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: “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.