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: “The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein” by Franny Moyle

C1629377When we think of famous artists in the 15th and 16th centuries, we focus on the great European masters. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albrecht Durer tend to come immediately to mind. However, one man from Augsburg, Germany, revolutionized how we viewed the Tudor dynasty through portraiture: Hans Holbein the Younger. Many are familiar with his famous works of art and how they influenced how the Tudors have been perceived for centuries, but the man behind the masterpieces has been overlooked. His story and how art was understood in the 16th century is told in Franny Moyle’s latest biography, “The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein.”

Before I read this book, I did not know much about Hans Holbein, the man behind the art. I knew about his masterpieces like his portraits of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII, and The Ambassadors, which I love to marvel at, but the man himself was a complete mystery. When this book was announced, I knew I wanted to read it to learn more about the master Hans Holbein.

Hans Holbein the Younger was from a family of artists; his father was Hans Holbein the Elder, and his older brother Ambrosius were also artisans, but they never reached the level of prestige as the youngest member of the family. Holbein the Younger was willing to break the mold and create art his way. Before finishing his apprenticeship, he signed his artwork and ensured that he was not in debt like Holbein the Elder. Holbein the Younger decided to move to Basel, Switzerland, to make his name. Here, Holbein was introduced to men like Erasmus and the ideas of humanism and Protestantism. It was in Basel where Holbein married Elsbeth Schmidt and started his family.

Holbein did not stay in Basel as he was destined to travel to England to be the painter for King Henry VIII. Holbein’s paintings for Henry VIII and his court are some of the most stunning images in 16th century England. The way Holbein was able to paint his subjects in such a life-like style is astonishing. However, when you pair it with Moyle’s information about Holbein’s circle of friends like More, Cromwell, Erasmus, and Cranmer, it adds depth to his work. The amount of allusions and symbolism in these works of art is astounding, and you can spend hours just analyzing one piece at a time.

It is a spectacular biography that any Tudor or art fan will adore. Franny Moyle has created a vivid image of Holbein’s world that could stand side by side with one of his masterpieces. I purposely took my time to read this book slowly to absorb every minuscule detail that Moyle included about Holbein and his world. I know it is a book that I will personally reread in the future. If you want a definitive and delightful biography about the man behind the canvas, I highly recommend “ The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein” by Franny Moyle.

Book Review: “Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I” by Amy Licence

36762189When one studies a specific dynasty, we tend to focus on the stories of those who rule their respective countries and explore the men who influenced the king’s decisions. A dynasty’s legacy tends to be viewed from the military and legal victories of the men, but just as important are the women who stood beside the king. Royal women tend to be considered side characters of the dynasty who were only crucial for their inheritance, who they married, and the children they could produce. But if we focused on the story of the royal women in a specific dynasty, what could we learn about the dynasty? Amy Licence took this concept to explore women’s voices and decided to tackle the Tudor dynasty in her latest book, “Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I.”

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I am always looking for a new perspective on the Tudor dynasty. Although there is nothing new about exploring the lives of Tudor women, the idea of analyzing the Tudor queens and their reigns in one book is so unique and vital.

Licence starts her book at the very beginning of the Tudor dynasty with the stories of Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville. These women are often viewed as enemies on opposite sides of the Wars of the Roses. Still, closer examination shows how alike they were and how they came together to unite the warring factions with the marriage of their children, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, was seen as the pinnacle of excellence and the ideal queen for those who would try to follow in her footsteps. We also get to see how Margaret and Mary Tudor influenced their family’s legacy, even though they never sat on the English throne like their brother, Henry VIII.

The next group of Tudor queens that we examine are the wives of Henry VIII; Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. These queens mark a different aspect of being a royal woman and helped England move forward. Finally, Licence explores the lives of the daughters of Catherine of Aragon, Frances Brandon, and Anne Boleyn, who would become queens themselves; Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

Licence shows how England and Europe viewed women who wielded power throughout this book. Although the Tudor dynasty only lasted 118 years, the change was significant and impactful. The Tudors queens had to navigate not only their traumas through the most public lens, but they had to balance their own beliefs with the shifting political landscape of Europe. There are also glimpses of how other European queens navigated the tumultuous 16th century and how their lives and women’s education influenced the Tudor queens.

Book Review: “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador” by Lauren Mackay

25266205The story of King Henry VIII and his six wives has been regaled for centuries in different mediums. We love the marital problems of this one English king because of how much of an impact it made on all of Europe in the 16th century and beyond. Yet our love affair with the Tudor dynasty would not have gotten to the point that it is today without the tireless efforts of the ambassadors who went to England to report the news of the day to their respected kings and emperors. We tend to think that the ambassadors are better left in the shadows, working to promote peace between countries and report what was happening, but one man made a name for himself as an ambassador and transcended time. His name was Eustace Chapuys. His story and his mission are finally being told in Lauren Mackay’s brilliant debut book, “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador”.

I have heard about this book in the past and how much of an impact it has made in the Tudor community in the past. I have read Lauren Mackay’s two other books and I have enjoyed them thoroughly and so I really wanted to read this book.

To understand the man behind the now-infamous words about the Tudors, especially Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, we have to go back to Chapuys hometown of Annecy. It is here where we see the Chapuys family rise in prominence to the point where Eustace Chapuys was employed by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as the Spanish Ambassador to England. His main job was to report information back to Charles about the Henirican court as accurately as possible.

Chapuys started his job as ambassador at a critical junction in English history when Henry VIII was in the middle of his divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon in 1529. Chapuys admired Katherine of Aragon’s strength and worked tirelessly to protect her daughter Mary. Since Chapuys had a close connection to those who were essential in the Tudor court, he has given historians fabulous insights into these tumultuous times. It was really his relationship with Anne Boleyn which has caused a lot of controversy over the years and has blackened Chapuys’ name for centuries. Mackay has masterfully examined Chapuys’ correspondences to uncover the truth about how he felt about the Tudor court from 1529 until 1545.

You cannot separate Tudor history during the reign of Henry VIII and the works of Eustace Chapuys, which is why this biography and Mackay’s research are so essential in understanding the 16th century. It sheds new light on the stories of Henry VIII and the lives of his six wives; Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. Chapuys was not afraid to speak his mind and to share the rumors of the day, which gives us significant insight into how the royal family was perceived by their public, both the positive and the negative aspects.

Eustace Chapuys has been one of those ambassadors who we think we know, but do we really? Mackay has rescued the much-maligned messenger of Charles V and restored him to the glory that he so rightfully deserves. Chapuys’ story was hidden in plain sight, but it took an extraordinary historian to bring his story to the spotlight. If you think you know about Eustace Chapuys and the Henrician court, you need to read this sublime biography, “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador” by Lauren Mackay. It might change how you view the Tudor dynasty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen” by Alison Weir

52802802._SX318_SY475_The year is 1540 and King Henry VIII has grown tired of his fourth wife from Germany, Anne of Cleves. The aging king longs for another heir to make sure that his dynasty is secure, which means he is searching for his fifth wife. Henry’s wandering eye lands on a young girl who happens to be a cousin of his second wife of Anne Boleyn. The young woman’s name who caught the king’s attention is Katheryn Howard. Henry believes that his new bride is virtuous as well as being very beautiful, but what secrets does this young queen hide? In her latest installment of the Six Tudor Queens series “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen”, Alison Weir takes a look into the life of this young woman and the men who loved her.

As a fan of Alison Weir’s other books, I knew that I wanted to read this title. I have been enjoying the Six Tudor Queens series so far, even though I don’t necessarily agree with how she has characterized certain historical figures. I have not read any books with Katheryn Howard as the protagonist, so I was intrigued to see how it would go.

We begin our adventure with Katheryn Howard’s childhood and how she entered the household of her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. This is where Katheryn fell in love with men like Henry Mannox and Francis Dereham. I enjoyed seeing how Weir fleshed out these two relationships and how drastically different they were in Katheryn’s eyes. We see Katheryn try to keep the secrets of her past relationships as she works hard to capture the heart of the aging king, Henry VIII. Katheryn’s relationship with Henry is a bit one-sided at first, but it develops into love on both sides, but not like the love that Katheryn has known before. I found myself feeling sorry for Henry and Katheryn as they suffered a few miscarriages. But none of her other relationships are like her connection with Thomas Culpeper.

I think one of my problems with this particular book is how she viewed certain characters, like Katheryn Howard and Jane Boleyn, the wife of the late George Boleyn. To me, it felt like Weir was repeating the traditional view about these two women. Katheryn Howard has been seen as a young and naïve girl who was used as a pawn by her family to manipulate the King. Jane Boleyn has been viewed as a manipulator who despised her husband and suffered from mental trauma in the end. I think that there is so much more to their stories than how they have been portrayed in fictional representations of their lives. We see Weir try to go a bit further into their personalities, but for the most part, she stays along these lines.

Just because I don’t agree with how these two characters were represented does not mean that I thought the book was bad. I think the story itself was intriguing and Weir’s writing style is engaging like her other books. I think it is a fine novel that shows Katheryn Howard’s rise and fall from power and how dangerous love can be, especially for a young queen. If you want a great escape with a novel about Henry VIII’s fifth wife, check out Alison Weir’s, “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen”.

Guest Post: Was Katherine Howard Pregnant by Henry VIII in 1540? By Sylvia Barbara Soberton

Today, I would like to welcome Sylvia Barbara Soberton to my blog as part of the book tour to promote her latest book, “Medical Downfall of the Tudors”, which is available now.

In July 1540, Henry VIII annulled his fourth marriage to the German Anne of Cleves on the grounds of non-consummation and married his fifth wife, the teenaged Katherine Howard. Katherine’s exact age remains unknown, but there is no doubt that she was very young when she married the fifty-year-old King. People who saw her believed Katherine was in her teens. The anonymous author of the Spanish Henry VIII’s Chronicle remarked that Katherine “was not more than fifteen” at the time of her marriage. [1] Charles de Marillac, French ambassador at the Tudor court who knew Katherine, believed she was about eighteen when she married the King. All observers unanimously agreed that Katherine was a good-looking young lady. She was “more graceful and beautiful than any lady in the court” in the words of the anonymous Spanish chronicler and “rather graceful than beautiful, of short stature” according to de Marillac. [2]

Katherine Howard came to court at some point in late 1539 to serve as Anne of Cleves’s maid of honour and quickly caught the King’s attention. Their private wedding took place almost immediately after the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves in July 1540. Henry VIII’s haste in marrying Katherine may be explained by the fact that Katherine was expecting his child. Historians usually don’t put much attention to the idea that Katherine was pregnant early in her marriage to Henry, although there’s compelling evidence that she indeed was.

In September 1540, the Venetian ambassador Francesco Contarini reported that “the new Queen Katherine is said for certain to be pregnant”. [3] Three months later, on 31 December 1540, the French ambassador Charles de Marillac saw Katherine and observed that she was “grosse”, stout. [4] The word “grosse” was used in French to describe a pregnant woman. [5] In April 1541, de Marillac continued to report about Katherine’s pregnancy, writing “that this Queen is thought to be with child, which would be a very great joy to this King, who, it seems, believes it, and intends, if it be found true, to have her crowned at Whitsuntide”. [6] According to this report, Katherine was pregnant and the King made plans to have her crowned on Whitsunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter. De Marillac reported that the preparations for her coronation were in full swing, which seems to prove the court was preparing for the coronation and then the christening of Katherine Howard’s child. Another ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, reported in November 1541 that during the last Lent—during the same period that de Marillac reported about Katherine’s pregnancy—there was “some presumption that she [the Queen] was in the family way [pregnant]”. [7]

Unfortunately, nothing further was reported of this pregnancy after Lent of 1541. Was it just a rumour? It is curious that three different ambassadors reported Katherine’s pregnancy and that Charles de Marillac described her as pregnant in late December 1540. I think this is no mere coincidence—these reports are evidence that the young Queen was expecting a child from September 1540 to April 1541. If this pregnancy was a mere rumour, would it really persist for seven months? Would de Marillac describe Katherine as “grosse”, visibly pregnant? I believe that Katherine was with child, but since no baby was born, she either miscarried or had a stillbirth. If she had a son, how different Katherine’s life would have been. The young Queen was accused of immoral living prior to her marriage to Henry VIII and adultery with courtier Thomas Culpeper. She was sentenced to death and executed on 13 February 1542.

