Book Review: “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman

91Fs0VzQnKLThe Tudor era has enchanted generations of history lovers with its interesting monarchs and scandals. The beautiful outfits, the political drama of the age, the legendary marriages of King Henry VIII, the children of Henry VIII, and how England grew into a dominant force in European politics. These are the things that people tend to focus on when studying the Tudors, yet this is a very narrow view of the time period. We tend to focus on the inner workings of the court system, but we don’t focus on the common people who lived in England during this time. What was it like to live in Tudor England for the common people? This is the question that Ruth Goodman explores in her book, “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life”.

In her introduction Ruth Goodman explains her journey into studying the lives of ordinary Tudors and why she chose to write this particular book:

There are many books and studies based on the lives of the Tudor elite, upon the powerful and well-documented, but my interest has always been bound up with the more humble sections of society. As a fairly ordinary person myself who needs to eat, sleep and change the occasional nappy, I wanted from the beginning to know how people coped day to day, to know what resources they really had at their disposal, what skills they needed to acquire and what it all felt like. Twenty-five years ago I could find no book to tell me, and even now when social history receives far more academic attention than before, information is still thin on the ground. So I set out to try and work it out for myself: hunting up period recipes and trying them out; learning to manage fires and skin rabbits; standing on one foot with a dance manual in one hand, trying to make sense of where my next move should be. The more I experimented, the more information I began to find within the period texts that I was looking at. Things that I had just skimmed past in the reading became quite critical in practice, prompting more questions and very much more intense research. (Goodman, xii-xiii).

Goodman has taken her research and her adventures in trying to live like a common Tudor and has written a book that everyone can enjoy. This book explores daily activities of the ordinary Tudor family, from morning to night, in order to give her readers a better understanding of this remarkable time period. It is a book that provides a plethora of information from which Tudor bed is the most comfortable to how normal Tudors bathed, to how to brew your own ale and how to make your own bread and cheese.

All of this information is rather interesting, but Goodman takes it a couple steps further. First, she explains her own experiences attempting to replicate what she found in manuals and sources from the Tudor time period. It is one thing to read primary sources, which Goodman does include, but by including experiences from the author herself, it adds another level of depth and credibility to the book and to her research. Another step that Goodman takes in her book to add depth is explaining the reasoning behind why the average Tudor did what they did. Some of it is because of religion and some had to do with how they understood how the human body operated through the four humours. By taking the time to understand these elements, the reader can understand why the Tudors did things a certain way, which may seem a bit foreign to a modern audience.

Ruth Goodman gives the lives of ordinary Tudors the attention they deserve. The Tudor dynasty was not just about the flashy monarchy. The majority of the people were common farmers and craftsmen. In order to understand this period of time, one has to look at the lives of the royalty and the regular people. “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman is a stunning example of how living history can help explain the past and should be on anyone’s booklist who is interested in seriously studying the Tudor dynasty.  This book is an absolute delight to read. 

Book Review: “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462” by Hugh Bicheno

519b6FCcEGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In recent years, the study of the English conflict known as the “Wars of the Roses” has become rather popular. The Lancasters and the Yorks fighting for the English throne. Only one can be the winner. When we do look at this time period, we tend to focus on the people involved in the battles and the political aspect of the conflict. The battles, how they were fought, and why the conflict started in the first place tend to be pushed to the sideline. That is not the case with this particular book. In Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”, the political and military aspects combine with family histories for a comprehensive look into what made this time period so fascinating.

I came across this particular book by browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I saw that it was about the Wars of the Roses, but I was not familiar with the author. I decided to give it a shot and I am so glad I did. This book is a delight and a fantastic resource.

Bicheno starts his book by exploring two extraordinary women whose families would shape the direction that the Wars of the Roses would take; Jacquetta Woodville and Catherine de Valois. Both women married for love and this love would shape who would win the crown of England, as Bicheno explains:

Sometimes love does conquer all: despite having turned their backs on the game of power, Catherine and Jacquetta became the common ancestors of every English monarch since 1485. Before that could happen, all those with a superior claim to the throne had first to wipe each other out. This they did in what was, in essence, a decades-long, murderously sordid dispute over an inheritance within a deeply dysfunctional extended family. It became merciless not despite but because the combatants had so much in common, and projected their own darkest intentions onto each other….it was an extraordinary period in English history. Four of the six kings crowned between 1399 and 1485 were usurpers who killed their predecessors, undermining the concept of divine right as well as the prestige of the ruling class. (Bicheno, 10-11).

Family drama is the center of Bicheno’s book so he spends several chapters laying out the major players and how they were related to one another. This can get a tad bit confusing for those who are not familiar with the story, so Bicheno has included family trees and a list of protagonists and marriages to help readers. I will say that they became very useful for me as I was reading this book and I would highly suggest you use the resources that Bicheno has included in this book for future research. Bicheno also included maps, which corresponded with the different battles that were important between 1440 and 1462, not only in England but in France, Wales, and Scotland as well.

