Book Series Review: The Matthew Shardlake Series by C.J. Sansom

Have you ever read a historical fiction series that made you stop and think that the plots of the books could be possible? They make you question the way you look at the past and wonder why no one had ever written a series like it before. You feel like you are friends with the protagonist and his pals and you despise the nefarious villains that try to thwart the efforts of the heroes. You feel like the books are true escapism and that you can visualize the world that the author has created using a combination of facts and fictional ideas.

Now, I could be describing any number of historical fiction series, but this one, in particular, blew me away. If you have been following my blog or my page, you know that I am talking about the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom. The books are all unique, yet read in the chronological order that Sansom intended, shows the amazing progress of England through the reign of the Tudors and how these changes affected those living during this time. We follow the hunch-back lawyer Matthew Shardlake on seven of his more infamous cases, each one more dangerous than the previous one: Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation, Heartstone, Lamentation, and Tombland.

Before I jumped into this series, I honestly had never heard of it, except when people mentioned these books in posts that I asked my followers what they are reading. I do not normally read murder mystery novels, but since it was based in the Tudor dynasty, I decided to give it a shot and I wholeheartedly loved it. I am so glad no one spoiled this series for me. I might fangirl a bit during this review, but I will try my best not to spoil this series for anyone else. I want to discuss the different elements of this series that I have comes to enjoy. I would love to continue to discuss this series with those of you who have read it and have enjoyed it as much as I have.

Characters

Matthew Shardlake

Matthew Shardlake is our main protagonist in this series, aptly named after him. As mentioned above, he is a hunch-back lawyer who works hard to solve mostly murder mysteries. He fights for what he believes is right, even when times get tough. There are sometimes when he is not even sure what he stands for, especially when it comes to his stance on religion and if he supports those in power. He is constantly the butt of everyone’s jokes and for the most part, they don’t bother him. He fights against notorious enemies while defending his friends and those who cannot defend themselves. Matthew is unlucky when it comes to love, but that does not mean that we can’t help but root for him to find his happily ever after. There were so many times that I was not sure Matthew was going to survive, but Sansom’s plan for his loveable protagonist throughout this series was simply brilliant. A protagonist who I will never forget.

Jack Barak

We are first introduced to Jack Barak in book two of the series, “Dark Fire”. He was a rogue working for the mighty Thomas Cromwell. He teams up with Shardlake for what seems like only one case, but the two men soon develop a lasting friendship, even when things get a bit rocky between them. In the third book, “Sovereign”, Jack is introduced to the love of his life, Tamasin. Their relationship will be tumultuous at times, but it is caring and it does survive the test of time. He is the bad boy turned family man that everyone loves. He does make stupid mistakes, but you cannot help but admire his tenacity.

Guy Malton

Next to Matthew Shardlake and Jack Barak, Guy Malton is probably one of my favorite characters. We are introduced to Guy when he was working in a monastery in “Dissolution”. Guy goes from a former monk to a well known and respected apothecary with his shop. He is unlike anyone who Matthew has ever met as he is a Moorish man turned Christian monk. I love the fact that Sansom went this direction to show how truly diverse the Tudor world was. Guy challenges Matthew when it comes to religion and what he believes is right when it comes to science. He is the wise old man that heals everyone’s wounds and is a comforting counsel when someone needs his help.

Nicholas Overton

Nicholas Overton is Matthew’s young assistant in the last two books, “Lamentation” and “Tombland”. He comes from a wealthy family, but when a disagreement happens, he goes to work for Matthew Shardlake. He is young and naive but loyal to a fault. He believes that everything should be handed to him on a silver platter until life gives him a rude awakening call. We don’t get to see him develop as a character as much as the others, but I hope if Sansom writes any more novels, he includes Nicholas Overton.

Historical Figures

Now, some characters are historical figures that make an appearance in the novels that left a lasting impression on me while I was reading. The calculating Thomas Cromwell, who was always trying to stay in his majesty’s favor and do his bidding until the bitter end. The dastardly Richard Rich, who I have always felt was a bit shady, but Sansom made me hate him even more. The legend himself, King Henry VIII, who is glittery and magnanimous to his people, but if you cross him, his true colors come out in full force. Catherine Parr, the scholar turned queen whose writings and her views on religious reform walk a fine line between what is acceptable and what is considered heretical. Elizabeth Tudor, the intellectual daughter of the king who has a similar temper to that of her father, but has a longing to help the Boleyn family in honor of her mother.

What is brilliant about Sansom’s series is that these historical figures are more background characters or they are villains. They are not the protagonists, as they are portrayed in other historical novels. The real heroes are the average people, reminding the reader that under all the glitz and glam of the Tudor court, there were regular men and women were trying to survive during such tumultuous times.

Cases

With such a remarkable cast of characters, Sansom had to put them through extremely difficult obstacles to test their limits and to give his readers a breathtaking look into the Tudor world. Whether it is the dissolution of a monastery, a race to find a mysterious flame, a radical killing based on the book of Revelation, or the sinking of the Mary Rose, Sansom takes us on a non-stop roller coaster of emotions. Just when you thought you had the case figured out, a monkey wrench is thrown into the mix and all of the sudden, our intrepid heroes are risking their lives because one of the villains knew that they were getting too close.

Since all of these novels revolve around murder mysteries, I think it is only right that we should discuss the murders themselves. In “Dissolution”, there is a typical advancement of murder to cover up the original crime. As the series progresses, you can see the wheels turning in Sansom’s head as he comes up with even more dastardly ways to kill off in his novels. There were points where I was starting to get concerned just from the graphic details of some of these deaths and executions. They will be engrained in my brain for a long time, which is a sign of how delightful Sansom’s writing style truly is, especially in this series.

The Details

As I mentioned before, what sets this series apart from others that I have read are those exquisite details. I think what helped is the fact that C.J. Sansom does have a Ph.D. in history, so he understands how important accurate facts are to historical fiction readers. The fact that Sansom decided to use his skills as a Doctor in History to write a Tudor historical fiction murder mystery series is awe-inspiring.

He was able to create a Tudor world that feels so real that you forget that you are reading novels. From scenic descriptions to the more gruesome accounts of horrific events, Sansom takes us on a trip to the past that we do not want to leave. We are craving more adventures after we finish every novel.

The Future

However, as I am writing this review, Tombland is the final book in the Shardlake series. C.J. Sansom is currently ill and I wish him nothing but the best in his recovery. These seven books make for a fabulous series, but Sansom has mentioned that he does wish for the series to go through the reign of Elizabeth I, which I would love.

As I was reading this series, I came up with some ideas for spin-off series to continue the adventures of Matthew Shardlake and his friends. For prequels, I was thinking that Sansom could either follow the adventures of Jack Barak working for Cromwell or Guy Malton as he learns how to be Moorish and a monk. Then there is the sequel, which I think would have Nicholas Overton as the protagonists and the children that we have seen grow up during this series. They could solve mysteries in the Elizabethan era into the Stewarts, bridging the gap between the two dynasties. I also think that if Sansom does write more novels with this cast of characters, it would be fun to explore other countries, in Europe or beyond, during the 15th and 16th centuries. I think it would expand the world for the readers and give them a taste of other royal dynasties and what else was going on in the world during the time of the Tudor dynasty in England.

Conclusion

I am so glad so many of you recommended that I should read this series. I would have never picked it up if it had not been for you. I now know why so many people love it. It is one of those series that you have to read from start to finish, even though each adventure is a treat by themselves. It is one of those series that I will reread soon so that I can visit Matthew Shardlake and his friends all over again.

I wanted to write this series review because the Shardlake series is easily becoming one of my favorite historical fiction series and I had a lot to say about it. I decided to leave major details of the individual novels out of this review so that those who are not familiar with these seven stunning, spellbinding novels can experience them for themselves without spoilers. If you do want to know how I feel about each book, I have included links to each of the reviews down below.

Dissolution:https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/06/06/book-review-dissolution-by-c-j-sansom/

Dark Fire:https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/06/20/book-review-dark-fire-by-c-j-sansom/

Sovereign: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/07/05/book-review-sovereign-by-c-j-sansom/

Revelation: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/07/21/book-review-revelation-by-c-j-sansom/

Heartstone: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/08/04/book-review-heartstone-by-c-j-sansom/

Lamentation: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/08/22/book-review-lamentation-by-c-j-sansom/

Tombland: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/09/21/book-review-tombland-by-c-j-sansom/

I want to leave the last part of this review for those who have read this remarkable series to discuss it. I know that is not a series that is often discussed, so I thought that you should have your say. What is your favorite book in the series and why? Who is your favorite character and why? Who is your favorite villain and why? Why do you enjoy this series?

Book Review: “Lamentation” by C.J. Sansom

27263493._SY475_The year is 1546 and England is once again in turmoil. Rumors swirl that the once-mighty King Henry VIII is gravely ill and his councilors, both Protestants and Catholics, are vying for power to see who will help Henry’s young son, Edward when he becomes king. With such distinct factions, those are not Protestant or Catholic, like the Anabaptists, are deemed heretics and they are hunted down. Executions over faith, like the death of Anne Askew, run rampant across London. Those who own books that were deemed “controversial” were under a shroud of suspicion. When Matthew Shardlake’s main supporter, Queen Catherine Parr’s book Lamentation of a Sinner, goes missing, Shardlake must navigate the religious divide carefully to retrieve the missing manuscript before it is discovered. Can Shardlake and his friends save the queen from the heresy hunt in time? The stakes could never be higher in C.J. Sansom’s sixth Shardlake novel, “Lamentation”.

If you have been following my adventures with this series, you know it quickly is becoming one of my favorites. Of course, I wanted to read this novel, but when I found out that it involved Catherine Parr and one of her books, I immediately had to jump back into Shardlake’s world.

Sansom begins his sixth novel with Shardlake witnessing the execution of Anne Askew. The introduction alone made me a bit squeamish, because of its intensity. The way he described this event cemented how real the consequences were for those who were on the wrong side of the religious divide. Shortly after this horrific event, Shardlake is giving a new mission by his patroness, Catherine Parr. Someone has stolen the manuscript of a very personal book that she wrote, Lamentation of a Sinner, and if should fall into the wrong hands, the queen may be executed like Anne Askew. Since Shardlake is fond of the queen, he cannot allow this to happen, so he embarks on a secretive mission to retrieve the manuscript, which leads him on a collision course with some of the kingdom’s most illustrious and powerful men, including his arch-nemesis, Sir Richard Rich.

To top it all off, Shardlake has another case, because the man can never take things easy and tackle one case at a time. This time, it is a sibling squabble over an inheritance and a painting. However, this is not just a simple case of sibling rivalry as the brother and sister share a dark secret that will radically change the course of this case and their lives forever.

I feel like the previous Shardlake novels have had an element of danger, but this book amplified the danger level immensely for our intrepid lawyer and his friends. I think the secret-keeping that Matthew had to do and the relationship between him, Guy, Barak, and a new assistant Nicholas Overton, was brilliant and heightened the drama. The last one hundred pages left me speechless. It was an incredible conclusion to a heart-racing novel.

I don’t know how Sansom keeps writing hit after hit, but he does. This adventure was mesmerizing in its complexity. There were so many times I thought I had the crime solved and Sansom threw another twist. I did not want this one to end because I know that there is only one book left and I am not ready to say goodbye to these characters that I have grown to love so much. If you are a fan of the Shardlake series, you must read “Lamentation” by C.J. Sansom, as soon as possible.

Book Review: “Heartstone” by C.J. Sansom

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The year is 1545 and King Henry VIII has declared war on the French. However, things do not go well when Henry VIII’s invasion of France is an epic failure and the French decide to retaliate by sending a mighty fleet to invade England. Catherine Parr is on a mission of her own and enlists the help of Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak to investigate the wardship of Hugh Curtey, who is under the protection of Sir Nicholas Hobbey. Of course, Shardlake never makes anything easy for himself and he takes another case of Ellen Fettiplace, a woman he met while at Bedlam. With the prospect of a French invasion looming over their head, can Shardlake and Barak solve both cases before the French and the English can start fighting? This is the scenario of C.J. Sansom’s fifth Shardlake mystery, “Heartstone”.

Unlike the fourth book, I did not know what the title of this book was referring to so I was going into this one blind, which I love. All I knew was that it involved Shardlake and Barak, so I had to jump in. I don’t usually fangirl over historical fiction characters, but Sansom has made me love the escapades of Shardlake and Barak.

We dive into this particular novel with a rather happy, yet stressful time for Barak and his wife Tamasin. They are expecting their second child any day now, which after the events of “Revelation” you are rooting for them. Of course, being Barak, he causes a bit of trouble with a military officer and finds himself in a bind. Luckily, it is at this time that Matthew gets a case from his new patron, Catherine Parr, and he desperately needs Barak’s help. The case involves a ward named Hugh Curtey and his estates possibly being mismanaged by his protector Sir Nicholas Hobbey. Matthew takes this case and decides that while he is in the area, he will explore the mysterious back story of a woman who he befriended while working at Bedlam a few years ago, Ellen Fettiplace.

These two cases seem like they could not be more different, however, they push Shardlake and Barak on a collision course with Shardlake’s arch-nemesis, Sir Richard Rich. I did not like Richard Rich in the previous novels, but the way Sansom portrayed him in this one made my skin crawl and now I loath him. His actions and the actions of others involved in both cases lead to Shardlake and Barak becoming mixed in the middle of the battle between the French and the English. The way that Sansom times the cases to coincide with the sinking of The Mary Rose is nothing short of brilliant.

If I did have a concern about this novel, I would say that the pacing in the middle was a bit slower than what I was anticipating. That is not to say that it distracted me, but it kept me guessing what Sansom had in store for Shardlake and Barak. I have become attached to these characters and every time they are put in mortal danger, I hope that they do not die.
Sansom can blend the two cases with military movements and the French invasion to heighten the danger and intrigue. Just when I think Sansom cannot do anything to love his bold and daring characters, he writes this novel. I am excited to see what kind of dangerous mission Shardlake and Barak will take on next, but I know that it means that I will have to say goodbye to these characters sooner, and I am not ready to be done with the Shardlake mysteries and these wonderful characters just yet. If you are like me and are addicted to the Shardlake mysteries, you need to read, “Heartstone” by C.J. Sansom.

Book Review: “Revelation” by C.J. Sansom

820480The year is 1543 and King Henry VIII is looking for his sixth and final wife; the recent widowed Catherine Parr has caught his eye. It is her reformist values that make her a valuable asset for Archbishop Cranmer and his faction at court, and a target for others. A friend of Matthew Shardlake is viciously murdered, leading to a horrific discovery of a killer is on the loose. On top of that, Shardlake must defend a young man who has been placed in the Bedlam insane asylum for his radical beliefs. It is up to Shardlake and his intrepid assistant Barak, along with the former monk turned physician Guy Malton, to solve both cases before anyone else becomes the next victim. This is the world that readers are plunged to in the next book in C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series, “Revelation”.

I will be honest. When I saw that this book was dealing with elements of the book of Revelation, I was a bit nervous. I thought it was going to be extremely dark and so apocalyptic that I would not enjoy it. However, Sansom proved that he could make a thriller and still keep the characters that I have come to love and enjoy just as engaging and real to me as they have been in the previous novels. You can never judge a novel by its title, you have to read the book to understand the author’s motive behind their title choice.

We are thrown into the next installment of this engrossing series with Shardlake attending a dinner party hosted by his old friend Roger. Sansom paints this simple and honest friendship between the two men, which is tragically cut short when Roger is found horrifically murdered. After meeting with Archbishop Cranmer and other prominent men, including the Seymour brothers Thomas and Edward, Shardlake soon realizes that this was not a random act of violence, but a stage act by a deranged serial killer who based his murders off of the book of Revelation from the Bible. The additional characters of Thomas Seymour, Archbishop Cranmer, and Catherine Parr adds a sense that these events could have happened. The meticulous details of each murder intensify the experience for the reader and make you wonder if they will ever catch the fiend.

Another element of this novel is Shardlake’s interaction with his client Adam Kite who is a patient at the Bedlam insane asylum. Although we do not know what these kind of facilities were like during the Tudor times, Sansom’s descriptions of mental illness and how people were treated is so believable that you forget that it is fiction. The way that Sansom blends religious radicalism, politics, mental illness, innovations in science, and murder in this novel is nothing short of ingenious. That is Sansom’s true strength as an author. He can create such a believable Tudor world that you never want to leave. There were points in this novel where I questioned whether Shardlake, Barak, and Guy would survive this entire ordeal. Sansom kept me on the edge of my seat throughout this entire novel.
I know that I say this about every Shardlake novel so far, but this one was brilliant. The character development was astonishing and at times, heart-aching as you see your favorite characters struggle to survive. The murders and the details were so vivid that it felt real, which is all due to Sansom’s captivating writing style. I may have questioned the title of this particular novel and whether or not I would personally enjoy it, but once I entered Shardlake’s Tudor world for the fourth time, I was spellbound. If you want a Tudor murder thriller that will keep you guessing until the bitter end, or if you have read the earlier books of the Shardlake series, the fourth installment of C.J. Sansom’s riveting series, “Revelation” is a must-read.

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.  

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”. 

 

New Book: Katherine – Tudor Duchess by Tony Riches

New from Tony Riches, Author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy

Available in eBook and paperback from Amazon UK and Amazon US

(Audiobook edition coming in 2020)

 

Katherine - Tudor Duchess.jpgAttractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine Willoughby is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knows all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward.

When her father dies, Katherine becomes the ward of Tudor knight, Sir Charles Brandon. Her Spanish mother, Maria de Salinas, is Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting, so it is a challenging time for them all when King Henry marries the enigmatic Anne Boleyn. 


Following Anne’s dramatic downfall, Katherine marries Charles Brandon and becomes the Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen. After the short reign of young Catherine Howard, and the death of Jane Seymour, Katherine and Brandon are chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves as she arrives in England.
 

When the royal marriage is annulled, Katherine’s good friend, Catherine Parr becomes the king’s sixth wife, and they work to promote religious reform. Katherine’s young sons are tutored with the future king, Prince Edward, and become his friends, but when Edward dies his Catholic sister Mary is crowned queen. Katherine’s Protestant faith puts her family in great danger – from which there seems no escape.

 
Katherine’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

 

Tony Riches AuthorAuthor Bio
Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess and Brandon – Tudor Knight. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Book Review: “Elizabeth I” by Anne Somerset

915mqJWdp2L.jpgQueen Elizabeth I, “the Virgin Queen”, was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. She was the step sister to Edward VI and Mary I. Her story is full of so many twists and turns, starting from the very beginning, that it is almost a miracle that she lived and became queen. So what type of trials and tribulations did Elizabeth go through to become one of the most successful rulers in English history? What was her life like? Anne Somerset decides to explore these questions, and more,  in her book, “Elizabeth I”.

Anne Somerset puts Elizabeth’s reign into perspective:

When Elizabeth ascended the throne, her kingdom was weak, demoralized and impoverished. A member of Parliament subsequently recalled how at her accession, England was ‘in war with foreign nations, subject to ignorant hypocrisy and unsound doctrine, the best sort under great persecution, some imprisoned, some driven to exile for their conscience, the treasure… corrupt.’. Under Elizabeth, the nation regained its self-confidence and sense of direction. At a time when the authority of the majority of her fellow monarchs was under threat or in decline, she upheld the interests of the Crown while not encroaching on those of her subjects, restored the coinage, and created a Church which, for all its failings, came close to being truly national. While many European countries were being rent by civil war, insurrection and appalling acts of bloodshed , she presided over a realm which (with the exception of her Irish dominions) was fundamentally stable and united. She herself was proud of the contrast between the condition of her own kingdom and that of others….Besides this, Elizabeth was responsible for raising  England’s international standing, defying the most powerful nation in Christendom, and frustrating Philip II’s attempts to overrun both England and France. (Somerset, 570).  

Anne Somerset begins her book with Elizabeth’s birth, the fall of her mother Anne Boleyn, and the death of her father Henry VIII. She then transitions to where Elizabeth was during the reigns of her step siblings, Edward VI and Mary I, which includes her take on Elizabeth’s relationship with Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr. Somerset does not spend a lot of time in this part of Elizabeth’s life because her real focus is Elizabeth I and her reign.

Starting with Elizabeth’s coronation and the first year of her reign, Somerset breaks her chapters down by certain years and the different conflicts that occurred during that time. I did appreciate this aspect of her book, but it did make for very long chapters. The middle of her book had a chapter on Elizabeth’s court and culture, which I found quite appropriate since the court was the center of Elizabeth’s world. Somerset included information that tends to be overlooked in other biographies of Elizabeth I. For example, she went into depth about the Ridolfi Plot, which was before the famous Babington Plot, and is often overlooked. It is that attention to detail which I found rather enjoyable.

While I was reading this book, it felt like I was discovering a new side of Elizabeth I, which I loved. I have read many biographies about Elizabeth I since she was my favorite Tudor queen, but this one felt different. I actually learned a lot of new information about Elizabeth and her reign that I did not know. If you want a fresh take on Elizabeth I, her life and her reign, I highly encourage you to read Anne Somerset’s book “Elizabeth I”.

Biography: Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

margaret-douglas-countess-lennox(Born October 8, 1515- Died March 7, 1578)
Daughter of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus and Margaret Tudor
Married to Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox
Mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox

Margaret Douglas was the daughter of the dowager Queen of Scotland Margaret Tudor. She incurred her uncle Henry VIII’s wrath twice; the first time was for her unauthorised engagement to Lord Thomas Howard and the second was in 1540 for an affair with Thomas Howard’s nephew Sir Charles Howard, the brother of Henry’s wife Katherine Howard. Her son Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was married to Mary Queen of Scots and was the father of James VI of Scotland (also known as James I of England).

Margaret Douglas was born on October 8, 1515 at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland. Her mother was Margaret Tudor, the Dowager Queen of Scotland and the sister of Henry VIII, and her father was her mother’s second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Margaret Tudor had recently been forced to hand over the Scottish Regency to the Duke of Albany, who had arrived from France, and she was forced to flee to England. Margaret Tudor arrived in London with baby Margaret on May 3, 1516, while her husband was dealing with issues in Scotland. When Albany returned to France on June 6 , 1517, the Queen Dowager was permitted to return and was given limited access to see her son, James V, at Edinburgh Castle. During this time, she had a falling out with her husband and Angus took custody of Margaret Douglas. When Margaret was not living with her father, she stayed with her godfather Cardinal Wolsey.

When Wolsey died in 1530, Lady Margaret was invited to the royal Palace of Beaulieu, where she resided in the household of Princess Mary. Because of her nearness to the English crown, Lady Margaret Douglas was brought up chiefly at the English court in close association with Mary, her first cousin, the future Queen Mary I, who remained her lifelong friend. Margaret would later become first lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn and Lady-of-Honour to Princess Elizabeth. Yet, when Margaret became secretly betrothed to Sir Thomas Howard, Anne Boleyn’s uncle and Norfolk’s youngest brother, Henry VIII, in July 1536, placed them both in the Tower. Margaret did fall ill while in the Tower. Margaret was released on October 29, 1537, but Sir Thomas died in the Tower on October 31, 1537.

In 1539, Margaret was part of the group of people who was supposed to meet Anne of Cleves at Greenwich Palace and join her household, but Henry changed his mind and met Anne of Cleves at Rochester instead. In 1540, Margaret was again in disgrace with the King when she had an affair with Lord Thomas Howard’s half-nephew Sir Charles Howard. He was the son of Thomas’ elder half-brother Lord Edmund Howard, and a brother of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard. Her mother, Margaret Tudor, died at Methven Castle on October 18, 1541 from palsy. Margaret would be one of the few witnesses to King Henry VIII’s last marriage to Katherine Parr, in 1543; Margaret was a close friend to Katherine Parr and would become one of her chief ladies.

In 1544, Lady Margaret married a Scottish exile named Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, who would later became regent of Scotland. Their children were Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Charles Stuart. When Mary I became queen in 1553, Margaret returned to court and was given rooms in Westminster Palace. Margaret would be one of the chief mourners at Mary’s funeral in 1558 and when Elizabeth I became queen, Margaret moved to Yorkshire, where her home at Temple Newsam became a center for Roman Catholic intrigue.

Margaret succeeded in marrying her elder son, Lord Darnley, to his first cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, thus uniting their claims to the English throne. Queen Elizabeth I disapproved of this marriage and had Margaret sent to the Tower of London in 1566. After the murder of Margaret’s son Darnley in 1567, Margaret was released from prison and she was the first to denounce her daughter-in-law, but was eventually later reconciled with her. Her husband assumed the government of Scotland as regent, but was assassinated in 1571. Margaret would never marry again.

In 1574, she again aroused Queen Elizabeth’s anger by marrying her younger son Charles to Elizabeth Cavendish, the daughter of Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick and the stepdaughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. She was again sent to the Tower, unlike the Countess of Shrewsbury, but was pardoned after her son Charles’ death in 1576. Margaret would take care of Charles’ daughter Arbella Stuart until her own death on March 7, 1578.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Douglas
http://www.maryqueenofscots.net/people/lady-margaret-douglas-countess-lennox/
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Douglas-Countess-of-Lennox

Book Review: “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor” by Elizabeth Norton

Queen Elizabeth I is often known as “the Virgin Queen” because she never married. 25673950There were some men who tried to court Elizabeth, including Robert Dudley, but none could ever get her to the altar. That was when she was queen, however, there was one man who was very close to marrying her when she was just  Elizabeth Tudor. The man was Thomas Seymour, the brother of Edward and Jane Seymour and the husband of Catherine Parr. In Elizabeth Norton’s book, “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen”, she explores the relationship between Thomas and Elizabeth and why he was her temptation.

Elizabeth Norton explains who Thomas Seymour was:

Thomas Seymour once said that the memory of brave men lived forever and that ‘a good name is the embalming of the virtuous to an eternity of love and gratitude among posterity.’ To future generations, his good name was lost; but those who had known him still remember him fondly. He was a turbulent, troublesome individual, but also a likable one, and – at the start of 1549- the man who would come closest to marrying the future Queen Elizabeth. As far as is recorded, no other man ever climbed into bed with England’s virgin queen, or trimmed her clothes and intimately appraised her body. As Elizabeth looked at Thomas’s portrait in the gallery at Somerset Place, she would have been able to reflect upon the man who had so nearly seduced her. He was the temptation of Elizabeth Tudor. (Norton, 280).

So how did Elizabeth meet Thomas Seymour and why did Elizabeth chose to become “the Virgin Queen”? These are the questions that Elizabeth Norton wants to answer in her book.

Norton begins her book with the birth of Edward VI, the death of Jane Seymour, and the relationship between Catherine Parr and Henry VIII. Catherine Parr had been married a few times before Henry and she tried to be the best step mother to Henry’s three children as she could be, but when Henry died, things changed. Since Edward VI was still a minor, he was granted a Lord Protector, his uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. His brother, Thomas Seymour, wanted to marry either princess Mary or princess Elizabeth, but after he was rejected by both, he would marry Catherine Parr shortly after the death of Henry VIII, sending shock waves throughout the court. Catherine would allow Elizabeth Tudor and Lady Jane Grey to be raised in her household, thinking that it would be beneficial for the young girls. While it was great for their education, Elizabeth was constantly under the wandering gaze of Thomas Seymour.

Thomas is reported to come into Elizabeth’s bedroom early in the morning when she was barely dressed to hug her and tickle her. Elizabeth’s governess Kate Ashley would often try to persuade Thomas to leave her alone, but he did not give up. There was one incident where Thomas took a knife to one of Elizabeth’s gowns while she was walking in a garden and tore it to shreds. It is even rumored that Elizabeth gave birth to Thomas’s child and that the child was thrown into a fire, but  Norton explains why this story is not related to Elizabeth. Catherine Parr was aware of what was happening, but because she promised to love and obey her husband, she never confronted Thomas about the relationship, although she did dismiss Elizabeth from her household. Catherine would eventually become pregnant and give birth to a baby girl. While she was on her deathbed, she did not want to see Thomas; Catherine would die on September 5, 1548, which meant that Thomas was a bachelor yet again.

With the death of Catherine, Thomas turned his eyes towards politics. He wanted what his brother Edward Seymour had, control of the king. He joined forces with William Sharington, a member of parliament and a known embezzler, to build an army to overthrow the government. During this time, he wrote a letter to Elizabeth to ask her to marry him. Kate Ashley thought it was a good idea and she told Elizabeth to send her reply through Thomas Parry that she desired to marry him. Unfortunately, Thomas Seymour would be caught by his brother Edward Seymour when it was reported that Thomas tried to either kidnap or kill the king. Thomas’s scheme with Sharington would be found out, as well as his relationship with Elizabeth; Thomas Parry and Kate Ashley were sent to the Tower for interrogations. Thomas Seymour would quickly be found guilty and was executed for treason. It was with Thomas’s death that Elizabeth’s desire to marry died as well.

Elizabeth Norton in her book “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor” paints a picture of the young Elizabeth Tudor in which love was her desire and Thomas Seymour was indeed her temptation. Norton shows Thomas Seymour in such a way that makes him intriguing. I found myself wanting to learn more about Thomas Seymour and his relationship with Elizabeth. This book was so well written and fascinating. If you are interested in Elizabeth’s childhood, Thomas Seymour and his fall, and the reason why Elizabeth chose to be known as “the Virgin Queen”,  this is the book for you.