Book Review: “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty” by Elizabeth Norton

9781445605784_p0_v1_s550x406The Wars of the Roses was a time of great hardships and strong men and women who did everything they could in order to survive. One of these remarkable people was a woman who did everything she could to make sure her only son lived and prospered. She was the daughter of a man who, allegedly committed suicide, she had four different husbands and gave birth to her son at the age of thirteen. She helped organize rebellions and a marriage that helped her son win the throne of England. Her name was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. Her remarkable story is told in Elizabeth Norton’s insightful book, “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty.”

This was a time of extraordinary men and women who knew both triumphs and tragedies. Margaret Beaufort was no exception as Fortune’s wheel gave her quite a ride, as Elizabeth Norton explains:

The idea of Fortune’s wheel, with its random changes from prosperity to disaster, was a popular one in medieval England, and Margaret Beaufort, with her long and turbulent life, saw herself, and was seen by others, as the living embodiment of the concept. Margaret was the mother of the Tudor dynasty in England, and it was through her that Henry VII was able to bid for the throne and gather enough strength to claim it. She knew times of great prosperity and power, but also times of deep despair. These were, to a large extent, products of the period in which Margaret lived, and her family, the Beauforts, had also suffered and prospered from Fortune’s random spin in the years before her birth. (Norton, 9).

Norton begins her book by explaining the origins of the Beaufort family, with the relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. It is through John of Gaunt that the Beauforts were able to go from illegitimate children to royal relations. This connection brought them a lot of favors, but it also brought a lot of heartaches. When the Beauforts fell, they fell hard, like Margaret’s father John Beaufort who allegedly committed suicide after a failed mission in France. His death meant that Margaret, his only child, was made a very wealthy heiress and a very eligible young lady on the marriage market. She was married to her first husband at the tender age of 10, but it did not last long. Her second marriage was to King Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor. He died before he could meet his son, leaving Margaret a mother and a widow before she turned 14. This might have been a dark moment in any young woman’s life, but Margaret grows from this experience, for herself and her only son Henry Tudor.

Margaret used her next two marriages, to Sir Henry Stafford and Lord Thomas Stanley, to her advantage to help her son’s cause. Henry was on the run with his uncle Jasper during this time since the Yorkist cause saw him as a potential heir to the throne. It was Margaret’s influence with the court and her financial support that helped her son and her brother-in-law survive during this time. It all paid off and after years apart, she was reunited with her son after the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry was victorious and declared King Henry VII. The Tudor Dynasty was created, and Margaret Beaufort began her new role as the King’s Mother. She was a mother-in-law to Elizabeth of York, a grandmother to Henry and Elizabeth’s children, and a patroness for colleges and universities. Margaret was a devout woman who also had control of her own finances, even though she was married. Fortune’s wheel gave Margaret Beaufort quite a ride, but she endured it and helped create one of the greatest dynasties in English history, the Tudor dynasty.

Elizabeth Norton sheds light on Margaret Beaufort’s story. In recent years, Margaret Beaufort has been vilified but reading the letters written by Margaret and from people who knew her shows who she really was, a strong and devout woman who would do anything for her son. Norton is able to balance the facts that we know about Margaret’s life and times with letters and poems about her and Norton’s engaging writing style to give Margaret a biography she deserves. This biography is meticulously researched and a delight to read. If you want a fascinating biography about this remarkable woman, I highly recommend you read Elizabeth Norton’s “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty”.

Book Review: “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462” by Hugh Bicheno

519b6FCcEGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In recent years, the study of the English conflict known as the “Wars of the Roses” has become rather popular. The Lancasters and the Yorks fighting for the English throne. Only one can be the winner. When we do look at this time period, we tend to focus on the people involved in the battles and the political aspect of the conflict. The battles, how they were fought, and why the conflict started in the first place tend to be pushed to the sideline. That is not the case with this particular book. In Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”, the political and military aspects combine with family histories for a comprehensive look into what made this time period so fascinating.

I came across this particular book by browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I saw that it was about the Wars of the Roses, but I was not familiar with the author. I decided to give it a shot and I am so glad I did. This book is a delight and a fantastic resource.

Bicheno starts his book by exploring two extraordinary women whose families would shape the direction that the Wars of the Roses would take; Jacquetta Woodville and Catherine de Valois. Both women married for love and this love would shape who would win the crown of England, as Bicheno explains:

Sometimes love does conquer all: despite having turned their backs on the game of power, Catherine and Jacquetta became the common ancestors of every English monarch since 1485. Before that could happen, all those with a superior claim to the throne had first to wipe each other out. This they did in what was, in essence, a decades-long, murderously sordid dispute over an inheritance within a deeply dysfunctional extended family. It became merciless not despite but because the combatants had so much in common, and projected their own darkest intentions onto each other….it was an extraordinary period in English history. Four of the six kings crowned between 1399 and 1485 were usurpers who killed their predecessors, undermining the concept of divine right as well as the prestige of the ruling class. (Bicheno, 10-11).

Family drama is the center of Bicheno’s book so he spends several chapters laying out the major players and how they were related to one another. This can get a tad bit confusing for those who are not familiar with the story, so Bicheno has included family trees and a list of protagonists and marriages to help readers. I will say that they became very useful for me as I was reading this book and I would highly suggest you use the resources that Bicheno has included in this book for future research. Bicheno also included maps, which corresponded with the different battles that were important between 1440 and 1462, not only in England but in France, Wales, and Scotland as well.

What really impressed me about this book was the amount of detail that Bicheno was able to include and making it understandable for any casual student of the Wars of the Roses, yet engaging enough for a scholar. That is not an easy feat, but Bicheno is able to do it. He uses modern data with extensive research of historical documents, knowledge of medieval military strategies, and interpreting all of this information for modern readers, which included a few nods to a certain popular show(Game of Thrones) that is roughly based off of the events of this time period.

Hugh Bicheno breathes new life into the study of the Wars of the Roses. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first started reading this book, but I am extremely glad I did. Even if you think you know tons about the Wars of the Roses, this book will surprise you with new information and make you question your previous knowledge about the battles in the first part of this tumultuous time. If you have an interest in the Wars of the Roses and understanding how it occurred from a military and a political point of view, I highly suggest you read Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”. It is an eye-opening, riveting reading experience.

Book Review: “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown” by Nathen Amin

51ygXgS66nL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The houses of York, Lancaster, the  Nevilles, the Howards, the Mowbrays, the Percys, and the Tudors are often recognized as the families involved in the Wars of the Roses. However, there was one more house that was just as important as the others; the Beauforts. The Beauforts were the sons and daughters of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and his mistress Katherine Swynford. They were considered bastards since they were born out of wedlock, yet they were connected to the house of Lancaster and rose to power by their own right. They would help change not only English history but the history of Europe forever. The Beauforts made a huge impact during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, yet many people only recognize Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Beaufort 2nd Duke of Somerset. The Beauforts don’t get much attention. Nathen Amin, the founder of The Henry Tudor Society, wanted to tell the story of this remarkable family.  It is in his book “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown”, that the Beauforts are given the attention that they rightfully deserve.

Nathen Amin explains why he chose to focus on the Beauforts:

The Beauforts are a family often encountered when reading or studying the fifteenth century and the Wars of the Roses, although commonly relegated to supporting roles in the life and times of more prominent figures like Richard, duke of York, Edward IV, and Henry IV, V, and VI. They were always in the background, serving a king, counselling a king, and even fighting for or against a king. …Yet, there were few family units more influential in the governance of England during the period, and none more devoted to defending the Lancasterian dynasty, whether against France in the last vestiges of the Hundred Years War, or against the House of York in a new war of a very different kind. Born as bastards to a mighty prince, the Beauforts were the right-hand men of their royal kinsmen, amassing considerable authority on the national and continental stage. From uncertain beginnings, the Beauforts became earls, dukes and cardinals, and in time kings themselves, their blood seeping into every corner of the English artistocracy within a few generations of their birth. (Amin, 7).

So how exactly were the Beauforts able to accomplish all of this, going from bastards to kings? It starts with John of Gaunt marrying his mistress Katherine Swynford, making his four children with Katherine legitimate and they were given the name “Beaufort”, after his second marriage did not work out. After their half-brother King Henry IV( also known as Henry of Bolingbroke) became king, he allowed his half-siblings to obtain royal status, however, they could not be in line for the English throne.

John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford’s four children found a way to live successful lives without pursuing the English throne and they continued to support their Lancasterian family. John Beaufort became the 1st Earl of Somerset and his children became earls, counts, dukes and his daughter Joan became Queen of Scotland. John Beaufort’s granddaughter was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the future King Henry VII. Henry Beaufort was able to become a very wealthy man and was promoted all the way to Cardinal of England, quite a feat for an English man at that time. Thomas Beaufort became the  1st Duke of Exeter and his sister Joan Beaufort Countess of Westmoreland was the matriarch of the powerful Neville family.

The Beauforts went through numereous highs and lows as they worked hard to protect England and the honor of their Lancastrian relations. Nathen Amin is able to navigate the complex world of the English court during both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses to give us the intricate story of the Beaufort family. As someone who is acquianted with parts of the Beaufort family story, I found this book rather fascinating and very informative. This was my first time reading a book by Nathen Amin and I cannot wait to read more of his books. In a complex time, it would be easy to forget one person, but Amin spends the time to write about each Beaufort child and how they made a difference.

The only real issue I had with the book was the family tree. I wished that there were birth and death dates included because I found myself getting a tad bit confused about who was who, especially when some of the Beauforts shared the same name and a similar title.

Overall, I found this book extremely fascinating and informative. Amin’s writing style is easy to understand and he brings the Beauforts from the background and onto center stage. They may have started as illegitimate children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, but they rose to be dukes and kings. If you want to learn more about this remarkable family and their influence in both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, I absolutely recommend that you read “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown” by Nathen Amin.

Biography: Katherine Swynford

(Born November  25, 1350 – Died May 10, 1403). Daughter of Payne de Roet. Sister of Philippa Chaucer, the wife of Geoffrey Chaucer. Married to Hugh Swynford and John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster. Mother of the Beauforts as well as 3 children with Hugh Swynford.

Katherine was probably born on or around November 25, 1350 to Payne de Roet, a herald and later a knight. We don’t know much about her early life.  Katherine was appointed governess to watch over the children of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster in 1365. In 1367, she married Hugh Swynford, a knight, and they had 3 children; Blanche, Thomas and Margaret Swynford.

Hugh Swynford and Blanche of Lancaster would both die in 1371, the same year that rumors began that Katherine and John were having an affair. John quickly silenced those rumors by marrying Constance of Castile later the same year. In 1372 Katherine’s position in John’s household got better and by 1373, their first child John, was born. They would have 4 children; John, Henry, Thomas and Joan.They would adopt the last name Beaufort in honor of their father’s lost of his lordship of Anjou.

During the 1380’s, Katherine left court so John could repair his reputation after the Peasants’ Revolt. When Constance died in 1394, everything changed for the couple. They were married in 1396 and their children became legitimate, however they were banned from the line of succession for the throne of England. John would die on February 3, 1399, leaving Katherine a widow yet again. Katherine would die on May 10, 1403.

Her children with John of Gaunt, the Beauforts and their children, would change English history forever.

Biography: John of Gaunt

gaunt(Born March 6, 1340- Died March 15, 1399). Son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.  He had three wives, Blanche of Lancaster, Constance of Castile, and Katherine Swynford. He was the 1st Duke of Lancaster, the Duke of Aquitaine, King of Castile, and one of the wealthiest men of his time. His children would become the House of Lancaster, the Beauforts, the monarchs of Portugal and Castile, and the Hapsburgs.

 

John of Gaunt was the third surviving son of Edward III. He wasn’t supposed to be as wealthy or influential as he became but he achieved prestige by marrying well. With his first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt was able to become the first Duke of Lancaster. Blanche of Lancaster would die in 1369 and John would marry Constance of Castile in 1371. She was next in line for the throne of Castile and for years John fought for her crown against the Spanish. The problem was that they were also fighting the French as the Hundred Years’ War was just starting.   After his brother Edward The Black Prince’s death in 1376, John took John Wycliffe under his protection as he now had more of a political influence.

When Edward III died, John of Gaunt’s nephew Richard II became king and John was his right hand man. There was a lot of mistrust with the nobility and the common folk which lead to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which was quickly and brutally taken care of. John went  back to Castile try to take the throne, but as soon as he left, England almost fell into civil war because of how poorly Richard II ruled. John gave up his claim to the Castilian throne to help bring England back to some stability.

 

He would also help sponsor  Geoffrey Chaucer, who was his brother in law since Chaucer married the sister of John’s third wife and long time mistress, Katherine Swynford. John and Katherine met while he was married to Constance and had 4 children out of wedlock. After they were married in 1396, their children were made legitimate and given the name “Beaufort”. There was one catch, they were not allowed to inherit the throne, although their half- brother Henry IV allowed them to have some royal status. John of Gaunt died  of natural causes on March 15, 1399 with Katherine Swynford by her side. He would later be buried by his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster.

Book Review: “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir

911GmwfEpdLThe Wars of the Roses was a series of wars from 1455 until 1487 for the throne of England. It is traditionally taught that it was between the houses of York and Lancaster, yet there were a lot more players involved than these two families. In fact the conflict started much earlier with the children of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. The Lancasters were the descendants of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche of Lancaster while the Yorks were descendants of Edmund of Langley Duke of York. This was a series over the question of who had the strongest claim to the throne. This question and the series of wars that would try to answer it is explored in depth in Alison Weir’s book “The Wars of the Roses”.

Alison Weir explains the struggle of studying this time period and what she is trying to accomplish in her book:

Sources for this period are meagre and often ambiguous, yet much research has been done over the last hundred years to illuminate a little for us what is often described as the twilight world of the fifteenth century. Many misconceptions have been swept away, yet even so the dynastic conflict still confuses many. My aim has been throughout to eliminate that confusion and try to present the story in chronological sequence, clarifying the problems of the royal succession in an age in which no certain rules of inheritance applied. I have also tried to bring the world of the fifteenth century to life by introducing as much contemporary detail as space permits, in order to make the subject relevant to any read, academic or otherwise. Chiefly, however, I have tried to re-tell an astonishing and often grim story of power struggles in high places that involved some of the most charismatic figures in English history. (Weir, xix).

Weir begins her book by explaining  what England in the fifteenth century was like before diving into the history of Edward III and the Plantagenets in the late 1300s. This may seem a little complex since there were many sons of Edward III, but the throne first went to Richard II, but when he was forced to abdicate, the throne went to Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. He was the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. John of Gaunt and his third wife Katherine Swynford had children who would become known as the Beauforts. They would become important later on.

Henry IV’s son would become Henry V who was married to Katherine of Valois. When Henry V died, their son Henry VI became king; he was a baby. His mother would remarry a Welsh man named Owen Tudor and they would have a few children, including Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Henry VI would marry Margaret of Anjou. Richard Earl of Cambridge, the son of Edmund of Langley, would have a son with his wife Anne Mortimer named Richard Plantagenet Duke of York. He would marry the “Rose of Raby” Cecily Neville and they would be the parents of Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

This all may seem a bit complex, but it is important to understand how all of the players in the Wars of the Roses were connected. Henry VI was a weak king who was known for his madness and so someone had to lead the government. Richard Duke of York believed that he should have been Lord Protector, however Margaret of Anjou and her party at court had other ideas. The beginning of this conflict was a battle between court factions, but eventually it escalated rather quickly into a full on rebellion by Richard Duke of York. This was now a battle between the Yorks and the Lancasters. When Richard Duke of York died at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460, his son Edward took on the Yorkist cause and would become king after the battle of Towton on March 29, 1461, the bloodiest battle on English soil. After Towton, it was a battle between Edward IV and those who supported Henry VI, until 1471 when Edward IV ultimately won, thus ending the conflict between the Yorks and the Lancasters.

Weir chooses to end her book here at 1471 even though the Wars of the Roses will pick back up with the death of Edward IV in 1483 when his brother Richard becomes Richard III. Weir truly brought this time period to life. I have been studying the Wars of the Roses for a few years now and I have to say this book really simplified this complex family struggle in a way that makes sense. I love this book and I have read it several times. If you really want a great book that explains the causes of the Wars of the Roses, I highly recommend this book, “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir. It is a fantastic introduction to this tumultuous time period.