Book Review: “Dark Fire” by C.J. Sansom

28280675._SY475_The year 1540 during the reign of Henry VIII was a turbulent time. Henry’s new wife, Anne of Cleves, is not exactly the person who he imagined and his eye is starting to wander to a new woman, Katherine Howard. The reformers are starting to lose favor with the king as they and Catholics alike are being executed for treason. This is the London that Matthew Shardlake, our favorite hunchback lawyer turned detective, calls home. He thinks that he has retired from his detective work and serving Thomas Cromwell, but he is sadly mistaken. His next adventure has twice the number of cases and just as much danger that makes his trip to the monastery in “Dissolution” look easy. In the second book of the Shardlake series, “Dark Fire”, C.J. Sansom turns up the heat, the action, and the danger.

We join Matthew Shardlake during a busy season in his life as a lawyer. He is working on maintaining his legal practice, and his next case is a doozy. A young girl named Elizabeth is accused of murdering her cousin and it is up to Shardlake to defend her, even when everyone believes she is guilty of the crime. Just as he is adjusting to this new case, he gets a call from his favorite person who he thought he was done dealing with for a while, Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell has a new case for Shardlake, to recover the lost formula for the mysterious Greek Fire, also known as Dark Fire. Cromwell knew that Shardlake would need some help with this new case, so he sends a new partner, the daring and resourceful Jack Barak. The only clue they have is someone from the Court of Augmentations found the formula in a dissolved monastery’s library, but when the person who had it and his alchemist brother are found brutally murdered, things get extremely complicated. Two separate cases that share the same deadline and the same amount of danger if Shardlake and Barak should fail to solve them. Can they solve both cases in time?

When I read the description of this book, my first impression was that C.J. Sansom was trying to cover too much in a book. I thought that there was no way that Shardlake could solve both cases in the time frame that he was given and that Sansom would focus on one case over the other. I was proven wrong as this book was beautifully balanced between the two cases while keeping the reader’s attention throughout the entire book.

Sansom made the Tudor London world come to life in this brilliant sequel. I thought the way he showed the struggle for power between those who had it and those who wanted it was masterfully done. He included some of my favorite characters from “Dissolution” in this book, which made me extremely excited and I believe that Shardlake’s new partner Barak was a stroke of genius. Their interactions were some of my favorites in this entire book and I cannot wait to see how he develops Shardlake and Barak’s partnership throughout the rest of the series.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It kept me guessing with both cases until the bitter end. There were so many twists and turns, revelations, and intrigue. There were some places where I think the pacing was a bit slower than the first book, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of this remarkable sequel. I did not want it to end because it would mean that I would have to leave this dynamic world with intriguing characters, until the next book. It was a sheer joy to dive back into Shardlake’s Tudor world and I honestly cannot wait to jump back into another Shardlake mystery. The first book made me fall in love with Shardlake, but this one made me fall in love with his Tudor world and the people around him. If you have read “Dissolution”, “Dark Fire” by C.J. Sansom is a must-read.

Book Review: “Dissolution” by C.J. Sansom

28093757._SY475_The Tudor dynasty marked tons of changes in society and religious norms. In 1537, the changes are in full force. Anne Boleyn was executed a year earlier and Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour recently passed away after giving birth to Edward VI. Religious reformers are clashing with the Catholic Church after Henry VIII has declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Henry VIII’s reign marked the changing point in societal and religious norms, none more so than the dissolution of the monasteries. As monasteries and monks alike adjust to the new ways of life, the monastery at Scarnsea buzzes with activity and murder. Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, sends an unlikely man to investigate the situation; the hunchback reformer lawyer, Matthew Shardlake. This is the world that C.J. Sansom has chosen to create in the first book of his Tudor mystery series, aptly named, “Dissolution”.

I will be honest. It has been a very long time since I have read a murder mystery book. I know the general format because my mom is a huge Agatha Christie and Murder She Wrote fan, but I have never really been that interested in reading this genre myself. A lot of people have recommended that I should read the Shardlake series, but no one has spoiled the series, which I am thankful for as it made reading this book extremely enjoyable.

We are introduced to our protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, as he receives a new mission from his boss, Thomas Cromwell. The commissioner that Cromwell has sent to investigate the monastery of St. Donatus at the seaside town of Scarnsea, Robin Singleton, has been found murdered. It is up to Matthew and his assistant, Mark Poer, to find out the truth to why he was murdered and which one of the monks killed him. However, things are much darker and sinister at this monastery than Matthew could ever imagine and it will test everything he believes in.

I did not know what to expect before I started reading this book, but I am so glad I decided to read it. It is simply a masterpiece of intrigue and drama. It has been a while since I have been blown away by such a vivid and dark portrayal of the Tudor world that is away from the glamorous and glittering court life that we all expect from Tudor novels. The characters are raw and real; they are not cookie-cutter characters. They show that the struggle between reform and sticking with the Catholic Church was never straight forward. The details in this book are exquisite as they are compelling. Just when you think you know who did it, Sansom throws another twist that will leave you guessing until the bitter end.

I did not want this book to end because I became so attached to the characters, which is largely due to the way Sansom wrote this first novel of the Shardlake series. It’s different from any other Tudor novel that I have ever read and I want to read the rest of the series now. I understand why people wanted me to read this book and this series. I loved reading this book. If you want a thrilling Tudor mystery to read, I highly recommend you read, “Dissolution” by C.J. Sansom.

Book Review: “The Anne Boleyn Collection III” by Claire Ridgway

49466496._SY475_The story and myths of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, have been debated and dissected for centuries. Was she a cruel and calculating figure who got what she deserved or was she an innocent victim of an evil tyrant of a husband? The funny thing about history is that the truth is never clear cut. Historical figures are human beings, no matter how many centuries separate their lives from our own. They were not all good or all bad, which is the perspective that Claire Ridgway tries to show when she is writing about her favorite figure, Anne Boleyn, either in her books or on her blog, The Anne Boleyn Files. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Anne Boleyn Files, Claire Ridgway returns with the latest collection of articles, “The Anne Boleyn Collection III”.

Like the other two volumes of this series, Ridgway has taken some of the most popular articles from her blog, the Anne Boleyn Files. There are some recurring themes that Ridgway has highlighted in her previous two books, but there are some news topics that she discusses in length. Was Mary I or Lady Jane Grey the usurper? Did Anne Boleyn love Henry Norris? How did Henry VIII go from a Renaissance prince to an infamous tyrant? Who were the men who died with Anne Boleyn?

Ridgway’s passion for the Tudors, especially when it comes to Anne Boleyn, is extremely apparent when reading her books. That does not change at all in this book. Her writing style remains the same as in her previous books. It is like having a conversation with a friend about Tudor hot topics. What Ridgway added to this book was the use of poetry written about the historical figures that she discusses at length. I found the poetry refreshing and intriguing to delve deep into the meaning of the poet’s words.

I think this book is okay, but I did have a few problems when I was reading it. I did feel like this book was slightly redundant as it repeats some of the same points that she made in previous books. Now, this might be because they are articles from her blog and she wanted to focus heavily on certain topics, but I felt like there were other topics that she might have focused on. I wanted to learn new information about Anne Boleyn and her times.

Another issue that I had with this particular book was with the sources. Ridgway tends to favor certain authors and historians when it comes to her research, which is fine. However, I think there have been new biographies that were written before the publication of this book that would have helped Ridgway make her points even stronger. As a blogger, there are sources that we enjoy using, but one should be aware that there are other historians who are doing great research out there and they should be at least acknowledged. We should be open to new ideas, new sources, and new theories about historical figures, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them. It is how we grow as history lovers and how we can better understand the past.

Overall, I think this was a good book, but I was expecting a tad more, especially after how much I enjoyed book two of the collection. Ridgway’s feelings and passion for her subject were ever-present in this volume, but I think that she could have expanded her research a tad to include more recent biographies and books to get her point across to a new batch of readers. I think if you enjoyed her two previous books in this series, I would recommend you read Claire Ridgway’s latest book, “The Anne Boleyn Collection III”.

Book Review: “The Anne Boleyn Collection II” by Claire Ridgway

18588008The Boleyn family have been viewed as social climbers, who only desired power and prestige, in history and novels for centuries; their fall from grace was due to their ambitions. But, is this true? Did Anne Boleyn’s family only care about getting to the top by any means necessary? Were they manipulative, cunning, and cruel like they have been portrayed in dramas and novels? Who were the Boleyns and why have they been so maligned in history? In her second book of this series, “The Anne Boleyn Collection II”, Claire Ridgway of The Anne Boleyn Files examines Anne Boleyn and the truth about her family.

After I had finished the first edition of “The Anne Boleyn Collection”, I did have a conversation with Claire Ridgway about the structure of her book. If you read my review about that particular book, I did have a slight issue with the blog article structure of the book. Claire Ridgway explained that it was intentional as these books are a collection of blog articles from The Anne Boleyn Files, which helped me while reading the second collection of articles.

In my opinion, Ridgway’s structure in this second collection is much better than the first collection. It reads like a book and it is in an order that makes sense. We start our journey with the origins of the Boleyn family, which was fascinating and very informative to read about the different theories of how this family rose to power. Then, it is all about Anne and her life and the myths around her. Compared to her previous book, I found this part well researched and I learned a lot. Anne Boleyn is not exactly my favorite wife of King Henry VIII, but I did feel sympathy for her, and I could see why so many people do defend her while reading about her in this book.

The last section of this book deals with Anne Boleyn’s immediate family. Her father Thomas Boleyn has been viewed as a “power-hungry pimp” who only cared about his position rather than his children, but Ridgway shows that this was not the case. Anne’s mother Elizabeth Boleyn has been a shadowy figure in the past, yet Ridgway dives to find out what kind of parent she was and the rumors around her. Was George Boleyn such a scandalous figure and what was his relationship with his wife Jane Boleyn like? What is the truth about Mary Boleyn’s story? And finally, Ridgway explores the big question about the Boleyns and their religious viewpoints.

This is my favorite book from The Anne Boleyn Collection series so far. Claire Ridgway’s research and writing style has improved significantly between the two books, and it shows. I did thoroughly enjoy this one and I wanted to do my own research into these topics after reading this book. I learned so much about the Boleyns that it made me realize that maybe they were not as bad as novels and dramas have portrayed them. If you think you know the Boleyns, I would suggest you read, “The Anne Boleyn Collection II” by Claire Ridgway. It may change your mind about how you view this hotly debated family of Anne Boleyn.

Book Review: “On This Day in Tudor History” by Claire Ridgway

16125013The Tudor dynasty and the stories of those who lived during this time have drawn novices and experts alike to explore the history surrounding these events for hundreds of years. These tales can seem fictional, but the truth is often stranger than fiction, which is why it is important to understand when and why these events happened. The “when” can often be difficult to remember for any student of history because there are a lot of dates to deal with when you are dealing with a whole dynasty. That is why resources, like this particular book, can be so invaluable to have in one’s collection. Claire Ridgway has taken the time to give readers a day-by-day guide to the Tudors in her book, “On This Day in Tudor History”.

Ridgway has taken the concept of history books that explore what life was like in a year for a typical person in a certain time and she has expanded to cover an entire dynasty. Like these books, this one is divided by each month of the year and then by chronological order of the year. She covers all of the Tudor dynasty, with some dates before and after, to show how this one era truly impacted European and world history. Of course, she covers the big names of the dynasty; like Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn (which is a given since Ridgway is known for her other project, the Anne Boleyn Files), Mary I, and numerous courtiers and diplomats who made this time so fascinating for many of us to study.

What caught my interest in this book was the numerous figures that many might not know a lot about. There are the monarchs from all around Europe whose stories are often looked over for their English counterparts. And then there are the English scholars, explorers, martyrs, and playwrights that are often forgotten for more colorful figures. Their births, deaths, trials, tribulations, and triumphs are just as important as those who make the headlines. I did not know about so many of their stories and it made me want to learn more, to dive even deeper into the study of the Tudor dynasty.

Although I did enjoy reading this book, it is one that you need to take your time to read. It is a book that should be used as a resource for research into this time period. I did notice that with a few of the dates, some of the years were out of chronological order (which did bug me a bit since I like chronological order), but it is a minor issue. There are also some grammatical and spacing mistakes, but they do not take away from the context of this book. Ridgway does use some typical stories that have been debunked by recent biographies, but the dates are relatively accurate. I did wish that Ridgway included the major holidays and festivals into the actual book, instead of being at the beginning of the book, so that we could get a sense of what was going on during these significant events.

Overall, I found this book informative and fun. Claire Ridgway combined the trivia of Tudor dates with an easy to understand writing style. It is a massive tome, but a labor of love. If you want a book full of terrific Tudor trivia, I would recommend you read, “On This Day in Tudor History” by Claire Ridgway. It is a great addition to any Tudor collection.

Book Review: “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets” by Alison Weir

44034429._SY475_A foreign princess who travels to England to marry the king to establish a strong political alliance. To those who study history, this is a story that has been told numerous times, but what makes this particular story unique is the people involved. The bridegroom was the recently-widowed Henry VIII, the shadow of his former self and notorious throughout Europe for having his second wife Anne Boleyn executed. His new bride to be is the German princess Anna of Kleve. To say that they did not see eye to eye would be an understatement as the marriage did not last long. Her story is often swept under the rug. Anna is often viewed as the “lucky” wife of Henry VIII, but was she? What was Anna’s story and what was her marriage with Henry really like? Alison Weir has taken up the challenge to give her readers a taste of what Anna’s life might have been like in this novel, “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets”.

As many of you know, I am a big fan of Alison Weir and I have enjoyed the “Six Tudor Queens” series thus far, so I knew that I wanted to read this one. Anna of Cleves is one of my favorite wives of Henry VIII, yet I have never read a historical fiction novel on her, so I found this concept of this book intriguing.

Weir begins her book with Anna’s life in her native Germany and her relationship with her family. To see her interacting with her parents and her siblings was delightful and so relatable. We even saw them arguing about Catholicism versus Protestantism, which was the hot topic of the time. Anna is informed that she was to marry King Henry VIII of England, who has been married three previous times. Weir takes the time to show Anna’s journey from Germany to England and how she transitioned into her new life in a new country. Her relationship with Henry is more of a close friendship than that of a husband and wife, which is very loving, caring, and believable. I enjoyed her relationships with Henry’s other wives, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr since there is no animosity between them. Anna’s relationships with Henry’s children are very nurturing, especially towards Mary Tudor, who is more of a best friend relationship rather than a step-mother, step-daughter relationship.

Weir’s focus in this book is truly the relationships of those closest to Anna, but there are a few, in particular, that stands out; Anna’s relationships with her lover and their son. I will say that before I read this book, I knew about this storyline and I was upset about it. However, when I started to read this book, I enjoyed it. Of course, I know it is a fictional storyline, but I have always felt bad for Anna that she never married again after she divorced Henry. She was still in the prime of her life which makes you question if she ever loved anyone. As a work of fiction, I found this storyline compelling, even if it is not for everyone. It added a different element to Anna’s story.

Overall, I found this novel enjoyable and very well written. I truly felt sympathy for Anna with every trial she faced. Since this is a historical fiction novel, some of it should not be taken as factual, but what Weir does extremely well is she created a relatable and loving heroine in Anna. If you want an engaging Tudor historical fiction novel to read, I would recommend you read, “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets” by Alison Weir.

Book Review: “The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk” by Kirsten Claiden- Yardley

52957091._SX318_SY475_The stories of the men behind the English crown can be as compelling as the men who wore the crown themselves. They were ruthless, cunning, power-hungry, and for many of them, did not last long. However, there were a select few who proved loyal to the crown and lived long and eventful lives. They are not as well known as their infamous counterparts, yet their stories are just as important to tell. One such man was the grandfather of two of Henry VIII’s wives and the great-grandfather of Elizabeth I. He lived through the reign of six kings and led his men to victory at the Battle of Flodden against King James IV of Scotland towards the end of his life. Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk had his fair shares of highs and lows, including imprisonment, but his story is rarely told. That is until now. Kirsten Claiden-Yardley has taken up the challenge to explore the life of this rather extraordinary man in her book, “The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howards, 2nd Duke of Norfolk”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I honestly did not know a whole lot about the Howard family, other than Katherine Howard, so this book sounded intriguing to me.

Claiden- Yardley begins her biography by exploring the rise of Thomas Howard’s family and how his father, John Howard, became a powerful man. What was interesting was the Howard connection to the de Mowbrays and how John used these relations to his advantage to help his growing family find favor with the nobility and the monarchs of the time, including Edward IV and Richard III. She explores the relationship between Thomas and Richard III, including the possibility that Thomas had something to do with the Princes in the Tower.

It was at the Battle of Bosworth Field where things get treacherous for the Howard family. Richard III and John Howard were both killed and Thomas Howard was captured, stripped of his titles, and sent to prison to await Henry VII’s decision on how to handle him. After some time, Thomas not only was released from prison, he became a valuable asset for the Tudor dynasty. He would be a diplomat, a chief mourner for Arthur Tudor’s funeral, and escort two princesses to their weddings in France and Scotland. He worked hard to make sure that his family married well and that they were financially stable.

The Battle of Flodden would be Thomas’ defining moment, even though it was towards the end of his life. Claiden-Yardley takes the time to explain why this battle had to be fought and the details of the battle. I found this extremely interesting to see how Thomas led his men into battle and how he helped stopped a Scottish invasion of England at the age of 70.

Claiden-Yardley has done extensive research into the life of Thomas Howard. I did find her writing a bit dry in some places, but overall, she did what she set out to do. She shed some light on a rather remarkable man who was really behind the curtain during the reigns of quite a few English kings. His loyalty to the crown and his family was unwavering. If you want to read a good biography about Thomas Howard and how the Howard family rose to power during the Tudor dynasty, I would recommend you read, “The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk” by Kirsten Claiden-Yardley.

Book Review: “Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life” by Diarmaid MacCulloch

38390462The stories of King Henry VIII and the men around him have fascinated generations of historians, but there was one man who has received a negative reputation for his actions. He was the supposed son of a butcher who rose to be Henry VIII’s right-hand man, until his dramatic fall in July 1540. Thomas Cromwell was credited for helping Henry with his Great Matter, the fall of Anne Boleyn, the establishment of the Church of England, and the disastrous marriage between Henry and Anna of Cleves. Diarmaid MacCulloch has taken on the challenge to figure out who Thomas Cromwell really was by sifting through all remaining archival records that we have from this extraordinary man. It is in this book, “Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life” that MacCulloch masterfully explores the story of this man who changed English and European history forever.

Personally, I have never read a book about Thomas Cromwell, but I did want to learn more about his role in Henry VIII’s government. I had heard great things about this particular book and I wanted to read a definitive biography about Cromwell. Although at first, I was a bit intimidated reading something so academically written, I am really glad that I embarked on this journey to discover the truth of this much-maligned historical figure.

MacCulloch dives into the life of Cromwell by trying to piece together his early years and his Italian connections in the clothing trade. Cromwell did not receive a normal education of the day as he almost taught himself, which made him appreciate books and literature even more. It was these connections and his hard work which allowed Cromwell to rise to a position where he was working under Thomas Wosley. The lessons that Cromwell learned from Wosley would be beneficial as he took over as the King’s right- hand man after Wolsey’s fall from grace.

It is the decade that Cromwell served as Henry’s administrative polymath that is MacCulloch’s main focus. This part might trip up casual history students as it is very academic. My suggestion, if you are a casual history student, is to take your time to fully understand the steps that Cromwell took to change the political and religious landscape of England to make sure Henry was happy. It was not always an easy task, but with great risks came great rewards, such as the title of Vice-Gerent in Spirituals. Cromwell’s fingerprints could be seen all over the establishment of the Church of England, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the expanding powers of Parliament. There were those who were not exactly thrilled with all of these changes, however, the only opinion that truly mattered was the one that belonged to Henry VIII, and he was happy with Cromwell’s work.

Cromwell was not just a politician, he was a father to a son named Gregory Cromwell. It was interesting to learn that even after his wife died, Thomas Cromwell never remarried and raised Gregory as a single father. It was when Cromwell got involved in Henry’s personal life that matters got tricky for Cromwell. Obviously, many people are familiar with Cromwell’s role with Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace. However, it was the marriage between Henry and Anna of Cleves that would be the incident that brought Cromwell from the pinnacle of power to death’s door.

MacCulloch’s biography is truly a triumph. It is academic, both in its meticulously researched contents and its writing style, yet it remains engaging and thought-provoking. Although at times, this book was challenging, it was one of those books that you feel proud to read. If you want a fabulous book about the life of Thomas Cromwell as well as the changes that he helped create in the Tudor government and the establishment of the Church of England, “Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life” by Diarmaid MacCulloch should be included in your collection.

Book Review: “Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him” by Tracy Borman

40642324The story of the reign of King Henry VIII has been told mainly through his numerous marriages and through the lives of his children. Although his immediate family was a big part of his legacy, there is much more to his story than his tempestuous relationships. There were also his legal, religious, and military exploits. The ones who were with Henry when he made these decisions were the men who were loyal to him, his counselors and companions. Their tales are often told separately, until now. Tracy Borman has decided to masterfully combine their tales to explore the life of their infamous king in her latest biography, “Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him”. 

I have read plenty of books about Henry VIII’s wives and his children, but I haven’t read many books about the legendary man himself. I wanted a biography that explored the decisions he made in his life and the men who helped him along the way. That is exactly what Borman delivered in this biography that is bountiful with the information that it provides. 

Like any good biography, Borman begins by exploring Henry VIII’s birth and childhood. This is actually a significant time in his life and in the development of the future king of England. Growing up as the second son, Henry VIII was not destined to be king, but when his older brother Arthur tragically passed away, everything changed and Henry was thrust into a life of training to become king. He was constantly living in the shadow of his father and once he became king, he tried to outshine Henry VII.

Once he became king, Henry surrounded himself with men, both of royal birth and humble origins, to help run England. Some of the men that Borman included are Charles Brandon, Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Francis Bryan, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Wroithesley, and Thomas Howard. Relatively familiar names for those who have studied the Tudors before and understand the significance of their roles in the Tudor court. However, Borman also includes the stories of men who did their best work on the sidelines, like the painters, diplomats, members of his inner circle, and doctors who saw all of Henry’s triumphs and failures. 

By highlighting the men that Borman did, she gives her audience a fresh perspective on such an infamous figure in history. He was a complex figure who could change his mind at a drop of the hat. These men knew how to navigate the dangerous situations that they were thrust into in order to make sure that their master’s orders were carried out. Of course, some went above the call of duty and others lost their lives to achieve their goals. 

This was the first book that I have read by Tracy Borman and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her writing style was so engaging that I did not want this book to end. I thought I knew a lot about Henry VIII and his men, but “Henry VIII and the Men who Made Him” still provided new facts that surprised me. If you want to read a biography about Henry VIII that gives a fresh and innovative look into his life, I highly recommend you read this book. 

Book Review: “Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Ambassador” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

45704941During Henry VIII’s reign, those who were most loyal and the closest to the king did not often last long to enjoy the rewards of his friendship. However, there was one man who stayed in relatively good favor with the king throughout his reign. He was a sailor, a soldier, a diplomat, and acted as an English ambassador mostly in France. He was a cousin to a few of Henry VIII’s wives, a lover of wine, and an infamous womanizer. The name of this rather extraordinary man was Sir Francis Bryan and the story of how he survived the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII is told in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ latest biography, “Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Ambassador”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Sarah- Beth Watkins’ previous books and this one sounded really interesting to me since I did not know a lot about Sir Francis Bryan before I read this book.

Unlike many of Henry’s closest allies, Sir Francis Bryan was born to help the king. His father, Sir Thomas Bryan of Ashridge, Hertfordshire, was a knight of the body to both King Henry VII and Henry VIII. His mother, Lady Margaret (Bourchier) Bryan, a lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon and the governess to Henry VIII’s children, was related to Elizabeth Howard, which meant that Francis was related to both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. It was these connections that would prove both a blessing and a curse in Bryan’s career.

Bryan’s career was mostly based abroad as an ambassador for Henry VIII. After his service to the king in Scotland, he was transferred to France where he would prove his loyalty to Henry by pushing his ideas on the French king. It was the way he handled certain situations that gained Bryan the nickname, “ the vicar of hell”. Not exactly flattering, but it helped Bryan keep his head when so many of his friends, allies, and family members did not.

Watkins’ biography on Sir Francis Bryan provides a great window into the life of such a colorful character in Henry VIII’s court who doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. But, it is one thing to tell about Bryan’s life and quite another to allow the readers to read transcribed letters that were either addressed to or about Bryan. They provide great insight into the decisions that Bryan made and his feelings about the events that were going on around him, including The Great Matter and the break from Rome.

Like Watkins’ other books, this one acts as a great introduction to the life of Sir Francis Bryan. It was extremely informative and well written for a small book, acting as a stepping stone for those who want to learn more about “the vicar of hell”. A best friend of King Henry VIII and loyal until the end to the Tudors, Sir Francis Bryan lived a remarkable life. “Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Ambassador” by Sarah-Beth Watkins is a book that I highly recommend if you are a fan of Sarah-Beth Watkins or if you want to learn more about Sir Francis Bryan and how he survived the tumultuous reign of King Henry VIII.