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: “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle

61tJwNfDrEL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)Every family has their own stories. Stories of how they became a family, how they fought hard to get where they are today. Stories filled with love, drama, and endurance. When it comes to royal families, their stories tend to be broadcast to the masses, and none more so than the Tudors, who have captured the imagination of history lovers for generations. The Tudor’s story is often told in parts, focusing on individual people like Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. The Tudor story is fascinating told in parts, but as a whole, one sees how hard they worked to become a dynasty that will be remembered for centuries after their deaths. It is time for the story of this extraordinary family to be told as a whole and Leanda de Lisle does so in her book, “Tudor”.

The Tudors and their story often starts in books with the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, but that does a disservice to the humble beginnings of Owen Tudor and how they struggled to survive during the Wars of the Roses. It is their origin story that the Tudors used to their advantage, as de Lisle describes in her introduction:

The Tudors believed they were building on the past to create something different- and better- even if they differed on how. The struggle of Henry VII and his heirs to secure the line of succession, and the hopes, loves and losses of the claimants- which dominated and shaped the history of the Tudor family and their times- are the focus of this book. The universal appeal of the Tudors also lies in the family stories: of a mother’s love for her son, of the husband who kills his wives, of siblings who betray one another, of reckless love affairs, of rival cousins, of an old spinster whose heirs hope to hurry her to her end. (de Lisle, 4).

De Lisle begins her book with the story of Owen Tudor and the Welsh Tudors. It is a story of an unlikely love between a Welsh man who served in the house of the mother of the King of England. However, their story is a bit more complex. Owen Tudor descended from those who were involved in a Welsh rebellion against Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king, he married the wife and mother of two other Lancastrian kings, and his sons were the half-brothers of a Lancastrian King, Henry VI. Talk about a twist of faith. To top it all off, his only grandson, Henry Tudor, was the only child of Margaret Beaufort, who was married four different times and did everything in her power to protect her son. It all culminated in one battle at Bosworth Field where the Tudors go from nobodies to a royal dynasty.

It is this thin line of royal blood that the Tudors cling to as a lifeline to hold onto their throne. Starting with Henry VII, who fought against usurpers and rebels to hold onto the crown that he won on the battlefield. Henry believed in the importance of his family and so he chooses marriages for his children that would benefit the family as a whole. What de Lisle does well is she gives each child of Henry VII the respect that they deserve; she does not just focus on Henry VIII but gives attention to Arthur, Mary, and Margaret Tudor and their children. This is so important as it gives the reader a broader sense of how far the Tudor family ties went. Sure, we all know the stories of Henry VIII, his wives, and his children, but the Tudor story is much deeper than just the family in England. It is a story full of European players all vying for the crown of England.

Leanda de Lisle is able to masterfully tell the story of the Tudors, which has been discussed for centuries and breathe new life into this complex family drama. De Lisle balances meticulous research with an easily accessible writing style in this book that fans of the Tudor dynasty, both scholars and casual readers, will appreciate. This is a book that you will not want to put down. I would recommend this book, “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle, to anyone who is enchanted with the story of the Tudors and their legacy on England. “Tudor” is an absolute triumph and a delight to read over and over again.

Book Review: “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman

91Fs0VzQnKLThe Tudor era has enchanted generations of history lovers with its interesting monarchs and scandals. The beautiful outfits, the political drama of the age, the legendary marriages of King Henry VIII, the children of Henry VIII, and how England grew into a dominant force in European politics. These are the things that people tend to focus on when studying the Tudors, yet this is a very narrow view of the time period. We tend to focus on the inner workings of the court system, but we don’t focus on the common people who lived in England during this time. What was it like to live in Tudor England for the common people? This is the question that Ruth Goodman explores in her book, “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life”.

In her introduction Ruth Goodman explains her journey into studying the lives of ordinary Tudors and why she chose to write this particular book:

There are many books and studies based on the lives of the Tudor elite, upon the powerful and well-documented, but my interest has always been bound up with the more humble sections of society. As a fairly ordinary person myself who needs to eat, sleep and change the occasional nappy, I wanted from the beginning to know how people coped day to day, to know what resources they really had at their disposal, what skills they needed to acquire and what it all felt like. Twenty-five years ago I could find no book to tell me, and even now when social history receives far more academic attention than before, information is still thin on the ground. So I set out to try and work it out for myself: hunting up period recipes and trying them out; learning to manage fires and skin rabbits; standing on one foot with a dance manual in one hand, trying to make sense of where my next move should be. The more I experimented, the more information I began to find within the period texts that I was looking at. Things that I had just skimmed past in the reading became quite critical in practice, prompting more questions and very much more intense research. (Goodman, xii-xiii).

Goodman has taken her research and her adventures in trying to live like a common Tudor and has written a book that everyone can enjoy. This book explores daily activities of the ordinary Tudor family, from morning to night, in order to give her readers a better understanding of this remarkable time period. It is a book that provides a plethora of information from which Tudor bed is the most comfortable to how normal Tudors bathed, to how to brew your own ale and how to make your own bread and cheese.

All of this information is rather interesting, but Goodman takes it a couple steps further. First, she explains her own experiences attempting to replicate what she found in manuals and sources from the Tudor time period. It is one thing to read primary sources, which Goodman does include, but by including experiences from the author herself, it adds another level of depth and credibility to the book and to her research. Another step that Goodman takes in her book to add depth is explaining the reasoning behind why the average Tudor did what they did. Some of it is because of religion and some had to do with how they understood how the human body operated through the four humours. By taking the time to understand these elements, the reader can understand why the Tudors did things a certain way, which may seem a bit foreign to a modern audience.

Ruth Goodman gives the lives of ordinary Tudors the attention they deserve. The Tudor dynasty was not just about the flashy monarchy. The majority of the people were common farmers and craftsmen. In order to understand this period of time, one has to look at the lives of the royalty and the regular people. “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman is a stunning example of how living history can help explain the past and should be on anyone’s booklist who is interested in seriously studying the Tudor dynasty.  This book is an absolute delight to read. 

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: “Wars of the Roses: Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors” by Conn Iggulden

41+RQteGLUL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_By the year 1470, England had been embroiled in a civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster for nearly 20 years. Edward IV was king until he was driven out of the country by his former best friend Warwick and Edward’s own brother, George Duke of Clarence. The House of Lancaster is back in charge with Henry VI, but Edward IV and his other brother Richard Duke of Gloucester are not giving up without a fight. However, there is another family who wants to fight for the throne, the Tudors. How will it come to an end? Who will become King of England when all the major battles come to an end? These questions are answered in Conn Iggulden’s thrilling conclusion to his Wars of the Roses series, “Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors.”

We are thrown back into the story with Edward forced to leave England and his wife and children forced to go into sanctuary while the Lancasters, with Warwick and George Duke of Clarence taking over military control. We are also introduced to new characters. Jasper Tudor, his nephew Henry Tudor, and Edward’s other brother Richard Duke of Gloucester, who would one day become King Richard III. In his historical note, Conn Iggulden explains Richard, his twisted spine and the struggle he might have had on the battlefield:

For all those who have imbibed a romantic view of King Richard III, I think they have cause to be grateful to Shakespeare, for all the bard’s delight in making him a hunchbacked villain. Without Shakespeare, Richard Plantagenet was only king for two years and would have been just a minor footnote to his brother’s reign. There is not one contemporary mention of physical deformity, though we know now that his spine was twisted. He would have lived in constant pain, but then so did many active fighting men. There is certainly no record of Richard ever needing a special set of armour for a raised shoulder. Medieval swordsmen, like Roman soldiers before them, would have been noticeably larger on their right sides. A school friend of mine turned down a career as a professional fencer because of the way his right shoulder was developing into a hump from constant swordplay- and that was with a light, fencing blade. Compare his experience to that of a medieval swordsman using a broader blade, three feet long or even longer, where strength and stamina meant the difference between victory and a humiliating death. (Iggulden, 456-457).

Iggulden explores the relationship between the main characters; Edward IV, Warwick, Jasper Tudor, Richard III, George Duke of Clarence, and Henry Tudor, and how the events between 1470 and 1485 radically changed their lives forever. The betrayal of Warwick and George and how that affected Edward and Richard. How Edward and Richard leaving England for a time affected Elizabeth Woodville and her children. When Edward and Richard landed in Ravenspur and marched against Warwick and George at the Battle of Barnet. The final defeat of the Lancasterian cause at the Battle of Tewkesbury and what followed after the death of Edward IV in 1483. And of course, the Battle of Bosworth where Henry Tudor wins the crown and begins the Tudor dynasty.

