Book Review: “Elizabeth I’s Last Favourite: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

56283014A man who was young and had charisma would attract the attention of the Virgin Queen herself, yet that attention came with a price. The young man could not do what he desired and was buried in debt. His anger could not be quenched and he would end up rebelling against the very queen who brought him so much glory and honor. This rebellion would lead to his execution. The man’s name was Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and his story is told in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ latest bite-size biography, “Elizabeth I’s Last Favourite: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex”.

I would like to thank Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I had heard that Sarah-Beth Watkins was releasing this book around the same time that Tony Riches released his novel about Robert Devereux, so I thought it might be nice to read about this man through fiction and nonfiction.

The son of Walter Devereux and Lettice Knollys, Robert Devereux was destined to his father’s heir when he passed away. However, when Walter died, he left his young heir a mountain of debt. His mother would remarry, but her choice would cause her to be an enemy of the queen herself. Lettice Knollys married Elizabeth I’s most prized favorite at court, Robert Dudley. The legacies that Robert’s mother and father left him forced the penniless earl to think big and to strive to gain the queen’s favor.

His looks helped win the queen’s favor, but Robert wanted more. He wanted power, money, and military prestige, which was typical of an earl during the Tudor time. However, Robert was pretty terrible at being a military leader. No matter if it was in France, Spain, or Ireland, Devereux managed to fail on his missions and irritating the queen. Watkins included transcripts of poems and letters that Devereux and Elizabeth I exchanged and you can feel the anger and frustration centuries later. Devereux comes off as a spoiled brat who whined when he didn’t get his way and Elizabeth just continued to exasperate him.

Devereux would redeem himself slightly when he uncovered a plot by Elizabeth’s doctor Lopez to assassinate the queen with poison. Yet for the most part, the queen was almost always upset with the young man, which made him act recklessly. Although he did marry the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, he was known to have a few mistresses and illegitimate children on the side. When he was really upset with the queen, he would break into her chamber or he would sulk at home feigning illness until she would beg for him to come back to court. This was his routine until he was pushed over the edge and would stage a rebellion against the woman who raised him so high, ultimately leading to his own demise.

.Robert Devereux was the moody last favorite of Elizabeth I who depended too heavily on her influence to guide his life choices. Watkins does a very good job at portraying Devereux’s numerous attempts to change his fate and how he failed miserably. The length of this biography was reasonable and it did allow readers to get to know the truth about the young man who would be the final favorite. If you want a short biography about the man behind the Essex Rebellion, you should check out, “Elizabeth I’s Last Favourite: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

Book Review: “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival” by Kate Williams

40554521Two cousins fighting for the right to rule England during the 16th century. One was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn who fought tooth and nail to rule without a man by her side. The other was the daughter of Mary of Guise and King James V of Scotland whose marriage record would prove to be fatal. Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, may have been sister queens, but the way they were treated in their own countries differed completely. While Elizabeth I was praised and protected from harm in England, Mary was a scapegoat for so many in Scotland. The way that Mary was used as a pawn even though she wore a crown was nothing short of extraordinary. The story of how these two queens came on a collision course that would leave one queen beheaded and the other forever changed has been told in many different ways from both sides of the tale, but it has rarely been told as a cohesive nonfiction book. That is until Kate Williams’ marvelous biography, “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival”.

Before we get to the part of the tale that many Tudor fans know very well, the end of the tale, we must understand what shaped Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots to be the queens of England and Scotland respectfully. As someone who knows quite a bit about Elizabeth I’s story, I found Williams’ explanation of her childhood informative and relatively brief.

Williams chooses to focus on the much-maligned Mary, Queen of Scots. We tend to assume that Mary’s life as a pawn with a crown began after her first husband, King Francis II of France, tragically died and she had to go back to her native Scotland. However, Mary was a pawn in someone else’s game her entire life. The only man that Mary loved and who loved her back was Francis. Her other relationships with Darnley and Bothwell were trainwrecks that would cause Mary immense pain and sorrow. Bothwell was the epitome of a disastrous relationship that was doomed to ruin Mary’s life. The two people who Mary thought she could depend on, Elizabeth I and Mary’s own son King James VI, ultimately chose to save face than to help protect a queen who had nowhere else to go.

I will be honest and say that before I read this book, I felt that Mary was the villainess of Tudor propaganda. She, after all, was wanting to dethrone Elizabeth I so that she could become the Catholic Queen of England. I have always been someone who has been a big fan of the reign of Elizabeth I, so I assumed that I would not be a fan of Mary, Queen of Scots. However, that all changed after reading this book. To see Mary put her faith and trust into those who she thought had her best interest at heart and to be betrayed every single time was utterly heartbreaking.

This is a gorgeously written biography of Mary, Queen of Scots that shows Mary in a sympathetic light while portraying how cataclysmic the numerous betrayals she endured affected her life. It was my first time reading a biography about Mary, Queen of Scots, or a book by Kate Williams, and I have to say it is one of my favorite biographies that I have read so far this year. I did not want to stop reading this biography. It made me feel so sympathetic towards Mary and her plight. If you want an exceptional biography about Mary, Queen of Scots, “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival” by Kate Williams is a must to have in your collection.

Book Review: “Essex: Tudor Rebel (Elizabethan, Book 2) by Tony Riches

Essex Tudor Rebel Tour BannerToday, I am pleased to share my book review of the latest Elizabethan novel by Tony Riches as my contribution to his “Essex: Tudor Rebel” blog tour. Thank you to Tony Riches for sending me a copy of his latest novel, and to The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to take part in this tour. 

Being a favorite of a queen is not all glitter and fame. Take, for example, the men who were considered the favorites of Elizabeth I. They had to deal with a queen whose temper and praise were interchangeable. One of the most famous examples of a favorite enduring the wrath of the queen was Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. A handsome rascal who had a mountain of debt to his name, Essex tries to follow his queen’s orders while staying true to his nature. His road from loyal man to Elizabeth I, his numerous adventures, and his ultimate rebellion are masterfully told in Tony Riches’ latest Elizabethan novel, “Essex: Tudor Rebel”.

I would like to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I enjoyed his first venture into the Elizabethan era about Sir Francis Drake. When I heard about this novel, I was excited to dive in. Obviously, I knew about the Essex Rebellion and Essex’s fall from grace, but I really wanted to know about the man behind it all.

Robert Devereux was the son of Lettice Knollys and Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. Many recognize Robert’s rather remarkable mother Lettice Knollys as she would gain the ire of Queen Elizabeth when she married the Queen’s favorite, Robert Dudley. Essex’s father Walter would die with a mountain of debt when Essex was a boy. The fact that Essex grew up as a poor Earl does not make him stray away from the lavish lifestyle that he craves. In fact, he adds to his father’s debt with his own, making it nearly impossible to pay off.

What makes him so appealing to Queen Elizabeth I is his youthful bravado. Essex is like a son to Elizabeth I. They were so close that some assumed that they were lovers. Riches puts this myth to rest in this novel. That does not mean that Essex was single like his queen. In fact, he did marry the daughter of the famous spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. His daughter, Frances, is extremely loyal to her children and is not afraid to speak her mind when she believes that Essex is in the wrong. Essex is not exactly the most loyal of husbands as he does have affairs and illegitimate children.

Essex did not shy away from battles. He was known for his ventures in France, Cadiz, and Ireland, but his reputation would be battered like the numerous storms he encountered. He wanted the glory to restore his reputation, but his naivete and anger towards the queen who treated him like a son would lead to his downfall.

There is something magical about a new novel by Tony Riches. He is able to capture the audience’s attention with realistic scenarios, characters that jump from the pages of the past, and dialogue that is entirely believable. Essex may seem like an outlandish character, but his desire to restore his honor and to pay back his debt is understandable. There were moments where I was getting frustrated with Essex because of his poor decision-making skills, but Riches really made me feel sympathetic for this naive young rogue by the end. If you want another brilliant escape into the late Tudor age, I highly recommend you read book two in Tony Riches’ enchanting Elizabethan series, “Essex: Tudor Rebel”.

Essex---Tudor-rebel-Kindle(Blurb)

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.

The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.

Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

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Tony Riches AuthorAuthor Bio

Tony Riches

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess, Brandon – Tudor Knight and The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham.

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Book Review: “Forest of Secrets” by Fiona Buckley

55873447The year is 1586 and Ursula Blanchard is on a mission to protect Queen Elizabeth I. After returning home from a previous mission, Ursula and her household come into contact with a countrywoman named Etheldreda Hope who has brought a peculiar case to the forefront. In the forest by the village that Etheldreda calls home, there have been strange rituals occurring that include reference to an evil queen. Are these rituals harmless or is there a sinister motive behind the beliefs of the pagans who meet in the forest? Will Ursula and her household solve the case in time? This is the premise of Fiona Buckley’s latest Ursula Blanchard Tudor mystery, “Forest of Secrets”.

I would like to thank Severn House Publishers and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. This was my first time reading a novel by Fiona Buckley and I was intrigued by the plot. I was looking for a new Tudor mystery series after finishing the Shardlake series, so I decided to give this series a try.

What I did not know when I went into this series was that this was part of the Ursula Blanchard series and it was book nineteen. Not the greatest place to start a new series, but I still decided to give it a try. Ursula is an older noblewoman who works for Sir Francis Walsingham to protect Queen Elizabeth I from threats, like Mary Queen of Scots. By her side is her loyal household who are willing to risk their lives to help Ursula solve the cases that she has been assigned by the royal court.

This particular case was given to her by a woman named Etheldreda who has an interesting problem. She has been declared a witch by her village because her mule gave birth to a foal. Because of this, no one believes her when she says that there have been peculiar rituals occurring in the New Forest. She turns to Ursula and her team to help solve this mystery.

Personally, I did have some issues with this novel. It was difficult for me to get attached to the cast of this novel. I know that this was because I started this series very late so I don’t know the relationships between Ursula and her household.

Another issue that I had was that I didn’t feel like this book was set in the Tudor times. It seems weird to say for a novel that is set in 1586, but with the jargon and the descriptions that Buckley included, you could have easily exchanged characters from different time periods and it would have made sense. When I want to read a Tudor novel, I want to feel like I am transported into the past. With this novel, I just felt like I was reading a novel not set in a particular time period.

Overall, I thought this novel was okay. Buckley has obviously written a world that is beloved, but it was difficult to navigate in that world. I think I will need to read the rest of the Ursula Blanchard series before I reread this book. If you are a fan of the Ursula Blanchard series, you will enjoy “Forest of Secrets” by Fiona Buckley.

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.

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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.

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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.