Book Review: “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

To survive during the reigns of the Norman and Plantagenet Kings of England, one must understand where their loyalty and trust lied. Did they follow the crown or did they take a risk and follow those who opposed the person who wore the crown? For one family, there was no question who they were loyal to, which was the crown. The Warenne Earls of Surrey served the Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Edward III, gaining titles, prestige, and marriages that would cement their names in history books. They survived some of the most turbulent times in English history even if they did have a few scandals in their illustrious history. In Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest non-fiction adventure, “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey ”, she explores this family’s history that spanned over three centuries.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s books for a while now, so when I heard about this title, I knew I wanted to read it. I was going in a bit blind since I have never heard of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, but that is part of the fun of studying a new aspect of history.

The first Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne began this family’s tradition of royal loyalty as he joined William the Conqueror on his journey to England and fought alongside him to establish Norman rule at the Battle of Hastings. William’s descendants would be involved in some of the most important events of the time, from the crusades to the 1st and 2nd Baron’s Wars and the sealing of the Magna Carta. At some points, the earls would briefly switch sides if they thought the king was not in the best interest of the country, but they remained at the heart of English politics and worked hard to help guide the king and the country to become stronger.

What made the Warennes a tour de force when it came to noble families was their ability to marry well, except for the final earl and his scandalous relationships. The second earl desired to marry into the royal family, which did not happen, but his daughter, Ada de Warenne would marry William the Lion, King of Scotland. One of the daughters of Hamlin and Isabel de Warenne would be the mistress of King John and would give birth to his illegitimate son Richard of Chilham. The only woman of the family who inherited the earldom of Surrey, Isabel de Warenne, was married twice and so both of her husbands, William of Blois and Hamelin of Anjou, are considered the 4th earl of Surrey.

Connolly does a wonderful job explaining each story in de Warenne’s long history, including the minor branches of the family. I was able to understand the difference between family members who shared the same first name, (like William, John, and Isabel) but I know that others might have struggled with this aspect. I think it would have been helpful if Connolly had included either a family tree or a list of family members of the de Warennes at the beginning of this book to help readers who did struggle.

I found this particular title fascinating. The de Warennes were a family that proved loyalty to the crown and good marriages went a long way to cement one’s legacy in medieval England. Connolly proved that she has a passion for bringing obscure noble families to the spotlight through her impeccable research. If you want a nonfiction book of a noble family full of loyalty, love, and action, you should check out “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Review: “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II” by Douglas Boyd

55182667._SX318_One of the most infamous families in the history of England lasted for over three hundred years and it was filled with numerous princes that fought for their right to rule, much to the chagrin of the Tudor dynasty. The Plantagenet Dynasty was full of scandals and bloodshed, testing the core values of what it meant to be a family and rulers of an emerging country like England. This dynastic clash for power that came to define this dynasty began with Henry II and his sons by his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. When their father refused to give the boys any true power, which was to be excepted with all princes, his sons waged war against Henry II and their brothers. The stories of these bonds and what ultimately tore them asunder are told in Douglas Boyd’s latest collection of biographies aptly titled, “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II”.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I read the description of this one, I was drawn in. I am always looking for more information about this fractured family, so I decided to give this book a try.

Boyd begins by describing the lifestyles of a knight and how they went into battle, which was essential for a medieval prince. He also dived into the complicated relationship between Eleanor of Aquitaine, her first husband Louis VII of France, and her second husband Henry II. Since Eleanor did not have any make children with Louis VII, she decided to divorce him to marry the soon-to-be King Henry II of England. It is Eleanor’s children with Henry II that are remembered for their feuds. Their sons; Henry the Young King, Richard I, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, and King John fought against one another and their father to some extent for the throne of England. I found the chapters about the sons engaging albeit short.

The big problem that I had with this particular title is that it only spent a portion of the book on the actual princes of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. I was craving more depth, more information out of these chapters, but Boyd decided to go all the way through until the crowning of Henry IV. Once he started to go onto the descendants, I will be honest that I started to find the writing a bit dry.

It is fine as an overview, but I was hoping for a bit more. Boyd also used a lot of research that has been used numerous times. He did not present any new information and reused some myths about these figures. I wanted to hear Boyd’s voice and his opinions about these figures, but it felt lost in this book.

Overall, this book is just okay. I was looking for a bit more depth with the research that focused on the sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, not their descendants. Boyd knows a lot about the Plantagenet dynasty, but it just fell flat for me. If you want a book that gives an overview of the Plantagenets until the coronation of Henry IV, check out “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II” by Douglas Boyd.

Book Review: “The York Princesses: The Daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville” by Sarah J. Hodder

54363954The life of a medieval princess was not a life of luxury that we often see in fantasy films. It can be filled with lovely gowns and castles, but it can change in an instance. Take, for example, the lives of the daughters of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. One minute their father was King of England and life was comfortable; the next minute, they were in the sanctuary, hoping and praying that they would be able to be reunited with their father one day. Their lives were planned out for them when their father was alive, but when Edward IV died unexpectedly in April 1483, the princesses found their world taking another turn. We know what happened with the eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, as she married Henry VII and became the first Tudor queen, but what about her sisters? In her second book, “The York Princesses: The Daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville”, Sarah J. Hodder explores what happened to Elizabeth of York and her sisters once the House of York fell and the Tudors became the new dynasty.

I would like to thank Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have read Sarah J. Hodder’s previous book, “The Queen’s Sisters” and I enjoyed it. When I saw that Hodder was going to release this book, I knew that I wanted to read it.

I knew quite a bit about Elizabeth of York as she was the eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville and the wife of Henry VII. Hodder knew that she was the most popular of the princesses so she gave a brief overview of her life and moved onto the sisters who do not get enough attention. For those who are not familiar with this family, the other sisters are Mary, Cecily, Margaret, Anne, Katherine, and Bridget. Although Elizabeth’s sisters did not win a crown, it does not mean that their lives were not exciting.

To make sure that the sisters’ stories were told in an equal manner, Hodder dedicated a chapter to each one of their tales. From the youngest who died shortly after they were born to those who lived to see Henry VIII crowned King of England. The men who they married ranged from those who backed the Yorkist cause, leading to a very awkward family clash, to those who proved extremely loyal to the young Tudor dynasty. The sisters would never share the joys and heartbreaks that Elizabeth experienced as a mother (especially Bridget of York who would become a nun), but they were eyewitnesses to dramatic changes in England’s history.

I found it remarkable that Elizabeth accepted her sisters with open arms after she became Queen of England, even when their husbands disagreed with Henry VII. Elizabeth supported her sisters and their families whenever she could.

Hodder tells the story of strong family bonds that connected these sisters through the good times and the bad. You can tell that Hodder was passionate about the subject she was writing about as this book was very well researched. It is often difficult to tell the stories of siblings of monarchs as their sibling who sits on the throne tends to overshadow them, but Hodder brought the stories of the York princesses into the light. “The York Princesses: The Daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville” by Sarah J. Hodder may be small in size, but it is full of information for those who want to know more about this extraordinary royal family.

Book Review: “Queens of the Crusades: England’s Medieval Queens Book Two” by Alison Weir

52355570 (1)One of the most prominent royal families of English history was the Plantagenets, who reigned for over three hundred years. In the first one hundred years of this family’s infamous history, five kings ruled (the first two are considered kings of the Angevin dynasty): Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, and Edward I. These five kings saw England change drastically, but they also participated in the international political landscape of the day, which involved the series of wars that today we simply refer to as the Crusades. The early Plantagenet kings saw much bloodshed and war, but they were not alone in their struggle to keep the dynasty going. These men would not have gotten as far as they did without their wives who stood by their sides. In Alison Weir’s latest installment of England’s Medieval Queens series, “Queens of the Crusades”, she takes a deep dive into the lives of the first five Plantagenet queens to show how remarkable these women truly were to stand beside their husbands during the times of the Crusades in Europe.

I would like to thank Ballantine Books, Random House, and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a massive fan of Alison Weir’s nonfiction books for years now. To have an opportunity to read this title and review it is simply astounding. As soon as Weir announced this new installment of England’s Medieval Queens series, I knew I wanted to read it because I had enjoyed Queens of the Conquest immensely.

The five queens that Weir covers in this particular book are Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria of Navarre, Isabella of Angouleme, Alienor of Provence, and Eleanor of Castile. Many are familiar with the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II and how it soured as their sons fought against their father, but it is worth noting that every queen in this book led a rather remarkable life. Eleanor of Aquitaine may have been alive during the time of Thomas Becket’s murder and Isabella of Angouleme witnessed her husband King John seal the Magna Carta, but some of these queens witnessed battles of the Crusades being fought as they traveled with their husbands to distant lands. There was also the matter of ruling two kingdoms, England and parts of France plus keeping the peace with Wales and Scotland, all while raising their children. There was never a dull moment for the lives of the early Plantagenet queens.

I found each queen in this book fascinating to read about, even though I did not know much about their lives. I obviously knew about Eleanor of Aquitaine, but the other queens have been briefly mentioned in other books that it felt like I was discovering their stories for the first time. The way they governed England and the way that they showed their love for their husbands and their children were different, but they each made a significant impact on the story of the Plantagenet dynasty. If I did have a problem with this book it would be that I found myself confused on which Eleanor was which, especially when Alienor of Provence and Eleanor of Castile were alive during the same time.

Overall, I found this book extremely informative and meticulously researched. Alison Weir has yet again made the lives of these queens that time seemed to have forgotten come to life. I believe that this is an excellent introductory book for anyone who wants to learn about the early queens of the Plantagenet dynasty. It is engaging, thought-provoking, and masterfully written. If this sounds like you, check out the second book in the England’s Medieval Queens series by Alison Weir, “Queens of the Crusades”.

Guest Post: “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family” Q & A with Samantha Morris

Today, I am pleased to host the final stop in the “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia” book blog tour. I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Samantha Morris for allowing me to finish this delightful tour with a Q and A discussion with Samantha Morris.

Why did you want to explore the lives of the Borgia family?
I first discovered the Borgia family while I was at University – I was supposed to be working on a piece of work for my archaeology degree but found myself wandering the library instead. It was there that I first found Sarah Bradford’s wonderful biography on Cesare – something just clicked in me at that moment. Who was this handsome guy (please don’t judge me) on the cover with the strange name? After reading Bradford’s biography I was hooked – I read everything I could get my hands on about them, watched everything I could but I wanted to know more. In particular, a lot of the books and sources that I read on them were quite dry, full of dry politics (which of course does have an important part in their story) – why wasn’t there much out there that was approachable? Why wasn’t there something out there that could tell their fascinating, yet complicated, story in a way that would suit everyone? That’s when I decided that I wanted to tell their story, starting out by writing a very small introductory biography on Cesare himself. After writing that I knew that they needed more, the siblings in particular.

Why did you combine the stories of Cesare and Lucrezia into one book
instead of two separate biographies?
Quite simply, there was nothing out there that concentrated on the both of them together. There were biographies of them separately, that dipped briefly into the other siblings part of the story but never something that was just about them. Their lives were so intertwined and I wanted to tell their story.

Why do you think the myths about these siblings still exist centuries
after their deaths?
Because people love scandal. And let’s be real, the myths really are scandalous. People love a good story and the more scandal within it, the better. The idea that they were incestuous, that Lucrezia poisoned her enemies etc really is the stuff of great fiction and it’s something that people both back then, and now, love to get their claws into. This is a real shame, and I hope I’ve shown this in the book, their real story is much more exciting.

What was the hardest part of writing this biography?
I’d like to say that this work was a breeze from start to finish but honestly that would be a lie. In total, I think it took me 4 years from start to finish with this one, from coming up with the idea of getting it started to get a publisher interested in it. There were times during that initial process where I thought that it would never happen – I was approaching publishers and getting rejected time after time so when the fabulous guys at Pen & Sword said they would commission it I was over the moon.
The research and writing part of it was relatively easy but I think it was the editing that I found the hardest. Going through what you’ve written time and time again to make sure it’s perfect is actually really hard work, and I would put off doing it because I hated doing it. Still, the pain was worth it because now the biography is out there and there really is no better feeling in the world than seeing people reading and appreciating your work.

If you can talk about it, what is your next project?
I’m currently editing a biography on Girolamo Savonarola which is due out at some point next year. I’ve also started the research for a biography on Gualdim Pais, Templar master of Portugal during the twelfth century. It’s certainly a bit different from what I usually concentrate on, and it’s going to be very hard work but totally worth it.

Where can people find you on social media?
I’m on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/theborgiabull

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/smorrisauthor/

and Twitter – https://twitter.com/SMorrisAuthor

Book Review: “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family” by Samantha Morris

51351927A family mired in myths and rumors of incest, murder, and intrigue for centuries. A brother and sister caught in the middle, attracting the attention of gossips and historians alike. No, I am not referring to a royal family in England. In fact, this story starts in Spain with Alonso de Borja, who moved to Italy and helped create the infamous Borgia family. Caught in the middle were the son and daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, Alonso’s nephew, and his mistress Vanozza Cattanei; Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. How close were these famous siblings? What were their lives really like? In Samantha Morris’ latest biography, “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Vilified Family”, she dives deep into the archives to find out the truth about the legendary Borgia family.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I will be honest and say that I did not know much about this family before I started reading this book. I knew about the rumors and that they had to do with the papacy, but that was it. I was excited to learn more about them and to understand why so many people are so fascinated with the Borgia siblings.

To understand how the Borgias rose to power, Morris takes her readers on a journey through papal history and the many different councils that occurred in the 14th and 15th centuries. This was familiar to me as I took a class in college on Church History, in which we did discuss these councils, but for those who are not familiar with them, Morris takes the time to explain the significance of each event. We see how Alonso de Borja rose through the ranks to become Pope Calixtus III and how his nephew, Rodrigo Borgia, was the complete opposite of his uncle. Rodrigo, later Pope Alexander VI, was a ladies man, and his children by his mistress, Vanozza Cattanei, were all illegitimate, including Cesare and Lucrezia.

It is the lives of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia that historians, including Morris, tend to focus on. These siblings created so many enemies that rumors were bound to be associated with them. From incest between them to murder using poison, and numerous affairs, Cesare and Lucrezia endured scandals that made the Tudors look like a normal family. Morris takes on each myth and rumor head on to explore the truth about these siblings, which is of course more complex than the fictional tales of their lives.

I found myself enthralled in the true-life tales of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. Like most historical tales, the truth is much more compelling than the fictitious tales. The trials, triumphs, and tribulations of the siblings are so compelling and to realize that they lived when the Renaissance in Italy and the Tudor dynasty was still new in England is remarkable.

This book made me fall in love with the Borgia family. The story of their rise to greatness and what Cesare and Lucrezia had to endure to protect their family and its name was nothing short of extraordinary. Samantha Morris’s writing style is easy to understand but you can tell how much care she took in researching these simply sensational siblings. I want to study the Borgia family even more because of this book. If you want an engrossing nonfiction book about the Borgia family, I would highly suggest you read, “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family” by Samantha Morris. A fabulous introduction to the Borgias and their tumultuous times.

Book Review: “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artworkThe year of 1215 marked a turning point in English history with the sealing of a rather unique document; the Charter of Liberties, or as we know it today, the Magna Carta. It was a charter from the people to a king demanding the rights that they believed that they deserved. Those who sealed it were rebel barons who were tired of the way King John was running the country, yet instead of asking for his removal, they wanted reform. The clauses mostly concerned the problems of the men who made the charter, however, three clauses dealt with women specifically. In her latest book, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England”, Sharon Bennett Connolly explores the lives of the women who were directly impacted by this document.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword for sending me a copy of this book. I enjoyed the last book that I read by Sharon Bennett Connolly and so when I heard that this book was going to be released, I knew I wanted to read it. I did not know much about thirteenth-century English history and the Magna Carta, so I was excited to start this new adventure.

To understand why the Magna Carta was considered an essential document for the time that it was forged, Connolly dives into the life of King John. His life and legacy will touch every woman in this book so it is vital to understand how John ran England while he was king. Although Connolly tends to be slightly repetitive with information about John, it is imperative that we as readers understand the significance of this reign and why it led to the Magna Carta, which radically changed English history forever.

Now, when one thinks about women who lived during thirteenth-century England, we tend to think about women whose marriages and bloodlines would interlace the numerous noble families of the time. Though some of the tales follow this pattern, there were some women and families who went against the norm. Women like Matilda de Braose, whose horrific imprisonment and starvation that led to her death, paved the way for clause 39 of the Magna Carta. There were also extremely strong women, like Nicholaa de la Haye, who was England’s first female sheriff and gained power and prestige by her own merits. These women acted as peacemakers by marrying foreign princes, or they were married to rebels against John. And of course, some women knew John well, like his wife Isabella of Angouleme, who had a very negative reputation because of John.

What I enjoyed about this book is how Connolly shared stories from women of many different walks of life. They were all so different and so unique. Connolly’s meticulous research and her true passion for this time paired with her easy to understand writing style make this book an engaging and insightful read. I found this a delightful read. If you want a fantastic book that introduces you to the world of the Magna Carta and the women who directly affected by this charter, I highly recommend you read, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.