Book Review: “The Sixteenth Century in 100 Women” by Amy Licence

16th century womenWhen we think of the phrase “16th-century women,” we often consider those from royal or noble houses throughout Europe. We tend to think of women like the six wives of Henry VIII, Mary I, Elizabeth I, Catherine de Medici, Mary Queen of Scots, and others associated who made an impact during the Renaissance and the Reformation. However, the 16th century did not stop at the borders of Europe; it extended all over the globe. There are many stories of women from all over the world and from different social classes that can help us understand how the world changed in the 16th century. Amy Licence took this concept and decided to write her latest book about a variety of women from around the world who lived in the 16th century, “The Sixteenth Century in 100 Women.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard that Licence was writing this book, it intrigued me. I wanted to know more stories from the 16th century from all around the world.

“The Sixteenth Century in 100 Women” is a collection of 100 mini-biographies of women from every walk of life and every corner of the globe. Licence has decided to organize this particular book in chronological order, with the date emphasis on the significant events of their lives. Staying true to her word, she writes about women from different countries, like Japan, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico, Poland, Chile, Morocco, and Burma, to name a few.

What I loved the most about this book is the diversity of figures that Licence chose to include in this journey from 1500 to 1600. They were not just queens, princesses, and noblewomen. Licence included women who would have been seen as outsiders in everyday society, such as prostitutes during the Banquet of Chestnuts, Margaret Drummond, Ellen Sadler, and La Malinche. There were those whose appearance made them outsiders, like Aura Soltana, Elena/Eleno de Cespedes, and Tognina Gonsalvus. Some women stood up for what they believed was right, such as Cecily Bodenham, abbess of Wilton Abbey, Lady Nata of Japan, Margaret Cheney, Sayyida al-Hurra, and Beatriz de Luna.

Some women suffered horrendous tragedies beyond their control, like Suphankanlaya, whose husband was killed in an angry rage, Amy Robsart, and an unknown woman who dealt with a tsunami in Chile. Others were women who had nasty reputations associated with their lives, such as Elizabeth Bathory, Mary Frith, and the Irish pirate Grace O’Malley. We also see female artists, authors, fictional figures, and those who sat for portraits.

Licence has painted a colorful picture of the 16th century with the 100 miniature biographies she chose to include in this book. This book may highlight only a select few stories of the century, but they were new and enthralling tales of women I had never heard of, which broadened my understanding of the era. An informative, refreshing, and unique approach to the 16th century, “The Sixteenth Century in 100 Women” by Amy Licence is a breath of fresh air for anyone who wants to discover new tales from the past.

Book Review: “House of Tudor: A Grisly History” by Mickey Mayhew

59607093._SY475_The glitzy, glamorous life of the Tudors portrayed in popular TV shows and novels mask the truth of this infamous dynasty. It is more bloody than what has been described. It is filled with grotesque executions, deadly diseases, bloody battles, and bloody battles. What happened to Richard III’s remains? What was Tudor torture like for those unfortunate victims? What were other devious tales at play in 16th-century Europe? Mickey Mayhew has worked hard to answer these questions by combining 45 of the most gruesome stories from this dynasty into one book, “The House of Tudor: A Grisly History.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Casemate Group, for sending me a copy of this book. I am always looking for a new book about the Tudors, so when I heard about this one, I decided that the perfect time to read it would be in October.

Mayhew begins the grotesque journey into the Tudor dynasty by exploring what happened to the previous king before Henry VII, Richard III, and his remains. We then jump into the reign of King Henry VIII with the tale of Catherine of Aragon and the head of King James IV of Scotland. It is then that Mayhew dives into the tumultuous reign of the big man, his unfortunate wives, and his ministers who got caught in the middle of all that tantalizing Tudor drama.

After the death of King Henry VIII, the political drama got more intense, as did the political and religious motivated executions. From the minute reign of Lady Jane Grey to the “bloody” albeit misnamed reign of Mary I to the colorful reign of Elizabeth I. Sprinkled in the chapters of these English queens were chapters dedicated to Mary Queen of Scots, Catherine de Medici, and the courts of Scotland and France, which were equally brutal as their English counterparts. We have plots plenty with the Babington, Ridolfi, and the smaller-scale Parry plot. Naturally, with schemes came rebellions and political assassinations that dominated 16-century Europe, especially in Tudor England, and numerous deadly diseases.

Mayhew categorized each chapter in chronological order with rather witty titles, which I appreciate in more academic writing. He does not shy away from the gory details, which adds another element to stories that are familiar to those who are Tudor fans. If you want something spooky to read in October or know more about the darker side of Tudor history, I recommend reading “House of Tudor: A Grisly History” by Mickey Mayhew.

Book Review: “Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France” by Leonie Frieda

255134When we think about women rulers in the 16th century, some names, like Queen Mary I, Queen Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots, come to mind. However, another woman should be included in this list as her life helped keep the Valois dynasty alive and well in France, even though she was Italian by birth. Her name has been tainted with dark legends of poisoning, deadly incidents, and the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. This notorious queen was Catherine de Medici, and Leonie Frieda has chosen to shed some light on the myths and mysteries surrounding this misunderstood woman in her biography, “Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France.”

Catherine de Medici’s life was rough as her parents, Lorenzo II de Medici Duke of Urbino and Madeleine de La Tour d’ Auvergne, died shortly after she was born. A wealthy young heiress who was now an orphan, Catherine’s marriage was vital for the success of her family. The union meant for the young woman was with Henry II of France, the son of Francis I. Catherine fell deeply in love with Henry II. Still, another person in this marriage was Henry II’s mistress Diane de Poitiers. It took a while for Catherine and Henry to have the heirs necessary for their union to prove successful, but they did have ten children, including three sons that would become King of France; Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III.

When her beloved husband, King Henry II, died in a jousting accident, a lance in the eye, Catherine had to step up and protect her family, no matter what. Her first son to be King was Francis II, alongside his Scottish bride, Mary Queen of Scots, but he died after only a year on the throne from a severe earache. Catherine had to act as regent for her third son, King Charles IX, as he was too young to rule independently. Unfortunately, his reign was mired by several wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants. One of the most tumultuous events of his reign occurred in August 1572, known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which left a massive black mark on the legacy of Catherine de Medici for her supposed role in the disaster. After the death of Charles IX, Catherine had to once again act as regent as her fourth and favorite son, Henry III, had to make the journey back to France after being named King of Poland. Catherine de Medici died in 1589, and her favorite son Henry III died a few months later, ending the Valois dynasty and making way for the Bourbon dynasty in France.

In my opinion, I found this book a tad dry in areas, especially concerning the eight wars of religion in France. As someone who doesn’t read much about 16th-century France and its politics, this book was a bit of a challenge for me, and I felt that in some places, Catherine de Medici was more of a side character than the principal character in her biography. I also felt that Frieda focused on the black myth of Catherine de Medici and her supposed evil deeds instead of trying to debunk them.

Overall, I think this was a decent biography. Frieda does have a passion for her subject, and it shows from the political quagmire that she tries to navigate to the fun facts about Catherine and her family. If you know the story of Catherine de Medici and 16th-century France, you might find this book fascinating, but it might be challenging for novices in this area of research. If you want to know more about Catherine de Medici, “Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France” by Leonie Frieda could be the book for you.

Book Review: “Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici” by Estelle Paranque

9781529109221-usTwo queens; one a wife and the mother of kings and the other a virgin who had to fight for the right to rule her country independently. Two women who found friendship and a rivalry between each other with only a sea that divided them and religious discord to drive them apart. Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I would define what it meant to be female rulers in the 16th century for France and England, respectively. The tales of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici have been covered in numerous books, but a joint biography of these two powerhouses is a rarity until now. Estelle Paranque demonstrates how both queens greatly affected each other’s lives in her latest book, “Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici.”

Paranque begins her book with a short story about an encounter between Elizabeth I’s English ambassador to France, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, and Catherine de Medici, who acted as regent for her son Charles IX. It is an example of how each queen viewed diplomacy and the dance they had to do to keep their respective dynasties on the thrones of England and France.

Catherine de Medici was the daughter of Lorenzo II de Medici, Duke of Urbino, and Madeline de La Tour, d’Auvergne. Her parents died when Catherine was young, leaving her to be a wealthy heiress and a powerful pawn in the marriage market. Her husband would be King Henry II, known to have several mistresses, including Diane de Poitiers, who was her husband’s, true love. Despite issues with Diane, Henry and Catherine had a huge family, including several sons, including King Francis II, King Charles IX, King Henry III, and Francis, Duke of Anjou. After the death of her husband, Catherine worked hard to be the regent for her sons until they came of age to rule and continue the Valois dynasty.

In England, Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and the notorious King Henry VIII; their relationship was the most infamous of the 16th century for obvious reasons. After the deaths of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, and Queen Mary I, Elizabeth got her chance to rule England in her way. When the issue of Elizabeth’s marriage came into play, Catherine de Medici entered Elizabeth I’s life, starting a 30- year relationship that began as a friendship but changed into a rivalry in the end.

Over the thirty years, Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I dealt with many obstacles in their relationship. Catherine had to deal with the antics of her children and her daughter-in-law, Mary Queen of Scots, who would become one of Elizabeth’s biggest rivals. The bond between the two queens started over a desire for one of Catherine’s sons to marry Elizabeth and become King of England and France, but alas, this was wishful thinking. Catherine and Elizabeth also had to deal with other nations, like Spain, getting in the way of their relationship, as well as the issue of religion; Catherine was a devout Catholic, and Elizabeth was more Protestant. Catherine had to deal with several wars of religions and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, while Elizabeth had to deal with the Spanish Armada and what to do with Mary Queen of Scots.

Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I had to communicate through ambassadors and letters, which Paranque translated into modern English, making it easier for modern readers to understand. I cannot stress how much I loved this book and how Paranque was able to weave the stories of the two most powerful women in 16th-century Europe.

“Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici’ by Estelle Paranque is a tour de force dual biography of two influential badass queens. This book is a must-read for anyone passionate about the 16th century.

Book Review: “Game of Queens: The Women who made Sixteenth-Century Europe” by Sarah Gristwood

When one thinks about strong women in the sixteenth century, many turn their 51mfzqo6PTL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_attention towards women like Elizabeth I, Isabella of Castile, Katherine of Aragon, Mary I and Catherine de Medici. These seemed like extraordinary examples of power that stretched the boundaries on what was right and acceptable for women of the time. That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the sixteenth century in Europe was filled with powerful women who do not get the attention that they deserve. In Sarah Gristwood’s book “Game of Queens: The Women who made Sixteenth- Century Europe”, we are shown that it really wasn’t the men who had control, but their wives and daughters.

 

Diplomacy is often described as a chess game and in the case of the sixteenth century, that could not be more accurate. This was the century of political games, the importance of marriages, wars galore and religious reforms. It all started off with women like Isabella of Castile of Spain and Anne de Beaujeu of France; powerful women who would not only influence their own children but girls who would come into their homes to learn how to be strong royal wives. Anne of Beaujeu wrote a manual for noblewomen, including this piece of advice:

“And nothing is firm or lasting in the gifts of Fortune; today you see those raised high by Fortune who, two days later, are brought down hard.”

 

This would come to describe the lives of the women who would follow throughout the rest of the sixteenth century. Most of them had to act as regents for their sons or male relations. Others were wives of kings who tried to change their countries for the better and either succeeded or failed miserably. It was the women in the beginning and the middle of the century that would pave the way for the more infamous queens like Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth Tudor, and Mary Queen of Scots.

 

Sarah Gristwood was able to combine this complex game of women political chess with sixteen protagonists into a masterful biography to give a better understanding of how sixteenth century Europe worked. This was a sisterhood of queens with mothers teaching daughters on how to survive in the courts. These women were connected by blood and by marriage, however it was how they used the lessons of those who came before them which would define them.

 

Sarah Gristwood could have made sixteen separate biographies, but by combining all of these stories into one book, it shows how each country and each ruler truly depended on one another. In a world where male heirs were few or died young, it was the women who had to step in and make Europe ready for the future. The sixteenth century was the changing point for European history and it was the women who had to navigate the complex field to keep Europe from completely falling apart. This book is the story of powerful women who helped make Europe the powerhouse it would become in the sixteenth century and how they did it.