Book Review: “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools” by Phillipa Vincent- Connolly

41975683When it comes to studies into the Tudor dynasty, many different approaches have been taken in the past. We have examined every monarch, their spouses, how they lived, what they wore, and the various political events that defined the dynasty. The list is endless to the different studies that have been done with the Tudors, yet there are still new areas of study that are being explored. One of those areas of study is how individuals with disabilities survived in the past. How did society treat those who had disabilities, and what rights did they have according to the laws of the land? In her first non-fiction book, “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools,” Philippa Vincent-Connolly explores the lives of famous fools and monarchs with disabilities to discover how they were treated by Tudor society.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this book, I was interested in learning more, and I will admit that studies on those who had disabilities in the past have never been an area of research that I considered before. I wanted to learn more and see if Vincent-Connolly could provide new information about the Tudors.

To understand disabilities during the Tudor dynasty, Vincent-Connolly defines a few terms, such as a natural fool, those with disabilities, and an artificial fool, which we consider clowns or jesters. They were either viewed as vile sinners or holy innocents, more divine than the average citizen. Like William Somers and Jayne Foole, natural fools were deemed prominent members of the Tudor court and allowed to speak freely to the monarch ruling at the time. Those who lived at court were well taken care of and were depicted in portraits as background figures. Of course, disabilities also affected royalty and the nobility, like Henry VIII, Claude of France, and Lady Mary Grey. For those who did not have the luxury of living at court, some Poor Laws and communities were dedicated to caring for natural fools. With the dissolution of the monasteries, the care for those with disabilities shifted from the church to the communities and their families.

Vincent-Connolly has a passion for this subject and is genuinely dedicated to sharing that passion with fellow Tudor nerds. The one major problem that I had with this book was its repetitive nature, and if it were organized better, this repetitive problem would not be as bad, which would be an easier read. She included one source that I disagreed with, but it was a minor issue in the grand scheme of things.

Overall, I found this book informative and fascinating. The lives of Tudors who had disabilities mattered, and it was an intriguing book that added a new aspect to Tudor research. I think this will open a discussion about those who had disabilities in the past and give us a better appreciation of their struggles and how they survived. If you want to learn something new about this dynasty, I suggest you check out “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools” by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly.

Book Review: “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat” by Eric Jager

57933320On a cold December day in 1386, two knights met at the field at Saint-Martin-Des-Champs in Paris to face each other in a duel. This may seem like your average duel for entertainment to any outsider, but this was a duel to the death to determine who was telling the truth when it came to a sinister crime. A Norman knight, Jean de Carrouges, accused a squire, Jacques Le Gris, of raping his wife, Marguerite. It was a truly heinous crime, but what was it true, and why did these accusations lead to a duel to the death? Eric Jager explores this specific event and the factors that led to this clash in his nonfiction book, “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat.”

I became interested in this book when I heard that it was being turned into a movie. I talked to the Five Minute Medievalist Daniele Cybulskie on Twitter about the film, and she mentioned this book. I wanted to read this book before I watched the movie to compare the two interpretations of the tale.

During this duel, France was in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War with England. It was a time of tension when loyalty, chivalry, and honor meant a great deal to knights and members of the nobility. Teen King Charles VI ruled France with the help of his uncles and men who were as loyal, such as the wealthy Count Pierre of Alencon and his knights, including Jean de Carrourges. Jean de Carrouges’ family was known for their loyalty and landholding, which Jean IV hoped would continue during his time as head of the family. However, this was not to be. Unlike his predecessor Count Robert of Perche, Count Pierre did not favor the de Carrouges family, but instead to a squire named Jacques Le Gris.

Jacques Le Gris and Jean de Carrouges were old friends, but when Count Pierre gave property that de Carrouges believed would pass onto him as part of the inheritance to Le Gris, a feud began between the two. The feud hit a fever pitch after Jean de Carrouges married his second wife, Marguerite, the daughter of Robert de Thibouville, who betrayed the French king twice and still kept his head. Although he married a traitor’s daughter, de Carrouges stayed loyal to Count Pierre and ventured to Scotland to fight for King Charles VI, which proved disastrous.

Broke and in poor health, de Carrouges pleaded with Count Pierre for financial help, but he insulted Le Gris. This was the final straw for Le Gris, and he decided to attack de Carrouges, where it would hurt, by attacking his innocent wife. Naturally, de Carrourges was upset and took his case against Le Gris to the Parlement of Paris, where he declared that he wanted to face Le Gris in a duel, an ancient trial by combat where the victor would be declared innocent. If de Carrouges lost the fight, he would not only be risking his soul to damnation, but his wife would be burned alive.

