Book Review: “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador” by Lauren Mackay

25266205The story of King Henry VIII and his six wives has been regaled for centuries in different mediums. We love the marital problems of this one English king because of how much of an impact it made on all of Europe in the 16th century and beyond. Yet our love affair with the Tudor dynasty would not have gotten to the point that it is today without the tireless efforts of the ambassadors who went to England to report the news of the day to their respected kings and emperors. We tend to think that the ambassadors are better left in the shadows, working to promote peace between countries and report what was happening, but one man made a name for himself as an ambassador and transcended time. His name was Eustace Chapuys. His story and his mission are finally being told in Lauren Mackay’s brilliant debut book, “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador”.

I have heard about this book in the past and how much of an impact it has made in the Tudor community in the past. I have read Lauren Mackay’s two other books and I have enjoyed them thoroughly and so I really wanted to read this book.

To understand the man behind the now-infamous words about the Tudors, especially Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, we have to go back to Chapuys hometown of Annecy. It is here where we see the Chapuys family rise in prominence to the point where Eustace Chapuys was employed by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as the Spanish Ambassador to England. His main job was to report information back to Charles about the Henirican court as accurately as possible.

Chapuys started his job as ambassador at a critical junction in English history when Henry VIII was in the middle of his divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon in 1529. Chapuys admired Katherine of Aragon’s strength and worked tirelessly to protect her daughter Mary. Since Chapuys had a close connection to those who were essential in the Tudor court, he has given historians fabulous insights into these tumultuous times. It was really his relationship with Anne Boleyn which has caused a lot of controversy over the years and has blackened Chapuys’ name for centuries. Mackay has masterfully examined Chapuys’ correspondences to uncover the truth about how he felt about the Tudor court from 1529 until 1545.

You cannot separate Tudor history during the reign of Henry VIII and the works of Eustace Chapuys, which is why this biography and Mackay’s research are so essential in understanding the 16th century. It sheds new light on the stories of Henry VIII and the lives of his six wives; Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. Chapuys was not afraid to speak his mind and to share the rumors of the day, which gives us significant insight into how the royal family was perceived by their public, both the positive and the negative aspects.

Eustace Chapuys has been one of those ambassadors who we think we know, but do we really? Mackay has rescued the much-maligned messenger of Charles V and restored him to the glory that he so rightfully deserves. Chapuys’ story was hidden in plain sight, but it took an extraordinary historian to bring his story to the spotlight. If you think you know about Eustace Chapuys and the Henrician court, you need to read this sublime biography, “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador” by Lauren Mackay. It might change how you view the Tudor dynasty.

Book Review: “Murder in the Cloister” by Tania Bayard

55421664The year is 1399 in Paris and the royal family is concerned about the Priory in Poissy. Something has happened behind the cloistered walls and only one person who is extremely loyal to the king and queen can figure out what is amiss, Christine de Pizan the famous medieval writer. Christine goes to Poissy to act as a copyist for the prioress, but she soon finds herself in the middle of a sinister murder case. A nun has been found dead and it is up to Christine and her allies, plus one frenemy, to figure out who killed the nun while protecting the king’s youngest daughter who calls the priory home. Can Christine figure out who murdered the young nun and make it out of the priory alive? This is the premise of Tania Bayard’s latest installment of her Christine de Pizan murder mystery series, “Murder in the Cloister”.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Severn House Publishers for sending me a copy of this novel. When I was browsing, the cover is what drew my attention. I had not heard of this series or of Tania Bayard before reading this novel. I did not know that this book was part of a series until I started reading it. I have heard about Christine de Pizan and her writing legacy, but I sadly knew nothing about her family life and her connection to King Charles V, King Charles VI, and Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, which would have been useful information to know before reading.

We begin this novel with Christine surrounded by her family and her mother. We find out that Christine is a single mother now as her husband has recently passed away and she is trying to earn money through her writing. As the daughter of Thomas de Pizan, the famous astrologer to King Charles V, she has earned the trust of the royal family. King Charles VI, who is suffering from some sort of mental malady, and his wife Queen Isabeau of Bavaria have asked Christine to go to the Priory in Poissy to copy a manuscript for the prioress and to visit her daughter Marie. She is allowed to bring her son Thomas, but the queen insists on Henri le Picart, a man who Christine despises, to come along and protect her. I found Henri’s character annoying with how he belittles women and their abilities, but he did have some redeeming qualities as the story went along.

I found the actual murder investigation a bit slow for my taste. Bayard tends to focus on the subplot of sorcery a bit too long. I wanted an action-packed adventure full of danger and intrigue, like a novel by CJ Sansom or Toni Mount, but the action fell flat for me. I think Bayard was able to describe the priory and the inner workings very well and the characters were all well written and dynamic. As someone who jumped into this series rather late, it took me a while to figure out the relationship between the characters and what happened in previous cases, which is imperative in solving this particular case.

Overall, I found this medieval murder mystery rather enjoyable. I have not read many medieval novels set in France and I have not read anything about Christine de Pizan, so it was different yet intriguing at the same time. If you want to read this series, I would suggest starting at the very beginning. If you are however familiar with the life of Christine de Pizan and this series, I think you will find, “Murder in the Cloister” by Tania Bayard rather enjoyable and a great medieval escape from reality.

Book Review: “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir

6282683Anne Boleyn, the  second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Elizabeth I. Most of us know her story of how she fell in love with Henry VIII and how their relationship changed England forever as Henry broke off with Rome in order to get a divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne. Unfortunately, when Anne couldn’t give Henry the son he so desired, their love began to fade. Anne Boleyn’s story ends in tragedy as she was accused of having multiple affairs, plotting the death of Henry VIII, and witchcraft, Anne was found guilty and was killed. Her fall happened in May 1536, a month that changed everything, but how much of these charges are true? Did she indeed have these affairs? Did she plot to kill her husband? What is the truth behind her fall? These are the questions that Alison Weir try to answer in her book “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn.”

Alison Weir states that:

In assessing Anne’s character and impact on history, we should ask ourselves how she would be viewed today if she had not perished on the scaffold. Her end was one of the most dramatic and shocking episodes in English history, her last days the best documented period of her life, vividly described in the sources, while the powerful image of her on the scaffold, courageously facing a horrible death, has overlaid all previous conceptions of her. (Weir, 337-338).

Weir begins her book with the May Day joust of 1536, when Henry VIII abruptly left Anne all alone. A few months before, Anne had her last miscarriage, unable to provide Henry the son that he so desired. Henry’s attention began to wander towards Jane Seymour, even though, at this time, he still had feelings for Anne. After Katherine of Aragon’s death, a few weeks before the miscarriage,  Anne’s enemies began to make their moves. Anne had many enemies in court and the entire country was against her in her role in the divorce of Henry and Katherine of Aragon, who was extremely popular.Cromwell, who despised Anne, planned a way to get Anne off the throne with the help of Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador to England for Charles V.

Cromwell had enlisted the help of Anne’s servants, including her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, to make a tale of scandal. The story goes that Anne had affairs with five men: Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, and her brother George Boleyn. Alison Weir explores the validity of the claims of the affairs as well as the details of the trials. Of course, the trials did not go in a way that was what we would now today consider “fair” and the sentence of death was passed on all of the accused. Anne Boleyn and the men accused with her are executed. The only legacy Anne left behind was her daughter, who would become Queen Elizabeth I.

I have been a fan of Alison Weir’s for years. I love the amount of details that she puts into her books and how both her fiction and non-fiction books are so easy to read. “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” follows this trend. For me, Anne Boleyn has been one of those people in the Tudor time  that really has not interested me. That was until I read this book. The story of her fall is so dramatic and quick that it leaves a lot of intriguing questions about if Anne and the men who fell with her were indeed innocent. “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir is such a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in Anne Boleyn and her fall from grace.

Book Review: “La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters” by Sarah Bryson

35067557_1710198212397536_7023071200330907648_nWhen we think of the Tudors, we often think of  strong women like Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn,  Elizabeth I, Margaret Beaufort and Mary I. However, there was another Mary who made an impact during this time. She was the daughter of Henry VII, the sister of Henry VIII, and the wife of King Louis XII of France. She was referred to as one of the most beautiful women in the world. She gave away all of her titles to marry the man she loved, even though he was not a king. She took on debt to have a family and helped those who needed help. This is the life of Mary Tudor.  In Sarah Bryson’s debut book, “La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters”, Bryson explores the life of this extraordinary woman through her letters.

Sarah Bryson explains why she decided to include Mary’s letters in this book:

Mary Tudor’s letters are a fascinating and captivating look at how a woman could wield power without publically challenging the patriarchy. They show how Mary was able to manoeuvre those around her to follow her heart- marrying her second husband for love, rather than being dragged back to the international chess game as a marriage pawn. They are also, on occasion, a way of looking into Mary’s life whereby the layers of princess and queen are stripped back and only the woman remain. (Bryson, 11).  

Bryson decides to begin her book not with the birth of Mary, but rather with the Wars of the Roses in order to understand how the Tudors came into power and the importance of the marriages that Henry VII established for his children were. She then moves onto the family aspect of the Tudors and the birth of Mary, which to me was fascinating to understand those early years of a young princess. Unfortunately  Mary’s world was not a picture perfect one as her father was constantly fighting those who wanted to take his throne, including Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. Her brother Arthur, Prince of Wales, would marry Katherine of Aragon, but only a few months after they were married, Arthur tragically died. Mary’s mother would also pass away while trying to give birth to a baby girl. In order to build a strong alliance, Henry VII made a marriage treaty between Mary and Archduke Charles (later Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor), but it would eventually fall through.

Henry VII would die on April 21, 1509, leaving the throne to his son Henry VIII; Henry would marry his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon on June 11, 1509. Henry arranged Mary’s first marriage with King Louis XII with an enormous dowry, but their marriage would not last long as Louis XII would die on January 1, 1515. Mary would retire from public life and would wear the white mourning clothes of a widow, thus the nickname “La Reine Blanche”, the white queen. Mary would not stay single for long as she married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Charles Brandon was a notorious ladies’ man and happened to be one of the people who Henry VIII sent over to France to help Mary. To say that Henry was upset would be an understatement; he refused for the couple to return to England, for a time, and ordered that Charles Brandon would pay off Mary’s dowry. It would leave the couple impoverished for the rest of their lives, but they were happy and in love. It was really during this time that Mary’s letters showed her heart and who she truly was. Mary had to be incredibly strong to show the love that she had for her husband to her brother. Henry eventually accepted the couple and they went on to have four children of their own: Henry, Frances, Eleanor and Henry 1st Earl of Lincoln. Their daughter Frances would marry Henry Grey and would become the mother of Lady Jane Grey, Katherine Grey and Mary Grey. Mary Tudor would die on June 25, 1533, shortly after Anne Boleyn was crowned queen.

 

Mary Tudor’s story is one of tragedy and love. I will be honest and say that I only knew about half of her story, but Sarah Bryson made Mary come alive. “La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, a Life in Letters” may be Bryson’s debut book but it feels like she has been writing for a while. This is a lovely book that combines facts and letters in such a way that it is a joy to read. I look forward to reading more from Sarah Bryson in the near future. If you are interested in the life of Mary Tudor, this is a great book about her life through her letters.