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”.   

Trailer Review: “The Spanish Princess”

As many of you know, the first trailer for “The Spanish Princess”, the new miniseries by Starz and based off books by Philippa Gregory, just dropped. This is the story of Catherine of Aragon coming to England to marry Prince Arthur, but when Arthur dies unexpectantly, Catherine must choose between going back to Spain or marrying her dead husband’s brother Henry Tudor, who would become Henry VIII. I have watched the trailer and I have decided to review the trailer. 

The Books

This series is “drawn” from two of Philippa Gregory’s books, “The Constant Princess” and “The King’s Curse”.  It has been over a year or two since I personally read these books. So before we dive into a review of the trailer, I thought it would be appropriate to look at the summaries of both of these books, which you can find from Philippa Gregory’s website,  to see what we might expect to see from this series.

The first book we will look at is “The Constant Princess”:

61uvmxu-owl._sx326_bo1,204,203,200_We think of her as the barren wife of a notorious king; but behind this legacy lies a fascinating story. Katherine of Aragon is born Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, to parents who are both rulers and warriors. Aged four, she is betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and is raised to be Queen of England. She is never in doubt that it is her destiny to rule that far-off, wet, cold land. Her faith is tested when her prospective father-in-law greets her arrival in her new country with a great insult; Arthur seems little better than a boy; the food is strange and the customs coarse. Slowly she adapts to the first Tudor court, and life as Arthur’s wife grows ever more bearable. But when the studious young man dies, she is left to make her own future: how can she now be queen, and found a dynasty? Only by marrying Arthur’s young brother, the sunny but spoilt Henry. His father and grandmother are against it; her powerful parents prove little use. Yet Katherine is her mother’s daughter and her fighting spirit is strong. She will do anything to achieve her aim; even if it means telling the greatest lie, and holding to it.

The second book is “The King’s Curse”:

This is the story of deposed royal Margaret Pole, and her unique view of King Henry VIII’s 51qydh3apnlstratospheric rise to power in Tudor England. Margaret Pole spends her young life struggling to free her brother, arrested as a child, from the Tower of London. The Tower – symbol of the Tudor usurpation of her family’s throne – haunts Margaret’s dreams until the day that her brother is executed on the orders of Henry VII. Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret is buried in marriage to a steady and kind Tudor supporter – Sir Richard Pole, governor of Wales. But Margaret’s quiet, hidden life is changed forever by the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon, as Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple. Margaret’s destiny, as an heiress to the Plantagenets, is not for a life in the shadows. Tragedy throws her into poverty and rebellion against the new royal family, luck restores her to her place at court where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine and watches the dominance of the Spanish queen over her husband, and her fall. As the young king becomes increasingly paranoid of rivals he turns his fearful attention to Margaret and her royal family. Amid the rapid deterioration of the Tudor court, Margaret must choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, Henry VIII, or to her beloved queen and princess. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret has to find her own way and hide her knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors, which is slowly coming true . . .

The Trailer

The trailer for “The Spanish Princess” begins with the introduction of the show’s protagonist, Catherine of Aragon, played by Charlotte Hope, walking outside in her white wedding dress. Her purpose in England was to marry the future King of England in order to make an alliance between England and Spain. I think Charlotte Hope looks the part of Catherine of Aragon. She looks rather regal, a bit shy at first, but she becomes a strong and determined young woman. Plus she has auburn hair; which is the actual hair color Catherine of Aragon was known to have. A huge plus for fans of Catherine of Aragon and her life story.

The first few seconds of the trailer, we are introduced to the important members of the English court. King Henry VII, played by Elliot Cowan, is an older man who seems to dress quite lavishly and who seeks to make England a better country. The one problem that I have with the character of Henry VII is his accent. Though we are not sure what kind of accent he might have had since he was part Welsh and lived in France and Brittany for a time in his life, one would assume he might have some French or Welsh accent, but his accent, from what we can gather, sounds solely English. I might be nit-picking here a bit, but it did bother me a little bit. Always next to Henry’s side is his wife, Elizabeth of York, who is played by Alexandra Moen.

Now we come to the two brothers, Arthur and Henry, or “Harry” as he is called in this series. Prince Arthur, who is played by Angus Imrie, looks very thin and almost sickly in the images that we do see of him. From what we know of Arthur, he was rather healthy, until his death shortly after marrying Catherine. Henry “Harry”, played by Ruairi O’Connor, has that suave and debonaire feel to him. The one problem that many people have, myself included, is the fact that when Catherine and Henry first met, Henry was around 10 or 11 and Catherine was around 16. The trailer makes it seem as though the two were around the same age when they met, which was not the case.