What really impressed me about this book was the amount of detail that Bicheno was able to include and making it understandable for any casual student of the Wars of the Roses, yet engaging enough for a scholar. That is not an easy feat, but Bicheno is able to do it. He uses modern data with extensive research of historical documents, knowledge of medieval military strategies, and interpreting all of this information for modern readers, which included a few nods to a certain popular show(Game of Thrones) that is roughly based off of the events of this time period.

Hugh Bicheno breathes new life into the study of the Wars of the Roses. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first started reading this book, but I am extremely glad I did. Even if you think you know tons about the Wars of the Roses, this book will surprise you with new information and make you question your previous knowledge about the battles in the first part of this tumultuous time. If you have an interest in the Wars of the Roses and understanding how it occurred from a military and a political point of view, I highly suggest you read Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”. It is an eye-opening, riveting reading experience.

Book Review: “Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me” by Matthew Lewis

51Y6-FH9JgL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_When we study history and look at certain people, we often have a tendency to treat them almost like fictional characters. They are either the hero, all good with no flaws, or villains, all bad where we only focus on their flaws. We don’t see the person as “human”, neither good nor bad, just someone who tried their lives to the best of their abilities. One such person who tends to get either the hero or the villain treatment is King Richard III of England. To some, he is “white knight”, a man who was wrongly accused and who was faultless. To others, he was a “black legend”, a dastardly villain who wanted power and did not care who he stepped on in order to achieve his goals. With these two different portrayals of Richard III, we often forget that he was just an ordinary man who became king. Matthew Lewis has decided to strip away both the white and black portrayals of Richard III and explore who Richard III the man was in his latest book, “Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me.”

Matthew Lewis explains exactly who Richard III was and why he wanted to explore him further:

Richard was a man. He made mistakes and misjudgements. He had his flaws, as we all do, but beneath the grime of centuries of slander and gossip, the facts can be uncovered and polished up to provide a far more rounded and interesting man, with novel ideas that seem ahead of his time. Undoubtedly he was willing to do that which was within his power to protect his position and that of his family. He was a fifteenth-century nobleman when they were a brutal and acquisitive breed. That does not mean that he was incapable of less selfish acts that many of his contemporaries, or of hankering for a bygone age in which men, at least in the stories he read, had been honourable and lived by codes. Any time a person from history is viewed as one-dimensional, as simply good or bad, that should be cause to look again and question more deeply, because they were people, just like you and I. They had hopes and fears, dreams and insecurities that fused together to make them. When Richard charged at the Battle of Bosworth, did he blindly believe he could kill Henry Tudor and that would be the end of it? Was he, perhaps, afflicted by the loss of his son and wife? Did he wonder what the purpose of carrying on might be? Did he hope that God would help him win the day and once more approve of him? We cannot know for certain. Arguably, what makes him unique amongst medieval monarchs and nobles was the antithesis of what history has remembered him for. He was no petty tyrant bent on murdering all in his way. He was a forward-thinking reformer who tried to tackle the real problems he saw in English medieval society, and paid the price for thinking he could resolve them. (Lewis, 391).

I have a deep fascination with the Wars of the Roses and how the people during this time are portrayed. Richard III has been one of those people that has caught my interest especially. I am always looking for a new perspective when it comes to controversial figures to find out what their lives were really like.

When it comes to biographies about Richard III, you will either get the white narrative or the black, and nothing in the middle. He is either a heartless villain or a saint of a man. Although Lewis is a Ricardian, he has decided in this biography to forego the traditional narratives and take a look at Richard’s life by what we know and not stipulations. This book was such an enlightening read. Richard III the man and his times was brought to light as all the controversies of his life were explored thoroughly. By looking at Richard as just a man and not a controversial figure, you get a real sense that his life was more complicated and almost relatable at points.

As Lewis said, Richard III was just a man, and it is through this biography that we truly get to meet the man. I have read quite a few biographies about Richard III, but this one is by far my favorite. I learned so much about Richard III, his life and times, and the different authors and sources against him, that I will never look at Richard III the same way again. If you are interested in Richard III and the times that he lived in, I highly recommend you read Matthew Lewis’s book, “Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me”. I believe that if we look at historical figures the way Matthew Lewis does with Richard III in this book, we might better understand the past and better appreciate those who came before us.

Elizabeth I and the Elizabethans

As many of you know, I have chosen to make September a month where we look at Queen Elizabeth I and the Elizabethans, men and women who helped create this era into a “Golden Age”. Now I know what you are thinking, why jump to Elizabeth and the Elizabethans right after a month about the Wars of the Roses. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to focus on Henry VIII and his court next, if you are going in chronological order? You would be correct, however this year I have been thinking a lot about Elizabeth I and the Elizabethans.

