Book Review: “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley

51+Uk6sMNqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)In history, many people tend to focus on the big names. The kings and queens, the rebels, and those who really made an impact. The political advisors and men of the church tend to get left behind in the dust since they are not seen as “important”. However, it is these men who were the backbone of the monarchy, who helped make the king’s vision come to fruition. They tend to come and go, so that is why John Morton’s story is so extraordinary. John Morton helped three separate kings of England, was the enemy to a fourth king, tried to reform the church, and had numerous building projects. His life tends to be overshadowed by the kings that he served, but his life is brought into the light in this biography by Stuart Bradley, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Morton’s life and his service to the kings he served was rather fascinating to read about and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Like any good biography, Bradley begins by exploring John Morton’s life before he moved up the ranks to work with kings through his collegiate career, which was rather impressive. It is imperative to understand Morton’s education and background to show what type of skills he brought to the political and ecclesiastical positions that he would have later on in his life. Morton caught the eye of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourgchier, who helped Morton get into his position as Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall, which put him in direct contact with Prince Edward of Westminster, Queen Margaret of Anjou, and King Henry VI. He served King Henry VI until his death in 1471. 

Morton could have decided to live as an exile during the reign of Edward IV, but instead, he accepted a royal pardon and decided to work with the Yorkist king. This may seem like an unusual step for a man who was once loyal to the Lancasterian cause, but Morton was loyal to his country first and foremost. During this time, he helped establish peace with France and became the Bishop of Ely. When Edward IV died and his sons disappeared from records, Morton could have retired, since he was in his mid-sixties at this point, but instead, he leads a rebellion against King Richard III, with young Henry Tudor as his choice for the next king. Morton helped arrange for Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York to be married, as well as help Henry VII stop the pretenders from taking the English throne. Under King Henry VII, Morton worked non-stop as both Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, to guide the king and to ensure the survival of the dynasty, until his death in 1500.

It is remarkable to see how much Morton did during his lifetime in politics, for the church, and the building projects. Morton was one of those figures that I honestly did not know a lot about before I read this book, but now I want to know more about him. Bradley obviously thoroughly researched Morton’s life and times and is able to articulate this research in this engaging biography. If you want a fantastic biography about a rather remarkable man who helped England navigate through the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, I highly recommend you read, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley.

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.

Biography: Elizabeth Woodville

(Born around 1437- Died June 8, 1492). Daughter of Jacquetta of Luxembourg and ElizabethWoodvilleRichard Woodville. Married to Sir John Grey and King Edward IV of England. Mother of Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, Richard Grey, Elizabeth, Queen of England, Mary of York, Cecily, Viscountess Welles, Edward V, King of England, Margaret of York, Richard, Duke of York, Anne, Lady Howard, George, Duke of Bedford, Catherine, Countess of Devon and Bridget of York. Elizabeth Woodville was the woman who Edward IV fell in love with and married, much to the chagrin of Warwick. Elizabeth was the mother of the Princes in the Tower and Elizabeth of York, the mother of the Tudor Dynasty.

Elizabeth Woodville was the eldest child of Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, born around 1437 at Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire. Her parents marriage was controversial because they married for love and without King Henry VI’s permission. Jacquetta was previously married to the brother of King Henry V and, although the Woodvilles were wealthy landowners, they were still considered genteel rather than nobles. Jacquetta was considered the second lady at court, next to the Queen Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth was able to become one of the maids of honor for Queen Margaret of Anjou. With her high position at court, Elizabeth was able to marry well with her first marriage. She married Sir John Grey of Groby in 1452 and during this time, Elizabeth became one of the four ladies of the bedchamber to Margaret of Anjou. In 1461, Sir John Grey would die at the Second Battle of St. Albans, fighting for the Lancastrian cause, leaving Elizabeth a widow with two infant sons, Thomas and Richard Woodville.

Elizabeth Woodville’s sons, Thomas and Richard, did not receive the Bradgate inheritance that they deserved. Elizabeth went into mourning for two years at her family home at Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire. After the Yorkist victory a few weeks later at Towton, Edward IV, the new king, stopped by at Grafton Regis for a couple of days, where it is said he fell in love with Elizabeth Woodville. It is said that he saw her under an oak tree, waiting for him to arrive and to plead her case to get her sons’ inheritance, but there is no evidence that this actually happened. The couple married in secret sometime in May 1464.

At this time, Richard Neville “The Kingmaker” Earl of Warwick, was working on a marriage alliance with France. When Warwick and the Council found out about the marriage, they were rightfully upset. Not only did the King marry a woman who was a widow and not a princess, but now her relations were able to capitalize in the marriage market. Three of Elizabeth’s sister married sons of earls and her brother John, who was in his 20s at the time married Katherine Duchess of Norfolk, who was widowed three times and was in her 60s, causing quite a scandal. On May 16, 1465, Elizabeth was crowned queen consort and the following year, she gave birth to the couple’s first child, Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth of York’s godparents were her grandmother Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Warwick.

In 1469, Warwick decided to rebel against Edward IV and join the Lancastrian cause to put Henry VI back on the throne. After the Battle of Edgecote Moor, Elizabeth’s father Richard and her brother John were arrested and executed on August 12 at Kenilworth. Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta was arrested by Warwick on the charges of witchcraft. These charges were dropped in February 1470.

In September 1470, Warwick invaded England and placed Henry VI back on the throne, forcing Edward IV to flee and Elizabeth and her children sought sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. During this time, Elizabeth gave birth to her first son, the future Edward V. In total, Elizabeth and Edward would have 10 children, including Richard Duke of York. Edward IV returned and defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471. When Margaret of Anjou returned, she formed an army to march against Edward IV, which forced Elizabeth to seek shelter at the Tower of London. After the Battle of Tewkesbury, Elizabeth exited the Tower and Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI entered it; Henry VI would later die in the Tower. Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta would die on May 30, 1472.

Life returned to a normal pace for Elizabeth Woodville and her family. In January 1477, she watched as her young son Richard Duke of York was married to Anne Mowbray; both the bride and groom were not over the age of 5 when the wedding happened. Another marriage, arranged between Elizabeth’s daughter Elizabeth of York and the Dauphin of France, fell through. Shortly afterward, Elizabeth’s world changed forever when her husband Edward IV died April 9, 1483 and Elizabeth was made queen dowager.

Elizabeth’s son was named Edward V and his uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester was named Lord Protector. On April 29, as previously agreed, Richard and his cousin, the Duke of Buckingham, met Queen Elizabeth’s brother, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, at Northampton. At the queen’s request, Earl Rivers was escorting the young king to London with an armed escort of 2000 men, while Richard and Buckingham’s joint escort was 600 men. The young king himself had been sent to Stony Stratford. Richard had Earl Rivers, his nephew Richard Grey and his associate, Thomas Vaughan, arrested. They were taken to Pontefract Castle, where they were executed on June 25 on the charge of treason against the Lord Protector after appearing before a tribunal led by Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. Richard took the young king under his protection, escorted him to London, and placed him in the Tower for his protection. After hearing about what had happened, Elizabeth Woodville took her children, including her daughters and her youngest son Richard Duke of York, and fled to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey.

Gloucester wanted Elizabeth to hand over her son Richard Duke of York. Elizabeth was very reluctant to hand over her son to his uncle, but eventually she did. Richard was said to have been informed with information that Edward V was illegitimate because Edward IV had entered into a previous marriage contract. On June 25, Parliament agreed that Edward V was illegitimate and the following day, June 26, Richard was proclaimed king. His joint coronation with his wife Anne Neville would occur on July 6, 1483, and his title was confirmed in an act of Parliament called the Titulus Regius, which was passed in January 1484.

We do not know what happened to the Princes in the Tower, Edward V and Richard Duke of York. They disappeared from sight after the summer of 1483, which has led many to speculate that Richard III had them murdered. At this point we cannot confirm or deny this theory. We don’t even know if they were murdered at all. It still remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in history.

Elizabeth Woodville was now known as Elizabeth Grey and she decided to side with the Duke of Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort to put Margaret’s son Henry Tudor on the throne. Henry Tudor was the closest male Lancastrian heir and in order to cement this new alliance, Elizabeth and Margaret arranged that Henry would marry Elizabeth of York. Buckingham’s rebellion against Richard would fail and he would be killed on November 2, 1483. In December 1483, Henry made an oath at a cathedral in Rennes, France to marry Elizabeth of York. At Richard III’s first Parliament in January 1484, he stripped Elizabeth Woodville of all of her lands that were granted to her during the reign of Edward IV. On March 1, 1484, Elizabeth and her daughters left sanctuary after Richard III promised not to harm them and to arrange marriages for all of Elizabeth Woodville’s daughters. There were rumors that after Anne Neville in March 1485, Richard III’s wife, died that he was seeking to marry Elizabeth of York, but there is no evidence to support this claim.

Later in August 1485, Henry Tudor invaded England and was able to defeat Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, Henry became King Henry VII of England. Henry would marry Elizabeth of York, revoke the Titulus Regius and restore Elizabeth Woodville’s title and honors of queen dowager. The last five years of Elizabeth Woodville’s life she spent at Bermondsey Abbey. She was present for the birth of her grandchildren including Margaret Tudor and Henry Tudor, the future Henry VIII. Elizabeth of York and her sister Cecily Woodville would often visit their mother. Elizabeth Woodville died at the Abbey on June 8, 1492 and she was buried with her husband King Edward IV in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Book Review: “Richard III: England’s Most Controversial King” by Chris Skidmore

517EnSUqESL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_When we often think about Richard III, we tend to focus on the princes in the tower, Bosworth Field where he died, and the discovery of his body in 2012. But he was a brother to a  king, a protector and he did rule as king of England. There should be more to his story than this. Chris Skidmore believed so and decided to write a modern biography on Richard called “Richard III: England’s Most Controversial King”.

There have been a lot of books written about Richard III, but Skidmore explains what separates his book from others:

This work has unapologetically been written as a narrative history of Richard’s life and reign; in doing so, attention has been paid mainly to the high courts politics of the age, and Richard’s role within this world. I have attempted to focus on how Richard constructed his own power base, for it was his northern affinity, constructed in his early years as duke, that would prove so crucial for him obtaining the throne…. Too much attention is traditionally paid to Richard’s individual role in his accession, when, like any political coronation, this was only possible with the support of certain  key members of the nobility, who backed regime change. Richard’s success depended as much upon their own individual grievances and ambitions as his own.(Skidmore, 11)

It was really these alliances that helped Richard III come onto the throne. Skidmore starts off his book with an interesting account of a Silesian knight named Niclas von Popplau and his encounter with Richard III’s court. It is not what those who have studied the “black legend” of Richard III would expect. Skidmore then dives into Richard’s childhood, the Wars of the Roses, the death of his father,  his brother Edward’s accession to king of England, and his brother George’s fall from grace and later execution.

These are such pivotal moments in Richard’s young life and they do shape what kind of king he would be, but it was his northern affinity and his relationship with men like the duke of Buckingham and Hastings that defined the motives that he would later take. For example, the murders of Lord Rivers and Lord Hastings seem like paranoia, but Skidmore sheds new light onto these murders. As to the most controversial moment of Richard III’s life, the disappearance of the princes in the tower, Skidmore does not spend a lot of time on the topic. As soon as Richard is crowned king, Skidmore talks about his policies as king and his relationships with foreign monarchies throughout Europe. Richard III’s reign was quite short; he only reigned for 788 days so it wasn’t a long time to establish the relationships he needed to with his European counterparts, like France and Scotland, which helped propel Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne of England.

In the last few chapters, Skidmore paints the scene for Bosworth Field, the battle between Richard III and Henry Tudor for the crown of England. He writes the actual battle in such a way that it makes you feel like you are witnessing the battle first hand, including the slaughter of Richard III and the way they discarded his body.

What I enjoy about Chris Skidmore is that he includes so much detail into his books and not the facts that those of us who are familiar with the topic necessarily are aware of. With this book, Skidmore shows his readers a different side of Richard III, one in which Richard III is king with powerful allies that helped him become king of England. Richard III may have been king for only 788 days, but his legacy has lasted for centuries and this book, “Richard III: England’s Most Controversial King” by Chris Skidmore, adds another perspective into his legacy. This book is very well written and is a fascinating read.

Book Review: “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth” by Matthew Lewis

35888548One of the greatest mysteries of all time is what happened to the young princes, the sons of Edward IV, who were held in the Tower of London. Many people believed that they were killed. There are some who believe that Richard III had them murdered and there are some who say that Henry VII ordered the deed to be done. But what if they were never killed? What if they survived? That is the premise of Matthew Lewis’s book “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth”.

I have always been one of those people who believed that the princes were indeed murdered and that the one who ordered their murders was Richard III. I have read the “sources” and I came to my own conclusions. A few months ago, I attended the Tudor Summit (for those of you who do not know what this, look it up it is a fantastic two- day summit with fellow Tudor nerds) and one of the speakers was Matthew Lewis. Normally I don’t pay attention to the Ricardian side of this debate, but his talk made me interested, so I decided to read his book.

I am really glad I decided to read this book. It gave me something new to think about when it comes to this mystery and it did it in such a constructive way that made sense. Lewis starts his book by exploring the facts and the different sources that made the case that the princes were murdered, and then he looks at why these sources have been misinterpreted and don’t tell the whole story. For example, the fact that More said that Edward IV died in his fifties when in fact he died when he was in his forties, which is a big age gap.  Lewis asks rather obvious questions about the anti- Ricardian argument like why did Elizabeth Woodville turn over to her sons if she believed that Richard III was truly evil. It was by going through these sources and these obvious questions that started to create a lot of doubt in my mind whether or not the side I was on in this debate was accurate.

Lewis then dives into the lives of those we call the “pretenders”, Lambert Simnel and image015Perkin Warbeck. These were the most famous pretenders and the ones who challenged Henry VII’s right to the throne. If they were really the princes in the tower, why were they defeated? Why were they considered pretenders? Lewis explores other people who could possibly be the princes, including a theory by amateur art historian Jack Leslau on “The Family of Sir Thomas More” by Hans Holbein the Younger.

The theory that Matthew Lewis presents in this book is very unique. In order to understand what he is trying to do, you have to be open to a different perspective on this quagmire of a topic: the princes in the tower. There are certain books that come along and totally shake what you believe in, but you should not be afraid to read these kinds of books. I did not know what to expect when I started this book, but Lewis presented an argument that made sense and made me question everything I thought I knew about this mystery. Now I want to reread the sources and try to understand them better. I would recommend this book for anyone who thinks Richard III is innocent, guilty, or you are unsure of your position in this debate. “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth” by Matthew Lewis breathes new life into this debate and begs the question: what if the princes in the tower lived?