Book Review: “Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels” by Adrienne Dillard

61419479._SY475_ (1)Two women who served Anne Boleyn must deal with the ramifications of staying on opposite sides of the queen’s downfall. One is the next bride of King Henry VIII, who must give the king the son he desires or suffer the consequences. The other is a lady in waiting who holds a dark secret and a relic of the past that could be dangerous to both women. Many of us know the story of Jane Seymour, but is there more to the queen who was able to give King Henry VIII the son he desired? What about the mysterious Margery Horsman? What role did she play in Anne Boleyn’s and Jane Seymour’s inner circles? In her third book, “Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels,” Adrienne Dillard tells the tale of these women bonded by fate to work together to survive such a tumultuous time.

Thank you, Adrienne Dillard and GreyLondon Press, for sending me a copy of this novel. I had read Dillard’s previous novels and adored them, so when I heard that she was writing a new story with Jane Seymour and Margery Horsman as the heroines, I knew it was a must-read for this year.

We begin with the immediate aftermath of the death of Anne Boleyn. Margery Horsman is still reeling with her words and how they might have led to the deaths of innocent people. On top of that, Anne Boleyn entrusted her with her most famous piece of jewelry, the B necklace, which she must keep hidden until the time is right to give to Anne’s beloved daughter, Elizabeth. Alone in a sea of faces, Margery must navigate the Tudor court to ensure her queen’s final wish is fulfilled, even if it means working with Anne Boleyn’s replacement, Jane Seymour. Along the way, she unexpectedly falls in love with a widower and finds happiness.

While we have Margery Horsman’s story, we also have Jane’s tale of how she became queen quickly after the death of the woman she once swore to serve. Following the advice of her brothers, Thomas and Edward Seymour, Jane learns what she must do to survive as queen, even when she is not pregnant with a potential Tudor heir. She may appear like this meek and mild mother in the making, but deep down, Jane wants to speak up against issues that matter to her, like the Pilgrimage of Grace and the dissolution of the monasteries. A wise woman who knew how to balance her opinions in such a matter to avoid falling into the deep end and following her predecessor to the scaffold.

Dillard weaves historical facts with elements of fiction to create believable versions of the Tudors. The amount of care taken to write the stories of Jane Seymour and Margery Horsman is extraordinary. In short, “Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels” is Adrienne Dillard’s latest Tudor masterpiece and is a must-read for Tudor fans.

Television Series Review: “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII”

81uwnQbeXvL._SY445_Many actors and actresses have portrayed the lives of Henry VIII and his six wives in modern films and dramas. When asking Tudor nerds which Henry VIII stood out the most, the most popular response is Keith Michell in the 1970s BBC series, “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII.” I had not heard about this series until I started “Adventures of a Tudor Nerd.” Many people have wanted me to watch the series solely for the performance of Keith Michell, so when a coworker allowed me to borrow her DVD copy of the series, I finally decided it was time to tackle this legendary series.

For those unfamiliar with the older Tudor dramas like this series, it should be noted that the focus is not on sex or bloody battles but on the relationships between Henry and his six wives. Therefore, the costumes and the scenery take a step back in quality that one would expect when compared with modern dramas. I think the English brides’ outfits are well done, but the native gowns for Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves felt a bit off for me.

Keith Michell plays the titular king, but I will discuss his performance later. I want to look at the actresses who played Henry’s six wives. Each episode focuses on each wife’s story, how they became his wife, and how their story ended.

We begin with Katherine of Aragon, played by Annette Crosbie, who was the wife of Prince Arthur, but when he died, Katherine struggled to survive in a foreign land until it was decided that she would marry her former husband’s brother, Henry VIII. The couple seems to be in love until Katherine cannot deliver a son for the king, so he decides it’s time for a divorce, which we call The Great Matter. With Katherine out of royal favor, it is time for Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, played by Dorothy Tutin, to make her appearance. When it comes to Anne Boleyn’s performances, I don’t know if I like Tutin’s portrayal; it just rubbed me the wrong way.

My favorite episode of this series was Jane Seymour, played by Anne Stallybrass, who shows a more complex side to Jane’s story. We see her interacting with the Seymour family and her desire to reunite Henry VIII and his daughter Mary. The way the episode was structured with Jane on her death bed and witnessing flashbacks to her time with Henry VIII, the issue of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the birth of her beloved son Edward. With Jane’s death, we see the more human side of Henry as he is in deep mourning for his beloved queen.

It would be several years until he married again to Anne of Cleves to secure a German Protestant alliance. Anne of Cleves, played by Elvi Hale, is a young woman of average looks and very little money who wants to learn everything she can about England. I like how we are introduced to Hans Holbein in this episode and to see how Anne felt about her marriage and ultimate divorce from Henry VIII.

With the divorce of Anne of Cleves settled, Henry VIII turned his gaze on the young Catherine Howard, played by Angela Pleasence. Catherine is young, naive, and only concerned about being queen and having men fawn over her. It was interesting to see Catherine Howard as a nursemaid to the King and how angry he was with her uncle after her execution. Finally, we are introduced to Henry’s final wife, the devout reformer Catherine Parr, played by Rosalie Crutchley. We witness the end of the King’s reign and the rise of the Seymour family to help the young king Edward VI.

Of course, these stories could not be told without side characters like Thomas Wolsey, Thomas, and Edward Seymour, King Henry VII, Eustace Chapuys, Jane Boleyn, and Will Somers. I was a little surprised that they included torture scenes for Anne Askew and Mark Smeaton, especially since they did not show the execution scenes for Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Several small Easter eggs for Tudor fans sprinkled in are quite delightful to discover.

Now, it’s time to discuss the big guy, King Henry VIII, played masterfully by Keith Michell. Before watching this drama, I was only familiar with Keith Michell from his performances in Murder She Wrote and the episodes I would watch with my mom. We begin with Henry as a young king enchanted with Katherine of Aragon. They are madly in love, and it is hard to believe they would ever separate, but they eventually do when Anne Boleyn catches his eye.

Throughout this entire series, we see Michell’s acting range through the rapid emotional change of the king. One minute he could be lovey-dovey, the next raging mad, and then bawling his eyes out. What impressed me the most about Michell’s performance was how we saw Henry VIII’s size and shape change in each episode. As Tudor fans, we have screamed at the TV when we see modern adaptations of Henry VIII that do not meet our standards for what older Henry should look like. Michell exceeds all expectations and gives his audience one of the most believable King Henry VIII performances in modern history.

Overall, I found this a decent show where the political and romantic drama of the reign of King Henry VIII shines through the screen. The queens and the counselors did take a back seat to the titular king, but I did not mind that. If you want to watch a legendary series about the reign of King Henry VIII that does not have the sex and scandals of a modern drama, I highly recommend you watch the BBC series, “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII,” starring Keith Michell.

Casting Source:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066714/?ref_=tt_mv_close

Book Review: “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country” by Phil Roberts

cover264519-medium (1)When we think about those who rose through the ranks to achieve significant titles in the Tudor Court, we instantly think about Thomas Cromwell. However, we should also consider his mentor as one of these great men, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. The son of Robert Wolsey, an Ispwich businessman, and his wife, Joan Daundy, who worked hard and ended up being the right-hand man of the young King Henry VIII. The man behind Hampton Court helped start the Great Matter and The Field of Cloth of Gold, Wolsey had numerous achievements. Who was the man behind these significant Tudor moments? This is the question Phil Roberts tries to address in his book, “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Netgalley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this title, it was intriguing to me. I had not read many biographies about Thomas Wolsey, so I was excited to read this book.

Roberts begins by showing how Wolsey has been portrayed in other books and media such as films and TV dramas. He then dives into the complex task of tracking the Wolsey family from the Norman Conquest to the Wars of the Roses, which did feel a tad rushed. I wish he had included some family trees so that his readers could follow along with the different branches of the family.

Wosley had a personal life outside of his public persona with his illegitimate children, his loyal friends, and the enemies he made along the way, including Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Roberts spends a lot of time looking at the different aspects of Wolsey’s life, like his policies, the schools he built in Ispwich, and his own homes. Finally, Roberts explores how Wolsey fell from the good graces of King Henry VIII and the last days filled with anguish as he slowly died from an illness.

Although Roberts presented interesting facts about Thomas Wolsey, I think the structure of his book was a bit all over the place. In the beginning, he spent a lot of time looking into the history of Ispwich and its schools and church, including a lengthy segment about a missing statue, before getting into Wolsey’s life story. I found this information fascinating, but I don’t know if it was important enough to spend that much time on it. These facts would have been more appropriate in a book about Ispwich. Another thing that threw me off was that Roberts did not write this biography in chronological order of the events until the end of this book.

