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: “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage

34411961The 16th century was filled with extremely strong women who went on to shape European and world history forever. This was true for England and Scotland, two countries whose stories were intertwined by powerful women. The women who ruled these two countries during this time were women that those who study this time period know about; Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. There was one woman who knew all four of these women and lived for over 80 years: Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury. The story of these five women is told in Jill Armitage’s book, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I am always interested in learning how different people in the 16th century interacted with one another, plus I didn’t know a whole lot about Bess of Hardwick and I wanted to learn more about her.

Armitage begins her book by exploring Bess of Hardwick’s family and how they rose in power so that Bess could serve royalty. It was interesting to learn about her family and the four husbands that Bess married throughout her life: Robert Barlow, Sir William Cavendish, Sir William St. Loe, and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. Bess also had numerous children and grandchildren who would go to be influential in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. I really wish Armitage had included family trees of the different families that were involved in her book to make it easier for the readers to understand the connections, which are vital for the stories mentioned in this particular book.

The story of Bess of Hardwick’s life begins at the height of the reign of the Tudor when Henry VIII is on the throne and ends with the beginning of the Stuarts Dynasty so Armitage does include the lives of the women who shaped these times. Armitage begins with how Henry VII and Henry VIII came to the throne, marching swiftly through the six wives of Henry VIII until reaching the reign of Henry VIII’s son King Edward VI. It is here where the pace of the book slows down a bit and we dive into the lives of the Grey family and how Bess of Hardwick knew them and how the family’s legacy came to an abrupt end with the execution of Lady Jane Grey. Armitage then explores the reigns of Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots and how Bess of Hardwick connects all three vivacious women.

Here is where I have another problem with this particular book; it is too short (less than 300 pages) when discussing all the history that Armitage has in it. Some parts felt like a review and other parts felt like facts were flying and she didn’t go into enough detail to explain it all. I feel like Armitage was a bit ambitious for the idea of this book and that if she wrote a bit more, the book would have flowed a lot better than it did.

Overall, I found this book rather interesting and relatively easy to understand. Armitage has a writing style that is readable. This is a great book for those who are being introduced to the Tudor dynasty, but for those who know about this time period, it feels like a review. If you are interested in learning about the connection between these five women, I recommend you read, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage.

Book Review: “The House of Grey: Friends and Foes of Kings” by Melita Thomas

51fOOu0p2GL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_There are many noble or royal families that truly were the backbone of the English society and that could help or hinder the monarchy. One such family was the Greys, who started as a baronial family and rose through the ranks by good marriages and staying loyal to those who were in power. Of course, when one rises high, there is also the risk of falling low spectacularly, which happens when Lady Jane Grey becomes Queen of England for a mere 9 days. The story of the house of Grey is complex, yet it has never been told in its entirety, until now. This extraordinary family saga is told in Melita Thomas’s latest book, “The House of Grey: Friends and Foes of Kings”. 

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Melita Thomas is the co-founder and editor of Tudor Times and this is her second book.  This particular book caught my eye as I did not know much about the Grey family, besides the story of Lady Jane Grey and her sisters. 

The story of the House of Grey begins with a rivalry between Owain Glyndwr and Lord Grey of Ruthyn over throwing off English dominance in Wales. Not a great start for a family who would become loyal to the crown of England. It was during the Wars of the Roses and the Battle of Northampton when Edmund Grey switched from supporting the Lancasters to supporting the Yorks, splitting the Grey family apart for a time. It was when Sir John Grey died at the Second Battle of St. Albans that the Greys truly supported the Yorkist crown since his widow, Lady Elizabeth Woodville, married King Edward IV. It is here that Thomas tracks the road to the crown through Elizabeth Woodville’s two Grey sons, Thomas and Richard.

Melita Thomas shows how the Grey boys made names for themselves; Richard Grey being executed while Richard of Gloucester was Lord Protector and Thomas Grey turning rebel and joining the Tudor cause to put Henry Tudor on the throne. Thomas Grey married Cecily Bonville and it was through their line that the Greys inherited the title of Marquis of Dorset. The title would pass onto each son until it reached Henry Grey, who’s ambitions for his daughter would prove fatal.

Thomas navigates the tumultuous times of the Greys to show how truly colorful the family was, from tiffs with fellow landowners to grand fallouts with kings and queens. The Grey family was able to restore themselves time after time to the monarchy’s good favor, no matter how low they fell. The Greys and their influence did not just reach England, but other corners of Europe as well, which is rather remarkable to read all about. Thomas gives the reader an opportunity to understand the roller coaster dynamics of the Grey family and the political atmosphere of the royal courts of different monarchs. The times that the Grey family lived in was one of great change and they were all along for the ride.

I found this book rather engaging and utterly fascinating. It is meticulously researched and you can tell that Melita Thomas had a passion for the subject she was writing about. Many people only know the story of Lady Jane Grey and her immediate family, but I think that this book paints a vivid picture of a complex family who survived the reigns of medieval and Tudor kings and queens. If you want to a delightful in-depth dive into the lives of the Greys, I highly recommend you read, “The House of Grey: Friends and Foes of Kings” by Melita Thomas.

 

“The House of Grey: Friends and Foes of Kings” by Melita Thomas will be available in the United States on January 1, 2020. If you would like to pre-order this awesome book, you can follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/House-Grey-Friends-Foes-Kings/dp/1445684977/

 

Book Review: “An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors” by Timothy Venning

A1XRNNIWxkL.jpgThe study of history is all about asking questions about how and why events happened. We understand that history is very much a study of cause and effect; if a certain person causes something to happen, we study the effect of those actions. But what if the person changes what they do? What would happen to the course of history? These are considered the “what ifs” of history, which is something that history fans and students like to discuss with one another. These questions rarely are discussed in books, until now. Timothy Venning explores some of the “what ifs” of the Tudor Dynasty in his book, “An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors”. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. This book was a rather interesting read and gave a different perspective to the Tudor dynasty as a whole.

 Instead of having an introduction to explain what he hopes to achieve with this book, Venning dives right into his discussion of some of the most famous “what if” questions about the Tudors. What if Prince Arthur lived to become King? What if Henry Fitzroy lived, could he have become King? What if Anne Boleyn survived? What if King Edward VI lived, who would he have married and what kind of King would he have been like? What if Lady Jane Grey stayed Queen of England, how would she have ruled England? What if Elizabeth I married Robert Dudley? What if the Spanish Armada succeeded in their plan to conquer England? Of course, Venning does include some of his own questions into the discussion as well to explore the entirety of the Tudor dynasty.

I honestly have mixed feelings about this book. I think Venning is very educated about the topics that he does discuss in this book. It is very much what I would call a “discussion starter” book. Venning gives his own opinions about these scenarios and gives readers something to think about. Some of the scenarios were relatively new ideas to me, which made me stop reading the book for a little bit to really think about what Venning is talking about and how history could have changed if one of the factors was changed.

Most of these topics are either political, martial, or military-related so we don’t really get to see how these events might have affected those who were not part of the royal family or the government. I wish Venning would have explored how these events would have impacted the country as a whole as well as how it might have impacted the culture of England. Venning does reference other events and figures in history in this book to make a point, which is fine, but I wish he didn’t compare the Tudors to modern figures that are seen as negative influences. It comes off as a bit distracting and I wish in these moments he would stick to talking about the Tudors.

Overall, I think this book was interesting. It really gives the reader a better understanding of how the Tudors survived during a very precarious time period in order to make England a better place for their people. Venning did present fascinating arguments for the reader to think about, but I wish he had written a bit better so that casual readers don’t get lost. If you want a book that makes you wonder about the “what ifs” of the Tudor dynasty, I would recommend you read, “An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors” by Timothy Venning. 

 

 

 

Book Review: “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle

61tJwNfDrEL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)Every family has their own stories. Stories of how they became a family, how they fought hard to get where they are today. Stories filled with love, drama, and endurance. When it comes to royal families, their stories tend to be broadcast to the masses, and none more so than the Tudors, who have captured the imagination of history lovers for generations. The Tudor’s story is often told in parts, focusing on individual people like Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. The Tudor story is fascinating told in parts, but as a whole, one sees how hard they worked to become a dynasty that will be remembered for centuries after their deaths. It is time for the story of this extraordinary family to be told as a whole and Leanda de Lisle does so in her book, “Tudor”.

The Tudors and their story often starts in books with the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, but that does a disservice to the humble beginnings of Owen Tudor and how they struggled to survive during the Wars of the Roses. It is their origin story that the Tudors used to their advantage, as de Lisle describes in her introduction:

The Tudors believed they were building on the past to create something different- and better- even if they differed on how. The struggle of Henry VII and his heirs to secure the line of succession, and the hopes, loves and losses of the claimants- which dominated and shaped the history of the Tudor family and their times- are the focus of this book. The universal appeal of the Tudors also lies in the family stories: of a mother’s love for her son, of the husband who kills his wives, of siblings who betray one another, of reckless love affairs, of rival cousins, of an old spinster whose heirs hope to hurry her to her end. (de Lisle, 4).

De Lisle begins her book with the story of Owen Tudor and the Welsh Tudors. It is a story of an unlikely love between a Welsh man who served in the house of the mother of the King of England. However, their story is a bit more complex. Owen Tudor descended from those who were involved in a Welsh rebellion against Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king, he married the wife and mother of two other Lancastrian kings, and his sons were the half-brothers of a Lancastrian King, Henry VI. Talk about a twist of faith. To top it all off, his only grandson, Henry Tudor, was the only child of Margaret Beaufort, who was married four different times and did everything in her power to protect her son. It all culminated in one battle at Bosworth Field where the Tudors go from nobodies to a royal dynasty.

It is this thin line of royal blood that the Tudors cling to as a lifeline to hold onto their throne. Starting with Henry VII, who fought against usurpers and rebels to hold onto the crown that he won on the battlefield. Henry believed in the importance of his family and so he chooses marriages for his children that would benefit the family as a whole. What de Lisle does well is she gives each child of Henry VII the respect that they deserve; she does not just focus on Henry VIII but gives attention to Arthur, Mary, and Margaret Tudor and their children. This is so important as it gives the reader a broader sense of how far the Tudor family ties went. Sure, we all know the stories of Henry VIII, his wives, and his children, but the Tudor story is much deeper than just the family in England. It is a story full of European players all vying for the crown of England.

Leanda de Lisle is able to masterfully tell the story of the Tudors, which has been discussed for centuries and breathe new life into this complex family drama. De Lisle balances meticulous research with an easily accessible writing style in this book that fans of the Tudor dynasty, both scholars and casual readers, will appreciate. This is a book that you will not want to put down. I would recommend this book, “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle, to anyone who is enchanted with the story of the Tudors and their legacy on England. “Tudor” is an absolute triumph and a delight to read over and over again.

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: “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51M3PWFQLjLThe children of Henry VIII have been the center of historical studies for centuries. Edward VI, Mary I,  and Elizabeth I were all considered Henry’s “legitimate” children and were able to obtain the crown of England. Henry Fitzroy was the illegitimate son of the king, but he was still able to gain titles and a good marriage before he died. They all had something in common; they were all recognized by their father, Henry VIII. However, there was another child who many believed to have been the daughter of the king. The name of this intriguing lady was Lady Katherine Knollys and her story comes to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this great book. I have never read a biography on Lady Katherine Knollys and I found this a delight to read.

Katherine’s mother was the sister of Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn. For a time before Anne came into the picture, Mary was Henry VIII’s mistress. Henry VIII did have a child by another mistress, which he did declare as his own, so why did he not acknowledge Katherine as his child? Watkins offers an explanation on why Katherine was not acknowledged by the king and what her life was like:

Katherine would grow up never to be acknowledged as King Henry VIII’s daughter. Henry had every reason not to acknowledge her. He has his daughters, one already born when Katherine came into the world, and he needed no more. His denial of his affair with Katherine’s mother, Mary, would be something that would always position Katherine as a bastard. Yet Katherine joined the Tudor court as maid of honour to Queen Anne of Cleves and she went on to serve Catherine Howard as well as becoming one of Elizabeth I’s closest confidantes- cousins for definite, more likely half-sisters. Katherine lived through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and on into Elizabeth I’s. Never far from court, she lived in a world where she would never be a princess but a lady she was born to be. (Watkins, 1).

Watkins begins her book by exploring Mary Boleyn’s life and her relationship with Henry VIII and the birth of Katherine. As Mary fell out of favor with the king, we see the rise and fall of her sister, Anne Boleyn. As Katherine grows up, we see her becoming a maid of honour for Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, until she marries Francis Knollys at the age of 16. Katherine and Francis went on to have quite a large family. Their children included Lettice Knollys, who scandalously married Elizabeth I’s favorite, Sir Robert Dudley. Katherine spent a lot of her life serving others, never flaunting who her father might have been. The only time that Katherine’s life was in danger was when Mary I came to the throne. Katherine and Francis decided to take their family and flee abroad since they were Protestants, but they did return when Elizabeth returned. Elizabeth came to rely on Katherine as a close confidante and when Katherine did die, Elizabeth gave her an elaborate funeral.

This was my first time reading a biography about Lady Katherine Knollys and I really enjoyed it. I go back and forth whether I believe she was the daughter of Henry VIII or not, but I found it interesting to learn more about this fascinating woman. Watkins does a superb job of balancing letters, facts and an easy to understand writing style to tell the story of Lady Katherine Knollys, her family, and the life inside the Tudor court. If you want to learn more about the life of the remarkable daughter of Mary Boleyn, I highly recommend you read, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.  

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.

Book Review: “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett

9780451477996_p0_v1_s550x406After the death of Henry VIII and Edward VI, there was an explosion of religious intolerance, not just in England, but in Europe as a whole. Many believe that it was Mary I “Bloody Mary” who really started this trend, however, the fires of hatred between Protestants and Catholics extended further into the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. We often focus on the monarchs and their inner circles during this time and how the religious persecutions affected the decisions that they made. That tells only part of the story, but how did this religious fighting between Protestants and Catholics affect the normal person? What were their lives like? Ken Follett explores this topic in his third book in his historical fiction series, the  Kingsbridge Series, “A Column of Fire”.

Every historical fiction book needs a great opening to engage the reader and Ken Follett delivers with his prologue:

We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can’t kill a man in front of God’s face you probably shouldn’t kill him at all. The sheriff brought him up from the dungeon below the guildhall, hands tied behind his back. He walked upright, his pale face defiant, fearless. The crowd jeered at him and cursed him. He seemed not to see them. But he saw me. Our eyes met, and in that momentary exchange of looks, there was a lifetime. I was responsible for his death, and he knew it. I had been hunting him for decades. He was a bomber who would have killed half the rulers of our country, including most of the royal family, all in one act of bloodthirsty savagery- if I had not stopped him. I have spent my life tracking such would-be murderers, and a lot of them have been executed- not just hanged but drawn and quartered, the more terrible death reserved for the worst offenders. Yes, I have done this many times: watched a man die knowing that I, more than anyone else, had brought him to his just but dreadful punishment. I did it for my country, which is dear to me; for my sovereign, whom I serve; and for something else, a principle, the belief that a person has the right to make up his own mind about God. He was the last of many men I sent to hell, but he made me think of the first…”(Follett, prologue).

This story follows the lives of several different people and their families, but the main story focuses on a man named Ned Willard. After he can’t marry the girl he loves, Margery Fitzgerald,  and his family is crushed by bad investments, he decides to work for a young Elizabeth Tudor, who would later become Elizabeth I. His works will lead him all over England and Europe to help thwart plots to kill Elizabeth and replace her with a Catholic ruler. One of his biggest opponents is the elusive Jean Langlais, a man who works in the shadows, yet he is closer than Ned thinks.

What Follett does so well is that he incorporates people from other countries into this story. Sylvie Palot from France, the young Protestant bookseller, who is not afraid to sell Bibles to those who wish to own a Bible. Pierre Aumande, the man who will do anything in order to gain power. Alison McKay, the fictitious best friend of Mary Queen of Scots, who would do anything for her queen. Ebrima Dabo, a slave who will do anything to be free. Barney Willard, Ned’s brother, who wants nothing in life, except to sail the high seas looking for adventure.

Follett’s cast of original characters adds a depth to an already tumultuous time in European history. Follett is able to blend the fictitious characters with real historical figures and actual events like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the death of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada.

This is my first book by Ken Follett and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were so many twists and turns in this story that I was not expecting that I really could not stop reading this book. I found it rather engaging and exciting. I found it interesting that Follett decided to end the book during the reign of James I and that he called King Philip II of Spain by his other less common Spanish name Felipe. These are more stylistic choices instead of historical choices.

Overall as a historical fiction book about the religious persecution in the Elizabethan era, I found this book dynamic and thrilling. Although this is the third book in a series, I believe it can stand on its own.  After reading this book, I really want to go back and read the first two books of the series. If you want a great historical fiction book that you can easily get lost in, I enthusiastically recommend you read “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett.