Book Review: “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy

43211731 (1)Strong medieval women who helped lead armies were unusual phenomena. Women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and  Margaret of Anjou, have been seen as “she-wolves” and their stories have lived on for centuries. They were all queens, but strong women from the past could be of any rank, even though their stories are not celebrated as much. Take, for example, the story of Joanna of Flanders, Countess of Montfort and Richmond, Duchess of Brittany. She was a wife and mother who protected Hennebont Castle in Brittany from the French in 1342 while her husband was held captive. She then leaves her beloved Brittany for the court of Edward III of England and all but disappears from the historical record until her death in 1374. What happened to this extraordinary woman and why did she disappear from the historical records? Julie Sarpy answers these questions and more in her book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Before I read this book, I knew absolutely nothing about Joanna of Flanders or the part she played in protecting Brittany from France.

In the past, historians, especially Arthur Le Moyne de La Borderie,  have claimed that Joanna was held in confinement by Edward III because she went “mad”. However, Sarpy does not agree with this assessment of her life and she hopes to change that view with this book, as she explains in her introduction:

This book strives to set the record straight about Joanna of Flanders through a fresh reading of legal and administrative records, narrative accounts and comparative studies. It seeks to reveal the pretense behind her guardianship and the means by which Edward III of England perpetrated a hoax. I have tried to separate the facts from fiction and reconcile the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life after October 1343 when she retired to Yorkshire with the known record. Centrally, it is an attempt to demonstrate that her captivity at the hands of Edward III was purposeful and politically motivated. Unfortunately, since then, some authors have been complicit in the sullying of her reputation by claiming she was incarcerated due to mental defect and I seek to correct that. (Sarpy, 10). 

Sarpy introduces her readers to the complex relationship between Brittany, France, and England, as well as the de Montforts and the Blois- Penthievre faction that all played a part in the First Breton Civil War. It is these relationships that are crucial to understanding the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life. The siege of Hennebont showed Joanna as a threat to Edward III’s plans for Brittany, so he had to do something about her. Joanna takes her children to England and Edward III will eventually send her to Tickhill Castle. Sarpy explores mental illness, the medieval laws towards protecting them and about the confinement of the nobility. What Sarpy does very well is that she shows examples of legal cases as well as those who were mad and compared their stories to Joanna’s own story. 

Sarpy’s book contains a ton of information, both historical and legal, but it is relatively easy to understand. As I stated earlier, I didn’t know anything about Joanna of Flanders before I read this book and I did take copious amounts of notes. This book tells the story of Joanna of Flanders in such a way that those who are not familiar with her legacy can understand, yet it also sheds new light for those who knew her story beforehand. Julie Sarpy’s book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” was an enlightening read and I recommend it to those who are interested in learning about Joanna of Flanders, Edward III, the early years of the Hundred Years’ War, and mental illness and confinement in medieval Europe. 

“Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy will be released in the US on October 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order this book, you can find more information here: https://www.amazon.com/Joanna-Flanders-Heroine-Julie-Sarpy/dp/1445688549/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Joanna+of+Flanders%3A+Heroine+and+Exile&qid=1562077490&s=digital-text&sr=1-1-catcorr

 

Book Review: “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence

61lJBy4FGrL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I, is one of the unique characters of the Tudor era. She was the sister of one of the king’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn, which she could have been, but Henry wanted Anne as his queen. Unfortunately, he was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. It is Henry’s divorce to Catherine and his relationship with Anne, the rise and fall, is what many people look at, but there is more to Anne’s story than just her life with Henry. What was Anne’s life really like and what really caused her fall? These are just a few questions that Amy Licence tackles in her latest biography, “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire.”

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review. I haven’t read many biographies about Anne Boleyn so this was a unique experience.

In her introduction, Amy Licence explains her approach to Anne’s life and why she is such an interesting figure to study:

Anne’s is very much a Tudor story, a narrative that balances on the cusp of old and new, equally informed by both. It has been told many times before, but what this version aims to offer afresh is a sense of continuity with earlier Boleyn generations. She was born into an ambitious dynasty, with each generation taking a step forward in terms of career and martial advancements…. That she was the most successful Boleyn cannot be disentangled from her gender and class. By the definitions of her time, Anne was an overreacher in more than one sense. She was a woman, born to be a wife, but not that of the king. She was an aristocrat, descended from the influential Howards, observing but not trained in the demands of queenship. She transcended boundaries of expected behaviour on both counts, which was both her most remarkable achievement and created her two areas of greatest vulnerability. This account of Anne’s life prioritises her relationship with the defining issues of gender and class, tracing their role in her rise and fall. (Licence, 8).

Licence begins her biography by going back to the origins of the Boleyn family, with Anne’s ancestor, Geoffrey Boleyn. Geoffrey came from very humble beginnings, but he worked hard and rose to become the Lord Mayor of London, as well as a knight. His descendants continued this tradition of working hard, which Licence takes the time to explain thoroughly so that the reader can understand that they were not necessarily overreachers; they were hard workers. This background information is extremely helpful to understand the Boleyn family as a whole.

The main focus of Licence’s book is  Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII, her husband. By including the letters between Anne and Henry, the reader can see how the relationship started and how their relationship ended in a dramatic fashion. Henry was the one who really took control of the relationship.  Anne may have learned how to be a strong woman from working in the French court, but she was no match for Henry VIII.

Although there have been many biographies about Anne Boleyn, this one stands out because Anne is seen in more of a sympathetic light. Licence combines a plethora of details with a writing style that is easy to understand to bring Anne out of the dark side of history. I learned so much about a queen I thought I knew.“Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence was an absolute delight to read. It is a real page-turner and is a must for anyone who loves to read about the Tudors, the wives of Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn.

Book Review: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ by Heather R. Darsie

61mfurP7xALThe wives of Henry VIII are some of the most hotly-discussed women of the Tudor Dynasty. They all had unique lives and origins before and after they met the man that connects them all. Two of his brides, Catherine of Aragon and Anna, Duchess of Cleves, were foreign princesses and their marriages were used to create alliances with Spain and Germany respectfully. While Catherine of Aragon and the rest of the wives of Henry VIII get a ton of attention, Anna Duchess of Cleves tends to be brushed aside. She is often seen as the wife that Henry did not approve of because of her looks. However, Heather R. Darsie decided to change how we view Anna with her groundbreaking debut biography, “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. Anna, Duchess of Cleves has been one of those women who I wanted to learn more about, so I was very excited to read a biography about her.  

Anna’s story is often told through the English perspective, but it does not tell the entire story. Anna was born in Germany so it makes sense to tell her story using both English and German sources. Darsie explains her approach to this book and her purpose for writing her biography of Anna in the way she does:

Anna’s life and experiences from the German experiences are very different in some ways than what has been described in English-language books. This is not to say that any English biographies about Anna are wrong, but rather that the German sources help make more sense of Anna’s life and short marriage. The German sources show what a valuable bride Anna was to any suitor, and why she stayed on in England after moving there in December 1539. It is my sincere hope that this biography augments the generally accepted view of Anna, her family, and the political entanglements in which she was enmeshed. I also hope it brings more knowledge about German history to English speakers. (Darsie, 8-9).

Darsie brings a fresh new perspective to Anna’s life by explaining her foundations and her family in the German court. This is critical for understanding what kind of woman Anna was like and why the marriage between Anna and Henry was necessary. We are introduced to Anna’s family; her mother Maria, her brother Wilhelm, and her sisters Sybylla and Amalia, who all play a crucial role in shaping the path Anna’s life will take. Anna’s family had a huge influence in German and European politics and the decisions that they made will shape not only German history but European history forever. This was also the start of the Protestant Reformation and the battle between Lutheranism and Catholicism ensues with Anna’s family caught directly in the middle.

This book is an eye-opening read. By exploring the political and religious factors of the time, as well as the German and English primary sources, Darsie is able to tell a complete story of Anna, Duchess of Cleves. She was not just some footnote in history. She was a strong, independent German princess who was doing what she could in order to survive. Darsie’s engaging writing style combined with her knowledge of not only German history but legal documents which shaped the agreements of Henry and Anna’s relationship as well as the understanding of the religious conflicts of the time, blend together masterfully to create a stunning debut. “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie is an absolute game-changer when it comes to studying the marriage between Henry VIII and his fourth wife Anna Duchess of Cleves and I highly recommend Tudor fans to read this book. This may be Heather R. Darsie’s first book, but I look forward to reading more of her books.

 

“Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie will be published in the US on July 1, 2019.

If you are interested in pre-ordering the book for the US, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister/dp/1445677105