A few days ago, I asked who your historical role model was and why. Many of you answered that it was the Virgin Queen herself Elizabeth I. For me, Elizabeth I has been my historical role model because it was her story and her courage that helped me get through some of the toughest times in my life. When I was younger, my family and I were always moving from one shelter to another. It was a hard time, but I decided to focus on something positive instead of on the negative, and that was reading and studying. I have always been an avid reader and one day, I picked up a “Royal Diaries” book on Elizabeth I. There was something about Elizabeth’s story that really inspired me. I decided that I was going to read any book that I could on or about her life, including encyclopedias. Yes, I was one of “those kids”.

It was through studying Elizabeth I and her story that my passion for studying history was born. I wanted to be able to tell the stories of those remarkable men and women from the past. I remember staying up late at night, well passed curfew, studying. I didn’t know what career path I wanted to take, but all I knew was that I wanted to study history in college. Long story short, I was able to fulfill my dream that started after reading about Elizabeth I and her story.

I think that’s the amazing part about studying history. The more you read the life stories from those who came before us, the more you are able to appreciate them. It was Elizabeth I and the Elizabethans who helped me when I was younger. It is my hope that the stories of these remarkable men and women will also help you and will inspire you. These are stories of strength, of courage, of heartache and of grief. These are stories of adventurers, playwrights, ladies in waiting, councilors, royal favorites , and one remarkable queen.

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.

 

Top 5 “Tudor” Men to Study

Hello everyone! So a few weeks ago, I made a list of my top 5 Tudor women to study. This time around, I decided to focus on the men of this era. The reason that I have the word Tudor in quotations is that one of the men on this list is technically not a Tudor nor did he serve in the Tudor court. As always, this list is in no particular order and it might change after I do more research on the era. These men at the moment fascinate me and I look forward to learning more about them as I continue my exploration of the Tudor age.

1.) Jasper Tudor

The man in the sidelines who helped make the Tudor dynasty happen.80aa362b8647d5844194e415a130c3fd

Brother of Edmund Tudor, half- brother to Henry VI, and uncle to Henry Tudor. A man of many titles, but also a man who spent most of his adult life on the run. Jasper is one of those people who has an epic story, but he really doesn’t get a whole lot of attention and to me, that’s a little sad. I can’t even imagine what was going through his head when he found out that his brother died and that his widow Margaret Beaufort had a son. And that was just in a span of a few months. Now let’s throw in the fact that the time that Jasper was living in was the Wars of the Roses where they basically played musical chairs with the crown of England so one minute his half brother was king of England and the next he was a prisoner. Pretty stressful is putting it mildly. To add insult to injury, Jasper’s nephew Henry, was placed into York households to be raised and to watch over the young boy.

Jasper was always on the run, trying to keep himself and Henry safe. Whether in Wales or in France, where both Jasper and Henry were held as prisoners for very powerful people, Jasper worked hard to keep them alive. You would think that these two would lay low the rest of their lives. You would be wrong. Margaret Beaufort, Henry’s mother, had bigger plans for her son. With Henry VI dead and the Yorks on the throne with Edward IV and then Richard III, Margaret believed that her son was the next rightful king of England. So while Jasper and Henry were overseas in France, Margaret and Jasper orchestrated a coup d’etat. They were able to muster a force for Henry so that he could march against Richard III and on August 22, 1485, their plan worked. Henry was declared king and Jasper went back to his natural place, working for Henry’s good as his right hand man.

As the step brother of a king, I have often wondered why Jasper didn’t seize the crown for himself. This man was full of such intense loyalty for his family and had such an interesting life and yet he chose a life on the sidelines. I want to read biographies on him. Such a dynamic figure in Tudor history.

2.) Henry Tudor (later on Henry VII)

download (1)The man who would become king of England and the patriarch of the Tudor dynasty.  

As stated above, Henry’s life started off rough. Always on the run, he never knew his father and he never really got a chance to know his mother that well until after he became king. That all changed  at Bosworth Field when Richard III was killed and Henry became king. From rags to riches real quick. But if Henry wanted to end the constant calamity that the Wars of the Roses was causing, he needed to marry the right woman. His mother and Elizabeth Woodville arranged a marriage between Henry and Elizabeth of York, joining the houses of York and Lancaster. It was a brilliant move and helped put an end to the fighting. Henry and Elizabeth would have a large family including two sons, Arthur and Henry, thus starting the Tudor dynasty.

Henry is often thought of as being a mizer and a usurper or being a hero, but who was the true Henry? The more I study him, the more I realize how complicated this man was. He was not just a man who took the throne or a hero who started a brand new dynasty, but a family man and someone who knew heartache and love. There is something about Henry that is intriguing. His descendants might get all the attention for all their drama, but Henry Tudor was a man who built a dynasty out of practically nothing. He had to fight for all that he had against numerous pretenders who believed that he was not the rightful king. Overall, he was a survivor who became king.

3.) Richard III

The “black legend”.

Now I know what you are thinking, Richard III is not a Tudor king or someone who King_Richard_III.jpgserved a Tudor king so why is he on this list? To me, Richard has just as much influence in creating the Tudor dynasty as the Tudors themselves. If you think about it, if he didn’t take the throne, then Henry wouldn’t have marched against him at the Battle of Bosworth Field. It was his death that helped start the Tudor dynasty.

I do tend to berate Richard quite a bit since I believe he did kill his nephews, but there is something about this man that keeps me wanting to learn more about him. I may think that he is a murderer but as a king, I am learning that he was pretty decent. Just like Henry Tudor was just a man who survived, so was Richard. The more I study these two, the more I am realizing how similar they were. Even though Richard only ruled for two years, there is still a lot that we do not know about him. Maybe he was a family man just like Henry. His childhood might have shaped the way he ruled England and how he handled his enemies.

Even though there has been quite a bit of research about Richard III in the last 500 years, he is still a mysterious legend and I look forward to learning more about him and his times.

4.) Henry VIII

henry-viii-of-england-1The man. The myth. The legend.

When you hear his name, instantly you think about his multiple marriages and his break from the Roman Catholic Church. But who was Henry VIII the man behind this legend? Henry was second in line to the throne behind his brother Arthur, but when Arthur died shortly after he was married to Katherine of Aragon, the throne passed on to Henry. To say Henry was not prepared for this, nor were his parents, would be the understatement of the year. But he had to carry on in his father’s place when he passed away. The boy who was once a scholar now had to become a king.  It was a tall order to fill and it looked like from the very beginning he was doing a pretty good job.

And then things changed rapidly when his attention moved from his first wife to his second, and so on and so forth. Henry’s major flaws were his wandering eyes and his anger. We think we know everything there is to know about Henry, but do we really? This legendary man seems almost too fanciful to be a real human being. But he was. He was flawed like everyone else. Though he was a king, he was still human.

That is what keeps me fascinated about Henry VIII and his life. How did the king figure compare and contrast to the man who was Henry VIII? Who was Henry VIII really? No matter how much I read about him and his reign, its his human aspects and how he dealt with his wives and children that keep me coming back for more. I believe that there is more to Henry VIII than most people realize.

5.) Robert Dudley

The man who almost married the “Virgin Queen”220px-Robert_Dudley

If you have studied Elizabeth I, you know Robert Dudley. He was the man who stayed by Elizabeth’s side through the good times and the bad, even when he was married not once but twice. His first wife Amy, died when she fell down a flight of stairs, but many believed that Robert had her poisoned so that he could marry the queen. Robert was always close to Elizabeth and some in the court believed that he was too close. But maybe Elizabeth knew this when she suggested that Robert should marry Mary Queen of Scots. This deal, however, fell through when Mary married Lord Darnley.

As Elizabeth grew older, Robert kept trying to propose marriage, but he was become restless. He had affairs with some of Elizabeth’s ladies and would later marry Lettice Knollys, a kinswoman of the Queen. Elizabeth was livid and banished both Robert and Lettice from court. Robert would come back into her good graces; Lettice would not.

Robert loved Elizabeth deeply and many suspect that she loved him back. It is said that after he died, she kept his last letter to her in a chest that she kept close to her. Robert was a man who loved the queen, but he could never have her as his wife.

I have often wondered what Robert felt towards his two wives Amy and Lettice. Did he actually love them or did he use them to get closer to Elizabeth? If he did marry the queen, what would England look like? These are only a few questions that come to my mind when I think of Robert Dudley.

 

These are my top 5 “Tudor” men to study. Who are your top 5?

Sir Thomas More and His Controversial History

When we think of Richard III and the Wars of the Roses, most of us will first think of Sir Thomas More and his “The History of King Richard III”. It is probably one of the most controversial sources about the Wars of the Roses out there and yet historians still use it. The question is why is there such an attraction to this book and why did Thomas More write it? It is my hope with this article to shed some light on this book, on More and what his possible intentions were when he wrote this book. I will be breaking this article into two parts; who Sir Thomas More was and what the book says. It is important to understand More’s background if we are to have any hope in understanding “The History of  King Richard III”. I will only be writing about More’s life up until the time he wrote this book because his later life under Henry VIII and his execution really do not explain the purpose of why More wrote this book.

Sir Thomas More: The Man

So who was Sir Thomas More and why should he matter? Robert Whittington in 1520 says:

More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning; I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? As time requireth a man of marvellous mirth and pastimes; and sometimes of  as sad gravity; a man for all season. (Murphy, 1)

Thomas More was born on February 7, 1478 (Ackroyd, 6) to John More and Agnes Graunger. More’s childhood saw the transition from Edward IV as king  to Richard III and finally to Henry VII. He attended school for a while at St. Anthony’s and then went on to become a page for John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, a man that More deeply admired and who would appear in his History as a wise man. ( Ackroyd, 35)

After working for John Morton, More studied for a little bit at Oxford University. It was at Oxford where he was able to engage in humanism which is studying classic literature through the study of  the languages of antiquity and once that was mastered, using rhetoric to debate certain topics. (Johnson, 34-35) Humanism would come to shape the writings of More and his friend Erasmus of Rotterdam, who’s translation of the New Testament would go against the Vulgate, questioning the authority of the papacy, and influence those like Luther, even those Erasmus was a devout Catholic. ( Elton, 113). To put it another way, “Humanists were concerned with integrating, not separating, the human and the Christian.” (Murphy, 7)

More left Oxford without obtaining a degree and went to New Inn and later he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in London in 1496. Inns were not what we considered inns today; they were where men who interested in law went to study. ( Ackroyd, 53). He was sixteen at the time. Peter Ackroyd explains how More was able to balance both his religious studies with his study of law:

Religion and law were not to be considered separately; they implied one another. That is why law was considered to be perfect in itself, undamaged by the bad judgments of individual practitioners; the same argument, on the merits of the Mass as opposed to the virtue of the priest who offered it, was at the heart of Catholic eucharistic belief. That is why the law was also considered to permanent; it was what was known to be true, withstanding change or decay. (Ackroyd, 63).

This must be understood in order to understand More. To him, using religious terms to describe political events was just another part of daily life. Another part of his daily life was his family; in 1505, he married Jane Colt and they had four children: Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecily, and John.(Murphy, vii). Four years later, in 1509, Henry VIII became king of England and in 1510, More was made Under- Sheriff of London and was elected into Parliament. (Murphy, vii). Three years later, More wrote his “The History of King Richard III”, but he never finished it. (More, 3).  

More’s “The History of King Richard III”

Many argue that More wrote his “ The History of King Richard III” for propaganda of the Tudor Dynasty, especially for Henry VII, however Ackroyd points out something very interesting about their relationship:

It has often been suggested that, at a later date, More professed hostility towards the financial exactions which Henry VII tried to levy upon London. There is no evidence of any open dispute but certainly, at the time of the accession of his so, More composed a sharp attack upon the dead king. (Ackroyd, 84)

If this is the case then what was More’s intentions in writing this book? Before we try to  answer that question, we have to explore the text itself.

“The History of King Richard III” by Sir Thomas More is roughly less than a hundred pages in length. Relatively short for such a controversial text. It should be noted that this text is considered a “history” in the loosest possible sense. In fact, More wasn’t using recent histories from his time to formulate his own history, but being the humanist that he was,  he used histories from Sallust and Tacitus as examples. ( Ackroyd, 161). Another difference from a typical history is that More relies on oral sources for his history. ( Ackroyd, 161). Anyone who studies history knows that oral sources are not always the most reliable source because words can be misconstrued.

More doesn’t start his history of Richard III with say his birth; instead he starts his book with the death of Edward IV. He describes Edward as  “a goodly personage, and very princely to be hold: of heart courageous…” (More, 4). More then goes on to describe the protector of Edward’s children, Richard III, obviously starting with his physical appearances first (More, 8) and then describes who he was as:

…Close and secret, a deep dissimuler, lowly of countenance, arrogant of the heart, outwardly coumpinable where he inwardly hated, not letting to kiss whom he thought to kill; dispiteous and cruel, not for evil will alway, but often for ambition…. Friend and foe was ,such what indifferent….(More, 9)

Not the most courteous way to describe the brother of a king who would be a king himself, but as Sylvester notes, it is not because Richard was a Yorkist king but because he was a “dissimulating tyrant”(More, xv). Now Richard was not Edward’s choice as protector, in fact it was the Queen’s brother Sir Anthony Woodville, “a right honorable man, as valiant of hand as politic in counsel”(More, 15). However, Richard did not like this suggestion and so he had Lord Rivers and his men sent to prison and then later beheaded for “treason”. (More, 21).

Of course in Sir Thomas More’s book, there are no dates, which makes it difficult to pinpoint when these events exactly happened or if they happened at all, including the speeches that More included such as those of the Duke of Buckingham who is trying to convince the former Queen Elizabeth Woodville to hand over her other son to Richard.( More, 29-33). Likewise when Elizabeth refuses to give up her son (More, 35-39) and then later when she reluctantly agrees to do so (More, 41-42). These are very iconic speeches in this book that are full of passion and heartbreak.

So why would More included these either factual or fictitious speeches? Peter Ackroyd gives us an interesting insight into that question:

It is significant, too, that the most elaborate passages of More’s narrative are conceived as speeches; the merits of sanctuary for the royal children are the subject of long debate, for example, while the right of Richard to be king is explained in a number of orations. ‘The History of Richard III’ can be understood, then, as a lesson in the arts of disputation and rhetorical debate similar to those in which More engaged as a schoolboy and a scholar….In his grammatical work More was instructing those who might well be chosen to administer the government of the state: grammar was part of rhetoric, and rhetoric was part of public duty. (Ackroyd, 162-163).

This book is not just a “history” but it is also a lesson in rhetoric for those in government. More may have been a fan of reading history, but his true love was humanism and government, in which rhetoric and grammar were immensely important. It is that love of humanism and government that we see throughout the entire book.

More goes on with Richard’s case on why he should be king. After Richard gets rid of his traitorous former friend Lord Hastings (More, 49-54), he moves on to the important part of his argument; that his brother Edward was already married to a Mistress Shore before he married Elizabeth Woodville.(More, 55-58). Since his brother was already married, that meant that any children that he had with Elizabeth Woodville would be considered bastards, including the young king Edward V. This was damning enough but Richard wanted to make sure that it had legal backing he made a document, that declared the children of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville bastards. (More, 60-61). Richard also asks for Dr. Shaa to preach a sermon against Edward’s children with Elizabeth and the Duke of Buckingham giving his speech on how great Richard is (More, 70-76). This leads to the epic conclusion where Richard “reluctantly” takes the throne since he is the obvious choice to take crown since his brother’s heirs were declared bastards. Richard III has become King of England.

But there is one more piece to the puzzle. What happened to the young king and his brother? More leaves us questioning what happened to them because he speaks of rumors of  John Green, Sir Robert Brackenbury, the Constable of the Tower, Sir James Tyrell and John Dighton being ordered by Richard III to kill the brothers.(More, 85-90). One has to wonder if this is a credible theory or just rhetoric since More only heard this theory and the fact that there is no written evidence. More does not go into any more detail about this and “ends” the book with Bishop Morton trying to convince Richard III to lead the country with wisdom. (Ackroyd, 35). This is a very unusual ending for someone who is supposed to be writing the book as propaganda for the Tudor dynasty.

Conclusion

So knowing that More was writing this as more of an exercise on humanism and did not finish this book, how should we approach “The History of King Richard III”? I don’t believe that we should merely toss it out. It was not propaganda for the Tudor dynasty since it was written in 1513, before More’s political career really took off. The speeches can be seen as examples of rhetoric. There are some historical facts like the death of Lord Hastings and Lord Rivers, Elizabeth Woodville handing over her son to Richard, and legal document as well as Dr. Shaa’s sermon. Those match up with other sources. As for Mistress Shore and the murder of the princes of the tower, it’s a bit harder to prove since we do not have actual paper evidence to support either theory.

Overall I think More’s history should be understood as a take on history from a humanistic lens. It’s an important piece to read because some of the facts in this piece are in fact true and it gives us an interesting view into what a Tudor scholar thought about those who came immediately before the Tudors. “The History of King Richard III” by Sir Thomas More is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in the Wars of the Roses, a darker view on Richard III, or on how humanism could be applied in a written sense. I  highly recommend that you read this book.

Want to Learn More about More? (Sources)

Ackroyd, Peter, and Diarmaid MacCulloch. The Life of Thomas More. London: Folio Society, 2017.

Elton, G. R. England Under the Tudors. London: Methuen, 1956.

Johnson, Paul. The Renaissance: A Short History. Bridgewater, NJ: Distributed by Paw Prints/Baker & Taylor, 2008.

More, Thomas. The History of King Richard III. Edited by Richard S. Sylvester. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.

Murphy, Anne. Thomas More. Liguori, MO: Triumph Books, 1997.

 

Book Review: “First of the Tudors” by Joanna Hickson

30646371Historical fiction has always been a genre that I have had a love/hate relationship with. I was a big fan of the genre for a while and I would read every book I could get my hands on about the Tudors, but then I realized that what the authors were writing was not always true to the historical facts. As I moved away from the fictional genre into the historically academic genre, I found myself looking at historical fiction with a more critical lens. Historical fiction became less entertaining for me the more I learned about the people behind the stories. I told myself that I was not going to read another historical fiction book because they were not historically accurate. That was until I read “ First of the Tudors” by Joanna Hickson.

Now when I read the title of this book, my first thought was that it was either going to be about Owen Tudor and how he met Catherine of Valois or Henry Tudor and about how he came to the throne. While both were mentioned in this book, the true hero of “The First of the Tudors” is Jasper Tudor, the son of Owen Tudor and the uncle of Henry Tudor. To me, Jasper Tudor was always the unsung hero of the Tudor dynasty. I mean he kept Henry safe for all those years in exile while his mother Margaret Beaufort was working on a political solution to keep her son safe. He was an outlaw and in a sense a kingmaker.

However, Joanna Hickson decided to add her own twist to the story. In records of the nursery of Henry VIII, Margaret Beaufort brought in a woman named Jane Hywel to take care of the royal children. It would seem very odd that Margaret Beaufort would bring a woman of unknown origins into her son’s household to take care of his children, so how did Margaret know about Jane? In this book, Hickson puts out the idea that Jane was a cousin of Jasper and that he was the one who brought Jane into Margaret’s household to help with the birth of Henry Tudor and to help raise him.  Of course being historical fiction, there is an element of romance between Jasper and Jane that stretches throughout the entire first half of the Wars of the Roses (1455-1470).

Even though Jasper Tudor did marry Catherine Woodville in 1485, I found that the idea of Jasper having a wife or at least a mistress before this marriage a possibility. The idea of Jane adds a different level of intrigue to Jasper’s life, one that many might not expect; that while he was in exile and was fighting for his king and his nephew that he fell in love.

Hickson does an excellent job to navigate the intriguing details of Jasper’s life, both real and fictional. I found myself not caring about the historical facts as much with this book. I couldn’t put this book down. Hickson literally transported me into the world of Jasper and Jane with how she wrote this book. There was a lot of drama and romance mixed with historical facts that kept me wanting more. This was a page turner for sure. It made me re-evaluate reading more historical fiction in the future.  If you want a good historical fiction book about Jasper Tudor and his role in the Wars of the Roses, I highly recommend “ First of the Tudors” by Joanna Hickson.

“Whitewashing” History: Good Idea or Something to be Avoided?

Herodotus, the father of the study of history, once said that the study of history was used “to preserve the memory of the past by putting on record the astonishing achievements both of our own and of other peoples.”(Herodotus, 41). As we study the past, we tend to make our own opinions about what we study and the people who made these “achievements” possible. Unfortunately, there is a trend within the study of history of making historical figures look either perfect (whitewashing) or pure evil (what I will refer to as blackening). So since these are trends in history, are they good or bad?

 

There are those in Tudor history who have been either whitewashed or blackened throughout time; Henry VII, Henry VIII, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and  the most famous example of this is Richard III. We will use Richard III as an example on how “white washing” and “blackening” works.

 

A lot of people nowadays, specifically the Richard III Society, believe that Richard III had his name tarnished by men like Thomas More and Edward Hall. Thomas More is labeled as the man who ruined Richard’s reputation by stating that Richard was “malicious, wrathful, envious, and from afore his birth, ever forward”( Sylvester, 8). However, More was not the only one who blackened Richard’s name as we see with a quote from Hall:

Behold yonder Richard, tyrant worse than Nero, for he has not only murdered his nephew, bastardized his noble brothers and defamed the womb of his virtuous mother, but also employed all the means he could invent to carnally know his own niece under the pretence of a cloaked matrimony….(Dockray, 139).

 

If you read both of these accounts, you can see where the Richard III Society is coming from, yet they argue for a more whitewashed version of Richard III, that he was a victim of propaganda against him. They acknowledge the virtues and ignore the faults; the Tudor historians, it can be argued, do the exact opposite. So where’s the truth? I believe that a contemporary of Horace Walpole named William Hutton, an English poet and historian puts this discussion of Richard’s character into perspective:

 

Richard the Third, of all the English monarchs, bears the greatest contrariety of character….Some few have conferred on him almost angelic excellence, have clouded his errors and blazoned every virtue that could adorn a man. Others, as if only extremes could prevail, present him in the blackest dye; his thoughts were evil, and that continually, and his actions diabolical; the most degraded mind inhabited the most deformed body… (Dockray, 149).

 

Hutton is pointing out that Richard is either all good or all bad, according historians. This seems to be a common theme with historians about any historical figure. Henry VII is either described by Polydore Vergil in his book “Angelica Historia” as “shrewd and prudent”(Ellis, 226) or as Jack Lander writes, “an inexperienced political adventurer; an almost pathetic, rootless exile, in whom the powerful and rich could repose little, if any, confidence.”(Dockray, 176).

 

And it’s not just these two figures in Tudor history that  are seen as being either “white washed” or “blackened”. Henry VIII is viewed as the king who had six wives and the king who split from the Catholic Church, but we don’t see his intellectual side. Mary I is known as “Bloody Mary” for burning Protestants, but we never really understand why she was so strong in her faith. We think of Elizabeth I as a glorious  virgin ruler but we forget about how cruel she could be towards those who were around her. Thomas “The Admiral” Seymour is viewed as a villain who only wanted power, but is there more to his story?

 

These were complex people and yet we see them through either a “white washed” or “blackened” lense. This is the danger of this movement. We don’t see these people as “human” but rather almost like fictional heroes or villains. That’s just the thing. We have to realize that these people were humans and that they were flawed. They have elements of both good and evil inside of them. No one is perfect, yet we tend to think of historical figures at perfect.

 

As historians, amateur or professional, we have a responsibility to show both sides of a historical figure, the good and the bad. Sure we all have our favorite people to study in history and we want to think the best about them but we also have to tell the truth about them. What’s the point about studying the past if we only report about one side of the story? We read about our favorite people from multiple historians and multiple sources to find out what they were really like.

 

We don’t want others to label us so why do we label historical figures? We are humans, just like the kings and queens of the past, so why can’t we see their vices and virtues? Why do we “whitewash” or “blacken” human beings who lived hundreds of years ago?

 

If we “whitewash” or “blacken” a historical figure, we don’t get to see what made them who they are. We don’t see both the mistakes and the triumphs; we only see one or the other. “Whitewashing” and “blackening” history are ideas that should be avoided because we don’t see the full story of the people who came before us. If we let these ideas continue, we lose part of history. We have to tell both sides, the good and the bad because that is what makes us human. We are not perfect and neither were those who came before us.

 

Sources

 

Dockray, Keith. William Shakespeare, the Wars of the Roses and the Historians.      Charleston, SC: Tempus Publishing INC, 2002.

Ellis, Sir Henry. Three Books of Polydre Vergil’s English History, Compromising the Reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. London: Camden Society, 1844.

Herodotus. Herodotus: The Histories. New York: Penguin, 1954.

Sylvester, Richard S. St. Thomas More: The History of King Richard III and Selections from the English and Latin Poems. London: Yale University Press, 1976.

 

Book Review: “Edward VI: The Lost King of England” by Chris Skidmore

51uPYqC767L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_When we think of the Tudor rulers, we think of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I. However, there was another king who ruled for only five years and was Henry VIII’s only legitimate male heir, Edward VI. Most people think that Edward was a mere pawn of his government officials but is that accurate? Chris Skidmore tackles that question of who was the real Edward VI in his book “Edward VI: The Lost King of England”.

We all know the story of how Henry VIII wanted a male heir and how Henry dealt with his wives, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, when they couldn’t produce male heirs. It was Jane Seymour who was able to give birth to Henry’s heir Edward on October 12, 1537, although she died shortly after. From the beginning of his young life, Edward was coddled and his education was carefully considered. Edward was living a comfortable life of a prince, but that all changed when on January 28, 1547, Henry VIII died and at the tender age of nine. Chris Skidmore put this young king’s life into perspective:

The legacy of Edward’s reign is one of the most exciting political histories of the Tudor age, from which few appeared unscathed. His untimely death cut short a life that, forged in the remarkable political circumstance of his childhood, would have left us with a very different Tudor England than that fashioned under the female monarchies of Mary and Elizabeth (page 9)

Some of the few men who were in charge of Edward’s well-being while he was making the transition from boy to king were Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset, Edward’s maternal uncle, John Dudley Duke of Northumberland, and John Cheke, Edward’s tutor.  Edward Seymour was the Lord Protector and the older brother of the somewhat infamous Thomas Seymour. Edward Seymour and John Dudley would later come to hate each other and most of Edward’s short reign consisted of the two men fighting each other for the right to help Edward run the kingdom, as well as fight rebellions that would spring up to try and throw the country into chaos.

John Cheke, as Edward’s tutor, taught the young king about the Protestant faith that was mw00459making a foothold in England. Most people think that Henry VIII was the one who helped bring the Protestant faith to England when he broke away from Rome. Henry VIII might of helped get the reform started, but Edward VI was the one who took the Protestant movement and was willing to make it known throughout England, even if it meant facing against his most formidable foe, his half-sister Mary who was a devout Catholic.

This was the world that King Edward VI lived in until he died on July 6, 1553 at the age of fifteen. Even after he died, he threw chaos into the succession that his father planned out by placing his cousin Lady Jane Grey on the throne instead of Mary. It did not last long but the six day reign of Lady Jane Grey was Edward’s choice and his alone. By the end of his life, Edward was becoming his own man and no one would stand in his way.

In “Edward VI: The Lost King of England”, Chris Skidmore brings the reader into this complex world of this young king both inside his court and what the laws he enacted did to the common people. Skidmore illuminates this once forgotten king whose life was cut short by tuberculosis and shows us how much of a reformer king he truly was. Edward may have been young but he was an intellectual who made up his mind just like his father. This book gives us a different view of religion and politics during this time. Edward VI will never be lost or forgotten after this book.