Book Review: “Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen” by Mickey Mayhew

cover258870-medium (1)Throughout history, there have been a select number of cases of monarchs becoming prisoners either in war or in times of peace. One of the most famous cases of a monarch’s imprisonment during the 16th century was the case of Mary Queen of Scots. While there have been many tales of her infamous imprisonment and execution, there has not been much attention to the men and woman who acted as Mary Queen of Scots’ jailers. Who were the men and woman Elizabeth I put in charge of guarding the Scottish queen while she was in England? What were the conditions of her imprisonment, and what were the castles and manors like when the queen arrived? Mickey Mayhew explores these questions in his book, “Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have heard good things about Mickey Mayhew’s previous books that Pen and Sword Books have published, so when I saw this title, I wanted to read it. I have not read many books about Mary Queen of Scots’ imprisonment in England, so I was looking forward to learning something new.

Mayhew begins his nonfiction book by exploring Mary Queen of Scots’ origins and how she ended up being a prisoner in England. Next, he looks at the jailers in charge of Mary’s well-being while she was in England. Mayhew focuses on jailers in this book: Sir William Douglas, Henry 9th Lord Scrope, Sir Francis Knollys, Thomas Howard 4th Duke of Norfolk, Bess of Hardwick, Ralph Sadler, Sir Amyas Paulet, and Sir Drue Drury. Remarkably, we as readers get background information about every jailer and how their time with the prisoner queen affected them differently. For example, the imprisonment was so much of a strain that it tore the marriage between Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and Bess of Hardwick apart. We also see how the conditions of the castles and manors that Mary was housed in affected her mentally and physically. Some places that Mary was housed in included Carlisle Castle, Bolton Castle, Tutbury Castle, Sheffield Manor Lodge, and the infamous Fotheringhay Castle.

Like any prisoner, there are always escape attempts and plots afoot, and Mary Queen of Scots was no exception. Mayhew explores the famous schemes like Ridolfi and Babington and more minor attempts by Mary and those loyal to her. He also explores how jailers lived their lives after Mary Queen of Scots died. He concludes by examining how each jailer has been portrayed in literature and film/TV shows.

The one thing I wish Mayhew had not done in this book would have been to call Mary I “Bloody Mary” and Elizabeth I “Elizabeth Tudor.” Elizabeth I and Mary I were queens like Mary Queen of Scots, and their nicknames, especially Mary I, should not define who they were as rulers.

Overall, I think Mayhew did an excellent job making the topic of Mary Queen of Scots’ jailers exciting for his audience. It was a well-researched book that allows you to view Mary’s imprisonment and jailers differently. If you want to learn more about Mary Queen of Scots and her jailers, I recommend reading “Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen” by Mickey Mayhew.

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: “Lady, In Waiting” by Karen Heenan

59962472._SY475_Elizabeth Tudor is now the Queen of England and is learning quickly how her relationships with others would affect all of Europe, especially when it comes to her marriage. Marriage is difficult, as Margery Preston soon discovers. Margery is a lady in waiting to the fickle Queen Elizabeth and must navigate the intricacies of court life while learning to be a wife to Robin Lewis, a man she barely knows. She is treated like a child rather than a woman by those around her. Can Margery convince others that she is a strong woman and find love and happiness in the quagmire of court life? Margery’s story is told in the third installment of The Tudor Court series by Karen Heenan, “Lady, In Waiting.”

I want to thank Karen Heenan for sending me a copy of this novel. I have enjoyed the Tudor Court series so far, and I wanted to see how she would continue her Tudor saga. I enjoyed how Heenan had developed the character of Robin Lewis in “A Wider World,” so I wanted to see what kind of woman Robin married.

“Lady, In Waiting” picks up where “A Wider World” left off. Margery and her Grand-mere enter the estate of Winterset, which used to belong to her family, but now belongs to her husband, Robin Lewis. Although they are married, Margery knows very little about her husband and his life. He tends to be surrounded by his books and friends, including a former monk named Anselm. While Margery tries to adjust to this new lifestyle, Robin drops a considerable surprise; Margery will be a lady-in-waiting for Queen Elizabeth I. An enormous honor, to be sure, but to be one of Elizabeth’s ladies meant loyalty and, above all, the ability to keep secrets, even from your significant other. Margery must keep some secrets with more significant implications than mild court gossip.

I loved this book’s central relationship between Margery and Robin. It is a gradual friendship turned romantic love that fans of historical romance swoon. There is so much heartache and sorrow in their relationship, but there are moments of happiness in all of the chaos. Margery’s relationship with her Grand-mere is just as complicated, but the familial bonds are strong between these two women. I also enjoyed Margery’s interactions with famous figures during this time. Her loyalty to Queen Elizabeth, her rather complex relationship with Katherine Grey, and her unexpected friendship with Mary, Queen of Scots.

I found this a delightful read that continues with Heenan’s idea of having characters that would traditionally have been seen as side characters in other historical fiction novels as the heroes of their own stories. Margery Lewis is an excellent leading lady for this third novel in the Tudor Court series. A story full of love, heartache, and intrigue that fans of historical fiction will adore. You will love “Lady, In Waiting” if you have enjoyed Heenan’s previous Tudor Court books.

Book Review: “Rizzio” by Denise Mina

57147033 (1)David Rizzio was one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ favorites at court and the private secretary to the queen. Being a royal favorite would not have been seen as a grave offense in any other country during this time, yet this is Scotland in the 16th century. Scotland was filled with deadly feuds between lords fighting for control of the crown, which would lead to numerous prominent men being murdered, including Rizzio. On March 9, 1566, David Rizzio was murdered in front of Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was several months pregnant. The tale of the grotesque crime and those who witnessed the events of that night are told in Denis Mina’s latest gripping novella, “Rizzio.”

I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this novella. When I read the description of this book and how dynamic the cover design was, I knew that I wanted to read this title. I was intrigued to see how Denise Mina would write the tale of Rizzio for a modern audience.

We begin with a tennis match between David Rizzio and Lord Darnley, Mary’s angsty and angry husband. Darnley wants to be King of Scotland and is tired of Rizzio getting in the way of his plans and that his wife favors this Italian nobody. He wants Rizzio to die, but not by his hands. Darnley has enlisted a ragtag group of nobles to help kill Rizzio and make way for Darnley to become the King.

However, things don’t go as smoothly as Darnley plans. Mary hosts a dinner party for a small group of friends at Holyrood Palace before she goes into confinement to give birth to her son and heir, James VI. A delightful party is disrupted by Darnley, Lord Ruthven, and their men, including one Henry Yair, who have come to kill Rizzio. Mary tries in vain to protect her Italian favorite, but she cannot save her friend in the end.

The tension and the drama that Mina was able to create in such a short amount of time were masterfully done. She was able to show how complex Scottish politics and the battle between Catholicism and reform so that readers who are not familiar with this time could understand the friction between the factions. Even though I knew the history behind this event, how Mina described it sent shivers down my spine. The one issue that I had with this novella was the ending, and it felt a bit flat and rushed to me. I wish she would have tied in the death of Mary and Darnley a bit better into the murder of Rizzio.

I think for a historical fiction novella, Mina does an excellent job of grabbing the reader’s attention and transporting them to that horrible night. This story may be short, but the emotional impact and details will stay with readers even after reading it. If you love reading about Mary, Queen of Scots, and Stuart Scotland during the 16th century, you will find “Rizzio” by Denise Mina thrilling.

Guest Post: “Why I Write Dual Timeline Novels and Why I Choose Present Day” by Clare Marchant

The Queen's Spy Tour BannerToday, I am pleased to welcome Clare Marchant to my blog to discuss her latest novel, “The Queen’s Spy,” and her use of dual timelines. I would like to thank The Coffee Pot Book Club and Clare Marchant for stopping by on this tour. 

I have always loved reading dual timeline novels. I love history (of course!), and although I also read many historical books, both fiction and non-fiction, I love that connection between the past and the present, waiting to find out when the two worlds will meet.

I often wax lyrical about how I am fascinated with the connections that bind us all together, whether family ties, our links to places, objects, or indeed each other. We are all woven together by the way that we are threaded together with everything that we touch. We all have special items, be it family heirlooms or gifts, jewelry, or a book; perhaps that means something special to us. Something that will eventually belong to someone else. When it comes to history, these associations take on a whole new persona as they link over the years or centuries, and I love investigating this through my writing by tying the two stories together through a shared theme, a shared connection.

In Saffron Hall, that relationship, the object that tied the two stories together, was the book of hours. I have a fascination for old illuminated manuscripts, so I wanted to use one of these exquisite small prayer books as the object that united together my two protagonists, showing how the theme, ‘while I breathe, I hope’ touched the lives of them both. They both learn that they must live with the hurt they have endured and to keep taking each day at a time until things get better – they keep breathing and keep hoping. That eventually, time will help them to move on.

In The Queen’s Spy, the object is the triptych that Tom paints, showing his journey, which mirrors in some respects the one in the present day that Mathilde is taking. They are both connected by their shared background of being shunned by society for separate reasons. By being ‘different’ and having to face prejudice and leaving them to lead a peripatetic lifestyle never accepted by those around them. They are always searching for somewhere they will be recognized for who they are and loved for it. By investigating the painting, Mathilde begins to learn more about herself and her place in this world.  And she learns the book’s theme, that she cannot change the past, but she can change the future.

The reason why I choose present-day as my alternative timeline to the Tudor one is that despite the apparent differences to our daily lives between the way we now live compared to how they did in the sixteenth century, I think it shows just how much these morals that guide us affect us all whenever we lived. We are just the same in our hearts, with similar fears, hopes, desires, and despair. People love, they grieve, they laugh, and they cry. In every life, there are shared experiences, precious objects…and precious people.

The Queen's Spy Cover(Blurb)

1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.

There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…

2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.

Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?

Buy Links:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queens-Spy-gripping-historical-fiction-ebook/dp/B08R6Q4CC9

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Queens-Spy-gripping-historical-fiction-ebook/dp/B08R6Q4CC9

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Queens-Spy-gripping-historical-fiction-ebook/dp/B08R6Q4CC9

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/Queens-Spy-gripping-historical-fiction-ebook/dp/B08R6Q4CC9

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-queens-spy-clare-marchant/1139196760

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-queens-spy/clare-marchant/9780008454357

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/the-queen-s-spy-2

iBooks: https://books.apple.com/gb/book/the-queens-spy/id1554626619

Audio: https://amzn.to/2QRzT2K

Clare MarchantAuthor Bio:

Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweler.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins or visiting the nearby coast.

Social Media Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClareMarchant1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/claremarchantauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/claremarchant1/?hl=en

Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/3fkuf2r

Book Review: “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival” by Kate Williams

40554521Two cousins fighting for the right to rule England during the 16th century. One was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn who fought tooth and nail to rule without a man by her side. The other was the daughter of Mary of Guise and King James V of Scotland whose marriage record would prove to be fatal. Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, may have been sister queens, but the way they were treated in their own countries differed completely. While Elizabeth I was praised and protected from harm in England, Mary was a scapegoat for so many in Scotland. The way that Mary was used as a pawn even though she wore a crown was nothing short of extraordinary. The story of how these two queens came on a collision course that would leave one queen beheaded and the other forever changed has been told in many different ways from both sides of the tale, but it has rarely been told as a cohesive nonfiction book. That is until Kate Williams’ marvelous biography, “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival”.

Before we get to the part of the tale that many Tudor fans know very well, the end of the tale, we must understand what shaped Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots to be the queens of England and Scotland respectfully. As someone who knows quite a bit about Elizabeth I’s story, I found Williams’ explanation of her childhood informative and relatively brief.

Williams chooses to focus on the much-maligned Mary, Queen of Scots. We tend to assume that Mary’s life as a pawn with a crown began after her first husband, King Francis II of France, tragically died and she had to go back to her native Scotland. However, Mary was a pawn in someone else’s game her entire life. The only man that Mary loved and who loved her back was Francis. Her other relationships with Darnley and Bothwell were trainwrecks that would cause Mary immense pain and sorrow. Bothwell was the epitome of a disastrous relationship that was doomed to ruin Mary’s life. The two people who Mary thought she could depend on, Elizabeth I and Mary’s own son King James VI, ultimately chose to save face than to help protect a queen who had nowhere else to go.

I will be honest and say that before I read this book, I felt that Mary was the villainess of Tudor propaganda. She, after all, was wanting to dethrone Elizabeth I so that she could become the Catholic Queen of England. I have always been someone who has been a big fan of the reign of Elizabeth I, so I assumed that I would not be a fan of Mary, Queen of Scots. However, that all changed after reading this book. To see Mary put her faith and trust into those who she thought had her best interest at heart and to be betrayed every single time was utterly heartbreaking.

This is a gorgeously written biography of Mary, Queen of Scots that shows Mary in a sympathetic light while portraying how cataclysmic the numerous betrayals she endured affected her life. It was my first time reading a biography about Mary, Queen of Scots, or a book by Kate Williams, and I have to say it is one of my favorite biographies that I have read so far this year. I did not want to stop reading this biography. It made me feel so sympathetic towards Mary and her plight. If you want an exceptional biography about Mary, Queen of Scots, “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival” by Kate Williams is a must to have in your collection.

Book Review: “Forest of Secrets” by Fiona Buckley

55873447The year is 1586 and Ursula Blanchard is on a mission to protect Queen Elizabeth I. After returning home from a previous mission, Ursula and her household come into contact with a countrywoman named Etheldreda Hope who has brought a peculiar case to the forefront. In the forest by the village that Etheldreda calls home, there have been strange rituals occurring that include reference to an evil queen. Are these rituals harmless or is there a sinister motive behind the beliefs of the pagans who meet in the forest? Will Ursula and her household solve the case in time? This is the premise of Fiona Buckley’s latest Ursula Blanchard Tudor mystery, “Forest of Secrets”.

I would like to thank Severn House Publishers and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. This was my first time reading a novel by Fiona Buckley and I was intrigued by the plot. I was looking for a new Tudor mystery series after finishing the Shardlake series, so I decided to give this series a try.

What I did not know when I went into this series was that this was part of the Ursula Blanchard series and it was book nineteen. Not the greatest place to start a new series, but I still decided to give it a try. Ursula is an older noblewoman who works for Sir Francis Walsingham to protect Queen Elizabeth I from threats, like Mary Queen of Scots. By her side is her loyal household who are willing to risk their lives to help Ursula solve the cases that she has been assigned by the royal court.

This particular case was given to her by a woman named Etheldreda who has an interesting problem. She has been declared a witch by her village because her mule gave birth to a foal. Because of this, no one believes her when she says that there have been peculiar rituals occurring in the New Forest. She turns to Ursula and her team to help solve this mystery.

Personally, I did have some issues with this novel. It was difficult for me to get attached to the cast of this novel. I know that this was because I started this series very late so I don’t know the relationships between Ursula and her household.

Another issue that I had was that I didn’t feel like this book was set in the Tudor times. It seems weird to say for a novel that is set in 1586, but with the jargon and the descriptions that Buckley included, you could have easily exchanged characters from different time periods and it would have made sense. When I want to read a Tudor novel, I want to feel like I am transported into the past. With this novel, I just felt like I was reading a novel not set in a particular time period.

Overall, I thought this novel was okay. Buckley has obviously written a world that is beloved, but it was difficult to navigate in that world. I think I will need to read the rest of the Ursula Blanchard series before I reread this book. If you are a fan of the Ursula Blanchard series, you will enjoy “Forest of Secrets” by Fiona Buckley.

Book Review: “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall

One of the most dynamic queens in 16th century Europe who spent most of her youth in a country that was not her homeland, but was fighting for the right to rule England. Her name was Mary Queen of Scots, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth I. Many know of her tragic tale, but there was a man who was behind the scenes trying to guide Scotland to a brighter future. He was not married to Mary Queen of Scots, but he was influential in her life and choosing who she might marry and who she would end up divorcing. He was a politician and a religious reformer whose decisions would alter history dramatically. His name was William Maitland and he served as Mary’s secretary. He is always mentioned as a footnote in history, until now. Robert Stedall’s latest biography, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator”, explores the life and legacy of this rather extraordinary secretary.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this book, I was intrigued since I had never heard of William Maitland, except in footnotes in books about Mary Queen of Scots that I have read in the past. I wanted to know more about the man who knew Mary so well and helped her with such significant decisions in her life.

After Mary Queen of Scots’ first husband, Francis II of France passed away at a young age, she made the journey back to the country of her birth, Scotland, where she was introduced to William Maitland. As a Protestant reformer, he believed that the best thing for the country and the Scottish Reformation would be to break the Auld Alliance with France and to gain closer ties with England. Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley, is less than agreeable to Maitland, so he and others help plot his murder. This decision led to Mary’s imprisonment and the succession of her son James as king.

Stedall’s whole premise revolves around the idea that Maitland helped plan Darnley’s murder. I do have a few problems with this book. First, for a biography that should revolve around Maitland, it felt like Maitland was more of a background character to Mary’s story. Second, the case that he lays out for Maitland being involved in the murder revolves around the validity of the infamous Casket Letters, which many believe are forgeries and have disappeared. It is hard to prove a case when the evidence in question may have been forgeries and are lost to history. Finally, I felt like Stedall’s writing style was a bit dry for my personal taste. I know that this was supposed to be academic in nature, with the focus on the political and religious nature of Maitland’s life, but it just fell flat to me.

Overall, I felt like this book was okay. It may have shown how the political and religious divides influenced the decisions of Mary Queen of Scots’ reign, but it needed a stronger focus on William Maitland. I feel like Stedall has a passion for this period of Scottish history and he has done his research, but he needed to rein it in a bit more. I think if you enjoy reading about Mary Queen of Scots, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall might be a book you should check out.

Book Review: “A Journey Through Tudor England” by Suzannah Lipscomb

42659772In history, we tend to focus on the stories of the men and women who shaped the era. This is obviously important, but the locations where the events of the past happened are equally as important. Sadly, many of the buildings that the men and women from the past knew no longer exist. However, there are a few, especially from the Tudor period, that we can still visit. Suzannah Lipscomb explored over 50 of these remarkable buildings and decided to tell their tales in her book, “A Journey Through Tudor England”.

This book is quite delightful and simple to understand. As someone who has never been to England, I have always wondered what these places must be like to be there in person. Obviously, I have read different descriptions of these places in biographies and historical fiction novels, but the amounts of details that Lipscomb includes is truly a breath of fresh air.

Lipscomb breaks down her book into sections that correspond with where the locations are in England, making it easier to plan a trip for any Tudor fan. Naturally, she does discuss the castles, palaces, theatres, and abbeys that we are all familiar with like Hever Castle, the Tower of London and Fountains Abbey. But, Lipscomb does include locations that fans of the Tudor dynasty may not be familiar with, places like Kett’s Oak or The Vyne.

Although these places by themselves can be interesting, it is truly their connections with the historical figures and important events that define their significance. This is where Lipscomb’s book truly shines. The stories that Lipscomb includes in this book are so engaging and gives a new perspective to the Tudor dynasty. It is not just stories of triumphs and failures by those who we are familiar with, like Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots, but men and women that we may be being introduced to for the first time. Along the way, Lipscomb includes little facts about everyday Tudor lives to give the readers an idea of what life might have been like back then.

Like any good travel guide, Lipscomb includes a list of the locations, their hours and how to get in contact with them. My only real issue with this book is that I wanted to see pictures of these locations. As someone who doesn’t live in England, it would have made the reading experience a bit better and I could visualize the places Lipscomb was describing and would make me want to visit the places in this book even more.

As the first travel guide that I have ever read and reviewed, I found this book really enjoyable. It was light, engaging, and extremely informative. If I ever travel to England, I will bring this along with me and visit the sites in this book. If you want a well-written travel guide to Tudor sites, I highly recommend you read, “A Journey Through Tudor England” by Suzannah Lipscomb.

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.