Book Review: “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was” by Sean Cunningham

28999810A new dynasty is born out of war and bloodshed. Hope is restored to the land as the remains of the Houses of York and Lancaster are united when Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York. It was not until the birth of their eldest child and heir, Prince Arthur, that the union was truly complete. Arthur was the hope for the nation, but when he tragically died shortly after marrying Catherine of Aragon, he was replaced by his younger brother who would become King Henry VIII. Arthur’s life was indeed very short, but his legacy and untimely death altered the course of history forever. Arthur tends to be a footnote in history, between Henry VII’s and Henry VIII’s reigns, but what was this young prince like? Why did his death leave such a large hole in the plans for the future of the Tudor dynasty? What was his relationship like with his family and those closest to the prince? These questions and more are explored in Dr. Sean Cunningham’s brilliant biography, “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was”.

I had heard about this book from my friends in the Tudor community for a while now and it sounded so intriguing. In my studies of the Tudor dynasty, I have often treated Prince Arthur as a footnote, but I have felt that there was more to his story than his birth, his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and his death.

To understand the significance of Prince Arthur and his birth, Cunningham briefly explains how the Tudor dynasty began at the end of the Wars of the Roses. To secure the dynasty, the birth of a male heir was essential. His name itself was seen as a way to connect the Tudors with legendary kings of England’s past. The prince’s baptism was as glamorous as his parents’ coronations and wedding, emphasizing the role that his parents expected their son would play as he grew up.

The bulk of this biography is focused on the education and the political moves that Arthur made while he was Prince of Wales. It may have seemed a bit harsh for his parents to send him away at a young age, but as Cunningham explains thoroughly, this was part of a long-term strategy for Henry VII. Although we don’t know much about Arthur’s character, the way he was raised and how he held control in his northern realm showed us a glimmer of what his reign might have been like if he did live long enough to be the second Tudor king.

It was his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who would be Henry VIII’s first wife, that was the pinnacle of his young life. Normally, the wedding night would not have been a point of intense focus. However, since it was critical to Henry VIII’s divorce case against Catherine, Cunningham explored as much of that night and what we know as possible. Finally, Cunningham tackles the confusing issue of what killed the prince.

Overall I found this book very enlightening and extremely well researched. Prince Arthur was the most prominent Tudor child born to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, yet he has never been a focal point for Tudor historians. Cunningham has taken every minute detail of his short life to craft this insightful biography of a prince whose death shaped the course of history forever. This is a masterpiece of a biography. If you would like to learn more about the life of the firstborn Tudor prince, I highly recommend you read, “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was” by Sean Cunningham.

Book Review: “Mary Tudor: A Story of Triumph, Sorrow and Fire” by Anthony Ruggiero

55127415._SX318_The Tudors were a royal family striving to survive in England through male heirs. Yet, its strongest rulers were female, Elizabeth, and her eldest half-sister, Mary. Obviously, many remember Queen Elizabeth I for her “Golden Age” and the first woman monarch of England to rule by her own right, but that title should really go to Mary I. Elizabeth tends to get all of the attention, but Mary’s life was full of her own struggles. In “Mary Tudor: A Story of Triumph, Sorrow and Fire”, Anthony Ruggiero explores the myths and the facts about this much-maligned and tragic figure in English history.

I would like to thank Anthony Ruggiero for sending me a copy of his book. When I first heard about this book from my friend Rebecca Larson of the Tudors Dynasty blog, I thought I would give it a shot.

Ruggiero’s book is relatively small yet it covers all of Mary’s life. He begins with the foundation of the Tudor dynasty itself and explains the relationship between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. I think that Ruggiero does an excellent job explaining Mary’s life story to his audience in a clear and concise way. I think my main issue with this particular book is that it is too short. I was hoping that Ruggiero was going to expand on the ideas that he presented in his book and to include more original sources instead of secondary sources.

Overall, I found Anthony Ruggiero’s debut biography was a decent read. It provides a solid introduction to Mary Tudor for those who are studying the Tudors for the first time. I think there are a lot of promising elements in this book and I look forward to seeing what Ruggiero will write next. If this sounds like a book you might be interested in, check out, “Mary Tudor: A Story of Triumph, Sorrow and Fire” by Anthony Ruggiero.

Book Review: “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer

8800906The Tudor dynasty and the enigmatic figures who made this time period so fascinating have been hotly discussed for centuries. Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII after defeating  King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. King Henry VIII, the second son whose numerous wives and his split from the Catholic Church made his name infamous in history. King Edward VI, Henry VIII’s beloved son who died before he really could accomplish the reformation that he had planned for England. Queen Mary I, who was the first Queen of England to rule in her own right and wanted to restore the Catholic Church. Finally, Queen Elizabeth I, who never married and led England to a “Golden Age”. Many historians have viewed the Tudor dynasty as a time of great change and England was in a good place. However, G.J. Meyer paints a darker picture of the era in his book, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty”.

Unlike many of the books on my blog, I did read this book before when I was in college. It was the only Tudor book that I read as an assigned book and I do have fond memories reading it, so I decided that I would go back and reread it years later. 

I will say that the title “Complete Story” is a little bit misleading. Meyer tends to focus on Henry VIII (over 300 pages on Henry VIII and the Great Matter) and his children, but he briefly mentions Henry VII and Lady Jane Grey. I feel like if Meyer wanted to have a “complete story” about the Tudors, it should have included these two figures a bit more. I did want more about Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. They were wives of Henry VIII, but they felt like afterthoughts in Meyer’s book. I also wanted more about Elizabeth I’s reign, since she did reign for a long time and without a husband, but her section in this book felt rushed. 

 When Meyer does talk about Henry VIII and the other Tudors, he seems to use the same negative stereotypes that have been used in the past, (Henry VII was a miser, Henry VIII was a monster, Edward was a sick child, Mary as “Bloody Mary”, and Elizabeth was concerned about keeping her youth and her ruthlessness). Of course, this book was written in 2011 and many of these myths have been proven untrue by more modern books about the Tudors. 

This book does not revolve around the popular history tales of the Tudors. Instead, Meyer tends to focus on the political and ecclesiastical issues that dominated the time period, in England and throughout Europe. This is where Meyer shines as he goes into details about these issues, both in regular chapters and in background chapters that help bring this time period to life. Meyer does have a good writing style that helps novices of Tudor history understand the complex time period. 

Overall, I think this was a pretty good book. It was a bit darker than other Tudor books that I have read previously, but the Tudor time period was not all sunshine and roses. There were dark times and really good times that happened during the rule of this rather remarkable dynasty. If you want a decent book that will give you an introduction to this family drama, I recommend you read, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer.  

New Book: “Honora and Arthur – the Last Plantagenets” by Joanne McShane

9781912419838At the age of 18, Honora Grenville, daughter of a wealthy Cornish landowner, is swept off her feet by Arthur Plantagenet, the handsome, illegitimate uncle of Henry VIII. Since childhood, her dreams have been of a handsome gentleman who would whisk her away to live in far-off palaces and to wear fine clothes. Now, in Arthur Plantagenet, it seems that her dreams are about to come true.

Alas, it is not to be. Henry VIII orders Arthur to marry Elizabeth Dudley Grey, Viscountess Lisle, and poor Honora is cast into an abyss of despair.

Whilst still trying to put Arthur from her mind, she reluctantly marries John Basset, a Devonshire widower twenty-eight years her senior.

After thirteen years of what turns out to be a tranquil and fruitful marriage, John Basset dies and Arthur Plantagenet, also recently widowed, re-enters Honora’s life. The passion, which has never died for either of them, is rekindled in an instant. They marry, and she leaves Devon to begin her new life as a grand lady at the court of Henry VIII.

But the times are changing as Henry seeks to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.

When King Henry orders Arthur to take on the role of Governor at Calais, the couple finds themselves at the centre of the fast-changing and tumultuous political climate of the English Reformation.

That which began as a dream turns into a terrifying battle for survival.

About the Author

Joanne spent her childhood on a sheep and cattle farm in Tasmania, Australia. After IMG_4652.JPGmarrying and raising a family in Tasmania she moved to Wales in 2003 and still lives there, close to the Herefordshire border. Always a keen historian, she became fascinated by her own family history and by the lives of her ancestors – some of whom she discovered to be very colourful indeed. This led her to begin writing.

‘Honora and Arthur – The Last Plantagenets’ is her first published book.

In her own words, ‘I am the end product of a melting pot ranging from convicts to Royalty. There are so many stories waiting to be told. I just hope I live long enough to do it.’

Joanne’s second book, the sequel to ‘Honora and Arthur – The Last Plantagenets’ is due out soon.

If you are interested in purchasing “Honora and Arthur- The Last Plantagenets’ by Joanne McShane, you can follow this link: https://www.youcaxton.co.uk/honora-and-arthur-the-last-plantagenetsjoanne-mcshane/

 

Book Review: “Katherine – Tudor Duchess” by Tony Riches

Katherine - Tudor DuchessWhen one thinks about women reformers during the time of the Tudors, certain women like Catherine Parr and Anne Aske come to mind. However, there was one who really should get more attention and her name is Katherine Willoughby. She was the last wife of Charles Brandon. Her mother was Maria de Salinas, a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon and a devout Catholic. Katherine knew all six of Henry VIII’s wives on a personal level and knew all of his children. She has often been seen as an afterthought; someone you associate with other people, but never a stand out herself. That is until now. Katherine Willoughby finally gets her time to shine in Tony Riches’ latest historical fiction novel and his conclusion to his Tudor trilogy, “Katherine-Tudor Duchess”.

I would like to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of this charming novel. This is the third novel that I have read by Tony Riches and I enjoyed it immensely.

We are introduced to Katherine Willoughby as a young woman who is about to embark on a journey to her new home with Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor as their ward after her father passes away. At the same time, Henry VIII is wanting to remove his first wife Catherine of Aragon for his second wife Anne Boleyn. Since Katherine’s mother, Maria de Salinas was very loyal to Catherine of Aragon as one of her ladies in waiting, it is interesting to see Katherine’s view of the situation. Katherine is quite comfortable in Brandon’s household, but when Mary Tudor tragically dies, Katherine’s life is turned upside down when Charles Brandon decides to marry her and she becomes the new Duchess of Suffolk.

As the new Duchess of Suffolk, Katherine had a front-row seat to the dramas of King Henry VIII’s court and his numerous marriages. Along the way, Katherine falls in love with Charles and they become parents to two strapping and intelligent boys. Katherine and Charles are granted the great honor of welcoming Henry’s 4th wife Anna of Cleves to England and they also experienced the short reigns of Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard. It was not until Charles Brandon’s death and the rise of Catherine Parr as queen that Katherine Willoughby sees her true potential, as a woman who wants to promote religious reforms. 

Katherine experienced hardships and the tragic deaths of her two sons mere hours apart due to the sweating sickness. She did marry again after Charles’ death to a man that she did love, like Catherine Parr, and was able to have more children, a son, and a daughter. During the reigns of King Edward VI and Lady Jane Grey, Katherine and her family were able to practice their Protestant faith in peace. Things took a turn for the worse when Mary was crowned queen and Katherine had to take drastic measures to protect her family while standing up for what she believed was right.

Tony Riches has written another fabulous novel of a vivacious woman who fought to spread Protestantism in England. Through twists and turns, Katherine Willoughby was able to protect her family and survive during such a tumultuous time. Her story gives great insight into what it meant to be someone close to the Tudors. This is a binge-worthy book. If you are a fan of Tony Riches’ novels and want a wonderful book about Katherine Willoughby, I highly suggest you read Tony Riches’ latest novel, “Katherine- Tudor Duchess”. 

 

Book Review: “Margaret Tudor: The Life of Henry VIII’s Sister” by Melanie Clegg

38507404The children of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York lived rather eventful and fascinating lives. We all know the stories of Prince Arthur, who tragically died, his younger brother Henry, who would become the notorious King Henry VIII, and Mary, who would become Queen of France and then marry the man she loved, Charles Brandon. The one sibling that many tend to forget about is Margaret Tudor, who would become the wife of King James IV and the mother of King James V and Margaret Douglas. Her love life was quite rocky, but she kept fighting for what she believed was right for her family and her adoptive country of Scotland. This remarkable woman didn’t receive much attention in her lifetime, but Melanie Clegg hopes that people today will know Margaret’s story. This is why she wrote this delightful biography of the Tudor princess turned Queen of Scotland, “Margaret Tudor: The Life of Henry VIII’s Sister”. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I really like learning about Margaret Tudor and I really enjoyed the last book that I read by Melanie Clegg, so I was really excited to read this book.

Clegg begins her book by explaining how Margaret’s father, Henry VII, became King of England and how his relationship with his wife Elizabeth of York was like in the beginning. Since Henry’s throne was not secure, with pretenders like Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck around, having heirs was extremely important. Henry and Elizabeth had several children; Arthur, Margaret, Henry, Elizabeth(who is hardly mentioned because she died at a young age) and Mary. Clegg goes into immense detail about the Tudor royal children and how they were raised, including the marriage arrangements between Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon and, of course, Margaret Tudor and King James IV of Scotland.

Margaret and James IV had a loving relationship, although he had numerous affairs that Margaret was aware of. They also faced hardships, with the death of two heirs within 24 hours of each other and the struggles of the Scottish court, with clans fighting against other clans for power. Margaret’s world came crashing down around her when James IV was killed at the Battle of Flodden by her brother Henry VIII’s army. Margaret did have to marry again, but her next husband was an awful pick. It was so bad that she had to flee Scotland for England. Margaret never truly recovered from her disastrous second marriage. Her legacy would pass onto her children, the future King James V, and Lady Margaret Douglas. 

When you read Margaret’s tragic tale, you really want to give her a hug. It felt like everyone around her used her as their own tool and she never really had anyone who she could truly depend on. Like Melanie Clegg said in her acknowledgments, Margaret Tudor really needed a best friend who she could chat with, who could give relationship advice to Margaret, and just be there for her when times got rough.

Clegg brings Margaret’s catastrophic tale to life to readers of the 21st century with a light writing style that makes you feel like you are having a conversation with Clegg. Reading this book makes you sympathetic for a Tudor Princess and a Scottish Queen who made some bad choices and who faced unbelievable hardships. If you want an engaging biography about this exceptional woman, I highly recommend you read, “Margaret Tudor: The Life of Henry VIII’s Sister” by Melanie Clegg.   

 

Book Review: “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence

61lJBy4FGrL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I, is one of the unique characters of the Tudor era. She was the sister of one of the king’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn, which she could have been, but Henry wanted Anne as his queen. Unfortunately, he was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. It is Henry’s divorce to Catherine and his relationship with Anne, the rise and fall, is what many people look at, but there is more to Anne’s story than just her life with Henry. What was Anne’s life really like and what really caused her fall? These are just a few questions that Amy Licence tackles in her latest biography, “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire.”

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review. I haven’t read many biographies about Anne Boleyn so this was a unique experience.

In her introduction, Amy Licence explains her approach to Anne’s life and why she is such an interesting figure to study:

Anne’s is very much a Tudor story, a narrative that balances on the cusp of old and new, equally informed by both. It has been told many times before, but what this version aims to offer afresh is a sense of continuity with earlier Boleyn generations. She was born into an ambitious dynasty, with each generation taking a step forward in terms of career and martial advancements…. That she was the most successful Boleyn cannot be disentangled from her gender and class. By the definitions of her time, Anne was an overreacher in more than one sense. She was a woman, born to be a wife, but not that of the king. She was an aristocrat, descended from the influential Howards, observing but not trained in the demands of queenship. She transcended boundaries of expected behaviour on both counts, which was both her most remarkable achievement and created her two areas of greatest vulnerability. This account of Anne’s life prioritises her relationship with the defining issues of gender and class, tracing their role in her rise and fall. (Licence, 8).

Licence begins her biography by going back to the origins of the Boleyn family, with Anne’s ancestor, Geoffrey Boleyn. Geoffrey came from very humble beginnings, but he worked hard and rose to become the Lord Mayor of London, as well as a knight. His descendants continued this tradition of working hard, which Licence takes the time to explain thoroughly so that the reader can understand that they were not necessarily overreachers; they were hard workers. This background information is extremely helpful to understand the Boleyn family as a whole.

The main focus of Licence’s book is  Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII, her husband. By including the letters between Anne and Henry, the reader can see how the relationship started and how their relationship ended in a dramatic fashion. Henry was the one who really took control of the relationship.  Anne may have learned how to be a strong woman from working in the French court, but she was no match for Henry VIII.

Although there have been many biographies about Anne Boleyn, this one stands out because Anne is seen in more of a sympathetic light. Licence combines a plethora of details with a writing style that is easy to understand to bring Anne out of the dark side of history. I learned so much about a queen I thought I knew.“Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence was an absolute delight to read. It is a real page-turner and is a must for anyone who loves to read about the Tudors, the wives of Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn.

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: “Jane the Quene” by Janet Wertman

513yHRNsuFLHenry VIII may have had six wives, but only one could give him the desired son that he wanted. She was kind, demure and everything that Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn was not. Her name was Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. Sadly, she is often remembered for the birth of her son and her death. However, there was a lot more to Jane’s story than the ending. What was her relationship with her family like? How did she fall in love with the King? And how was her relationship with her romantic rival, Anne Boleyn? These are just some of the questions that Janet Wertman strives to answer in her first novel of her new Seymour Saga called, “Jane the Quene”.

I would like to thank Janet Wertman for sending me a copy of “Jane the Quene”. This was a delightful read and a fantastic start to the Seymour Saga.

Wertman begins her book with a prologue of Jane Seymour entering the services of Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. In this opening scene, we begin to see a rivalry bloom between Jane and her cousins Anne and Mary Boleyn. After Catherine and Henry divorce, Anne Boleyn becomes Queen and Jane Seymour is in the services of the new queen, hoping to help and serve while looking for a husband. Her brother Edward does not think that having Jane in court is really working to help her find a husband. He wants to send her home so that her younger sister can possibly find a husband, but things change when King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn visit Wolf Hall. Wertman description of how the king and Jane become friends during this visit is rather charming and very natural. Jane tries to ignore the king’s interest in her, but Henry can’t forget the kind and demure nature of Jane and eventually, the two fall in love, even though Henry is still married to Anne.

In the middle of this tangled love mess is Thomas Cromwell, a clerk who wants to please his king in order to make his own career grow. Henry is not happy with his marriage to Anne Boleyn since she has not been able to give him  a son, so he gives Cromwell the task of “getting rid of her”. However, Cromwell needs to find another wife who would be the opposite of Anne Boleyn. That is when he comes up with a plan to make Jane Seymour Henry’s next wife and queen, which does succeed.  

Wertman’s Jane Seymour is a complex character who cares about her family and her husband. She is not just some plain wallflower who merely followed Anne Boleyn as Henry’s wife for a short time. With strong allies, like Cromwell and her brothers Edward and Thomas, Jane rises like a phoenix and survives all of the hate from Anne to become Henry’s beloved wife and queen. Wertman portrays Henry VIII as a man who is intelligent, caring and who struggles with how to reform the church.

Wertman breathes new life into the story of Jane Seymour. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, which is the first book in her Seymour Saga, as it balances the political intrigue of the Tudor court with the romance between Henry and Jane. Their love story is one that is often forgotten in the chaos of Henry’s marriage track record, but one that needs to be told. Jane will not be just the “third wife” or “the mother of Edward VI” after this book. She was a strong woman who truly loved Henry VIII.  If you really want to read a novel about Jane Seymour, I highly recommend you read “Jane the Quene” by Janet Wertman.

Book Review: “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles – Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Tudor-Brandons-cover-pic-FBLove stories tend to be rare during the Tudor dynasty. They are often of royal women marrying men well below their station in life and then the ruling monarch throwing them in the Tower until they ended up divorcing or dying. Nothing really romantic about these stories. However, there is one story that breaks the mold of disastrous love. It is the story of Mary Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII and the Dowager Queen of France, who married the charming knight and best friend of her brother, Charles Brandon. Their story is often told in historical fiction novels, but Sarah-Beth Watkins decided to dive deep into the lives of these two lovebirds, before and after they were married, in her book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this delightful book. The relationship between Mary and Charles has been something that has fascinated me for a while now and I always like learning new information about their lives and their family.

When it comes to studying the relationship between Mary and Charles, one would think that it would be best to start by studying Mary, since she is the Tudor princess. However, Watkins decides to start her book about these two with Charles:

As Charles Brandon lay in his cradle, his father took to the field as standard-bearer for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth, on 22 August 1485. This defining moment in history, when the Plantagenet dynasty ended and the Tudor began, was also to be a defining moment in this small child’s life. Both Charles’ father and his grandfather were soldiers in the Wars of the Roses and the events leading up to this momentous day. Coming from mercantile beginnings, the men of the Brandon family all rose to positions of importance, but Charles would rise higher than them all to become King Henry VIII’s most favoured companion, and husband to his sister, Mary Tudor. (Watkins, 1).  

Watkins explores the origins of the Brandons, starting with Charles’ grandfather, who was quite an interesting figure. After reading what kind of man Charles’ grandfather was, it is kind of amazing to see how the Brandons rose to be loyal to the Tudors. Before Charles fell in love with Mary, he had a complex love life with Anne Browne and Margaret Mortimer, Anne’s rich aunt. Charles eventually married Anne after and she gave him two daughters before she died, Anne and Mary Brandon. During the time after Anne’s death and before he married Mary, Charles got into an international incident when he attempted to woo Margaret of Savoy. Charles may have looked the part of a knight, but his love life was a mess. That was until he went to France to pick up Mary Tudor, who was the Dowager Queen of France after her husband, King Louis XII, died shortly after their marriage.

The two decided to throw caution to the wind and get married to each other. They risked the wrath of Mary’s brother and huge fines, but they overcame it all and were still managed to be in Henry’s good graces. Charles and Mary were in the middle of court life during Henry’s marriage and divorce to Catherine of Aragon while they were taking care of their own family. Mary wasn’t thrilled about Anne Boleyn, but Charles kept his attitude about Henry’s mistress and future second wife to himself. Mary suffered from multiple bouts of illnesses and would die in 1533. Charles would marry again to Catherine Willoughby and have more children before he died in 1545.

The love story of Charles and Mary Brandon comes to life in Watkins book. What I love about this book is the combination of primary sources and poetry with Watkins’ easy to understand writing style. This book is an absolutely fascinating look into the lives of these two remarkable people and how their relationship helped change England. If you want a fantastic book to introduce you to the relationship between Charles and Mary Brandon, I highly recommend you read Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.