Jager brings to life a story from the past full of drama and intrigue that will capture modern readers’ attention. The amount of details that he includes in this nonfiction book makes it feel like a historical fiction novel. Jager spent ten years researching this one story, and it shows. It was such a gripping story, especially the duel itself, that I was a little sad when it ended. If you want a gripping tale of love, revenge, and justice, you must read “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat” by Eric Jager.

Book Review: “Rizzio” by Denise Mina

57147033 (1)David Rizzio was one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ favorites at court and the private secretary to the queen. Being a royal favorite would not have been seen as a grave offense in any other country during this time, yet this is Scotland in the 16th century. Scotland was filled with deadly feuds between lords fighting for control of the crown, which would lead to numerous prominent men being murdered, including Rizzio. On March 9, 1566, David Rizzio was murdered in front of Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was several months pregnant. The tale of the grotesque crime and those who witnessed the events of that night are told in Denis Mina’s latest gripping novella, “Rizzio.”

I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this novella. When I read the description of this book and how dynamic the cover design was, I knew that I wanted to read this title. I was intrigued to see how Denise Mina would write the tale of Rizzio for a modern audience.

We begin with a tennis match between David Rizzio and Lord Darnley, Mary’s angsty and angry husband. Darnley wants to be King of Scotland and is tired of Rizzio getting in the way of his plans and that his wife favors this Italian nobody. He wants Rizzio to die, but not by his hands. Darnley has enlisted a ragtag group of nobles to help kill Rizzio and make way for Darnley to become the King.

However, things don’t go as smoothly as Darnley plans. Mary hosts a dinner party for a small group of friends at Holyrood Palace before she goes into confinement to give birth to her son and heir, James VI. A delightful party is disrupted by Darnley, Lord Ruthven, and their men, including one Henry Yair, who have come to kill Rizzio. Mary tries in vain to protect her Italian favorite, but she cannot save her friend in the end.

The tension and the drama that Mina was able to create in such a short amount of time were masterfully done. She was able to show how complex Scottish politics and the battle between Catholicism and reform so that readers who are not familiar with this time could understand the friction between the factions. Even though I knew the history behind this event, how Mina described it sent shivers down my spine. The one issue that I had with this novella was the ending, and it felt a bit flat and rushed to me. I wish she would have tied in the death of Mary and Darnley a bit better into the murder of Rizzio.

I think for a historical fiction novella, Mina does an excellent job of grabbing the reader’s attention and transporting them to that horrible night. This story may be short, but the emotional impact and details will stay with readers even after reading it. If you love reading about Mary, Queen of Scots, and Stuart Scotland during the 16th century, you will find “Rizzio” by Denise Mina thrilling.

Book Review: “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty” by Sarah Gristwood

58218928._SY475_When we think about love, we have ideas about how people fall in love through dating and wooing one another. Sweet words and gestures. Flowers and chocolate. Dates at fun venues and romantic dinners. This is a more modern interpretation of romance and love, which was vastly different than the concept of courtly love that was common in royal circles in medieval Europe. What exactly was courtly love, and how did it play a role in the Tudor dynasty? Sarah Gristwood explores this topic in her latest nonfiction book, “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty.”

Before we dive head deep into Tudor history, Gristwood gives us a history lesson into the origins of courtly love and how it evolved. We begin with the 12th century and the stories of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot that Chretien de Troyes wrote. Troyes’ romantic tales were known to Eleanor of Aquitaine and the troubadours that would spread them to every royal court in Europe. This game of romance between royals and the ideas of knights protecting their fair maidens from danger would change over time. Still, the basic idea that emotions and feelings were central to courtly love would remain prevalent. We see different authors, like Chaucer and Dante, approach the concept of courtly love from different directions and specific rules of this love game set in stone for future generations.

Gristwood traverses the complex family drama known as the Wars of the Roses to show how both Lancaster and York played the courtly game of love. The ways that the sides played the game were different with the various couples involved, but the ideas culminated with the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The imagery of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were passed down to their sons, Prince Arthur and King Henry VIII. Henry VIII would play the game of courtly love with each of his six wives, with varying degrees of success. He would find out that courtly love and politics would be a complex combination to maintain, and this lesson would pass onto his children as they tried to play the game.

Edward VI and Mary I tried to play the game, but they soon realized they were destined to be more involved with politics than love. It was their half-sister Elizabeth who brought back courtly love to its former glory with her numerous favorites. Although the actions of the Tudors can tell us a lot about their intentions, their letters and poetry gave a better understanding of how this courtly love game was played.

