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: “Harry of England: The History of Eight Kings, From Henry I to Henry VIII” by Teresa Cole

52509401English kings are some of the most recognizable monarchs in all of European history, and when we think of Kings of England, a few names pop into our minds. Edward, George, and William tend to be popular, but you cannot study English history without Henry. Eight kings of England were Henry, and they would change the history of England forever. These eight kings give us an entire range of what kingship was like in medieval Europe. From men born to be king to opportunists who decided to take the throne as their own, from saints to warrior kings, the Henrys of English history were a colorful group of characters. Each king has had numerous biographies written about him, but there has never been a collection of biographies about the kings named Henry until now. This is “Harry of England: The History of Eight Kings, From Henry I to Henry VIII” by Teresa Cole.

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this title, I was fascinated by the concept. I have read several books about certain Henrys, but I have never read one that talks about them all in one book.

Cole begins her book with the first Henry, the 4th son of William the Conqueror. The prospects of him ever becoming king was very slim, especially when William the Conqueror passed away and the crown went to William Rufus, the eldest son. Yet destiny took an unexpected turn when William Rufus was killed in a hunting accident, and Henry was there to take the throne before his other brothers had a chance. Henry had to deal with numerous rebellions and the tragedy of the White Ship, which killed his only legitimate son and heir. This led to the period of fighting between Henry’s daughter Matilda and Stephen of Blois, known as the Anarchy, which led to the reign of King Henry II and the beginning of the Plantagenet Dynasty.

King Henry II had his fair share of family drama with his sons and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, plus a deadly confrontation with his former best friend, Thomas Becket. The following Henry, Henry III did not have the best of starts to his reign as he followed King John and had to deal with barons’ war and external threats to the throne while balancing the Magna Carta. Luckily for Henry III, he had the longest reign of any medieval English king, fifty-six years.

We enter the Hundred Years’ War with France during the reign of Henry IV, the son of John of Gaunt, who took the throne from Richard II. Henry IV’s son Henry V was the great warrior king who won a decisive victory against the French at Agincourt. Henry V’s son Henry VI became king when he was just a baby, and it was during his reign, that we saw the emergence of what we call today the Wars of the Roses. Finally, Cole tackles the Tudor kings, Henry VII and his second son Henry VIII.

Cole has done her research and given her readers a collection of biographies that are easy to read. Each king has his moment to shine, and Cole does not show favoritism as she explains important battles, events, policies, and changes to the law and religion that each king brought forth. If you want an excellent book that gives you an introductory course into the English kings named Henry, I would recommend “Harry of England: The History of Eight Kings, From Henry I to Henry VIII” by Teresa Cole.

Book Review: “The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life” by Jan-Marie Knights

52650913The Tudor dynasty was full of colorful characters and events that defined the era. Their lives were full of love affairs, marriages, births, wars, tragedies, and triumphs. In numerous books about these monarchs and this period in history, we have seen the significant events that defined the era, but what about lesser-known social events that these monarchs participated in. The bulk of the research into this dynasty focuses on those who ruled, from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, because their lives give us a brilliant insight into what it was like to live in the glittery Tudor court. In “The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life,” Jan-Marie Knights gives her readers a glimpse into the social calendar of the Tudor rich and famous.

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw the title of this book, I was intrigued. I was hoping for a book that would include different religious holidays and festivals that the Tudors would have known.

Knights starts her book by giving her readers a brief history lesson from Richard II to Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses in five pages; talk about a whirlwind of an introduction. Readers then see how Knights will format her book by looking at each Tudor monarch with a broad lens and then taking a diary-style approach to their reigns to explain the significant events of their rules. I enjoyed how Knights included more minor pageants and visits that each monarch took part in and cases that average Tudor fans do not hear about as much.

I did have a few issues when I was reading this particular title. I wouldn’t say I liked that the entries for each event were written in the present tense; I know it was supposed to be a diary of the monarch, but as a nonfiction book about a historical period, it threw me for a loop. I also wish we saw more of the liturgical calendar and how it corresponded with the other events during each monarch’s reign, especially during the reformation when the Tudors wrestled between Catholicism and Protestantism. Finally, I do wish Knights would have included either footnotes or endnotes, especially with lesser-known events, so that readers could explore the social events themselves.

Knights has done her research, but I think it needed to be refined and maybe told in a different style to better connect with her audience. Overall, as an overview of the reigns of the Tudor monarchs and the critical events that defined their lives, this book does a decent job for those new to the Tudor dynasty. If you know your Tudor history, this might not be the book for you, but you may learn about a pageant or a strange case. If you are a novice Tudor fan, you might enjoy reading “The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life” by Jan-Marie Knights.

Book Review: “The Last White Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York” by Alison Weir

58735042During medieval wars, one’s fate is often determined by the spin of the Wheel of Fortune, even for those who did not fight a single battle. One could be living a life of luxury, stability reigning supreme, and is destined to marry a foreign king or prince, but when the wheel begins to spin, all seems lost, and the things that once were as good as guaranteed fall by the wayside. This description could fit any number of stories from the past. Still, the one highlighted in this particular novel is the story of the eldest daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville and the first Tudor queen. In the first book of her latest book series, “The Last White Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York,” Alison Weir shows how one woman was able to ride the highs and lows of life to secure her family’s legacy and transform English history forever.

I want to thank Penguin Random House- Ballantine Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this novel. I am always thrilled when a new Alison Weir book is announced, whether fiction or nonfiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the Six Tudor Queens series, so when I heard that there would be a new book series with the story of Elizabeth of York being the first novel, I knew I wanted to read it. Of course, I had read her biography of Elizabeth of York, so I wanted to see how her research would translate into a historical fiction novel.

Elizabeth of York was born and raised to be a queen. As the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, it was her destiny to be married to a king or a prince to strengthen England through a foreign alliance. However, her life took a drastic turn when her father tragically died. Her brothers disappeared when they were in the Tower of London awaiting the coronation of Edward V, which never occurred. Richard III, Elizabeth’s uncle, became king, which forced Elizabeth Woodville to seek sanctuary with her daughters. A daring plan was crafted to unite the houses of York and Lancaster through marriage; Elizabeth of York was to marry a young man in exile, Henry Tudor.

The marriage created the Tudor dynasty, but that does not mean Elizabeth and Henry’s married life was full of sunshine and roses. The road to securing their dynasty was full of heartache and plenty of pretenders. The love between Elizabeth and Henry and Elizabeth’s love for her family allowed the dynasty to survive the turbulent times.

I loved the relationship that Weir was able to craft between Elizabeth, Henry, and her family. However, there were elements of the story that I disagreed with; they were minor, like her portrayal of Elizabeth’s relationship with Richard III and the idea that Arthur had been very ill since his birth. These elements did not take away from the joy I had reading this novel.

Overall, I found the first novel of the Tudor Roses series engaging and a delight to read. Alison Weir has brought the tragic yet triumphant story of the first Tudor queen to life through excellent prose and captivating details. If you are a fan of Alison Weir and her historical fiction novels, or just a fan of Tudor novels in general, you will find “The Last White Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York” an enchanting escape into the past.

Book Review: “Cecily Bonville-Grey- Marchioness of Dorset: From Riches to Royalty” by Sarah J. Hodder

60261127._SY475_In history, the stories of women closest to those who sat on the throne tend to shine a bit brighter than others. Their tales give us great insight into how their respective countries were run and how dangerous it could be to marry someone with royal blood in their veins. However, some of the tales get lost in the annals of the past, only to be discovered much later. One of those tales is the story of Cecily Bonville- Grey, the wife of Thomas Grey Marquis of Dorset. In her own right, an extremely wealthy woman, her marriage into the Grey family would help define the succession issue during the late Tudor dynasty. Her story is finally told in Sarah J. Hodder’s latest book, “Cecily Bonville-Grey- Marchioness of Dorset: From Riches to Royalty.”

I want to thank Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have previously read and enjoyed Hodder’s other books, The Queen’s Sisters and The York Princesses, so I knew I wanted to read it when I heard about this title. I will be honest, I have only heard about Cecily Bonville-Grey from another book about the Grey family, but it was a brief mention, so I was looking forward to reading more about her life.

Cecily Bonville- Grey was the only child of William Bonville and his wife Katherine, the daughter of Richard Neville. Cecily’s uncle was none other than Richard Duke of York. The Bonville men were loyal to King Henry VI, but when the king fell ill, the Bonvilles decided to switch their loyalty during the Wars of the Roses to the Yorkist cause. It was a risky move that would cost William Bonville his life, but in the end, Katherine and Cecily both survived the turmoil of the time. Katherine would marry William Hastings, and Cecily would marry Thomas Grey Marquis of Dorset.

Cecily and Thomas had a large family, and their connection with Richard III and Henry VII would be both rewarding as well as dangerous. With the threats from men like Perkin Warbeck, who wanted to steal the throne from Henry VII, men like Thomas Grey Marquis of Dorset would prove invaluable to refute their claim. Yet it was a double-edged sword as Thomas was often considered a threat to Henry VII. Thomas would die in 1501, leaving Cecily a wealthy widow in need of a second husband, and the man she chose was Lord Henry Stafford. This second marriage allowed the Grey family to flourish and become genuine contenders for the throne, even though that was not Cecily’s intent.

The story of Cecily Bonville- Grey is a delightful read. Sarah J. Hodder shone a light on a woman whose family tends to outshine her. I found Cecily’s story fascinating and gives readers a better understanding of how the transition from the Plantagenets to the Tudors affected those families closest to the throne. Suppose you want another fabulous book about a forgotten woman who lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. In that case, you should check out “Cecily Bonville-Grey- Marchioness of Dorset: From Riches to Royalty” by Sarah J. Hodder.

Book Review: “Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I” by Amy Licence

36762189When one studies a specific dynasty, we tend to focus on the stories of those who rule their respective countries and explore the men who influenced the king’s decisions. A dynasty’s legacy tends to be viewed from the military and legal victories of the men, but just as important are the women who stood beside the king. Royal women tend to be considered side characters of the dynasty who were only crucial for their inheritance, who they married, and the children they could produce. But if we focused on the story of the royal women in a specific dynasty, what could we learn about the dynasty? Amy Licence took this concept to explore women’s voices and decided to tackle the Tudor dynasty in her latest book, “Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I.”

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I am always looking for a new perspective on the Tudor dynasty. Although there is nothing new about exploring the lives of Tudor women, the idea of analyzing the Tudor queens and their reigns in one book is so unique and vital.

Licence starts her book at the very beginning of the Tudor dynasty with the stories of Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville. These women are often viewed as enemies on opposite sides of the Wars of the Roses. Still, closer examination shows how alike they were and how they came together to unite the warring factions with the marriage of their children, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, was seen as the pinnacle of excellence and the ideal queen for those who would try to follow in her footsteps. We also get to see how Margaret and Mary Tudor influenced their family’s legacy, even though they never sat on the English throne like their brother, Henry VIII.

The next group of Tudor queens that we examine are the wives of Henry VIII; Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. These queens mark a different aspect of being a royal woman and helped England move forward. Finally, Licence explores the lives of the daughters of Catherine of Aragon, Frances Brandon, and Anne Boleyn, who would become queens themselves; Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

Licence shows how England and Europe viewed women who wielded power throughout this book. Although the Tudor dynasty only lasted 118 years, the change was significant and impactful. The Tudors queens had to navigate not only their traumas through the most public lens, but they had to balance their own beliefs with the shifting political landscape of Europe. There are also glimpses of how other European queens navigated the tumultuous 16th century and how their lives and women’s education influenced the Tudor queens.

Book Review: “King and Collector: Henry VIII and the Art of Kingship” by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke

57135832When we think of the legacy of King Henry VIII, a few descriptions come to mind—married six times, father of three children who would be the king and queens of England one day. We often see him as a man conflicted with religious changes and someone who could be tyrannical when dispatching his enemies and those closest to him. We don’t usually associate Henry VIII with a collector and patron of fine art, but his collection would help bring the Royal Collection to life. The artwork that Henry VIII commissioned and collected tells how he wanted to be viewed by the world. In “King and Collector: Henry VIII and the Art of Kingship,” Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke peel back the layers of Tudor propaganda to show the truth about King Henry VIII and the artists who made his ideal image.

I first heard about this book from a social media post from Alison Weir, and the way she described it was so intriguing to me. I have not read many books about art history, which I do love, so I wanted to see if Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke could add any new information into the world of Tudor art.

Collins and Clarke take their readers on a journey through the life of the titular king, explaining crucial moments during his long reign and how he used different types of art to express his worldview. For even the most casual Tudor fan, one would think of the first name when Tudor art is Hans Holbein the Younger. However, there are so many other brilliant artists that Collins and Clarke highlight in this book. There were sculptors like Guido Mazzoni, who created the terracotta sculpture of a young boy who is believed to be Henry VIII as a boy, and Pietro Torrigiano, who made the tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

The Tudor age saw the emergence of portraits, miniatures, and paintings as art, which is reflected in Henry VIII’s collection. Some artists are unknown and are still referred to as either the English or Flemish schools, but we know about miniaturists’ contributions like Lucas Horenbout and Holbein. I loved this book because Collins and Clarke took the time to explain how these pieces were created to give us a better appreciation for the crafts. From sculptures and paintings to tapestries, stained glass, and etchings, each piece of artwork highlighted in this book tells a unique tale of the Tudor king and how these pieces would become the Royal Collection that we know today.

If you are a lover of art and Tudor history, you will find “King and Collector: Henry VIII and the Art of Kingship” by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke enthralling. This small book is exquisitely written, and it provides its audience with a plethora of fascinating art facts—a must-read for any Tudor history fan.

Book Review: “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty” by Sarah Gristwood

58218928._SY475_When we think about love, we have ideas about how people fall in love through dating and wooing one another. Sweet words and gestures. Flowers and chocolate. Dates at fun venues and romantic dinners. This is a more modern interpretation of romance and love, which was vastly different than the concept of courtly love that was common in royal circles in medieval Europe. What exactly was courtly love, and how did it play a role in the Tudor dynasty? Sarah Gristwood explores this topic in her latest nonfiction book, “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty.”

Before we dive head deep into Tudor history, Gristwood gives us a history lesson into the origins of courtly love and how it evolved. We begin with the 12th century and the stories of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot that Chretien de Troyes wrote. Troyes’ romantic tales were known to Eleanor of Aquitaine and the troubadours that would spread them to every royal court in Europe. This game of romance between royals and the ideas of knights protecting their fair maidens from danger would change over time. Still, the basic idea that emotions and feelings were central to courtly love would remain prevalent. We see different authors, like Chaucer and Dante, approach the concept of courtly love from different directions and specific rules of this love game set in stone for future generations.

Gristwood traverses the complex family drama known as the Wars of the Roses to show how both Lancaster and York played the courtly game of love. The ways that the sides played the game were different with the various couples involved, but the ideas culminated with the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The imagery of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were passed down to their sons, Prince Arthur and King Henry VIII. Henry VIII would play the game of courtly love with each of his six wives, with varying degrees of success. He would find out that courtly love and politics would be a complex combination to maintain, and this lesson would pass onto his children as they tried to play the game.

Edward VI and Mary I tried to play the game, but they soon realized they were destined to be more involved with politics than love. It was their half-sister Elizabeth who brought back courtly love to its former glory with her numerous favorites. Although the actions of the Tudors can tell us a lot about their intentions, their letters and poetry gave a better understanding of how this courtly love game was played.

I found the new information that Gristwood provided in this book was fascinating. It gave a new dimension to the Tudor dynasty and the relationships between the monarchy and their courtiers or mistresses. An innovative nonfiction book about love, chivalric stories, and the desire for power that any Tudor fan will adore. If you love books by Sarah Gristwood and learning new aspects about Tudor court life, you must have “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty” in your collection.

