Book Review: “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was” by Sean Cunningham

28999810A new dynasty is born out of war and bloodshed. Hope is restored to the land as the remains of the Houses of York and Lancaster are united when Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York. It was not until the birth of their eldest child and heir, Prince Arthur, that the union was truly complete. Arthur was the hope for the nation, but when he tragically died shortly after marrying Catherine of Aragon, he was replaced by his younger brother who would become King Henry VIII. Arthur’s life was indeed very short, but his legacy and untimely death altered the course of history forever. Arthur tends to be a footnote in history, between Henry VII’s and Henry VIII’s reigns, but what was this young prince like? Why did his death leave such a large hole in the plans for the future of the Tudor dynasty? What was his relationship like with his family and those closest to the prince? These questions and more are explored in Dr. Sean Cunningham’s brilliant biography, “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was”.

I had heard about this book from my friends in the Tudor community for a while now and it sounded so intriguing. In my studies of the Tudor dynasty, I have often treated Prince Arthur as a footnote, but I have felt that there was more to his story than his birth, his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and his death.

To understand the significance of Prince Arthur and his birth, Cunningham briefly explains how the Tudor dynasty began at the end of the Wars of the Roses. To secure the dynasty, the birth of a male heir was essential. His name itself was seen as a way to connect the Tudors with legendary kings of England’s past. The prince’s baptism was as glamorous as his parents’ coronations and wedding, emphasizing the role that his parents expected their son would play as he grew up.

The bulk of this biography is focused on the education and the political moves that Arthur made while he was Prince of Wales. It may have seemed a bit harsh for his parents to send him away at a young age, but as Cunningham explains thoroughly, this was part of a long-term strategy for Henry VII. Although we don’t know much about Arthur’s character, the way he was raised and how he held control in his northern realm showed us a glimmer of what his reign might have been like if he did live long enough to be the second Tudor king.

It was his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who would be Henry VIII’s first wife, that was the pinnacle of his young life. Normally, the wedding night would not have been a point of intense focus. However, since it was critical to Henry VIII’s divorce case against Catherine, Cunningham explored as much of that night and what we know as possible. Finally, Cunningham tackles the confusing issue of what killed the prince.

Overall I found this book very enlightening and extremely well researched. Prince Arthur was the most prominent Tudor child born to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, yet he has never been a focal point for Tudor historians. Cunningham has taken every minute detail of his short life to craft this insightful biography of a prince whose death shaped the course of history forever. This is a masterpiece of a biography. If you would like to learn more about the life of the firstborn Tudor prince, I highly recommend you read, “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was” by Sean Cunningham.

Book Review: “The King’s Mother: Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicle” by Judith Arnopp

41wbe9UI8AL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_A series of wars that engulfed England for over thirty years finally comes to its conclusion. The Plantagenet dynasty is no more and the once outlaw is now the first king of the brand new dynasty, the Tudors. Margaret Beaufort is reunited with her beloved son, Henry Tudor as he is crowned King Henry VII. As Henry faces the numerous challenges of being a father and a king, his mother is right by his side to guide and protect him and his family. In the epic conclusion to her Beaufort Chronicle series, Judith Arnopp explores the transition for Margaret Beaufort in the early years of the Tudor dynasty in, “The King’s Mother”.

Since I have read the previous books in this series, it was only natural that I read “The King’s Mother”. I have thoroughly enjoyed Judith Arnopp’s writing in the past and I wanted to know how she would conclude this ingenious series.

We reunite with Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry as they prepare for the event that she has been dreaming of, his coronation. To unite both the houses of York and Lancaster to ensure peace would prevail, Henry Tudor married Elizabeth of York. Their young family grows with their sons and daughters: Arthur, Margaret, Henry, and Mary. There were other children, but they died very young. Margaret Beaufort watches her grandchildren grow and acts as an advisor to Henry as the Mother of the King.

For the most part, peace and harmony reign throughout the land. However, trouble was never too far off from the comforts of the Tudor court. Pretenders lurch around every corner and rebellions are on the edge of boiling over. Henry tries to navigate the intricate European marriage market to make the best possible matches for his children.

To see these events full of hope and sorrow from the eyes of Margaret Beaufort was a delight. This was all she ever wanted, to see her son happy and alive, but for her to realize that even after the war there would be danger around every corner. Margaret was not a monster mother-in-law to Elizabeth like she is portrayed in other historical fiction novels, yet she is not a saint. Arnopp’s Margaret Beaufort is simply a human mother and grandmother who is just trying to do her best for her family.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Arnopp’s Beaufort Chronicle and this is the perfect conclusion. I have always been a fan of Margaret Beaufort and her life story. This series made me love her story even more. It made Margaret feel like a regular human being instead of the monster that other novels portray her to have been. If you want an insider’s look into the early years of the Tudor dynasty through the eyes of its matriarch, I highly recommend you read The Beaufort Chronicle by Judith Arnopp, especially the third book, “The King’s Mother”.

Book Review: “Margaret Tudor: The Life of Henry VIII’s Sister” by Melanie Clegg

38507404The children of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York lived rather eventful and fascinating lives. We all know the stories of Prince Arthur, who tragically died, his younger brother Henry, who would become the notorious King Henry VIII, and Mary, who would become Queen of France and then marry the man she loved, Charles Brandon. The one sibling that many tend to forget about is Margaret Tudor, who would become the wife of King James IV and the mother of King James V and Margaret Douglas. Her love life was quite rocky, but she kept fighting for what she believed was right for her family and her adoptive country of Scotland. This remarkable woman didn’t receive much attention in her lifetime, but Melanie Clegg hopes that people today will know Margaret’s story. This is why she wrote this delightful biography of the Tudor princess turned Queen of Scotland, “Margaret Tudor: The Life of Henry VIII’s Sister”. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I really like learning about Margaret Tudor and I really enjoyed the last book that I read by Melanie Clegg, so I was really excited to read this book.

Clegg begins her book by explaining how Margaret’s father, Henry VII, became King of England and how his relationship with his wife Elizabeth of York was like in the beginning. Since Henry’s throne was not secure, with pretenders like Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck around, having heirs was extremely important. Henry and Elizabeth had several children; Arthur, Margaret, Henry, Elizabeth(who is hardly mentioned because she died at a young age) and Mary. Clegg goes into immense detail about the Tudor royal children and how they were raised, including the marriage arrangements between Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon and, of course, Margaret Tudor and King James IV of Scotland.

Margaret and James IV had a loving relationship, although he had numerous affairs that Margaret was aware of. They also faced hardships, with the death of two heirs within 24 hours of each other and the struggles of the Scottish court, with clans fighting against other clans for power. Margaret’s world came crashing down around her when James IV was killed at the Battle of Flodden by her brother Henry VIII’s army. Margaret did have to marry again, but her next husband was an awful pick. It was so bad that she had to flee Scotland for England. Margaret never truly recovered from her disastrous second marriage. Her legacy would pass onto her children, the future King James V, and Lady Margaret Douglas. 

When you read Margaret’s tragic tale, you really want to give her a hug. It felt like everyone around her used her as their own tool and she never really had anyone who she could truly depend on. Like Melanie Clegg said in her acknowledgments, Margaret Tudor really needed a best friend who she could chat with, who could give relationship advice to Margaret, and just be there for her when times got rough.

Clegg brings Margaret’s catastrophic tale to life to readers of the 21st century with a light writing style that makes you feel like you are having a conversation with Clegg. Reading this book makes you sympathetic for a Tudor Princess and a Scottish Queen who made some bad choices and who faced unbelievable hardships. If you want an engaging biography about this exceptional woman, I highly recommend you read, “Margaret Tudor: The Life of Henry VIII’s Sister” by Melanie Clegg.   

 

Book Review: “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley

51+Uk6sMNqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)In history, many people tend to focus on the big names. The kings and queens, the rebels, and those who really made an impact. The political advisors and men of the church tend to get left behind in the dust since they are not seen as “important”. However, it is these men who were the backbone of the monarchy, who helped make the king’s vision come to fruition. They tend to come and go, so that is why John Morton’s story is so extraordinary. John Morton helped three separate kings of England, was the enemy to a fourth king, tried to reform the church, and had numerous building projects. His life tends to be overshadowed by the kings that he served, but his life is brought into the light in this biography by Stuart Bradley, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Morton’s life and his service to the kings he served was rather fascinating to read about and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Like any good biography, Bradley begins by exploring John Morton’s life before he moved up the ranks to work with kings through his collegiate career, which was rather impressive. It is imperative to understand Morton’s education and background to show what type of skills he brought to the political and ecclesiastical positions that he would have later on in his life. Morton caught the eye of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourgchier, who helped Morton get into his position as Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall, which put him in direct contact with Prince Edward of Westminster, Queen Margaret of Anjou, and King Henry VI. He served King Henry VI until his death in 1471. 

Morton could have decided to live as an exile during the reign of Edward IV, but instead, he accepted a royal pardon and decided to work with the Yorkist king. This may seem like an unusual step for a man who was once loyal to the Lancasterian cause, but Morton was loyal to his country first and foremost. During this time, he helped establish peace with France and became the Bishop of Ely. When Edward IV died and his sons disappeared from records, Morton could have retired, since he was in his mid-sixties at this point, but instead, he leads a rebellion against King Richard III, with young Henry Tudor as his choice for the next king. Morton helped arrange for Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York to be married, as well as help Henry VII stop the pretenders from taking the English throne. Under King Henry VII, Morton worked non-stop as both Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, to guide the king and to ensure the survival of the dynasty, until his death in 1500.

It is remarkable to see how much Morton did during his lifetime in politics, for the church, and the building projects. Morton was one of those figures that I honestly did not know a lot about before I read this book, but now I want to know more about him. Bradley obviously thoroughly researched Morton’s life and times and is able to articulate this research in this engaging biography. If you want a fantastic biography about a rather remarkable man who helped England navigate through the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, I highly recommend you read, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley.

Book Review: “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’” by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill

A1EHw9PpVwLThe English conflict known as the Wars of the Roses is filled with dynamic figures whose stories are those of legends. None more so than the wife of Edward IV and the mother of Elizabeth of York and the princes in the Tower, Elizabeth Woodville. She has been known in popular culture as the commoner turned “White Queen” consort, but do we really know the true story about her life? Was she really Edward IV’s wife? How much influence did she actually carry? These questions and more are tackled in Dr. John Ashdown-Hill’s latest book, “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have had my eyes on this particular title for a while since I like learning about the women of the Wars of the Roses, and because I have never read a book by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill.

Since I was not familiar with Dr. John Ashdown-Hill and his work before I read this book, I decided to look into him in order to understand the position he might take on this particular topic. He is a medieval historian, who mainly focuses on Yorkist history. His main claim to fame was when he helped find the location where Richard III’s remains were buried. He also traced the female-line descendants of Richard III to his sister, which established the mtDNA haplogroup that was necessary to identify the remains found in the Leicester parking lot as Richard III. For this important research, Dr. John Ashdown-Hill was awarded an MBE in 2015 but sadly passed away from motor neurone disease on May 18, 2018. This was one of the last books he had ever written.

Knowing this information about Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, it helps to understand that he knows this subject rather well. He does show his knowledge through the family trees, the letters, and the tables that he does include. These sources give the reader an understanding of where Ashdown-Hill is coming from and a different perspective on Elizabeth Widville’s life and times in the courts of Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. Ashdown-Hill does use his own books quite frequently as sources, which can come across as braggadocious at times.

Ashdown-Hill refers to Elizabeth Widville as the ‘Pink Queen’ because, at different times in her life, she was supporting the Lancastrians and the Yorkists causes. I do agree with this terminology because it does tell her story in a colorful way. However, it is his calling Elizabeth Edward IV’s ‘chief mistress’ where I do have an issue. Personally, I believe that Elizabeth was Edward’s wife, but Ashdown-Hill believes that Edward’s pre-contract with one Eleanor Talbot was valid and that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was bigamous. This is a central point in this book, but he does not really go into the depth that I wished he would have gone into to explain his point of view.

Another part of his book that I do not exactly agree with is his assessment of how many deaths Elizabeth was associated with, including possibly poisoning George Duke of Clarence’s wife and young son. He does not take into account illnesses as possible causes of death and jumps straight into malicious intentions, mostly by Elizabeth herself. Ashdown- Hill can come across as either passionate or brash in his writing style, which can be a bit off-putting at times. It feels like, at least to me, that Elizabeth was either treated as a villain or was in the background for this particular biography, instead of in the spotlight, which is something one would expect in a biography about a certain person.

Although I do not entirely agree with Dr. John Ashdown- Hill’s assessment of Elizabeth Widville’s life, I do respect the amount of research he obviously poured into this book. It is meticulously researched and I found it a unique experience to read a different perspective from my own. I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of this book, as I did have to stop reading it and come back to it several times to get my head around what he was saying since it was different than what I accept as fact about her life. However, I do believe that it is important to read books and authors who you don’t agree with in order to expand one’s knowledge about a topic. If you are a fan of Dr. John Ashdown-Hill or you would like to read a unique take on Elizabeth Widville’s life and times, I would suggest you read “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’”.

Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’ by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill will be published in the United States on November 2, 2019. If you are interested in pre-ordering this book, you can follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Widville-Lady-Grey-Mistress/dp/1526745011/

Book Review: “Richard III: Fact and Fiction” by Matthew Lewis

41093351When one looks at the study of history as a whole, the traditional way to look at a person as either good or bad through a combination of facts and fictional tales of their supposed exploits. None so much so as King Richard III, one of the most controversial English monarchs. Fictitious tales, like William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, have been accepted as fact throughout the centuries, but who was the real Richard III? Matthew Lewis, in his latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”, explores who Richard III really was by separating the facts from the fictional stories. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this insightful book. I enjoy books that explore both the facts and fictional stories of historical figures to find the truth about who they were and what they might have been like. 

In his introduction, Lewis explains the fascination of Richard III and his aim for this particular book.

The debate around Richard III and his reputation burns hotter today than ever before …Why is a man who was killed in battle over 500 years ago still attracting such passionate debate? How does a medieval king who reigned for only just over two years have a thriving fan club in the Richard III Society? Part of the reason lies in the mythologising of the facts about him, so many of which are open to the broadest interpretation so that both sides will claim them to make polar opposite points. The purpose of this book is to try and peel away some of the myths to reveal the bare, unadorned facts. Did Richard III invent bail? Did he murder a Lancastrian Prince of Wales, a king, his brother and his two nephews? Did he mean to marry his niece? Why did those previously loyal to the House of York abandon Richard III for an obscure Welshman in exile? (Lewis,1).

Lewis tackles some of the most notable and notorious myths about Richard III, most of which came from Shakespeare’s play. He explores myths from the “murder” of the Princes in the Tower and Henry VI, to if Richard wanted to marry Elizabeth of York and why he was so popular in the North and his death at Bosworth. Of course, there are also obscure and out-of-left-field myths, like Richard, killing Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset at the tender age of 2 and a half, and Richard inventing bail. Along with discussing the fictional stories and the veracity of the claims, Lewis includes some fun factoids and a glossary of terms that the readers might not know at the end of each segment.  

Although Lewis is a Ricardian, the way he presents his arguments against the fictitious tales does not push the Ricardian argument of Richard being a purely innocent individual. Instead, Lewis focuses on making Richard more human rather than either a vile villain or a knight in shining armor. This is what I appreciate about Lewis and his approach to Richard III. He makes the study of  Richard III approachable for those who want to study about the man, not the black or white myths. With this particular book, I couldn’t put it down. I found extremely enjoyable and overall fascinating. If you want a book that brings the fictional tales and examining the facts about Richard III, I highly recommend you read Matthew Lewis’ latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”. It is a re-evaluation of the facts that Richard III deserves.

Book Review: “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty” by Elizabeth Norton

9781445605784_p0_v1_s550x406The Wars of the Roses was a time of great hardships and strong men and women who did everything they could in order to survive. One of these remarkable people was a woman who did everything she could to make sure her only son lived and prospered. She was the daughter of a man who, allegedly committed suicide, she had four different husbands and gave birth to her son at the age of thirteen. She helped organize rebellions and a marriage that helped her son win the throne of England. Her name was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. Her remarkable story is told in Elizabeth Norton’s insightful book, “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty.”

This was a time of extraordinary men and women who knew both triumphs and tragedies. Margaret Beaufort was no exception as Fortune’s wheel gave her quite a ride, as Elizabeth Norton explains:

The idea of Fortune’s wheel, with its random changes from prosperity to disaster, was a popular one in medieval England, and Margaret Beaufort, with her long and turbulent life, saw herself, and was seen by others, as the living embodiment of the concept. Margaret was the mother of the Tudor dynasty in England, and it was through her that Henry VII was able to bid for the throne and gather enough strength to claim it. She knew times of great prosperity and power, but also times of deep despair. These were, to a large extent, products of the period in which Margaret lived, and her family, the Beauforts, had also suffered and prospered from Fortune’s random spin in the years before her birth. (Norton, 9).

Norton begins her book by explaining the origins of the Beaufort family, with the relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. It is through John of Gaunt that the Beauforts were able to go from illegitimate children to royal relations. This connection brought them a lot of favors, but it also brought a lot of heartaches. When the Beauforts fell, they fell hard, like Margaret’s father John Beaufort who allegedly committed suicide after a failed mission in France. His death meant that Margaret, his only child, was made a very wealthy heiress and a very eligible young lady on the marriage market. She was married to her first husband at the tender age of 10, but it did not last long. Her second marriage was to King Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor. He died before he could meet his son, leaving Margaret a mother and a widow before she turned 14. This might have been a dark moment in any young woman’s life, but Margaret grows from this experience, for herself and her only son Henry Tudor.

Margaret used her next two marriages, to Sir Henry Stafford and Lord Thomas Stanley, to her advantage to help her son’s cause. Henry was on the run with his uncle Jasper during this time since the Yorkist cause saw him as a potential heir to the throne. It was Margaret’s influence with the court and her financial support that helped her son and her brother-in-law survive during this time. It all paid off and after years apart, she was reunited with her son after the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry was victorious and declared King Henry VII. The Tudor Dynasty was created, and Margaret Beaufort began her new role as the King’s Mother. She was a mother-in-law to Elizabeth of York, a grandmother to Henry and Elizabeth’s children, and a patroness for colleges and universities. Margaret was a devout woman who also had control of her own finances, even though she was married. Fortune’s wheel gave Margaret Beaufort quite a ride, but she endured it and helped create one of the greatest dynasties in English history, the Tudor dynasty.

Elizabeth Norton sheds light on Margaret Beaufort’s story. In recent years, Margaret Beaufort has been vilified but reading the letters written by Margaret and from people who knew her shows who she really was, a strong and devout woman who would do anything for her son. Norton is able to balance the facts that we know about Margaret’s life and times with letters and poems about her and Norton’s engaging writing style to give Margaret a biography she deserves. This biography is meticulously researched and a delight to read. If you want a fascinating biography about this remarkable woman, I highly recommend you read Elizabeth Norton’s “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty”.

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors” by Conn Iggulden

41+RQteGLUL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_By the year 1470, England had been embroiled in a civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster for nearly 20 years. Edward IV was king until he was driven out of the country by his former best friend Warwick and Edward’s own brother, George Duke of Clarence. The House of Lancaster is back in charge with Henry VI, but Edward IV and his other brother Richard Duke of Gloucester are not giving up without a fight. However, there is another family who wants to fight for the throne, the Tudors. How will it come to an end? Who will become King of England when all the major battles come to an end? These questions are answered in Conn Iggulden’s thrilling conclusion to his Wars of the Roses series, “Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors.”

We are thrown back into the story with Edward forced to leave England and his wife and children forced to go into sanctuary while the Lancasters, with Warwick and George Duke of Clarence taking over military control. We are also introduced to new characters. Jasper Tudor, his nephew Henry Tudor, and Edward’s other brother Richard Duke of Gloucester, who would one day become King Richard III. In his historical note, Conn Iggulden explains Richard, his twisted spine and the struggle he might have had on the battlefield:

For all those who have imbibed a romantic view of King Richard III, I think they have cause to be grateful to Shakespeare, for all the bard’s delight in making him a hunchbacked villain. Without Shakespeare, Richard Plantagenet was only king for two years and would have been just a minor footnote to his brother’s reign. There is not one contemporary mention of physical deformity, though we know now that his spine was twisted. He would have lived in constant pain, but then so did many active fighting men. There is certainly no record of Richard ever needing a special set of armour for a raised shoulder. Medieval swordsmen, like Roman soldiers before them, would have been noticeably larger on their right sides. A school friend of mine turned down a career as a professional fencer because of the way his right shoulder was developing into a hump from constant swordplay- and that was with a light, fencing blade. Compare his experience to that of a medieval swordsman using a broader blade, three feet long or even longer, where strength and stamina meant the difference between victory and a humiliating death. (Iggulden, 456-457).

Iggulden explores the relationship between the main characters; Edward IV, Warwick, Jasper Tudor, Richard III, George Duke of Clarence, and Henry Tudor, and how the events between 1470 and 1485 radically changed their lives forever. The betrayal of Warwick and George and how that affected Edward and Richard. How Edward and Richard leaving England for a time affected Elizabeth Woodville and her children. When Edward and Richard landed in Ravenspur and marched against Warwick and George at the Battle of Barnet. The final defeat of the Lancasterian cause at the Battle of Tewkesbury and what followed after the death of Edward IV in 1483. And of course, the Battle of Bosworth where Henry Tudor wins the crown and begins the Tudor dynasty.

“Ravenspur” is a well-written and thrilling conclusion to Iggulden’s “Wars of the Roses” series. He was able to combine exciting battle scenes with family drama, internal dialogue, and political intrigue to create a masterpiece of a series. The only problem I had with the book was that I did want more dialogue from Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort. They seemed to have been sprinkled in when it was convenient. Overall, I found “Ravenspur” engaging and enjoyable. If you have read the three previous books in Conn Iggulden’s series, I highly encourage you to read “Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors” as it brings the Wars of the Roses to a dramatic end.

Book Review: “Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England” by Thomas Penn

61tqSL1PEdL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_The Tudor Dynasty and its beginning has often been viewed as a glorious dawn after the dark period that we call the Wars of the Roses. It established a firm foundation that the kingdom lost during the 30 years of civil war. It took a lot of effort from the victor of this tumultuous time, Henry VII, to transform England back to a relatively stable country.  To some, Henry VII was a virtuous leader who cared about his family and his country, saving money to make sure the dynasty was secure. For others, Henry VII was a figure who clung to his crown and his kingdom no matter the cost, which included conspiracies and underhanded methods. But what did Henry VII do in order to bring back order to England and how did he convince others that the Tudors were the rightful rulers? These are the questions that Thomas Penn wanted to answer in his book, “Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England.”

Penn explains the premise of his book and why he chose to explore the last years of this particular king’s reign:

The last, claustrophobic decade of Henry VII’s reign, with an ageing, paranoid king and his dynamic young son at its heart, forms the focus of this book. It is one of the strangest episodes in English history. An atmosphere of fear and suspicion radiated from the royal court into the streets and townhouses of London and throughout England’s far-flung estates and provinces. Established forms of rule and government were bent out of shape, distorted in ways that people found both disorienting and terrifying. But these are also the dawning years of a dynasty. They see the coming of age of Catherine of Aragon, the young Spanish princess who would become Henry VIII’s first wife, and of Henry VIII himself- or rather, Prince Henry, as he is here. To explore these precarious years, and to gain a sense of how and why Henry VII behaved and ruled in the way he did, is to reveal much about the house of Tudor, the family that would, over the course of the sixteenth century, dominate and transform England. (Penn, xxi).

Penn begins his book by explaining how Henry came to the throne after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and how he proved that the Tudors had royal blood within their veins, therefore they were able to rule England. Henry and his beloved wife, Elizabeth of York,  would have four children who would survive infancy; Arthur, Margaret, Henry, and Mary. It is really Henry’s relationships with his two sons, Arthur and Henry, that Penn focuses on when it comes to Henry’s family. Arthur is married to the beautiful Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon in order to establish a strong alliance with Spain. Their marriage would not last long. Arthur tragically died a few months into their marriage, sending Henry VII into a deep despair, which only deepened when Elizabeth of York died a year later. Henry VII’s only heir was his son Prince Henry, a son who Henry VII did not really have a relationship with and now had to teach him how to become king.

On top of all the personal tragedies during the last decade of Henry VII’s reign, we see men in England and around Europe, trying to earn the king’s trust in order to gain prestige and power. One of these men was Sir Richard Empson who was in charge of the Council Learned, which was a legal committee who collected feudal dues and kept a close eye on the king’s land. Empson, as Penn explains, tended to use underhanded ways to get what he wanted, not only for his king but for himself. Henry VII also used his vast network of connections across Europe in order to gain information about those who wanted to remove him from power. Penn’s view of Henry VII is of a king who was extremely suspicious, aloof and a Machiavellian ruler. A man who trusted no one and valued financial gains over his own people. To Penn, Henry VII’s reign was dark and full of fear.

This is my first time reading a book by Thomas Penn and I must say it was a unique experience. I have to applaud Penn for the amount of details that he used when it came to ceremonial events at the court, such as the arrival of Catherine of Aragon and when Philip of Habsburg, Duke of Burgundy arrived in England. The way Penn described these events was quite enlightening. Penn also introduced a bunch of figures, from England to Italy, which are all fascinating and play a role in the running of Henry VII’s England. However, for those who are not familiar with these particular people might get confused. I know it was difficult for me to figure out who was who, which is why I wished Penn had a list of important people located somewhere in this book that the reader could refer to if they got lost. Overall, I thought Thomas Penn’s book,  “Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England”, was a fascinating and different, darker view of the founder of the Tudor Dynasty as well as what the relationship between Henry VII and his heir Henry VIII was like.

Favorite Couples from the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor Dynasty

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the couples that we all enjoy studying from the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor Dynasty. These are couples that went through a lot together and stayed together. That is why people like Henry VIII will not be on this list since we all know his marriage track record. This is a list combining your favorites, which you stated as answers to a question I posted on the Facebook page, as well as some of my own. These couples are in chronological order, not by favorites, and the first two couples are before the time that we would call “Wars of the Roses” but they are still important. I did have to narrow down this list quite a bit so if you don’t see a couple that is on this list, let’s discuss it.  I hope you enjoy!

1.) John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford

200px-johnofgauntJohn of Gaunt, the son of King Edward III and one of the wealthiest men in Europe, and Katherine Swynford, the woman who was the governess to John’s children. It seems like an unlikely match, but these two made it work. Of course, when these two lovebirds first met, they were both married to other people, John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster and Katherine to Hugh Swynford. When both Blanche and Hugh died, rumors began to fly that John and Katherine were having an affair. John decided to quite these rumors by marrying a second time, to Constance of Castile. This marriage was one for political gains, not of love. His hope for marrying Constance was to become King of Castile, similar to how he became the Duke of Lancaster after marrying Blanche of Lancaster, but it ended up being a disaster. After his father’s death, John’s nephew Richard II became king and John gave up his claim to the throne of Castile. While he was married to Constance, John began to see Katherine and they had 4 children out of wedlock. Constance would die in 1394.  John would marry Katherine in 1396 and their children would be given the name “Beaufort”. Their children would be considered legitimate, but they could not inherit the throne. John would die 3 years later in 1399 and would be buried beside his first wife Blanche. John and Katherine’s love for one another lasted decades.

2.) Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois

Catherine_of_France.jpgThe Dowager Queen of England marrying a man who worked in her own household. That is the gist of the love story of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. Catherine of Valois was married to King Henry V of England and in return, under the Treaty of Troyes, Henry V and his descendants became kings of both England and France. A really great deal, except Henry V, died of dysentery a few months after his son and heir Henry VI was born. Catherine was 21 when she became the Dowager Queen and there was a real concern that she would marry again so Parliament passed a bill that stated that if Catherine wanted to remarry, she had to ask Parliament’s permission to do so. Well, she didn’t listen to this bill at all. She met and fell in love with a Welshman named Owen Tudor, who worked for her as either as the keeper of her household or her wardrobe.  They would marry sometime between 1428 and 1429. Later, in May 1432, Owen was granted the same rights as an Englishman.

To say this match was totally taboo would be an understatement, but for them, it worked. Catherine and Owen were willing to risk everything for their love. They would have anywhere between 4 to 6 children Two of their children would become famous during the Wars of the Roses, Jasper and Edmund Tudor. Catherine would die on January 3, 1437, and would be buried beside her first husband Henry V.   After Catherine’s death, Jasper and Edmund would receive titles and meet their half-brother King Henry VI, but Owen would face jail time. Owen would later be captured and executed after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross on February 2, 1461.

3.) Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg

Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Another story of a wealthy woman marrying a man well below her station for love. Jacquetta was born in France during the height of the Hundred Years War. Her first husband was the brother of King Henry V, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford and they were married in April 1433. Their marriage was controversial because John’s first wife Anne died only a few months before they were married. The couple moved back to England and in a matter of weeks, Jacquetta was given the rights of an English woman. In 1434, she was made a member of the Order of the Garter, a huge honor. Their marriage would not last long as John would die a year later in France.

Jacquetta was a widow and Henry VI wanted her sent back to England so he sent  Sir Richard Woodville, a knight, to bring Jacquetta back. This backfired spectacularly as Jacquetta and Richard fell in love and got married in secret while on their way back to England (just like another couple on this list). Henry VI was furious and fined the couple 1000 pounds, but on March 23, 1437, Parliament recognized their marriage as valid. Jacquetta and Richard were happily married and had 14 children, including Elizabeth Woodville, who would become Queen of England.  Jacquetta and Richard were with Margaret of Anjou as she made her way to England and to her marriage to Henry VI and the birth of their son. They were together when their daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, married her first husband and he died in battle when she met and married Edward IV, and Jacquetta was there for the birth of her first granddaughter Elizabeth of York. Jacquetta’s world came crashing down when Richard and their son John were captured and executed on August 12, 1469, after the Battle of Edgecote Moor. Jacquetta was arrested by Warwick and charged with witchcraft, but the charges were dropped. Jacquetta would die only a few years after Richard, on May 30, 1472. Jacquetta and Richard’s marriage lasted through decades and hardships, but it was full of love and a large family, the Woodvilles, that would change English politics forever.

4.) Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

edbe20edb2d4ed4682369c7eb997b6dfKing Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of a soldier and a mother of two young boys. In a way, their love story is like a Cinderella story. Elizabeth Woodville was the eldest daughter of Richard and Jacquetta Woodville. She was a maid of honor for Margaret of Anjou and because of her high position at court, her parents arranged a marriage for her to Sir John Grey of Groby in 1452. The couple would have two sons, Thomas, and Richard Woodville. Their marriage would not last long as Sir John Grey was killed at the Second Battle of St. Albans in 1461.

The story of how Edward IV met Elizabeth is often embellished. The story goes that Edward IV met Elizabeth under an oak tree at her family home at Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire, where she pleaded with Edward to help her get an inheritance for her two sons. It is very unlikely that they met underneath this oak tree, but they did fall in love and would eventually get married in May 1464. Edward then told his Parliament, including the man who helped him the most Warwick “the Kingmaker”,  that he couldn’t marry any of the women that they suggested because he was already married. Elizabeth’s large family was given advantageous marriages and titles that helped shaped English politics, much to the chagrin of those who were already in power. Elizabeth was crowned Queen consort on May 16, 1465, and the following year, she gave birth to the couple’s first child, Elizabeth of York.

Things went downhill as politics took their marriage for a rollercoaster ride. Warwick decided that he was going to switch from York to Lancaster and placed Henry VI back on the throne, sending Edward IV into exile. Elizabeth Woodville was forced to seek sanctuary where she gave birth to their first son, the future Edward V. Edward IV would come back with a vengeance and defeated Warwick, reclaiming his crown, and found his wife and children in sanctuary. The family was reunited and happy. Their second son, Richard Duke of York, was married to Anne of Mowbray and they had arranged a marriage for their eldest daughter Elizabeth of York to the Dauphin of France. Elizabeth Woodville’s world came crashing down when her beloved husband, Edward IV, died on April 9, 1483. The crown passed to their young son Edward V, but before he was crowned king, Edward and his brother Richard were sent to the Tower of London, never to be seen again.

Elizabeth would arrange a marriage between her daughter Elizabeth of York, with the son of Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor. On August 22, 1485, Henry Tudor was able to defeat Richard III and become King Henry VII. He would marry Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Woodville would be present for the birth of her grandchildren Arthur, Henry, Mary, and Margaret. Elizabeth Woodville would die less than a decade after Edward IV, on June 8, 1492. Edward and Elizabeth are buried by each other in St. George Chapel in Windsor Castle. Their love was something of legends and even though people did not agree with their union, they made each other stronger.  

5.) Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

89947Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, and Elizabeth of York. The couple that united the houses of York and Lancaster and started the Tudor Dynasty. This is the only couple on this list that was arranged to be married to each other, but they made it work extremely well. Henry Tudor was the son of Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor who would go into hiding after the Yorkist believed he would be the one who could bring back the Lancasterian cause in the Wars of the Roses. After Edward IV died, Edward V and Richard Duke of York were sent to the Tower never to be seen again, and Richard III became king. Elizabeth Woodville and the Yorkists loyal to her did not like Richard III and knew something had to be done in order to end his reign. In order to bring an end to the Wars of the Roses, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort agreed that their children, Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor, would be married if Henry could invade England successfully and overthrow Richard III. Henry and his uncle Jasper tried to invade in October 1483, but it failed. In December 1483, Henry made an oath in Rennes, France to marry Elizabeth of York.

Finally, in August 1485, Henry and Jasper Tudor made their way back to England, and it worked. They met against Richard III’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, where with sheer luck, and the forces of Lord Stanley ( Henry’s stepfather), Henry was able to defeat Richard and become King Henry VII. Henry kept his promise and married Elizabeth of York the following year, on January 18, 1486. A few months later, on September 20, 1486, Henry and Elizabeth welcomed their firstborn son, Arthur Prince of Wales. They would have more children including Henry Tudor (future Henry VIII), Mary and Margaret Tudor. Things started off relatively stable for the first few months of Henry’s reign, but that would change in 1487.

1487 was the year that a young boy named Lambert Simnel claimed to be the earl of Warwick, Elizabeth’s cousin. This was a lie and Henry met Lambert Simnel at the Battle of Stoke Field on June 16, 1487, where Lambert was defeated in the last battle of the Wars of the Roses. Lambert would be a first in a long line of pretenders, trying to usurp the throne from Henry. One of the biggest pretenders was Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Richard Duke of York, Elizabeth’s younger brother. This may have been a recipe for a disaster between Henry and Elizabeth, but it actually strengthened their relationship. Elizabeth believed that Perkin Warbeck was not her brother. Perkin Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on November 23, 1499.

The last few years of Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage was filled with joy and heartache. The couple had arranged advantageous marriages for their children Arthur and Margaret. Margaret was arranged to be married to King James IV of Scotland, to unite England and Scotland under the Treaty of Perpetual Peace.  Arthur was married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, on November 14, 1501, uniting Spain and England. The following year, on April 2, 1502, Arthur died unexpectantly, leaving Elizabeth to console her husband and to remind him that they were still young and that they could still have more children. Elizabeth did give birth to a daughter Katherine on February 2, 1503, but she would not live long. Elizabeth of York would die on February 11, 1503, leaving Henry alone in his grief. He never married again and when Henry VII died a few later on April 21, 1509, he wished to be buried next to his beloved wife. Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage may have been arranged, but they developed a deep love for one another that endure many hardships and created the Tudor Dynasty.

6.) Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor

Mary_Tudor_and_Charles_BrandonCharles Brandon and Mary Tudor. A Tudor knight who fell in love with the dowager Queen of France and the sister of the King of England. Their love story is one for the ages. Mary Tudor was the youngest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and she was very close to her brother Henry VIII. She was known as the most beautiful princess in Europe. Her first marriage was to the King of France, Louis XII, who was much older than she was and had been married two times before. Their marriage did not last three months as King Louis XII died and they did not have any children. The new King of France, Francis I, tried to arrange a new marriage for Mary, but Henry VIII sent an envoy to collect his sister, which included the charming knight, Charles Brandon.

Charles and Mary probably knew each other their entire life since Charles was a close friend of Henry VIII. While they were on their way to England, the couple decided to get married in secret on March 3, 1515, and to tell Henry later. Henry was angry, at first, and fined the couple 24,000 pounds and the remainder of Mary’s dowry. It was an enormous amount, but the couple took it in stride and their marriage was recognized later that year with an official ceremony on May 13, 1515. This was not Charles’ first marriage as he was married two times before and had two daughters by his first marriage, Anne and Mary. Mary accepted both daughters and raised them along with her four children that she had with Charles. The couple would make their opinion about politics clear to Henry, especially when it came to Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, which they were not thrilled with the idea.

Mary, who suffered from illnesses all of her life, died on June 25, 1533. Charles would marry again, this time to his ward Catherine Willoughby who would give him two sons. Charles died on August 22, 1545. Although both married other people before they married each other, one can sense how much Charles and Mary truly loved one another.

Who are your favorite couples from the Wars of the Roses or the Tudor Dynasty?