Overall, I thought this book had enlightening factoids about Thomas Wolsey, but it needed some tweaking to make it a brilliant biography. This is a book for someone who knows the general facts about the Cardinal but wants to learn more about this man. If this sounds like you, I recommend you read “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country” by Phil Roberts.

Television Series Review: “Becoming Elizabeth”

MV5BZjYxNWQxMzctZjA2MC00ZTkxLTg4MTQtMDE3M2E3YTE5MzFhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM1MTE1NDMx._V1_FMjpg_UX1000_The year is 1547, and the infamous King Henry VIII is dead. The throne is left to his young son Edward VI while his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth wait in the wing. Without their powerful father to look after their well-being, his children must navigate the tumultuous Tudor court with powerful men who desire to use them as mere pawns in their game to influence how England is ruled. Throw in some romantic drama and the ever-changing religious landscape with the clash between Protestants and Catholics. This is the premise of the latest Tudor drama on Starz, “Becoming Elizabeth,” which follows the titular Princess Elizabeth Tudor during the reign of the third Tudor king.

Before we begin, I want to provide a little context before I dive into this review. As many of you know, I am incredibly picky about Tudor dramas; shocker, I know. I will watch trailers for new dramas, but after Reign (which, after watching the show for five minutes, I had to turn it off because of the costume design), I have been highly wary about committing to sitting down each week to watch a new show about historical figures I know pretty well.

The story of Princess Elizabeth is what got me interested in studying history after reading The Royal Diaries book series, so when I heard about this series, I wanted to know more. When I first saw the trailer for “Becoming Elizabeth, ” I decided to take the plunge and watch the first episode, which turned into watching every episode every Sunday.

Now let’s get to my thoughts about the series “Becoming Elizabeth.” I will be discussing the plot points of this series, so if you have not watched this show before reading this review, I would highly recommend you do.

There are a few aspects that I want to touch on before we take a deeper dive into this series, which have to do with the settings, costumes, music, and other details that will delight Tudor nerds. The location of “Becoming Elizabeth” is spot on, immersing the audience in Tudor England, which includes using candles for lighting instead of torches (which was a thrilling addition). I congratulate the costume and make-up crew from this drama as they are the best replications of Tudor gowns and outfits I have ever seen in a Tudor drama. They used the Tudor portraits of the time to replicate specific dresses and jewelry used in the show (including the famous “B” necklace most associated with Anne Boleyn) was a lovely and thoughtful touch. The only exception was the lead women’s riding gowns in this series. I did not like that they rode astride and had pants under their skirts. Let them ride side saddle and wear the same dresses they do at court but in those brown and green tones.

The little touches like having servants sleeping in the rooms of the royalty/ nobility and the masques to show significant events were viewed at court were nice touches for Tudor nerds. I also appreciated the small nods in the dialogue to elements that those who know Tudor history would understand, like the Queen’s jewels and the foreshadowing of Edward VI’s dog. Finally, the music in this show was decent, but some soundtracks felt a tad too modern and took away from the whole escapism element you want in a historical drama.

Now, let’s get into the most critical points of this show: the acting, the actors, and the plot points.

becoming-elizabeth-tudors-1655065913770The cast of “Becoming Elizabeth” is a plethora of talented actors and actresses who remarkably bring the treacherous Tudor court to life. The titular role of Princess Elizabeth was played by Alicia von Rittberg, who portrays the young woman’s naivety and eventual strength in love and court politics. Oliver Zetterstrom is the young King Edward VI who struggles to find his identity as a reformer king while navigating the drama of his court and Lord Protectors. Finally, we have Romola Garai, who revolutionized how Princess Mary Tudor was portrayed on television. Garai gives the audience a more sympathetic and vibrant woman trying to hold her family together while defiantly standing up for her Catholic faith in a Protestant court.

A story like this would not be complete without a group of star-studded actors and actresses to help the trio of Tudor heirs shine. We have the vivacious Catherine Parr, played by Jessica Rayne, and her fourth husband, the sly Thomas Seymour, played by Tom Cullen, Thomas’ brother, and Edward VI’s first Lord Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset is played by John Heffernan. We also have the Grey family, led by Henry Grey, played by Leo Bill, and the shy and studious Lady Jane Grey, played by Bella Ramsey. Finally, we have the Dudley family with the ambitious John Dudley, played by Jamie Parker, and the youthful Robert Dudley, played by Jamie Blackley. Along with the prominent families, we have Kat Ashley, the loyal servant to Princess Elizabeth, played by Alexandra Gilbreath, and the Spanish soldier Pedro who helps guide Princess Mary, played by Ekow Quartey. The interactions between this cast are so believable and passionately performed that it feels like you have been transported into the 16th century in the reign of King Edward VI.