References:
[1] M.S. Hume, The Spanish Chronicle, p. 75.
[2] Ibid. See also Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Volume 16, n. 12, for de Marillac’s comment.
[3] Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 5, n. 226.
[4] Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, n. 373. See also Josephine Wilkinson’s Katherine Howard: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Queen, pp. 107-108.
[5] William Cobbett, A New French and English Dictionary: In Two Parts, p. 245.
[6] Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, n. 712.
[7] Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 6 Part 1, n. 204.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “Medical Downfall of the Tudors”, follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/Medical-Downfall-Tudors-Reproduction-Succession-ebook/dp/B08L713HRD/ref=sr_1_1?crid=IC8X21PUSC9W&dchild=1&keywords=medical+downfall+of+the+tudors&qid=1603200026&sprefix=Medical+Down%2Caps%2C208&sr=8-1/

Book Review: “Wolf Hall Companion” by Lauren Mackay

52659696 (1)One of the most popular Tudor historical fiction series in recent memory has revolved around the enigmatic Thomas Cromwell. Of course, I am talking about the famous Wolf Hall trilogy by Dame Hilary Mantel. As many dive into this monumental series, certain questions arise. How true is Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII during some of the most tumultuous times of his reign? What was life like for those who lived in privilege during Henry VIII’s reign? How did Cromwell rise to the pinnacle of power and why did he fall spectacularly? In Dr. Lauren Mackay’s third book, she takes up the monumental task of explaining to readers what is fact and what is fiction in Mantel’s series. Her book is aptly titled “Wolf Hall Companion”. 

I would like to thank Batsford Books and Net Galley for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book. I will admit that I have not yet read the Wolf Hall trilogy, but this book might have convinced me to take up the challenge and read the trilogy soon.

Mackay starts this delightful book by exploring Thomas Cromwell’s origins and what his family life was like. To uncover the truth about Cromwell’s life, Mackay relies heavily on the behemoth biography of Cromwell written by Diarmaid MacCulloch, which makes perfect sense. She also looks into the lives of those who either influenced Cromwell or were affected by Cromwell’s decisions. People like Anne Boleyn and the entire Boleyn family, Cardinal Wolsey,  Katherine of Aragon, Thomas Cranmer, Anne of Cleves, and Stephen Gardner just to name a few. Mackay balances how Mantel portrays these figures in her novels with the facts that we know about them and the events from numerous sources. 

Mackay also tackles the aspects of the Tudor court and life that adds another layer of details for readers. Things like important holidays, how Henry VIII’s court was structured,  gentlemanly activities and sports, and the Renaissance and the Reformation. It breathes new life into the Tudor dynasty and the people who lived during this time. 

Mackay’s challenge is how to write a book that is just as engaging for the readers as Mantel’s trilogy while still being educational and informative while incorporating her feelings about these novels. It is not an easy task, but Mackay can take on this task and write a gorgeous companion piece, with exquisite woodcut images to follow the story of Thomas Cromwell’s life, his rise to power, and his downfall.

I found this companion book a sheer delight. A combination of being well-researched, bite-size biographies, and gorgeous woodcut illustrations make this book an absolute treat for fans of Wolf Hall and the Tudor dynasty alike. The way Mackay describes Mantel’s writing style and how she created her characters may not be the way I envision them, but that is the great thing about historical fiction. It can challenge your views about a person while still being entertaining. I wish more historical fiction series had companion books like this one. If you are a fan of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy or if you just love learning about the Tudor dynasty from a different point of view, you need to check out Lauren Mackay’s latest masterpiece, “Wolf Hall Companion”.

Book Review: “Dark Fire” by C.J. Sansom

28280675._SY475_The year 1540 during the reign of Henry VIII was a turbulent time. Henry’s new wife, Anne of Cleves, is not exactly the person who he imagined and his eye is starting to wander to a new woman, Katherine Howard. The reformers are starting to lose favor with the king as they and Catholics alike are being executed for treason. This is the London that Matthew Shardlake, our favorite hunchback lawyer turned detective, calls home. He thinks that he has retired from his detective work and serving Thomas Cromwell, but he is sadly mistaken. His next adventure has twice the number of cases and just as much danger that makes his trip to the monastery in “Dissolution” look easy. In the second book of the Shardlake series, “Dark Fire”, C.J. Sansom turns up the heat, the action, and the danger.

We join Matthew Shardlake during a busy season in his life as a lawyer. He is working on maintaining his legal practice, and his next case is a doozy. A young girl named Elizabeth is accused of murdering her cousin and it is up to Shardlake to defend her, even when everyone believes she is guilty of the crime. Just as he is adjusting to this new case, he gets a call from his favorite person who he thought he was done dealing with for a while, Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell has a new case for Shardlake, to recover the lost formula for the mysterious Greek Fire, also known as Dark Fire. Cromwell knew that Shardlake would need some help with this new case, so he sends a new partner, the daring and resourceful Jack Barak. The only clue they have is someone from the Court of Augmentations found the formula in a dissolved monastery’s library, but when the person who had it and his alchemist brother are found brutally murdered, things get extremely complicated. Two separate cases that share the same deadline and the same amount of danger if Shardlake and Barak should fail to solve them. Can they solve both cases in time?

When I read the description of this book, my first impression was that C.J. Sansom was trying to cover too much in a book. I thought that there was no way that Shardlake could solve both cases in the time frame that he was given and that Sansom would focus on one case over the other. I was proven wrong as this book was beautifully balanced between the two cases while keeping the reader’s attention throughout the entire book.

Sansom made the Tudor London world come to life in this brilliant sequel. I thought the way he showed the struggle for power between those who had it and those who wanted it was masterfully done. He included some of my favorite characters from “Dissolution” in this book, which made me extremely excited and I believe that Shardlake’s new partner Barak was a stroke of genius. Their interactions were some of my favorites in this entire book and I cannot wait to see how he develops Shardlake and Barak’s partnership throughout the rest of the series.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It kept me guessing with both cases until the bitter end. There were so many twists and turns, revelations, and intrigue. There were some places where I think the pacing was a bit slower than the first book, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of this remarkable sequel. I did not want it to end because it would mean that I would have to leave this dynamic world with intriguing characters, until the next book. It was a sheer joy to dive back into Shardlake’s Tudor world and I honestly cannot wait to jump back into another Shardlake mystery. The first book made me fall in love with Shardlake, but this one made me fall in love with his Tudor world and the people around him. If you have read “Dissolution”, “Dark Fire” by C.J. Sansom is a must-read.

Book Review: “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets” by Alison Weir

44034429._SY475_A foreign princess who travels to England to marry the king to establish a strong political alliance. To those who study history, this is a story that has been told numerous times, but what makes this particular story unique is the people involved. The bridegroom was the recently-widowed Henry VIII, the shadow of his former self and notorious throughout Europe for having his second wife Anne Boleyn executed. His new bride to be is the German princess Anna of Kleve. To say that they did not see eye to eye would be an understatement as the marriage did not last long. Her story is often swept under the rug. Anna is often viewed as the “lucky” wife of Henry VIII, but was she? What was Anna’s story and what was her marriage with Henry really like? Alison Weir has taken up the challenge to give her readers a taste of what Anna’s life might have been like in this novel, “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets”.

As many of you know, I am a big fan of Alison Weir and I have enjoyed the “Six Tudor Queens” series thus far, so I knew that I wanted to read this one. Anna of Cleves is one of my favorite wives of Henry VIII, yet I have never read a historical fiction novel on her, so I found this concept of this book intriguing.

Weir begins her book with Anna’s life in her native Germany and her relationship with her family. To see her interacting with her parents and her siblings was delightful and so relatable. We even saw them arguing about Catholicism versus Protestantism, which was the hot topic of the time. Anna is informed that she was to marry King Henry VIII of England, who has been married three previous times. Weir takes the time to show Anna’s journey from Germany to England and how she transitioned into her new life in a new country. Her relationship with Henry is more of a close friendship than that of a husband and wife, which is very loving, caring, and believable. I enjoyed her relationships with Henry’s other wives, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr since there is no animosity between them. Anna’s relationships with Henry’s children are very nurturing, especially towards Mary Tudor, who is more of a best friend relationship rather than a step-mother, step-daughter relationship.

Weir’s focus in this book is truly the relationships of those closest to Anna, but there are a few, in particular, that stands out; Anna’s relationships with her lover and their son. I will say that before I read this book, I knew about this storyline and I was upset about it. However, when I started to read this book, I enjoyed it. Of course, I know it is a fictional storyline, but I have always felt bad for Anna that she never married again after she divorced Henry. She was still in the prime of her life which makes you question if she ever loved anyone. As a work of fiction, I found this storyline compelling, even if it is not for everyone. It added a different element to Anna’s story.

Overall, I found this novel enjoyable and very well written. I truly felt sympathy for Anna with every trial she faced. Since this is a historical fiction novel, some of it should not be taken as factual, but what Weir does extremely well is she created a relatable and loving heroine in Anna. If you want an engaging Tudor historical fiction novel to read, I would recommend you read, “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets” by Alison Weir.