“Ravenspur” is a well-written and thrilling conclusion to Iggulden’s “Wars of the Roses” series. He was able to combine exciting battle scenes with family drama, internal dialogue, and political intrigue to create a masterpiece of a series. The only problem I had with the book was that I did want more dialogue from Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort. They seemed to have been sprinkled in when it was convenient. Overall, I found “Ravenspur” engaging and enjoyable. If you have read the three previous books in Conn Iggulden’s series, I highly encourage you to read “Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors” as it brings the Wars of the Roses to a dramatic end.

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Bloodline” by Conn Iggulden

51nExUGFrkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The deaths of the Duke of York, Earl Salisbury and Edmund Earl of Rutland at the Battle of Wakefield at the end of 1460 marked a changing point for how the Wars of the Roses was fought. Now it was not going to be simply a matter of who was going to be the King of England, but it was a war of revenge. What the Lancastrians did not realize at the time was the fact that these deaths would unleash two men who would mark the destruction of the Lancastrian cause; Edward Duke of York, the future King Edward IV, and Richard Neville Earl of Warwick “the Kingmaker”. In the third book of Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses series called “Bloodline”, Iggulden explores the rise of these two dynamic men and how family matters tore the two best friends apart.

After the victory at Wakefield, Margaret of Anjou marched her Lancastrian forces to London, but they were not allowed to enter. The Lancastrians decided to keep marching until they meet the Yorkists at St. Albans for a rematch, on February 17, 1461. The Lancastrians were able to win the battle and regain control of King Henry VI. However, this was a small victory. After the defeat, Edward Duke of York decided to take up the claim to the throne that his father left behind, and declared himself King Edward IV of England. That’s right, there were two kings of England in 1461. Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians were not about to give without a fight. They met Edward IV, Warwick and the Yorkists forces outside Towton on March 29, 1461, during a snowstorm. The Battle of Towton is known to be the bloodiest battle on English soil and the way Iggulden described the onslaught is masterful. In the end, the Yorkists are victorious and Edward IV is officially the King of England while Henry VI is held captive in the Tower of London while Margaret of Anjou and her son flee to France for help.

After Towton, Edward IV and Warwick are closer than ever. Warwick wants to do what he can to help support his friend and king so he tries to arrange a marriage between Edward and a French princess, to form an alliance. However, Edward has other ideas and marries Elizabeth Woodville and decides to tell Warwick later. I find it fascinating that Iggulden decided to change how Edward and Elizabeth met as it is quite different from what traditionally is told about how they met, but it works really well. Edward’s brother George Duke of Clarence falls in love with Warwick’s daughter Isabel and wants to marry her.  This is the moment when Edward and Warwick really begin to feud.

Iggulden explains in his Historical Note why he decides to focus on this aspect of their relationship quite a bit:

In the first two books, I have tried to explore the sheer awe felt by some for the person of the king of England. It is the only thing that explains why King Henry remained alive despite being captured by York and held for months at a time. Yet it is also true of human nature that “awe” is less likely when one witnessed a boy growing up and becoming king. No man is a prophet in his own home- and Warwick was sufficiently exasperated with Edward and his wife to throw it all into the air and arrange Edward’s capture and imprisonment. (Iggulden, 402).

It is interesting to read about the relationship between these two friends and how that friendship turned into hatred because Edward decided to marry for love. Iggulden is able to capture the shifting relationships between the main characters extremely well in the third book of this amazing series. The blend of battles, political intrigue and romance is perfect and keeps the reader engaged. This is the fall of the Lancasters and the rise of the Yorks.  If you were a fan of the first two books of the Wars of the Roses series, I highly encourage you to read “Wars of the Roses: Bloodline” by Conn Iggulden.

Book Review: “The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King” by Keith J. Coleman

cover156859-mediumA king who died on the battlefield and his remains were never found. His story and his legacy went through many revisions throughout history. This sounds like a certain English king, King Richard III, but this story actually takes place decades after Richard’s death in Scotland. This is the story of King James IV of Scotland, who died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. It was this event and how James IV was viewed afterward which Keith J. Coleman explores in his book, “The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King”.

I would like to thank Chronos Books for sending an advance copy of this book. I was not very familiar with Scottish history before reading this book so it was a very interesting read.

Coleman explains why James IV’s reign is so unique and why there were some who questioned whether the king actually died at Flodden:

Whispers about James IV defying fate and living on after his catastrophic last battle were a widespread reflex to unexpected tragedy common with many countries. Other kings are said to have cheated death and gone into hiding, or become religious penitents who went to Jerusalem or Rome. Some of these lost leaders shared another of the king’s rumoured fates: murdered by some person they knew and trusted. But very few have been believed to be actually resident in another, supernatural dimension, as one tradition of James IV insisted. This was the destiny of the truly elite, such as the primal warlord Arthur.  No ruler, not even the great emperor Charlemagne, attracted so many diverse tales about himself so immediately after his apparent death. (Coleman, 5-6).

Coleman begins his book by exploring the relationship between James IV and his father James III, as well as exploring what James IV’s reign was like. James IV did not have the best relationship with his father since James IV became the figurehead of the opposition party who wanted to see his father dead. After his father’s death, James IV became king and is said to have worn an iron belt to atone for his sins against his father. James IV was something of a ladies’ man and had numerous illegitimate children, but he did marry Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, and had legitimate children with her. Under their marriage arrangement, James IV was not to attack England and vice versa, but James IV decided to attack while Henry VIII was away fighting in France. The one flaw in his plan was the fact that Henry VIII had his wife Catherine of Aragon take over military command while he was away and she was not going to let James IV invade. The Scottish and English armies met at the Battle of Flodden on September 9, 1513.

Since we don’t have accurate records of the Battle of Flodden, Coleman explains how the Scottish viewed the battle versus how the English and the rest of Europe viewed this event through literature. It is a very typical historiographical study, but what makes it unique is the addition of the legends and folklore about the king that came after his death. In some parts, this book does read like a ghost story combined with history. It is different, but it does capture the fascination with the supernatural that the Scottish had. In addition, Coleman explores how other historical figures received similar treatments throughout history.

This was the first book that I have read solely on Scottish history and it was a compelling read. It was a bit confusing at points when the history and supernatural elements combine, which was different to be sure, but overall it was a thought-provoking book. This may not be the best book for those who are being introduced to Scottish history, but it is one for those who are familiar with the eclectic approach of Scottish history and those who are interested in King James IV. Keith J. Coleman achieves a unique balance of the historical and supernatural elements to this specific king’s life and legacy in his book, “The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King”.

“The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King” by Keith J. Coleman, published by Chronos Books, comes out on April 26, 2019. If you are interested in ordering this book, you can find more information about how here: https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/chronos-books/our-books/afterlife-king-james-iv

Book Review: “World Without End” by Ken Follett

Europe during the 14th century was full of danger, the start of a conflict that would be91zMJG7u8vL known as the Hundred Years’ War, and the massively destructive illness that we know today as either “the Black Death” or “the Black Plague”. This was a time of despair, but it was also a time where we see a shift from old traditions of the church and the state. It is also two centuries after the events of Ken Follett’s massively popular book, “The Pillars of the Earth”. Follett explores how the people of Kingsbridge survived during this tumultuous time in his second book of the Kingsbridge series, “World Without End”.

Follett begins his book with his main characters as children in the church that he wrote about in the first book, Kingsbridge Cathedral. They are the descendants of the protagonists of “The Pillars of the Earth”, but they all come from different backgrounds. Their names are Merthin, Caris, Gwenda, and Ralph. These children decide one day to play in the forest near Kingsbridge, where they come across a man named Thomas and they witness a killing. They promise to keep the secret until Thomas dies, but this one act will intertwine the lives of the friends forever.

Like “The Pillars of the Earth”, “World Without End” focuses on the growth of these characters over decades and how their lives and their hard work change the town of Kingsbridge. Merthin takes on the role of the builder, just like his ancestor Jack Builder, who believes in his radical new ideas to help the town, even though his elders think his ideas are too far out there. Ralph is Merthin’s brother who strives to be the best soldier he can be in order to bring honor to himself and to impress those around him. Ralph does whatever it takes to make sure his ambitions are realized, even if it means stepping over his family and friends. Caris is an independent woman who has a love of helping others, learning how to dye and sell wool, and learning medical practices. She has a complicated relationship with the church and with Merthin. Finally, Gwenda is a woman in love with the handsome  Wulfric and would do anything to make sure his dreams come true.

At the center of their world is the Kingsbridge cathedral and the struggle between the guild, the monks and the nuns. All three groups are fighting against each other for the power to control the town. It is the struggle between the monks and the nuns that adds a layer of depth to this story as we see that although both groups are focused on bringing glory to God, they have different means of achieving that goal and they often get in each other’s way. The nuns want to help heal the people of Kingsbridge, especially during the time of the plague, but the monks don’t believe the nuns know what they are doing.

To top it all off, this was the time of King Edward II’s murder, Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer, and King Edward III. It was a complex time for English politics and to add a cherry on top, Edward III declared war on France because he believed he was the rightful King of France, thus starting the Hundred Years’ War. We see elements of the repercussions of the start of this conflict as we see some characters in France, fighting at the Battle of Crecy, which was a victory for the English. If I do have one thing to criticize about this novel, it would be that I wish Follett included more with King Edward III in the story. The actual historical figures feel sprinkled in and I wish they were more incorporated into the story.

As a whole, I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the story. Like in “The Pillars of the Earth”, there were moments in this sequel which did bother me a bit because of the graphic detail, but the actual story was very engaging. I would spend hours at a time binge reading this book. The characters and their individual stories were well written. Sequels, especially for extremely popular books, can fall flat. Not this book. It is the perfect sequel for “The Pillars of the Earth” as it continues the legacy left behind by Prior Philip and Jack Builder. If you enjoyed the first book in the Kingsbridge series, “The Pillars of the Earth”, I highly recommend you read Ken Follett’s book, “World Without End”.  

Book Review: “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett

91wIRMJzYSLWhen one thinks about epic tales stories of adventures and romance tend to come to mind. One hardly thinks about the construction of a magnificent building as an “epic tale” with monks and builders as the main characters. We see cathedrals as these massive buildings from the past used as churches, but we rarely think about how they were constructed and why. Who were the people who decided to make these spectacular buildings and what might have their lives have been like? These are just some of the questions that Ken Follett wanted to try and answer in his monumental historical fiction masterpiece, “The Pillars of the Earth”.

Ken Follett is known worldwide as an author of spy thrillers, but for decades the story of a 12th-century cathedral in a town called Kingsbridge and the people who helped build it was always in the back of his mind. In 1989, he decided to take a risk and publish his first ever historical fiction novel. To say the book was a sensation would be an understatement. In the 25th anniversary edition of this wonderful novel, Follett explores why he thinks this particular story made such a splash:

Many times in the last twenty-five years, I have been asked why “Pillars” has had such a big impact. There’s no simple answer, because a novel is so complex. But I come back again and again to the people who built the cathedrals. Those men and women were, by modern standards, poor and ignorant. They lived in wooden huts and slept on the floor. Yet they created the most beautiful and awesome buildings the world has ever known. Human beings have the capacity to rise above mundane circumstances and touch the eternal. This is what “Pillars” is about, and, in the end, I think that may be why it has so profoundly touched the hearts of so many readers for so many years. (Follett, xxii).

Follett introduces his readers to the world of 12th-century Kingsbridge, England with the execution of a thief. Compared to the rest of the story this prologue seems a bit odd since it happened over a decade before the actual story begins, but Follett was able to use the details of the prologue throughout the entire novel. Twelve years after the execution, we are introduced to Tom Builder and his family as they struggle to survive after he was fired from a building job for William Hamleigh, who was dumped by Lady Aliena. Tom’s life is turned upside down when his wife Agnes dies giving birth to a son and he falls in love with a woman named Ellen, who is the mother of Jack Jackson. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Prior Philip, a man who wants to reform Kingsbridge Priory. Tom and Philip both have a dream of making a wonderful cathedral in Kingsbridge.

This is the story of the building of Kingsbridge Cathedral, but it is also a story of those who lived in Kingsbridge. It is about their triumphs and tragedies. It is about family and love, revenge and heartache. There were some very dramatic scenes that shocked me, however, I believe Follett used these scenes to grow his characters to be strong; physically, mentally and emotionally. Follett may not be a spiritual man, but he was able to capture the spirituality of the age through Prior Philip and the struggle between the church and the state through the building of the cathedral. The cast of characters, both good and bad, are very well-rounded and complex and you really want to know what will happen to them by the end of the story.

I usually read books about the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty, but I decided to take a chance and read the Kingsbridge series because I heard amazing things about this series. I did have to remind myself about Queen Maud, King Stephen, King  Henry II, and Thomas Becket since I don’t study this time period often. Follett was able to make the 12th-century to come alive. I did not want to stop reading this book. I absolutely loved the story, the scenery, the amount of details and the colorful cast of characters. This was a huge risk for Follett to jump into the world of historical fiction, but it paid off extremely well. “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett is a stunning masterpiece and I highly recommend it to anyone who really enjoys a thrilling historical fiction novel.