I found the new information that Gristwood provided in this book was fascinating. It gave a new dimension to the Tudor dynasty and the relationships between the monarchy and their courtiers or mistresses. An innovative nonfiction book about love, chivalric stories, and the desire for power that any Tudor fan will adore. If you love books by Sarah Gristwood and learning new aspects about Tudor court life, you must have “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty” in your collection.

Book Review: “The Last Daughter of York” by Nicola Cornick

56555532
The mystery of the Princes in the Tower has inspired many myths and theories for centuries. It has captured readers’ and historians’ attention that numerous books have focused on this topic and solved the mystery. But what if the mystery of the princes extended to the modern-day and caused another disappearance? Serena Warren’s twin sister Caitlin went missing years ago. When Caitlin’s body is discovered in a tomb that has been untouched since the 18th century, Serena must recover her memories to discover the truth. How does the story of Caitlin’s disappearance and death connect with the famed Princes in the Tower? These mysteries are explored in Nicola Cornick’s latest gripping historical fiction novel, “The Last Daughter of York.”

I want to thank Graydon House and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this novel. When I read the description of this title, I was intrigued by the concept. Having dual timelines, with one story being in the past and one in the present day, can be tricky to maintain balance, so I wanted to see how well Cornick can combine Wars of the Roses history with a modern-day story.

Cornick begins her novel with the tale of the Mistletoe Bride, the mysterious woman who stole a mystical artifact and faded into the dark on her wedding night. We then jumped ahead to Serena Warren’s story as she tries to live her life while being haunted by the memories of her twin sister Caitlin, who disappeared without a trace. Serena is the only one who knows what might have happened to Caitlin, but she has cognitive amnesia, which prevents her from remembering the night her sister vanished. Serena starts to search for the truth when Caitlin’s remains are discovered in a tomb from 1708.

A while later, we jump back to the middle of the Wars of the Roses, where we get to know Anne Lovell, the young wife of Francis Lovell. Anne is only five years old when she is married to Francis Lovell. Their relationship develops from an arranged marriage to friends, and finally, to deeply in love. Francis is best friends with Richard Duke of Gloucester, who would become King Richard III. When Richard’s brother King Edward IV unexpectedly passed away in 1483, Elizabeth Woodville turned to Francis and Anne to protect her youngest son, Richard of York. When Richard III died two years later, Francis and Anne had to do everything in their power to protect Richard of York.

I found both stories engaging, but when they combined, I found them thrilling. The stories that Cornick was able to craft are stunning, and the characters are so believable. I loved both female protagonists, Anne Lovell and Serena Warren, as they were strong and determined to figure out the truth and protect the ones they loved. The romantic elements of this novel are enough to make you swoon. The ending was so satisfying, and Cornick kept me guessing until the bitter end on who Caitlin’s killer was, which when it was revealed made perfect sense.

Overall, I loved this book. Before I started it, I did have reservations about the dual timelines, but Cornick does it masterfully. It is a smashing story that combines the past and the present with mysteries and romance. This was the first book that I have read by Nicola Cornick, but it will not be my last. If you love historical fiction and contemporary fiction, you will adore “The Last Daughter of York” by Nicola Cornick.

Book Review: “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings” by Dan Jones

57841287As the weather gets colder, the leaves turn brilliant colors and fall from their trees, marking the perfect time of the year to snuggle with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a good spooky tale. Many would reach for a modern supernatural story, but ghost tales have been hiding in archives for centuries. One such story comes from the time of King Richard II. It was first found and transcribed from Latin in 1922 by medievalist M.R. James. Dan Jones has taken on the challenge to retell this story for a modern audience. Initially written by an unknown monk of Byland Abbey, this medieval ghost story is called “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings.”

I want to thank Head of Zeus Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am a big fan of Dan Jones and his historical nonfiction books, so I was thrilled when I heard about this title.

Our tale begins with the tailor named Snowball and his horse Borin traveling home from Gilling to Ampleforth one November night. All of a sudden, Snowball is attacked by a raven that transforms into a grotesque dog. The dog gives Snowball a mission that only he can complete, to find a specific priest to ask for absolution for a criminal with no name and whose crime we do not know. If he does not return to the same spot where he has met the dog, there will be consequences.

To give readers even more information, Jones includes the story of how M.R.James came to find the tale and why he chose to bring this story into the 21st century. He also tells the story of Byland Abbey and includes the original Latin text for those who feel ambitious to translate it themselves.

I am not usually a fan of creepy ghost stories, but I found this tale entirely enthralling, and it sent chills down my back in a matter of pages. Even though Jones does not include that many physical descriptions for characters like Snowball and Borin, I can picture this tale playing out. For his first venture into the world of fiction, I think Jones does a brilliant job, and I hope one day he will make an anthology of medieval ghost stories. If you want a delightfully ghoulish ghost story that is perfect for fall, I highly recommend you read “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings” by Dan Jones.

Book Review: “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times” by Juliana Cummings

56549196The period of human history that we know today as the Middle Ages spanned over a thousand years, and within that time, significant progress was made into understanding our world. Inventions and discoveries were made not just in Europe but throughout the known world during this time. One area of study that saw a lot of change was medical studies and understanding the human body. How did physicians heal the sick during the Middle Ages, and how did their experiences change their field of study? These questions and more are all explored in Juliana Cummings’ latest book, “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I like learning about aspects from the past, so when I saw this title, I was interested in reading it. I am not usually curious about medical information, but medieval medical history draws me in, so I hope to learn more.

To understand many of the theories of medieval medicine and their origins, we have to go back to the Greeks, primarily Galen and Hippocrates. Many people would be familiar with the works of Hippocrates. Still, they might not be familiar with Galen even if they know his Four Humours Theory, which was pivotal in understanding the human body. Cummings also includes the works of Arab scholars, European scholars, and physicians to help the audience understand how vast the world of medical history was during the Middle Ages.

Cummings does not stick with one medical treatment or disease during this time, and she covers everything from the Black Death, syphilis, and leprosy to pregnancy and injuries during battle. Reading about the theories and cures that physicians, apothecaries, and barber surgeons applied to heal the sick and dying was quite fascinating. Even though I did take a copious amount of notes while reading this book, I did feel like other books on this subject did a better job of focusing on the medicine part. This book introduces many theories and physicians to those unfamiliar with medical history, but it falls a bit flat with actual cures that they would have used. The ending of this book also needed a bit of work since it just ended abruptly. I think it would have been appropriate for Cummings to explain why the history of medieval medicine is important for readers to understand in the 21st century and beyond.

Overall, I think this was a decent introductory book into the vast world of medieval medical history. Cummings’s writing style is easy to follow, and she has done her research about this subject. If you want a solid introductory book into the world of medieval medical history, you should check out “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times” by Juliana Cummings.

Book Review: “Woodsmoke and Sage: The Five Senses 1485-1603: How the Tudors Experienced the World” by Amy Licence

58563080When we study history, we tend to focus on specific dates, certain people, and the stories that transformed countries forever, no matter how much of an impact they made. What is difficult about studying history is understanding how they experienced life. What did they see? How did they communicate? What did they hear during a typical day? What smells wafted through the air? How did their view on how the body worked affected what they ate and how they cured their illnesses? In her latest nonfiction book,” Woodsmoke and Sage: The Five Senses 1485-1603: How the Tudors Experienced the World”, Amy Licence has taken on the challenge of explaining the Tudor world that they knew through their senses.

Licence breaks her book down into five sections, one for each sense. We begin with sight, since how the Tudors viewed themselves and their world was extremely important. We can walk through their world by taking a tour of their portraits, the architecture, and the landscapes that the average Tudor would find familiar. Of course, what the Tudors wore every day and the colors they chose impacted how others viewed them because image was everything. The next step in our journey is exploring the sense of smell, from the odiferous to the more pleasant scents.

The sounds of musical instruments, news being called, and gossips tell their tales to anyone who would like to fill the air. On their dining tables, culinary experiments with meat and fish combined with odd spices would seem strange to travelers from the 21st century. The closer you got to someone who sat on the throne, the more extravagant the dishes were. Finally, we explore how the Tudors understood how their body worked through the Humours Theory and how they used this theory to concoct cures.

Even though the Tudors lived over 500 years ago, they saw their world similarly to how we view it. They had homes and clothing to show how well off they were compared to others. They had different scents that they enjoyed compared to us. Their music and how they understood their bodies might be different from what we are used to, yet they still tried to enjoy life and live no matter what. The Tudors were humans like us trying to get through life day by day in their unique ways.

When I heard about the concept for this book, I was not sure how Licence would take on such an ambitious idea and what the result would be. However, Licence proved that this was a brilliant idea for a book. It is truly a treasure trove of Tudor trivia that historians, historical fiction authors, and Tudor nerds would all enjoy. If you want a new and exciting book about the Tudors that freshly explores their world, you should check out “Woodsmoke and Sage: The Five Senses 1485-1603: How the Tudors Experienced the World” by Amy Licence.

