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.

Book Review: “Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life” by Diarmaid MacCulloch

38390462The stories of King Henry VIII and the men around him have fascinated generations of historians, but there was one man who has received a negative reputation for his actions. He was the supposed son of a butcher who rose to be Henry VIII’s right-hand man, until his dramatic fall in July 1540. Thomas Cromwell was credited for helping Henry with his Great Matter, the fall of Anne Boleyn, the establishment of the Church of England, and the disastrous marriage between Henry and Anna of Cleves. Diarmaid MacCulloch has taken on the challenge to figure out who Thomas Cromwell really was by sifting through all remaining archival records that we have from this extraordinary man. It is in this book, “Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life” that MacCulloch masterfully explores the story of this man who changed English and European history forever.

Personally, I have never read a book about Thomas Cromwell, but I did want to learn more about his role in Henry VIII’s government. I had heard great things about this particular book and I wanted to read a definitive biography about Cromwell. Although at first, I was a bit intimidated reading something so academically written, I am really glad that I embarked on this journey to discover the truth of this much-maligned historical figure.

MacCulloch dives into the life of Cromwell by trying to piece together his early years and his Italian connections in the clothing trade. Cromwell did not receive a normal education of the day as he almost taught himself, which made him appreciate books and literature even more. It was these connections and his hard work which allowed Cromwell to rise to a position where he was working under Thomas Wosley. The lessons that Cromwell learned from Wosley would be beneficial as he took over as the King’s right- hand man after Wolsey’s fall from grace.

It is the decade that Cromwell served as Henry’s administrative polymath that is MacCulloch’s main focus. This part might trip up casual history students as it is very academic. My suggestion, if you are a casual history student, is to take your time to fully understand the steps that Cromwell took to change the political and religious landscape of England to make sure Henry was happy. It was not always an easy task, but with great risks came great rewards, such as the title of Vice-Gerent in Spirituals. Cromwell’s fingerprints could be seen all over the establishment of the Church of England, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the expanding powers of Parliament. There were those who were not exactly thrilled with all of these changes, however, the only opinion that truly mattered was the one that belonged to Henry VIII, and he was happy with Cromwell’s work.

Cromwell was not just a politician, he was a father to a son named Gregory Cromwell. It was interesting to learn that even after his wife died, Thomas Cromwell never remarried and raised Gregory as a single father. It was when Cromwell got involved in Henry’s personal life that matters got tricky for Cromwell. Obviously, many people are familiar with Cromwell’s role with Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace. However, it was the marriage between Henry and Anna of Cleves that would be the incident that brought Cromwell from the pinnacle of power to death’s door.

MacCulloch’s biography is truly a triumph. It is academic, both in its meticulously researched contents and its writing style, yet it remains engaging and thought-provoking. Although at times, this book was challenging, it was one of those books that you feel proud to read. If you want a fabulous book about the life of Thomas Cromwell as well as the changes that he helped create in the Tudor government and the establishment of the Church of England, “Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life” by Diarmaid MacCulloch should be included in your collection.

Book Review: “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer

8800906The Tudor dynasty and the enigmatic figures who made this time period so fascinating have been hotly discussed for centuries. Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII after defeating  King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. King Henry VIII, the second son whose numerous wives and his split from the Catholic Church made his name infamous in history. King Edward VI, Henry VIII’s beloved son who died before he really could accomplish the reformation that he had planned for England. Queen Mary I, who was the first Queen of England to rule in her own right and wanted to restore the Catholic Church. Finally, Queen Elizabeth I, who never married and led England to a “Golden Age”. Many historians have viewed the Tudor dynasty as a time of great change and England was in a good place. However, G.J. Meyer paints a darker picture of the era in his book, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty”.

Unlike many of the books on my blog, I did read this book before when I was in college. It was the only Tudor book that I read as an assigned book and I do have fond memories reading it, so I decided that I would go back and reread it years later. 

I will say that the title “Complete Story” is a little bit misleading. Meyer tends to focus on Henry VIII (over 300 pages on Henry VIII and the Great Matter) and his children, but he briefly mentions Henry VII and Lady Jane Grey. I feel like if Meyer wanted to have a “complete story” about the Tudors, it should have included these two figures a bit more. I did want more about Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. They were wives of Henry VIII, but they felt like afterthoughts in Meyer’s book. I also wanted more about Elizabeth I’s reign, since she did reign for a long time and without a husband, but her section in this book felt rushed. 

 When Meyer does talk about Henry VIII and the other Tudors, he seems to use the same negative stereotypes that have been used in the past, (Henry VII was a miser, Henry VIII was a monster, Edward was a sick child, Mary as “Bloody Mary”, and Elizabeth was concerned about keeping her youth and her ruthlessness). Of course, this book was written in 2011 and many of these myths have been proven untrue by more modern books about the Tudors. 

This book does not revolve around the popular history tales of the Tudors. Instead, Meyer tends to focus on the political and ecclesiastical issues that dominated the time period, in England and throughout Europe. This is where Meyer shines as he goes into details about these issues, both in regular chapters and in background chapters that help bring this time period to life. Meyer does have a good writing style that helps novices of Tudor history understand the complex time period. 

Overall, I think this was a pretty good book. It was a bit darker than other Tudor books that I have read previously, but the Tudor time period was not all sunshine and roses. There were dark times and really good times that happened during the rule of this rather remarkable dynasty. If you want a decent book that will give you an introduction to this family drama, I recommend you read, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer.  

Tudor Event: Try Me, Good King- Immersive Classical Concert of Tudor Tales and Shakespearean Stories

I was recently informed of an interesting event for those who enjoy music, Tudor tales, and Shakespeare. Thank you, Eleanor Penfold, for letting me know about this event. If you are in London, please consider going to this concert. 

CopyrightBenDurrantLandscapeTry Me, Good King- Immersive Classical Concert of Tudor Tales and Shakespearean Stories

Catch the ‘must-see’ Tudor concert tour (Alternative Classical) coming to London this November. Transposed will be presenting an immersive evening of contemporary classical music with Soprano Eleanor Penfold and Pianist Eleanor Kornas.

Performing in exclusively Tudor and Elizabethan buildings around the UK (York, Cambridge, and London) in specially tailored Tudor dress, Transposed are bringing Tudor history to life in concert.

Their final performance will be at the only remaining Elizabethan Church in London, Old Church in Stoke Newington, on 23rd November.

Try Me, Good King is a powerful performance where modern meets medieval. It offers a collection of contemporary classical works inspired by medieval women both historical and imagined. The programme celebrates a feast of fiery female characters (including the wives of Henry VIII) and includes works by Libby Larsen, Benjamin Britten, William Walton, Joseph Horovitz and more. The evening features some rarely performed Elizabethan love songs as well as a haunting encounter with Lady Macbeth.

Penfold has performed in the BBC Proms as well as the Paris Opera House. ‘This tour is a real celebration of music, Shakespearean theatre and the Tudor period’, said Penfold. ‘Performing within exclusively Tudor buildings in a tailor-made Tudor dress brings audiences the spectacle of the operatic stage or the Globe in completely unique settings’.

Penfold first discovered the song cycle Try Me, Good King during her time at the Royal College of Music in London. ‘I was completely blown away by the power of the work’, said Penfold. ‘The work breathes life into the letters and speeches of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. Far from the well-known list, ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,’ these songs give visceral energy and humanity to each woman’s testament and individual voice.’

Transposed is a dynamic new ensemble exploring the powerful relationship between live performance and the space in which it comes to life. Transposed invites audiences to step into the frame and experience a new approach to classical music.

Join Transposed on 23rd November in London and journey back in time.

Tickets:

Online: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/try-me-good-king-an-immersive-classical-concert-tickets-63971177514?aff=eand/

Full price: £15

Under 18, Students, Disabled: £12.50

Social links:

Website: http://www.Transposed-ensemble.com

Facebook: @TransposedEnsemble

Twitter: @_Transposed

Instagram: @Transposed_ensemble

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

Book Review: “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51M3PWFQLjLThe children of Henry VIII have been the center of historical studies for centuries. Edward VI, Mary I,  and Elizabeth I were all considered Henry’s “legitimate” children and were able to obtain the crown of England. Henry Fitzroy was the illegitimate son of the king, but he was still able to gain titles and a good marriage before he died. They all had something in common; they were all recognized by their father, Henry VIII. However, there was another child who many believed to have been the daughter of the king. The name of this intriguing lady was Lady Katherine Knollys and her story comes to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this great book. I have never read a biography on Lady Katherine Knollys and I found this a delight to read.

Katherine’s mother was the sister of Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn. For a time before Anne came into the picture, Mary was Henry VIII’s mistress. Henry VIII did have a child by another mistress, which he did declare as his own, so why did he not acknowledge Katherine as his child? Watkins offers an explanation on why Katherine was not acknowledged by the king and what her life was like:

Katherine would grow up never to be acknowledged as King Henry VIII’s daughter. Henry had every reason not to acknowledge her. He has his daughters, one already born when Katherine came into the world, and he needed no more. His denial of his affair with Katherine’s mother, Mary, would be something that would always position Katherine as a bastard. Yet Katherine joined the Tudor court as maid of honour to Queen Anne of Cleves and she went on to serve Catherine Howard as well as becoming one of Elizabeth I’s closest confidantes- cousins for definite, more likely half-sisters. Katherine lived through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and on into Elizabeth I’s. Never far from court, she lived in a world where she would never be a princess but a lady she was born to be. (Watkins, 1).

Watkins begins her book by exploring Mary Boleyn’s life and her relationship with Henry VIII and the birth of Katherine. As Mary fell out of favor with the king, we see the rise and fall of her sister, Anne Boleyn. As Katherine grows up, we see her becoming a maid of honour for Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, until she marries Francis Knollys at the age of 16. Katherine and Francis went on to have quite a large family. Their children included Lettice Knollys, who scandalously married Elizabeth I’s favorite, Sir Robert Dudley. Katherine spent a lot of her life serving others, never flaunting who her father might have been. The only time that Katherine’s life was in danger was when Mary I came to the throne. Katherine and Francis decided to take their family and flee abroad since they were Protestants, but they did return when Elizabeth returned. Elizabeth came to rely on Katherine as a close confidante and when Katherine did die, Elizabeth gave her an elaborate funeral.

This was my first time reading a biography about Lady Katherine Knollys and I really enjoyed it. I go back and forth whether I believe she was the daughter of Henry VIII or not, but I found it interesting to learn more about this fascinating woman. Watkins does a superb job of balancing letters, facts and an easy to understand writing style to tell the story of Lady Katherine Knollys, her family, and the life inside the Tudor court. If you want to learn more about the life of the remarkable daughter of Mary Boleyn, I highly recommend you read, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.  

Book Review: “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

91UpsDD9PWL.jpgHenry VIII, the king who was notorious for his six marriages. His first three marriages, to Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour, gave Henry VIII his only children that were considered eligible for succession. Catherine of Aragon was his first foreign bride, but he would divorce her to marry Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn would later be executed and Jane Seymour would die after giving birth to Henry’s son Edward. Henry wanted to marry again, so his most trusted advisors decided to try for a foreign alliance as well as a new bride for the king. They decided that Anne of Cleves from Germany would be the perfect bride, but it did not work out and Henry decided to divorce her and claim Anne as his “sister”. She is often viewed as Henry’s “lucky wife”, but who was she and what was her life like before and after she met her husband Henry VIII? That is exactly the question that Sarah-Beth Watkins wanted to explore in her latest book, “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife”.

Sarah-Beth Watkins explains who Anne of Cleves was  and how has she has been described in the past:

Contemporary reports of Anne are mixed but time has not been kind to her memory. In a book by Sarah Tytler published in 1896, I was shocked to read Anne described as ‘a woman of entirely negative characteristics’. The author really had nothing good to say about her. She was ‘dull-witted as well as a hard-favoured young woman, possessed of a stolid sluggishness of temper’. Her writing reads as if Anne had personally upset her in some way. She was ‘plain and stupid’ and even had a ‘meaningless expanse of forehead’! She hasn’t favoured much better with other authors. Hume described her as ‘large, bony and masculine’ and Burnet coined the phrase ‘Flanders mare’ which has stuck to Anne throughout the centuries. Strickland, however, wrote with more sympathy that Anne ‘ was a most unfortunate, ill-treated princess…who deserved a better fate than to become the wife of a king so devoid of the feelings of a gentleman as Henry VIII’…She was Queen of England for just over six months and after became the King’s ‘sister’- a role she adopted and thrived on. She became the richest woman in England for a time with an astounding divorce settlement. Henry may not have wanted her for a wife but he did not blame her for the failure of their marriage- that would fall upon his chief minister. Anne would outlive the king and all of his other wives. (Watkins, 2-3).

Watkins begins her book by diving into Anne of Cleves’ life in Germany before she was even considered as a bride for a king. Anne’s life in Germany was simple. She didn’t really have the education that one would expect for a future queen, but she never was expected to marry a king. She was the sister to William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg. Her sister, Sybilla, was married to John Frederick, Duke of Saxony, who was one of the leaders of the Protestant Confederation of Germany and was considered one of the champions of the Reformation. Anne didn’t  follow her sister’s path to the Protestant faith as she was a devout Catholic, but the religious issue doesn’t seem to have caused a rift in the family.

Anne was supposed to marry Francis of Lorraine, but the engagement was broken since Francis was only 10 when it was arranged. After the death of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII needed a new wife. He wanted to make an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League, a league of Protestant territories that wanted to defend itself against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Anne was not exactly Henry’s first choice of bride to help join this alliance, but she was the one he decided to marry, and so Anne left her home in 1539. The marriage did not last long, only six months, before Henry divorced her. Anne was a bit disappointed, but Henry was able to provide her with a wealthy lifestyle, one fit for a former queen.  There were talks about Anne becoming queen again after the fall of Katherine Howard, but it never happened. Anne was able to form a close relationship with Mary, Henry’s eldest daughter since they were so close in age. Even when she was not queen, Anne of Cleves kept a close eye on what was happening, not only in the English court but what was happening in her beloved Germany. As stated before, Anne did outlive Henry VIII, the rest of his wives and King Edward VI. Anne of Cleves died at the age of 41 on July 16, 1557.

This is the first time that I have read a book by Sarah-Beth Watkins and I really enjoyed how easy it was to read and the amount of information in this book. I did not know a whole lot about Anne of Cleves before reading this book, other than the fact that she was married to Henry VIII for a short time. Watkins’ book packs in so much information that you want to learn more about Anne of Cleves and her family.  This book is well researched and thoroughly enjoyable. If you want a fantastic book to introduce you to the life of Anne of Cleves, I highly recommend you read “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

Book Review: “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” By Margaret George

ZZZ032590-BKHenry VIII is one of the most notorious kings who ever ruled England. He had six wives, two of which were executed, three legitimate children who would change England forever, and  he decided to break from Rome and create his own church. Henry was such a larger than life figure, yet when it comes to historical fiction, he tends to play a smaller part in books about his six wives and is often portrayed as a villain. Henry doesn’t get to have his own voice, in historical fiction, on some of the most important parts in his life, so Margaret George decided to give him one in her book, “The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers,” to explain what could have been going on in his mind during these pivotal moments.

What makes Margaret George’s book unique is the addition of Will Somers, Henry’s fool, who acts as a commentator, and in some cases, acts as the voice of reason after the fact. Will Somers explains some of the most complex issues during Henry’s reign, including what it meant to be king:

To be a King is to be un-ordinary, extraordinary: because we will have it so, we demand it, as we demand our carpenters make smooth-sliding drawers. Much of Henry’s behaviour is incomprehensible if judged as the actions of an ordinary man; as King, it appears in a different light. If a man is consciously trying to be an ideal King, an outsize King, then all the more so. And there can be no wavering, no half-measures. One must be King every instant, while retiring to the privy stool as well as in state audiences. There is no respite: the mask of royalty must gradually supplant the ordinary man, as sugar syrup replaces the natural flavors in candied fruit and flowers. They retain their original outward appearance, but inside are altogether changed in substance. Harry bore this burden easily, and wore his regality with a splendid conviction. What this cost him as a man becomes apparent as one reads on in his journal. (George, 105).  

George’s book begins with a conversation between Will Somers and Catherine Knollys about the actual journal and why he was giving it to Catherine. Henry begins his “autobiography” with his childhood and his relationship with his siblings, especially his brother Arthur, his father Henry VII, and his mother Elizabeth of York. It was interesting to see how Henry might have viewed his relationship with his family, most importantly with his “miserly” father Henry VII. I really do not agree with this view of Henry VII myself, but I think how Henry was portrayed as the second son was very fascinating.

The main part of this book and Henry’s life was his marriages. Starting off with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, George explores how Henry fell in love with each woman he called, at one point or another, his wife and queen and ultimately each woman’s different fate. What was interesting was that George seemed to play with the myths that surrounded the women in Henry’s life, like Anne Boleyn having a sixth finger and that she was a witch (which are not true at all). The part that surprised me the most about this book was how much he grieved over love lost, especially with Jane Seymour. It showed a softer side to Henry and gave him more of a humanistic element to his story.

Aside for marital and familial elements of Henry’s life, George also explores the religious issues of his reign, as well as Henry’s government. We see how relationships with the Catholic Church sours and how it really affects him as a man. We see how long time friends of Henry’s quickly turn to enemies and how his relationships with other monarchs ebb and flow.

Overall Margaret George gives us a full and complete story of Henry VIII’s life while being entertaining and intriguing. I read this book several years back and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I found myself enjoying it even to this day. George was able to bring Henry VIII and his court to life in a way that made you feel like this “journal” could have been real. If you want a fun, long read about King Henry VIII, I highly suggest you read, “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” by Margaret George.

Biography: Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

margaret-douglas-countess-lennox(Born October 8, 1515- Died March 7, 1578)
Daughter of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus and Margaret Tudor
Married to Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox
Mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox

Margaret Douglas was the daughter of the dowager Queen of Scotland Margaret Tudor. She incurred her uncle Henry VIII’s wrath twice; the first time was for her unauthorised engagement to Lord Thomas Howard and the second was in 1540 for an affair with Thomas Howard’s nephew Sir Charles Howard, the brother of Henry’s wife Katherine Howard. Her son Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was married to Mary Queen of Scots and was the father of James VI of Scotland (also known as James I of England).

Margaret Douglas was born on October 8, 1515 at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland. Her mother was Margaret Tudor, the Dowager Queen of Scotland and the sister of Henry VIII, and her father was her mother’s second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Margaret Tudor had recently been forced to hand over the Scottish Regency to the Duke of Albany, who had arrived from France, and she was forced to flee to England. Margaret Tudor arrived in London with baby Margaret on May 3, 1516, while her husband was dealing with issues in Scotland. When Albany returned to France on June 6 , 1517, the Queen Dowager was permitted to return and was given limited access to see her son, James V, at Edinburgh Castle. During this time, she had a falling out with her husband and Angus took custody of Margaret Douglas. When Margaret was not living with her father, she stayed with her godfather Cardinal Wolsey.

When Wolsey died in 1530, Lady Margaret was invited to the royal Palace of Beaulieu, where she resided in the household of Princess Mary. Because of her nearness to the English crown, Lady Margaret Douglas was brought up chiefly at the English court in close association with Mary, her first cousin, the future Queen Mary I, who remained her lifelong friend. Margaret would later become first lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn and Lady-of-Honour to Princess Elizabeth. Yet, when Margaret became secretly betrothed to Sir Thomas Howard, Anne Boleyn’s uncle and Norfolk’s youngest brother, Henry VIII, in July 1536, placed them both in the Tower. Margaret did fall ill while in the Tower. Margaret was released on October 29, 1537, but Sir Thomas died in the Tower on October 31, 1537.

In 1539, Margaret was part of the group of people who was supposed to meet Anne of Cleves at Greenwich Palace and join her household, but Henry changed his mind and met Anne of Cleves at Rochester instead. In 1540, Margaret was again in disgrace with the King when she had an affair with Lord Thomas Howard’s half-nephew Sir Charles Howard. He was the son of Thomas’ elder half-brother Lord Edmund Howard, and a brother of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard. Her mother, Margaret Tudor, died at Methven Castle on October 18, 1541 from palsy. Margaret would be one of the few witnesses to King Henry VIII’s last marriage to Katherine Parr, in 1543; Margaret was a close friend to Katherine Parr and would become one of her chief ladies.

In 1544, Lady Margaret married a Scottish exile named Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, who would later became regent of Scotland. Their children were Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Charles Stuart. When Mary I became queen in 1553, Margaret returned to court and was given rooms in Westminster Palace. Margaret would be one of the chief mourners at Mary’s funeral in 1558 and when Elizabeth I became queen, Margaret moved to Yorkshire, where her home at Temple Newsam became a center for Roman Catholic intrigue.

Margaret succeeded in marrying her elder son, Lord Darnley, to his first cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, thus uniting their claims to the English throne. Queen Elizabeth I disapproved of this marriage and had Margaret sent to the Tower of London in 1566. After the murder of Margaret’s son Darnley in 1567, Margaret was released from prison and she was the first to denounce her daughter-in-law, but was eventually later reconciled with her. Her husband assumed the government of Scotland as regent, but was assassinated in 1571. Margaret would never marry again.

In 1574, she again aroused Queen Elizabeth’s anger by marrying her younger son Charles to Elizabeth Cavendish, the daughter of Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick and the stepdaughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. She was again sent to the Tower, unlike the Countess of Shrewsbury, but was pardoned after her son Charles’ death in 1576. Margaret would take care of Charles’ daughter Arbella Stuart until her own death on March 7, 1578.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Douglas
http://www.maryqueenofscots.net/people/lady-margaret-douglas-countess-lennox/
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Douglas-Countess-of-Lennox