Book Review: “Woodsmoke and Sage: The Five Senses 1485-1603: How the Tudors Experienced the World” by Amy Licence

58563080When we study history, we tend to focus on specific dates, certain people, and the stories that transformed countries forever, no matter how much of an impact they made. What is difficult about studying history is understanding how they experienced life. What did they see? How did they communicate? What did they hear during a typical day? What smells wafted through the air? How did their view on how the body worked affected what they ate and how they cured their illnesses? In her latest nonfiction book,” Woodsmoke and Sage: The Five Senses 1485-1603: How the Tudors Experienced the World”, Amy Licence has taken on the challenge of explaining the Tudor world that they knew through their senses.

Licence breaks her book down into five sections, one for each sense. We begin with sight, since how the Tudors viewed themselves and their world was extremely important. We can walk through their world by taking a tour of their portraits, the architecture, and the landscapes that the average Tudor would find familiar. Of course, what the Tudors wore every day and the colors they chose impacted how others viewed them because image was everything. The next step in our journey is exploring the sense of smell, from the odiferous to the more pleasant scents.

The sounds of musical instruments, news being called, and gossips tell their tales to anyone who would like to fill the air. On their dining tables, culinary experiments with meat and fish combined with odd spices would seem strange to travelers from the 21st century. The closer you got to someone who sat on the throne, the more extravagant the dishes were. Finally, we explore how the Tudors understood how their body worked through the Humours Theory and how they used this theory to concoct cures.

Even though the Tudors lived over 500 years ago, they saw their world similarly to how we view it. They had homes and clothing to show how well off they were compared to others. They had different scents that they enjoyed compared to us. Their music and how they understood their bodies might be different from what we are used to, yet they still tried to enjoy life and live no matter what. The Tudors were humans like us trying to get through life day by day in their unique ways.

When I heard about the concept for this book, I was not sure how Licence would take on such an ambitious idea and what the result would be. However, Licence proved that this was a brilliant idea for a book. It is truly a treasure trove of Tudor trivia that historians, historical fiction authors, and Tudor nerds would all enjoy. If you want a new and exciting book about the Tudors that freshly explores their world, you should check out “Woodsmoke and Sage: The Five Senses 1485-1603: How the Tudors Experienced the World” by Amy Licence.

Book Review: “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

In medieval Europe, to be considered a strong king, you must keep a firm grasp on your crown, or those who see you as weak will take advantage. These men were known as usurpers throughout history who steal the throne through combat or by illegal means. Some of the most well-known kings in English history have been categorized as usurpers, but is this a fair assessment of their mark in history, or is it a case of propaganda changing their legacy? In her debut nonfiction book, “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings,” Michele Morrical explores the lives of six English kings who bear that title to see if it makes sense with the facts of how they came into power.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard this book was published, I wanted to see how Morrical described a usurper and which king she considered usurpers. I have never heard of a book that focused solely on those who stole thrones in England, so I was excited to see how well it read.

Morrical breaks her book into six sections, with each part focusing on one specific king and his rise to power. She focuses on William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII as examples of rulers in English history known to be usurpers. Morrical writes biography vignettes to give her readers an understanding of how they came to power and who they had to remove from the throne to become the next monarch. In some cases, it meant starting a new dynasty, and in others, it was just a continuation of the family’s lineage, but it was a different branch of the family tree. The biographies tend to get repetitive, especially with the sections dedicated to the Wars of the Roses. If you are new to these kings and the events of their lifetimes, the repetitive nature will help you understand how everything is connected.

I think Morrical can improve if she writes another nonfiction book by using quotes from primary sources and other historians to strengthen her arguments. I wish she had included discussions from chronicles or other primary sources from around the times that these men became rulers to see the consensus of the time towards the new king. It would have added an extra layer to the stories, and readers could see how our definition of a usurper king would have compared or contrasted to the views of the past. I would have also liked Morrical to have discussed whether being a usurper king had a positive or negative connotation. Many kings on this list were considered game-changers when ruling England and transformed how England was viewed in the grander scheme of European politics.

I think for her first book, Morrical does a decent job of presenting her viewpoints about certain kings and presenting the facts about their lives. One can tell that Morrical is passionate about usurpers and understanding why they took the English throne from their predecessors. Overall, I think it is not bad for a book that combines the lives of six kings of England into one text. If you want a good introductory book into the lives of usurper kings, you should give “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical a try.