Book Review: “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola” by Samantha Morris

57165112When we think about men who challenged the Church and are known as Reformers, we tend to think of Martin Luther, Jan Hus, and John Calvin. However, a man fought against corruption in his beloved Florence who should be included in the list of great reformers. He was a Dominican monk who was not afraid to preach against sin and took aim at the most powerful men in all of Italy, including Pope Alexander VII. His sermons were so scandalous that they would lead to his demise upon a pyre in the middle of Florence. His name was Girolamo Savonarola, and his story is told in Samantha Morris’s latest biography, “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this biography. I read Samantha Morris’s previous joint biography of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia and thoroughly enjoyed it. When I heard that she was writing a new biography about a famous figure in Italian history, I was intrigued.

Girolamo Savonarola was a scholar, like his father and grandfather before him, destined to be a doctor like his grandfather. His plan for his life took a drastic turn when the girl he was fell for rejected his advances, so he decided to join the Dominican order as a friar. Talk about not taking a break-up well. Savonarola studied the Humanist teachings and incorporated them into the way he understood his faith. Of course, as a friar, he couldn’t keep his opinions to himself, so he began preaching against corruption and the vices that he saw during his travel.

Savonarola’s preaching was appealing to the people of Florence, yet it did not sit well with the leader of Florence, Lorenzo de ’Medici. Lorenzo tried to silence the troublesome friar, but his son Piero de Medici took on the challenge when he passed away. Piero was nothing like his father and was overthrown as ruler of Florence by Savonarola. Of course, Savonarola was not satisfied with reforming Florence, and he decided to take on the Catholic Church itself and attack another powerful family.

Charles VII of France wanted to conquer Italy, which to the Dominican friar was a good idea, so Savonarola helped the king. This incident drew the ire of Rodrigo Borgia, also known as Pope Alexander VI, and Ludovico “Il Moro” Sforza of Milan, who just wanted the friar to shut up. Even with numerous ex-communications, Savonarola kept preaching against corruption and vices, leading to the Bonfires of the Vanities in 1497. He took artwork and writings deemed inappropriate and burned them in a humongous bonfire. A year later, on May 22, 1498, Girolamo Savonarola lost his life because of his heretic teachings.

This book has so many scandals and dynamic characters that you will forget you are reading a biography. Morris has done it yet again, and this was a brilliantly engaging and extremely well-researched biography. The way she can capture the thrilling world of 15th and 16th century Italy is astounding, and I hope she will write more about Italian history in the future. If you want a fun biography about a man who fought to reform the Catholic Church, I highly recommend you read “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola” by Samantha Morris.

Book Review: “Women in Medieval England” by Lynda Telford

36762203As students of history, we understand that aspects of society change all of the time, and sometimes the change is rapid, and other times it is positively glacial. One of those aspects of culture that we have seen slow and gradual change pertains to women’s rights. Today, women have more rights than they did in the past, and they can have careers, but is this a novel concept? What were the lives of women like in other periods of history, like the medieval period? In Lynda Telford’s book, “Women in Medieval England,” she explores women’s lives from the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors to give us a picture of what rights and responsibilities women had during this period.

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. The title of this book is what drew me to it as I have read many books about individual women in medieval England, but never a comprehensive study. I wanted to learn more about women from every echelon of medieval society and how their lives differed from our own.

Telford begins her book by exploring the women who lived during the rule of the Anglo-Saxons. Reading about their experiences and the laws that dictated their lives is a critical aspect of Telford’s argument that medieval women did not have much more freedom than their counterparts from other eras. It may seem strange that as time moved on from the Anglo-Saxons to the medieval dynasties, the Plantagenets and the Tudors, women had less freedom to choose how they lived their lives. During the plague, women were called to work more to make up for men who died, but even that did not last long. Women were told how to live their lives from the men in their own families and even the church.

Telford has researched the topic of medieval women rigorously, and it shows. She has a passion for this subject, and it is demonstrated throughout this book with everything from letters to court cases. Every aspect of a woman’s life is taken into account to give her reader a better understanding of medieval society.

My problem with this book is that Telford focuses so heavily on the negative aspects of a woman’s life, like prostitution and domestic violence, that it is difficult to find the good parts of the life of a medieval woman. It was a bit too dark and depressing for my liking. I have read other books about strong and independent medieval women, but I do not see it here in this book. Telford is so focused on presenting her argument that Anglo-Saxon women had more freedom than medieval women that it obscures the facts that she does present. In short, she needed to show both the good elements and the harmful elements of the lives of medieval women to present a more balanced argument.

Overall, I think it was a decent book. This book is well researched, and it did present a side of medieval life that I was not expecting. I think it was a bit dark but informative. If you want a comprehensive study of women’s rights and lives during the medieval period, I recommend reading “Women in Medieval England” by Lynda Telford.