Book Review: “Woodsmoke and Sage: The Five Senses 1485-1603: How the Tudors Experienced the World” by Amy Licence

58563080When we study history, we tend to focus on specific dates, certain people, and the stories that transformed countries forever, no matter how much of an impact they made. What is difficult about studying history is understanding how they experienced life. What did they see? How did they communicate? What did they hear during a typical day? What smells wafted through the air? How did their view on how the body worked affected what they ate and how they cured their illnesses? In her latest nonfiction book,” Woodsmoke and Sage: The Five Senses 1485-1603: How the Tudors Experienced the World”, Amy Licence has taken on the challenge of explaining the Tudor world that they knew through their senses.

Licence breaks her book down into five sections, one for each sense. We begin with sight, since how the Tudors viewed themselves and their world was extremely important. We can walk through their world by taking a tour of their portraits, the architecture, and the landscapes that the average Tudor would find familiar. Of course, what the Tudors wore every day and the colors they chose impacted how others viewed them because image was everything. The next step in our journey is exploring the sense of smell, from the odiferous to the more pleasant scents.

The sounds of musical instruments, news being called, and gossips tell their tales to anyone who would like to fill the air. On their dining tables, culinary experiments with meat and fish combined with odd spices would seem strange to travelers from the 21st century. The closer you got to someone who sat on the throne, the more extravagant the dishes were. Finally, we explore how the Tudors understood how their body worked through the Humours Theory and how they used this theory to concoct cures.

Even though the Tudors lived over 500 years ago, they saw their world similarly to how we view it. They had homes and clothing to show how well off they were compared to others. They had different scents that they enjoyed compared to us. Their music and how they understood their bodies might be different from what we are used to, yet they still tried to enjoy life and live no matter what. The Tudors were humans like us trying to get through life day by day in their unique ways.

When I heard about the concept for this book, I was not sure how Licence would take on such an ambitious idea and what the result would be. However, Licence proved that this was a brilliant idea for a book. It is truly a treasure trove of Tudor trivia that historians, historical fiction authors, and Tudor nerds would all enjoy. If you want a new and exciting book about the Tudors that freshly explores their world, you should check out “Woodsmoke and Sage: The Five Senses 1485-1603: How the Tudors Experienced the World” by Amy Licence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals” by Amy Licence

9188WGCCbpLHistorically, royal marriages have been viewed with such interest. A king and a queen who can come from either similar or different backgrounds in order to make their country better, or in some cases, worse. During the Wars of the Roses, there were some legendary relationships that shaped the war between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville. Richard III and Anne Neville. Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. However, these relationships fail in comparison to the impact that the marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou had on England during this time. Henry VI was seen as a weak, pious ruler; Margaret was seen as too strong for a woman. They have been viewed separately for a long time, never as a couple. That is until Amy Licence wrote her latest biography, “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this lovely book. I have always been fascinated by Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou so this book was a delight to read.

In her introduction, Licence explains how Henry and Margaret have been viewed in the past, separately and as a couple.

Little attention has been given to Henry and Margaret as a pair, in terms of their marriage, their life together and their joint rule. This is partly because less evidence survives about their intimate relationship, leading it to be reduced to a few simple anecdotes about Margaret being already a woman at the time of her marriage and Henry’s reputed prudery…. Contemporary and subsequent historians have exploited a far more subtle relationship dynamic to undermine Henry and Margaret as individuals, as a couple and as rulers, by playing on fifteenth-century gender expectations…. Almost six hundred years after Henry’s birth, the time is right for a reappraisal of their lives and marriage, which has no need to adhere to strict cultural codes about gender, but can use them as a starting point to deconstruct the identities of two atypical individuals. (Licence, x)

Licence starts her biography by exploring the lives of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou before they became husband and wife. They had very different upbringings. Henry was the son of Henry, the strong warrior King,  and Catherine of Valois. He was declared King of England and France at a very young age since his father died while he was a few months old. Margaret was the daughter of Rene of Anjou, who was a king without a kingdom. Their union seems very unlikely, but it worked rather well, although there were some in England who wasn’t exactly thrilled for the royal couple.

It wasn’t until the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses broke out that we see how strong the relationship between Henry and Margaret truly was. Henry was weaker than his father Henry V and he did suffer from some sort of mental illness, so Margaret had to step in to help take care of him and their son while defending the throne from the Yorkists. They had to make tough choices, but Henry and Margaret did them together. Licence shows the dynamic of this relationship, not only by using English sources but by using reports from foreign ambassadors. Reading these sources allows the reader to understand that Henry and Margaret were more complex individuals than what we see in history books.

Licence presents a fresh new look at this power couple. Henry and Margaret’s story is one of love and heartache, full of both joy and struggles.  Henry might have been a weaker medieval king than his father and Margaret might have been a bit stronger than most medieval women, but that is what makes them so unique. This book packed a lot of wonderful information in it about not only their relationship, but the Wars of the Roses, and the cult of Henry VI which formed after his death. It was an absolute pleasure to read. I did not want to put this book down.  I highly recommend that you have “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals” by Amy Licence in your personal library if you are interested in Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou and the Wars of the Roses.

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.