Book Review: “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was” by Sean Cunningham

28999810A new dynasty is born out of war and bloodshed. Hope is restored to the land as the remains of the Houses of York and Lancaster are united when Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York. It was not until the birth of their eldest child and heir, Prince Arthur, that the union was truly complete. Arthur was the hope for the nation, but when he tragically died shortly after marrying Catherine of Aragon, he was replaced by his younger brother who would become King Henry VIII. Arthur’s life was indeed very short, but his legacy and untimely death altered the course of history forever. Arthur tends to be a footnote in history, between Henry VII’s and Henry VIII’s reigns, but what was this young prince like? Why did his death leave such a large hole in the plans for the future of the Tudor dynasty? What was his relationship like with his family and those closest to the prince? These questions and more are explored in Dr. Sean Cunningham’s brilliant biography, “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was”.

I had heard about this book from my friends in the Tudor community for a while now and it sounded so intriguing. In my studies of the Tudor dynasty, I have often treated Prince Arthur as a footnote, but I have felt that there was more to his story than his birth, his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and his death.

To understand the significance of Prince Arthur and his birth, Cunningham briefly explains how the Tudor dynasty began at the end of the Wars of the Roses. To secure the dynasty, the birth of a male heir was essential. His name itself was seen as a way to connect the Tudors with legendary kings of England’s past. The prince’s baptism was as glamorous as his parents’ coronations and wedding, emphasizing the role that his parents expected their son would play as he grew up.

The bulk of this biography is focused on the education and the political moves that Arthur made while he was Prince of Wales. It may have seemed a bit harsh for his parents to send him away at a young age, but as Cunningham explains thoroughly, this was part of a long-term strategy for Henry VII. Although we don’t know much about Arthur’s character, the way he was raised and how he held control in his northern realm showed us a glimmer of what his reign might have been like if he did live long enough to be the second Tudor king.

It was his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who would be Henry VIII’s first wife, that was the pinnacle of his young life. Normally, the wedding night would not have been a point of intense focus. However, since it was critical to Henry VIII’s divorce case against Catherine, Cunningham explored as much of that night and what we know as possible. Finally, Cunningham tackles the confusing issue of what killed the prince.

Overall I found this book very enlightening and extremely well researched. Prince Arthur was the most prominent Tudor child born to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, yet he has never been a focal point for Tudor historians. Cunningham has taken every minute detail of his short life to craft this insightful biography of a prince whose death shaped the course of history forever. This is a masterpiece of a biography. If you would like to learn more about the life of the firstborn Tudor prince, I highly recommend you read, “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was” by Sean Cunningham.

Book Review: “A Princely Lodging: A History of Sheriff Hutton Castle” by Alexander Hill

Numerous castles with remarkable stories dot the landscapes of many European countries, especially England. Few are in good condition whereas others are in a rather ruinous stage. In the village of Sheriff Hutton, there is a shell of a once illustrious castle that protected England and its monarchs for centuries, aptly named Sheriff Hutton Castle. For those who are familiar with the family York and the Nevilles of the Wars of the Roses, you might be familiar with the name of this castle, but do you know the entire story of the castle? Why was this castle so significant to the history of northern England and why did it fall into disarray? These questions and more are explored in Alexander Hill’s debut book, “A Princely Lodging: A History of Sheriff Hutton Castle”.

I would like to thank Alexander Hill for sending me a copy of his book. I always like learning about new aspects of history that I never considered. Obviously, I have heard of Sheriff Hutton Castle, but I never considered its history, so I was excited to learn more about this castle.

In order to understand the significance of Sheriff Hutton Castle and why it was built in Sheriff Hutton, Hill takes his readers to the reign of William the Conqueror. William’s castle-building campaign was significant since the castles acted as defensive structures to protect the country. Later, they would transition to more palatial buildings, but they were still used by the military from time to time as headquarters for councils.

Knowing this information, Hill dives deep into the archives to explore the truth about Sheriff Hutton Castle. Hill tells the tale of Sheriff Hutton Castle in chronological order; from who built it, who owned it when, and why it is left in its current dilapidated state. The amount of care and meticulous research that went into writing this book is nothing short of astounding. Hill includes details about the landscape, the structure itself, how much it took to repair such a structure, and who acted as guests and caretakers of the castle.

What I found extremely fascinating is how much time Hill took on the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors period in the castle’s history. To see how the York dynasty used it as a strategic point for their Council of the North and how it was used as a nursery for some of the most famous royal children was interesting. One of my favorite parts of this book was the portion about Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, and his time at Sheriff Hutton Castle. To see how he was raised and the education that he received was a breath of fresh air, especially for those who are fans of studying the Tudor dynasty.

Overall, I found this book rather enjoyable. There were a few grammatical mistakes, but the actual content of this book was engrossing and very original. This may be Alexander Hill’s debut, but I hope it is not his last book. I would love for him to explore even more castles in the near future. If you want to learn more about Sheriff Hutton Castle and its impact, I recommend you read, “A Princely Lodging: A History of Sheriff Hutton Castle” by Alexander Hill.

Book Review: “Mary Tudor: A Story of Triumph, Sorrow and Fire” by Anthony Ruggiero

55127415._SX318_The Tudors were a royal family striving to survive in England through male heirs. Yet, its strongest rulers were female, Elizabeth, and her eldest half-sister, Mary. Obviously, many remember Queen Elizabeth I for her “Golden Age” and the first woman monarch of England to rule by her own right, but that title should really go to Mary I. Elizabeth tends to get all of the attention, but Mary’s life was full of her own struggles. In “Mary Tudor: A Story of Triumph, Sorrow and Fire”, Anthony Ruggiero explores the myths and the facts about this much-maligned and tragic figure in English history.

I would like to thank Anthony Ruggiero for sending me a copy of his book. When I first heard about this book from my friend Rebecca Larson of the Tudors Dynasty blog, I thought I would give it a shot.

Ruggiero’s book is relatively small yet it covers all of Mary’s life. He begins with the foundation of the Tudor dynasty itself and explains the relationship between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. I think that Ruggiero does an excellent job explaining Mary’s life story to his audience in a clear and concise way. I think my main issue with this particular book is that it is too short. I was hoping that Ruggiero was going to expand on the ideas that he presented in his book and to include more original sources instead of secondary sources.

Overall, I found Anthony Ruggiero’s debut biography was a decent read. It provides a solid introduction to Mary Tudor for those who are studying the Tudors for the first time. I think there are a lot of promising elements in this book and I look forward to seeing what Ruggiero will write next. If this sounds like a book you might be interested in, check out, “Mary Tudor: A Story of Triumph, Sorrow and Fire” by Anthony Ruggiero.

Book Review: “Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe” by Melissa Julian-Jones

In 1375, the body of Sir William Cantilupe was found murdered in a field. He was stabbed multiple times, yet it looked like he was moved as his clothing had no marks on it. The initial investigation pointed to William Cantilupe’s immediate family and his household staff who appeared dissatisfied with how he ran his household. This particular case has been an area of fascination for medieval historians for centuries as it explores different aspects of life during the Hundred Years War. Some of these areas include domestic violence, social norms, law and order, and the punishment for crimes like murder. Melissa Julian-Jones explores every aspect of this case while combining contemporary sources to give readers a new approach to this murder in her book, “Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I had never heard of this case, but after reading the Shardlake series, I was looking for another historical who done it. When I heard about this book, I thought I would give it a try.

Julian-Jones introduces her readers who may not be familiar with this case to the basic facts; when the sheriff and the coroner discovered Sir William Cantilupe’s body in a ditch in a field, which was not that uncommon for a medieval murder. At first, they assumed that it was a simple case of a highway robbery, which Julian-Jones does explore for a bit, but they quickly come to the conclusion that the murder occurred inside of his own household.

To explore the motives of those who might have killed William, which included his wife Maud and his household staff, Julian-Jones explores the family history of the Cantilupes and why people might have wanted to kill William. This part of the book was a bit difficult to read because she does not mince words when it comes to some of the graphic details of their lives, which includes elements of domestic violence. Sometimes when you do study history, you will confront things in history that will make you feel uncomfortable, but it is part of the learning experience to know that things in the past were not always black and white, there were a lot of grey areas.

Julian-Jones spends the bulk of her book exploring the lives of those who were considered the suspects of the murder. Since we don’t have much information about their particular lives because of their stations in life, Julian-Jones had to rely on similar cases from the same era to show what the motive might have been and what the punishment for the crimes was for the different stations of life. This was quite fascinating as we see how a medieval historian who studied criminal accounts had to act like a detective to figure out what the truth might have been and who might have committed the murder.

Julian-Jones takes her readers on a medieval murder mystery ride that affected the nobility, rather than the nobility, which is rather unusual. This book will expand your knowledge about the medieval nobility, their households, and the criminal justice system of their time. This was truly a fascinating study into a centuries-old cold case mystery. If you want a good study into a medieval mystery, you should definitely check out, “Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe” by Melissa Julian-Jones.

Book Review: “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family” by Samantha Morris

51351927A family mired in myths and rumors of incest, murder, and intrigue for centuries. A brother and sister caught in the middle, attracting the attention of gossips and historians alike. No, I am not referring to a royal family in England. In fact, this story starts in Spain with Alonso de Borja, who moved to Italy and helped create the infamous Borgia family. Caught in the middle were the son and daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, Alonso’s nephew, and his mistress Vanozza Cattanei; Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. How close were these famous siblings? What were their lives really like? In Samantha Morris’ latest biography, “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Vilified Family”, she dives deep into the archives to find out the truth about the legendary Borgia family.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I will be honest and say that I did not know much about this family before I started reading this book. I knew about the rumors and that they had to do with the papacy, but that was it. I was excited to learn more about them and to understand why so many people are so fascinated with the Borgia siblings.

To understand how the Borgias rose to power, Morris takes her readers on a journey through papal history and the many different councils that occurred in the 14th and 15th centuries. This was familiar to me as I took a class in college on Church History, in which we did discuss these councils, but for those who are not familiar with them, Morris takes the time to explain the significance of each event. We see how Alonso de Borja rose through the ranks to become Pope Calixtus III and how his nephew, Rodrigo Borgia, was the complete opposite of his uncle. Rodrigo, later Pope Alexander VI, was a ladies man, and his children by his mistress, Vanozza Cattanei, were all illegitimate, including Cesare and Lucrezia.

It is the lives of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia that historians, including Morris, tend to focus on. These siblings created so many enemies that rumors were bound to be associated with them. From incest between them to murder using poison, and numerous affairs, Cesare and Lucrezia endured scandals that made the Tudors look like a normal family. Morris takes on each myth and rumor head on to explore the truth about these siblings, which is of course more complex than the fictional tales of their lives.

I found myself enthralled in the true-life tales of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. Like most historical tales, the truth is much more compelling than the fictitious tales. The trials, triumphs, and tribulations of the siblings are so compelling and to realize that they lived when the Renaissance in Italy and the Tudor dynasty was still new in England is remarkable.

This book made me fall in love with the Borgia family. The story of their rise to greatness and what Cesare and Lucrezia had to endure to protect their family and its name was nothing short of extraordinary. Samantha Morris’s writing style is easy to understand but you can tell how much care she took in researching these simply sensational siblings. I want to study the Borgia family even more because of this book. If you want an engrossing nonfiction book about the Borgia family, I would highly suggest you read, “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family” by Samantha Morris. A fabulous introduction to the Borgias and their tumultuous times.

Book Review: “Richard III in the North” by M.J. Trow

If you have studied the Wars of the Roses, you are obviously very familiar with the infamous last Plantagenet King of England, Richard III. He is known for many things, but the most notorious thing that he is associated with is the murder of the Princes in the Tower, his nephews. However, we cannot be certain that he committed this crime or if a crime was committed in the first place. These rumors swirled around London and Southern England where Richard III was not popular. It was a different story in Northern England, where he was much beloved. In M.J. Trow’s latest book, “Richard III in the North”, he tries to uncover the true story of Richard III by looking at his life while he was living in the North. Was he really the monster that literature has portrayed him as or do we have a case of misunderstanding a historical figure?

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I am by no means a Ricardian, but I do enjoy nonfiction books about a historical figure that gives a new twist to their story, which this book does rather well.

To understand why Richard was positioned in the North and why it was crucial, Trow takes readers on a journey through the past. Trow first explores the origins of Richard Duke of York and Cecily Neville, Richard III’s father, and mother, which was very interesting to read. As someone familiar with these characters, it was easy for me to follow the genealogy, but I know that there would be some readers who would have found family trees helpful in this particular section. At the start of each chapter, Trow has decided to include the coat of arms of a different historical figure that made an impact in Richard’s life, which I thought was an elegant touch.

Obviously, since Richard III lived in the time that we refer to as the Wars of the Roses, Trow spends quite a bit of time discussing major battles and causes of the conflict. What I really appreciated is when Trow went into details about major battles that are often overlooked, like Wakefield. These battles and these causes led to the decision by Richard’s brother King Edward IV to send Richard to the north to quell the violence that might have been caused by allies of the Lancastrians.

It is the North that Trow gives us as readers a different view of the much-maligned man. It was here that Richard was beloved and that he spent much of his adult life. He creates a different world that is hostile to Southerns, yet Richard is able to make a cordial relationship that would turn into him being adored by the people. Trow includes vivid descriptions of castles that were associated with and what life was like for him and his immediate family. It was a unique side of the infamous figure that made him more life-like instead of how he is portrayed in literature.

This may seem like yet another book about Richard III, but I think Trow’s focus on the relationship between the last Plantagenet king and the North makes this stand out from all of the rest. Trow has a very casual writing style but you can tell he has obviously done his research. I think if you are a Ricardian or if you want to look at a new aspect of the Wars of the Roses, I would recommend you read, “Richard III in the North” by M.J. Trow.

Book Review: “Wolf Hall Companion” by Lauren Mackay

52659696 (1)One of the most popular Tudor historical fiction series in recent memory has revolved around the enigmatic Thomas Cromwell. Of course, I am talking about the famous Wolf Hall trilogy by Dame Hilary Mantel. As many dive into this monumental series, certain questions arise. How true is Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII during some of the most tumultuous times of his reign? What was life like for those who lived in privilege during Henry VIII’s reign? How did Cromwell rise to the pinnacle of power and why did he fall spectacularly? In Dr. Lauren Mackay’s third book, she takes up the monumental task of explaining to readers what is fact and what is fiction in Mantel’s series. Her book is aptly titled “Wolf Hall Companion”. 

I would like to thank Batsford Books and Net Galley for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book. I will admit that I have not yet read the Wolf Hall trilogy, but this book might have convinced me to take up the challenge and read the trilogy soon.

Mackay starts this delightful book by exploring Thomas Cromwell’s origins and what his family life was like. To uncover the truth about Cromwell’s life, Mackay relies heavily on the behemoth biography of Cromwell written by Diarmaid MacCulloch, which makes perfect sense. She also looks into the lives of those who either influenced Cromwell or were affected by Cromwell’s decisions. People like Anne Boleyn and the entire Boleyn family, Cardinal Wolsey,  Katherine of Aragon, Thomas Cranmer, Anne of Cleves, and Stephen Gardner just to name a few. Mackay balances how Mantel portrays these figures in her novels with the facts that we know about them and the events from numerous sources. 

Mackay also tackles the aspects of the Tudor court and life that adds another layer of details for readers. Things like important holidays, how Henry VIII’s court was structured,  gentlemanly activities and sports, and the Renaissance and the Reformation. It breathes new life into the Tudor dynasty and the people who lived during this time. 

Mackay’s challenge is how to write a book that is just as engaging for the readers as Mantel’s trilogy while still being educational and informative while incorporating her feelings about these novels. It is not an easy task, but Mackay can take on this task and write a gorgeous companion piece, with exquisite woodcut images to follow the story of Thomas Cromwell’s life, his rise to power, and his downfall.

I found this companion book a sheer delight. A combination of being well-researched, bite-size biographies, and gorgeous woodcut illustrations make this book an absolute treat for fans of Wolf Hall and the Tudor dynasty alike. The way Mackay describes Mantel’s writing style and how she created her characters may not be the way I envision them, but that is the great thing about historical fiction. It can challenge your views about a person while still being entertaining. I wish more historical fiction series had companion books like this one. If you are a fan of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy or if you just love learning about the Tudor dynasty from a different point of view, you need to check out Lauren Mackay’s latest masterpiece, “Wolf Hall Companion”.

Guest Post: Women and the Birth of Magna Carta By Sharon Bennett Connolly

118040039_3243809485697736_4753222466893410523_nToday, I am pleased to welcome Sharon Bennett Connolly, the author of Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England. She will be discussing the Magna Carta and the women who influenced this extraordinary document.

Magna Carta is probably the most significant charter in English history and,
today, its importance extends beyond England’s shores, holding a special place in the constitutions of many countries around the world. Despite its age, Magna Carta’s iconic status is a more modern phenomenon, seen in the
influence it has had on nations and organizations around the globe, such as the United States of America and the United Nations, who have used it as the basis for their own 1791 Bill of Rights and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respectively.

After more than 800 years, there are only four original copies of the 1215 charter remains in existence. The best preserved of these four is thought to have arrived at Salisbury Cathedral within days of it being issued on 15 June 1215 and is housed in an interactive exhibition in the cathedral’s Chapter House. A second is owned by Lincoln Cathedral and is now housed in a new, purpose-built, state-of-the-art underground vault in the heart of Lincoln Castle. The remaining two are owned by the British Library in London, one of which was badly damaged by fire in 1731 and has deteriorated over the years; however, the other is on display in the Treasures exhibition, a magnet to visitors from all over the world, who wish to see the iconic Magna Carta.

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Originally called the Charter of Liberties, it was renamed Magna Carta or Great Charter, in 1217, when the Charter of the Forest was issued. Sealed (not signed) in the meadow at Runnymede in June 1215, the legacy of Magna Carta, down through the centuries, has enjoyed a much greater impact on history and the people of the world than it did at the time of its creation. As a peace treaty between rebellious barons and the infamous King John, it was an utter failure, thrown out almost before the wax seals had hardened, not worth the parchment it was written on. The subsequent armed rebellion saw a French prince invited to claim the English throne – if he could wrest it from John’s hands – and John spent the last year of his life clinging desperately to his crown and lands.

Royal 14 C.VII, f.9

Just fifteen months after Magna Carta was sealed, King John was on his deathbed; he died in his forty-ninth year, at Newark Castle on the
night of 18/19 October 1216. His 9-year old son, Henry III, inherited a country mired in a civil war, with half of it occupied by a French army. The young king and his regent, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, had a fight on their hands; they wasted no time in reissuing the Magna Carta and setting about regaining control of the country.

Essentially a peace treaty, Magna Carta is the closest thing England has to a
constitution. It addressed the worries and grievances of the English nobility,
the barons, and sought to curb the powers of the king, firmly placing the
monarch below the law, rather than above it. But what of the women? A small number of Magna Carta clauses were influenced by the experiences of women or sought to protect the rights of women.

Of the sixty-three clauses, two stand out as the guarantors of liberty and the
law, not only in England but around the world. Clause 39 ensures that ‘no man shall be taken or imprisoned or deprived or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go or send against him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.’ This guarantee of justice for all is believed to have been inspired by John’s treatment of Matilda de Braose, wife of William de Braose, Lord of Bamber. William was one of John’s foremost supporters in the early years of his reign, but later fell afoul of the king and saw his family hunted and hounded, almost to destruction. This clause is supported by the one following, clause 49, which states categorically; ‘To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’

As a consequence of John’s rancor poor Matilda and her son, also called
William found themselves languishing in one of John’s prisons. King John
made an agreement with both William and Matilda; freedom for her and a
pardon for William in return for 40,000 marks. However, being either unwilling or unable to pay, Matilda and her son remained in prison – either at Windsor or Corfe Castle – and William was outlawed, eventually escaping into exile in France, disguised as a beggar, where he died in 1211.

Matilda’s fate was more gruesome; she and her son were left to starve to
death in John’s dungeons (though whether this was at Corfe or Windsor is
unclear). Tradition has it, that when their bodies were found, William’s cheeks bore his mother’s bite marks, where she had tried to stay alive following his death:

‘On the eleventh day the mother was found dead between her son’s legs, still
upright but leaning back against her son’s chest as a dead woman. The son,
who was also dead, sat upright, leaning against the wall as a dead man. So
desperate was the mother that she had eaten her son’s cheeks. When William
de Braose, who was in Paris, heard this news, he died soon afterwards, many
asserting that it was through grief.’ (Anonymous of Bethune)

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The Magna Carta of 1215 reflects the needs and events of the time in which it was issued; an England on the brink of civil war, disaffected barons demanding redress, the church and cities, such as London, looking for protection. It was drawn up by barons looking for reparations and legal protection from a king whose word could no longer be trusted, who meted out arbitrary punishments and heavy taxes. It was not a charter that was intended for the protection and legal rights of every man, woman and child in the land; though it has come to be seen as just that in subsequent centuries. Indeed, the common man does not get a mention, and of the sixty-three clauses, only eight of them mention women as a gender.

Only one clause uses the word femina – woman – and that is a clause which
restricts the rights and powers of a woman, rather than upholding them.
Clause 54 states: ‘No one shall be taken or imprisoned upon the appeal of a
woman for the death of anyone except her husband.’ At first glance, this has to be the most anti-feminist statement ever made, a woman was not allowed to give evidence of a murder unless it was her own husband who was killed. However, the barons believed they had justification for inserting this clause. In a time when a man had the right to face his accuser in trial by combat to prove his innocence, this right would be automatically removed if his accuser was a woman; women were not allowed to use force of arms. A female accuser was seen as being able to circumvent the law, and therefore the law was open to abuse. It was not just that a woman may bear false witness and the accused would have no right of redress in battle; it was also that a woman may be manipulated by her menfolk to make an accusation, knowing that she would not be required to back it up by feat of arms. Whereas her husband, father or brother may have been challenged to do just that.

However, while it is possible to see why this clause was written, it does not
deny the fact that women were treated so differently and denied the
fundamental right to justice simply because of their gender. This very clause was used on 5 July 1215, when King John ordered the release of Everard de Mildeston, an alleged murderer. Everard had been accused of the murder of her son, Richard, by Seina Chevel. Such a charge was now forbidden under the terms of Magna Carta, and the accused was therefore released. It is, of course, true that many of the clauses of Magna Carta refer to people in general, rather than just men, and that women are included in such clauses, as well as in the eight which refer to them specifically. However, the significance of women in the Magna Carta story is not just their limited inclusion in the charter itself, but also in their experiences of the unsettled times in which they lived, in their influence on the charter and in their use of its clauses to exact recompense for injustices they have experienced.

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The political crisis which saw the issuing of Magna Carta, and the civil war which followed, was not just significant to the barons involved, but to their wives and families, tenants and retainers. The conflict tore families apart as they took sides in the struggle and saw more than one baron change sides mid-crisis. Wives and daughters were caught in the middle, often torn by divided loyalties; between their birth family and the family into which they had married; between their fathers and their husbands. For instance, Matilda Marshal was the eldest daughter of William Marshal, a man known for his staunch loyalty to the crown, but she was married to Hugh Bigod, son of Roger, second Earl of Norfolk, one of the leaders of baronial opposition; Roger and Hugh were both named among the twenty- five barons appointed to ensure that John adhered to the terms of Magna
Carta, known as the Enforcers of Magna Carta.

Some of the clauses are specific to the people on the political stage in 1215.
Clause 59 of Magna Carta, for instance, refers to two particular women,
though they are identified by their relationship to the king of Scots, rather than their names. These were two of the sisters of Alexander II, who had been held hostage by King John since the 1209 Treaty of Norham. John had promised to find husbands for the two princesses, preferably within the royal family. However, the marriages had never materialized and, six years on, the young women, Margaret and Isabella, were now in their twenties, and still unmarried. The Magna Carta clause opens with; ‘We will treat with Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages…’
As with many of the issues addressed in Magna Carta, the problem of the
Scottish princesses was not resolved immediately. Margaret was eventually
married, in 1221, to King Henry III’s justiciar, Hubert de Burgh; a lowly marriage for the daughter of a king. Isabella, however, remained unmarried and in 1222 returned to Scotland. She was eventually wed to Roger Bigod, 4th Earl of Norfolk, in 1225. Roger was the son of Matilda Marshal and therefore grandson of William Marshal, Henry III’s regent. At only 13 years of age, young Roger was still a minor and with an age disparity of around 17 years, the marriage was not a happy one. The couple never had children and Roger tried to have the marriage annulled at one stage but was refused by the church.

These are just a handful of examples of how the lives of women are woven into the Magna Carta story. The deeper you dig, the more fascinating stories you will find. Magna Carta started England on the road to democratic government and, more importantly, universal suffrage, culminating in votes for women in 1918. Magna Carta was the first step. Within a generation of the charter’s first issue, women such as King John’s own daughter, Eleanor de Montfort, were helping to fight for political reform and others, such as Isabel d’Aubigny, were using its clauses to their advantage. Women had been a part of the fight for and against King John in the lead up to the first issuing of Magna Carta. They had influenced its creation and continued to use its clauses to fight for their rights and those of their families. There was still a long way to go, especially for women. Magna Carta was not the start of the women’s rights movement, but
it serves as a benchmark for how far society has come in the last eight
centuries.

Photo information:

Ladies of Magna Carta; the Magna Carta (British Library); Magna Carta memorial, Runnymede (Jayne Smith); King John (British Library); Windsor Castle, possible location for the sad death of Matilda de Braose and her son William (my photo).

Author bio:

Sharon Bennett Connolly
Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history her whole life. She
has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – http://www.historytheinterestingbits.com – and Sharon started researching and writing about the stories that have always fascinated, concentrating on medieval women. Her latest book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, released in May 2020, is her third non-fiction book. She is also the author of Heroines of the Medieval World and Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest. Sharon regularly gives talks on women’s history; she is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television; Who Do You Think You Are.

Links:
Blog: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thehistorybits/
Twitter: @Thehistorybits
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sharonbennettconnolly/?hl=en
Amazon: http://viewauthor.at/SharonBennettConnolly

Pen & Sword: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Ladies-of-Magna-Carta-
Hardback/p/17766

Book Review: “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter” by Danna R. Messer

51351935Medieval women held many different titles that defined their roles and their connections. Mothers, daughters, and wives tended to be the most popular and the most common. Titles such as queen, political diplomat, and peace weaver tend to be rare and given to women of power. Yet, these words accurately depict a unique woman who lived during the Angevin/ Plantagenet dynasty. She was the illegitimate daughter of the notorious King John and the wife of Llywelyn the Great, a Prince of Wales. She worked tirelessly to establish peace between England and Wales, yet she has not received much attention in the past. Her name was Joan, Lady of Wales, and her story is brought to life in Danna R. Messer’s book, “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I did not know much about Joan, except what I read about her in Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest book, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth-Century England”. She sounded really interesting so when I heard about this book by Messer, I wanted to read it to learn more about Joan.

As someone who did not know a lot about Joan or medieval Wales, I found this book informative and enjoyable. Messer takes the time to explain what life was like for a royal Welsh couple, like Joan and Llywelyn, and why their marriage made such an impact in the long run. On paper, it was a princess from England marrying a prince from Wales, but what made this union so unique was the fact that Joan was the illegitimate daughter of King John and yet she was treated like a beloved legitimate child. Of course, this marriage was first and foremost, a political match, but it seemed to have developed into a strong and loving partnership, that endured 30 years of trials and tribulations.

One of the major trials that Joan had to deal with was to prevent England and Wales from going to war against each other. Truly a monumental challenge for, as Messer meticulously points out, Llywelyn and either King John or King Henry III were constantly having disagreements. I could just picture Joan getting exasperated that she had to try to calm things down between England and Wales every single time. Her diplomatic skills were truly remarkable, especially with how much influence she possessed in both countries.

Probably the most controversial event in Joan’s life is her affair with William de Braose, which led to his execution and her imprisonment. Messer does a good job explaining what we know about this situation. Unfortunately, like many events in Joan’s life, Messer has to use a bit of guesswork to try and put together the clues about Joan and figure out what happened. It can be a bit frustrating, but we have to remember that Joan lived over 800 years ago and women were not recorded as detailed as they are now or even 500 years ago. I think we can give Messer a pass on guessing where Joan was and what her role was in certain events.

Overall, I found this book enlightening. I think Messer’s writing style is engaging and she was dedicated to finding out the truth, as far as the facts would take her. I think this is a fantastic book for someone who needs an introduction to medieval Welsh royal lifestyle, the power of royal Welsh women, and of course, a meticulously detailed account of the life of Joan, Lady of Wales. If this describes you, check out “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter” by Danna R. Messer.

Book Review: “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest” by Arthur C. Wright

51352100 (1)The Norman Conquest of 1066 was one of the most important dates in English and world history. It signaled the start of the Norman influence in England with Duke William, also known as William the Conqueror, becoming King of England. But does William I deserve the reputation that is attributed to him in history, or should we be careful with how we view him because his story is told by the avaricious Church? How much help did William and the Normans receive from their English counterparts? Can we call this event a “conquest”? Who was to blame for the “Harrowing of the North”? These questions and more are discussed in Arthur C. Wright’s latest book, “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When it comes to studying the Norman Conquest, I am a bit of a novice, so I was excited to read another book about this time.

I found this book rather difficult to understand. Wright writes in a style where he is having a conversation to experts, while at the same time saying that every historian has it wrong and he knows exactly what happened. This rubbed me the wrong way. If he had proved his point, I might have found his argument compelling, but he just came off as an angry rambler in the first half of this book. I really wanted to understand what he was trying to say, but I did not see his evidence for English collusion. Instead, he spent a lot of time arguing that feudalism is a myth, which was quite bizarre.

I think the second part of his book was stronger than the first half. It explored the life, commerce, and education of the average citizen. I think if Wright had reorganized his chapters, this book might have been a bit easier to comprehend. Wright tends to focus on after the conquest, without specifying dates, but it is hard to see where the English collusion comes into play. Another problem that I did have is when he tried to insert more modern sayings, ideas, and characters into the conversation. It felt out of place and rather distracting.

I do believe that Wright is knowledgeable when it comes to the subject of the Norman Conquest and England in the years that followed. Unfortunately, his writing style makes it difficult to understand what message he is trying to get across with this particular book. It was readable, but the focus was a bit off and it was hard to figure out his target audience. If you are familiar with the Norman Conquest and would like a challenge, check out “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest” by Arthur C. Wright. It was not my cup of tea, but that does not mean it is a bad book. Someone else might enjoy it.