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.

Book Review: “The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk” by Kirsten Claiden- Yardley

52957091._SX318_SY475_The stories of the men behind the English crown can be as compelling as the men who wore the crown themselves. They were ruthless, cunning, power-hungry, and for many of them, did not last long. However, there were a select few who proved loyal to the crown and lived long and eventful lives. They are not as well known as their infamous counterparts, yet their stories are just as important to tell. One such man was the grandfather of two of Henry VIII’s wives and the great-grandfather of Elizabeth I. He lived through the reign of six kings and led his men to victory at the Battle of Flodden against King James IV of Scotland towards the end of his life. Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk had his fair shares of highs and lows, including imprisonment, but his story is rarely told. That is until now. Kirsten Claiden-Yardley has taken up the challenge to explore the life of this rather extraordinary man in her book, “The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howards, 2nd Duke of Norfolk”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I honestly did not know a whole lot about the Howard family, other than Katherine Howard, so this book sounded intriguing to me.

Claiden- Yardley begins her biography by exploring the rise of Thomas Howard’s family and how his father, John Howard, became a powerful man. What was interesting was the Howard connection to the de Mowbrays and how John used these relations to his advantage to help his growing family find favor with the nobility and the monarchs of the time, including Edward IV and Richard III. She explores the relationship between Thomas and Richard III, including the possibility that Thomas had something to do with the Princes in the Tower.

It was at the Battle of Bosworth Field where things get treacherous for the Howard family. Richard III and John Howard were both killed and Thomas Howard was captured, stripped of his titles, and sent to prison to await Henry VII’s decision on how to handle him. After some time, Thomas not only was released from prison, he became a valuable asset for the Tudor dynasty. He would be a diplomat, a chief mourner for Arthur Tudor’s funeral, and escort two princesses to their weddings in France and Scotland. He worked hard to make sure that his family married well and that they were financially stable.

The Battle of Flodden would be Thomas’ defining moment, even though it was towards the end of his life. Claiden-Yardley takes the time to explain why this battle had to be fought and the details of the battle. I found this extremely interesting to see how Thomas led his men into battle and how he helped stopped a Scottish invasion of England at the age of 70.

Claiden-Yardley has done extensive research into the life of Thomas Howard. I did find her writing a bit dry in some places, but overall, she did what she set out to do. She shed some light on a rather remarkable man who was really behind the curtain during the reigns of quite a few English kings. His loyalty to the crown and his family was unwavering. If you want to read a good biography about Thomas Howard and how the Howard family rose to power during the Tudor dynasty, I would recommend you read, “The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk” by Kirsten Claiden-Yardley.

Book Review: “A Journey Through Tudor England” by Suzannah Lipscomb

42659772In history, we tend to focus on the stories of the men and women who shaped the era. This is obviously important, but the locations where the events of the past happened are equally as important. Sadly, many of the buildings that the men and women from the past knew no longer exist. However, there are a few, especially from the Tudor period, that we can still visit. Suzannah Lipscomb explored over 50 of these remarkable buildings and decided to tell their tales in her book, “A Journey Through Tudor England”.

This book is quite delightful and simple to understand. As someone who has never been to England, I have always wondered what these places must be like to be there in person. Obviously, I have read different descriptions of these places in biographies and historical fiction novels, but the amounts of details that Lipscomb includes is truly a breath of fresh air.

Lipscomb breaks down her book into sections that correspond with where the locations are in England, making it easier to plan a trip for any Tudor fan. Naturally, she does discuss the castles, palaces, theatres, and abbeys that we are all familiar with like Hever Castle, the Tower of London and Fountains Abbey. But, Lipscomb does include locations that fans of the Tudor dynasty may not be familiar with, places like Kett’s Oak or The Vyne.

Although these places by themselves can be interesting, it is truly their connections with the historical figures and important events that define their significance. This is where Lipscomb’s book truly shines. The stories that Lipscomb includes in this book are so engaging and gives a new perspective to the Tudor dynasty. It is not just stories of triumphs and failures by those who we are familiar with, like Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots, but men and women that we may be being introduced to for the first time. Along the way, Lipscomb includes little facts about everyday Tudor lives to give the readers an idea of what life might have been like back then.

Like any good travel guide, Lipscomb includes a list of the locations, their hours and how to get in contact with them. My only real issue with this book is that I wanted to see pictures of these locations. As someone who doesn’t live in England, it would have made the reading experience a bit better and I could visualize the places Lipscomb was describing and would make me want to visit the places in this book even more.

As the first travel guide that I have ever read and reviewed, I found this book really enjoyable. It was light, engaging, and extremely informative. If I ever travel to England, I will bring this along with me and visit the sites in this book. If you want a well-written travel guide to Tudor sites, I highly recommend you read, “A Journey Through Tudor England” by Suzannah Lipscomb.

Book Review: “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer

8800906The Tudor dynasty and the enigmatic figures who made this time period so fascinating have been hotly discussed for centuries. Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII after defeating  King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. King Henry VIII, the second son whose numerous wives and his split from the Catholic Church made his name infamous in history. King Edward VI, Henry VIII’s beloved son who died before he really could accomplish the reformation that he had planned for England. Queen Mary I, who was the first Queen of England to rule in her own right and wanted to restore the Catholic Church. Finally, Queen Elizabeth I, who never married and led England to a “Golden Age”. Many historians have viewed the Tudor dynasty as a time of great change and England was in a good place. However, G.J. Meyer paints a darker picture of the era in his book, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty”.

Unlike many of the books on my blog, I did read this book before when I was in college. It was the only Tudor book that I read as an assigned book and I do have fond memories reading it, so I decided that I would go back and reread it years later. 

I will say that the title “Complete Story” is a little bit misleading. Meyer tends to focus on Henry VIII (over 300 pages on Henry VIII and the Great Matter) and his children, but he briefly mentions Henry VII and Lady Jane Grey. I feel like if Meyer wanted to have a “complete story” about the Tudors, it should have included these two figures a bit more. I did want more about Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. They were wives of Henry VIII, but they felt like afterthoughts in Meyer’s book. I also wanted more about Elizabeth I’s reign, since she did reign for a long time and without a husband, but her section in this book felt rushed. 

 When Meyer does talk about Henry VIII and the other Tudors, he seems to use the same negative stereotypes that have been used in the past, (Henry VII was a miser, Henry VIII was a monster, Edward was a sick child, Mary as “Bloody Mary”, and Elizabeth was concerned about keeping her youth and her ruthlessness). Of course, this book was written in 2011 and many of these myths have been proven untrue by more modern books about the Tudors. 

This book does not revolve around the popular history tales of the Tudors. Instead, Meyer tends to focus on the political and ecclesiastical issues that dominated the time period, in England and throughout Europe. This is where Meyer shines as he goes into details about these issues, both in regular chapters and in background chapters that help bring this time period to life. Meyer does have a good writing style that helps novices of Tudor history understand the complex time period. 

Overall, I think this was a pretty good book. It was a bit darker than other Tudor books that I have read previously, but the Tudor time period was not all sunshine and roses. There were dark times and really good times that happened during the rule of this rather remarkable dynasty. If you want a decent book that will give you an introduction to this family drama, I recommend you read, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer.  

Book Review: “The Most Happy” by Holly-Eloise Walters

71957495_567591223787906_5646049859975774208_nThe story of Anne Boleyn is one of love, triumph, and tragedy. Her tale has been told in many different ways in the several centuries since her execution by many different people. Except by Anne Boleyn herself. We never truly understood what it might have felt like when she went to court for the first time, what it must have felt like to have fallen in love with King Henry VIII. How she might have felt when she had her daughter and experienced her numerous miscarriages. The devastation she must have felt when she found out about Henry’s abusive side, his mistresses, and her ultimate demise. That is until now.  In Holly-Eloise Walters’ debut novel, “The Most Happy”, Anne Boleyn tells her personal story, giving the readers a better understanding of the legend.

I would like to thank Holly- Eloise Walters for sending me a copy of her book to read and review. It can be nerve-wracking when you give someone your debut book to read and I am glad I got a chance to read it.

Normally with historical novels, we are introduced to the protagonist by being in their childhood home. That is not the direction that Walters takes as we are introduced to Anne Boleyn as she is in her lowest point, in the Tower waiting to be executed. She is alone, wishing that she could be saved, but knowing that she was going to die. Anne is firm in her love for Henry, even after all they have been through, but her one desire is to see her daughter Elizabeth “Lizzie” in this novel, again. It is in her darkest hour that she chooses to reflect on her life, which is the bulk of this book. 

What Walters does extremely well is focused on the relationships that were central in Anne’s life. Obviously, the biggest relationship was the relationship between Anne and her husband King Henry VIII. To say that their relationship was complicated would be an understatement. They started off falling madly in love with one another, not caring who they hurt as long as they were together, but then it dissolved into a rather abusive relationship. Walters also touches on the relationships between Anne and her family. While I agree with how Anne’s relationships with her siblings George and Mary, I do not necessarily agree with how Walters portrays Anne’s relationship with her parents, but that is just a personal comment. This portrayal of Anne’s life is very raw and real, focusing on emotions and relationships.

The one real concern that I had when I was reading this particular novel was the lack of details about the locations and physical descriptions of the people, which can be a difficult thing to do. It was a tad difficult to visualize the people and the locations, but I believe that as Walters grows as an author, she will get better with her descriptions. 

Overall, I think this was a very good debut novel. Walters obviously cares about telling Anne’s story through her eyes. It is a bit raw and rough around the edges, but where it shines is the portrayal of the relationships between Anne and those who were around her and were important in her life. You really feel sympathy for Anne Boleyn and heartache for her through Walters’ easy to follow writing style. This may be Walters’ first novel, but I do see potential in her writing. If you would like a new novel about Anne Boleyn from her perspective, I would recommend you read, “The Most Happy” by Holly-Eloise Walters.

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.