Book Review: “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I” by Erin Lawless

38507412._SY475_In English history, the story of the royal families tends to capture the imagination of those who study it. Full of dynamic tales of kings and queens, and numerous nobles, these are tales that make it into history books and history classes. We tend to focus on the same kings and queens, who have become the popular royals. But what about those who are left in the dust of those popular royals? Who were the royal women who lived in the shadow of the throne that time has forgotten? What were the lives of these women like? It is these women who are the focus of Erin Lawless’s latest book, “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The title of this book initially caught my eye and I really wanted to see what royal women Erin Lawless would be discussing in this particular book.

Lawless has decided to write about thirty different royal women, from Scota to Princess Charlotte, covering several centuries of vivacious women. Some of these women I have encountered in my own studies, like Margaret Pole, Margaret Tudor, Eleanor Cobham, and Mary Grey( who are obviously women from the Tudor dynasty). Others were women that I have never heard of, like Gwellian ferch Gryffydd and Isabella MacDuff, who lead armies for their respective countries, Wales and Scotland respectfully, to fight against the English. Grace O’Malley, also known as Granuaile, who was Queen of Umaill, chieftain of the O Maille clan, and a pirate from Tudor Ireland. And of course, plenty of royal women who married for love and suffered the consequences.

These tales are truly tantalizing, yet they are tragically too short as Lawless only spends a few pages on each woman. Just as you are starting to really get into the story, you move onto another lady and her history. It may seem a little bit unfair, but I think it should be noted that Lawless did this with a rather important purpose behind it. Lawless wanted to give an introduction to the lives of these women, both the fictional tales and the facts so that readers would be intrigued and decide to study more about them. It’s a great strategy to get more people interested in studying the obscure and forgotten royal women in history. Of course, I wanted more details, but that is because I love having a plethora of information about a subject in books that I read, yet in this case, I think the amount of details works in Lawless’s favor.

The one thing that I really wish Lawless did include was a bibliography or a list of books that helped her with her own research when it came to this book. I really like seeing an author’s research in the back of biographies or history books, especially for a book that covers different topics, so that I can have a starting point for my own personal research.

Overall, I found this book incredibly enjoyable. It is certainly a conversation starter for those who discuss the English monarchy. Lawless has a delightful writing style that feels like you are having a casual history conversation with her. This book is small in size, but it could be the stepping stone for new research for those novice historians who want to write about someone who has been stuck in the shadow for centuries. If you would like to read short stories about royal women who have stayed in the background for a long time, I highly recommend you read “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I” by Erin Lawless.

Movie Review: “The King”

MV5BOGZhMWFhMTAtNGM3Ni00MTdhLTg3NmMtMDViYTc5ODVkZWVlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_There is a new film that has been getting a lot of hype lately and that is based on the story of King Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt. Starring Timothee Chalamet as the main protagonist King Henry V, “The King” on Netflix is the latest historical drama movie that has come out this year. From the trailers and the information that we learned about the film before it was released, I was really intrigued, so I decided to watch it this weekend. Since there were a lot of things I wanted to discuss, I have decided to write a sort of movie review for “The King”.

The film starts with trouble brewing between King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn), the usurper King who is dying, and Henry “Hotspur” Percy. We are introduced to Henry V as a young Prince of Wales who simply wants to cause havoc, drink, and have fun with his friends. When I first saw Timothee Chalamet in this role, I felt like he was a moody teenager who could care less about his country or his father, who he, for some reason, hates. Henry IV decides that Henry, also known as “Hal”, is not good enough to be king, so he is replaced by his younger brother, Thomas of Lancaster. This is so odd because from what we know of this time, Henry IV trusted Henry V to take care of England while he was ill.

The angsty prince “Hal” leaves and decides to hang out with his best friend, Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton), who would become one of his closest allies. Falstaff would be there for Hal after he killed Hotspur at the Battle of Shrewsbury, which in this film turns out to be a fistfight with a knife between the two men, which is won by Henry V naturally. It felt kind of awkward, especially when you notice that Thomas Beaufort (also known as Dorset in the film) is on the sideline supporting Hotspur instead of Henry V. Beaufort was extremely loyal to Henry V throughout his reign. It was here where Henry V got his noticeable scar from an arrow that hit him in the face, but the film really doesn’t show the scar.

After his brother Thomas dies off-screen, Henry V becomes King after his father dies. The coronation scene, albeit short, looked somewhat accurate, which is a plus. As king, Henry is unsure of his abilities and relies on men who he considers his allies. Those who do study this time period know that Henry V was known as a warrior king, yet for some reason, the director of this film wanted to make Henry rather a pacificist. He wants to get along with the French rather than go to war with them. This was the middle of the Hundred Years’ War. England hated France and vice versa. For this young king to want to make peace with the French was unheard of and so out of character for what we know about King Henry V. I really did not agree with this call.

It was not until after there were several attempts on Henry’s life by the French that Henry finally decides to attack France directly. It is here in the battles and sieges that Henry V would gain his warrior king title and I think that the film does a pretty good job showing some of the aspects of the invasion of France. The use of trebuchets for the siege scene was just fun to watch, even though this was just one siege of perhaps dozens that happened during the invasion. While we are in France, we are introduced to Robert Pattinson’s character the Dauphin of France. This might sound controversial, but I wasn’t impressed with his portrayal of the Dauphin. I felt like his accent felt fake, almost like he was mocking the French, and I didn’t see why he needed to have his hair dyed blond. Pattinson’s character was more of a buffoon than a serious adversary. Another thing that irked me was when Henry knelt in front of the Dauphin. Henry is a King. The Dauphin was a French Prince. It seemed really odd to do this since they were adversaries.

To me, the biggest highlight of this film was the actual Battle of Agincourt. The conditions of the field of battle were a muddy mess with the French at an advantage. The English marching in their suits of armor towards their enemy while the archers were in the back, raining arrows down on the French. Seeing Henry and Falstaff fighting in the mud with their men. It felt like it truly honored the battle well. The one issue I had with it was when Henry and Falstaff took off their helmets. I was literally yelling at them to put their helmets back on. It is one thing to see an actor’s face when they are doing a battle scene, but this just seemed utterly ridiculous to me.

A few more side notes that I wanted to include. I think the soundtrack of this film was wonderful and really captured the mood of the film. They used a lot of daggers and battle-axes instead of swords when it came to fighting one on one. The costumes felt appropriate, but the colors of the outfits felt rather mute with greys, blacks, blues, and shades of white. There were points where I thought that Chalamet was wearing a pair of jean like pants and a hoodie under his chain mail, but it might have just been me. I wanted a touch more color. The scenery was fantastic and really gave a medieval feel to the film. Finally, I wanted more Catherine of Valois (Lily-Rose Depp). We see her at the very end of the film, but I wanted more interaction between Catherine and Henry.

Overall, I actually really enjoyed “The King”. It kind of shocked me because I thought that I was going to sit through the movie and nitpick so much that I wouldn’t enjoy the film. Yet I did. It is definitely not historically accurate, but it blends the Shakespearean plays and historical information into something new. If you want a completely accurate film about Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt, this might not be the film for you. However, if you want a different interpretation of Henry V and Agincourt just for fun, “The King” on Netflix is a film that you should check out.

Book Review: “1545: Who Sank The Mary Rose?” by Peter Marsden

44059242On a calm summer day in July of 1545, a battle was being fought in Solent between the Tudor navy and the French navy. Tragedy struck when the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship,  suddenly sank beneath the waves, sending hundreds of men that called the ship home to a watery grave. Many theories on why this particular ship sank have been discussed for centuries, but it was not until the Mary Rose was raised to the surface in 1982 that we start to understand what really happened. Peter Marsden, an expert on the Mary Rose decided that it was finally time to explore the ship thoroughly to explain what or who sank this magnificent ship. All of Marsden’s research is on full display in his remarkable book, “1545: Who Sank The Mary Rose?”

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. Before this book, I knew a little bit about this ship and that it did sink, but I wanted to learn more. This book was jammed packed with incredible details and gave the Mary Rose a new life.

 For those who are not familiar with Peter Marsden, he is a professional archeologist and is a founder of the Council for Nautical Archeology as well as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities. Marsden knew some of the key members of The Mary Rose Trust, whose goal was to bring the Mary Rose to the surface and to tell its story. It is his expertise in nautical archeology that makes Marsden the perfect person to tell the story of this remarkable warship.

 In order to understand how significant the sinking of the Mary Rose was at the time, Marsden begins by telling the story of how the French and English navies met at Solent in July 1545, giving a full account of the battle according to the historical records, both on the English and French sides. Marsden follows the admirals, Claud d’ Annebault for France and Sir George Carew for England, to understand why they made the decisions that they did before, during, and after the battle. 

