Book Review: “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise” by Melanie Clegg

61QD1AenNQL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_The study of the Tudors tends to focus on England as a country of focus, however the Tudors did affect other countries like Spain, France, and Scotland. Many know the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her relationship with Elizabeth I, but many do not know the tale of her mother, Marie de Guise. Her tale is one of love for her family and her adoptive country of Scotland. It is of loyalty and strength to do what she believed was right. She was a sister, a daughter, a mother, a queen, and a regent of Scotland. Marie’s story tends to be overshadowed by her daughter’s tragic tale, until now.  Her story is the main focus of Melanie Clegg’s latest biography, “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this pleasant biography. I knew quite a bit about her daughter, but Marie de Guise is just as remarkable and deserves to be told. 

Clegg begins her biography in the most unusual way, but starting with the death of King James V, Marie de Guise’s second husband. This event, as Clegg will show, radically alters the path that Marie will take. Of course, Marie’s life took many turns, even from her early years. Marie de Guise was the eldest daughter of Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Guise and Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchesse de Guise. Her family, the Lorraines, were extremely close and very loyal to King Francois I of France, especially her father Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Guise. Clegg  explores Marie’s formative years, both with her paternal grandmother Philippa de Geulders, Dowager Duchesse de Lorraine, and inside the glamorous court of Francois I, and how both experiences shaped Marie into the remarkable woman she would become. 

It was truly a twist of fate that Marie de Guise would marry King James V of Scotland, who was her second husband. Marie was first married to Louis d’Orleans, Duc de Longueville and King James V was married to Princess Madeleine. However, both Louis and Madeleine died rather young, so Marie and James V both had to look for new spouses. James V wanted a French marriage, but he was not the only monarch who was looking for a bride. His uncle King Henry VIII just lost his third wife to illness and was trying to woo Marie. To say things did not go Henry’s way would be an understatement as Marie became Queen of Scotland. 

It was in Scotland where we see Marie’s true colors come out in full force. Clegg shows that although Marie loved James, things were not smooth sailing as they would have hoped. Marie’s daughter Mary Stewart, later Mary Queen of Scots, was born only a few days before her father’s untimely death shortly after the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. Such a triumph turned tragedy would have been agonizing for anyone to deal with, but Marie de Guise knew that she had to stay strong for her daughter. As Regent of Scotland, until Mary came of age, Marie did battle, both physical and spiritual, with every Tudor monarch, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. 

This book was a joy to read. Melanie Clegg was able to make a biography read like a novel, yet stay informative and academic. I did not know what to expect, since this was the first book by Melanie Clegg that I have ever read, but from page one I was hooked. This was the first biography about Marie de Guise that I have ever read and now I want to read more about her. If you would like to read an engaging biography about Mary, Queen of Scots vivacious mother Marie de Guise, I highly recommend you read, “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise” by Melanie Clegg.

Book Review: “Robin Hood: The Life and Legend of an Outlaw” by Stephen Basdeo

51UsreYOdXL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_When one studies history, one comes across legends and myths that seem to transcend time itself. In England, there are two such legends. One, of course, is King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The other is of a rogue and his band of merry men, who “stole from the rich and gave to the poor”. Of course, I am speaking of none other than Robin Hood. When exploring Robin Hood, tons of questions come to mind. Who was Robin Hood? Was Robin Hood an actual person? How did his legend change over time? Stephen Basdeo, an Assistant Professor of History at Richmond University, dives into discovering the truth about Robin Hood in his latest book, “Robin Hood: The Life and Legend of an Outlaw”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I grew up really enjoying tales of Robin Hood, so reading about the legend and how it came to be was delightful.

Basdeo explores two central concepts in this book, the historicity of Robin Hood and the historiography of the legend of Robin Hood. For casual readers, these terms may seem intimidating, however, Basdeo takes the time to explain the purpose of this book and what these terms mean. Historicity explores the historical authenticity of a person or event; in other words, if Robin Hood was a real person, who is the most likely person in history who could have been the original “Robin Hood”. Historiography is the study of the methods of how historians write history. When a historian writes a historiographical study about a certain topic, such as Robin Hood, they explore centuries of historical research and explains why past historians had the bias that they did towards a figure. Although what Basdeo is exploring the literature of Robin Hood in this historiographical study, he does explore how the story changed over 800 years in a very similar way.

Basdeo starts his study of Robin Hood by exploring who the actual Robin Hood might have been and why he believes that this man was Robin Hood. Readers then jump ahead to the 15th century when the first tales of the outlaw first appeared. It is here that we start to see Robin and his merry men becoming part of the culture and the history of England. Basdeo goes through each century, exploring the way different authors put their own spin on the story. As the centuries changed, so did the way the story of Robin Hood was told; from ballads to books and penny dreadfuls to films and eventually comics.

This was such a fun and insightful book to read. Basdeo is able to combine the history of each century with how that changed the Robin Hood narrative and a light, readable writing style. This book feels like you are having a casual conversation with Basdeo about Robin Hood, Maid Marian, the merry men, and the numerous opponents Robin fought. If you want a book that gives great insight into the legend of Robin Hood and how it came to be, I highly recommend you read, “Robin Hood: The Life and Legend of an Outlaw” by Stephen Basdeo.

Book Review: “An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors” by Timothy Venning

A1XRNNIWxkL.jpgThe study of history is all about asking questions about how and why events happened. We understand that history is very much a study of cause and effect; if a certain person causes something to happen, we study the effect of those actions. But what if the person changes what they do? What would happen to the course of history? These are considered the “what ifs” of history, which is something that history fans and students like to discuss with one another. These questions rarely are discussed in books, until now. Timothy Venning explores some of the “what ifs” of the Tudor Dynasty in his book, “An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors”. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. This book was a rather interesting read and gave a different perspective to the Tudor dynasty as a whole.

 Instead of having an introduction to explain what he hopes to achieve with this book, Venning dives right into his discussion of some of the most famous “what if” questions about the Tudors. What if Prince Arthur lived to become King? What if Henry Fitzroy lived, could he have become King? What if Anne Boleyn survived? What if King Edward VI lived, who would he have married and what kind of King would he have been like? What if Lady Jane Grey stayed Queen of England, how would she have ruled England? What if Elizabeth I married Robert Dudley? What if the Spanish Armada succeeded in their plan to conquer England? Of course, Venning does include some of his own questions into the discussion as well to explore the entirety of the Tudor dynasty.

I honestly have mixed feelings about this book. I think Venning is very educated about the topics that he does discuss in this book. It is very much what I would call a “discussion starter” book. Venning gives his own opinions about these scenarios and gives readers something to think about. Some of the scenarios were relatively new ideas to me, which made me stop reading the book for a little bit to really think about what Venning is talking about and how history could have changed if one of the factors was changed.

Most of these topics are either political, martial, or military-related so we don’t really get to see how these events might have affected those who were not part of the royal family or the government. I wish Venning would have explored how these events would have impacted the country as a whole as well as how it might have impacted the culture of England. Venning does reference other events and figures in history in this book to make a point, which is fine, but I wish he didn’t compare the Tudors to modern figures that are seen as negative influences. It comes off as a bit distracting and I wish in these moments he would stick to talking about the Tudors.

Overall, I think this book was interesting. It really gives the reader a better understanding of how the Tudors survived during a very precarious time period in order to make England a better place for their people. Venning did present fascinating arguments for the reader to think about, but I wish he had written a bit better so that casual readers don’t get lost. If you want a book that makes you wonder about the “what ifs” of the Tudor dynasty, I would recommend you read, “An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors” by Timothy Venning. 

 

 

 

Book Review: “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’” by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill

A1EHw9PpVwLThe English conflict known as the Wars of the Roses is filled with dynamic figures whose stories are those of legends. None more so than the wife of Edward IV and the mother of Elizabeth of York and the princes in the Tower, Elizabeth Woodville. She has been known in popular culture as the commoner turned “White Queen” consort, but do we really know the true story about her life? Was she really Edward IV’s wife? How much influence did she actually carry? These questions and more are tackled in Dr. John Ashdown-Hill’s latest book, “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have had my eyes on this particular title for a while since I like learning about the women of the Wars of the Roses, and because I have never read a book by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill.

Since I was not familiar with Dr. John Ashdown-Hill and his work before I read this book, I decided to look into him in order to understand the position he might take on this particular topic. He is a medieval historian, who mainly focuses on Yorkist history. His main claim to fame was when he helped find the location where Richard III’s remains were buried. He also traced the female-line descendants of Richard III to his sister, which established the mtDNA haplogroup that was necessary to identify the remains found in the Leicester parking lot as Richard III. For this important research, Dr. John Ashdown-Hill was awarded an MBE in 2015 but sadly passed away from motor neurone disease on May 18, 2018. This was one of the last books he had ever written.

Knowing this information about Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, it helps to understand that he knows this subject rather well. He does show his knowledge through the family trees, the letters, and the tables that he does include. These sources give the reader an understanding of where Ashdown-Hill is coming from and a different perspective on Elizabeth Widville’s life and times in the courts of Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. Ashdown-Hill does use his own books quite frequently as sources, which can come across as braggadocious at times.

Ashdown-Hill refers to Elizabeth Widville as the ‘Pink Queen’ because, at different times in her life, she was supporting the Lancastrians and the Yorkists causes. I do agree with this terminology because it does tell her story in a colorful way. However, it is his calling Elizabeth Edward IV’s ‘chief mistress’ where I do have an issue. Personally, I believe that Elizabeth was Edward’s wife, but Ashdown-Hill believes that Edward’s pre-contract with one Eleanor Talbot was valid and that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was bigamous. This is a central point in this book, but he does not really go into the depth that I wished he would have gone into to explain his point of view.

Another part of his book that I do not exactly agree with is his assessment of how many deaths Elizabeth was associated with, including possibly poisoning George Duke of Clarence’s wife and young son. He does not take into account illnesses as possible causes of death and jumps straight into malicious intentions, mostly by Elizabeth herself. Ashdown- Hill can come across as either passionate or brash in his writing style, which can be a bit off-putting at times. It feels like, at least to me, that Elizabeth was either treated as a villain or was in the background for this particular biography, instead of in the spotlight, which is something one would expect in a biography about a certain person.

Although I do not entirely agree with Dr. John Ashdown- Hill’s assessment of Elizabeth Widville’s life, I do respect the amount of research he obviously poured into this book. It is meticulously researched and I found it a unique experience to read a different perspective from my own. I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of this book, as I did have to stop reading it and come back to it several times to get my head around what he was saying since it was different than what I accept as fact about her life. However, I do believe that it is important to read books and authors who you don’t agree with in order to expand one’s knowledge about a topic. If you are a fan of Dr. John Ashdown-Hill or you would like to read a unique take on Elizabeth Widville’s life and times, I would suggest you read “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’”.

Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’ by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill will be published in the United States on November 2, 2019. If you are interested in pre-ordering this book, you can follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Widville-Lady-Grey-Mistress/dp/1526745011/

Book Review: “Richard III: Fact and Fiction” by Matthew Lewis

41093351When one looks at the study of history as a whole, the traditional way to look at a person as either good or bad through a combination of facts and fictional tales of their supposed exploits. None so much so as King Richard III, one of the most controversial English monarchs. Fictitious tales, like William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, have been accepted as fact throughout the centuries, but who was the real Richard III? Matthew Lewis, in his latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”, explores who Richard III really was by separating the facts from the fictional stories. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this insightful book. I enjoy books that explore both the facts and fictional stories of historical figures to find the truth about who they were and what they might have been like. 

In his introduction, Lewis explains the fascination of Richard III and his aim for this particular book.

The debate around Richard III and his reputation burns hotter today than ever before …Why is a man who was killed in battle over 500 years ago still attracting such passionate debate? How does a medieval king who reigned for only just over two years have a thriving fan club in the Richard III Society? Part of the reason lies in the mythologising of the facts about him, so many of which are open to the broadest interpretation so that both sides will claim them to make polar opposite points. The purpose of this book is to try and peel away some of the myths to reveal the bare, unadorned facts. Did Richard III invent bail? Did he murder a Lancastrian Prince of Wales, a king, his brother and his two nephews? Did he mean to marry his niece? Why did those previously loyal to the House of York abandon Richard III for an obscure Welshman in exile? (Lewis,1).

Lewis tackles some of the most notable and notorious myths about Richard III, most of which came from Shakespeare’s play. He explores myths from the “murder” of the Princes in the Tower and Henry VI, to if Richard wanted to marry Elizabeth of York and why he was so popular in the North and his death at Bosworth. Of course, there are also obscure and out-of-left-field myths, like Richard, killing Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset at the tender age of 2 and a half, and Richard inventing bail. Along with discussing the fictional stories and the veracity of the claims, Lewis includes some fun factoids and a glossary of terms that the readers might not know at the end of each segment.  

Although Lewis is a Ricardian, the way he presents his arguments against the fictitious tales does not push the Ricardian argument of Richard being a purely innocent individual. Instead, Lewis focuses on making Richard more human rather than either a vile villain or a knight in shining armor. This is what I appreciate about Lewis and his approach to Richard III. He makes the study of  Richard III approachable for those who want to study about the man, not the black or white myths. With this particular book, I couldn’t put it down. I found extremely enjoyable and overall fascinating. If you want a book that brings the fictional tales and examining the facts about Richard III, I highly recommend you read Matthew Lewis’ latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”. It is a re-evaluation of the facts that Richard III deserves.

Book Review: “Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower” by Andrew Beattie

416SyuuLECL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_When one thinks about the Wars of the Roses, we often think about the adults who fought against each other. However, there were also children who were stuck in the middle of the conflict. Two of the most famous children of this time were Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Today, we refer to these brothers as “the Princes in the Tower”. The disappearance of these two boys has sparked so much debate over the past five centuries as to who killed them or if they did indeed escape the tower, yet we have no way to know what happened to them. What we do have is the physical locations that were part of the young princes’ lives. Instead of diving into the quagmire that is the mystery of the princes’ lives, Andrew Beattie takes a different approach in his book, “Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower.”

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The Princes in the Tower has been a topic that has fascinated me for a few years now.

In his introduction, Andrew Beattie lays out his intentions for this book, which is rather unique when it comes to this particular field of study:

A survey and discussion of how novelists and playwrights have depicted the lives of the two princes, and have told the story of their imagined fates, is one aim of this book. Moreover, though, this book seeks to look at the princes’ story in a way that has not been considered before: through the places associated with them during their lives. They were the sons of a reigning monarch and one of them became a monarch himself. Not surprisingly they grew up in castles and palaces and their lives are commemorated in a number of churches…. Whilst this book does not seek to shed any new or radical light on the princes’ fate, it is hoped that through accounts of the places associated with them- from London and Kent to Shropshire, the English Midlands, and modern-day Belgium- a greater understanding of their lives and legacy can be gleaned. (Beattie, x). 

Since Beattie has decided to break his book into two elements, I will be breaking his book down in a similar way. First, I will be focusing on the main part of Beattie’s book, the places associated with the princes, and then I will be looking at the discussion of how the princes were portrayed in historical fiction and plays.

I think Beattie did a great job exploring the places associated with the princes, from their birth to the Tower and beyond. By explaining the history behind the places before and after the princes stayed, the reader can see the kind of footprint they left behind. It reads like a historical travel guide with pictures of the places to give the reader an idea of the locations as they are now. I also enjoyed how Beattie explores the scientific evidence and the stories of different sets of bones and graves associated with the princes.  It is a unique way to view history, one that helps balance out the facts of a history book with physical locations.

The big problem I had with Beattie’s book was with his inclusion of how the princes have been portrayed in historical fiction,  plays, and movies. Honestly, I feel like it took away from the whole book. It was distracting for me to read these parts. I think that if Beattie had separated the fictional portrayals from the information about the places, I might have liked the book a bit better, but this is just my opinion.

Overall, I thought “Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower” by Andrew Beattie was a decent read. Beattie does have an easy to understand writing style, but as he stated before, his book does not contain ground-breaking research. If you are interested in exploring the places associated with the Princes in the Tower, this book is a great place to start. 

 

Book Review: “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals” by Amy Licence

9188WGCCbpLHistorically, royal marriages have been viewed with such interest. A king and a queen who can come from either similar or different backgrounds in order to make their country better, or in some cases, worse. During the Wars of the Roses, there were some legendary relationships that shaped the war between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville. Richard III and Anne Neville. Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. However, these relationships fail in comparison to the impact that the marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou had on England during this time. Henry VI was seen as a weak, pious ruler; Margaret was seen as too strong for a woman. They have been viewed separately for a long time, never as a couple. That is until Amy Licence wrote her latest biography, “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this lovely book. I have always been fascinated by Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou so this book was a delight to read.

In her introduction, Licence explains how Henry and Margaret have been viewed in the past, separately and as a couple.

Little attention has been given to Henry and Margaret as a pair, in terms of their marriage, their life together and their joint rule. This is partly because less evidence survives about their intimate relationship, leading it to be reduced to a few simple anecdotes about Margaret being already a woman at the time of her marriage and Henry’s reputed prudery…. Contemporary and subsequent historians have exploited a far more subtle relationship dynamic to undermine Henry and Margaret as individuals, as a couple and as rulers, by playing on fifteenth-century gender expectations…. Almost six hundred years after Henry’s birth, the time is right for a reappraisal of their lives and marriage, which has no need to adhere to strict cultural codes about gender, but can use them as a starting point to deconstruct the identities of two atypical individuals. (Licence, x)

Licence starts her biography by exploring the lives of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou before they became husband and wife. They had very different upbringings. Henry was the son of Henry, the strong warrior King,  and Catherine of Valois. He was declared King of England and France at a very young age since his father died while he was a few months old. Margaret was the daughter of Rene of Anjou, who was a king without a kingdom. Their union seems very unlikely, but it worked rather well, although there were some in England who wasn’t exactly thrilled for the royal couple.

It wasn’t until the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses broke out that we see how strong the relationship between Henry and Margaret truly was. Henry was weaker than his father Henry V and he did suffer from some sort of mental illness, so Margaret had to step in to help take care of him and their son while defending the throne from the Yorkists. They had to make tough choices, but Henry and Margaret did them together. Licence shows the dynamic of this relationship, not only by using English sources but by using reports from foreign ambassadors. Reading these sources allows the reader to understand that Henry and Margaret were more complex individuals than what we see in history books.

Licence presents a fresh new look at this power couple. Henry and Margaret’s story is one of love and heartache, full of both joy and struggles.  Henry might have been a weaker medieval king than his father and Margaret might have been a bit stronger than most medieval women, but that is what makes them so unique. This book packed a lot of wonderful information in it about not only their relationship, but the Wars of the Roses, and the cult of Henry VI which formed after his death. It was an absolute pleasure to read. I did not want to put this book down.  I highly recommend that you have “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals” by Amy Licence in your personal library if you are interested in Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou and the Wars of the Roses.