Book Review: “Game of Queens: The Women who made Sixteenth-Century Europe” by Sarah Gristwood

When one thinks about strong women in the sixteenth century, many turn their 51mfzqo6PTL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_attention towards women like Elizabeth I, Isabella of Castile, Katherine of Aragon, Mary I and Catherine de Medici. These seemed like extraordinary examples of power that stretched the boundaries on what was right and acceptable for women of the time. That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the sixteenth century in Europe was filled with powerful women who do not get the attention that they deserve. In Sarah Gristwood’s book “Game of Queens: The Women who made Sixteenth- Century Europe”, we are shown that it really wasn’t the men who had control, but their wives and daughters.

 

Diplomacy is often described as a chess game and in the case of the sixteenth century, that could not be more accurate. This was the century of political games, the importance of marriages, wars galore and religious reforms. It all started off with women like Isabella of Castile of Spain and Anne de Beaujeu of France; powerful women who would not only influence their own children but girls who would come into their homes to learn how to be strong royal wives. Anne of Beaujeu wrote a manual for noblewomen, including this piece of advice:

“And nothing is firm or lasting in the gifts of Fortune; today you see those raised high by Fortune who, two days later, are brought down hard.”

 

This would come to describe the lives of the women who would follow throughout the rest of the sixteenth century. Most of them had to act as regents for their sons or male relations. Others were wives of kings who tried to change their countries for the better and either succeeded or failed miserably. It was the women in the beginning and the middle of the century that would pave the way for the more infamous queens like Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth Tudor, and Mary Queen of Scots.

 

Sarah Gristwood was able to combine this complex game of women political chess with sixteen protagonists into a masterful biography to give a better understanding of how sixteenth century Europe worked. This was a sisterhood of queens with mothers teaching daughters on how to survive in the courts. These women were connected by blood and by marriage, however it was how they used the lessons of those who came before them which would define them.

 

Sarah Gristwood could have made sixteen separate biographies, but by combining all of these stories into one book, it shows how each country and each ruler truly depended on one another. In a world where male heirs were few or died young, it was the women who had to step in and make Europe ready for the future. The sixteenth century was the changing point for European history and it was the women who had to navigate the complex field to keep Europe from completely falling apart. This book is the story of powerful women who helped make Europe the powerhouse it would become in the sixteenth century and how they did it.

Book Review: “Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth and the Dark Scandal that Rocked the Throne” by Chris Skidmore

41sbrm3axHL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_On September 8, 1560, a young woman’s body is discovered at Cumnor Place alone at the bottom of the stairs with her neck broken with no other marks on her body. This would have been declared an accidental death by normal people, however the woman was anything but a normal woman; this was the wife of Robert Dudley, Amy Robsart. It was because of who she was and who her husband was that people speculated that foul play was afoot.

 

For centuries, the death of Amy Robsart has caught the imagination of many people, including Chris Skidmore. In his book “Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth and the Dark Scandal that Rocked the Throne”, Skidmore takes a deeper look into this mysterious death of Amy Robsart. If you have read Alison Weir’s “Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley”, you will enjoy the way that Skidmore writes this book because it is very similar. The quote that really summed up his researching approach towards this mystery is as follows: “ For the historian, the truth is neither impossible nor improbable: it can only be, quite simply, whatever remains.”

 

Skidmore starts off by explaining the relationship between Amy and Robert before Elizabeth became Queen. These were two people who were in love, but once Robert Amyrobsartbecame the Master of the Horse for Elizabeth, Robert changed. He was at home less and Amy had to take over the household affairs. It is through letters that Amy wrote that Skidmore is able to paint a picture for us about how their household worked. The day that Amy died was very peculiar in the fact that she wanted to be left alone; her husband was with the Queen miles away. The original jury found that this was a case of accidental death, however Skidmore decided to take a deeper look into the case. He decided to explore the possibility of accidental death by stairs, the possibility of a medical explanation on why Amy could have fallen down the stairs,  and he found the original coroner’s report, which portrays a different story. The amount of research Skidmore pours into this one accidental death is admirable. The one issue I have with the book is the fact that he describes the type of staircases and the details of the coroner’s report but he doesn’t show pictures of these things so it’s a bit hard to visualize what he is talking about.

 

The story about Amy’s death, however does not end with her death, in fact it only starts the rumor mill around Robert Dudley’s involvement. As Dudley gets closer to Elizabeth and has his affairs with Douglas Howard and Lettice Knollys (who would become his second wife), rumors fly and comparisons are made to Amy. People did not like the fact that Robert was so close to the Queen and was thinking about marrying Elizabeth. People started to believe that Robert killed his wife in order to marry the Queen and so slanderous writings about Dudley were being passed around, including the Leicester’s Commonwealth.

 

In this book, Chris Skidmore channels his inner history detective in order to discover the truth about the death of Amy Robsart. There is something so fascinating about the mystery of her death that has kept the interest in it alive for so long. Skidmore’s book is a fantastic introduction to the death of Amy and the effects that her death on those who she cared about, especially her husband Robert Dudley. If you enjoy Tudor mysteries, the relationship between Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth, or Amy Robsart, this is the book for you. 

Top 5 Tudor Women to Study

Hello everyone! So since today is International Women’s Day, I decided to make a list of my top 5 Tudor women to study. This is a list of women who I love learning new things about and they always surprise me. Some of you might be shocked that I didn’t include more of the popular figures like Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots and Mary I. I do like these women but for me, it was about the life stories of the women listed. The following women I feel like I could connect with a bit better. That is not to say that this list will change later.

 

My top 5 Tudor women to study are as follows:

 

1.) 285-004-1108CDADElizabeth I

 

I know, a real shocker. Elizabeth was the first Tudor monarch who caught my attention. Not only was she a woman who ruled England as good as any man, but she chose not to marry. Sure she did drag men along proposing the idea of marriage, but I believe she has a strategy to this. I believe that she did not want to marry at all, however she used the idea of marriage to strengthen alliances with foreign powers throughout Europe. For the most part, except for Philip II of Spain who wanted to use a marriage with Elizabeth to bring back Catholicism back to England, this strategy worked. Elizabeth was able to use the image of the “Virgin Queen” to her advantage even though there are accounts of relationships with men like Thomas Seymour and Robert Dudley. There were also some incidents where she was unkind to relations like Lettice Knollys and the death of Mary Queen of Scots. However, we must understand that Elizabeth lived in a time where she did not declare her heir, she had to do whatever it took to survive or she risked throwing the country back into a time of turmoil, like it was during the Wars of the Roses. Elizabeth, though the last of the Tudor monarchs was able to usher a Golden Age of learning and culture into England while being an unmarried queen who ruled.

 

2.) Margaret Beaufort

The matriarch of the Tudor dynasty. This woman was a power house when survival was Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPG.jpgessential. It was a world controlled by men and Margaret played their game well. She was first married to Henry Tudor’s father Edmund when she was around 12 or 13 years old and had Henry when she was either 13 or 14. With the amount of trauma that she endured giving birth to Henry, he was her only child. Only a few months before Henry was born, Edmund died, leaving Margaret a widow and she had to give her son over to an enemy of the Beauforts. As the Wars of the Roses progressed, Henry soon became the last hope for the Lancastrian cause. His life hung in the balance as he and his uncle Jasper was forced into exile. It was through Margaret’s two other marriages that she was able to secure land for her son and was able to help create an army for her son so that he could claim the throne. Most of this she planned while her husband, Lord Stanley, was a strong supporter for the Yorkist cause. This was such a gamble, but the biggest gamble that Margaret made was when she convinced Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of Edward IV, to allow her daughter Elizabeth of York to marry Henry after he defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. All of her hard work paid off after Bosworth and her son Henry Tudor became Henry VII. Margaret had to be very strong in order to survive through all of this turmoil in order to see her only son succeed.

 

3.) Elizabeth of York

Though we do not know much about Elizabeth of York compared to her mother-in-law, I have always found her story fascinating. She could have either married her uncle, Richard III, or her father’s enemy, a Lancastrian Welsh young man named Henry Tudor. In the end, Elizabeth of Woodville and Margaret Beaufort decided that a marriage 1200px-Elizabeth_of_York_from_Kings_and_Queens_of_Englandbetween their children would help mend the rift in the country. With the marriage between Elizabeth and Henry Tudor, the York and Lancaster houses were united under the red rose of Tudor. I have always wondered what it must have been like for Elizabeth to know that she had to marry Henry who fought on the opposite side of her entire family. At first, it must have been rough but it did develop into love between the two. And then Henry had to deal with men who claimed to be her brothers who were led to the Tower of London and supposedly never heard of again. It must have been hard for Elizabeth to hear about these pretenders who claimed to be her long-lost brothers. At the same time she was building a family with Henry with her sons and daughters. Just when everything was going well for the family, Elizabeth and Henry’s eldest son Arthur died right after he had married Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. The blow must have rocked their marriage to the core, but luckily they had each other and their other son Henry VIII. It was the love that they had for one another that helped get Elizabeth of York and Henry VII through the rocky patches and helped establish the Tudor dynasty.

 

4.) Catherine of Aragon

The wife of both Prince Arthur and Henry VIII. This woman was strong. Not only did she have to move to another country from her native Spain, but after Arthur died suddenly after their marriage, she was forced to stay in this foreign land while anotCatherine-Michel_Sittow_002-214x300her marriage, to Henry VIII, was arranged all while living in poverty. She could have thrown in the towel and asked to go back home but she stayed and married King Henry VIII, becoming Queen of England. Everything was going fine in their marriage until the miscarriages happened and the fact that she could only give birth to one child, a girl named Mary. This must have felt so horrible for Catherine since Henry only wanted a male heir and she could not give him what he wanted. Henry wanted a divorce and decided to use the fact that she was married to his brother as an excuse to divorce. Since Catherine said she was still a virgin after Arthur died, the Catholic church did not see a reason to hand out the divorce and took a long time to decide so Henry decided to break away from the church and divorced Catherine that way. She was then dismissed to never see him or her daughter Mary again, although she would argue that she was his one true and faithful wife until her dying breath. The amount of courage it must have taken to get through all the Henry through her way is very admirable and inspiring.

 

5.) Catherine Parr

The last of Henry VIII’s wives, Catherine Parr was twice widowed before she married Henry. She acted more of a nurse maid for him later in his life than his actual wife.1200px-Catherine_Parr_from_NPG Catherine was a scholar and had written two books, a first for a Queen of England. She acted as a king step mother to Henry’s three children; Edward, Elizabeth and Mary, but she had the best relationship with Elizabeth. After Henry died, Catherine married her sweetheart Thomas Seymour and had Elizabeth live with them. It is rumoured that Thomas Seymour had an inappropriate relationship with Elizabeth. It must have been hard for Catherine to accept this fact and in some cases, it is said that she even assisted Thomas with these incidents. Catherine had to make the hard decision to ask Elizabeth to leave her household, even though she loved her very much. Catherine died giving birth to a daughter. Catherine had to act as a nurse, scholar, wife, and step mother in a time when it was hard to even do one of these jobs properly.

 

These women lived in some of the most tumultuous times in English history and yet they made the best of their situations. This is why I love studying about each of these women. Who are your favorite women in Tudor history to study about and why?

Welcome

Hello Everyone!

My name is Heidi and I am a huge Tudor history nerd. I love everything about the time and find it fascinating to read about the time and watch documentaries about the people, events and places that made this period in history so unique.

I have always loved this time ever since I first learned about Elizabeth I in school. There was something about her story that got me absolutely hooked. I kept reading every book about her and her family I could get my hands on, including encyclopedias when I was in elementary school all the way through high school (Yes I know. I am a history nerd). I wanted to continue learning so I decided to major in history in college. That is where I learned about the Wars of the Roses and the origins of the Tudors and fell even more in love.

To me writing and reading about the Tudors is so much fun. I have read so many great blogs about this topic and I decided to create this blog to discuss books, topics, people and documentaries/ movies about the Tudors. There is a lot of interesting stories in this time period, from the Wars of the Roses starting in 1455, to the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.

I look forward to sharing my love of Tudor history with my fellow Tudor history nerds and to learning new things with everyone!