Book Review: “The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England” by Joanne Paul

60126565._SY475_When we think about the Tudor dynasty, we think about the monarchs who made the dynasty, but we also pay attention to those around the king or queen who sat on the throne. There were families like the Boleyns, the Howards, and the Seymours who stood on the sidelines for a short amount of time, but one family saw the majority of the dynasty through highs and extreme lows. The Dudleys have been seen as a power-hungry family who would do anything to sit on the throne of England, but is there more to their story? In her debut book, “The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England,” Joanne Paul explores the lives of this extraordinary family to find the truth about their ambitions and their resilience.

This is one of those titles that I heard about from friends online, and I wanted to check it out for myself. I have followed Joanne Paul for a while now, and when I heard about her first book, I knew I wanted to read it.

Paul begins her biography about the Dudleys with the funeral of Anne Dudley, the first wife of Edmund Dudley, which occurred around the same time as the death of Elizabeth of York. Edmund Dudley would go to serve as King Henry VII’s principal tax collector, which would prove beneficial to his family and the king even if he did use underhanded methods to collect the money from taxpayers. Edmund’s strategies were so ruthless that he didn’t survive long after the death of Henry VII as his son Henry VIII had him executed for treason, leaving his young son John as the heir to the Dudley name, which was now tainted with scandals.

John Dudley took the lessons from his father’s dramatic downfall and applied them to his own life. It is how he survived the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI and earned his position as one of the most influential men in the kingdom, as the Duke of Warwick. He held influence in Edward VI’s regency council, so much so that when it came time for Edward VI to name an heir, he named John Dudley’s daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, the wife of Guildford Dudley, as his heir. The issue was this put the Dudleys in danger as Mary I marched towards the throne. There was no room for negotiations with Mary as she saw the Dudleys as a threat that must be eliminated through the executions of John, Guildford, and Lady Jane Grey.

For the remaining members of the Dudley family, the key to surviving Mary’s reign was to stay safe and make sure they had good allies, like King Philip II of Spain, Mary’s husband. With Queen Mary’s death and the rise of Queen Elizabeth I, the Dudleys were once again in the spotlight. The suave and debonair Master of the Horse, Robert Dudley, had captured the heart of the young queen, but the problem was Robert was married to Amy Robsart. Unfortunately, Amy dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving it open for the possibility of Robert and Elizabeth to wed, but it never happens.

A dazzling debut of the tragedies and triumphs of one family, “The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England” by Joanne Paul is one of my favorite new releases of this year so far, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Book Review: “The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life” by Jan-Marie Knights

52650913The Tudor dynasty was full of colorful characters and events that defined the era. Their lives were full of love affairs, marriages, births, wars, tragedies, and triumphs. In numerous books about these monarchs and this period in history, we have seen the significant events that defined the era, but what about lesser-known social events that these monarchs participated in. The bulk of the research into this dynasty focuses on those who ruled, from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, because their lives give us a brilliant insight into what it was like to live in the glittery Tudor court. In “The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life,” Jan-Marie Knights gives her readers a glimpse into the social calendar of the Tudor rich and famous.

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw the title of this book, I was intrigued. I was hoping for a book that would include different religious holidays and festivals that the Tudors would have known.

Knights starts her book by giving her readers a brief history lesson from Richard II to Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses in five pages; talk about a whirlwind of an introduction. Readers then see how Knights will format her book by looking at each Tudor monarch with a broad lens and then taking a diary-style approach to their reigns to explain the significant events of their rules. I enjoyed how Knights included more minor pageants and visits that each monarch took part in and cases that average Tudor fans do not hear about as much.

I did have a few issues when I was reading this particular title. I wouldn’t say I liked that the entries for each event were written in the present tense; I know it was supposed to be a diary of the monarch, but as a nonfiction book about a historical period, it threw me for a loop. I also wish we saw more of the liturgical calendar and how it corresponded with the other events during each monarch’s reign, especially during the reformation when the Tudors wrestled between Catholicism and Protestantism. Finally, I do wish Knights would have included either footnotes or endnotes, especially with lesser-known events, so that readers could explore the social events themselves.

Knights has done her research, but I think it needed to be refined and maybe told in a different style to better connect with her audience. Overall, as an overview of the reigns of the Tudor monarchs and the critical events that defined their lives, this book does a decent job for those new to the Tudor dynasty. If you know your Tudor history, this might not be the book for you, but you may learn about a pageant or a strange case. If you are a novice Tudor fan, you might enjoy reading “The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life” by Jan-Marie Knights.

Book Review: “Cecily Bonville-Grey- Marchioness of Dorset: From Riches to Royalty” by Sarah J. Hodder

60261127._SY475_In history, the stories of women closest to those who sat on the throne tend to shine a bit brighter than others. Their tales give us great insight into how their respective countries were run and how dangerous it could be to marry someone with royal blood in their veins. However, some of the tales get lost in the annals of the past, only to be discovered much later. One of those tales is the story of Cecily Bonville- Grey, the wife of Thomas Grey Marquis of Dorset. In her own right, an extremely wealthy woman, her marriage into the Grey family would help define the succession issue during the late Tudor dynasty. Her story is finally told in Sarah J. Hodder’s latest book, “Cecily Bonville-Grey- Marchioness of Dorset: From Riches to Royalty.”

I want to thank Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have previously read and enjoyed Hodder’s other books, The Queen’s Sisters and The York Princesses, so I knew I wanted to read it when I heard about this title. I will be honest, I have only heard about Cecily Bonville-Grey from another book about the Grey family, but it was a brief mention, so I was looking forward to reading more about her life.

Cecily Bonville- Grey was the only child of William Bonville and his wife Katherine, the daughter of Richard Neville. Cecily’s uncle was none other than Richard Duke of York. The Bonville men were loyal to King Henry VI, but when the king fell ill, the Bonvilles decided to switch their loyalty during the Wars of the Roses to the Yorkist cause. It was a risky move that would cost William Bonville his life, but in the end, Katherine and Cecily both survived the turmoil of the time. Katherine would marry William Hastings, and Cecily would marry Thomas Grey Marquis of Dorset.

Cecily and Thomas had a large family, and their connection with Richard III and Henry VII would be both rewarding as well as dangerous. With the threats from men like Perkin Warbeck, who wanted to steal the throne from Henry VII, men like Thomas Grey Marquis of Dorset would prove invaluable to refute their claim. Yet it was a double-edged sword as Thomas was often considered a threat to Henry VII. Thomas would die in 1501, leaving Cecily a wealthy widow in need of a second husband, and the man she chose was Lord Henry Stafford. This second marriage allowed the Grey family to flourish and become genuine contenders for the throne, even though that was not Cecily’s intent.

The story of Cecily Bonville- Grey is a delightful read. Sarah J. Hodder shone a light on a woman whose family tends to outshine her. I found Cecily’s story fascinating and gives readers a better understanding of how the transition from the Plantagenets to the Tudors affected those families closest to the throne. Suppose you want another fabulous book about a forgotten woman who lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. In that case, you should check out “Cecily Bonville-Grey- Marchioness of Dorset: From Riches to Royalty” by Sarah J. Hodder.

Book Review: “Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I” by Amy Licence

36762189When one studies a specific dynasty, we tend to focus on the stories of those who rule their respective countries and explore the men who influenced the king’s decisions. A dynasty’s legacy tends to be viewed from the military and legal victories of the men, but just as important are the women who stood beside the king. Royal women tend to be considered side characters of the dynasty who were only crucial for their inheritance, who they married, and the children they could produce. But if we focused on the story of the royal women in a specific dynasty, what could we learn about the dynasty? Amy Licence took this concept to explore women’s voices and decided to tackle the Tudor dynasty in her latest book, “Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I.”

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I am always looking for a new perspective on the Tudor dynasty. Although there is nothing new about exploring the lives of Tudor women, the idea of analyzing the Tudor queens and their reigns in one book is so unique and vital.

Licence starts her book at the very beginning of the Tudor dynasty with the stories of Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville. These women are often viewed as enemies on opposite sides of the Wars of the Roses. Still, closer examination shows how alike they were and how they came together to unite the warring factions with the marriage of their children, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, was seen as the pinnacle of excellence and the ideal queen for those who would try to follow in her footsteps. We also get to see how Margaret and Mary Tudor influenced their family’s legacy, even though they never sat on the English throne like their brother, Henry VIII.

The next group of Tudor queens that we examine are the wives of Henry VIII; Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. These queens mark a different aspect of being a royal woman and helped England move forward. Finally, Licence explores the lives of the daughters of Catherine of Aragon, Frances Brandon, and Anne Boleyn, who would become queens themselves; Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

Licence shows how England and Europe viewed women who wielded power throughout this book. Although the Tudor dynasty only lasted 118 years, the change was significant and impactful. The Tudors queens had to navigate not only their traumas through the most public lens, but they had to balance their own beliefs with the shifting political landscape of Europe. There are also glimpses of how other European queens navigated the tumultuous 16th century and how their lives and women’s education influenced the Tudor queens.

Book Review: “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” by Robert Stedall

52718070._SX318_The last Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, was known for many things, but her main legacy is that she never chose to marry anyone. She was the infamous “Virgin Queen”. However, there were those around her who manage to capture her attention and her admiration for a time. The most famous of these men was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He was a massive supporter of the arts and the Protestant faith, gaining prestige and praise from his highly exalted monarch. Yet, his life and his relationship with his wives, his enemies, and Elizabeth I was full of dangers and numerous scandals. Who was this man who wooed the heart of the most eligible woman in all of 16th century Europe? Robert Stedall investigates the relationship between these two lovers destined to never marry each other in, “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am always interested in learning new aspects about the reign of Elizabeth I and her love life. When I saw the cover, I was instantly drawn to it and I wanted to know more about Elizabeth and Robert.

Stedall begins his biography by exploring the reigns of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, and Mary I to show how the Dudleys came to power and how they fell out of power. I noticed that Stedall included Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley in the family trees that he provided at the beginning of the book, but their death years are different, even though they both died in 1554 on the same day. I think that it was interesting to see how the fall of the Dudleys affected Robert and how it was truly through Elizabeth’s favor that they gained back their honor. This friendship between Elizabeth and Robert gradually developed into love, although it was quite taboo. Robert was Elizabeth’s Master of the Horse and he was already married to Amy Robsart. Even after Amy’s untimely death, Elizabeth and Robert could never be together as a couple because her council, especially Cecil, wanted her to marry a great European power to create a strong alliance, which was a reasonable request.

Sadly, Robert Dudley could not wait forever for Elizabeth, so he chose to marry again, this time to Lettice Knollys. To say Elizabeth was upset about this marriage would be an understatement. Even though she could never marry Robert, it did not mean she wanted another woman to marry him. Robert remained faithful to his queen as a military officer and a patron of the arts and building projects. It is impossible to discuss the Elizabethan Age without mentioning the contributions of Lord Robert Dudley.

I think Stedall has done his research very well. However, this book is a tad too dry for my taste. I was hoping to learn some new swoon-worthy facts about this notorious romance, but Stedall’s book was a bit too analytical for this to happen. It was a struggle for me to read this book as it took me a few weeks to finish it. With a title such as the one he provided, I was hoping for new romantic facts, but it fell flat for me.

Overall, I felt like this was a well-researched biography, but it fell flat on the delivery. I think if you are being introduced to the relationship of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, this is a decent introduction, but if you know the story, it might not be the best book to read. If you want to learn more about Robert Dudley and his influence in the Elizabethan court, check out, “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” by Robert Stedall.

Book Review: “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis

39330966._SY475_“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” This famous quote from William Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part III has been used throughout the centuries to describe how difficult it is to rule a country for any duration of time. Most kings and queens of the past lasted for a few years, but there was one queen who lasted for a handful of days. She was the successor of Henry VIII’s only male son, King Edward VI, and was meant to replace his eldest half-sister, who would become Queen Mary I. It was a battle between Protestantism and Catholicism with a 17-year-old scholar caught in the middle. Her name was Lady Jane Grey, but many refer to her as the “Nine Day Queen of England”. Lady Jane Grey’s tragically short story, how she became queen, and the consequences of her reign are discussed thoroughly in Nicola Tallis’ beautifully written debut biography, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey”.

I have been a fan of Nicola Tallis’ other biographies, “Uncrowned Queen: The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Monarch” and “Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Life of the Countess of Leicester: The Romance and Conspiracy that Threatened Queen Elizabeth’s Court”. I had heard about this one through recommendations from other Tudor history fans, so naturally, I wanted to give it a try. Lady Jane Grey has been one of those historical figures that I have felt sympathy for in the past and I wanted to learn more about her life.

Lady Jane Grey was born into a royal family full of fighting for the throne of England and for the right to either be Protestant or Catholic. She was the eldest daughter of Henry and Frances Grey. It was through her mother Frances that Jane had a claim to the throne because Frances Grey was the daughter of Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII, and Charles Brandon. If Frances and Henry Grey had sons, we would not have to talk about Jane’s claim to the throne, but Jane had two sisters, Katherine and Mary Grey. Jane was a rather unusual royal girl because she was not concerned about who she would one day marry. Lady Jane Grey has been known throughout history as a young scholar and a martyr for Protestantism. Her zeal for learning is so admirable and relatable. It makes you really wonder what her life might have been like if she had not been coerced to become Queen of England.

Unfortunately, on his deathbed Jane’s cousin King Edward VI declared that Lady Jane Grey would be his heir, not his eldest half-sister Mary, who his father had named as Edward’s heir if Edward had no children of his own. Jane never coveted the throne, but her father-in-law, John Dudley 1st Duke of Northumberland saw the opportunity to make his son Guildford king of England. It was not the role that Jane wanted in her life, but she was outspoken and courageous about things that mattered to her, even as she approached the scaffold that would seal her fate on earth.

Tallis’ writing style and her attention to detail brought Jane out of the shadows to uncover the truth behind the myths that surrounded her young life. This biography could have easily become a Mary vs. Jane book, but Tallis took the utmost care to make sure it was balanced for both women. It was dynamic and thoughtful, full of drama and revelations of the life of Lady Jane Grey. In short, it is a magnificent biography of one of the Tudor monarchs whose reign was quickly forgotten. Jane may have been a scholar, a lady, and a martyr, but she should also be remembered for another position she held in life. Jane was a Queen of England. If you want a stunning biography about Lady Jane Grey, I highly suggest you read, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis.

Book Review: “The Anne Boleyn Collection III” by Claire Ridgway

49466496._SY475_The story and myths of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, have been debated and dissected for centuries. Was she a cruel and calculating figure who got what she deserved or was she an innocent victim of an evil tyrant of a husband? The funny thing about history is that the truth is never clear cut. Historical figures are human beings, no matter how many centuries separate their lives from our own. They were not all good or all bad, which is the perspective that Claire Ridgway tries to show when she is writing about her favorite figure, Anne Boleyn, either in her books or on her blog, The Anne Boleyn Files. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Anne Boleyn Files, Claire Ridgway returns with the latest collection of articles, “The Anne Boleyn Collection III”.

Like the other two volumes of this series, Ridgway has taken some of the most popular articles from her blog, the Anne Boleyn Files. There are some recurring themes that Ridgway has highlighted in her previous two books, but there are some news topics that she discusses in length. Was Mary I or Lady Jane Grey the usurper? Did Anne Boleyn love Henry Norris? How did Henry VIII go from a Renaissance prince to an infamous tyrant? Who were the men who died with Anne Boleyn?

Ridgway’s passion for the Tudors, especially when it comes to Anne Boleyn, is extremely apparent when reading her books. That does not change at all in this book. Her writing style remains the same as in her previous books. It is like having a conversation with a friend about Tudor hot topics. What Ridgway added to this book was the use of poetry written about the historical figures that she discusses at length. I found the poetry refreshing and intriguing to delve deep into the meaning of the poet’s words.

I think this book is okay, but I did have a few problems when I was reading it. I did feel like this book was slightly redundant as it repeats some of the same points that she made in previous books. Now, this might be because they are articles from her blog and she wanted to focus heavily on certain topics, but I felt like there were other topics that she might have focused on. I wanted to learn new information about Anne Boleyn and her times.

Another issue that I had with this particular book was with the sources. Ridgway tends to favor certain authors and historians when it comes to her research, which is fine. However, I think there have been new biographies that were written before the publication of this book that would have helped Ridgway make her points even stronger. As a blogger, there are sources that we enjoy using, but one should be aware that there are other historians who are doing great research out there and they should be at least acknowledged. We should be open to new ideas, new sources, and new theories about historical figures, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them. It is how we grow as history lovers and how we can better understand the past.

Overall, I think this was a good book, but I was expecting a tad more, especially after how much I enjoyed book two of the collection. Ridgway’s feelings and passion for her subject were ever-present in this volume, but I think that she could have expanded her research a tad to include more recent biographies and books to get her point across to a new batch of readers. I think if you enjoyed her two previous books in this series, I would recommend you read Claire Ridgway’s latest book, “The Anne Boleyn Collection III”.

Book Review: “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer

8800906The Tudor dynasty and the enigmatic figures who made this time period so fascinating have been hotly discussed for centuries. Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII after defeating  King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. King Henry VIII, the second son whose numerous wives and his split from the Catholic Church made his name infamous in history. King Edward VI, Henry VIII’s beloved son who died before he really could accomplish the reformation that he had planned for England. Queen Mary I, who was the first Queen of England to rule in her own right and wanted to restore the Catholic Church. Finally, Queen Elizabeth I, who never married and led England to a “Golden Age”. Many historians have viewed the Tudor dynasty as a time of great change and England was in a good place. However, G.J. Meyer paints a darker picture of the era in his book, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty”.

Unlike many of the books on my blog, I did read this book before when I was in college. It was the only Tudor book that I read as an assigned book and I do have fond memories reading it, so I decided that I would go back and reread it years later. 

I will say that the title “Complete Story” is a little bit misleading. Meyer tends to focus on Henry VIII (over 300 pages on Henry VIII and the Great Matter) and his children, but he briefly mentions Henry VII and Lady Jane Grey. I feel like if Meyer wanted to have a “complete story” about the Tudors, it should have included these two figures a bit more. I did want more about Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. They were wives of Henry VIII, but they felt like afterthoughts in Meyer’s book. I also wanted more about Elizabeth I’s reign, since she did reign for a long time and without a husband, but her section in this book felt rushed. 

 When Meyer does talk about Henry VIII and the other Tudors, he seems to use the same negative stereotypes that have been used in the past, (Henry VII was a miser, Henry VIII was a monster, Edward was a sick child, Mary as “Bloody Mary”, and Elizabeth was concerned about keeping her youth and her ruthlessness). Of course, this book was written in 2011 and many of these myths have been proven untrue by more modern books about the Tudors. 

This book does not revolve around the popular history tales of the Tudors. Instead, Meyer tends to focus on the political and ecclesiastical issues that dominated the time period, in England and throughout Europe. This is where Meyer shines as he goes into details about these issues, both in regular chapters and in background chapters that help bring this time period to life. Meyer does have a good writing style that helps novices of Tudor history understand the complex time period. 

Overall, I think this was a pretty good book. It was a bit darker than other Tudor books that I have read previously, but the Tudor time period was not all sunshine and roses. There were dark times and really good times that happened during the rule of this rather remarkable dynasty. If you want a decent book that will give you an introduction to this family drama, I recommend you read, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer.  

Book Review: “Katherine – Tudor Duchess” by Tony Riches

Katherine - Tudor DuchessWhen one thinks about women reformers during the time of the Tudors, certain women like Catherine Parr and Anne Aske come to mind. However, there was one who really should get more attention and her name is Katherine Willoughby. She was the last wife of Charles Brandon. Her mother was Maria de Salinas, a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon and a devout Catholic. Katherine knew all six of Henry VIII’s wives on a personal level and knew all of his children. She has often been seen as an afterthought; someone you associate with other people, but never a stand out herself. That is until now. Katherine Willoughby finally gets her time to shine in Tony Riches’ latest historical fiction novel and his conclusion to his Tudor trilogy, “Katherine-Tudor Duchess”.

I would like to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of this charming novel. This is the third novel that I have read by Tony Riches and I enjoyed it immensely.

We are introduced to Katherine Willoughby as a young woman who is about to embark on a journey to her new home with Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor as their ward after her father passes away. At the same time, Henry VIII is wanting to remove his first wife Catherine of Aragon for his second wife Anne Boleyn. Since Katherine’s mother, Maria de Salinas was very loyal to Catherine of Aragon as one of her ladies in waiting, it is interesting to see Katherine’s view of the situation. Katherine is quite comfortable in Brandon’s household, but when Mary Tudor tragically dies, Katherine’s life is turned upside down when Charles Brandon decides to marry her and she becomes the new Duchess of Suffolk.

As the new Duchess of Suffolk, Katherine had a front-row seat to the dramas of King Henry VIII’s court and his numerous marriages. Along the way, Katherine falls in love with Charles and they become parents to two strapping and intelligent boys. Katherine and Charles are granted the great honor of welcoming Henry’s 4th wife Anna of Cleves to England and they also experienced the short reigns of Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard. It was not until Charles Brandon’s death and the rise of Catherine Parr as queen that Katherine Willoughby sees her true potential, as a woman who wants to promote religious reforms. 

Katherine experienced hardships and the tragic deaths of her two sons mere hours apart due to the sweating sickness. She did marry again after Charles’ death to a man that she did love, like Catherine Parr, and was able to have more children, a son, and a daughter. During the reigns of King Edward VI and Lady Jane Grey, Katherine and her family were able to practice their Protestant faith in peace. Things took a turn for the worse when Mary was crowned queen and Katherine had to take drastic measures to protect her family while standing up for what she believed was right.

Tony Riches has written another fabulous novel of a vivacious woman who fought to spread Protestantism in England. Through twists and turns, Katherine Willoughby was able to protect her family and survive during such a tumultuous time. Her story gives great insight into what it meant to be someone close to the Tudors. This is a binge-worthy book. If you are a fan of Tony Riches’ novels and want a wonderful book about Katherine Willoughby, I highly suggest you read Tony Riches’ latest novel, “Katherine- Tudor Duchess”. 

 

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.