable. The one issue I have with the book is the fact that he describes the type of staircases and the details of the coroner’s report but he doesn’t show pictures of these things so it’s a bit hard to visualize what he is talking about.

 

The story about Amy’s death, however does not end with her death, in fact it only starts the rumor mill around Robert Dudley’s involvement. As Dudley gets closer to Elizabeth and has his affairs with Douglas Howard and Lettice Knollys (who would become his second wife), rumors fly and comparisons are made to Amy. People did not like the fact that Robert was so close to the Queen and was thinking about marrying Elizabeth. People started to believe that Robert killed his wife in order to marry the Queen and so slanderous writings about Dudley were being passed around, including the Leicester’s Commonwealth.

 

In this book, Chris Skidmore channels his inner history detective in order to discover the truth about the death of Amy Robsart. There is something so fascinating about the mystery of her death that has kept the interest in it alive for so long. Skidmore’s book is a fantastic introduction to the death of Amy and the effects that her death on those who she cared about, especially her husband Robert Dudley. If you enjoy Tudor mysteries, the relationship between Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth, or Amy Robsart, this is the book for you.