The bulk of Marsden’s book is going into meticulous details about the Mary Rose itself. This was absolutely fascinating to read since it gives readers a better understanding of what the ship might have looked like in its heyday. The descriptions are paired beautifully well with detailed diagrams and illustrations so that even novices to Tudor shipbuilding, like myself, can get a picture of what the Tudor navy might have looked like. 

Marsden then explores the history of the salvaging of the Mary Rose and how it was not until the 1970s and 1980s when the modern world was able to see the ruins of this once magnificent ship. The modern effort to save and preserve this ship for historical purposes was truly a labor of love for all of those involved. They really took the time and effort that was necessary to protect the ruins of this ship and the remains of those who died tragically when this ship sank centuries ago. As Marsden explains, it is the artifacts and the remains of the men that give hints as to who sank the Mary Rose.

Marsden has written a masterpiece that explores this remarkable vessel. He is scrupulous in the details that will delight experts and novices of nautical archeology alike, yet his writing style makes you feel like you are watching a movie. This book is an absolute triumph and it brings a fresh perspective into the sinking of Henry VIII’s flagship. If you are interested in learning more about the story of this remarkable ship and the Tudor navy, I highly recommend you read Peter Marsden’s book, “1545: Who Sank The Mary Rose?”

 

Book Review: “Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor: A Historical Journey From Pembroke to Bosworth” by Phil Carradice

43972620In the study of history, we tend to look at the beginning and the end of a battle and why they were fought. We rarely pay attention to the march that led to the battle, but when we do, there is a distinct reason why. One particular case is of Henry Tudor’s march to the Battle of Bosworth Field. It is a tale that started from his birth at Pembroke Castle to being an exile and then from an exile to being King of England. The story of how an exile became a king and founded the infamous Tudor dynasty deserves attention. Phil Carradice believed that it was time for the story of the first Tudor king and his march to destiny to be told in his latest book, “Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor: A Historical Journey From Pembroke to Bosworth”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. This is the second book in the “Following in the Footsteps” series that I have read, so I was cautiously optimistic. I wanted to learn more about Henry Tudor’s march to Bosworth and I certainly did in this book.

Carradice begins his book with a novel-like description of Henry, or “Harri”, and his uncle Jasper Tudor landing in Wales. As a reader, I was a bit confused about the direction that Carradice was taking by using this approach since this is a historical non-fiction book instead of historical fiction, but Carradice was able to tie it in nicely. He then explains, rather briefly, the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses and how England got to the point where it was Henry Tudor versus King Richard III for the throne. It is this information that is crucial for readers to understand Henry’s motive for claiming the throne and how it was an arduous task to achieve. It was in these early chapters that we see how Henry went from a regular boy to an exile who became a thorn in the side of the Yorkist Kings Edward IV and Richard III.

The bulk of Carradice’s book deals with what happens after Henry Tudor and his men land in Wales. He deals with issues of exactly where Henry landed and why the traditional place for the landing does not make a whole lot of sense. Carradice also takes on the legends that surrounded the different locations during the march and compared them to the facts that we do know about the march, primarily from Polydore Vergil. The one problem that I had with this book was that Carradice did not include a map of the march. I was not familiar with the locations, particularly the Welsh locations, so it was difficult to visualize the distances. What I did appreciate was the fact that as the battle approached, Carradice showed how both Henry and Richard III must have been feeling and how their decisions on that fateful day made all the difference.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It may be small, but it is rather mighty with all the information that it contains. Carradice’s writing style makes this book feel like a historical fiction novel with a plethora of information one expects from a historical nonfiction book. If you want a great introduction book to Henry Tudor’s march to Bosworth Field and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, I highly recommend you read, “Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor: A Historical Journey From Pembroke to Bosworth” by Phil Carradice.

Book Review: “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise” by Melanie Clegg

61QD1AenNQL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_The study of the Tudors tends to focus on England as a country of focus, however the Tudors did affect other countries like Spain, France, and Scotland. Many know the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her relationship with Elizabeth I, but many do not know the tale of her mother, Marie de Guise. Her tale is one of love for her family and her adoptive country of Scotland. It is of loyalty and strength to do what she believed was right. She was a sister, a daughter, a mother, a queen, and a regent of Scotland. Marie’s story tends to be overshadowed by her daughter’s tragic tale, until now.  Her story is the main focus of Melanie Clegg’s latest biography, “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this pleasant biography. I knew quite a bit about her daughter, but Marie de Guise is just as remarkable and deserves to be told. 

Clegg begins her biography in the most unusual way, but starting with the death of King James V, Marie de Guise’s second husband. This event, as Clegg will show, radically alters the path that Marie will take. Of course, Marie’s life took many turns, even from her early years. Marie de Guise was the eldest daughter of Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Guise and Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchesse de Guise. Her family, the Lorraines, were extremely close and very loyal to King Francois I of France, especially her father Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Guise. Clegg  explores Marie’s formative years, both with her paternal grandmother Philippa de Geulders, Dowager Duchesse de Lorraine, and inside the glamorous court of Francois I, and how both experiences shaped Marie into the remarkable woman she would become. 

It was truly a twist of fate that Marie de Guise would marry King James V of Scotland, who was her second husband. Marie was first married to Louis d’Orleans, Duc de Longueville and King James V was married to Princess Madeleine. However, both Louis and Madeleine died rather young, so Marie and James V both had to look for new spouses. James V wanted a French marriage, but he was not the only monarch who was looking for a bride. His uncle King Henry VIII just lost his third wife to illness and was trying to woo Marie. To say things did not go Henry’s way would be an understatement as Marie became Queen of Scotland. 

It was in Scotland where we see Marie’s true colors come out in full force. Clegg shows that although Marie loved James, things were not smooth sailing as they would have hoped. Marie’s daughter Mary Stewart, later Mary Queen of Scots, was born only a few days before her father’s untimely death shortly after the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. Such a triumph turned tragedy would have been agonizing for anyone to deal with, but Marie de Guise knew that she had to stay strong for her daughter. As Regent of Scotland, until Mary came of age, Marie did battle, both physical and spiritual, with every Tudor monarch, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. 

This book was a joy to read. Melanie Clegg was able to make a biography read like a novel, yet stay informative and academic. I did not know what to expect, since this was the first book by Melanie Clegg that I have ever read, but from page one I was hooked. This was the first biography about Marie de Guise that I have ever read and now I want to read more about her. If you would like to read an engaging biography about Mary, Queen of Scots vivacious mother Marie de Guise, I highly recommend you read, “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise” by Melanie Clegg.

Book Review: “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton

51qnw6zqydL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Henry VII  winning at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, is viewed as the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty. However, the story of the Tudor family goes back centuries in Wales. What we consider the story of the Tudors tends to start with a man named Owen Tudor, a servant, who fell in love and married the dowager Queen of England, Catherine of Valois. Quite a romantic tale, but how much of it is true? Were the Tudors simple folk or did they have a bigger role to play in their native Wales? What roles did Owen and his sons play in the Wars of the Roses? These questions and more are explored in Terry Breverton’s latest biography, “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this fascinating biography. Owen Tudor is someone that has always interested me, so I was quite delighted to find out that Breverton had written the first biography about this extraordinary man and his life. 

Breverton begins by exploring the origins of the Tudors and how the Welsh bards were the ones who helped preserve the history and prophecies of Wales for future generations. One such prophecy was the prophecy of Cadwaladr, which speaks of the red dragon of Cadwaladr defeating the white dragons of those who the Welsh considered barbarians. It was also the Welsh who believed that a mab darogan (“the son of prophecy”) would conquer England. Breverton must discuss these ideas because they would help the Tudors gather support that was necessary for future victories. Breverton also discusses the history of Wales and England and the Glyndwr War. He explores the Tudor family tree and how Owen Tudor’s ancestors were very influential in the decisions that Wales made in these critical years. I found this part extremely fascinating to read because casual readers of the Wars of the Roses do not read about Welsh history and the Tudor ancestors, which is vital to understand how they were able to come out victorious in the end.

Breverton also explores the family history of Catherine of Valois and how she came to marry  King Henry V and her relationship with her first son, King Henry VI. However, the center of Breverton’s book is centered around the relationship between Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. He describes it as the “strangest marriage in English history”, but unlike other scholars, Breverton believes that an actual marriage did happen between Owen and Catherine. Their sons, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, would prove extremely important men during the Wars of the Roses, and tried to bridge the gap between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Breverton was able to track down where Owen was during his service during the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses through his sons and through government records of the time, until his death shortly after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, on February 4, 1461. The one thing I wish Breverton would have included were maps of Wales, England, and France so it would be easier to understand which towns fell and where battles were fought.

Breverton does a superb job shedding light on Owen Tudor’s fascinating life and legacy. It was an absolute joy to read, I didn’t want it to end. This was my first time reading a book by Terry Breverton and now I want to read more of his books. Breverton blends an easy to understand writing style while maintaining scrupulous attention to details. You can tell that Breverton meticulously researched Owen Tudor and the events that shaped him. This may be the first biography about Owen Tudor, but I don’t think it will be the last. If you want to read a fabulous biography about Owen Tudor and the origins of the Tudor Dynasty, I highly encourage you to read “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton. 

“Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton will be published in the US on November 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order a copy of this book, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Owen-Tudor-Founding-Father-Dynasty/dp/1445694379/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Owen+Tudor+Founding+Father+of+the+Tudor+Dynasty&qid=1566589023&s=books&sr=1-1

Book Review: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ by Heather R. Darsie

61mfurP7xALThe wives of Henry VIII are some of the most hotly-discussed women of the Tudor Dynasty. They all had unique lives and origins before and after they met the man that connects them all. Two of his brides, Catherine of Aragon and Anna, Duchess of Cleves, were foreign princesses and their marriages were used to create alliances with Spain and Germany respectfully. While Catherine of Aragon and the rest of the wives of Henry VIII get a ton of attention, Anna Duchess of Cleves tends to be brushed aside. She is often seen as the wife that Henry did not approve of because of her looks. However, Heather R. Darsie decided to change how we view Anna with her groundbreaking debut biography, “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. Anna, Duchess of Cleves has been one of those women who I wanted to learn more about, so I was very excited to read a biography about her.  

Anna’s story is often told through the English perspective, but it does not tell the entire story. Anna was born in Germany so it makes sense to tell her story using both English and German sources. Darsie explains her approach to this book and her purpose for writing her biography of Anna in the way she does:

Anna’s life and experiences from the German experiences are very different in some ways than what has been described in English-language books. This is not to say that any English biographies about Anna are wrong, but rather that the German sources help make more sense of Anna’s life and short marriage. The German sources show what a valuable bride Anna was to any suitor, and why she stayed on in England after moving there in December 1539. It is my sincere hope that this biography augments the generally accepted view of Anna, her family, and the political entanglements in which she was enmeshed. I also hope it brings more knowledge about German history to English speakers. (Darsie, 8-9).

Darsie brings a fresh new perspective to Anna’s life by explaining her foundations and her family in the German court. This is critical for understanding what kind of woman Anna was like and why the marriage between Anna and Henry was necessary. We are introduced to Anna’s family; her mother Maria, her brother Wilhelm, and her sisters Sybylla and Amalia, who all play a crucial role in shaping the path Anna’s life will take. Anna’s family had a huge influence in German and European politics and the decisions that they made will shape not only German history but European history forever. This was also the start of the Protestant Reformation and the battle between Lutheranism and Catholicism ensues with Anna’s family caught directly in the middle.

This book is an eye-opening read. By exploring the political and religious factors of the time, as well as the German and English primary sources, Darsie is able to tell a complete story of Anna, Duchess of Cleves. She was not just some footnote in history. She was a strong, independent German princess who was doing what she could in order to survive. Darsie’s engaging writing style combined with her knowledge of not only German history but legal documents which shaped the agreements of Henry and Anna’s relationship as well as the understanding of the religious conflicts of the time, blend together masterfully to create a stunning debut. “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie is an absolute game-changer when it comes to studying the marriage between Henry VIII and his fourth wife Anna Duchess of Cleves and I highly recommend Tudor fans to read this book. This may be Heather R. Darsie’s first book, but I look forward to reading more of her books.

 

“Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie will be published in the US on July 1, 2019.

If you are interested in pre-ordering the book for the US, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister/dp/1445677105

Book Review: “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle

61tJwNfDrEL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)Every family has their own stories. Stories of how they became a family, how they fought hard to get where they are today. Stories filled with love, drama, and endurance. When it comes to royal families, their stories tend to be broadcast to the masses, and none more so than the Tudors, who have captured the imagination of history lovers for generations. The Tudor’s story is often told in parts, focusing on individual people like Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. The Tudor story is fascinating told in parts, but as a whole, one sees how hard they worked to become a dynasty that will be remembered for centuries after their deaths. It is time for the story of this extraordinary family to be told as a whole and Leanda de Lisle does so in her book, “Tudor”.

The Tudors and their story often starts in books with the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, but that does a disservice to the humble beginnings of Owen Tudor and how they struggled to survive during the Wars of the Roses. It is their origin story that the Tudors used to their advantage, as de Lisle describes in her introduction:

The Tudors believed they were building on the past to create something different- and better- even if they differed on how. The struggle of Henry VII and his heirs to secure the line of succession, and the hopes, loves and losses of the claimants- which dominated and shaped the history of the Tudor family and their times- are the focus of this book. The universal appeal of the Tudors also lies in the family stories: of a mother’s love for her son, of the husband who kills his wives, of siblings who betray one another, of reckless love affairs, of rival cousins, of an old spinster whose heirs hope to hurry her to her end. (de Lisle, 4).

De Lisle begins her book with the story of Owen Tudor and the Welsh Tudors. It is a story of an unlikely love between a Welsh man who served in the house of the mother of the King of England. However, their story is a bit more complex. Owen Tudor descended from those who were involved in a Welsh rebellion against Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king, he married the wife and mother of two other Lancastrian kings, and his sons were the half-brothers of a Lancastrian King, Henry VI. Talk about a twist of faith. To top it all off, his only grandson, Henry Tudor, was the only child of Margaret Beaufort, who was married four different times and did everything in her power to protect her son. It all culminated in one battle at Bosworth Field where the Tudors go from nobodies to a royal dynasty.

It is this thin line of royal blood that the Tudors cling to as a lifeline to hold onto their throne. Starting with Henry VII, who fought against usurpers and rebels to hold onto the crown that he won on the battlefield. Henry believed in the importance of his family and so he chooses marriages for his children that would benefit the family as a whole. What de Lisle does well is she gives each child of Henry VII the respect that they deserve; she does not just focus on Henry VIII but gives attention to Arthur, Mary, and Margaret Tudor and their children. This is so important as it gives the reader a broader sense of how far the Tudor family ties went. Sure, we all know the stories of Henry VIII, his wives, and his children, but the Tudor story is much deeper than just the family in England. It is a story full of European players all vying for the crown of England.

Leanda de Lisle is able to masterfully tell the story of the Tudors, which has been discussed for centuries and breathe new life into this complex family drama. De Lisle balances meticulous research with an easily accessible writing style in this book that fans of the Tudor dynasty, both scholars and casual readers, will appreciate. This is a book that you will not want to put down. I would recommend this book, “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle, to anyone who is enchanted with the story of the Tudors and their legacy on England. “Tudor” is an absolute triumph and a delight to read over and over again.

Book Review: “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462” by Hugh Bicheno

519b6FCcEGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In recent years, the study of the English conflict known as the “Wars of the Roses” has become rather popular. The Lancasters and the Yorks fighting for the English throne. Only one can be the winner. When we do look at this time period, we tend to focus on the people involved in the battles and the political aspect of the conflict. The battles, how they were fought, and why the conflict started in the first place tend to be pushed to the sideline. That is not the case with this particular book. In Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”, the political and military aspects combine with family histories for a comprehensive look into what made this time period so fascinating.

I came across this particular book by browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I saw that it was about the Wars of the Roses, but I was not familiar with the author. I decided to give it a shot and I am so glad I did. This book is a delight and a fantastic resource.

Bicheno starts his book by exploring two extraordinary women whose families would shape the direction that the Wars of the Roses would take; Jacquetta Woodville and Catherine de Valois. Both women married for love and this love would shape who would win the crown of England, as Bicheno explains:

Sometimes love does conquer all: despite having turned their backs on the game of power, Catherine and Jacquetta became the common ancestors of every English monarch since 1485. Before that could happen, all those with a superior claim to the throne had first to wipe each other out. This they did in what was, in essence, a decades-long, murderously sordid dispute over an inheritance within a deeply dysfunctional extended family. It became merciless not despite but because the combatants had so much in common, and projected their own darkest intentions onto each other….it was an extraordinary period in English history. Four of the six kings crowned between 1399 and 1485 were usurpers who killed their predecessors, undermining the concept of divine right as well as the prestige of the ruling class. (Bicheno, 10-11).

Family drama is the center of Bicheno’s book so he spends several chapters laying out the major players and how they were related to one another. This can get a tad bit confusing for those who are not familiar with the story, so Bicheno has included family trees and a list of protagonists and marriages to help readers. I will say that they became very useful for me as I was reading this book and I would highly suggest you use the resources that Bicheno has included in this book for future research. Bicheno also included maps, which corresponded with the different battles that were important between 1440 and 1462, not only in England but in France, Wales, and Scotland as well.

What really impressed me about this book was the amount of detail that Bicheno was able to include and making it understandable for any casual student of the Wars of the Roses, yet engaging enough for a scholar. That is not an easy feat, but Bicheno is able to do it. He uses modern data with extensive research of historical documents, knowledge of medieval military strategies, and interpreting all of this information for modern readers, which included a few nods to a certain popular show(Game of Thrones) that is roughly based off of the events of this time period.

Hugh Bicheno breathes new life into the study of the Wars of the Roses. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first started reading this book, but I am extremely glad I did. Even if you think you know tons about the Wars of the Roses, this book will surprise you with new information and make you question your previous knowledge about the battles in the first part of this tumultuous time. If you have an interest in the Wars of the Roses and understanding how it occurred from a military and a political point of view, I highly suggest you read Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”. It is an eye-opening, riveting reading experience.

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Bloodline” by Conn Iggulden

51nExUGFrkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The deaths of the Duke of York, Earl Salisbury and Edmund Earl of Rutland at the Battle of Wakefield at the end of 1460 marked a changing point for how the Wars of the Roses was fought. Now it was not going to be simply a matter of who was going to be the King of England, but it was a war of revenge. What the Lancastrians did not realize at the time was the fact that these deaths would unleash two men who would mark the destruction of the Lancastrian cause; Edward Duke of York, the future King Edward IV, and Richard Neville Earl of Warwick “the Kingmaker”. In the third book of Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses series called “Bloodline”, Iggulden explores the rise of these two dynamic men and how family matters tore the two best friends apart.

After the victory at Wakefield, Margaret of Anjou marched her Lancastrian forces to London, but they were not allowed to enter. The Lancastrians decided to keep marching until they meet the Yorkists at St. Albans for a rematch, on February 17, 1461. The Lancastrians were able to win the battle and regain control of King Henry VI. However, this was a small victory. After the defeat, Edward Duke of York decided to take up the claim to the throne that his father left behind, and declared himself King Edward IV of England. That’s right, there were two kings of England in 1461. Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians were not about to give without a fight. They met Edward IV, Warwick and the Yorkists forces outside Towton on March 29, 1461, during a snowstorm. The Battle of Towton is known to be the bloodiest battle on English soil and the way Iggulden described the onslaught is masterful. In the end, the Yorkists are victorious and Edward IV is officially the King of England while Henry VI is held captive in the Tower of London while Margaret of Anjou and her son flee to France for help.

After Towton, Edward IV and Warwick are closer than ever. Warwick wants to do what he can to help support his friend and king so he tries to arrange a marriage between Edward and a French princess, to form an alliance. However, Edward has other ideas and marries Elizabeth Woodville and decides to tell Warwick later. I find it fascinating that Iggulden decided to change how Edward and Elizabeth met as it is quite different from what traditionally is told about how they met, but it works really well. Edward’s brother George Duke of Clarence falls in love with Warwick’s daughter Isabel and wants to marry her.  This is the moment when Edward and Warwick really begin to feud.

Iggulden explains in his Historical Note why he decides to focus on this aspect of their relationship quite a bit:

In the first two books, I have tried to explore the sheer awe felt by some for the person of the king of England. It is the only thing that explains why King Henry remained alive despite being captured by York and held for months at a time. Yet it is also true of human nature that “awe” is less likely when one witnessed a boy growing up and becoming king. No man is a prophet in his own home- and Warwick was sufficiently exasperated with Edward and his wife to throw it all into the air and arrange Edward’s capture and imprisonment. (Iggulden, 402).

It is interesting to read about the relationship between these two friends and how that friendship turned into hatred because Edward decided to marry for love. Iggulden is able to capture the shifting relationships between the main characters extremely well in the third book of this amazing series. The blend of battles, political intrigue and romance is perfect and keeps the reader engaged. This is the fall of the Lancasters and the rise of the Yorks.  If you were a fan of the first two books of the Wars of the Roses series, I highly encourage you to read “Wars of the Roses: Bloodline” by Conn Iggulden.