Book Review: “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” by Ian Mortimer

Have you ever read a history book and wondered what life was really like for those who lived in the past? To understand a time period and the motives of the people of the past, we have to understand the structure of their society. How they understood things like class, sex, violence, government, and religion is essential for us to understand what separates us from our ancestors. What they ate, what they wore, and where they slept also give a unique insight into the time period. It can be a difficult undertaking to figure out all of the different aspects of the past connect and to present it cohesively, yet acclaimed historian Ian Mortimer has embraced this challenge head-on to tackle one of the most complex periods of the past; the Elizabethan era. His love letter to the Elizabethan age entitled, “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” is a delightfully imaginative guide to the past.

There have been numerous books about the lifestyles of past eras, but what separates those books from the one that Ian Mortimer has written is his writing style and the imaginative descriptions that he included. Many writers give you the facts without the fluff. Mortimer has written this book as if you have stepped back in time and you are seeing the Elizabethan age with your own eyes. It is a treat for all of the senses. To engage the reader in such a way is not an easy feat, but Mortimer does it seamlessly.

I think we all have a vague idea of what the reign of Elizabeth I might have been like. After all, it was known as the “Golden Age”, so it must have been a time of opportunity and great providence for the people, no matter their social standing. Or maybe not. As Mortimer explains, this “Golden Age” was a varnish for a reign that was filled with its own set of trials and tribulations, very similar to what we experience today. Sure, the problems are different, but we can relate to the people of the past because they are human problems. We all deal with things like diseases, where we live, what we eat, what to wear, religion, entertainment, and education. Yet what makes each era unique is how we address these issues.

To see the Elizabethan era, which was on the precipice of the early modern age, in the midst of great progress was a joy. Obviously, this would not have been a time that modern readers would like to have stayed for an extended visit, but it was simply a fantastic guide for those who dream of the past.

I don’t usually share quotes from books in my reviews, but there was something that Mortimer said at the very end of this book that was too poignant not to share.

“History is not really about the past; it is about understanding mankind over time. Within that simple, linear story of change and survival, there are a thousand contrasts, and within each of those contrasts there is a range of experiences, and if we put our minds to it, we can relate to each one. “(pg. 325)

I picked up this particular book on a whim and I am truly glad I did. It gave me a deeper understanding of the Elizabethan age and what it meant to be Elizabethan. Although we are separated from these people by centuries, their experiences and ours are similar. We are all humans trying to get by each day the best we can. If you have ever wanted to know what the past was really like for those in the Elizabethan era, either for your own personal enjoyment or for research, I highly recommend you add, “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” by Ian Mortimer to your own personal collection.

Book Review: “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” by Robert Stedall

52718070._SX318_The last Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, was known for many things, but her main legacy is that she never chose to marry anyone. She was the infamous “Virgin Queen”. However, there were those around her who manage to capture her attention and her admiration for a time. The most famous of these men was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He was a massive supporter of the arts and the Protestant faith, gaining prestige and praise from his highly exalted monarch. Yet, his life and his relationship with his wives, his enemies, and Elizabeth I was full of dangers and numerous scandals. Who was this man who wooed the heart of the most eligible woman in all of 16th century Europe? Robert Stedall investigates the relationship between these two lovers destined to never marry each other in, “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am always interested in learning new aspects about the reign of Elizabeth I and her love life. When I saw the cover, I was instantly drawn to it and I wanted to know more about Elizabeth and Robert.

Stedall begins his biography by exploring the reigns of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, and Mary I to show how the Dudleys came to power and how they fell out of power. I noticed that Stedall included Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley in the family trees that he provided at the beginning of the book, but their death years are different, even though they both died in 1554 on the same day. I think that it was interesting to see how the fall of the Dudleys affected Robert and how it was truly through Elizabeth’s favor that they gained back their honor. This friendship between Elizabeth and Robert gradually developed into love, although it was quite taboo. Robert was Elizabeth’s Master of the Horse and he was already married to Amy Robsart. Even after Amy’s untimely death, Elizabeth and Robert could never be together as a couple because her council, especially Cecil, wanted her to marry a great European power to create a strong alliance, which was a reasonable request.

Sadly, Robert Dudley could not wait forever for Elizabeth, so he chose to marry again, this time to Lettice Knollys. To say Elizabeth was upset about this marriage would be an understatement. Even though she could never marry Robert, it did not mean she wanted another woman to marry him. Robert remained faithful to his queen as a military officer and a patron of the arts and building projects. It is impossible to discuss the Elizabethan Age without mentioning the contributions of Lord Robert Dudley.

I think Stedall has done his research very well. However, this book is a tad too dry for my taste. I was hoping to learn some new swoon-worthy facts about this notorious romance, but Stedall’s book was a bit too analytical for this to happen. It was a struggle for me to read this book as it took me a few weeks to finish it. With a title such as the one he provided, I was hoping for new romantic facts, but it fell flat for me.

Overall, I felt like this was a well-researched biography, but it fell flat on the delivery. I think if you are being introduced to the relationship of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, this is a decent introduction, but if you know the story, it might not be the best book to read. If you want to learn more about Robert Dudley and his influence in the Elizabethan court, check out, “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” by Robert Stedall.

Book Review: “Chronos Crime Chronicles- The Death of Amy Robsart: An Elizabethan Mystery” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51132911On September 8, 1560, a woman was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs inside Cumnor Place. The only visible marks on her body were two wounds on the side of her head, yet her neck was clearly broken. If she was an ordinary woman, her death would not have been remembered through the centuries, yet she was no ordinary woman. She was the wife of Robert Dudley, the man who was considered as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite courtiers. Amy Robsart was a third wheel in the relationship between her husband and the queen, but does that mean that she was murdered? In her latest book, “Chronos Crime Chronicles- The Death of Amy Robsart: An Elizabethan Mystery”, Sarah-Beth Watkins plays detective to uncover the cause of death and the possible motive for those who wanted to see Amy dead.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Watkins’ previous books, so when I found out she was writing another book about the case of Amy Robsart, I knew that I wanted to read it.

Amy Robsart, the wife of Robert Dudley, was a woman whose life was an enigma, but her death caused a sensation. In this short book, Watkins gives her readers a brief outline of what we know about her death and the coroner’s report on her case. As someone who has read about this case in the past, I found that she was able to touch on the significant points of the case in a succinct yet engaging manner.

Watkins then moves to the main topic of her book, which is if someone did have Amy murder, who were the possible suspects, and what could have been their motives for the crime. Obviously, she does mention Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I as suspects because they were subject to the rumors swirling around this particular case. Watkins does also brings up others who could have committed the crime because they were jealous of the relationship between Dudley and Elizabeth I. If Amy Robsart was indeed murdered, it seems likely it was her husband’s enemies who wanted to blacken his name, not because they had an extreme hatred towards Amy herself.

As someone who believes that Amy Robsart’s death was indeed a terrible accident, I found that some of Watkins’ arguments rather compelling. I think that Watkins’ easy-to-understand writing style is a benefit for a case as complex as this one. This is a good introduction book for those who are not familiar with the death of Amy Robsart, but I wish Watkins did dive a bit more in-depth into some of the theories that she does mention. If you want a book that introduces you to the mysterious death of Amy Robsart, “Chronos Crimes Chronicles- The Death of Amy Robsart: An Elizabethan Mystery” by Sarah-Beth Watkins is the book for you.

Guest Post: “John Foxe in State of Treason” by Paul Walker

State of Treason Tour BannerToday, I am pleased to welcome Paul Walker, the author of “State of Treason” Book one of the William Constable Spy Thriller series, to my blog as part of his book tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. Paul Walker will be discussing one of his characters, John Foxe. 

One of the delights in writing historical fiction is discovering real characters from the past, translating bare facts recorded about them into thoughts and actions, then weaving these into your story. When I started researching the reign of Elizabeth I for State of Treason, the first book in the William Constable series, I came across Doctor John Foxe. Until then, I knew little about Foxe; having only a vague notion of him as an author and scholar in the sixteenth century. Delving deeper, it soon became apparent that Foxe was a celebrated figure and his Book of Martyrs was a bestseller in its time, second only to the Bible, and an important tool of Protestant propaganda.

Foxe was born around the year 1516 in Lincolnshire to a prosperous yeoman family and entered Oxford University when he was 18. He became a supporter of Martin Luther and was active in condemning the practice of selling pardons by the Catholic Church. While at Oxford he witnessed the burning of William Crowbridge for his role in publishing the Bible in English. During the reign of Henry VIII, he was critical of the church and when Mary came to the throne he fled to Europe with his wife where he befriended several continental Protestant scholars.  It was in Basel that he wrote and published the first edition of his Book of Martyrs in Latin. 

The full title runs to a long paragraph and could be considered a work of flash fiction itself. The book contains many gruesome illustrations of the executions of Protestant martyrs. This, and an understanding that Foxe was fiercely anti-Catholic, gave the initial impression of a stern, unbending religious fanatic. I was surprised, therefore, when I came upon an engraving, which, to my mind, showed a thoughtful and gentleman. In particular, he had a kind twinkle in his eyes. Reading more, I discovered he had a benign and forgiving nature and abhorred cruelty, even for those whose views he strongly opposed. He favoured the use of logical and theological arguments rather than maltreatment and execution to persuade those of different faiths.

J Foxe

An instance that demonstrates his compassion and humour was when he advised against the execution of an Anabaptist, Joan Boucher, in the reign of Edward VI. Boucher was examined by a man named James Rogers, who insisted she should die by burning. Instead of burning, Foxe pleaded, “at least let another kind of death be chosen, answering better to the mildness of the Gospel.” When Rogers answered that in his opinion burning alive was gentler than many other forms of execution, Foxe said to Rogers, “… maybe the day will come when you yourself will have your hands full of the same gentle burning.” 

In 1559, with Elizabeth on the throne, Foxe returned to England where he continued his scholarly work. I decided to incorporate Foxe as a character in State of Treason, which is set in London in 1578. The protagonist is William Constable, a fictitious physician, and scholar of mathematics and astronomy. Foxe’s faith becomes a foil for Constable’s man of science and logic. Together they form an unlikely friendship and formidable partnership in the fight to protect the English state against foreign and domestic intrigue. 

Four editions of his Book of Martyrs were printed in Foxe’s lifetime with the fourth published in 1583 and derived works were published after his death. The first English edition was published in 1563 and contained 1,700 pages and 1.5 million words. These statistics were surpassed by the fourth edition which was four times the length of the Bible and described as the most physically imposing, complicated, and technically demanding book of its era.

Francis Walsingham, William Cecil, and other Protestant statesmen decided that Foxe’s Book of Martyrs could be used in the anti-Catholic propaganda campaign deployed against Mary, Queen of Scots, and her supporters. A copy was placed in almost every church and wealthy household and it was required onboard all ships that sailed to the New Lands or fought against Spain. It has been argued that it was one of the most influential books in the English language. Despite its renown and popularity, it is said that Foxe never earned a penny from any of the editions. He was an unworldly man who largely depended on the benevolence of wealthy patrons.

John Foxe died peacefully at his home in Grub Street, London in 1587.

State_of_Treason

London, 1578

William Constable is a scholar of mathematics, astrology, and practices as a physician. He receives an unexpected summons to the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham in the middle of the night. He fears for his life when he spies the tortured body of an old friend in the palace precincts.

His meeting with Walsingham takes an unexpected turn when he is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.

Constable is swept up in the chase to uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion. He schemes to gain the confidence of the adventurer John Hawkins and a rich merchant. Pressured into taking a role as court physician to pick up unguarded comments from nobles and others, he has become a reluctant intelligencer for Walsingham.

Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?

Constable must race to unravel the threads of political manoeuvring for power before a new-found love and perhaps his own life is forfeit.

Amazon

Audio: Amazon UKAmazon US  

Paul Walker

Paul Walker

Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first three books in the series are State of Treason; A Necessary Killing; and The Queen’s Devil. He promises more will follow.

Social Media Links:

WebsiteTwitterFacebook

Book Review: “Sex, Love, and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age” by R.E. Pritchard

Action, adventure, drama, heartache, and love are what people crave when they read fictional stories. Yet, these elements are ever-present in the stories from the past. Each one of these topics could be explored in numerous ways when we are discussing history, but an area in history where romance and love were intermingled with politics was Elizabethan England. Queen Elizabeth I was obviously known as the “Virgin Queen” because she chose not to marry, but that did not mean that her subjects were banned from love and marriage. How did Elizabethans view the ideas of love, marriage, and sex? In this book, “Sex, Love, and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age”, R.E. Pritchard sets out to explore what love, marriage, and the intimate moments meant to Elizabethans of every class.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. The Elizabethan era has been one of my favorites time periods to study so I am always interested in learning some new aspects about that period in history.

Pritchard begins his book by discussing what love and marriage meant for the commoners in Elizabethan England. These relationships were essential for how the average person identified themselves in society. He explores the scandalous relationships, rapes, adulterous affairs, and love of every kind through popular literature and journals that lesser-known figures kept during this time. I found this section particularly fascinating since I have never seen a book about Elizabethan England explore the literature of the time with such a narrow lens. I think it would have been cool if Pritchard would have done mini historiographical studies into why certain poets and authors wrote what they did to give more depth to the words that they wrote.

The second half of this book explores the romantic lives of Queen Elizabeth I and her Court. This is where I felt a disconnect with what Pritchard wanted to achieve with this particular book. It felt like a review of Elizabeth’s life and her numerous suitors vying for her hand in marriage. There are so many books out today about Elizabeth’s love life that explored this topic in so much depth and by comparison, it made this section of Pritchard’s book feel weaker than the first half.

I wish Pritchard would have focused on perfecting the first half of the book and exploring the amorous relationships of the average Elizabethan. There are sparks of brilliance, but they are marred by the second half of this book. If Pritchard wanted to include the section about the queen’s love life, I wish he had it at the beginning as a chapter or two to make it very brief and to set the mood, then jump into the lives of average Elizabethans as a comparison.

Overall, I felt like this book had the potential to be something special, but Pritchard tried to do too much in one book. He is passionate about the subject that he is writing about, which is obvious to those who read this book, but he was over-ambitious. I think his original research and ideas were fascinating and I want more of that new angle to romance in Elizabethan England that he was presenting. If you want a unique look at love and marriage in the late Tudor dynasty, you should give, “Sex, Love, and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age” by R.E. Pritchard a try.

Book Review: “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall

One of the most dynamic queens in 16th century Europe who spent most of her youth in a country that was not her homeland, but was fighting for the right to rule England. Her name was Mary Queen of Scots, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth I. Many know of her tragic tale, but there was a man who was behind the scenes trying to guide Scotland to a brighter future. He was not married to Mary Queen of Scots, but he was influential in her life and choosing who she might marry and who she would end up divorcing. He was a politician and a religious reformer whose decisions would alter history dramatically. His name was William Maitland and he served as Mary’s secretary. He is always mentioned as a footnote in history, until now. Robert Stedall’s latest biography, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator”, explores the life and legacy of this rather extraordinary secretary.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this book, I was intrigued since I had never heard of William Maitland, except in footnotes in books about Mary Queen of Scots that I have read in the past. I wanted to know more about the man who knew Mary so well and helped her with such significant decisions in her life.

After Mary Queen of Scots’ first husband, Francis II of France passed away at a young age, she made the journey back to the country of her birth, Scotland, where she was introduced to William Maitland. As a Protestant reformer, he believed that the best thing for the country and the Scottish Reformation would be to break the Auld Alliance with France and to gain closer ties with England. Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley, is less than agreeable to Maitland, so he and others help plot his murder. This decision led to Mary’s imprisonment and the succession of her son James as king.

Stedall’s whole premise revolves around the idea that Maitland helped plan Darnley’s murder. I do have a few problems with this book. First, for a biography that should revolve around Maitland, it felt like Maitland was more of a background character to Mary’s story. Second, the case that he lays out for Maitland being involved in the murder revolves around the validity of the infamous Casket Letters, which many believe are forgeries and have disappeared. It is hard to prove a case when the evidence in question may have been forgeries and are lost to history. Finally, I felt like Stedall’s writing style was a bit dry for my personal taste. I know that this was supposed to be academic in nature, with the focus on the political and religious nature of Maitland’s life, but it just fell flat to me.

Overall, I felt like this book was okay. It may have shown how the political and religious divides influenced the decisions of Mary Queen of Scots’ reign, but it needed a stronger focus on William Maitland. I feel like Stedall has a passion for this period of Scottish history and he has done his research, but he needed to rein it in a bit more. I think if you enjoy reading about Mary Queen of Scots, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall might be a book you should check out.

Book Review: “Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction and Succession” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

The story of the Tudor dynasty has been told from many different angles. Each monarch has been explored through lenses like social and political history numerous times. However, there is a new approach that is coming into the forefront of historical research and that is the focus on the medical history of the Tudors. Each Tudor monarch, from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, had some sort of bout with illness that would drastically alter the course of their reigns and the future of the dynasty. In Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction and Succession”, she explores the more intimate aspects of this turbulent dynasty to discover the truth about why they fell.

I would like to thank Sylvia Barbara Soberton for sending me a copy of her latest book. I have talked to Sylvia in the past and I have hosted her on my blog before, but I have never read one of her books. When I heard about this particular title, I was intrigued since I find the medical history of the Tudors an area that needs to be explored a bit more.

Soberton begins her book by explaining the different diseases and medical maladies that were going around England during the reign of the Tudors. I found her knowledge about these different medical conditions quite fascinating. She explains in detail what the symptoms were and includes different descriptions of the conditions.

After this quick overview, Soberton dives into the main topic of her book, which is exploring the medical maladies of the Tudor monarchs and their significant others. She takes the time to explain each illness and rumors of pregnancy for each monarch, showing how fragile this dynasty truly was and how concerned those who were close to the throne were to preserve the health of the Tudors. I found this part a tad repetitive as many biographies do mention these maladies. However, Soberton does include possible theories about what the obscure maladies were and cures for the different conditions.

If I did have a suggestion on something that I wish Soberton would have included the prescriptions that the doctors would have prescribed their royal patients. Show the readers what some of the more unusual ingredients for these cures looked like and why they were used. I also wanted to see how the diagnosis of the royal family was different from those who were average citizens in England.

Overall, I found this book enjoyable. Soberton’s style of writing is easy to follow, yet her audience can tell she has researched her topic thoroughly. This may be the first time that I have read by Soberton, but now I want to explore her other titles. I think this book would be perfect for those who are still being introduced to the Tudor dynasty. If you are interested in the medical history of the Tudors or you are a fan of Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s books, you should check out “Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction, and Succession.”

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: Walter Raleigh, The Self Made Myth- By R.N. Morris, author of Fortune’s Hand, a new novel about Walter Raleigh

unnamedI am not sure how I came to write a novel about Walter Raleigh. I think I can trace it back to visiting an exhibition on the myth of El Dorado at the British Museum in 2013. But thousands of people went to that exhibition and I dare say very few of them were foolish enough to start writing a 100,000 word novel under its influence. 

The dream of the fabled city of gold was one that obsessed Raleigh for decades. He pinned his political hopes on finding it and bringing home its treasure, first for Queen Elizabeth I, so that he could provide her with the funds she needed to defend herself against her great enemy Spain; and later for her successor James I, no longer at war with Spain, but still, like every sovereign in history, desperately short of finances.

In both instances, however, the dream proved to be illusory. 

Nonetheless, it was a dream that sustained him through periods of imprisonment and personal tragedy. A dream that he invested his reputation in, and one that he used to entice investors into his highly speculative voyages of discovery and predation. However, it surprised me to discover that Raleigh took part in surprisingly few of these voyages himself; he was an indifferent sailor who suffered badly from seasickness. 

Raleigh first heard about El Dorado from a captured conquistador called Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. It was just a rumour. A rumour carried on a warm breeze from a distant land. 

It seems ironic that a man who was so talented at creating his own mythology should fall victim to a myth. But perhaps that was why he was so drawn to the story, because he knew a great myth when he saw one, and understood more than most its power to inspire minds and influence behaviour. The myth of El Dorado was useful to Raleigh, not because he himself necessarily believed it to be true (there is evidence he didn’t) but because he knew that other men – and, most importantly, one woman – would. 

I fell under its spell too. 

When I started my research for the book, I knew very little about Walter Raleigh. The one thing I did know was the one thing that everyone knows: he spread his cloak across a puddle so that Elizabeth could walk across it without getting her feet wet. The more I progressed in my research, the less sure was I that this incident actually happened, at least not as it is depicted in countess children’s history books. 

It is a compelling idea imbued with meaning. There’s another word for compelling ideas imbued with meaning: myths. 

As a child, I thought the point of the story was simply to illustrate what a gentleman Raleigh was. Now I realize there was a bit more to it than that. Raleigh was positioning himself (to borrow a term from modern marketing) as the man who would safeguard his sovereign’s passage across a body of water. In other words, he would be the instigator of England’s colonial project on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Raleigh’s life seems to be filled with stories that, even if they fall short of mythical, have at the very least a strong whiff of the apocryphal about them. I don’t believe it’s an accident. Whatever else he was, Raleigh was a poet. His life was his greatest poem, even if it didn’t quite have the ending he might have planned.  

In my novel, I see him as a man of boundless imagination. There was nothing he could not envisage. And for him, imagining something was tantamount to accomplishing it. As he gets older, the lines between what he dreams and what he does blur. 

Of course, reality did not always play along. But that never seemed to deter him from putting even greater faith in the power of his imagination. 

This was the age of Dr John Dee, after all, the great conjuror of angels and demons. Raleigh consulted Dee on navigational matters as well astrological ones. You could say between them they conjured up the British Empire. 

In Fortune’s Hand, I imagine Raleigh reciting the names of the places in Guiana that lead to Manoa – the city identified with El Dorado – as if he is uttering the words of an incantation. He even uses this litany of exotic names to soothe Elizabeth when she is distressed. 

Raleigh wrote a long, unfinished epic poem in which Ocean addresses his love, Cynthia – AKA the moon. He was given the nickname ‘Water’ by Elizabeth, mocking his West Country pronunciation of his own name. He clearly identified himself with Ocean and Elizabeth with Cynthia, in other words he saw them both as mythic figures. I think it’s a very compelling image for their relationship. The moon is ever remote, changeable, presenting a cool, pale beauty. The ocean’s tides are subject to the lunar gravity, just as Raleigh was subject to Elizabeth’s commands, and whims. 

The problem with such self-mythologizing is that it tends to be self-aggrandizing too. And if you see yourself as a hero or a demi-god, it probably means you don’t have much empathy for others. Especially those who have to be defeated, displaced and destroyed to make your myth a reality. 

Empathy is not a quality much evident in the Raleigh of my novel. I said above that I saw him as a man of boundless imagination, but it is only boundless when it applies to himself and his interests. He has a curious imaginative blind spot when it comes to considering those whose interests are at odds with his, whether they are his rivals for Elizabeth’s favor, or the rebels he massacred in Ireland. 

That makes him a problematic figure in today’s world. But then, to be fair to Raleigh, he wasn’t living in today’s world. The attitudes and beliefs that were woven into the intellectual fabric of the Elizabethan age strike us now as at best baffling and at worst appalling. 

So why write a novel about this pre-eminent Elizabethan, at a time when others are petitioning to pull down his statue? The mythology that he created and others have added to has become entangled with England’s national story. I wanted to explore and try to understand the impulses that drove Raleigh through his remarkable life, in which he laid the groundwork for the British Empire. That is clearly a contested legacy now. To challenge and critique that legacy fully, I felt the need to confront one of its key originators – warts, myths and all. 

R.N. Morris Bio:

Roger (R. N.) Morris is the author of thirteen novels. The latest is Fortune’s Hand, a historical novel about Walter Raleigh.  He is also the author of the Silas Quinn series of historical crime novels and the St Petersburg Mysteries, featuring Porfiry Petrovich, the investigating magistrate from Crime and Punishment. 

His website is rogernmorris.co.uk. Roger has a Facebook page for his novels, which is https://www.facebook.com/RNMorrisauthor

He is on twitter as @rnmorris and on Instagram as rogermorris7988. He would love to hear from you so drop him an email at contact@rogernmorris.co.uk

Book Review: “On This Day in Tudor History” by Claire Ridgway

16125013The Tudor dynasty and the stories of those who lived during this time have drawn novices and experts alike to explore the history surrounding these events for hundreds of years. These tales can seem fictional, but the truth is often stranger than fiction, which is why it is important to understand when and why these events happened. The “when” can often be difficult to remember for any student of history because there are a lot of dates to deal with when you are dealing with a whole dynasty. That is why resources, like this particular book, can be so invaluable to have in one’s collection. Claire Ridgway has taken the time to give readers a day-by-day guide to the Tudors in her book, “On This Day in Tudor History”.

Ridgway has taken the concept of history books that explore what life was like in a year for a typical person in a certain time and she has expanded to cover an entire dynasty. Like these books, this one is divided by each month of the year and then by chronological order of the year. She covers all of the Tudor dynasty, with some dates before and after, to show how this one era truly impacted European and world history. Of course, she covers the big names of the dynasty; like Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn (which is a given since Ridgway is known for her other project, the Anne Boleyn Files), Mary I, and numerous courtiers and diplomats who made this time so fascinating for many of us to study.

What caught my interest in this book was the numerous figures that many might not know a lot about. There are the monarchs from all around Europe whose stories are often looked over for their English counterparts. And then there are the English scholars, explorers, martyrs, and playwrights that are often forgotten for more colorful figures. Their births, deaths, trials, tribulations, and triumphs are just as important as those who make the headlines. I did not know about so many of their stories and it made me want to learn more, to dive even deeper into the study of the Tudor dynasty.

Although I did enjoy reading this book, it is one that you need to take your time to read. It is a book that should be used as a resource for research into this time period. I did notice that with a few of the dates, some of the years were out of chronological order (which did bug me a bit since I like chronological order), but it is a minor issue. There are also some grammatical and spacing mistakes, but they do not take away from the context of this book. Ridgway does use some typical stories that have been debunked by recent biographies, but the dates are relatively accurate. I did wish that Ridgway included the major holidays and festivals into the actual book, instead of being at the beginning of the book, so that we could get a sense of what was going on during these significant events.

Overall, I found this book informative and fun. Claire Ridgway combined the trivia of Tudor dates with an easy to understand writing style. It is a massive tome, but a labor of love. If you want a book full of terrific Tudor trivia, I would recommend you read, “On This Day in Tudor History” by Claire Ridgway. It is a great addition to any Tudor collection.