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

28093757._SY475_The Tudor dynasty marked tons of changes in society and religious norms. In 1537, the changes are in full force. Anne Boleyn was executed a year earlier and Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour recently passed away after giving birth to Edward VI. Religious reformers are clashing with the Catholic Church after Henry VIII has declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Henry VIII’s reign marked the changing point in societal and religious norms, none more so than the dissolution of the monasteries. As monasteries and monks alike adjust to the new ways of life, the monastery at Scarnsea buzzes with activity and murder. Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, sends an unlikely man to investigate the situation; the hunchback reformer lawyer, Matthew Shardlake. This is the world that C.J. Sansom has chosen to create in the first book of his Tudor mystery series, aptly named, “Dissolution”.

I will be honest. It has been a very long time since I have read a murder mystery book. I know the general format because my mom is a huge Agatha Christie and Murder She Wrote fan, but I have never really been that interested in reading this genre myself. A lot of people have recommended that I should read the Shardlake series, but no one has spoiled the series, which I am thankful for as it made reading this book extremely enjoyable.

We are introduced to our protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, as he receives a new mission from his boss, Thomas Cromwell. The commissioner that Cromwell has sent to investigate the monastery of St. Donatus at the seaside town of Scarnsea, Robin Singleton, has been found murdered. It is up to Matthew and his assistant, Mark Poer, to find out the truth to why he was murdered and which one of the monks killed him. However, things are much darker and sinister at this monastery than Matthew could ever imagine and it will test everything he believes in.

I did not know what to expect before I started reading this book, but I am so glad I decided to read it. It is simply a masterpiece of intrigue and drama. It has been a while since I have been blown away by such a vivid and dark portrayal of the Tudor world that is away from the glamorous and glittering court life that we all expect from Tudor novels. The characters are raw and real; they are not cookie-cutter characters. They show that the struggle between reform and sticking with the Catholic Church was never straight forward. The details in this book are exquisite as they are compelling. Just when you think you know who did it, Sansom throws another twist that will leave you guessing until the bitter end.

I did not want this book to end because I became so attached to the characters, which is largely due to the way Sansom wrote this first novel of the Shardlake series. It’s different from any other Tudor novel that I have ever read and I want to read the rest of the series now. I understand why people wanted me to read this book and this series. I loved reading this book. If you want a thrilling Tudor mystery to read, I highly recommend you read, “Dissolution” by C.J. Sansom.

Book Review: “Tudor Victims of the Reformation” by Lynda Telford

31617175._SX318_The reigns of the Tudor monarchs were full of change, not only in court and in culture, but also when it came to religion. None more so than in the reign of King Henry VIII, especially during the incident known as “The Great Matter”, when the king wanted a divorce from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Many people were swept into the chaos of this time, but there are two who were infamous during this time; Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn. These two were adversaries, vying for the attention of the king. They both experienced extreme highs and tragic lows as they navigated the change in England that would be the start of the Reformation. Lynda Telford explores the lives of Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, as well as the lives of other people who were caught displeasing King Henry VIII during this tumultuous time in her book, “Tudor Victims of the Reformation”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book to read and review. The title had me intrigued and I really wanted to dive into this interesting book.

Before I started reading this book, I thought that this book was going to be about the entire Tudor dynasty and the stories of the victims of the Reformation, from King Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth I. I also thought that this book might touch on the victims of the counter-Reformation during the reign of Queen Mary I. That is not what this book is about. Instead, Telford decided to focus on the lives of two main individuals, Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, ending in 1536. The title seemed rather misleading to me since the main focus of this book is “The Great Matter” rather than the Reformation, which was getting its start at this time, but really didn’t go into full swing in England until later in the Tudor dynasty.

Telford tells the story of Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn and how they rose to be by King Henry VIII’s side. Wolsey was a brilliant scholar who rose to prominence in the Catholic church and in the court of the King. He became an ally and advisor to Henry VIII during the early years of his reign. Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn 1st Earl of Wiltshire and an English diplomat. She was able to capture the heart of the king, even though he was still married to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Henry decided that after decades of being married to Katherine of Aragon that she would never give him the son that he wanted, so it was only sensible to divorce her and marry Anne Boleyn. This decision would radically change England and the lives of so many forever, including Wolsey and Anne Boleyn.

As someone who knows the story of “The Great Matter”, the rise and fall of Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, and how these decisions affected England as a whole, this book felt like a review for me. There were points when I did feel like this book was a tad dry, but Telford did add more information from other European sources that helped give a new perspective about this time. Personally, this book felt like a review for me, but for someone who is being introduced to this topic for the first time, this book is a good place to start. If you have just started studying the Tudors and the event known as “The Great Matter”, I would recommend you read Lynda Telford’s book, “Tudor Victims of the Reformation”.

Book Review: “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

91UpsDD9PWL.jpgHenry VIII, the king who was notorious for his six marriages. His first three marriages, to Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour, gave Henry VIII his only children that were considered eligible for succession. Catherine of Aragon was his first foreign bride, but he would divorce her to marry Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn would later be executed and Jane Seymour would die after giving birth to Henry’s son Edward. Henry wanted to marry again, so his most trusted advisors decided to try for a foreign alliance as well as a new bride for the king. They decided that Anne of Cleves from Germany would be the perfect bride, but it did not work out and Henry decided to divorce her and claim Anne as his “sister”. She is often viewed as Henry’s “lucky wife”, but who was she and what was her life like before and after she met her husband Henry VIII? That is exactly the question that Sarah-Beth Watkins wanted to explore in her latest book, “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife”.

Sarah-Beth Watkins explains who Anne of Cleves was  and how has she has been described in the past:

Contemporary reports of Anne are mixed but time has not been kind to her memory. In a book by Sarah Tytler published in 1896, I was shocked to read Anne described as ‘a woman of entirely negative characteristics’. The author really had nothing good to say about her. She was ‘dull-witted as well as a hard-favoured young woman, possessed of a stolid sluggishness of temper’. Her writing reads as if Anne had personally upset her in some way. She was ‘plain and stupid’ and even had a ‘meaningless expanse of forehead’! She hasn’t favoured much better with other authors. Hume described her as ‘large, bony and masculine’ and Burnet coined the phrase ‘Flanders mare’ which has stuck to Anne throughout the centuries. Strickland, however, wrote with more sympathy that Anne ‘ was a most unfortunate, ill-treated princess…who deserved a better fate than to become the wife of a king so devoid of the feelings of a gentleman as Henry VIII’…She was Queen of England for just over six months and after became the King’s ‘sister’- a role she adopted and thrived on. She became the richest woman in England for a time with an astounding divorce settlement. Henry may not have wanted her for a wife but he did not blame her for the failure of their marriage- that would fall upon his chief minister. Anne would outlive the king and all of his other wives. (Watkins, 2-3).

Watkins begins her book by diving into Anne of Cleves’ life in Germany before she was even considered as a bride for a king. Anne’s life in Germany was simple. She didn’t really have the education that one would expect for a future queen, but she never was expected to marry a king. She was the sister to William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg. Her sister, Sybilla, was married to John Frederick, Duke of Saxony, who was one of the leaders of the Protestant Confederation of Germany and was considered one of the champions of the Reformation. Anne didn’t  follow her sister’s path to the Protestant faith as she was a devout Catholic, but the religious issue doesn’t seem to have caused a rift in the family.

Anne was supposed to marry Francis of Lorraine, but the engagement was broken since Francis was only 10 when it was arranged. After the death of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII needed a new wife. He wanted to make an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League, a league of Protestant territories that wanted to defend itself against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Anne was not exactly Henry’s first choice of bride to help join this alliance, but she was the one he decided to marry, and so Anne left her home in 1539. The marriage did not last long, only six months, before Henry divorced her. Anne was a bit disappointed, but Henry was able to provide her with a wealthy lifestyle, one fit for a former queen.  There were talks about Anne becoming queen again after the fall of Katherine Howard, but it never happened. Anne was able to form a close relationship with Mary, Henry’s eldest daughter since they were so close in age. Even when she was not queen, Anne of Cleves kept a close eye on what was happening, not only in the English court but what was happening in her beloved Germany. As stated before, Anne did outlive Henry VIII, the rest of his wives and King Edward VI. Anne of Cleves died at the age of 41 on July 16, 1557.

This is the first time that I have read a book by Sarah-Beth Watkins and I really enjoyed how easy it was to read and the amount of information in this book. I did not know a whole lot about Anne of Cleves before reading this book, other than the fact that she was married to Henry VIII for a short time. Watkins’ book packs in so much information that you want to learn more about Anne of Cleves and her family.  This book is well researched and thoroughly enjoyable. If you want a fantastic book to introduce you to the life of Anne of Cleves, I highly recommend you read “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

Book Review: “Six Tudor Queens- Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen” by Alison Weir

9781472227713Henry VIII’s wives were some of the most fascinating women of the Tudor Dynasty.  Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, the mother of Mary I, and the first wife Henry divorced. Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth I and the first English queen to be executed. Anne of Cleves, the wife Henry did not like and divorced. Katherine Howard, the second wife Henry executed, and Katherine Parr, the wife who outlived Henry. All of these women were unique, however, there was only one who gave Henry the son that he so desperately desired. Her name was Jane Seymour. Her death was well documented since she died shortly after giving birth to Edward, yet we really don’t know who she was or what her life was like. Alison Weir decides to explore Jane’s life in her third book of the Six Tudor Queens series, “Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen”.

So what makes Jane such a mystery? In her author’s note, Alison Weir explains what we know about Jane and why she was a challenge to write about:

Jane Seymour’s career spanned three of the most tumultuous years in England’s history. She was at the centre of the turbulent and dramatic events that marked the Reformation, a witness to the fall of Anne Boleyn, and an adherent of the of traditional religion at a time when seismic changes were taking place in the English Church. Had she left behind letters giving insights into her views on these events, we would know much more about the role she played in them- but she didn’t and therefore she remains an enigma. Historians endlessly debate whether or not Jane was the demure and virtuous willing instrument of an ambitious family and an ardent and powerful king; or whether she was as ambitious as her relations and played a proactive part in bringing down the Queen she served. It is impossible, given the paucity of the evidence, to reach a conclusion. And yet a novelist approaching Jane Seymour must opt for one view or the other. For me, this posed a challenge, which set me poring once more over the historical evidence on which this book is closely based, looking for clues as to how to portray her. (Weir, 503).

Weir introduces us to Jane and the Seymour family on the wedding day of her eldest brother Edward to Catherine Fillol. This marriage was doomed to fail as there was a huge scandal that rocked the Seymour family to its core. During this time, at least according to Weir’s novel, Jane was contemplating becoming a nun, but alas, it was not the lifestyle for her. Jane would eventually move to the court of Katherine of Aragon to work for the Queen. Jane is content with her new life inside the royal court, but that all changes when Anne Boleyn starts to have a relationship with Henry VIII.

Jane was not the biggest fan of Anne Boleyn and she stayed with Katherine of Aragon for as long as she could. Eventually, Jane made her way into the court of Anne Boleyn and fell in love with Henry VIII. Jane sees a softer side of Henry, a side that is not often portrayed. As Anne fell from favor, Jane rose to become the next wife and queen of Henry VIII. It is Anne’s death that haunts Jane as she questions whether she did the right thing falling in love for the King. Jane is a strong and loving character who cares about her family, Henry and the Catholic Church. She works hard to bring Mary, Katherine of Aragon’s daughter, back to her father’s good side, as well as restoring the monasteries that Henry was destroying. Jane’s love and her courage to do what was right for her country and those who were close to her defined her life.

This third book in the “Six Tudor Queens” series is an absolute delight to read. It continues the trend that the first two books set, one of opening the readers’ eyes to another side of Henry VIII’s queens. Alison Weir’s Jane Seymour is full of strength and love for others that you can’t help but like her character. Weir combines events that happened with how Jane might have reacted to create a strong story full of love and heartache. Her life and her beloved son changed England forever. If you want a fascinating and complex story of Jane Seymour’s short life, I highly recommend you read the third book of the “Six Tudor Queens” series by Alison Weir, “Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen.” It is an absolutely eye-opening novel.