Henry and Catherine developed feelings for each other and Henry wants Catherine to stay and marry him, although she is his brother’s widow. We see two members of the English royal family who are not exactly thrilled with this match. They are Margaret Beaufort, Henry VIII’s grandmother, played by Dame Harriet Walter, and  Margaret “Maggie” Pole, played by Laura Carmichael. We also get a look at the ladies of waiting to Catherine of Aragon, Lina, and Rosa, who are played by Stephanie Levi-John and Nadia Parkes respectfully. The series also decided to include Oviedo, played by Aaron Cobham, who falls in love with Lina.

I do enjoy the costumes for this series as they do seem to honor the past. The scenery is intriguing and transports the viewer to the time of the Tudors. The one scene that I did have a slight problem with was the last one in the trailer, which shows Catherine, Lina, and Rosa dressed in black in the cathedral, mourning for Prince Arthur. From what it looks like in the trailer, it is Arthur’s funeral. Lina and Rosa are wailing while Catherine is in the middle, no tears down her face, as she looks stoically at the camera. My issue with this scene is the fact that members of the royal family did not attend his funeral because of the risk of the sweating sickness. If you would like to read more about Prince Arthur’s funeral, Dr. Sean Cunningham, who wrote the book “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was”, wrote a fascinating article for On the Tudor Trail, which you can find below in the sources.

The series also uses nicknames such as “Harry” for Prince Henry, “Maggie” for Margaret Pole, “Charlie” for Charles Brandon and “Meg” Tudor. It is not clear if “Meg” is a combination of Mary and Margaret or if it is just Margaret Tudor. I don’t know why they would choose to go down this route as both Mary and Margaret are important figures, being the sisters of Henry and Arthur Tudor. Another notable absence from the list of characters is Isabella of Castille, Catherine’s formidable mother. We do, apparently, get an appearance from Christopher Columbus, according to the cast list, but not from Catherine’s own mother, who really shaped what kind of woman Catherine would become.

Overall, I did enjoy the trailer. I think it is interesting that Starz decided to combine both the stories of Catherine of Aragon and Margaret Pole into a mini-series. From what was shown in the trailer, it looks like their main focus will be Catherine and Henry so hopefully, we will see more of Margaret later in the show. “The Spanish Princess” looks like it will be an enjoyable show for those who love historical dramas.

What are your thoughts about this trailer and will you watch “The Spanish Princess”?

 

Sources:

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/film-tv/a26038583/the-spanish-princess-starz-first-teaser-trailer/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8417308/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast

https://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-constant-princess

https://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-king-s-curse

http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2016/07/30/prince-arthurs-funeral-ceremony-despair-and-shifting-politics-in-1502/

https://thefreelancehistorywriter.com/2015/06/19/the-wedding-of-arthur-tudor-prince-of-wales-and-catherine-of-aragon/

Book Review: “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett

9780451477996_p0_v1_s550x406After the death of Henry VIII and Edward VI, there was an explosion of religious intolerance, not just in England, but in Europe as a whole. Many believe that it was Mary I “Bloody Mary” who really started this trend, however, the fires of hatred between Protestants and Catholics extended further into the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. We often focus on the monarchs and their inner circles during this time and how the religious persecutions affected the decisions that they made. That tells only part of the story, but how did this religious fighting between Protestants and Catholics affect the normal person? What were their lives like? Ken Follett explores this topic in his third book in his historical fiction series, the  Kingsbridge Series, “A Column of Fire”.

Every historical fiction book needs a great opening to engage the reader and Ken Follett delivers with his prologue:

We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can’t kill a man in front of God’s face you probably shouldn’t kill him at all. The sheriff brought him up from the dungeon below the guildhall, hands tied behind his back. He walked upright, his pale face defiant, fearless. The crowd jeered at him and cursed him. He seemed not to see them. But he saw me. Our eyes met, and in that momentary exchange of looks, there was a lifetime. I was responsible for his death, and he knew it. I had been hunting him for decades. He was a bomber who would have killed half the rulers of our country, including most of the royal family, all in one act of bloodthirsty savagery- if I had not stopped him. I have spent my life tracking such would-be murderers, and a lot of them have been executed- not just hanged but drawn and quartered, the more terrible death reserved for the worst offenders. Yes, I have done this many times: watched a man die knowing that I, more than anyone else, had brought him to his just but dreadful punishment. I did it for my country, which is dear to me; for my sovereign, whom I serve; and for something else, a principle, the belief that a person has the right to make up his own mind about God. He was the last of many men I sent to hell, but he made me think of the first…”(Follett, prologue).