We begin this series with the death of King Henry VIII. Prince Edward is now King Edward VI, and he and his sisters must learn to live without their infamous father. Mary goes to her own home while Elizabeth joins the household of Catherine Parr and her new husband (the man she truly loves), Thomas Seymour. While Mary and Edward VI argue vehemently over the matters of religion, Catholics vs. Protestants, Elizabeth navigates the unusual attention that Thomas Seymour is giving the young princess as she wonders if this is true love or something more sinister.

In addition to Princess Elizabeth, Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour welcome the daughter of Henry Grey, Lady Jane Grey, to their household. Elizabeth and Jane do not seem to get along very well, and it feels like the only ones that Elizabeth can turn to when times get rough are Kat Ashley and the caring Robert Dudley. Mary may seem alone, but Pedro, a man who was supposed to spy on the Catholic princess, becomes her friend and ally. Unfortunately for Edward, he is stuck between factions of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley as they fight to influence the young king and the direction he wants to take his kingdom. It was a time of rebellions, betrayals, executions, and moments behind closed doors that would forever shape these three Tudor heirs, especially Elizabeth Tudor.

ELI1_060521_0739_a_1900x1500While most of the storylines are engaging, and I found them rather enjoyable, one got under my skin: the intimate relationship between Princess Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour. Now I know it was the central storyline for the first half of this show, but it made my skin crawl. I know that Tom Cullen has discussed this issue with fans, and I think his portrayal of Thomas is spectacular. My problem is with Princess Elizabeth and how she goes along with the relationship to the point of no return. I feel like Princess Elizabeth was much stronger than how she was portrayed during those moments in the show, and she would have turned Thomas down, knowing the false allegations against her mother, Anne Boleyn. I do not think she slept with Thomas Seymour, but I do believe there were elements of flirting between the two, which could have been seen as them having an intimate relationship.

The creator of “Becoming Elizabeth,” Anya Reiss, has done a magnificent job telling the Tudor dynasty’s tale after Henry VIII’s death. The cast and crew are spectacular, the gowns and costumes are gorgeous, and there are so many Easter eggs that Tudor nerds will geek over. There will be moments that will make you laugh, cry, want to throw a book at your TV or laptop, and breathe a sigh of relief. I may not have seen many Tudor dramas in the past, but this is far and away one of my favorite shows about the 16th century. I hope we will get a second season of “Becoming Elizabeth,”, especially with how they closed the finale.

What are your opinions about “Becoming Elizabeth,” and who is your favorite character from this Tudor drama?

Sources for Images and Cast Information:

https://www.glamour.com/story/becoming-elizabeth-on-starz-everything-we-know-about-the-british-period-drama

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11444366/

Guest Post: “Mary Zouche: One of Anne Boleyn’s Maids of Honour” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

out-now-on-amazonToday, I am pleased to welcome Sylvia Barbara Soberton to my blog to discuss one of the women featured in her latest book, “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn.”

In 1533, Anne Boleyn had seven maids of honour and one mother of maids, Mrs. Marshall, who supervised them on the Queen’s behalf. Apart from Mary Howard, Margery Horsman, and Jane Ashley, the maids who served Anne in 1532, there was Mary Zouche, Mary Shelton, Margaret Gamage, and Elizabeth Holland. Howard and Shelton were Anne Boleyn’s first cousins, and Holland was mistress of the Queen’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Margaret Gamage was the first cousin of Jane Boleyn; only Mary Zouche was not related to Anne Boleyn.

Hans Holbein’s sketch inscribed “M Souch” depicts an exceptionally good-looking young woman dressed in highly flattering French fashions, revealing her blonde hair and décolletage. It is often suggested that the sitter may be Anne Gainsford, who married George Zouche in the 1530s, but Anne Gainsford rarely appears in the court records, whereas Mary Zouche is mentioned often. This “M Souch” was most likely Mary Zouche, daughter of John Zouche, eighth Baron Zouche of Harringworth, and his first wife Dorothy Capell. At some point during the late 1520s, she wrote a letter to her cousin, John Arundel, imploring him to help her and her sister to find employment at court as maids to either Katharine of Aragon or Princess Mary. She may have served one of them, but in 1533 she was Anne Boleyn’s maid, attending the Queen’s coronation.

After Anne’s execution in 1536, Mistress Zouche went on to serve as maid of honour to Jane Seymour. She became one of this Queen’s favourite ladies, receiving jewellery, including beads and girdles. Zouche was still unmarried in 1542 when she was granted an annuity of £10 “in consideration of her services to the King and the late Queen Jane.”

Boleyn Soberton coverDescription: 

The aspects of Anne Boleyn’s life and death are fiercely debated by historians, yet her ladies-in-waiting remain an understudied topic. Much emphasis is usually put on Anne’s relationships with the men in her life: her suitors, her royal husband, her father and brother, and her putative lovers, who were executed on 17 May 1536. By concentrating on a previously neglected area of Anne Boleyn’s female household, this book seeks to identify the women who served Anne and investigate what roles ladies-in-waiting played in this Queen’s household.

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Book Review: “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

Boleyn Soberton coverThe story of Anne Boleyn and her rise and fall has been told throughout the centuries in numerous ways. With tales of this memorable monarch came rumors of what happened inside her court and the women who served her during her reign. We tend to look at her life through the lens of the men who interacted with Anne Boleyn at court, but what about the women who knew her? Stories of ladies-in-waiting selling the queen out and secret romances ran rampant throughout the centuries, but how much truth is in these tales? Sylvia Barbara Soberton explores these questions in her latest book, “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn.”

I want to thank Sylvia Barbara Soberton for sending me a copy of this book. I have found Soberton’s previous books fascinating, and when I heard about this book focusing on the women who served Anne Boleyn, it was compelling.

Soberton begins her book by exploring Anne Boleyn’s origins and services as a lady in waiting and a maid of honor for several prominent women across Europe like Mary Tudor and Archduchess Margaret of Savoy. We also look at the relationships between Anne and her female family members, including her sister Mary Boleyn and her Howard relatives.

The bulk of this book focused on Anne Boleyn when she caught the attention of King Henry VIII when she was a lady-in-waiting for Katherine of Aragon. It was fascinating to see how Anne Boleyn interacted with her female friends during this transition time and how they became ladies-in-waiting when she became queen. These friends and ladies-in-waiting included Elizabeth Holland, Bridget Wiltshire, Margery Horsman, Jane Ashley, Mary Zouche, Mary Shelton, and Jane Seymour. We all know this worked out as it resulted in the Great Matter, the ultimate divorce of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.

These ladies-in-waiting were separated by rank and would help Anne navigate the tumultuous court of Henry VIII until the bitter end. The women around Anne saw her become queen, how she dealt with Henry’s other mistresses, including Bessie Blount and Jane Seymour, the birth of Princess Elizabeth, and how Anne tried to build a relationship with Princess Mary. They also witnessed the queen interacting with influential men in court, including the king and Thomas Cromwell. These men used some of Anne’s closest confidants to bring her ultimate demise through a sham trial and multiple executions.

Soberton does an excellent job telling the Anne Boleyn story through the eyes of those who knew her the best, the women who served the queen. Many of these tales were unfamiliar to me, and I think the Tudor community will find them rather illuminating. If you want to learn more about Anne Boleyn and her inner circle during her reign, I highly recommend you read “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton.

Book Review: “Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici” by Estelle Paranque

9781529109221-usTwo queens; one a wife and the mother of kings and the other a virgin who had to fight for the right to rule her country independently. Two women who found friendship and a rivalry between each other with only a sea that divided them and religious discord to drive them apart. Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I would define what it meant to be female rulers in the 16th century for France and England, respectively. The tales of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici have been covered in numerous books, but a joint biography of these two powerhouses is a rarity until now. Estelle Paranque demonstrates how both queens greatly affected each other’s lives in her latest book, “Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici.”

Paranque begins her book with a short story about an encounter between Elizabeth I’s English ambassador to France, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, and Catherine de Medici, who acted as regent for her son Charles IX. It is an example of how each queen viewed diplomacy and the dance they had to do to keep their respective dynasties on the thrones of England and France.

Catherine de Medici was the daughter of Lorenzo II de Medici, Duke of Urbino, and Madeline de La Tour, d’Auvergne. Her parents died when Catherine was young, leaving her to be a wealthy heiress and a powerful pawn in the marriage market. Her husband would be King Henry II, known to have several mistresses, including Diane de Poitiers, who was her husband’s, true love. Despite issues with Diane, Henry and Catherine had a huge family, including several sons, including King Francis II, King Charles IX, King Henry III, and Francis, Duke of Anjou. After the death of her husband, Catherine worked hard to be the regent for her sons until they came of age to rule and continue the Valois dynasty.

In England, Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and the notorious King Henry VIII; their relationship was the most infamous of the 16th century for obvious reasons. After the deaths of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, and Queen Mary I, Elizabeth got her chance to rule England in her way. When the issue of Elizabeth’s marriage came into play, Catherine de Medici entered Elizabeth I’s life, starting a 30- year relationship that began as a friendship but changed into a rivalry in the end.

Over the thirty years, Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I dealt with many obstacles in their relationship. Catherine had to deal with the antics of her children and her daughter-in-law, Mary Queen of Scots, who would become one of Elizabeth’s biggest rivals. The bond between the two queens started over a desire for one of Catherine’s sons to marry Elizabeth and become King of England and France, but alas, this was wishful thinking. Catherine and Elizabeth also had to deal with other nations, like Spain, getting in the way of their relationship, as well as the issue of religion; Catherine was a devout Catholic, and Elizabeth was more Protestant. Catherine had to deal with several wars of religions and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, while Elizabeth had to deal with the Spanish Armada and what to do with Mary Queen of Scots.

Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I had to communicate through ambassadors and letters, which Paranque translated into modern English, making it easier for modern readers to understand. I cannot stress how much I loved this book and how Paranque was able to weave the stories of the two most powerful women in 16th-century Europe.

“Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici’ by Estelle Paranque is a tour de force dual biography of two influential badass queens. This book is a must-read for anyone passionate about the 16th century.

Book Review: “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell” by Caroline Angus

cover260114-mediumWhen we think about the men who surrounded King Henry VIII, a few names come to mind. Cranmer, More, Wolsey, and Wroithesley are just a few, but the man who is synonymous with the infamous king’s reign is Thomas Cromwell. The man who helped Henry get his divorce from Katherine of Aragon saw both the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn. He also assisted in the dissolution of the monasteries and brought reform to England with the break from the Roman Catholic Church. To modern audiences, it feels as if we know everything that there was to know about Thomas Cromwell’s public life, but what was he like in his private life when his friends and family surrounded him? Caroline Angus gives her readers an insight into Cromwell’s personal life in her latest book, “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I love finding new perspectives about historical figures, like Thomas Cromwell, so when I heard that Caroline Angus was writing this book, I was delighted. I wanted to see what new information this book could provide about Thomas Cromwell’s life.

Angus begins her new nonfiction book on Cromwell by showing the origins of the Cromwell family and how Thomas went from the son of a blacksmith to his journeys in Italy, especially in Florence. It is impressive to see how Thomas’ influential friends from Florence would help shape how he conducted business later on in life as one of King Henry VIII’s top counselors. Thomas must have been a polymath to achieve the astronomical rise to power that we see him go through that landed him in the workforce of Thomas Wolsey.

Under Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell’s private and public life became insanely busy as he gained the king’s respect. He would be the principal architect for the dissolution of monasteries and helped Henry VIII gain his divorce from Katherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. As Cromwell became a player in Tudor politics, he married Elizabeth Williams and had several children. As Cromwell’s family grew, so did Thomas’ roles at the court of Henry VIII. He was the king’s number one advisor and was asked to perform the most difficult tasks, like bringing the downfall of Anne Boleyn and breaking England from the Roman Catholic Church. In a way, Thomas Cromwell was the Tudor equivalent of Alexander Hamilton.

I enjoyed this book because we see Cromwell as a human being, not just some lofty historical figure. He was a man who climbed the social ladder with his talents and his connections throughout England and Europe. With every title and every bill passed, Cromwell gained new enemies, who would lead to Thomas Cromwell’s downfall after the disastrous marriage between Henry VIII and Anna of Cleves. His fall was so dramatically quick that even Henry VIII regretted killing Thomas Cromwell.

Angus’s passion for comprehensively telling Cromwell’s story for scholars and students of Tudor history shines through this book. Her research is meticulous as she balances Thomas’ public life and private life to tell the whole story of the legendary man. If you are interested in understanding the life of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant and trusted advisor, I recommend reading “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell” by Caroline Angus.

Book Review: “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen

60293344._SY475_The year is 1522, and London is in a jovial mood. King Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon are to play host to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as he visits England. As one of King Henry VIII’s most loyal advisors, Cardinal Wolsey had the great honor of hosting a grand masque featuring King Arthur and the Black Knight for the distinguished company. Unfortunately, as preparations for the luxurious masque are in full swing, Wolsey’s historian is horrifically murdered. The only one who can solve the case is Anthony Blanke, the son of John Blanke, the trumpeter before the masque is ruined, and Henry VIII discovers the truth. The story of this case is told in Steven Veerapen’s latest novel, “Of Blood Descended.”

I want to thank Steven Veerapen for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I am always in the mood for a good Tudor mystery, and when I heard that the main character was the son of John Blanke, I was intrigued to see how Veerapen would portray his story.

Veerapen begins this novel by introducing Pietro Gonzaga, Cardinal Wolsey’s historian, and his family as Gonzaga is on the cusp of revolutionary discovery. We then cut to Anthony Blanke returning to London after his father, John Blanke’s death. He is reluctant to go back to court and all of its intrigues, but it is necessary as Cardinal Wolsey himself summoned him. Wolsey is hosting a grand masque in honor of King Henry VIII and the Imperial Emperor Charles V; the theme is King Arthur and the Black Knight, and he has decided to cast Anthony as the titular Black Knight.

Progress with the masque goes smoothly until someone discovers Signor Gonzaga’s body after being brutally slain. Gonzaga’s murder sets the stage for a whirlwind chase to find the murderer, but the monster leaves a trail of blood behind him, and no one is safe. The action, intrigue, and mysteries will keep you guessing until the final pages to figure out who the mastermind was behind it all.

I loved the mystery behind the murder and how Veerapen was able to weave the Arthurian legends and prophecies with the story of the Tudors. I enjoyed the cameos from Thomas Boleyn and Anne Boleyn, but my favorite cameo was Henry VIII’s historian Polydore Vergil, who does not appear that often in Tudor historical fiction. I thought Anthony was such a fascinating protagonist as he gave a different perspective on the diversity of London life. Even though characters like Anthony Blanke, Sister Jane, Mark Byfield, and Harry Gainsford are entirely fictional characters, they feel like they would fit exceptionally well in the Tudor world.

I thoroughly enjoyed every twist and turn that Veerapen included in this novel. I hope to see more stories with Anthony, Jane, Mark, and Harry. If you enjoy Tudor murder mysteries, you will be enthralled with “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen.

Book Review: “Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court” by Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey

278021206_976866119687329_5395301118592288697_nWhen we study the past, the stories of queens often begin when they marry their prince or the king. We don’t see their formative years unless they are extraordinary. One of the more extraordinary queens in English history was Anne Boleyn, a woman who was able to capture the heart of King Henry VIII, divide her nation, and gave birth to the legendary Queen Elizabeth I. We all know how the story of Anne Boleyn ends, but how did she become the woman who would one day be Queen of England? Hever Castle currently has an exhibition about Anne Boleyn’s formative years. This corresponding book, “Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court” by Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey, gives readers an in-depth look into her early years.

“Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court,” the exhibition to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s debut at the English Court on March 4, 1522, is currently running at Hever Castle until November 9, 2022, for anyone interested in attending. For those who cannot participate in this exhibit, like me, “Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court” by Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey is perfect for celebrating this momentous event in Tudor history.

We begin our exploration of Anne Boleyn’s formative years by looking at how the Boleyn family rose to a prominent position at Henry VIII’s court. Thomas Boleyn rose through the ranks and married well to Lady Elizabeth Howard. The Boleyn children were given the best possible education to secure great marriages. Anne’s education inside England and throughout Europe defined her as a captivating figure in history. Her international education included stays at the court of Margaret of Austria in Mechelen, Queen Mary Tudor, and Queen Claude in France, Louise of Savoy, and Marguerite of Angouleme.

Emmerson and McCaffrey have written a book that combines the latest in Boleyn research from the top experts, including Lauren Mackay, Elizabeth Norton, Tracy Borman, and Claire Ridgway, to name a few. For a companion book for an exhibit about Anne Boleyn, I found this book informative and was complemented by the gorgeous images that the authors included. If you want a delightfully informative and beautifully illustrated book about Anne Boleyn’s formative years, I recommend reading “Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court” by Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey.