Book Review: “The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England” by Joanne Paul

60126565._SY475_When we think about the Tudor dynasty, we think about the monarchs who made the dynasty, but we also pay attention to those around the king or queen who sat on the throne. There were families like the Boleyns, the Howards, and the Seymours who stood on the sidelines for a short amount of time, but one family saw the majority of the dynasty through highs and extreme lows. The Dudleys have been seen as a power-hungry family who would do anything to sit on the throne of England, but is there more to their story? In her debut book, “The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England,” Joanne Paul explores the lives of this extraordinary family to find the truth about their ambitions and their resilience.

This is one of those titles that I heard about from friends online, and I wanted to check it out for myself. I have followed Joanne Paul for a while now, and when I heard about her first book, I knew I wanted to read it.

Paul begins her biography about the Dudleys with the funeral of Anne Dudley, the first wife of Edmund Dudley, which occurred around the same time as the death of Elizabeth of York. Edmund Dudley would go to serve as King Henry VII’s principal tax collector, which would prove beneficial to his family and the king even if he did use underhanded methods to collect the money from taxpayers. Edmund’s strategies were so ruthless that he didn’t survive long after the death of Henry VII as his son Henry VIII had him executed for treason, leaving his young son John as the heir to the Dudley name, which was now tainted with scandals.

John Dudley took the lessons from his father’s dramatic downfall and applied them to his own life. It is how he survived the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI and earned his position as one of the most influential men in the kingdom, as the Duke of Warwick. He held influence in Edward VI’s regency council, so much so that when it came time for Edward VI to name an heir, he named John Dudley’s daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, the wife of Guildford Dudley, as his heir. The issue was this put the Dudleys in danger as Mary I marched towards the throne. There was no room for negotiations with Mary as she saw the Dudleys as a threat that must be eliminated through the executions of John, Guildford, and Lady Jane Grey.

For the remaining members of the Dudley family, the key to surviving Mary’s reign was to stay safe and make sure they had good allies, like King Philip II of Spain, Mary’s husband. With Queen Mary’s death and the rise of Queen Elizabeth I, the Dudleys were once again in the spotlight. The suave and debonair Master of the Horse, Robert Dudley, had captured the heart of the young queen, but the problem was Robert was married to Amy Robsart. Unfortunately, Amy dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving it open for the possibility of Robert and Elizabeth to wed, but it never happens.

A dazzling debut of the tragedies and triumphs of one family, “The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England” by Joanne Paul is one of my favorite new releases of this year so far, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Book Review: “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis

39330966._SY475_“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” This famous quote from William Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part III has been used throughout the centuries to describe how difficult it is to rule a country for any duration of time. Most kings and queens of the past lasted for a few years, but there was one queen who lasted for a handful of days. She was the successor of Henry VIII’s only male son, King Edward VI, and was meant to replace his eldest half-sister, who would become Queen Mary I. It was a battle between Protestantism and Catholicism with a 17-year-old scholar caught in the middle. Her name was Lady Jane Grey, but many refer to her as the “Nine Day Queen of England”. Lady Jane Grey’s tragically short story, how she became queen, and the consequences of her reign are discussed thoroughly in Nicola Tallis’ beautifully written debut biography, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey”.

I have been a fan of Nicola Tallis’ other biographies, “Uncrowned Queen: The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Monarch” and “Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Life of the Countess of Leicester: The Romance and Conspiracy that Threatened Queen Elizabeth’s Court”. I had heard about this one through recommendations from other Tudor history fans, so naturally, I wanted to give it a try. Lady Jane Grey has been one of those historical figures that I have felt sympathy for in the past and I wanted to learn more about her life.

Lady Jane Grey was born into a royal family full of fighting for the throne of England and for the right to either be Protestant or Catholic. She was the eldest daughter of Henry and Frances Grey. It was through her mother Frances that Jane had a claim to the throne because Frances Grey was the daughter of Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII, and Charles Brandon. If Frances and Henry Grey had sons, we would not have to talk about Jane’s claim to the throne, but Jane had two sisters, Katherine and Mary Grey. Jane was a rather unusual royal girl because she was not concerned about who she would one day marry. Lady Jane Grey has been known throughout history as a young scholar and a martyr for Protestantism. Her zeal for learning is so admirable and relatable. It makes you really wonder what her life might have been like if she had not been coerced to become Queen of England.

Unfortunately, on his deathbed Jane’s cousin King Edward VI declared that Lady Jane Grey would be his heir, not his eldest half-sister Mary, who his father had named as Edward’s heir if Edward had no children of his own. Jane never coveted the throne, but her father-in-law, John Dudley 1st Duke of Northumberland saw the opportunity to make his son Guildford king of England. It was not the role that Jane wanted in her life, but she was outspoken and courageous about things that mattered to her, even as she approached the scaffold that would seal her fate on earth.

Tallis’ writing style and her attention to detail brought Jane out of the shadows to uncover the truth behind the myths that surrounded her young life. This biography could have easily become a Mary vs. Jane book, but Tallis took the utmost care to make sure it was balanced for both women. It was dynamic and thoughtful, full of drama and revelations of the life of Lady Jane Grey. In short, it is a magnificent biography of one of the Tudor monarchs whose reign was quickly forgotten. Jane may have been a scholar, a lady, and a martyr, but she should also be remembered for another position she held in life. Jane was a Queen of England. If you want a stunning biography about Lady Jane Grey, I highly suggest you read, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis.