Book Review: “The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein” by Franny Moyle

C1629377When we think of famous artists in the 15th and 16th centuries, we focus on the great European masters. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albrecht Durer tend to come immediately to mind. However, one man from Augsburg, Germany, revolutionized how we viewed the Tudor dynasty through portraiture: Hans Holbein the Younger. Many are familiar with his famous works of art and how they influenced how the Tudors have been perceived for centuries, but the man behind the masterpieces has been overlooked. His story and how art was understood in the 16th century is told in Franny Moyle’s latest biography, “The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein.”

Before I read this book, I did not know much about Hans Holbein, the man behind the art. I knew about his masterpieces like his portraits of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII, and The Ambassadors, which I love to marvel at, but the man himself was a complete mystery. When this book was announced, I knew I wanted to read it to learn more about the master Hans Holbein.

Hans Holbein the Younger was from a family of artists; his father was Hans Holbein the Elder, and his older brother Ambrosius were also artisans, but they never reached the level of prestige as the youngest member of the family. Holbein the Younger was willing to break the mold and create art his way. Before finishing his apprenticeship, he signed his artwork and ensured that he was not in debt like Holbein the Elder. Holbein the Younger decided to move to Basel, Switzerland, to make his name. Here, Holbein was introduced to men like Erasmus and the ideas of humanism and Protestantism. It was in Basel where Holbein married Elsbeth Schmidt and started his family.

Holbein did not stay in Basel as he was destined to travel to England to be the painter for King Henry VIII. Holbein’s paintings for Henry VIII and his court are some of the most stunning images in 16th century England. The way Holbein was able to paint his subjects in such a life-like style is astonishing. However, when you pair it with Moyle’s information about Holbein’s circle of friends like More, Cromwell, Erasmus, and Cranmer, it adds depth to his work. The amount of allusions and symbolism in these works of art is astounding, and you can spend hours just analyzing one piece at a time.

It is a spectacular biography that any Tudor or art fan will adore. Franny Moyle has created a vivid image of Holbein’s world that could stand side by side with one of his masterpieces. I purposely took my time to read this book slowly to absorb every minuscule detail that Moyle included about Holbein and his world. I know it is a book that I will personally reread in the future. If you want a definitive and delightful biography about the man behind the canvas, I highly recommend “ The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein” by Franny Moyle.

Book Review: “The Finder of Lost Things” by Kathy Lynn Emerson

55583378._SY475_Blanche Wainfleet, a merchant’s wife living in England in 1590, has a reputation for finding items that others have deemed lost. Blanche has a gift for finding mementos important to others, from lost handkerchiefs to pets. However, there is one thing that she is searching for that will prove her greatest challenge yet, finding the truth about her sister’s murder. Blanche’s sister Alison fell in love with a Catholic man and converted to the Catholic faith when there was a war between Catholicism and Protestantism. To uncover the truth, Blanche must infiltrate the Otley family who took Alison in during her final days, but will she discover the truth and come out of the ordeal alive? This is the premise of Kathy Lynn Emerson’s latest novel, “The Finder of Lost Things.”

I want to thank Kathy Lynn Emerson for sending me a copy of this novel. I am always looking for new authors to follow in Tudor historical fiction, so when I heard about this novel, I decided to give it a chance.

We first meet Blanche Wainfleet as she is imprisoned at Colchester Castle for reading an illegal book about Catholicism. She is thrown into the same cell as Lady Otley and other devout Catholics arrested for illegally hearing mass. This is all part of an elaborate ruse to infiltrate the Otley family and gain their favor to unearth the truth about Alison. When a royal pardon is passed for all women prisoners, Blanche convinces Lady Otley to allow her to take Alison’s spot in her household. Blanche realizes that her prison cell is safer than living with this family in the Otley household.

I like how Emerson captured the divide between Catholicism and Protestantism during this time. She shows how Catholic priests and those dedicated to Catholicism were in fear for their lives for practicing their faith. To see how she described priest holes was also very good.

I did have a few issues with this title. There were points where I was not sure if I was reading a Tudor novel or something from the late 16th-early 17th century; I wish she would have added more Tudor elements that would have been familiar to readers. Another aspect that I was not comfortable reading was the element of exorcisms with this story. I know that there were incidents where exorcisms happened during the medieval and Tudor times, but Emerson’s description bothered me quite a bit.

Overall, I thought this was a decent novel. I liked the characters, especially the brave and determined Blanche and Kit, her loving husband. I wanted to see more interactions between those two, but maybe she will include this couple in a future novel. If you want a murder mystery novel that shows the Catholic underground during the late reign of Elizabeth I, I would recommend” The Finder of Lost Things” by Kathy Lynn Emerson.

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: “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis

39330966._SY475_“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” This famous quote from William Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part III has been used throughout the centuries to describe how difficult it is to rule a country for any duration of time. Most kings and queens of the past lasted for a few years, but there was one queen who lasted for a handful of days. She was the successor of Henry VIII’s only male son, King Edward VI, and was meant to replace his eldest half-sister, who would become Queen Mary I. It was a battle between Protestantism and Catholicism with a 17-year-old scholar caught in the middle. Her name was Lady Jane Grey, but many refer to her as the “Nine Day Queen of England”. Lady Jane Grey’s tragically short story, how she became queen, and the consequences of her reign are discussed thoroughly in Nicola Tallis’ beautifully written debut biography, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey”.

I have been a fan of Nicola Tallis’ other biographies, “Uncrowned Queen: The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Monarch” and “Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Life of the Countess of Leicester: The Romance and Conspiracy that Threatened Queen Elizabeth’s Court”. I had heard about this one through recommendations from other Tudor history fans, so naturally, I wanted to give it a try. Lady Jane Grey has been one of those historical figures that I have felt sympathy for in the past and I wanted to learn more about her life.

Lady Jane Grey was born into a royal family full of fighting for the throne of England and for the right to either be Protestant or Catholic. She was the eldest daughter of Henry and Frances Grey. It was through her mother Frances that Jane had a claim to the throne because Frances Grey was the daughter of Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII, and Charles Brandon. If Frances and Henry Grey had sons, we would not have to talk about Jane’s claim to the throne, but Jane had two sisters, Katherine and Mary Grey. Jane was a rather unusual royal girl because she was not concerned about who she would one day marry. Lady Jane Grey has been known throughout history as a young scholar and a martyr for Protestantism. Her zeal for learning is so admirable and relatable. It makes you really wonder what her life might have been like if she had not been coerced to become Queen of England.

Unfortunately, on his deathbed Jane’s cousin King Edward VI declared that Lady Jane Grey would be his heir, not his eldest half-sister Mary, who his father had named as Edward’s heir if Edward had no children of his own. Jane never coveted the throne, but her father-in-law, John Dudley 1st Duke of Northumberland saw the opportunity to make his son Guildford king of England. It was not the role that Jane wanted in her life, but she was outspoken and courageous about things that mattered to her, even as she approached the scaffold that would seal her fate on earth.

Tallis’ writing style and her attention to detail brought Jane out of the shadows to uncover the truth behind the myths that surrounded her young life. This biography could have easily become a Mary vs. Jane book, but Tallis took the utmost care to make sure it was balanced for both women. It was dynamic and thoughtful, full of drama and revelations of the life of Lady Jane Grey. In short, it is a magnificent biography of one of the Tudor monarchs whose reign was quickly forgotten. Jane may have been a scholar, a lady, and a martyr, but she should also be remembered for another position she held in life. Jane was a Queen of England. If you want a stunning biography about Lady Jane Grey, I highly suggest you read, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis.

Book Review: “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets” by Alison Weir

44034429._SY475_A foreign princess who travels to England to marry the king to establish a strong political alliance. To those who study history, this is a story that has been told numerous times, but what makes this particular story unique is the people involved. The bridegroom was the recently-widowed Henry VIII, the shadow of his former self and notorious throughout Europe for having his second wife Anne Boleyn executed. His new bride to be is the German princess Anna of Kleve. To say that they did not see eye to eye would be an understatement as the marriage did not last long. Her story is often swept under the rug. Anna is often viewed as the “lucky” wife of Henry VIII, but was she? What was Anna’s story and what was her marriage with Henry really like? Alison Weir has taken up the challenge to give her readers a taste of what Anna’s life might have been like in this novel, “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets”.

As many of you know, I am a big fan of Alison Weir and I have enjoyed the “Six Tudor Queens” series thus far, so I knew that I wanted to read this one. Anna of Cleves is one of my favorite wives of Henry VIII, yet I have never read a historical fiction novel on her, so I found this concept of this book intriguing.

Weir begins her book with Anna’s life in her native Germany and her relationship with her family. To see her interacting with her parents and her siblings was delightful and so relatable. We even saw them arguing about Catholicism versus Protestantism, which was the hot topic of the time. Anna is informed that she was to marry King Henry VIII of England, who has been married three previous times. Weir takes the time to show Anna’s journey from Germany to England and how she transitioned into her new life in a new country. Her relationship with Henry is more of a close friendship than that of a husband and wife, which is very loving, caring, and believable. I enjoyed her relationships with Henry’s other wives, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr since there is no animosity between them. Anna’s relationships with Henry’s children are very nurturing, especially towards Mary Tudor, who is more of a best friend relationship rather than a step-mother, step-daughter relationship.

Weir’s focus in this book is truly the relationships of those closest to Anna, but there are a few, in particular, that stands out; Anna’s relationships with her lover and their son. I will say that before I read this book, I knew about this storyline and I was upset about it. However, when I started to read this book, I enjoyed it. Of course, I know it is a fictional storyline, but I have always felt bad for Anna that she never married again after she divorced Henry. She was still in the prime of her life which makes you question if she ever loved anyone. As a work of fiction, I found this storyline compelling, even if it is not for everyone. It added a different element to Anna’s story.

Overall, I found this novel enjoyable and very well written. I truly felt sympathy for Anna with every trial she faced. Since this is a historical fiction novel, some of it should not be taken as factual, but what Weir does extremely well is she created a relatable and loving heroine in Anna. If you want an engaging Tudor historical fiction novel to read, I would recommend you read, “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets” by Alison Weir.