Book Review: “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

cover260113-medium (1)When we think of those who made an impact in history, we tend to think of those who have been born to a married couple and therefore were considered legitimate children, especially when it comes to royal children. However, we know that illegitimate royal children, like William the Conqueror, greatly impacted history. Illegitimate royal children may have been barred from becoming king or queen of their respective countries of birth, but that does not mean they didn’t impact how their home country was governed. One of these children who affected politics during the Tudor dynasty was Arthur Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of Edward IV. In her latest book, “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle,” she explores the life of this man who gives us extraordinary insight into the running of Calais and how Henry VIII treated other family members.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed the previous books I read by Sarah-Beth Watkins, and when I heard that she was writing a new book about Arthur Plantagenet, I was thrilled to read it. I have only heard about Arthur Plantagenet as a side character in other biographies and novels during Henry VIII’s reign, so I was looking forward to learning more about this man.

Watkins begins by exploring the possible birth dates and Arthur’s birth mother, which is a difficult challenge because Edward IV was known for having several mistresses that we know about and probably others who have remained secrets in history. While some illegitimate children were not acknowledged by their royal fathers, it looks like Edward IV accepted Arthur and allowed him to have a good education that would have followed his legitimate sons’ education regime. After the shocking death of Edward IV and the reign of Richard III, we see Arthur establishing himself in the court of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York; we have records of Elizabeth of York taking care of her illegitimate half-brother. Arthur was so close to Elizabeth of York that he attended her funeral.

Arthur’s rise during the reign of Henry VIII focuses on this title. We see how Arthur started as a Spear of Honour and worked his way up to Viscount Lisle after Charles Brandon became Duke of Suffolk. He was a Knight of the Garter, the Vice Admiral of the Tudor Navy, and finally became Lord Deputy of Calais. Arthur was married twice to Elizabeth Grey and Honor Greenville, and although Elizabeth was the one who gave Arthur his daughters, Honor was the one who we know the most about because of the Lisle Letters.

With the title of Lord Deputy of Calais came significant responsibilities for taking care of France’s last remaining English city. Arthur Plantagenet had to deal with your average repairs, preparing the town for battle, civil disputes, religious quarrels, and plots against King Henry VIII. The time that Arthur and Honor were in Calais was a tumultuous time for England and Henry, and we get to see how Arthur felt about these issues, like the Pole family drama, through his Lisle letters. The connection with the Pole family led Arthur to become a prisoner in the Tower of London for two years as he was connected to the Botolf plot to take the city of Calais for the Pope.

Watkins brings the life of Arthur Plantagenet to the forefront and gives this hidden illegitimate Plantagenet his time to shine. It was a fascinating read, especially learning about how Calais was maintained and about the Botolf plot, which I had never heard about before reading this book. If you want an excellent book that introduces the life of Arthur Plantagenet and his role during the reign of King Henry VIII, I would highly recommend you read “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

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: “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People” by Kathryn Warner

60747108._SX318_The city of London has been around for over two millennia, and with each passing century, it changes ever so slightly. From the Roman Londinium to medieval London, we see the city grow from a settlement of between 30,000 to 60,000 people to a bustling town of around 80,000 to 100,000 people. With growth comes changes to the city that would become the capital of England, and one of the most significant periods of transformation for the capital was during the fourteenth century. What was life like in fourteenth-century London for the average citizen of this sprawling city? Kathryn Warner attempts to answer this question in her latest nonfiction book, “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am always fascinated by learning about how people from different centuries lived their everyday lives, so when I heard about this title, it piqued my interest.

London was an international melting pot for Europe, so Warner used many stories to show the city’s diversity. To narrow down the information used in this particular book, Warner explains to her audience that she would only use tales from the reigns of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III. This book is broken down into bite-sized chapters exploring different aspects of London life, from government and religion to medical, housing, and marriage. This may sound like your average time traveler guidebook, so those of us living in the 21st century can understand the fourteenth century, but Warner gives this genre a bit of a twist.

Instead of focusing on the different aspects and what was considered normal for citizens to eat or wear, Warner looks at unique cases that correspond with the elements that defined fourteenth-century London. They give great insights into how deadly the time was and how the average London citizens dealt with the legal restrictions of everyday life. Every aspect of fourteenth-century life had consequences for those who broke the rules, from charging too much for a loaf of bread or a mug of ale to stealing clothes or building violations. We also get great insight into how women and children were treated, the darker aspects of life, and how they were approached.

The one issue I had with this book was that it showed the cases that were the exceptions to the rules instead of showing what the standards were. Although I am glad Warner included the information she did, like her glossary, nicknames, and the introduction of surnames, I did want more facts to make this book feel complete. I wanted to know what the typical fashion was like for Londoners and what they ate during a normal day. What did a typical day look like for someone who lived in London during the fourteenth century?

“London, A Fourteenth-Century City, and its People” by Kathryn Warner is a well-researched and captivating look into London’s past for those who love learning new facts about medieval Europe. If you like learning new factoids about medieval London, you will find this book rather entertaining.

Book Review: “Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England” by Carol McGrath

91OzLPvsjQLThe study of the Tudor dynasty has led us on many different adventures throughout the centuries. We have analyzed this period from numerous angles, from the royals and nobles to the essential lives of those who lived in England during this time. We tend to leave the more intimate moments for historical fiction novels and dramas, but one must wonder what those moments might have been like for those who lived in Tudor England. What were the romantic and the more intimate moments like for the Tudors? In her book, “Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England,” Carol McGrath gives her readers an in-depth look at these private moments.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have heard great things about the Sex and Sexuality series by Pen and Sword Books, so when they announced the book about Tudor England, I knew that I wanted to read it.

McGrath begins by informing her readers that to understand how Tudors viewed sex and sexuality, we must know how the Catholic Church and Protestantism viewed sex. We also see what kinds of aphrodisiacs the Tudors found the most effective, where prostitution reigned supreme for a time, how music and dancing influenced courtship. They viewed hygiene and their overall health through the Humours Theory and how the Tudors viewed witchcraft compared to other dynasties that would follow.

She also mentions how those accused of adultery and impotence were tested and tried and how a couple could prevent an unwanted pregnancy. McGrath makes sure that no stone is unturned in this journey to understand better these private moments from love and lust, sex inside and outside of marriage, clothing, and symbols in art.

One complaint with this title was that she spent a little too much time on Henry VIII and his wives. Still, I wanted to see more about other less known Tudor relationships to gain a more comprehensive understanding of different Tudor relationships.

This is a well-written and informative book on the more private moments in Tudor history. They played a dynamic role in our understanding of the Tudors. It is educational, and a fun read for any fan of the Tudor dynasty. If you want to learn more about the more intimate side of the Tudor dynasty, I highly recommend you read “Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England” by Carol McGrath.

Book Review: “Rebellion in the Middle Ages: Fight Against the Crown” by Matthew Lewis

58661950In human history, when citizens have disagreed with a new law or those in charge, they often stage a protest to show their frustration. When their voices are not heard, people often turn to rebellions and revolts to make sure their opinions matter. We might think that revolution and rebellion as a form of protest are modern ideas, but they go back for centuries. Revolutions and rebellions shaped history, no more so than in the middle ages. In his latest book, “Rebellion in the Middle Ages: Fight Against the Crown,” Matthew Lewis examines the origins of the most famous rebellions in medieval England and how they transformed the course of history.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Matthew Lewis’ books for years now, and I wanted to read his latest book. The topic appealed to me, and I wanted to see something new about these rebellions.

Lewis begins with the Norman invasion and those who resisted William the Conqueror as king to understand the vast history of rebellions in middle ages England. The most famous of these rebels was a man named Hereward the Wake. We then move to the Anarchy, a battle between cousins, Empress Matilda, the rightful heir, and Stephen of Blois, her cousin and the one who would inevitably be King of England. Empress Matilda’s son Henry II would become King Stephen’s heir, but the first Plantagenet king had to endure numerous rebellions from his friend Thomas Becket and his sons.

Moving into the halfway point of the middle ages, Lewis explores how the first and second Barons’ Wars were fought over the rights of the average citizen kings like John were put in their place with the Magna Carta. Some rebellions had other goals, like the deposition of Edward II in favor of his son Edward III and Henry of Bolingbroke’s revolt against his cousin Richard II, and of course, the Wars of the Roses with the deposition of Henry VI. It was not just the nobility that decided to rebel against the monarchy, as we see with the Peasants’ Revolt, led by Wat Tyler, and the Jack Cade Rebellion. The cost for rebellions could be extremely high, as men like Simon de Montfort, Hugh Despenser the Younger, and Richard Duke of York would find out.

Individually, every one of these rebellions would have numerous books dedicated to deciphering the intricacies of why the rebels did what they did. However, Lewis has taken on the mammoth task of combining these tales into one comprehensive nonfiction book easy to read for novices and experts alike. This book is another triumph for Matthew Lewis. If you want an excellent book that examines the origins of medieval rebellions and how they impacted English history, “Rebellion in the Middle Ages: Fight Against the Crown” by Matthew Lewis is the ideal book for your collection.

Book Review: “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools” by Phillipa Vincent- Connolly

41975683When it comes to studies into the Tudor dynasty, many different approaches have been taken in the past. We have examined every monarch, their spouses, how they lived, what they wore, and the various political events that defined the dynasty. The list is endless to the different studies that have been done with the Tudors, yet there are still new areas of study that are being explored. One of those areas of study is how individuals with disabilities survived in the past. How did society treat those who had disabilities, and what rights did they have according to the laws of the land? In her first non-fiction book, “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools,” Philippa Vincent-Connolly explores the lives of famous fools and monarchs with disabilities to discover how they were treated by Tudor society.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this book, I was interested in learning more, and I will admit that studies on those who had disabilities in the past have never been an area of research that I considered before. I wanted to learn more and see if Vincent-Connolly could provide new information about the Tudors.

To understand disabilities during the Tudor dynasty, Vincent-Connolly defines a few terms, such as a natural fool, those with disabilities, and an artificial fool, which we consider clowns or jesters. They were either viewed as vile sinners or holy innocents, more divine than the average citizen. Like William Somers and Jayne Foole, natural fools were deemed prominent members of the Tudor court and allowed to speak freely to the monarch ruling at the time. Those who lived at court were well taken care of and were depicted in portraits as background figures. Of course, disabilities also affected royalty and the nobility, like Henry VIII, Claude of France, and Lady Mary Grey. For those who did not have the luxury of living at court, some Poor Laws and communities were dedicated to caring for natural fools. With the dissolution of the monasteries, the care for those with disabilities shifted from the church to the communities and their families.

Vincent-Connolly has a passion for this subject and is genuinely dedicated to sharing that passion with fellow Tudor nerds. The one major problem that I had with this book was its repetitive nature, and if it were organized better, this repetitive problem would not be as bad, which would be an easier read. She included one source that I disagreed with, but it was a minor issue in the grand scheme of things.

Overall, I found this book informative and fascinating. The lives of Tudors who had disabilities mattered, and it was an intriguing book that added a new aspect to Tudor research. I think this will open a discussion about those who had disabilities in the past and give us a better appreciation of their struggles and how they survived. If you want to learn something new about this dynasty, I suggest you check out “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools” by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly.

Book Review: “The Last Daughter of York” by Nicola Cornick

56555532
The mystery of the Princes in the Tower has inspired many myths and theories for centuries. It has captured readers’ and historians’ attention that numerous books have focused on this topic and solved the mystery. But what if the mystery of the princes extended to the modern-day and caused another disappearance? Serena Warren’s twin sister Caitlin went missing years ago. When Caitlin’s body is discovered in a tomb that has been untouched since the 18th century, Serena must recover her memories to discover the truth. How does the story of Caitlin’s disappearance and death connect with the famed Princes in the Tower? These mysteries are explored in Nicola Cornick’s latest gripping historical fiction novel, “The Last Daughter of York.”

I want to thank Graydon House and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this novel. When I read the description of this title, I was intrigued by the concept. Having dual timelines, with one story being in the past and one in the present day, can be tricky to maintain balance, so I wanted to see how well Cornick can combine Wars of the Roses history with a modern-day story.

Cornick begins her novel with the tale of the Mistletoe Bride, the mysterious woman who stole a mystical artifact and faded into the dark on her wedding night. We then jumped ahead to Serena Warren’s story as she tries to live her life while being haunted by the memories of her twin sister Caitlin, who disappeared without a trace. Serena is the only one who knows what might have happened to Caitlin, but she has cognitive amnesia, which prevents her from remembering the night her sister vanished. Serena starts to search for the truth when Caitlin’s remains are discovered in a tomb from 1708.

A while later, we jump back to the middle of the Wars of the Roses, where we get to know Anne Lovell, the young wife of Francis Lovell. Anne is only five years old when she is married to Francis Lovell. Their relationship develops from an arranged marriage to friends, and finally, to deeply in love. Francis is best friends with Richard Duke of Gloucester, who would become King Richard III. When Richard’s brother King Edward IV unexpectedly passed away in 1483, Elizabeth Woodville turned to Francis and Anne to protect her youngest son, Richard of York. When Richard III died two years later, Francis and Anne had to do everything in their power to protect Richard of York.

I found both stories engaging, but when they combined, I found them thrilling. The stories that Cornick was able to craft are stunning, and the characters are so believable. I loved both female protagonists, Anne Lovell and Serena Warren, as they were strong and determined to figure out the truth and protect the ones they loved. The romantic elements of this novel are enough to make you swoon. The ending was so satisfying, and Cornick kept me guessing until the bitter end on who Caitlin’s killer was, which when it was revealed made perfect sense.

Overall, I loved this book. Before I started it, I did have reservations about the dual timelines, but Cornick does it masterfully. It is a smashing story that combines the past and the present with mysteries and romance. This was the first book that I have read by Nicola Cornick, but it will not be my last. If you love historical fiction and contemporary fiction, you will adore “The Last Daughter of York” by Nicola Cornick.

Book Review: “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings” by Dan Jones

57841287As the weather gets colder, the leaves turn brilliant colors and fall from their trees, marking the perfect time of the year to snuggle with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a good spooky tale. Many would reach for a modern supernatural story, but ghost tales have been hiding in archives for centuries. One such story comes from the time of King Richard II. It was first found and transcribed from Latin in 1922 by medievalist M.R. James. Dan Jones has taken on the challenge to retell this story for a modern audience. Initially written by an unknown monk of Byland Abbey, this medieval ghost story is called “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings.”

I want to thank Head of Zeus Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am a big fan of Dan Jones and his historical nonfiction books, so I was thrilled when I heard about this title.

Our tale begins with the tailor named Snowball and his horse Borin traveling home from Gilling to Ampleforth one November night. All of a sudden, Snowball is attacked by a raven that transforms into a grotesque dog. The dog gives Snowball a mission that only he can complete, to find a specific priest to ask for absolution for a criminal with no name and whose crime we do not know. If he does not return to the same spot where he has met the dog, there will be consequences.

To give readers even more information, Jones includes the story of how M.R.James came to find the tale and why he chose to bring this story into the 21st century. He also tells the story of Byland Abbey and includes the original Latin text for those who feel ambitious to translate it themselves.

I am not usually a fan of creepy ghost stories, but I found this tale entirely enthralling, and it sent chills down my back in a matter of pages. Even though Jones does not include that many physical descriptions for characters like Snowball and Borin, I can picture this tale playing out. For his first venture into the world of fiction, I think Jones does a brilliant job, and I hope one day he will make an anthology of medieval ghost stories. If you want a delightfully ghoulish ghost story that is perfect for fall, I highly recommend you read “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings” by Dan Jones.

Book Review: “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times” by Juliana Cummings

56549196The period of human history that we know today as the Middle Ages spanned over a thousand years, and within that time, significant progress was made into understanding our world. Inventions and discoveries were made not just in Europe but throughout the known world during this time. One area of study that saw a lot of change was medical studies and understanding the human body. How did physicians heal the sick during the Middle Ages, and how did their experiences change their field of study? These questions and more are all explored in Juliana Cummings’ latest book, “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I like learning about aspects from the past, so when I saw this title, I was interested in reading it. I am not usually curious about medical information, but medieval medical history draws me in, so I hope to learn more.

To understand many of the theories of medieval medicine and their origins, we have to go back to the Greeks, primarily Galen and Hippocrates. Many people would be familiar with the works of Hippocrates. Still, they might not be familiar with Galen even if they know his Four Humours Theory, which was pivotal in understanding the human body. Cummings also includes the works of Arab scholars, European scholars, and physicians to help the audience understand how vast the world of medical history was during the Middle Ages.

Cummings does not stick with one medical treatment or disease during this time, and she covers everything from the Black Death, syphilis, and leprosy to pregnancy and injuries during battle. Reading about the theories and cures that physicians, apothecaries, and barber surgeons applied to heal the sick and dying was quite fascinating. Even though I did take a copious amount of notes while reading this book, I did feel like other books on this subject did a better job of focusing on the medicine part. This book introduces many theories and physicians to those unfamiliar with medical history, but it falls a bit flat with actual cures that they would have used. The ending of this book also needed a bit of work since it just ended abruptly. I think it would have been appropriate for Cummings to explain why the history of medieval medicine is important for readers to understand in the 21st century and beyond.

Overall, I think this was a decent introductory book into the vast world of medieval medical history. Cummings’s writing style is easy to follow, and she has done her research about this subject. If you want a solid introductory book into the world of medieval medical history, you should check out “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times” by Juliana Cummings.

Book Review: “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola” by Samantha Morris

57165112When we think about men who challenged the Church and are known as Reformers, we tend to think of Martin Luther, Jan Hus, and John Calvin. However, a man fought against corruption in his beloved Florence who should be included in the list of great reformers. He was a Dominican monk who was not afraid to preach against sin and took aim at the most powerful men in all of Italy, including Pope Alexander VII. His sermons were so scandalous that they would lead to his demise upon a pyre in the middle of Florence. His name was Girolamo Savonarola, and his story is told in Samantha Morris’s latest biography, “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this biography. I read Samantha Morris’s previous joint biography of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia and thoroughly enjoyed it. When I heard that she was writing a new biography about a famous figure in Italian history, I was intrigued.

Girolamo Savonarola was a scholar, like his father and grandfather before him, destined to be a doctor like his grandfather. His plan for his life took a drastic turn when the girl he was fell for rejected his advances, so he decided to join the Dominican order as a friar. Talk about not taking a break-up well. Savonarola studied the Humanist teachings and incorporated them into the way he understood his faith. Of course, as a friar, he couldn’t keep his opinions to himself, so he began preaching against corruption and the vices that he saw during his travel.

Savonarola’s preaching was appealing to the people of Florence, yet it did not sit well with the leader of Florence, Lorenzo de ’Medici. Lorenzo tried to silence the troublesome friar, but his son Piero de Medici took on the challenge when he passed away. Piero was nothing like his father and was overthrown as ruler of Florence by Savonarola. Of course, Savonarola was not satisfied with reforming Florence, and he decided to take on the Catholic Church itself and attack another powerful family.

Charles VII of France wanted to conquer Italy, which to the Dominican friar was a good idea, so Savonarola helped the king. This incident drew the ire of Rodrigo Borgia, also known as Pope Alexander VI, and Ludovico “Il Moro” Sforza of Milan, who just wanted the friar to shut up. Even with numerous ex-communications, Savonarola kept preaching against corruption and vices, leading to the Bonfires of the Vanities in 1497. He took artwork and writings deemed inappropriate and burned them in a humongous bonfire. A year later, on May 22, 1498, Girolamo Savonarola lost his life because of his heretic teachings.

This book has so many scandals and dynamic characters that you will forget you are reading a biography. Morris has done it yet again, and this was a brilliantly engaging and extremely well-researched biography. The way she can capture the thrilling world of 15th and 16th century Italy is astounding, and I hope she will write more about Italian history in the future. If you want a fun biography about a man who fought to reform the Catholic Church, I highly recommend you read “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola” by Samantha Morris.