Book Review: “Queens of the Age of Chivalry: England’s Medieval Queens” by Alison Weir

cover263156-mediumWhen we think of the title “medieval queen,” a few things come to mind. They were seen as mere trophy wives who were only suitable for making alliances and giving birth to children. It may be a cruel assessment for a modern audience, but that was the reality of the medieval world. However, the late Plantagenet queens decided to step outside the socially acceptable path for their lives and forged a new one. In Alison Weir’s latest nonfiction book, “Queens of the Age of Chivalry: England’s Medieval Queens,” she explores the lives of five Plantagenet queens who had to adapt quickly to the ever-changing world of late medieval England.

Thank you, Ballantine Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I have read and enjoyed the previous books in England’s Medieval Queens series, and I wanted to see which queens would be included in this book.

The years covered in this book are 1299-1399, a time of turmoil, change, and the plague. During that time, five queens forever left their marks on England: Marguerite of France, Isabella of France, Philippa of Hainault, Anne of Bohemia, and Isabella of Valois. Their royal husbands were Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II. Since these queens were foreign brides, it was a balancing act between what their home country expected of them and what England expected their new queen to do, which was, in most cases, to give birth to heirs and to stay out of politics.

We begin with Marguerite of France, who was the second wife of Edward I and the step-mother of Edward II; her most extraordinary claim to fame was to try and prevent her son from ever seeing Piers Gaveston, which sadly did not last long. Isabella of France had to deal with Edward II’s favoritism to not only Piers Gaveston but to Hugh Despenser the Younger. This led her to join Roger Mortimer and rebel against her husband. This decision would create a black cloud around her reputation for centuries.

As part of the rebellion, Edward III married Philippa of Hainault, who was the closest of these five queens to be the ideal medieval queen. She gave Edward III many heirs that would help define future generations. Richard II’s first wife, Anne of Bohemia, was the essence of sophistication, but her death sent him reeling, forcing him to take a child bride named Isabella of Valois.

Being a queen in the late medieval period was not easy, especially with the Black Death, the Hundred Years’ War, the Peasants’ Revolt, and internal struggles were constantly in play, but the five queens mentioned in this book were able to navigate this tumultuous time to create their legacies. Weir once again weaves fun facts and compelling tales of each queen to give her readers her perspective on their true legacies. If you have enjoyed the previous books in “England’s Medieval Queens” series, I would highly recommend you read “Queens of the Age of Chivalry: England’s Medieval Queens” by Alison Weir.

Book Review: “Power, Treason, and Plot in Tudor England: Margaret Clitherow, an Elizabethan Saint” by Tony Morgan

60530456 (1)The Tudor dynasty was a time of significant political change, but it was also a time of tremendous religious change. Each Tudor monarch had a different view on the divide between Catholics and Protestants. Although we have an idea of what it might have been like during the reign of Mary I, the way Elizabeth I tackled the issue of religion during her reign. One story of how Catholics were treated in the so-called “Golden Age” of Elizabethan England is the story of Margaret Clitherow. She helped hide a couple of Catholic priests and ended up suffering for her actions by being crushed to death. Tony Morgan tells her story and how she became a Catholic martyr in his book, “Power, Treason, and Plot in Tudor England: Margaret Clitherow, an Elizabethan Saint.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Casemate, for sending me a copy of this book. I have heard the name Margaret Clitherow mentioned a few times in books about Elizabeth I, but I found out about her tragic tale.

With each monarch came dramatic changes, and by the time Elizabeth was on the throne, Protestants were safe, and Catholics were on the run. Morgan breaks each chapter into sections: how England was changing, how York was dealing with the changes, and how the changes in York affected Margaret Clitherow and her family. It is a great way to give the audience an understanding of why these changes involved a family of business owners like the Middletons and her husband, John Clitherow, a butcher. Margaret was raised to be a Protestant, but in her heart, she would always be a Catholic recusant.

Margaret Clitherow was no stranger to prison, as she had landed behind bars several times before her last case. In it, she was convicted of hiding a couple of Catholic priests, which was against the act of 1585 known as the “Act Against Jesuits, Seminary Priests and Such Other Like Disobedient Persons.” When brought to court, Margaret refused to plead either guilty or not guilty, creating a dilemma; the court ultimately decided she was guilty and sentenced her to death by being crushed by large rocks. What we know of the trial and execution is due to the book by Father John Mush called “A True Report of the Life and Martyrdom of Mrs. Margaret Clitherow.”

I found some parts of the book a tad dry, but that was because it dealt with religious politics and new laws. When it came to the actual story of Margaret Clitherow and her family drama, Morgan did an excellent job of introducing his audience to a new figure who fought for what she believed was right until the bitter end. If you want a book that teaches you about the Catholic resistance during the Elizabethan era and wants to know about Margaret Clitherow, “Power, Treason, and Plot in Tudor England: Margaret Clitherow, an Elizabethan Saint” by Tony Morgan should be on your list of books to read.

Book Review: “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes” by Julia A. Hickey

61816116When we think about royal relationships from the past, we do not associate them with love; it is more about cementing power. Princes and kings knew how much was at stake, so they tended to have wives for politics and produce legitimate heirs that would inherit their kingdoms. For matters of love and lust, kings and princes would have mistresses, either of noble birth or lower, on the side. These women have been deemed whores and homewreckers but is that a fair assessment of their legacies? Julia A. Hickey takes a closer look at these misunderstood mistresses in her latest book, “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this title, it intrigued me, and I was hoping to learn something new.

Hickey covers several hundred years in this book, starting around the year 1000 and ending in 1485. We begin with Queen Emma, Aelfgifu, and the confusion of whether Aelfgifu should be considered a mistress. With these Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings of England, we see many relatively hidden mistresses of William I and Henry I (who had quite a few). We then move to the Plantagenets with Henry II, King John, Edward II, Edward III, and Edward IV. Hickey also pays attention to other affairs in different countries, such as King David of Scotland and the Tour de Neste Affair.

Some of these mistresses would be familiar to readers, such as Isabella of Angouleme, Fair Rosamund, Piers Gaveston, Alice Perrers, Katherine Swynford, Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, Jane Shore, Eleanor Talbot, and Elizabeth Woodville. Many were new to me, including Princess Nest of Wales, whose abduction started a war, Edith Forne Sigulfson, and Elizabeth Wayte. She even included Eleanor of Aquitaine as one of the mistresses mentioned in this book, which I’m afraid I have to disagree with, as most of this stems from the black legend that has tainted her legacy.

I found the information provided in this book rather intriguing, but my one concern about this book was how it was structured. I wish Hickey had sections marked for each king she mentioned in this book so we could distinguish which mistress was associated with which king or prince.

Overall, I found this book enjoyable and informative. It was a bit repetitive, and there were some arguments that I disagreed with. Still, the fact that Hickey could combine nearly 500 years’ worth of history about relatively hidden royal mistresses is quite admirable. Suppose you want a solid introduction to medieval England’s world of royal mistresses. In that case, I recommend you read “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes” by Julia A. Hickey.

Book Review: “House of Tudor: A Grisly History” by Mickey Mayhew

59607093._SY475_The glitzy, glamorous life of the Tudors portrayed in popular TV shows and novels mask the truth of this infamous dynasty. It is more bloody than what has been described. It is filled with grotesque executions, deadly diseases, bloody battles, and bloody battles. What happened to Richard III’s remains? What was Tudor torture like for those unfortunate victims? What were other devious tales at play in 16th-century Europe? Mickey Mayhew has worked hard to answer these questions by combining 45 of the most gruesome stories from this dynasty into one book, “The House of Tudor: A Grisly History.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Casemate Group, for sending me a copy of this book. I am always looking for a new book about the Tudors, so when I heard about this one, I decided that the perfect time to read it would be in October.

Mayhew begins the grotesque journey into the Tudor dynasty by exploring what happened to the previous king before Henry VII, Richard III, and his remains. We then jump into the reign of King Henry VIII with the tale of Catherine of Aragon and the head of King James IV of Scotland. It is then that Mayhew dives into the tumultuous reign of the big man, his unfortunate wives, and his ministers who got caught in the middle of all that tantalizing Tudor drama.

After the death of King Henry VIII, the political drama got more intense, as did the political and religious motivated executions. From the minute reign of Lady Jane Grey to the “bloody” albeit misnamed reign of Mary I to the colorful reign of Elizabeth I. Sprinkled in the chapters of these English queens were chapters dedicated to Mary Queen of Scots, Catherine de Medici, and the courts of Scotland and France, which were equally brutal as their English counterparts. We have plots plenty with the Babington, Ridolfi, and the smaller-scale Parry plot. Naturally, with schemes came rebellions and political assassinations that dominated 16-century Europe, especially in Tudor England, and numerous deadly diseases.

Mayhew categorized each chapter in chronological order with rather witty titles, which I appreciate in more academic writing. He does not shy away from the gory details, which adds another element to stories that are familiar to those who are Tudor fans. If you want something spooky to read in October or know more about the darker side of Tudor history, I recommend reading “House of Tudor: A Grisly History” by Mickey Mayhew.

Book Review: “The Final Year of Anne Boleyn” by Natalie Grueninger

61817724The world of someone close to a king, especially someone close to King Henry VIII, was full of hazards and great triumphs. All the glist and glamor of the Tudor court could not save them from the rage of the King. This could apply to anyone who fell during the reign of this infamous King, but none more so than his second wife and queen, Anne Boleyn. Much has been written about Anne Boleyn and her dramatic fall from grace, specifically the final month of her life, but what was she doing in her last year alive? Natalie Grueninger hopes to answer this question in her latest book, “The Final Year of Anne Boleyn.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am always learning new facts about influential Tudors, like Anne Boleyn, so when I heard about this book, I knew it would be on my to-be-read pile.

We begin our journey to Anne’s demise with the court’s changes in 1535. There is still tons of support for Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and her daughter Mary, even with the new Act of Respecting the Oath to the Succession, which proclaimed Princess Elizabeth as King Henry VIII’s heir, not Mary. Anne interacts with ambassadors from foreign lands, like Charles de Solier from France and Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador.

My favorite part of this book is how much care Grueinger took in telling the story of Anne Boleyn’s final progress with Henry VIII. I have never read an account of this progress in the details Grueinger provided, including where she stayed and who served her at different royal houses. We also see how she dealt with the divide between Catholics and Protestants and how she relaxed in her downtime.

Grueninger examines Anne’s fall from grace and how it took place, starting with Henry’s dramatic fall from his horse and Anne’s tragic miscarriage of a son that would have secured her place on the throne. Here, we see the death of Katherine of Aragon and the rise of Jane Seymour. Emotions are running high, and rumors are flying all over Europe, so Grueninger takes the time to bust a few of these myths. Finally, we look at the show trials and the executions that sealed the fate of Anne Boleyn and the men associated with her.

Natalie Grueninger’s passion for telling the true story of Anne Boleyn is evident on every page of this book with the amount of research she poured into this subject. This book presents Anne Boleyn in a new sympathetic light, which any Tudor fan would appreciate. If you want a beautiful nonfiction book that examines the tragic fall of Anne Boleyn, I highly recommend you read “The Final Year of Anne Boleyn” by Natalie Grueninger.

Book Review: “Women in the Medieval Court: Consorts and Concubines” by Rebecca Holdorph

60474164._SY475_Medieval Europe was inundated with strong rulers and dominant figures who made a difference in how the policies of certain countries were formed. We tend to focus on the male figures, from kings to lords and rebels, when we study medieval European history. Still, the women in their lives significantly influenced how their countries were governed. Although many women stood by the side of their husbands and didn’t make much of an impact on European history, some women chose to stand out from the crowd and make a name for themselves. Rebecca Holdorph has chosen to highlight a handful of these dynamic women throughout medieval Europe in her book, “Women in the Medieval Court: Consorts and Concubines.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Casemate Group, for sending me a copy of this book. I have seen quite a few people read this book, and since I am always interested in learning about new figures in medieval history, I knew I wanted to read this title.

To cover so many women over several centuries, Holdorph breaks her book down into four sections; noblewomen, consorts, reigning queens, and concubines. Each section starts with a cast of characters list, so the reader has a brief synopsis of each woman featured in the chapter. She then dives into the stories of the women in each section, showing how they were similar and how they differed in the roles that society gave them in life.

Holdorph covers many European countries from the 11th to the 15th century to give her audience a broad scope of what it meant to be a woman in power in medieval Europe. We are introduced to noblewomen like Anna Komnene, the author of the Alexiad, Marie of France, Alice de Lacy, and the Rose of Raby herself, Cecily Neville. While examining the lives of these noblewomen, Holdorph looks at how their public lives differed from their private lives. Next, she explores the lives of queen consorts, those who married a prince or a king and ruled beside their husbands; some of the women included in this chapter are Eleanor of Castile, Maria de Luna, Isabeau of Bavaria, and Margaret of Anjou. In this section, Holdorph explores how these women became queens and what the job of the queen consort meant for each woman.

The third section focuses on the women who were allowed, for a time, to rule their respective countries on their own; women like Urraca of Castile and Leon, Berenguela of Castile, and Margrete of Denmark. Holdorph explores how each queen came to power and how they ruled their kingdoms for a little bit. Finally, we are introduced to the mistresses of rulers, known in this book as concubines, who made an impact that ended up costing them their lives. The women featured in this section include Maria de Padilla, Alice Perrers, Katherine Swynford, and Agnes Sorel, to show what it meant to be a good mistress versus a bad mistress.

I enjoyed learning about new powerful women from European countries other than England and France during the medieval period. My one complaint is that I wish Holdorph would have written this book in chronological order. Since many of these stories in this book were relatively new to me, the jumping back and forth between centuries and stories added to my confusion. Holdorph would have made a more significant point if she had her miniature biographies in chronological order and then summarized her points at the end of each section.

Overall, I found this a decent book. Holdorph does have a passion for this subject of medieval queens, but I think there are some elements of this book that could be improved on to make it more understandable for her audience. Suppose you want a solid introduction to medieval European women who may be unfamiliar with many casual history fans. In that case, I recommend you read “Women in the Medieval Court: Consorts and Concubines” by Rebecca Holdorph.

Book Review: “The Woodville Women” by Sarah J. Hodder

61772589Three women in one family who shared the same first name saw England change over a tumultuous century. They saw the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the rise of the Tudors while on the sidelines of great battles. Through heartaches and triumphs, the women of the Woodville family became princesses and queens that would transform the political landscape of England forever. These three women, Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York, and Elizabeth Grey, were incredible examples of what it meant to be medieval royal women. They are featured in Sarah J. Hodder’s latest book, “The Woodville Women.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have read other books by Sarah J. Hodder about women from the Woodville family, so when I heard about this title, I wanted to see what new information she would share with her audience.

We begin our adventure into the Woodville family by exploring the matriarch of this rather extraordinary family, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the future wife of Richard Woodville. For a woman of Jacquetta’s status to marry a man well below her rank was unheard of in medieval Europe, but their union would change history during the tumultuous time known as the Wars of the Roses. Their daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, would marry a Lancastrian soldier named Sir John Grey of Grosby, but when John died, she caught the eye of the young Yorkist king, Edward IV.

During King Edward IV’s reign, Elizabeth Woodville, now queen of England, showed her true strength. As a mother to a large family, including the infamous Princes of the Tower, and her eldest child Elizabeth of York, Elizabeth Woodville fought for her children’s rights, even after her beloved husband’s death. Elizabeth of York would follow in her mother’s footsteps and become Queen of England when she married the victor of the battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor, the patriarch of the Tudor dynasty.

The woman who proved the most fascinating character in this particular book for me was Elizabeth Grey, the daughter of Thomas Grey and Cecily Bonville. Elizabeth Grey would marry Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, who she met at the Field of Cloth of Gold. They would live in Ireland and have many children together, but things were not smooth sailing as Kildare’s rivalries would lead to rebellions in Ireland and land him in the Tower of London a few times. Although Kildare had a rocky relationship with King Henry VIII, Elizabeth Grey was cordial with her royal relation.

Hodder was able to tell the stories of these three women in an illuminating way that reminds readers of the tales of Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York while giving new insights into their lives and telling the story of Elizabeth Grey. This book was engaging and informative, just like Hodder’s previous books. If you want a book that tells the thrilling tales of Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York, and Elizabeth Grey, you should check out “The Woodville Women” by Sarah J. Hodder.

Book Review: “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country” by Phil Roberts

cover264519-medium (1)When we think about those who rose through the ranks to achieve significant titles in the Tudor Court, we instantly think about Thomas Cromwell. However, we should also consider his mentor as one of these great men, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. The son of Robert Wolsey, an Ispwich businessman, and his wife, Joan Daundy, who worked hard and ended up being the right-hand man of the young King Henry VIII. The man behind Hampton Court helped start the Great Matter and The Field of Cloth of Gold, Wolsey had numerous achievements. Who was the man behind these significant Tudor moments? This is the question Phil Roberts tries to address in his book, “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Netgalley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this title, it was intriguing to me. I had not read many biographies about Thomas Wolsey, so I was excited to read this book.

Roberts begins by showing how Wolsey has been portrayed in other books and media such as films and TV dramas. He then dives into the complex task of tracking the Wolsey family from the Norman Conquest to the Wars of the Roses, which did feel a tad rushed. I wish he had included some family trees so that his readers could follow along with the different branches of the family.

Wosley had a personal life outside of his public persona with his illegitimate children, his loyal friends, and the enemies he made along the way, including Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Roberts spends a lot of time looking at the different aspects of Wolsey’s life, like his policies, the schools he built in Ispwich, and his own homes. Finally, Roberts explores how Wolsey fell from the good graces of King Henry VIII and the last days filled with anguish as he slowly died from an illness.

Although Roberts presented interesting facts about Thomas Wolsey, I think the structure of his book was a bit all over the place. In the beginning, he spent a lot of time looking into the history of Ispwich and its schools and church, including a lengthy segment about a missing statue, before getting into Wolsey’s life story. I found this information fascinating, but I don’t know if it was important enough to spend that much time on it. These facts would have been more appropriate in a book about Ispwich. Another thing that threw me off was that Roberts did not write this biography in chronological order of the events until the end of this book.

Overall, I thought this book had enlightening factoids about Thomas Wolsey, but it needed some tweaking to make it a brilliant biography. This is a book for someone who knows the general facts about the Cardinal but wants to learn more about this man. If this sounds like you, I recommend you read “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country” by Phil Roberts.

Guest Post: “Mary Zouche: One of Anne Boleyn’s Maids of Honour” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

out-now-on-amazonToday, I am pleased to welcome Sylvia Barbara Soberton to my blog to discuss one of the women featured in her latest book, “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn.”

In 1533, Anne Boleyn had seven maids of honour and one mother of maids, Mrs. Marshall, who supervised them on the Queen’s behalf. Apart from Mary Howard, Margery Horsman, and Jane Ashley, the maids who served Anne in 1532, there was Mary Zouche, Mary Shelton, Margaret Gamage, and Elizabeth Holland. Howard and Shelton were Anne Boleyn’s first cousins, and Holland was mistress of the Queen’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Margaret Gamage was the first cousin of Jane Boleyn; only Mary Zouche was not related to Anne Boleyn.

Hans Holbein’s sketch inscribed “M Souch” depicts an exceptionally good-looking young woman dressed in highly flattering French fashions, revealing her blonde hair and décolletage. It is often suggested that the sitter may be Anne Gainsford, who married George Zouche in the 1530s, but Anne Gainsford rarely appears in the court records, whereas Mary Zouche is mentioned often. This “M Souch” was most likely Mary Zouche, daughter of John Zouche, eighth Baron Zouche of Harringworth, and his first wife Dorothy Capell. At some point during the late 1520s, she wrote a letter to her cousin, John Arundel, imploring him to help her and her sister to find employment at court as maids to either Katharine of Aragon or Princess Mary. She may have served one of them, but in 1533 she was Anne Boleyn’s maid, attending the Queen’s coronation.

After Anne’s execution in 1536, Mistress Zouche went on to serve as maid of honour to Jane Seymour. She became one of this Queen’s favourite ladies, receiving jewellery, including beads and girdles. Zouche was still unmarried in 1542 when she was granted an annuity of £10 “in consideration of her services to the King and the late Queen Jane.”

Boleyn Soberton coverDescription: 

The aspects of Anne Boleyn’s life and death are fiercely debated by historians, yet her ladies-in-waiting remain an understudied topic. Much emphasis is usually put on Anne’s relationships with the men in her life: her suitors, her royal husband, her father and brother, and her putative lovers, who were executed on 17 May 1536. By concentrating on a previously neglected area of Anne Boleyn’s female household, this book seeks to identify the women who served Anne and investigate what roles ladies-in-waiting played in this Queen’s household.

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Book Review: “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

Boleyn Soberton coverThe story of Anne Boleyn and her rise and fall has been told throughout the centuries in numerous ways. With tales of this memorable monarch came rumors of what happened inside her court and the women who served her during her reign. We tend to look at her life through the lens of the men who interacted with Anne Boleyn at court, but what about the women who knew her? Stories of ladies-in-waiting selling the queen out and secret romances ran rampant throughout the centuries, but how much truth is in these tales? Sylvia Barbara Soberton explores these questions in her latest book, “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn.”

I want to thank Sylvia Barbara Soberton for sending me a copy of this book. I have found Soberton’s previous books fascinating, and when I heard about this book focusing on the women who served Anne Boleyn, it was compelling.

Soberton begins her book by exploring Anne Boleyn’s origins and services as a lady in waiting and a maid of honor for several prominent women across Europe like Mary Tudor and Archduchess Margaret of Savoy. We also look at the relationships between Anne and her female family members, including her sister Mary Boleyn and her Howard relatives.

The bulk of this book focused on Anne Boleyn when she caught the attention of King Henry VIII when she was a lady-in-waiting for Katherine of Aragon. It was fascinating to see how Anne Boleyn interacted with her female friends during this transition time and how they became ladies-in-waiting when she became queen. These friends and ladies-in-waiting included Elizabeth Holland, Bridget Wiltshire, Margery Horsman, Jane Ashley, Mary Zouche, Mary Shelton, and Jane Seymour. We all know this worked out as it resulted in the Great Matter, the ultimate divorce of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.

These ladies-in-waiting were separated by rank and would help Anne navigate the tumultuous court of Henry VIII until the bitter end. The women around Anne saw her become queen, how she dealt with Henry’s other mistresses, including Bessie Blount and Jane Seymour, the birth of Princess Elizabeth, and how Anne tried to build a relationship with Princess Mary. They also witnessed the queen interacting with influential men in court, including the king and Thomas Cromwell. These men used some of Anne’s closest confidants to bring her ultimate demise through a sham trial and multiple executions.

Soberton does an excellent job telling the Anne Boleyn story through the eyes of those who knew her the best, the women who served the queen. Many of these tales were unfamiliar to me, and I think the Tudor community will find them rather illuminating. If you want to learn more about Anne Boleyn and her inner circle during her reign, I highly recommend you read “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton.