Guest Post: “Did Tudors Smell Whiffy?” by Carol McGrath

Book jacket Tudor Sex and SexualityToday, I am pleased to welcome Carol McGrath to the blog to discuss Tudor hygiene as part of the Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England blog tour. I would like to thank Carol McGrath and Pen and Sword Books for allowing me to be part of this tour.

Did Tudors smell whiffy? Did they care about personal hygiene? It may surprise you that the Tudors cared about cleanliness despite the fact many did not bathe regularly. Henry VIII frequently took baths and had a new bathhouse constructed at Hampton Court for his personal use and a steam bath at Richmond Palace. This new bath was made of wood but lined with a linen sheet to protect his posterior from catching splinters. It was a marvellous feat of Tudor engineering and allowed water to flow into it from a tap fed by a lead pipe bringing water from a spring over three miles distant from the palace. Tudor engineers were clever enough to pass the pipe underneath the Thames river bed using gravity to create strong water pressure to spurt up two floors into the royal bathroom.

It was important to most Tudors not to stink and particularly important not to smell unpleasant when contemplating relations with a lover. Stinking like a beast was totally unacceptable to a Tudor because, ideally, humans should smell sweet. Of course, the Tudor world was less sanitized than our world. Even so, people were not unaware of bad smells around them, and they actually feared nasty pongs. Medicine taught that disease spread through miasma or foul-smelling airs. Importantly, Tudors also believed that sweet smells could be a key indicator of a person’s moral state, never mind that smelling sweet could help attract a lover. 

bathingBathing for most Tudors meant a dip in the river. For those dwelling in towns, bathing facilities such as bathhouses existed during the first few decades of the era. Crusaders had brought the habit of bathing back from the East, thereby making the idea of bathhouses popular.

Hygiene meant both cleaning oneself and one’s clothes regularly. Just as the Church clamped down on sexual freedoms, it had opinions on bathing: heat could inflame the senses, and washing nude was a sign of vanity, even sexual corruption, so they often wore shirts while bathing.  You could scent a bath with flowers and sweet green herbs to help cure ailments, therefore attaching a medicinal element to the practice. Exotic perfumes such as civet and musk were used in soaps, as well as rose water, violet, lavender, and camphor. For those who could afford scented soaps, they certainly were available.

Tudor Pomander replica

Where public bathhouses went, sex soon followed, so it is no wonder the ever-critical Church complained. Tudor brothels were called ‘stews’ and ‘to lather up’ was an early sixteenth-century slang phrase for ejaculation which came from the notion that one could stew in hot water and steam within a bathhouse. As recently as the previous century, the City of London officially recognized the borough of Southwark as having the highest concentration of bathhouses in London. Ironically, this was an area owned by the Bishop of Winchester, and since many bathhouses were also brothels, their sex workers acquired the alternative name of Winchester Geese.

As the sixteenth century continued, bathing fell into decline as new medical advice suggested it weakened the body. Cleaning the skin left it open to infection. This was considered an outside agency that drifted in the air like spores and which rose from places of putrefaction. The skin’s pores were one body area through which these nasty spores could enter, so medical advice determined that the skin needed to be preserved as a barrier. Pores were a secondary route into the body, and the filth produced by the body must be removed completely and quickly to avoid reabsorption. It became important to wash your shirt and change it frequently to keep clean.

Linen shirts, smocks, under-breeches, hose, collars, coifs, and skull caps allowed the total body coverage. As a fabric, linen was very absorbent. It drew sweat and grease from the skin into the weave of the cloth. Since linen acted like a sponge, the Tudors thought it would draw out waste products from the body and improve the body’s circulation, strengthen the constitution and even restore the balance of the humours.

laundress

Laundresses were popular during Tudor times, not just to keep linen washed but because the washerwomen were easily connected with sex. They were badly paid, so sex work was a way to subsidize their income in many cases. Washerwomen sometimes became known as ‘lavenders.’ The word lavender comes from the Latin lavare to wash, and the word to launder derives from these sweet-smelling flowers. Lavender grows all over Europe, and as it was cheap and readily available, it was used widely when washing clothing. The sixteenth-century poem Ship of Fools contains the following lines:

Thou shalt be my lavender Laundress.

To Wash and keep all my gear

Our two beds together shall be set

Without any let.

People used linen to scrub the body. The Tudor Gentleman, Sir Thomas Elyot, wrote a book in 1534 called The Castel of Health. He suggests an early morning hygiene regime to ‘rubbe the body with a course lynnen clothe, first softly and easilye, and after that increase more and more, to a hard and swift rubbynge, untyll the flesh do swelle and to be somewhat ruddy and that not only down ryghte, but also overthrart and round.’ Rubbing vigorously after exercise could draw the body’s toxins out through open pores, and the rough linen cloth would carry them away. Most people only owned two or three sets of underwear. Listed underwear occasionally turned up in Tudor inventories, and linens would often be recorded in wills as bequeathed to others.

Ruth Goodman, a well-known social historian, once followed a Tudor body cleansing regime for a period of three months while living in modern society. No one complained or even noticed a sweaty smell. She wore natural fibre on top of the linen underwear but took neither a shower nor a bath for the whole period. When she recorded The Monastery Farm for television, she only changed her linen smock once weekly and her hose three times over six months, and she still did not pong. Tudor England was not a place where everyone smelled as sweetly as most people who shower daily today, but its people generally managed not to stink. Of course, the past did smell differently. Even so, being clean and sweet-smelling did matter to many Tudors. 

C McGrath twitterCarol McGrath 

Following a first degree in English and History, Carol McGrath completed an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in English from the University of London. The Handfasted Wife, the first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066, was shortlisted for the RoNAS in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this highly acclaimed trilogy. Mistress Cromwell, a best-selling historical novel about Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, republished by Headline in 2020. The Silken Rose, first in a Medieval She-Wolf Queens Trilogy featuring Ailenor of Provence, was published in April 2020 by the Headline Group. This was followed by The Damask Rose. The Stone Rose will be published in April 2022. Carol writes Historical non-fiction as well as fiction. Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England will be published in February 2022. Find Carol on her website:

www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk.

Follow her on amazon @CarolMcGrath

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: “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.

Book Review: “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

In medieval Europe, to be considered a strong king, you must keep a firm grasp on your crown, or those who see you as weak will take advantage. These men were known as usurpers throughout history who steal the throne through combat or by illegal means. Some of the most well-known kings in English history have been categorized as usurpers, but is this a fair assessment of their mark in history, or is it a case of propaganda changing their legacy? In her debut nonfiction book, “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings,” Michele Morrical explores the lives of six English kings who bear that title to see if it makes sense with the facts of how they came into power.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard this book was published, I wanted to see how Morrical described a usurper and which king she considered usurpers. I have never heard of a book that focused solely on those who stole thrones in England, so I was excited to see how well it read.

Morrical breaks her book into six sections, with each part focusing on one specific king and his rise to power. She focuses on William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII as examples of rulers in English history known to be usurpers. Morrical writes biography vignettes to give her readers an understanding of how they came to power and who they had to remove from the throne to become the next monarch. In some cases, it meant starting a new dynasty, and in others, it was just a continuation of the family’s lineage, but it was a different branch of the family tree. The biographies tend to get repetitive, especially with the sections dedicated to the Wars of the Roses. If you are new to these kings and the events of their lifetimes, the repetitive nature will help you understand how everything is connected.

I think Morrical can improve if she writes another nonfiction book by using quotes from primary sources and other historians to strengthen her arguments. I wish she had included discussions from chronicles or other primary sources from around the times that these men became rulers to see the consensus of the time towards the new king. It would have added an extra layer to the stories, and readers could see how our definition of a usurper king would have compared or contrasted to the views of the past. I would have also liked Morrical to have discussed whether being a usurper king had a positive or negative connotation. Many kings on this list were considered game-changers when ruling England and transformed how England was viewed in the grander scheme of European politics.

I think for her first book, Morrical does a decent job of presenting her viewpoints about certain kings and presenting the facts about their lives. One can tell that Morrical is passionate about usurpers and understanding why they took the English throne from their predecessors. Overall, I think it is not bad for a book that combines the lives of six kings of England into one text. If you want a good introductory book into the lives of usurper kings, you should give “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical a try.

Book Review: “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

The future King of England married a Spanish princess to create an alliance between the two countries through their children. This may sound like the marriage of Henry VIII and his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon. However, this story is much older and the happy couple was Edward I and Leonor of Castile. Unlike the Tudor match, Edward and Leonor have numerous children, including Edward’s heir who would one day become Edward II, whose story has been told in various ways. The stories that Kathryn Warner has chosen to focus upon in her latest book, “Daughters of Edward I”, are the princesses who tend to be hidden behind their brother’s legacy.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have read a few books by Kathryn Warner in the past and I have enjoyed them in the past for their complex nature. I enjoy a challenge and when I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to give it a shot. I, unfortunately, was not familiar with these princesses before partaking in this new adventure, so I was excited to hear their stories for the first time.

Edward I and Leonor of Castile had around fourteen children, but only six lived into adulthood; their heir Edward II and his five sisters. The names of the sisters were Eleanor of Windsor, Joan of Acre, Margaret of Brabant, Mary of Woodstock, and Elizabeth of Rhuddlan. Their marriages and children, except for Mary of Woodstock who would become a reluctant nun, would connect the Plantagenet bloodline to some of the most important families in England and beyond. When it comes to the marriages of the sisters, they tend to follow the counsel of the crown, except for Joan of Acre who chose to follow her heart and marry a man who she loved for her second marriage.

Warner’s specialty is unraveling the convoluted nature of certain family trees to uncover members who tend to slip into the shadows of the past. She explores the sisters’ relationships with their father Edward I, their brother Edward II, their nephew who would become Edward III, as well as the families that were essential to understanding England during the 13th and 14th centuries. I will admit that I did find myself using the lists in the back that gave brief descriptions of the daughters and their children as I was getting a tad confused on who was who and their relationship to others. However, I am really glad that Warner included that resource as it added something to this book.

Warner has taken on the difficult task of trying to uncover the stories of the daughters of Edward I and Leonor of Castile and has given readers a resource that can prove valuable in understanding this complex family dynamic. There were parts where the writing was a touch dry for my taste, but overall I found it a stimulating reading and that is because of the laborious research that Warner partook to tell their tales and the tales of their descendants. If you want a meticulously researched resource that tells the stories of women who knew Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III well, “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner is the perfect book for you to add to your collection.

Book Review: “How to Survive in Medieval England” by Toni Mount

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were able to travel back in time to the medieval ages and had to start your life all over again? Could you make the transition from the 21st century to the medieval period with no electronic technology and different customs? What would you wear? How would you get around with no cars and horses being very expensive? Where would you live? What job would you have? These questions and quandaries are answered in the latest nonfiction book by Toni Mount aptly entitled, “How to Survive in Medieval England”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have found time travel books really interesting in the past few years, so I was intrigued when I heard about this title.

Mount has created a fun and creative guide for those who have a passion for medieval England. For clarification, Mount defines medieval from 1154 to the death of King Richard III in 1485. It’s quite a range, but it gives the reader a chance to see how England transformed during the medieval time. In this book, Mount gives her readers the everyday details that they would want if they traveled to the past or if they just wanted to better understand the past. The information that Mount includes is practical and easy to follow so that anyone who is jumping into the past can understand.

The true highlight of this title and what separates Mount’s book from other time-traveling books are the interviews. No, she does not have her own Tardis, but it feels like she might with these passages. Mount has taken historical figures, both well known and those who her audience might not be familiar with, and has decided to write discussions with them to better understand the past and the motivation for their actions. It is a brilliant way for an author who writes both historical fiction and nonfiction to express their craft in a unique and engaging way.

I have read a few time travel books and I have to say, this one is special. It is one that is engaging for history experts and novices alike. There are warnings, but Mount has also included a bit of humor to make sure that her audience realizes that the past was not always dark.

Medieval England may look drastically different than our 21st century, but if you break it down, the people of the past are just trying to survive the best that they can just like we are. If you want a handy guide to take on your journeys to the past or you just want a book to better understand the past, I highly suggest you read this book, “How to Survive in Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

Book Review: “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia

57165143A man ahead of his time who never finished the tasks that he was given as his mind was constantly racing, thinking of new ideas. This is what we consider a genius or a Renaissance Man today, but during Leonardo da Vinci’s time, it was just considered odd. Leonardo da Vinci was an enigma. He could make the impossible possible. His art seemed to leap off the canvas with its realism. However, there are still so many mysteries surrounding his life and his works. What made this one artist/inventor so fascinating for centuries? In her book, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” Rose Sgueglia opens the curtain to reveal Leonardo da Vinci’s truth and inner circle.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am one of those people who is familiar with da Vinci’s works, but not so much with his actual life and what made him tick. I have always wanted to read biographies about the great artists of the Renaissance, but I didn’t know where to start. This was the perfect book to start my journey into art history.

To understand da Vinci’s lifestyle later in life, we have to understand his origins. His mother was an absent figure in his life as Leonardo was her illegitimate son, but his father seemed to have taken care of him. Leonardo was trained under Verrocchio where he would learn the skills that would be vital for his art career, however, it was his insatiable appetite for exploring new subjects that would make him a polymath to many.

Sgueglia dives into the intricacies of da Vinci’s life, including his love life which has been debated for centuries. As an illegitimate son, he was not tied down to one location so he frequently traveled and would be employed by some of the greatest families in Italy, including the Borgias, the Medicis, and Ludovico Sforza. Along the way, he would create his own following of artists that were loyal to him until the bitter end. Da Vinci would also encounter fellow masters Donatello and Michelangelo as he competed for commissions.

I think Sgueglia does a decent job introducing the Leonardo da Vinci that she has gotten to know through her research. She also included interviews between her and a researcher of the Mona Lisa as well as the director of a movie about Leonardo da Vinci within this book, which I found fascinating. I think it is these interviews and including the transcripts as part of the book that sets it apart from other biographies about Leonardo da Vinci.

There were a few things about this book that I found a bit off or lacking. My big concern was the lack of illustrations of his lesser-known pieces of art and the artwork of other artists that Sgueglia references. If this is a biography about a well-known artist and inventor, then let’s celebrate the masterpieces and the inventions. I had to find the obscure artworks online while I was reading to act as a companion to get the full impact of what she was writing about. I also think it was a tad repetitive and I would have personally liked to have seen more books in the bibliography for research purposes.

Overall, I found this book was an adequate biography about Leonardo da Vinci. It is easy to read with intriguing facts that will captivate those who are new to da Vinci’s story. There is something intriguing about looking at the man behind these masterpieces and I think Sgueglia does an excellent job of showing a unique side of this artist’s life. If you want a great book that will introduce you to this polymath’s life and times, I recommend you read, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia.