Book Review: “Six Tudor Queens- Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen” by Alison Weir

9781472227713Henry VIII’s wives were some of the most fascinating women of the Tudor Dynasty.  Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, the mother of Mary I, and the first wife Henry divorced. Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth I and the first English queen to be executed. Anne of Cleves, the wife Henry did not like and divorced. Katherine Howard, the second wife Henry executed, and Katherine Parr, the wife who outlived Henry. All of these women were unique, however, there was only one who gave Henry the son that he so desperately desired. Her name was Jane Seymour. Her death was well documented since she died shortly after giving birth to Edward, yet we really don’t know who she was or what her life was like. Alison Weir decides to explore Jane’s life in her third book of the Six Tudor Queens series, “Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen”.

So what makes Jane such a mystery? In her author’s note, Alison Weir explains what we know about Jane and why she was a challenge to write about:

Jane Seymour’s career spanned three of the most tumultuous years in England’s history. She was at the centre of the turbulent and dramatic events that marked the Reformation, a witness to the fall of Anne Boleyn, and an adherent of the of traditional religion at a time when seismic changes were taking place in the English Church. Had she left behind letters giving insights into her views on these events, we would know much more about the role she played in them- but she didn’t and therefore she remains an enigma. Historians endlessly debate whether or not Jane was the demure and virtuous willing instrument of an ambitious family and an ardent and powerful king; or whether she was as ambitious as her relations and played a proactive part in bringing down the Queen she served. It is impossible, given the paucity of the evidence, to reach a conclusion. And yet a novelist approaching Jane Seymour must opt for one view or the other. For me, this posed a challenge, which set me poring once more over the historical evidence on which this book is closely based, looking for clues as to how to portray her. (Weir, 503).

Weir introduces us to Jane and the Seymour family on the wedding day of her eldest brother Edward to Catherine Fillol. This marriage was doomed to fail as there was a huge scandal that rocked the Seymour family to its core. During this time, at least according to Weir’s novel, Jane was contemplating becoming a nun, but alas, it was not the lifestyle for her. Jane would eventually move to the court of Katherine of Aragon to work for the Queen. Jane is content with her new life inside the royal court, but that all changes when Anne Boleyn starts to have a relationship with Henry VIII.

Jane was not the biggest fan of Anne Boleyn and she stayed with Katherine of Aragon for as long as she could. Eventually, Jane made her way into the court of Anne Boleyn and fell in love with Henry VIII. Jane sees a softer side of Henry, a side that is not often portrayed. As Anne fell from favor, Jane rose to become the next wife and queen of Henry VIII. It is Anne’s death that haunts Jane as she questions whether she did the right thing falling in love for the King. Jane is a strong and loving character who cares about her family, Henry and the Catholic Church. She works hard to bring Mary, Katherine of Aragon’s daughter, back to her father’s good side, as well as restoring the monasteries that Henry was destroying. Jane’s love and her courage to do what was right for her country and those who were close to her defined her life.

This third book in the “Six Tudor Queens” series is an absolute delight to read. It continues the trend that the first two books set, one of opening the readers’ eyes to another side of Henry VIII’s queens. Alison Weir’s Jane Seymour is full of strength and love for others that you can’t help but like her character. Weir combines events that happened with how Jane might have reacted to create a strong story full of love and heartache. Her life and her beloved son changed England forever. If you want a fascinating and complex story of Jane Seymour’s short life, I highly recommend you read the third book of the “Six Tudor Queens” series by Alison Weir, “Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen.” It is an absolutely eye-opening novel.

Book Review: “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” by Adrienne Dillard

51a-rKfpABL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The rise and fall of the Boleyns have been something that has fascinated those who study the Tudor dynasty for centuries. We often view these series of events from the immediate Boleyn family, but what might it have been like for someone who was married to a Boleyn, like Jane Parker Boleyn, the wife of George Boleyn? Jane is often portrayed in literature as a woman who had a tumultuous marriage who sold out her husband when she was interrogated, someone who helped Katherine Howard with her secret liaisons behind Henry VIII’s back, and a woman who suffered from mental illness while in prison. If you take a look at Jane Boleyn’s life from this lens, she sounds like a troubled woman, but what if there was a different side to her? What if she was a good person who loved her husband and his family? That is the Jane Boleyn that Adrienne Dillard wanted to portray in her latest book, “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn”.

Adrienne Dillard explains how she views Jane Boleyn and why she chose to write this particular story:

When the traces of Jane’s humanity are washed away, it’s easy for later generations to demonize her actions. What could have been perfectly innocent behaviour is seen through the prism of her later behaviour and ultimate ending: death as a traitor to the crown. It is my goal in writing this novel to give Jane some of that humanity back. I want to put a face to a name that has been blackened by assumption for the last five centuries. I want to remind people that Jane wasn’t some spectre lurking in the corner, plotting the downfall of others. She was a sister, a daughter, a wife, a friend, and a loyal servant. She had hopes and dreams. She had flaws and quirks. And to further muddy the waters, we have to consider her mental state. The choices she made may be hard to understand now, but at the moment that she made them, they made sense to her. (Dillard, 350).

Dillard structures her story as a parallel narrative, which is unique and effective when telling Jane’s story as it allows the reader to see the parallels between what happened to the Boleyns during their fall and Jane’s own fall. We are first introduced to Jane as she enters the Tower of London, awaiting her sentence after being involved with Katherine Howard. While Jane is in the Tower, she has flashbacks to her time with Anne and George Boleyn. Jane’s father wanted her to marry well and so he chose George Boleyn as her husband. To say that Jane was reluctant to marry such a man was an understatement, but as their story progressed, George and Jane grew to love each other, even through the countless miscarriages that Jane suffered.

Jane acts as a perfect “fly on the wall” character as she is a servant in the court of many of Henry VIII’s wives. She cares for not only her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, but for Katherine of Aragon and it is rather interesting to read how Jane viewed this complex time in English history known as “The Great Matter”. Another great matter discussed throughout this novel is how religion was changing with new, radical theological ideas. Though we are not sure where Jane exactly stood on these issues, it is interesting to see how she might have responded to them.

Adrienne Dillard brought Jane Boleyn’s story from the shadows and illuminates it. By showing Jane as a loving and caring wife, daughter, servant, and friend, Dillard gives her readers a different perspective towards this captivating woman who suffered from mental illness. I did not know much about Jane’s story before reading this novel, but now I want to know more about her. If you want an engaging and thought-provoking novel about Jane Boleyn and the Boleyns, I highly recommend, “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” by Adrienne Dillard.

Book Review: “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” By Margaret George

ZZZ032590-BKHenry VIII is one of the most notorious kings who ever ruled England. He had six wives, two of which were executed, three legitimate children who would change England forever, and  he decided to break from Rome and create his own church. Henry was such a larger than life figure, yet when it comes to historical fiction, he tends to play a smaller part in books about his six wives and is often portrayed as a villain. Henry doesn’t get to have his own voice, in historical fiction, on some of the most important parts in his life, so Margaret George decided to give him one in her book, “The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers,” to explain what could have been going on in his mind during these pivotal moments.

What makes Margaret George’s book unique is the addition of Will Somers, Henry’s fool, who acts as a commentator, and in some cases, acts as the voice of reason after the fact. Will Somers explains some of the most complex issues during Henry’s reign, including what it meant to be king:

To be a King is to be un-ordinary, extraordinary: because we will have it so, we demand it, as we demand our carpenters make smooth-sliding drawers. Much of Henry’s behaviour is incomprehensible if judged as the actions of an ordinary man; as King, it appears in a different light. If a man is consciously trying to be an ideal King, an outsize King, then all the more so. And there can be no wavering, no half-measures. One must be King every instant, while retiring to the privy stool as well as in state audiences. There is no respite: the mask of royalty must gradually supplant the ordinary man, as sugar syrup replaces the natural flavors in candied fruit and flowers. They retain their original outward appearance, but inside are altogether changed in substance. Harry bore this burden easily, and wore his regality with a splendid conviction. What this cost him as a man becomes apparent as one reads on in his journal. (George, 105).  

George’s book begins with a conversation between Will Somers and Catherine Knollys about the actual journal and why he was giving it to Catherine. Henry begins his “autobiography” with his childhood and his relationship with his siblings, especially his brother Arthur, his father Henry VII, and his mother Elizabeth of York. It was interesting to see how Henry might have viewed his relationship with his family, most importantly with his “miserly” father Henry VII. I really do not agree with this view of Henry VII myself, but I think how Henry was portrayed as the second son was very fascinating.

The main part of this book and Henry’s life was his marriages. Starting off with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, George explores how Henry fell in love with each woman he called, at one point or another, his wife and queen and ultimately each woman’s different fate. What was interesting was that George seemed to play with the myths that surrounded the women in Henry’s life, like Anne Boleyn having a sixth finger and that she was a witch (which are not true at all). The part that surprised me the most about this book was how much he grieved over love lost, especially with Jane Seymour. It showed a softer side to Henry and gave him more of a humanistic element to his story.

Aside for marital and familial elements of Henry’s life, George also explores the religious issues of his reign, as well as Henry’s government. We see how relationships with the Catholic Church sours and how it really affects him as a man. We see how long time friends of Henry’s quickly turn to enemies and how his relationships with other monarchs ebb and flow.

Overall Margaret George gives us a full and complete story of Henry VIII’s life while being entertaining and intriguing. I read this book several years back and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I found myself enjoying it even to this day. George was able to bring Henry VIII and his court to life in a way that made you feel like this “journal” could have been real. If you want a fun, long read about King Henry VIII, I highly suggest you read, “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” by Margaret George.

Biography: King Henry VII

mw03078(Born January 28, 1457- Died April 21, 1509). Son of Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond. Married to Elizabeth of York. Father of Arthur, Prince of Wales, Margaret, Queen of Scots, Henry VIII, King of England and Mary, Queen of France. Henry VII went from an exile to the founder of one of the most powerful dynasties in all of English history, the Tudor Dynasty.

Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, was born at Pembroke Castle to Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond on January 28, 1457. Henry never met his father Edmund because he died three months before Henry was born. His grandfather, Owen Tudor, was married to Katherine of Valois which made Henry’s father half brother of King Henry VI. Henry’s mother was the great granddaughter of John of Gaunt and his third wife Katherine Swynford. Henry’s mother Margaret Beaufort was only 13 when she gave birth to Henry and because his father died, his uncle Jasper Tudor took care of him.

Life was stable for Henry Tudor for a few years, until Edward IV won the crown in 1461, sending Henry’s uncle Jasper into exile and the title of Earl of Pembroke as well as Pembroke Castle and the wardship of Henry went to a Yorkist supporter William Herbert. Henry stayed with William Herbert until 1469, when the Earl of Warwick Richard Neville switched sides to the Lancastrians and had Herbert executed. Warwick restored Henry VI to the throne in 1470, Jasper came back from exile, and Henry was allowed to go to court.

This return of Henry VI would not last long as Edward IV was restored to the throne and Warwick was killed. Henry and Jasper tried to gather more support for the Lancastrian cause but they got caught in a bad storm in the English Channel while escaping from Tenby. They landed in Brittany where they sought the protection of Francis II, Duke of Brittany, which he did give to them. The Lancastrians along with Jasper and Henry, were housed at the Château de Suscinio in Sarzeau. Edward IV tried his best to apprehend Jasper and Henry but he failed to do so. Edward IV died on April 9, 1483, leaving his throne to his young son Edward V. After a few weeks, Edward V and his siblings were declared illegitimate and the throne was passed onto Edward V’s uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester, who became Richard III. Edward V and his brother Richard Duke of York were never seen again.

Henry’s mother Margaret Beaufort saw an opportunity for her son to become king. During this time Margaret was plotting with Elizabeth Woodville to arrange a marriage between Henry and Elizabeth Woodville eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York. Henry and Jasper tried to invade England in October 1483, but they were forced to go back to Brittany. It was in December 1483 that Henry made an oath in Rennes, France to marry Elizabeth of York when he became King of England. When the Duke of Brittany got very ill in 1484, his treasurer Pierre Landais made a deal with Richard III to give over Henry and Jasper Tudor in exchange for 3,000 English archers to defend a French attack. A bishop in Flanders John Morton heard about the deal and warned Henry and Jasper just before Landais could reach them. Henry and Jasper fled into France where King Charles VIII allowed them to stay until Duke Francis II felt better.
Henry and Jasper Tudor made their way back to England in August 1485, where they faced off against Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. Richard III was defeated and Henry became Henry VII. Henry was crowned king on October 30, 1485 and he would marry Elizabeth of York the following year on January 18, 1486. The couple had their first child, Arthur, on September 20, 1486. Henry and Elizabeth would have 4 children who would survive into adulthood; Arthur Tudor, Margaret Tudor, Henry Tudor, and Mary Tudor. During 1487, a young man named Lambert Simnel, claimed that he was the earl of Warwick, Elizabeth’s cousin, so Henry VII had the real earl of Warwick taken from the Tower and paraded through London. It was at the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Stoke Field on June 16, 1487 that Lambert Simnel was defeated. Henry decided to let the boy live and gave him a job at the castle.

In 1490, a young man named Perkin Warbeck, appeared and claimed to be Richard Duke of York. Warbeck won the support of Edward IV’s sister Margaret of Burgundy and James IV of Scotland. In September 1497 Warbeck landed in Cornwall with a few thousand troops, but was soon captured. He was allowed to live in the court and his wife Lady Catherine Gordon was made one of the ladies in waiting for Elizabeth of York. Warbeck tried to escape and it landed him in the Tower of London, close to Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, son of the late George, Duke of Clarence. Warbeck and Warwick plotted to escape the Tower, but the plan was uncovered and both men were charged with treason. Perkin Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on November 23, 1499.

Henry VII was a cautious man and decided that it was better to make alliances through marriages than to launch into expensive wars, like his predecessors. Henry VII was one of the first European monarchs to recognise the importance of the newly united Spanish kingdom under Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon and concluded the Treaty of Medina del Campo, by which his son, Arthur Tudor, was married to Catherine of Aragon. He also concluded the Treaty of Perpetual Peace with Scotland, which betrothed his daughter Margaret to King James IV of Scotland. Henry VII hoped to break the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France through the marriage of Margaret to the Scottish king, but it did not happen. Henry was also able to form alliances with Pope Innocent VIII and Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.

On November 14, 1501, Arthur Tudor married Katherine of Aragon. The following year, tragedy hit hard as Arthur died on April 2, 1502. His son’s death hit Henry hard and it was his wife Elizabeth of York who consoled him and convinced him that he still had Henry, his youngest son, as his heir and that they were still young enough to have children. Henry VII wanted to maintain the Spanish alliance. He therefore arranged a papal dispensation from Pope Julius II for Prince Henry to marry his brother’s widow Katherine. Elizabeth would have one more child, a girl named Katherine, on February 2, 1503, but the baby would not live long. Elizabeth of York would die on her 37th birthday, on February 11, 1503. Henry would grieve over the loss of his wife and son the rest of his life. He retreated to Richmond Palace, which was the former Sheen Palace but it was badly damaged in a fire in 1497 and rebuilt. Henry’s health failed him and he would die on April 21, 1509 at Richmond Palace. His only son Henry Tudor succeeded his father and became Henry VIII.

Biography: Elizabeth of York

220px-Elizabeth_of_York_from_Kings_and_Queens_of_England(Born February 11, 1466- Died February 11, 1503). Daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Married to King Henry VII. Mother of Arthur, Prince of Wales, Margaret, Queen of Scots, Henry VIII, King of England and Mary, Queen of France.
Elizabeth of York was the daughter, niece, sister, wife and mother of kings. It was through her marriage with Henry VII that helped create the Tudor Dynasty.

Elizabeth of York was the eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She was born at the Palace of Westminster on February 11, 1466. She was christened at Westminster Abbey; her godparents were Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and Richard Neville 16th Earl of Warwick. When she was three years old in 1469, she was briefly betrothed to George Neville, the nephew of Richard Neville, but it did not go far since his uncle would die two years later. In 1475, Louis XI agreed to arrange a marriage between nine year old Elizabeth of York to his son, Charles, the Dauphin of France; in 1482, Louis decided not to go along with the promised wedding.

Elizabeth’s world drastically changed forever when her father, Edward IV, suddenly died on April 9, 1483. Her young brother Edward V was proclaimed king and her uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester was named Lord Protector. On April 29, as previously agreed, Richard and his cousin, the Duke of Buckingham, met Queen Elizabeth’s brother, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, at Northampton. The young king himself had been sent to Stony Stratford. Richard had Earl Rivers, his nephew Richard Grey and his associate, Thomas Vaughan, arrested. They were taken to Pontefract Castle, where they were executed on June 25 on the charge of treason against the Lord Protector after appearing before a tribuna. Richard took the young king under his protection, escorted him to London, and placed him in the Tower for his protection. After hearing about what had happened, Elizabeth Woodville took her children, including Elizabeth of York, her other daughters, her youngest son Richard Duke of York, and fled to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth Woodville tried to keep her son Richard Duke of York away from Richard Duke of Gloucester, but she eventually did give up her son. We do not know how Elizabeth of York reacted to these events.

In early June of 1483, the marriage between Elizabeth’s parents, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, was declared invalid because it is said that Edward IV had entered into a pre-contract marriage with Lady Eleanor Butler before he married Elizabeth Woodville. This meant that any children of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were considered illegitimate, including Edward V, Richard Duke of York and Elizabeth of York. Since the children of George Duke of Clarence were barred from succession because of their father’s treason and execution, the next in line to the throne was Richard Duke of Gloucester. Richard was crowned King Richard III on July 6, 1483 and Elizabeth’s brothers disappeared. Some say that they were murdered, others say they escaped, but at this point we do not know what happened to Edward V and Richard Duke of York.

Elizabeth’s mother Elizabeth Woodville was now known as Elizabeth Grey and she decided to side with the Duke of Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort to put Margaret’s son Henry Tudor on the throne. Henry Tudor was the closest male Lancastrian heir and in order to cement this new alliance, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret arranged that Henry would marry Elizabeth of York. Buckingham’s rebellion against Richard would fail and he would be killed on November 2, 1483. In December 1483, Henry Tudor made an oath in Rennes, France that he would marry Elizabeth of York when he became King of England. In January 1484, the act known as Titulus Regius was passed by Parliament, which confirmed under law that the marriage between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville was invalid.

On March 1, 1484, Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters left sanctuary after Richard III promised not to harm them and to arrange marriages for all of Elizabeth’s daughters. There were rumors that after Anne Neville in March 1485, Richard III’s wife, died that he was seeking to marry Elizabeth of York, but there is no evidence to support this claim. Soon after Anne Neville’s death, Richard III sent Elizabeth away from court to the castle of Sheriff Hutton and opened negotiations with King John II of Portugal to marry his sister, Joan, Princess of Portugal, and to have Elizabeth marry their cousin, the future King Manuel I of Portugal.

These marriage arrangements did not come to fruition. Elizabeth of York stayed at Sheriff Hutton during August 1485, when Henry Tudor invaded England and on August 22, 1485 when Richard III fell at the Battle of Bosworth Field and Henry Tudor became King. Henry did keep his promise and married Elizabeth of York on January 18, 1486. The couple’s first child, Arthur, was born on September 20, 1486.

During 1487, a young man named Lambert Simnel, claimed that he was the earl of Warwick, Elizabeth’s cousin, so Henry VII had the real earl of Warwick taken from the Tower and paraded through London. It was at the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Stoke Field on June 16, 1487 that Lambert Simnel was defeated. Henry decided to let the boy live and gave him a job at the castle. Elizabeth was crowned on November 25, 1487 and she would have seven children total, four survived into adulthood; Arthur, Henry, Margaret and Mary. Although Elizabeth had a strong claim to the throne, she did not seek to become queen regnant.
In the early 1490s, another threat to the peace emerged with the contention that Elizabeth’s younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, was still alive. Her aunt, Margaret of York, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy and James IV of Scotland, were sponsoring a young man, later revealed to be a youth named Perkin Warbeck. Warbeck received wide-spread support from amongst Yorkists, who did not like Henry VII. Ultimately, however, Warbeck could not command enough support at home or abroad, to mount a successful challenge and in 1497, he was captured.

Warbeck’s wife Lady Catherine Gordon was made one of the ladies-in-waiting for Queen Elizabeth of York. In June 1498, Warbeck was forced to make two public appearances at Westminster and Cheapside, where he admitted that he was not Richard Duke of York and that Margaret of Burgundy was to blame for the entire scheme. Henry VII was kind to Warbeck at the beginning, allowing him to live at court, but Warbeck tried to escape and it landed him in the Tower of London, close to Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, son of the late George, Duke of Clarence. Warbeck and Warwick plotted to escape the Tower, but the plan was uncovered and both men were charged with treason. Perkin Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on November 23, 1499. We don’t know if Elizabeth of York ever met Warbeck.

Elizabeth was a very pious woman and was very dedicated to her children’s wellbeing. Elizabeth was very involved in the marriage negotiations for her two eldest children, Arthur and Margaret, Arthur to Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, and Margaret to James IV of Scotland. Elizabeth helped convince Katherine’s parents that she would be well taken care of and with Margaret’s marriage, Elizabeth was concerned that she was getting married at such a young age.

In November 1501, Katherine of Aragon arrived in England and Elizabeth was part of the celebrations of the marriage. The following year, tragedy hit hard as Arthur died on April 2, 1502. This was a tragic loss for Henry and Elizabeth because this meant that there was only one heir to save the Tudor Dynasty, the young Henry Tudor. While Henry was grieving, it is said that Elizabeth comforted him and told her husband that they were still young enough to have more children. Later, Elizabeth would break down and it was Henry who consoled his wife. Elizabeth would have one more child, a girl named Katherine, on February 2, 1503, but the baby would not live long. Elizabeth of York would die on her 37th birthday, on February 11, 1503.

Book Review: “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir

6282683Anne Boleyn, the  second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Elizabeth I. Most of us know her story of how she fell in love with Henry VIII and how their relationship changed England forever as Henry broke off with Rome in order to get a divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne. Unfortunately, when Anne couldn’t give Henry the son he so desired, their love began to fade. Anne Boleyn’s story ends in tragedy as she was accused of having multiple affairs, plotting the death of Henry VIII, and witchcraft, Anne was found guilty and was killed. Her fall happened in May 1536, a month that changed everything, but how much of these charges are true? Did she indeed have these affairs? Did she plot to kill her husband? What is the truth behind her fall? These are the questions that Alison Weir try to answer in her book “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn.”

Alison Weir states that:

In assessing Anne’s character and impact on history, we should ask ourselves how she would be viewed today if she had not perished on the scaffold. Her end was one of the most dramatic and shocking episodes in English history, her last days the best documented period of her life, vividly described in the sources, while the powerful image of her on the scaffold, courageously facing a horrible death, has overlaid all previous conceptions of her. (Weir, 337-338).

Weir begins her book with the May Day joust of 1536, when Henry VIII abruptly left Anne all alone. A few months before, Anne had her last miscarriage, unable to provide Henry the son that he so desired. Henry’s attention began to wander towards Jane Seymour, even though, at this time, he still had feelings for Anne. After Katherine of Aragon’s death, a few weeks before the miscarriage,  Anne’s enemies began to make their moves. Anne had many enemies in court and the entire country was against her in her role in the divorce of Henry and Katherine of Aragon, who was extremely popular.Cromwell, who despised Anne, planned a way to get Anne off the throne with the help of Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador to England for Charles V.

Cromwell had enlisted the help of Anne’s servants, including her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, to make a tale of scandal. The story goes that Anne had affairs with five men: Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, and her brother George Boleyn. Alison Weir explores the validity of the claims of the affairs as well as the details of the trials. Of course, the trials did not go in a way that was what we would now today consider “fair” and the sentence of death was passed on all of the accused. Anne Boleyn and the men accused with her are executed. The only legacy Anne left behind was her daughter, who would become Queen Elizabeth I.

I have been a fan of Alison Weir’s for years. I love the amount of details that she puts into her books and how both her fiction and non-fiction books are so easy to read. “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” follows this trend. For me, Anne Boleyn has been one of those people in the Tudor time  that really has not interested me. That was until I read this book. The story of her fall is so dramatic and quick that it leaves a lot of intriguing questions about if Anne and the men who fell with her were indeed innocent. “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir is such a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in Anne Boleyn and her fall from grace.

Book Review: “La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters” by Sarah Bryson

35067557_1710198212397536_7023071200330907648_nWhen we think of the Tudors, we often think of  strong women like Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn,  Elizabeth I, Margaret Beaufort and Mary I. However, there was another Mary who made an impact during this time. She was the daughter of Henry VII, the sister of Henry VIII, and the wife of King Louis XII of France. She was referred to as one of the most beautiful women in the world. She gave away all of her titles to marry the man she loved, even though he was not a king. She took on debt to have a family and helped those who needed help. This is the life of Mary Tudor.  In Sarah Bryson’s debut book, “La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters”, Bryson explores the life of this extraordinary woman through her letters.

Sarah Bryson explains why she decided to include Mary’s letters in this book:

Mary Tudor’s letters are a fascinating and captivating look at how a woman could wield power without publically challenging the patriarchy. They show how Mary was able to manoeuvre those around her to follow her heart- marrying her second husband for love, rather than being dragged back to the international chess game as a marriage pawn. They are also, on occasion, a way of looking into Mary’s life whereby the layers of princess and queen are stripped back and only the woman remain. (Bryson, 11).  

Bryson decides to begin her book not with the birth of Mary, but rather with the Wars of the Roses in order to understand how the Tudors came into power and the importance of the marriages that Henry VII established for his children were. She then moves onto the family aspect of the Tudors and the birth of Mary, which to me was fascinating to understand those early years of a young princess. Unfortunately  Mary’s world was not a picture perfect one as her father was constantly fighting those who wanted to take his throne, including Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. Her brother Arthur, Prince of Wales, would marry Katherine of Aragon, but only a few months after they were married, Arthur tragically died. Mary’s mother would also pass away while trying to give birth to a baby girl. In order to build a strong alliance, Henry VII made a marriage treaty between Mary and Archduke Charles (later Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor), but it would eventually fall through.

