Book Review: “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty” by Sarah Gristwood

58218928._SY475_When we think about love, we have ideas about how people fall in love through dating and wooing one another. Sweet words and gestures. Flowers and chocolate. Dates at fun venues and romantic dinners. This is a more modern interpretation of romance and love, which was vastly different than the concept of courtly love that was common in royal circles in medieval Europe. What exactly was courtly love, and how did it play a role in the Tudor dynasty? Sarah Gristwood explores this topic in her latest nonfiction book, “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty.”

Before we dive head deep into Tudor history, Gristwood gives us a history lesson into the origins of courtly love and how it evolved. We begin with the 12th century and the stories of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot that Chretien de Troyes wrote. Troyes’ romantic tales were known to Eleanor of Aquitaine and the troubadours that would spread them to every royal court in Europe. This game of romance between royals and the ideas of knights protecting their fair maidens from danger would change over time. Still, the basic idea that emotions and feelings were central to courtly love would remain prevalent. We see different authors, like Chaucer and Dante, approach the concept of courtly love from different directions and specific rules of this love game set in stone for future generations.

Gristwood traverses the complex family drama known as the Wars of the Roses to show how both Lancaster and York played the courtly game of love. The ways that the sides played the game were different with the various couples involved, but the ideas culminated with the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The imagery of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were passed down to their sons, Prince Arthur and King Henry VIII. Henry VIII would play the game of courtly love with each of his six wives, with varying degrees of success. He would find out that courtly love and politics would be a complex combination to maintain, and this lesson would pass onto his children as they tried to play the game.

Edward VI and Mary I tried to play the game, but they soon realized they were destined to be more involved with politics than love. It was their half-sister Elizabeth who brought back courtly love to its former glory with her numerous favorites. Although the actions of the Tudors can tell us a lot about their intentions, their letters and poetry gave a better understanding of how this courtly love game was played.

I found the new information that Gristwood provided in this book was fascinating. It gave a new dimension to the Tudor dynasty and the relationships between the monarchy and their courtiers or mistresses. An innovative nonfiction book about love, chivalric stories, and the desire for power that any Tudor fan will adore. If you love books by Sarah Gristwood and learning new aspects about Tudor court life, you must have “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty” in your collection.

Book Review: “King Arthur: Man or Myth?” by Tony Sullivan

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Myths and legends have come to define the legacy of kingdoms. Stories of men like Robin Hood who did not have magical aspects have captured the imagination of Englishmen for generations. However, there is one legend whose legacy is synonymous with the English people; the legend of King Arthur. We all know the story of the mythical king who ruled over Camelot with his beloved wife Gwenivere, his magical sword Excalibur, and his trusty Knights of the Round Table. Yet a question arises when we study this legend; was there ever a historical King Arthur? This is the central issue that Tony Sullivan has chosen to investigate thoroughly in his book, “King Arthur: Man or Myth?”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I was curious about this book after reading a previous book about Robin Hood. I will say that I did not know much about the Arthurian legend except the popular aspects that tend to appear in novels and films. Of course being a Tudor nerd I knew that Henry VII had a fascination with the story, since he named his eldest son Arthur, so I wanted to explore what made this tale so intriguing for many centuries.

To understand the origins of the myth, we must go back in the past, but not to the medieval period that many would expect after reading the legend. Sullivan’s main focus is on a period much farther back in time, Roman Britain. This is not an area of history that I normally study so I was unfamiliar with the people and the battles that Sullivan mentioned in connection to the “real” Arthur. It did feel a bit dense to me and it took me a while to get through this portion of the book, even though I did find it rather interesting to read about Roman Britain.

What impressed me about this book is Sullivan’s passion for this subject and his willingness to go the extra mile to show both sides of the argument, that there was a historical Arthur and a mythical Arthur. He dives deep into the sources, from the earliest annals and chronicles to the 11th and 13th centuries legends and romances. It was extremely fascinating to see how he treated this book like a criminal investigation, using different fields of study to figure out the origins of the legend, how it evolved, and whether or not there was a king named Arthur.

Overall, I found this book intriguing and rather challenging. If you are a novice when it comes to the academic world of the Arthurian legend, it might be a difficult read. I would suggest that if you are interested in reading this book, take your time and take plenty of notes. This may not be the best introductory book for those who want to know about the Arthurian legend, but I think that it will give you a better understanding of Roman Britain and the academic side of studying such a legendary figure. If this piques your interest, you should check out, “King Arthur: Man or Myth?” by Tony Sullivan.