Book Review: “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

cover260113-medium (1)When we think of those who made an impact in history, we tend to think of those who have been born to a married couple and therefore were considered legitimate children, especially when it comes to royal children. However, we know that illegitimate royal children, like William the Conqueror, greatly impacted history. Illegitimate royal children may have been barred from becoming king or queen of their respective countries of birth, but that does not mean they didn’t impact how their home country was governed. One of these children who affected politics during the Tudor dynasty was Arthur Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of Edward IV. In her latest book, “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle,” she explores the life of this man who gives us extraordinary insight into the running of Calais and how Henry VIII treated other family members.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed the previous books I read by Sarah-Beth Watkins, and when I heard that she was writing a new book about Arthur Plantagenet, I was thrilled to read it. I have only heard about Arthur Plantagenet as a side character in other biographies and novels during Henry VIII’s reign, so I was looking forward to learning more about this man.

Watkins begins by exploring the possible birth dates and Arthur’s birth mother, which is a difficult challenge because Edward IV was known for having several mistresses that we know about and probably others who have remained secrets in history. While some illegitimate children were not acknowledged by their royal fathers, it looks like Edward IV accepted Arthur and allowed him to have a good education that would have followed his legitimate sons’ education regime. After the shocking death of Edward IV and the reign of Richard III, we see Arthur establishing himself in the court of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York; we have records of Elizabeth of York taking care of her illegitimate half-brother. Arthur was so close to Elizabeth of York that he attended her funeral.

Arthur’s rise during the reign of Henry VIII focuses on this title. We see how Arthur started as a Spear of Honour and worked his way up to Viscount Lisle after Charles Brandon became Duke of Suffolk. He was a Knight of the Garter, the Vice Admiral of the Tudor Navy, and finally became Lord Deputy of Calais. Arthur was married twice to Elizabeth Grey and Honor Greenville, and although Elizabeth was the one who gave Arthur his daughters, Honor was the one who we know the most about because of the Lisle Letters.

With the title of Lord Deputy of Calais came significant responsibilities for taking care of France’s last remaining English city. Arthur Plantagenet had to deal with your average repairs, preparing the town for battle, civil disputes, religious quarrels, and plots against King Henry VIII. The time that Arthur and Honor were in Calais was a tumultuous time for England and Henry, and we get to see how Arthur felt about these issues, like the Pole family drama, through his Lisle letters. The connection with the Pole family led Arthur to become a prisoner in the Tower of London for two years as he was connected to the Botolf plot to take the city of Calais for the Pope.

Watkins brings the life of Arthur Plantagenet to the forefront and gives this hidden illegitimate Plantagenet his time to shine. It was a fascinating read, especially learning about how Calais was maintained and about the Botolf plot, which I had never heard about before reading this book. If you want an excellent book that introduces the life of Arthur Plantagenet and his role during the reign of King Henry VIII, I would highly recommend you read “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

Guest Post: “ Gertrude Courtenay: Forgotten Tudor Woman” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

banner-blogtour1Today, I am pleased to welcome Sylvia Barbara Soberton back to discuss another forgotten Tudor woman, Gertrude Courtenay, who is the subject of her latest book, “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Gertrude Courtenay. Wife and Mother of the last Plantagenets”.

The biography of Gertrude Courtenay, Marchioness of Exeter, is the third volume in my best-selling series Forgotten Tudor Women. As the title of the series suggests, I am writing about the lesser-known women of the Tudor court. When I say “lesser-known”, I don’t mean that little is known about these women. Quite the contrary; they left an extraordinary trail of letters, papers, and documents and made their presence known to various chroniclers and ambassadors.

Why Gertrude, you may ask? Long story short: She was amazing! I wanted to write a biography of Gertrude for a very long time. Why was she so special?

Married to Henry VIII’s first cousin Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devon and then Marquis of Exeter, Gertrude was the wife and mother of the last Plantagenets at the Tudor court. Her husband, after whose noble title the Exeter Conspiracy is known today, was executed in 1538, and their son, Edward, spent fourteen years imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Gertrude was among the key political players of Henry VIII’s court during the infamous annulment, known as the Great Matter, commencing in 1527 and ending in 1533. A Catholic and staunch supporter of the King’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon, and their daughter, Princess Mary, Gertrude took an active part in the most turbulent events of Henry VIII’s political and private life. She was far from a passive observer, though. She exchanged letters with Eustace Chapuys, ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and even visited him in disguise when it was dangerous to become Henry VIII’s enemy. She gave ear to the Nun of Kent’s prophecies (for which the Nun was executed in 1534) and remained Katharine of Aragon’s supporter even after the Queen’s banishment.

Gertrude’s hatred of Anne Boleyn, the King’s second wife, and everything she stood for achieved epic proportions and made Gertrude’s support of Katharine and Mary even more resounding. It was Gertrude who took an active part in the fall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour in May 1536. Godmother to two Tudor monarchs, Elizabeth I and Edward VI, Gertrude was prominent in court circles until her luck ran out when her husband was executed in December 1538. His crime was having a close friendship with Henry Pole, brother of Cardinal Reginald Pole, with whom he discussed politics. Although Henry Courtenay died on the scaffold and their son was imprisoned for fifteen years, Gertrude was released from the Tower of London and survived under the radar until Henry VIII’s elder daughter, Mary, ascended to the throne in 1553. Gertrude’s lifelong friendship with Mary was tested when the Queen rejected Gertrude’s son as a prospective husband.

Gertrude’s story had to be told, and I am overjoyed that I can introduce her to a wider audience.

book-cover-forgotten-3-kdp-uploadAbout the Book

Gertrude Courtenay led a dangerous life, both personally and politically. Daughter of a prominent courtier, she started her career as maid of honor and then lady-in-waiting to Katharine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife.

She sided with the Queen during the Great Matter, as the divorce case between Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon was then often known. A bitter enemy of the King’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, Gertrude, plotted and intrigued with Henry VIII’s enemies, brushing with treason on many occasions.

Wife and mother of the last Plantagenets of the Tudor court, Gertrude was an ambitious and formidable political player. The story of her life is a thrilling tale of love and loss, conspiracies and plots, treason and rebellion.

This is Gertrude’s story.