Book Review: “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands” by Dan Jones

43899574The story of the Crusades has been told in many different ways from numerous directions. The epic conflict between Christianity and Islam for the Holy Lands that went on for centuries that has lived in infamy. Many questions have arisen as historians try to separate facts from the myths surrounding this topic. How and why did it start? Why did it continue to go on for so long? Was there really a winner in this conflict? Who were the people who defined this conflict? Dan Jones has taken on the challenge of writing a comprehensive history of this conflict and the people who fought during this time in his latest book, “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands”.

I wanted to read this book since the day that it was announced. I did not know a whole lot about the Crusades and what I did know about this time was from quick overviews from history classes that I took while in school. I wanted a book that told the story of the Crusades from all sides to fully understand this struggle as a whole. This book delivered everything that I wanted and more.

Like the title suggests, Jones’s focus is more on the people, the crusaders, and how their decisions led to the numerous crusades from 1099 until 1492 when the Reconquista ended. But what separates this book from other books about the Crusades is that he doesn’t focus on one group of people, his focus is on multiple stories to paint a complex story of the time. Jones includes the tales of the dynamic and colorful people we think of when we study the crusades; Alexios I Komnenos, Anna Komnene, Pope Urban II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, Simon de Montfort, Saladin, Henry Bolingbroke, and many others. However, the story of the crusades was not limited to royalty, generals and popes. Jones includes the tales of the lowly monks who preached for fellow Christians to defend the Holy Lands, scholars and poets who told the tales of those who fought, servants and peasants who fought for their homes and their religions.

This particular subject may feel like a daunting challenge to tackle, but this book is so easy to understand. With a more human-centric approach, Jones is able to present the history of the Crusades in a rather enlightening way. It was not just a series of wars about religion, Christianity versus Islam or, in some cases, against pagan groups. In fact, it was a lot more complicated. They were wars about politics, monetary gains, and to regain lands from other groups of people.

I was blown away with how truly remarkable this book was to read. Jones’s combination of a plethora of facts with an engaging and comprehensive writing style brought the Crusades back to life. There were so many people who I was introduced to by reading this book that I really want to study more in the future. “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands” by Dan Jones was an absolute delight to read. If you want an excellent book that gives you a comprehensive look at the Crusades and the Crusaders, no matter if you are a novice or someone who has studied this period before, I highly recommend you read this book.

Book Review: “The Peasants’ Revolting…Crimes” by Terry Deary

47135242In history, we tend to look at people based on their class. There are the upper class (royalty and nobility), the middle class, and the underclasses (peasants). Most of the focus tends to be on the deeds of the upper and middle classes, yet the underclasses had there own struggles, some of which resulted in them committing crimes. What was life like for the criminals of the underclasses? What type of crimes did they commit and what sort of punishments did they suffer once they were caught? Terry Deary decided to explore the crimes of the British peasants throughout history, in his own humorous way, in his latest book, “The Peasants’ Revolting….Crimes”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The description sounded really intriguing and I had never read a book by Terry Deary, so I decided to give it a try.

For those who are not familiar with Terry Deary, he is the author of a popular UK book series for kids about history called, “Horrible Histories”, a funny look at the past to get kids interested in historical figures. I will admit that I had heard people mention “Horrible Histories” and the video series, but I was not sure what to expect when it came to Deary’s writing style. I don’t normally read humourous history books because I love diving large biographies that contain minute details of the lives of historical figures, but I found myself enjoying this entertaining, yet rather unusual, history book.

This book was a delight to dive into. Deary breaks down his book by exploring the underclasses, from the nefarious Normans and the terrible Tudors to the vivacious Victorians and everyone in between. He included tales of arsonists, murderers, pirates, hooligans, beggars, rioters, and more to give readers a full view of crimes committed by those who were part of the underclasses. The topics that Deary discusses in this book can be rather dark and macabre, but it doesn’t have a dark tone to it. Instead, Deary infuses his own sense of humor that makes reading about these horrific crimes enjoyable. There were points while I was reading that I actually laughed out loud, but other points the humor did fall flat for me because it dealt with elements of living in the UK that I didn’t understand.

Deary does jump around a lot when it comes to the chronological order of this book, which did bother me a tad bit because I do prefer reading a historical book in chronological order. Yet Deary does get away with this since it is a book that acts like a comedy sketch instead of a serious study in the crimes of the underclasses. What I did wish Deary would have included in his book is a list of resources on the crimes that he mentioned so that those who were curious could look into the trials themselves, to help promote independent historical studies of the subjects.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Deary combined the study of history with humor to create a light-hearted and fun experience for anyone interested in history. Every once in awhile, it is good to take a break from serious historical studies and read something for fun. If you want a nice, casual read that explores the lives and crimes of peasants, I highly recommend you read, “The Peasants’ Revolting…Crimes” by Terry Deary.

Book Review: “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage

34411961The 16th century was filled with extremely strong women who went on to shape European and world history forever. This was true for England and Scotland, two countries whose stories were intertwined by powerful women. The women who ruled these two countries during this time were women that those who study this time period know about; Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. There was one woman who knew all four of these women and lived for over 80 years: Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury. The story of these five women is told in Jill Armitage’s book, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I am always interested in learning how different people in the 16th century interacted with one another, plus I didn’t know a whole lot about Bess of Hardwick and I wanted to learn more about her.

Armitage begins her book by exploring Bess of Hardwick’s family and how they rose in power so that Bess could serve royalty. It was interesting to learn about her family and the four husbands that Bess married throughout her life: Robert Barlow, Sir William Cavendish, Sir William St. Loe, and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. Bess also had numerous children and grandchildren who would go to be influential in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. I really wish Armitage had included family trees of the different families that were involved in her book to make it easier for the readers to understand the connections, which are vital for the stories mentioned in this particular book.

The story of Bess of Hardwick’s life begins at the height of the reign of the Tudor when Henry VIII is on the throne and ends with the beginning of the Stuarts Dynasty so Armitage does include the lives of the women who shaped these times. Armitage begins with how Henry VII and Henry VIII came to the throne, marching swiftly through the six wives of Henry VIII until reaching the reign of Henry VIII’s son King Edward VI. It is here where the pace of the book slows down a bit and we dive into the lives of the Grey family and how Bess of Hardwick knew them and how the family’s legacy came to an abrupt end with the execution of Lady Jane Grey. Armitage then explores the reigns of Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots and how Bess of Hardwick connects all three vivacious women.

Here is where I have another problem with this particular book; it is too short (less than 300 pages) when discussing all the history that Armitage has in it. Some parts felt like a review and other parts felt like facts were flying and she didn’t go into enough detail to explain it all. I feel like Armitage was a bit ambitious for the idea of this book and that if she wrote a bit more, the book would have flowed a lot better than it did.

Overall, I found this book rather interesting and relatively easy to understand. Armitage has a writing style that is readable. This is a great book for those who are being introduced to the Tudor dynasty, but for those who know about this time period, it feels like a review. If you are interested in learning about the connection between these five women, I recommend you read, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage.

Movie Review: Downton Abbey

MV5BMmQxNGRkMjYtZTAyMy00MDUyLThiNmYtODI1NTkyNmI0ZTNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjM4NTM5NDY@._V1_.jpgHave you ever wondered what your favorite television series would be like on the big screen? To have all your favorite characters go on new adventures, even after the series had ended. However, you are worried that something will get lost once the series moves to the film adaptation. I know I was worried about it before I went to see Downton Abbey the movie. 

Now, I know what you are thinking. Why is she talking about Downton Abbey, which takes place in the 1920s when this blog is all about the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors? Don’t worry, this is a one-time thing.  

Downton Abbey holds a special place in my heart. It is really the first series that I really felt that I could binge and it never gets old for me. It feels magical every time I watch it. From the clothes and the gorgeous Highclere Castle to the complex characters that you fall in love with, Downton Abbey is a series that stands the test of time.  

 I was worried that the film was not going to have the same magic as the series, but  Downton Abbey blew my expectations out of the water.

 Downton Abbey plays host to King George V and Queen Mary as they travel across the country, which means a lot of drama and oh so much stress. All of the original cast is back (which is amazing) with brand new royals and royal servants. With all of these regal characters, how will Downton Abbey, both upstairs and downstairs, deal with the new protocols and procedures fit for a king? 

The character interactions during the different twists and turns during this film feels like you never left Downton Abbey. They are still brilliantly witty, especially Dame Maggie Smith who plays Violet Crawley Dowager Countess of Grantham, and they truly care about the honor of the Crawley family and the honor of Downton Abbey. With romances and intrigue abound, Downton Abbey never disappoints. 

 I did have a few issues with the movie. I wanted to see more of the young kids. They were in the background a lot, but I wanted to see them interact more. I also wanted to see more of Robert and Cora Crawley, played by Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern respectfully. Finally, I wanted the interactions between Mary and Edith Crawley, played by Michelle Dockery and Laura Carmichael (who many might recognize as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury in The Spanish Princess), to be more like they were in the past. In a word, they were a bit too “nice” to each other.

Overall, I loved Downton Abbey. It felt like reuniting with old friends and making new ones. I really hope that they make either a sequel movie or another season after this movie. If you are a fan of the Downton Abbey series, you will thoroughly enjoy Downton Abbey. 

 

Book Review: “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence

61lJBy4FGrL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I, is one of the unique characters of the Tudor era. She was the sister of one of the king’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn, which she could have been, but Henry wanted Anne as his queen. Unfortunately, he was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. It is Henry’s divorce to Catherine and his relationship with Anne, the rise and fall, is what many people look at, but there is more to Anne’s story than just her life with Henry. What was Anne’s life really like and what really caused her fall? These are just a few questions that Amy Licence tackles in her latest biography, “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire.”

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review. I haven’t read many biographies about Anne Boleyn so this was a unique experience.

In her introduction, Amy Licence explains her approach to Anne’s life and why she is such an interesting figure to study:

Anne’s is very much a Tudor story, a narrative that balances on the cusp of old and new, equally informed by both. It has been told many times before, but what this version aims to offer afresh is a sense of continuity with earlier Boleyn generations. She was born into an ambitious dynasty, with each generation taking a step forward in terms of career and martial advancements…. That she was the most successful Boleyn cannot be disentangled from her gender and class. By the definitions of her time, Anne was an overreacher in more than one sense. She was a woman, born to be a wife, but not that of the king. She was an aristocrat, descended from the influential Howards, observing but not trained in the demands of queenship. She transcended boundaries of expected behaviour on both counts, which was both her most remarkable achievement and created her two areas of greatest vulnerability. This account of Anne’s life prioritises her relationship with the defining issues of gender and class, tracing their role in her rise and fall. (Licence, 8).

Licence begins her biography by going back to the origins of the Boleyn family, with Anne’s ancestor, Geoffrey Boleyn. Geoffrey came from very humble beginnings, but he worked hard and rose to become the Lord Mayor of London, as well as a knight. His descendants continued this tradition of working hard, which Licence takes the time to explain thoroughly so that the reader can understand that they were not necessarily overreachers; they were hard workers. This background information is extremely helpful to understand the Boleyn family as a whole.

The main focus of Licence’s book is  Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII, her husband. By including the letters between Anne and Henry, the reader can see how the relationship started and how their relationship ended in a dramatic fashion. Henry was the one who really took control of the relationship.  Anne may have learned how to be a strong woman from working in the French court, but she was no match for Henry VIII.

Although there have been many biographies about Anne Boleyn, this one stands out because Anne is seen in more of a sympathetic light. Licence combines a plethora of details with a writing style that is easy to understand to bring Anne out of the dark side of history. I learned so much about a queen I thought I knew.“Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence was an absolute delight to read. It is a real page-turner and is a must for anyone who loves to read about the Tudors, the wives of Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn.

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.