Book Review: “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle

61tJwNfDrEL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)Every family has their own stories. Stories of how they became a family, how they fought hard to get where they are today. Stories filled with love, drama, and endurance. When it comes to royal families, their stories tend to be broadcast to the masses, and none more so than the Tudors, who have captured the imagination of history lovers for generations. The Tudor’s story is often told in parts, focusing on individual people like Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. The Tudor story is fascinating told in parts, but as a whole, one sees how hard they worked to become a dynasty that will be remembered for centuries after their deaths. It is time for the story of this extraordinary family to be told as a whole and Leanda de Lisle does so in her book, “Tudor”.

The Tudors and their story often starts in books with the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, but that does a disservice to the humble beginnings of Owen Tudor and how they struggled to survive during the Wars of the Roses. It is their origin story that the Tudors used to their advantage, as de Lisle describes in her introduction:

The Tudors believed they were building on the past to create something different- and better- even if they differed on how. The struggle of Henry VII and his heirs to secure the line of succession, and the hopes, loves and losses of the claimants- which dominated and shaped the history of the Tudor family and their times- are the focus of this book. The universal appeal of the Tudors also lies in the family stories: of a mother’s love for her son, of the husband who kills his wives, of siblings who betray one another, of reckless love affairs, of rival cousins, of an old spinster whose heirs hope to hurry her to her end. (de Lisle, 4).

De Lisle begins her book with the story of Owen Tudor and the Welsh Tudors. It is a story of an unlikely love between a Welsh man who served in the house of the mother of the King of England. However, their story is a bit more complex. Owen Tudor descended from those who were involved in a Welsh rebellion against Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king, he married the wife and mother of two other Lancastrian kings, and his sons were the half-brothers of a Lancastrian King, Henry VI. Talk about a twist of faith. To top it all off, his only grandson, Henry Tudor, was the only child of Margaret Beaufort, who was married four different times and did everything in her power to protect her son. It all culminated in one battle at Bosworth Field where the Tudors go from nobodies to a royal dynasty.

It is this thin line of royal blood that the Tudors cling to as a lifeline to hold onto their throne. Starting with Henry VII, who fought against usurpers and rebels to hold onto the crown that he won on the battlefield. Henry believed in the importance of his family and so he chooses marriages for his children that would benefit the family as a whole. What de Lisle does well is she gives each child of Henry VII the respect that they deserve; she does not just focus on Henry VIII but gives attention to Arthur, Mary, and Margaret Tudor and their children. This is so important as it gives the reader a broader sense of how far the Tudor family ties went. Sure, we all know the stories of Henry VIII, his wives, and his children, but the Tudor story is much deeper than just the family in England. It is a story full of European players all vying for the crown of England.

Leanda de Lisle is able to masterfully tell the story of the Tudors, which has been discussed for centuries and breathe new life into this complex family drama. De Lisle balances meticulous research with an easily accessible writing style in this book that fans of the Tudor dynasty, both scholars and casual readers, will appreciate. This is a book that you will not want to put down. I would recommend this book, “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle, to anyone who is enchanted with the story of the Tudors and their legacy on England. “Tudor” is an absolute triumph and a delight to read over and over again.

Book Review: “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen” by Leanda de Lisle

3980321When we think of the Grey family, we often come up with certain stereotypes. Lady Jane Grey was a passive, obedient girl who did whatever her family and her husband’s family wanted her to do. Frances Grey was a cruel mother. Katherine and Mary lived very uneventful lives. These could not be further from the truth. Leanda de Lisle in her book, “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen” attempts to paint a more realistic of the Grey sisters; Jane, Katherine and Mary.

Leanda de Lisle explains the importance of the Grey sisters:

Dynastic politics, religious propaganda, and sexual prejudice have since buried the stories of the three Grey sisters in legend and obscurity. The eldest, Lady Jane Grey, is mythologized, even fetishized, as an icon of helpless innocence, destroyed by the ambitions of others. The people and events in her life are all distorted to fit this image, but Jane was much more than the victim she is portrayed as being, and the efforts of courtiers and religious factions to seize control of the succession did not end with her death. Jane’s sisters would have to tread carefully to survive: Lady Katherine Grey as the forgotten rival Queen Elizabeth feared most, and Lady Mary Grey as the last of the sisters who were heirs to the throne. (de Lisle, xxx).

These three sisters were the daughters of Henry and Frances Grey. Frances is often viewed as a power hungry mother who didn’t care about Jane, but de Lisle explains why this is merely a stereotype. The Grey’s gave their daughters the best education imaginable for those who were in line for the throne. Jane, Katherine and Mary were raised to be educated and opinionated young ladies, which really defined who Jane was, even when she became queen for a fortnight, not the nine days of the myth. Jane was in fact one of the leaders of the new Protestant movement and she stuck to her beliefs, even when she was facing execution.

It was the memory of Jane that was always in the back of Katherine and Mary’s minds. After Jane’s death, neither girl truly pursued the crown of England. Instead, they wanted to be happy and marry who they wanted for love, no matter what. It started with Katherine, who was going to be next in line to the throne after Elizabeth became queen since Elizabeth never married. Katherine wanted a simple life so she married Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford without Elizabeth’s knowledge. Elizabeth sent both Katherine and Edward to the Tower where they had two children, Thomas and Edward Lord Beauchamp. Katherine would die sick, impoverished and under house arrest, separated from her husband and her children.

Mary did not fare much better. Mary married Thomas Keyes, a sergeant porter to Elizabeth I, in secret. Unlike Katherine, Mary and Thomas’s marriage ended badly after Thomas was sent to a cramp and dark prison cell. Mary never married again, but she was able to return to court.

This is the story of the Grey family without all the frills. The stories of Jane, Katherine and Mary are stories of heartache and pain. They were too close to the throne to have a normal life that they wanted. When I started reading this book, I will admit that it shocked me. I thought I knew the story of the Grey family, but I was wrong. Leanda de Lisle has opened my eyes to the truth about the Greys with her book “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen”. This book is very well written and so easy to understand. If you are interested in the Grey family and the story of Jane, Katherine and Mary, this is the book for you.