Henry VII would die on April 21, 1509, leaving the throne to his son Henry VIII; Henry would marry his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon on June 11, 1509. Henry arranged Mary’s first marriage with King Louis XII with an enormous dowry, but their marriage would not last long as Louis XII would die on January 1, 1515. Mary would retire from public life and would wear the white mourning clothes of a widow, thus the nickname “La Reine Blanche”, the white queen. Mary would not stay single for long as she married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Charles Brandon was a notorious ladies’ man and happened to be one of the people who Henry VIII sent over to France to help Mary. To say that Henry was upset would be an understatement; he refused for the couple to return to England, for a time, and ordered that Charles Brandon would pay off Mary’s dowry. It would leave the couple impoverished for the rest of their lives, but they were happy and in love. It was really during this time that Mary’s letters showed her heart and who she truly was. Mary had to be incredibly strong to show the love that she had for her husband to her brother. Henry eventually accepted the couple and they went on to have four children of their own: Henry, Frances, Eleanor and Henry 1st Earl of Lincoln. Their daughter Frances would marry Henry Grey and would become the mother of Lady Jane Grey, Katherine Grey and Mary Grey. Mary Tudor would die on June 25, 1533, shortly after Anne Boleyn was crowned queen.

 

Mary Tudor’s story is one of tragedy and love. I will be honest and say that I only knew about half of her story, but Sarah Bryson made Mary come alive. “La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, a Life in Letters” may be Bryson’s debut book but it feels like she has been writing for a while. This is a lovely book that combines facts and letters in such a way that it is a joy to read. I look forward to reading more from Sarah Bryson in the near future. If you are interested in the life of Mary Tudor, this is a great book about her life through her letters.

Book Review: “Game of Queens: The Women who made Sixteenth-Century Europe” by Sarah Gristwood

When one thinks about strong women in the sixteenth century, many turn their 51mfzqo6PTL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_attention towards women like Elizabeth I, Isabella of Castile, Katherine of Aragon, Mary I and Catherine de Medici. These seemed like extraordinary examples of power that stretched the boundaries on what was right and acceptable for women of the time. That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the sixteenth century in Europe was filled with powerful women who do not get the attention that they deserve. In Sarah Gristwood’s book “Game of Queens: The Women who made Sixteenth- Century Europe”, we are shown that it really wasn’t the men who had control, but their wives and daughters.

 

Diplomacy is often described as a chess game and in the case of the sixteenth century, that could not be more accurate. This was the century of political games, the importance of marriages, wars galore and religious reforms. It all started off with women like Isabella of Castile of Spain and Anne de Beaujeu of France; powerful women who would not only influence their own children but girls who would come into their homes to learn how to be strong royal wives. Anne of Beaujeu wrote a manual for noblewomen, including this piece of advice:

“And nothing is firm or lasting in the gifts of Fortune; today you see those raised high by Fortune who, two days later, are brought down hard.”

 

This would come to describe the lives of the women who would follow throughout the rest of the sixteenth century. Most of them had to act as regents for their sons or male relations. Others were wives of kings who tried to change their countries for the better and either succeeded or failed miserably. It was the women in the beginning and the middle of the century that would pave the way for the more infamous queens like Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth Tudor, and Mary Queen of Scots.

 

Sarah Gristwood was able to combine this complex game of women political chess with sixteen protagonists into a masterful biography to give a better understanding of how sixteenth century Europe worked. This was a sisterhood of queens with mothers teaching daughters on how to survive in the courts. These women were connected by blood and by marriage, however it was how they used the lessons of those who came before them which would define them.

 

Sarah Gristwood could have made sixteen separate biographies, but by combining all of these stories into one book, it shows how each country and each ruler truly depended on one another. In a world where male heirs were few or died young, it was the women who had to step in and make Europe ready for the future. The sixteenth century was the changing point for European history and it was the women who had to navigate the complex field to keep Europe from completely falling apart. This book is the story of powerful women who helped make Europe the powerhouse it would become in the sixteenth century and how they did it.