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.

Poetry: The Doubt of Future Foes

As we have seen so far in the poetry we have explored, poems can portray strong emotions and themes. Love, sorrow, and looking back at one’s youth. However, poetry can also show strength and hope for one’s country. This poem, written by Queen Elizabeth I, shows her concern for “future foes” but also her desire to defeat them. It was written between 1568 and 1571. Elizabeth had many foes during her time as queen, but the only foreign foes during this time would be her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots and Pope Pius V.

During this time period Mary, Queen of Scots had abdicated her throne in Scotland, in 1567, and there was a Catholic uprising to put Mary on the English throne, instead of Elizabeth. To top it all off, Pope Pius V issued a papal bull called Regnans in Excelsis on February 25, 1570, which declared Elizabeth a pretender to the English throne and released any English Catholics from listening to her. Elizabeth could have cowered in fear, but she stood strong, which can be seen in this poem. It is a warning to future foes not to cross her and to give hope to those who followed her.  

The Doubt of Future Foes

The doubt of future foes exiles my present joy,

And wit me warns to shun such snares as threaten mine annoy;

For falsehood now doth flow, and subjects’ faith doth ebb,

Which should not be if reason ruled or wisdom weaved the web.

But clouds of joys untried do cloak aspiring minds,

Which turn to rain of late repent by changed course of winds.

The top of hope supposed the root upreared shall be,

And fruitless all their grafted guile, as shortly ye shall see.

The dazzled eyes with pride, which great ambition blinds,

Shall be unsealed by worthy wights whose foresight falsehood finds.

The daughter of debate that discord aye doth sow

Shall reap no gain where former rule still peace hath taught to know.

No foreign banished wight shall anchor in this port;

Our realm brooks not seditious sects, let them elsewhere resort.

My rusty sword through rest shall first his edge employ

To poll their tops that seek such change or gape for future joy.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regnans_in_Excelsis

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Doubt_of_Future_Foes

http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/doubt.htm

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44219/the-doubt-of-future-foes

Book Review: “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett

91wIRMJzYSLWhen one thinks about epic tales stories of adventures and romance tend to come to mind. One hardly thinks about the construction of a magnificent building as an “epic tale” with monks and builders as the main characters. We see cathedrals as these massive buildings from the past used as churches, but we rarely think about how they were constructed and why. Who were the people who decided to make these spectacular buildings and what might have their lives have been like? These are just some of the questions that Ken Follett wanted to try and answer in his monumental historical fiction masterpiece, “The Pillars of the Earth”.

Ken Follett is known worldwide as an author of spy thrillers, but for decades the story of a 12th-century cathedral in a town called Kingsbridge and the people who helped build it was always in the back of his mind. In 1989, he decided to take a risk and publish his first ever historical fiction novel. To say the book was a sensation would be an understatement. In the 25th anniversary edition of this wonderful novel, Follett explores why he thinks this particular story made such a splash:

Many times in the last twenty-five years, I have been asked why “Pillars” has had such a big impact. There’s no simple answer, because a novel is so complex. But I come back again and again to the people who built the cathedrals. Those men and women were, by modern standards, poor and ignorant. They lived in wooden huts and slept on the floor. Yet they created the most beautiful and awesome buildings the world has ever known. Human beings have the capacity to rise above mundane circumstances and touch the eternal. This is what “Pillars” is about, and, in the end, I think that may be why it has so profoundly touched the hearts of so many readers for so many years. (Follett, xxii).

Follett introduces his readers to the world of 12th-century Kingsbridge, England with the execution of a thief. Compared to the rest of the story this prologue seems a bit odd since it happened over a decade before the actual story begins, but Follett was able to use the details of the prologue throughout the entire novel. Twelve years after the execution, we are introduced to Tom Builder and his family as they struggle to survive after he was fired from a building job for William Hamleigh, who was dumped by Lady Aliena. Tom’s life is turned upside down when his wife Agnes dies giving birth to a son and he falls in love with a woman named Ellen, who is the mother of Jack Jackson. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Prior Philip, a man who wants to reform Kingsbridge Priory. Tom and Philip both have a dream of making a wonderful cathedral in Kingsbridge.

This is the story of the building of Kingsbridge Cathedral, but it is also a story of those who lived in Kingsbridge. It is about their triumphs and tragedies. It is about family and love, revenge and heartache. There were some very dramatic scenes that shocked me, however, I believe Follett used these scenes to grow his characters to be strong; physically, mentally and emotionally. Follett may not be a spiritual man, but he was able to capture the spirituality of the age through Prior Philip and the struggle between the church and the state through the building of the cathedral. The cast of characters, both good and bad, are very well-rounded and complex and you really want to know what will happen to them by the end of the story.

I usually read books about the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty, but I decided to take a chance and read the Kingsbridge series because I heard amazing things about this series. I did have to remind myself about Queen Maud, King Stephen, King  Henry II, and Thomas Becket since I don’t study this time period often. Follett was able to make the 12th-century to come alive. I did not want to stop reading this book. I absolutely loved the story, the scenery, the amount of details and the colorful cast of characters. This was a huge risk for Follett to jump into the world of historical fiction, but it paid off extremely well. “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett is a stunning masterpiece and I highly recommend it to anyone who really enjoys a thrilling historical fiction novel.

Book Review: “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles – Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Tudor-Brandons-cover-pic-FBLove stories tend to be rare during the Tudor dynasty. They are often of royal women marrying men well below their station in life and then the ruling monarch throwing them in the Tower until they ended up divorcing or dying. Nothing really romantic about these stories. However, there is one story that breaks the mold of disastrous love. It is the story of Mary Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII and the Dowager Queen of France, who married the charming knight and best friend of her brother, Charles Brandon. Their story is often told in historical fiction novels, but Sarah-Beth Watkins decided to dive deep into the lives of these two lovebirds, before and after they were married, in her book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this delightful book. The relationship between Mary and Charles has been something that has fascinated me for a while now and I always like learning new information about their lives and their family.

When it comes to studying the relationship between Mary and Charles, one would think that it would be best to start by studying Mary, since she is the Tudor princess. However, Watkins decides to start her book about these two with Charles:

As Charles Brandon lay in his cradle, his father took to the field as standard-bearer for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth, on 22 August 1485. This defining moment in history, when the Plantagenet dynasty ended and the Tudor began, was also to be a defining moment in this small child’s life. Both Charles’ father and his grandfather were soldiers in the Wars of the Roses and the events leading up to this momentous day. Coming from mercantile beginnings, the men of the Brandon family all rose to positions of importance, but Charles would rise higher than them all to become King Henry VIII’s most favoured companion, and husband to his sister, Mary Tudor. (Watkins, 1).  

Watkins explores the origins of the Brandons, starting with Charles’ grandfather, who was quite an interesting figure. After reading what kind of man Charles’ grandfather was, it is kind of amazing to see how the Brandons rose to be loyal to the Tudors. Before Charles fell in love with Mary, he had a complex love life with Anne Browne and Margaret Mortimer, Anne’s rich aunt. Charles eventually married Anne after and she gave him two daughters before she died, Anne and Mary Brandon. During the time after Anne’s death and before he married Mary, Charles got into an international incident when he attempted to woo Margaret of Savoy. Charles may have looked the part of a knight, but his love life was a mess. That was until he went to France to pick up Mary Tudor, who was the Dowager Queen of France after her husband, King Louis XII, died shortly after their marriage.

The two decided to throw caution to the wind and get married to each other. They risked the wrath of Mary’s brother and huge fines, but they overcame it all and were still managed to be in Henry’s good graces. Charles and Mary were in the middle of court life during Henry’s marriage and divorce to Catherine of Aragon while they were taking care of their own family. Mary wasn’t thrilled about Anne Boleyn, but Charles kept his attitude about Henry’s mistress and future second wife to himself. Mary suffered from multiple bouts of illnesses and would die in 1533. Charles would marry again to Catherine Willoughby and have more children before he died in 1545.

The love story of Charles and Mary Brandon comes to life in Watkins book. What I love about this book is the combination of primary sources and poetry with Watkins’ easy to understand writing style. This book is an absolutely fascinating look into the lives of these two remarkable people and how their relationship helped change England. If you want a fantastic book to introduce you to the relationship between Charles and Mary Brandon, I highly recommend you read Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.

Book Review: “Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51d3s18bI5L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_When one thinks about Queens of Scotland during the time of the Tudors, many automatically think of Mary Queen of Scots and her tragic life. However, there was another queen who had a deep connection to the Tudors and was also a queen of Scotland. She tends to be pushed aside in favor of her more famous siblings; Arthur Tudor, Henry VIII, and Mary Tudor. Her story is full of turmoil and triumphs. Her only desire was to unite England and Scotland peacefully, but the choices that she made in her lifetime would prove foolish, leading to more troubles between the two nations. This is the story of Henry VIII’s oldest sister Margaret, which is brought to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister”.  

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. Before I read this book, I didn’t know a whole lot about Henry VIII’s eldest sister so it was quite a delight to learn a lot about this remarkable woman.

Watkins begins her book with the birth of Margaret Tudor on November 28, 1489. She was named after her formidable grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, and although she was not the desired second son that her parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York wanted, she was beloved. She proved herself to be a great big sister for her younger siblings, Henry and Mary. Margaret ’s early life in England was one full of love, but it was also full of training for her future role in life, that of a future queen. Her father, King Henry VII, like any good European ruler, wanted to build strong alliances with other European powers so he made advantageous marriages for his children. Margaret’s eldest brother Arthur was married to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon. Margaret’s first marriage was to the King of Scotland, James IV, through the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, which ceased hostility between England and Scotland.

Margaret married James IV through a proxy marriage ceremony on January 25, 1503. Later that year, Margaret made her way to Scotland, where she met her charismatic first husband. The first couple of days with James were quite happy until she found out that James had many mistresses and illegitimate children. Talk about an awkward situation, but Margaret and James were able to make their marriage work. Margaret did have six children with James but sadly only one survived infancy, the future King James V.  

The situation between England and Scotland was peaceful for a decade and then James decided to break the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1513 and attack England, in order to support his ally France. This was a huge mistake by James because it led to the Battle of Flodden on September 9, 1513, which was fought between English and Scottish forces, resulting in the death of James IV. His infant son, James V, was now King of Scotland and Margaret was named regent. Unfortunately, Margaret made a horrible decision in marrying her second husband Archibald Douglas 6th Earl of Angus, who the Scottish council hated. She had a daughter with Archibald named Margaret Douglas, who would later become the Countess of Lennox.

Margaret had to give up her regency to the Duke of Albany and had to rely on the aid of her brother Henry VIII to help her son James V. Margaret’s relationship with her brother is told through the letters that Watkins includes in this book. It adds another layer of depth to this book by including Margaret and Henry’s letters to one another. She would marry a third time, to Henry Stewart 1st Lord Methven but it was just as bad as her second marriage. Margaret would have three sons with Henry Stewart; Arthur, James, and Alexander.

Margaret struggles to keep the peace between  England and Scotland for her son. Through failed marriages and strained relationships with her family, Margaret finally sees her son become the rightful King of Scotland. It would take decades after Margaret’s death for her true vision of Scotland and England united under her great-grandson James I of England. Margaret Tudor was a woman who was strong, even if she did make some very foolish decisions, and would do anything to make sure her son James V was safe and secure. Margaret’s life and legacy comes to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ wonderful book. If you are interested in learning about the life of Henry VIII’s eldest sister and the politics between England and Scotland during the tumultuous time after James IV’death, I highly recommend you read “Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister”.

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.

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

61793uzwgql._sx324_bo12c2042c2032c200_England is on the brink of civil war. Families with royal blood in their veins are fighting amongst each other as King Henry VI has fallen ill.  Mistrust runs rampant and sacrifices are made in order to gain the throne. This is the England of 1454 and the beginning of the period in English history that we know today as the Wars of the Roses. Families like the Nevilles,  the Percys, and the houses of York, Lancaster, and Tudor would gain fame and infamy during this time. Conn Iggulden decided to explore this tumultuous time after the Jack Cade rebellion, which he explored in his first book “Stormbird”, in the second book of his “Wars of the Roses” series called “Trinity”.

Many who study the Wars of the Roses believe that it started in 1455 with the First Battle of St. Albans. However, Conn Iggulden begins “Trinity” with a conflict between the Percys and the Nevilles, which is known as the Battle of Heworth Moor. Iggulden explains why he chose this point to begin his story in his Historical Note:

The ambush by some seven hundred Percy retainers and servants on the Neville wedding party took place a little earlier than I have it here, in August 1453- around the same time King Henry VI fell into his senseless state. It was a key event among years of low-level fighting between the families as they struggled to control the north and widen their holdings. That attack by Thomas Percy, Baron Egremont, was one of the most brutal actions in that private war, sparked by the marriage of Salisbury’s son to the niece of Ralph Cromwell, a union which placed estates claimed by the Percy family into Neville hands. The ‘Battle of Heworth Moor’ failed in its main aim of slaughtering Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. I have not included a dozen minor skirmishes, but that feud played a key part in deciding where the Nevilles and the Percys stood in the first battle of St. Albans in 1455- and its outcome. (Iggulden, 463).

The Battle of Heworth Moor is a unique place to start. We are thrust into the middle of the Percy family’s feud with the Nevilles. The plan is to attack the Nevilles during a wedding, but the Percys fail. It would not be a wedding that either family would forget for a long time. The Percy family decides to side with the Lancasters and the King, while the Nevilles side with the Yorkist cause. In the beginning, the Wars of the Roses was nothing but feuds between families to determine who should be taking care of the sick King Henry VI. Iggulden describes Henry VI in a way that shows the King as weak in body but his mind is sharp. When he wakes from his first bout of illness, he dismisses Richard Duke of York from being Lord Protector and reverses everything that  Richard did.

Richard and the Yorkist cause are not upset with the king, but rather those who they believe are responsible for being in control of the king; Queen Margaret of Anjou, the Duke of Somerset and the Nevilles. Anger boils until it bursts at the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455. This battle was so pivotal in the evolution of the conflict that Iggulden goes into great detail to explain how the battle unfolded. The Yorkist cause may have one the “first” battle of the Wars of the Roses, but it ignited a flame inside of Margaret of Anjou to not only protect her son and her husband but to also completely destroy Richard Duke of York. As the story progresses, we see both sides working hard to gain control of the king in a more complex version of “capture the king”.

Conn Iggulden delivers a high action and extremely descriptive sequel to “Stormbird” with “Trinity”. He incorporates beloved characters from the previous novel, like Margaret of Anjou and the charismatic Derry Brewer, with new faces like the Tudors, Thomas Percy Baron Egremont, Warwick, Richard Duke of York and his eldest son Edmund Earl of Rutland. Iggulden transports the reader to this volatile time in English history. This book is so engaging and it keeps the reader wanting more, so he included a side story that is equally entertaining. Once again, Iggulden makes the Wars of the Roses and all of its intrigue come alive. If you were a fan of Conn Iggulden’s first book in the “Wars of the Roses” series “Stormbird”, I strongly encourage you to read “Trinity”.