This story follows the lives of several different people and their families, but the main story focuses on a man named Ned Willard. After he can’t marry the girl he loves, Margery Fitzgerald,  and his family is crushed by bad investments, he decides to work for a young Elizabeth Tudor, who would later become Elizabeth I. His works will lead him all over England and Europe to help thwart plots to kill Elizabeth and replace her with a Catholic ruler. One of his biggest opponents is the elusive Jean Langlais, a man who works in the shadows, yet he is closer than Ned thinks.

What Follett does so well is that he incorporates people from other countries into this story. Sylvie Palot from France, the young Protestant bookseller, who is not afraid to sell Bibles to those who wish to own a Bible. Pierre Aumande, the man who will do anything in order to gain power. Alison McKay, the fictitious best friend of Mary Queen of Scots, who would do anything for her queen. Ebrima Dabo, a slave who will do anything to be free. Barney Willard, Ned’s brother, who wants nothing in life, except to sail the high seas looking for adventure.

Follett’s cast of original characters adds a depth to an already tumultuous time in European history. Follett is able to blend the fictitious characters with real historical figures and actual events like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the death of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada.

This is my first book by Ken Follett and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were so many twists and turns in this story that I was not expecting that I really could not stop reading this book. I found it rather engaging and exciting. I found it interesting that Follett decided to end the book during the reign of James I and that he called King Philip II of Spain by his other less common Spanish name Felipe. These are more stylistic choices instead of historical choices.

Overall as a historical fiction book about the religious persecution in the Elizabethan era, I found this book dynamic and thrilling. Although this is the third book in a series, I believe it can stand on its own.  After reading this book, I really want to go back and read the first two books of the series. If you want a great historical fiction book that you can easily get lost in, I enthusiastically recommend you read “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett.

Book Review: “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown” by Nathen Amin

51ygXgS66nL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The houses of York, Lancaster, the  Nevilles, the Howards, the Mowbrays, the Percys, and the Tudors are often recognized as the families involved in the Wars of the Roses. However, there was one more house that was just as important as the others; the Beauforts. The Beauforts were the sons and daughters of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and his mistress Katherine Swynford. They were considered bastards since they were born out of wedlock, yet they were connected to the house of Lancaster and rose to power by their own right. They would help change not only English history but the history of Europe forever. The Beauforts made a huge impact during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, yet many people only recognize Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Beaufort 2nd Duke of Somerset. The Beauforts don’t get much attention. Nathen Amin, the founder of The Henry Tudor Society, wanted to tell the story of this remarkable family.  It is in his book “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown”, that the Beauforts are given the attention that they rightfully deserve.

Nathen Amin explains why he chose to focus on the Beauforts:

The Beauforts are a family often encountered when reading or studying the fifteenth century and the Wars of the Roses, although commonly relegated to supporting roles in the life and times of more prominent figures like Richard, duke of York, Edward IV, and Henry IV, V, and VI. They were always in the background, serving a king, counselling a king, and even fighting for or against a king. …Yet, there were few family units more influential in the governance of England during the period, and none more devoted to defending the Lancasterian dynasty, whether against France in the last vestiges of the Hundred Years War, or against the House of York in a new war of a very different kind. Born as bastards to a mighty prince, the Beauforts were the right-hand men of their royal kinsmen, amassing considerable authority on the national and continental stage. From uncertain beginnings, the Beauforts became earls, dukes and cardinals, and in time kings themselves, their blood seeping into every corner of the English artistocracy within a few generations of their birth. (Amin, 7).

So how exactly were the Beauforts able to accomplish all of this, going from bastards to kings? It starts with John of Gaunt marrying his mistress Katherine Swynford, making his four children with Katherine legitimate and they were given the name “Beaufort”, after his second marriage did not work out. After their half-brother King Henry IV( also known as Henry of Bolingbroke) became king, he allowed his half-siblings to obtain royal status, however, they could not be in line for the English throne.

John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford’s four children found a way to live successful lives without pursuing the English throne and they continued to support their Lancasterian family. John Beaufort became the 1st Earl of Somerset and his children became earls, counts, dukes and his daughter Joan became Queen of Scotland. John Beaufort’s granddaughter was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the future King Henry VII. Henry Beaufort was able to become a very wealthy man and was promoted all the way to Cardinal of England, quite a feat for an English man at that time. Thomas Beaufort became the  1st Duke of Exeter and his sister Joan Beaufort Countess of Westmoreland was the matriarch of the powerful Neville family.

The Beauforts went through numereous highs and lows as they worked hard to protect England and the honor of their Lancastrian relations. Nathen Amin is able to navigate the complex world of the English court during both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses to give us the intricate story of the Beaufort family. As someone who is acquianted with parts of the Beaufort family story, I found this book rather fascinating and very informative. This was my first time reading a book by Nathen Amin and I cannot wait to read more of his books. In a complex time, it would be easy to forget one person, but Amin spends the time to write about each Beaufort child and how they made a difference.

The only real issue I had with the book was the family tree. I wished that there were birth and death dates included because I found myself getting a tad bit confused about who was who, especially when some of the Beauforts shared the same name and a similar title.

Overall, I found this book extremely fascinating and informative. Amin’s writing style is easy to understand and he brings the Beauforts from the background and onto center stage. They may have started as illegitimate children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, but they rose to be dukes and kings. If you want to learn more about this remarkable family and their influence in both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, I absolutely recommend that you read “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown” by Nathen Amin.

Book Review: “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” By Margaret George

ZZZ032590-BKHenry VIII is one of the most notorious kings who ever ruled England. He had six wives, two of which were executed, three legitimate children who would change England forever, and  he decided to break from Rome and create his own church. Henry was such a larger than life figure, yet when it comes to historical fiction, he tends to play a smaller part in books about his six wives and is often portrayed as a villain. Henry doesn’t get to have his own voice, in historical fiction, on some of the most important parts in his life, so Margaret George decided to give him one in her book, “The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers,” to explain what could have been going on in his mind during these pivotal moments.

What makes Margaret George’s book unique is the addition of Will Somers, Henry’s fool, who acts as a commentator, and in some cases, acts as the voice of reason after the fact. Will Somers explains some of the most complex issues during Henry’s reign, including what it meant to be king:

To be a King is to be un-ordinary, extraordinary: because we will have it so, we demand it, as we demand our carpenters make smooth-sliding drawers. Much of Henry’s behaviour is incomprehensible if judged as the actions of an ordinary man; as King, it appears in a different light. If a man is consciously trying to be an ideal King, an outsize King, then all the more so. And there can be no wavering, no half-measures. One must be King every instant, while retiring to the privy stool as well as in state audiences. There is no respite: the mask of royalty must gradually supplant the ordinary man, as sugar syrup replaces the natural flavors in candied fruit and flowers. They retain their original outward appearance, but inside are altogether changed in substance. Harry bore this burden easily, and wore his regality with a splendid conviction. What this cost him as a man becomes apparent as one reads on in his journal. (George, 105).  

George’s book begins with a conversation between Will Somers and Catherine Knollys about the actual journal and why he was giving it to Catherine. Henry begins his “autobiography” with his childhood and his relationship with his siblings, especially his brother Arthur, his father Henry VII, and his mother Elizabeth of York. It was interesting to see how Henry might have viewed his relationship with his family, most importantly with his “miserly” father Henry VII. I really do not agree with this view of Henry VII myself, but I think how Henry was portrayed as the second son was very fascinating.

The main part of this book and Henry’s life was his marriages. Starting off with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, George explores how Henry fell in love with each woman he called, at one point or another, his wife and queen and ultimately each woman’s different fate. What was interesting was that George seemed to play with the myths that surrounded the women in Henry’s life, like Anne Boleyn having a sixth finger and that she was a witch (which are not true at all). The part that surprised me the most about this book was how much he grieved over love lost, especially with Jane Seymour. It showed a softer side to Henry and gave him more of a humanistic element to his story.

Aside for marital and familial elements of Henry’s life, George also explores the religious issues of his reign, as well as Henry’s government. We see how relationships with the Catholic Church sours and how it really affects him as a man. We see how long time friends of Henry’s quickly turn to enemies and how his relationships with other monarchs ebb and flow.

Overall Margaret George gives us a full and complete story of Henry VIII’s life while being entertaining and intriguing. I read this book several years back and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I found myself enjoying it even to this day. George was able to bring Henry VIII and his court to life in a way that made you feel like this “journal” could have been real. If you want a fun, long read about King Henry VIII, I highly suggest you read, “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” by Margaret George.

Biography: Catherine of Valois

Catherine_of_France(Born October 27, 1401- Died January 3, 1437). Daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria. Married to Henry V of England and Owen Tudor. Mother of Henry VI, Edmund Tudor and Jasper Tudor.

Catherine of Valois was the tenth child of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria. Her father suffered from mental illness and some believe that Catherine and her siblings were neglected by their parents. When Catherine was young, she was sent to the convent in Poissy to receive a religious education. From a young age, Catherine was on the marriage market. Her first potential groom was the son of Henry IV, the prince of Wales, but the king died before the negotiations could really get started. In 1414, a young Henry V re-opened the negotiations. In May 1420, the Treaty of Troyes was signed between England and France that made Henry V and his descendants the next heirs to the French throne. In order to cement this alliance, Henry V married Catherine of Valois on February 21, 1421.

Henry V went back to France to campaign a few months later, leaving a pregnant Catherine of Valois behind. Henry VI was born on December 6, 1421. Henry V would die from dysentery that he had contracted during the siege of Meaux on August 31, 1422. A few months later, Catherine’s father Charles VI died, leaving Catherine’s baby son both the king of England and France and it left Catherine a dowager queen at the age of 21.

Since Catherine was still young, there was a strong concern that she would marry again, especially to Edmund Beaufort, her late husband’s cousin. That is why Humphrey duke of Gloucester, the Lord Protector and Parliament passed a bill in 1427-1428 that the queen could not get remarried without the king’s consent of her husband would lose everything, except their children would remain legitimate.

Catherine met and fell in love with a Welshman named Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur, also known as  Owen Tudor. Not much is known about his early life but in 1421, he was in service of Henry V’s steward Sir Walter Hungerford. He then became a member of Catherine’s household as either keeper of Catherine’s household or wardrobe. Sometime between 1428 and 1429, the couple is said to have gotten married, but there is no evidence to support this claim. In May 1432, Parliament granted Owen Tudor the rights of an Englishman. The couple had at least 4 children, at most 6; Edmund, Jasper, Owen, and a daughter Margaret who became a nun and died young. All of their children were born outside of court.

Catherine entered Bermondsey Abbey, possibly seeking a cure from an illness. Three days later, on January 3, 1437, she died. Catherine is buried at Westminster Abbey in Henry V’s Chantry Chapel. Catherine of Valois was the mother of Henry VI, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, as well as the grandmother of Henry Tudor, the first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty.

Book Review: “Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy” by Tony Riches

Medieval knightOwen Tudor, the second husband of Catherine of Valois and the father of Edmund and Jasper Tudor. His affair with Catherine changed English history forever, yet not much is known about his past before he met Catherine. Was he married before  he met Catherine and after she died? What must have been like for him as the Wars of the Roses began to take hold of England and everything he worked hard for began to fade away. The man who started as a Welsh servant turned step- father to King Henry VI and the grandfather of King Henry VII, the patriarch of the Tudor Dynasty, this is the protagonist in Tony Riches’ book, “Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy”.

Tony Riches explains his fascination with Owen Tudor:

I was born near Pembroke Castle and recently visited the small room where the thirteen- year old Margaret Beaufort gave birth to Henry Tudor. I also stood on the pebble beach at Mill Bay near Milford Haven, imagining how Jasper Tudor would have felt as he approached with Henry and his mercenary army to ride to Bosworth- and  change history. These experiences made me wonder about Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who began this fascinating dynasty. I felt a responsibility to research his story in as much detail as possible and try to sort out the myths from the facts. There are huge gaps in the historical records, which only historical fiction can help to fill. As well as there being no surviving record of Owen’s marriage, no  reliable image of him exists….I would like to remember Owen , not as a victim of the Wars of the Roses, but as an adventurer, a risk- taker, a man who lived his life to the full and made his mark on the world through his descendants. (Riches, 168).

Tony Riches starts his book with Owen’s entrance into Catherine of Valois’ household as the Keeper of her Wardrobe after the death of her first husband, Henry V. Owen tries to focus on his job, and not on Catherine, but he cannot help it. He loves Catherine and she loves him. They decide to marry in secret and they have 3 boys; Edmund, Jasper, and a third son who joined the church. The happiness that Catherine and Owen had living in the countryside would not last long. Catherine dies shortly after giving birth to a daughter and their secret relationship is revealed. Owen is thrown in jail while his sons Edmund and Jasper are raised to be the step-brothers of King Henry VI.

Eventually, Owen is released and is allowed to live a good life as a commander in France while his sons are given titles and land. Owen helps escort Margaret of Anjou to England to marry Henry VI and he helps walk his daughter in law Margaret Beaufort down the aisle. Unfortunately, the wheel of fortune is always turning and the happiness is soon replaced with tragedy yet again. Edmund Tudor dies shortly before the birth of his son Henry Tudor and the Wars of the Roses tears the country apart. Owen is killed before he could see his family triumph as the new dynasty in England.

This is the story of Owen Tudor. I found Tony Riches’ book “Owen” a thrilling read. I have always been fascinated by the life of Owen Tudor and his sons and Tony Riches was able to write a story that made me want to study more about Owen Tudor and his life. Riches was able to combine the historical facts that we know about Owen with fictitious elements, including two other women that Owen fell in love with and a friend named Nathaniel, into a cohesive and engaging book. I did not want to stop reading this book. This was my first time reading a book by Tony Riches and I loved it. His writing style is engaging and very easy to read. I look forward to reading more books by him in the future.  I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Owen Tudor and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.

Book Review: “Elizabeth’s Rival” by Nicola Tallis

61RyJJYKwfL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_When we think of Lettice Knollys, we often think about the kinswoman who made Elizabeth I really mad when she married Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s favorite. These two women were once best of friends, but that one event torn then apart forever.  However, there is more to Lettice Knollys than this one event. She was married three times, survived seven different monarchs, and lived well into her nineties. Her story has always been hidden, until now. Lettice Knollys story is finally being told in “Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Life of the Countess of Leicester: The Romance and the Conspiracy that Threatened Queen Elizabeth’s Court” by Nicola Tallis.

Lettice Knollys was born on November 6, 1543 to Sir Francis Knollys and Katherine Carey; her mother was the Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn and mistress to Henry VIII. Lettice was one of sixteen children. Her family was solely devoted to their Protestant faith and to their service to the crown. Two of Lettice’s brothers, Robert and William, would later become favorites in Elizabeth’s court. Katherine Carey would be one of the ladies in Elizabeth’s court alongside Katherine Knollys and Lettice; Lettice and Elizabeth became very good companions very quickly. Lettice caught the eye of one Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford, and sometime between 1560 and 1562, they were married, much to the chagrin of the queen who wanted her ladies to remain single. They would have four children: Dorothy, Penelope, Robert and Walter (named after his father).

Both Sir Francis Knollys and Walter Devereux would travel towards Scotland to deal with rebellion for Elizabeth, but Walter would also travel to Ireland for Elizabeth as well. While Walter was away, it is rumored that Robert Dudley had an affair with Lettice after his wife Amy died in 1560, but in 1574, Robert was having an affair with Douglas Sheffield. When Walter died on September 22, 1576, Lettice was  left to deal with the copious amount of debt her husband left her. It wasn’t until September 21, 1578 when Robert Dudley and Lettice Knollys would marry in secret.

Elizabeth would banish Lettice from court forever, but Lettice’s story does not end there. In fact, this is where her story picks up the pace. After Robert Dudley died on September 4, 1588, he left Lettice with yet again a copious amount of debt to pay off so in July 1589, she married Sir Christopher Blount, thinking that he would help alleviate some of the debt; he did not. On top of all of this, her children were having their own martial difficulties and her son Robert Devereux, the 3rd Earl of Essex, would launch an unsuccessful rebellion against Elizabeth and would be executed February 25, 1601; Sir Christopher Blount would also be executed on March 18, 1601. After Elizabeth I died on March 24, 1603, Lettice thought her problems would be solved after James I cleared all of her debt, but Dudley’s illegitimate son by Douglas Sheffield, Robin Sheffield, would file a suit against her, which Lettice would win. On December 25, 1634, Lettice Knollys would die after living well into her 90’s.

Nicola Tallis does an excellent job in navigating Lettice’s life and times. With the amount of research and care Tallis took in portraying this woman who was once hidden in history behind her husband Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I. Her story is one of survival and strength. With this fabulous book, “Elizabeth’s Rival” by Nicola Tallis, Lettice Knollys will not be hidden in the past anymore.