Book Review: “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir

911GmwfEpdLThe Wars of the Roses was a series of wars from 1455 until 1487 for the throne of England. It is traditionally taught that it was between the houses of York and Lancaster, yet there were a lot more players involved than these two families. In fact the conflict started much earlier with the children of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. The Lancasters were the descendants of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche of Lancaster while the Yorks were descendants of Edmund of Langley Duke of York. This was a series over the question of who had the strongest claim to the throne. This question and the series of wars that would try to answer it is explored in depth in Alison Weir’s book “The Wars of the Roses”.

Alison Weir explains the struggle of studying this time period and what she is trying to accomplish in her book:

Sources for this period are meagre and often ambiguous, yet much research has been done over the last hundred years to illuminate a little for us what is often described as the twilight world of the fifteenth century. Many misconceptions have been swept away, yet even so the dynastic conflict still confuses many. My aim has been throughout to eliminate that confusion and try to present the story in chronological sequence, clarifying the problems of the royal succession in an age in which no certain rules of inheritance applied. I have also tried to bring the world of the fifteenth century to life by introducing as much contemporary detail as space permits, in order to make the subject relevant to any read, academic or otherwise. Chiefly, however, I have tried to re-tell an astonishing and often grim story of power struggles in high places that involved some of the most charismatic figures in English history. (Weir, xix).

Weir begins her book by explaining  what England in the fifteenth century was like before diving into the history of Edward III and the Plantagenets in the late 1300s. This may seem a little complex since there were many sons of Edward III, but the throne first went to Richard II, but when he was forced to abdicate, the throne went to Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. He was the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. John of Gaunt and his third wife Katherine Swynford had children who would become known as the Beauforts. They would become important later on.

Henry IV’s son would become Henry V who was married to Katherine of Valois. When Henry V died, their son Henry VI became king; he was a baby. His mother would remarry a Welsh man named Owen Tudor and they would have a few children, including Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Henry VI would marry Margaret of Anjou. Richard Earl of Cambridge, the son of Edmund of Langley, would have a son with his wife Anne Mortimer named Richard Plantagenet Duke of York. He would marry the “Rose of Raby” Cecily Neville and they would be the parents of Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

This all may seem a bit complex, but it is important to understand how all of the players in the Wars of the Roses were connected. Henry VI was a weak king who was known for his madness and so someone had to lead the government. Richard Duke of York believed that he should have been Lord Protector, however Margaret of Anjou and her party at court had other ideas. The beginning of this conflict was a battle between court factions, but eventually it escalated rather quickly into a full on rebellion by Richard Duke of York. This was now a battle between the Yorks and the Lancasters. When Richard Duke of York died at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460, his son Edward took on the Yorkist cause and would become king after the battle of Towton on March 29, 1461, the bloodiest battle on English soil. After Towton, it was a battle between Edward IV and those who supported Henry VI, until 1471 when Edward IV ultimately won, thus ending the conflict between the Yorks and the Lancasters.

Weir chooses to end her book here at 1471 even though the Wars of the Roses will pick back up with the death of Edward IV in 1483 when his brother Richard becomes Richard III. Weir truly brought this time period to life. I have been studying the Wars of the Roses for a few years now and I have to say this book really simplified this complex family struggle in a way that makes sense. I love this book and I have read it several times. If you really want a great book that explains the causes of the Wars of the Roses, I highly recommend this book, “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir. It is a fantastic introduction to this tumultuous time period.

Book Review: “Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy” by Tony Riches

Medieval knightOwen Tudor, the second husband of Catherine of Valois and the father of Edmund and Jasper Tudor. His affair with Catherine changed English history forever, yet not much is known about his past before he met Catherine. Was he married before  he met Catherine and after she died? What must have been like for him as the Wars of the Roses began to take hold of England and everything he worked hard for began to fade away. The man who started as a Welsh servant turned step- father to King Henry VI and the grandfather of King Henry VII, the patriarch of the Tudor Dynasty, this is the protagonist in Tony Riches’ book, “Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy”.

Tony Riches explains his fascination with Owen Tudor:

I was born near Pembroke Castle and recently visited the small room where the thirteen- year old Margaret Beaufort gave birth to Henry Tudor. I also stood on the pebble beach at Mill Bay near Milford Haven, imagining how Jasper Tudor would have felt as he approached with Henry and his mercenary army to ride to Bosworth- and  change history. These experiences made me wonder about Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who began this fascinating dynasty. I felt a responsibility to research his story in as much detail as possible and try to sort out the myths from the facts. There are huge gaps in the historical records, which only historical fiction can help to fill. As well as there being no surviving record of Owen’s marriage, no  reliable image of him exists….I would like to remember Owen , not as a victim of the Wars of the Roses, but as an adventurer, a risk- taker, a man who lived his life to the full and made his mark on the world through his descendants. (Riches, 168).

Tony Riches starts his book with Owen’s entrance into Catherine of Valois’ household as the Keeper of her Wardrobe after the death of her first husband, Henry V. Owen tries to focus on his job, and not on Catherine, but he cannot help it. He loves Catherine and she loves him. They decide to marry in secret and they have 3 boys; Edmund, Jasper, and a third son who joined the church. The happiness that Catherine and Owen had living in the countryside would not last long. Catherine dies shortly after giving birth to a daughter and their secret relationship is revealed. Owen is thrown in jail while his sons Edmund and Jasper are raised to be the step-brothers of King Henry VI.

Eventually, Owen is released and is allowed to live a good life as a commander in France while his sons are given titles and land. Owen helps escort Margaret of Anjou to England to marry Henry VI and he helps walk his daughter in law Margaret Beaufort down the aisle. Unfortunately, the wheel of fortune is always turning and the happiness is soon replaced with tragedy yet again. Edmund Tudor dies shortly before the birth of his son Henry Tudor and the Wars of the Roses tears the country apart. Owen is killed before he could see his family triumph as the new dynasty in England.

This is the story of Owen Tudor. I found Tony Riches’ book “Owen” a thrilling read. I have always been fascinated by the life of Owen Tudor and his sons and Tony Riches was able to write a story that made me want to study more about Owen Tudor and his life. Riches was able to combine the historical facts that we know about Owen with fictitious elements, including two other women that Owen fell in love with and a friend named Nathaniel, into a cohesive and engaging book. I did not want to stop reading this book. This was my first time reading a book by Tony Riches and I loved it. His writing style is engaging and very easy to read. I look forward to reading more books by him in the future.  I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Owen Tudor and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.

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?

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.