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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: “Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France” by Leonie Frieda

255134When we think about women rulers in the 16th century, some names, like Queen Mary I, Queen Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots, come to mind. However, another woman should be included in this list as her life helped keep the Valois dynasty alive and well in France, even though she was Italian by birth. Her name has been tainted with dark legends of poisoning, deadly incidents, and the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. This notorious queen was Catherine de Medici, and Leonie Frieda has chosen to shed some light on the myths and mysteries surrounding this misunderstood woman in her biography, “Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France.”

Catherine de Medici’s life was rough as her parents, Lorenzo II de Medici Duke of Urbino and Madeleine de La Tour d’ Auvergne, died shortly after she was born. A wealthy young heiress who was now an orphan, Catherine’s marriage was vital for the success of her family. The union meant for the young woman was with Henry II of France, the son of Francis I. Catherine fell deeply in love with Henry II. Still, another person in this marriage was Henry II’s mistress Diane de Poitiers. It took a while for Catherine and Henry to have the heirs necessary for their union to prove successful, but they did have ten children, including three sons that would become King of France; Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III.

When her beloved husband, King Henry II, died in a jousting accident, a lance in the eye, Catherine had to step up and protect her family, no matter what. Her first son to be King was Francis II, alongside his Scottish bride, Mary Queen of Scots, but he died after only a year on the throne from a severe earache. Catherine had to act as regent for her third son, King Charles IX, as he was too young to rule independently. Unfortunately, his reign was mired by several wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants. One of the most tumultuous events of his reign occurred in August 1572, known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which left a massive black mark on the legacy of Catherine de Medici for her supposed role in the disaster. After the death of Charles IX, Catherine had to once again act as regent as her fourth and favorite son, Henry III, had to make the journey back to France after being named King of Poland. Catherine de Medici died in 1589, and her favorite son Henry III died a few months later, ending the Valois dynasty and making way for the Bourbon dynasty in France.

In my opinion, I found this book a tad dry in areas, especially concerning the eight wars of religion in France. As someone who doesn’t read much about 16th-century France and its politics, this book was a bit of a challenge for me, and I felt that in some places, Catherine de Medici was more of a side character than the principal character in her biography. I also felt that Frieda focused on the black myth of Catherine de Medici and her supposed evil deeds instead of trying to debunk them.

Overall, I think this was a decent biography. Frieda does have a passion for her subject, and it shows from the political quagmire that she tries to navigate to the fun facts about Catherine and her family. If you know the story of Catherine de Medici and 16th-century France, you might find this book fascinating, but it might be challenging for novices in this area of research. If you want to know more about Catherine de Medici, “Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France” by Leonie Frieda could be the book for you.

Television Series Review: “Becoming Elizabeth”

MV5BZjYxNWQxMzctZjA2MC00ZTkxLTg4MTQtMDE3M2E3YTE5MzFhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM1MTE1NDMx._V1_FMjpg_UX1000_The year is 1547, and the infamous King Henry VIII is dead. The throne is left to his young son Edward VI while his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth wait in the wing. Without their powerful father to look after their well-being, his children must navigate the tumultuous Tudor court with powerful men who desire to use them as mere pawns in their game to influence how England is ruled. Throw in some romantic drama and the ever-changing religious landscape with the clash between Protestants and Catholics. This is the premise of the latest Tudor drama on Starz, “Becoming Elizabeth,” which follows the titular Princess Elizabeth Tudor during the reign of the third Tudor king.

Before we begin, I want to provide a little context before I dive into this review. As many of you know, I am incredibly picky about Tudor dramas; shocker, I know. I will watch trailers for new dramas, but after Reign (which, after watching the show for five minutes, I had to turn it off because of the costume design), I have been highly wary about committing to sitting down each week to watch a new show about historical figures I know pretty well.

The story of Princess Elizabeth is what got me interested in studying history after reading The Royal Diaries book series, so when I heard about this series, I wanted to know more. When I first saw the trailer for “Becoming Elizabeth, ” I decided to take the plunge and watch the first episode, which turned into watching every episode every Sunday.

Now let’s get to my thoughts about the series “Becoming Elizabeth.” I will be discussing the plot points of this series, so if you have not watched this show before reading this review, I would highly recommend you do.

There are a few aspects that I want to touch on before we take a deeper dive into this series, which have to do with the settings, costumes, music, and other details that will delight Tudor nerds. The location of “Becoming Elizabeth” is spot on, immersing the audience in Tudor England, which includes using candles for lighting instead of torches (which was a thrilling addition). I congratulate the costume and make-up crew from this drama as they are the best replications of Tudor gowns and outfits I have ever seen in a Tudor drama. They used the Tudor portraits of the time to replicate specific dresses and jewelry used in the show (including the famous “B” necklace most associated with Anne Boleyn) was a lovely and thoughtful touch. The only exception was the lead women’s riding gowns in this series. I did not like that they rode astride and had pants under their skirts. Let them ride side saddle and wear the same dresses they do at court but in those brown and green tones.

The little touches like having servants sleeping in the rooms of the royalty/ nobility and the masques to show significant events were viewed at court were nice touches for Tudor nerds. I also appreciated the small nods in the dialogue to elements that those who know Tudor history would understand, like the Queen’s jewels and the foreshadowing of Edward VI’s dog. Finally, the music in this show was decent, but some soundtracks felt a tad too modern and took away from the whole escapism element you want in a historical drama.

Now, let’s get into the most critical points of this show: the acting, the actors, and the plot points.

becoming-elizabeth-tudors-1655065913770The cast of “Becoming Elizabeth” is a plethora of talented actors and actresses who remarkably bring the treacherous Tudor court to life. The titular role of Princess Elizabeth was played by Alicia von Rittberg, who portrays the young woman’s naivety and eventual strength in love and court politics. Oliver Zetterstrom is the young King Edward VI who struggles to find his identity as a reformer king while navigating the drama of his court and Lord Protectors. Finally, we have Romola Garai, who revolutionized how Princess Mary Tudor was portrayed on television. Garai gives the audience a more sympathetic and vibrant woman trying to hold her family together while defiantly standing up for her Catholic faith in a Protestant court.

A story like this would not be complete without a group of star-studded actors and actresses to help the trio of Tudor heirs shine. We have the vivacious Catherine Parr, played by Jessica Rayne, and her fourth husband, the sly Thomas Seymour, played by Tom Cullen, Thomas’ brother, and Edward VI’s first Lord Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset is played by John Heffernan. We also have the Grey family, led by Henry Grey, played by Leo Bill, and the shy and studious Lady Jane Grey, played by Bella Ramsey. Finally, we have the Dudley family with the ambitious John Dudley, played by Jamie Parker, and the youthful Robert Dudley, played by Jamie Blackley. Along with the prominent families, we have Kat Ashley, the loyal servant to Princess Elizabeth, played by Alexandra Gilbreath, and the Spanish soldier Pedro who helps guide Princess Mary, played by Ekow Quartey. The interactions between this cast are so believable and passionately performed that it feels like you have been transported into the 16th century in the reign of King Edward VI.

We begin this series with the death of King Henry VIII. Prince Edward is now King Edward VI, and he and his sisters must learn to live without their infamous father. Mary goes to her own home while Elizabeth joins the household of Catherine Parr and her new husband (the man she truly loves), Thomas Seymour. While Mary and Edward VI argue vehemently over the matters of religion, Catholics vs. Protestants, Elizabeth navigates the unusual attention that Thomas Seymour is giving the young princess as she wonders if this is true love or something more sinister.

In addition to Princess Elizabeth, Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour welcome the daughter of Henry Grey, Lady Jane Grey, to their household. Elizabeth and Jane do not seem to get along very well, and it feels like the only ones that Elizabeth can turn to when times get rough are Kat Ashley and the caring Robert Dudley. Mary may seem alone, but Pedro, a man who was supposed to spy on the Catholic princess, becomes her friend and ally. Unfortunately for Edward, he is stuck between factions of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley as they fight to influence the young king and the direction he wants to take his kingdom. It was a time of rebellions, betrayals, executions, and moments behind closed doors that would forever shape these three Tudor heirs, especially Elizabeth Tudor.

ELI1_060521_0739_a_1900x1500While most of the storylines are engaging, and I found them rather enjoyable, one got under my skin: the intimate relationship between Princess Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour. Now I know it was the central storyline for the first half of this show, but it made my skin crawl. I know that Tom Cullen has discussed this issue with fans, and I think his portrayal of Thomas is spectacular. My problem is with Princess Elizabeth and how she goes along with the relationship to the point of no return. I feel like Princess Elizabeth was much stronger than how she was portrayed during those moments in the show, and she would have turned Thomas down, knowing the false allegations against her mother, Anne Boleyn. I do not think she slept with Thomas Seymour, but I do believe there were elements of flirting between the two, which could have been seen as them having an intimate relationship.

The creator of “Becoming Elizabeth,” Anya Reiss, has done a magnificent job telling the Tudor dynasty’s tale after Henry VIII’s death. The cast and crew are spectacular, the gowns and costumes are gorgeous, and there are so many Easter eggs that Tudor nerds will geek over. There will be moments that will make you laugh, cry, want to throw a book at your TV or laptop, and breathe a sigh of relief. I may not have seen many Tudor dramas in the past, but this is far and away one of my favorite shows about the 16th century. I hope we will get a second season of “Becoming Elizabeth,”, especially with how they closed the finale.

What are your opinions about “Becoming Elizabeth,” and who is your favorite character from this Tudor drama?

Sources for Images and Cast Information:

https://www.glamour.com/story/becoming-elizabeth-on-starz-everything-we-know-about-the-british-period-drama

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11444366/

Book Review: “Charles II and His Escape into Exile: Capture the King” by Martyn R. Beardsley

53073376._SX318_SY475_On January 30, 1649, the Stuart monarchy took a major hit when Charles I was tried and executed by the Rump Parliament, making way for the Commonwealth of England to take control. His eldest son, Charles II, fled England leaving the control of the country in the hands of Oliver Cromwell. Two years later, in 1651, Charles tried to make his triumphant return to restore the monarchy. However, it failed miserably at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651; Charles II was able to escape with the help of those loyal to the crown. The story of his escape from Cromwell’s men and his exile in Europe are told in Martyn R. Beardsley’s book, “Charles II and His Escape into Exile: Capture the King.”

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I know that this book is not in the particular timeline that I normally read, but it looked intriguing to me for some reason. It is one of those subjects that I knew absolutely nothing about, so I was looking forward to learning something new.

Charles II was known as the “Merry Monarch” who restored the monarchy, his very extravagant lifestyle, and his numerous mistresses who produced quite a few illegitimate children. His wife, Catherine of Braganza, was unable to provide him with the desired heir that would be able to continue his legacy. He would also endure plots that would try to remove him from the throne and the quagmire of religious struggles between Catholics and Protestants, plus a small event known as the Great Fire of London of 1666. This legacy would come after he became king, but his struggle to achieve his father’s crown was just as dramatic as his actual reign.

Charles II had been in exile ever since his father, Charles I, was executed and replaced by the Commonwealth led by Oliver Cromwell. He returned to his native England with the support of the Scottish soldiers and decided to engage Cromwell’s men in battle at Worcester on September 3, 1651, which ended in a horrific defeat for the royalists. Charles II was able to miraculously escape the carnage with the help of those loyal to the crown, like the Penderel brothers and Jane Lane, Lady Fisher. His rescuers did everything they could to smuggle the young king out of the country, from hiding the king in a tree to disguising him as a Shropshire countryman.

Beardsley does an excellent job to take his readers along the same route that Charles II took to freedom. He uses the writings of Samuel Pepys to start each chapter, goes into depth about each stop, and includes a few fun notes at the end.

It is a relatively easy book to follow, but the problem for me is the fact that I did not the background behind the conflict between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists. Beardsley tries to explain the concepts behind the conflict, but it a bit too brief for my liking.

Overall, I think this was a very well written book about a king on the run for his life. It makes me wonder if other kings escaping their countries had a similar experience. It takes guts to return to a country that you called home after your own countrymen kick you out time after time to become king. The adventures of Charles II and the stories of those who helped him escape to fight another day are thrilling. If you are like me and want to read a daring story from a different dynasty full of action and danger, check out “Charles II and His Escape into Exile: Capture the King” by Martyn R. Beardsley.

Book Review: “Lamentation” by C.J. Sansom

27263493._SY475_The year is 1546 and England is once again in turmoil. Rumors swirl that the once-mighty King Henry VIII is gravely ill and his councilors, both Protestants and Catholics, are vying for power to see who will help Henry’s young son, Edward when he becomes king. With such distinct factions, those are not Protestant or Catholic, like the Anabaptists, are deemed heretics and they are hunted down. Executions over faith, like the death of Anne Askew, run rampant across London. Those who own books that were deemed “controversial” were under a shroud of suspicion. When Matthew Shardlake’s main supporter, Queen Catherine Parr’s book Lamentation of a Sinner, goes missing, Shardlake must navigate the religious divide carefully to retrieve the missing manuscript before it is discovered. Can Shardlake and his friends save the queen from the heresy hunt in time? The stakes could never be higher in C.J. Sansom’s sixth Shardlake novel, “Lamentation”.

If you have been following my adventures with this series, you know it quickly is becoming one of my favorites. Of course, I wanted to read this novel, but when I found out that it involved Catherine Parr and one of her books, I immediately had to jump back into Shardlake’s world.

Sansom begins his sixth novel with Shardlake witnessing the execution of Anne Askew. The introduction alone made me a bit squeamish, because of its intensity. The way he described this event cemented how real the consequences were for those who were on the wrong side of the religious divide. Shortly after this horrific event, Shardlake is giving a new mission by his patroness, Catherine Parr. Someone has stolen the manuscript of a very personal book that she wrote, Lamentation of a Sinner, and if should fall into the wrong hands, the queen may be executed like Anne Askew. Since Shardlake is fond of the queen, he cannot allow this to happen, so he embarks on a secretive mission to retrieve the manuscript, which leads him on a collision course with some of the kingdom’s most illustrious and powerful men, including his arch-nemesis, Sir Richard Rich.

To top it all off, Shardlake has another case, because the man can never take things easy and tackle one case at a time. This time, it is a sibling squabble over an inheritance and a painting. However, this is not just a simple case of sibling rivalry as the brother and sister share a dark secret that will radically change the course of this case and their lives forever.

I feel like the previous Shardlake novels have had an element of danger, but this book amplified the danger level immensely for our intrepid lawyer and his friends. I think the secret-keeping that Matthew had to do and the relationship between him, Guy, Barak, and a new assistant Nicholas Overton, was brilliant and heightened the drama. The last one hundred pages left me speechless. It was an incredible conclusion to a heart-racing novel.

I don’t know how Sansom keeps writing hit after hit, but he does. This adventure was mesmerizing in its complexity. There were so many times I thought I had the crime solved and Sansom threw another twist. I did not want this one to end because I know that there is only one book left and I am not ready to say goodbye to these characters that I have grown to love so much. If you are a fan of the Shardlake series, you must read “Lamentation” by C.J. Sansom, as soon as possible.

Book Review: “The Boy King” by Janet Wertman

54464902 (1)In 1547, young Prince Edward is having the time of his life studying and hoping to one day take part in a tournament. He has not a care in the world. That is until his beloved father King Henry VIII passes away, and the 9-year-old boy is now Edward VI, King of England. He must navigate family drama between his older half-sister Mary Tudor and his uncles, Edward and Thomas Seymour while maintaining order throughout the kingdom. To top it all off, he is trying to reform the entire country and convert Catholics into the Protestant faith. His short life and reign are portrayed in Janet Wertman’s third book in The Seymour Saga, “The Boy King”.

I would like to thank Janet Wertman for sending a copy of her latest novel. I have read the first two novels in this saga, “Jane the Quene” and “The Path to Somerset,” so I knew that I wanted to read “The Boy King”. I have not read many novels that feature Edward VI as the protagonist, so I was intrigued by the concept.

Wertman divides her novel between two separate narrators, Edward, and his half-sister Mary. At first, I did not understand why she included Mary in a novel about Edward, but as the story progressed, it became crystal clear. At the heart of this novel is the struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism in England during Edward’s reign. Mary and Edward may seem like opposites when it comes to the religious spectrum, making them mortal enemies, but the way Wertman portrays them shows that they were concerned about each other’s well being, even if they did not understand each other. Mary acts in a motherly role when it comes to her criticism of Edward’s religious changes.

It was not just the rivalry with Mary that Edward had to deal with; there was also the rivalry between his uncles and the men on his Regency council. Edward and Thomas Seymour’s rivalry is legendary and has been portrayed in history books and historical fiction in many different ways. However, what puts Wertman’s narrative of the brothers’ battle for power apart from others is the way that she shows how Edward might have felt about his uncles and their falls from grace. Another court rivalry happening is between his uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. Each man fights for the right to be the young king’s Lord Protector, which leads to one of them rebelling and being beheaded for treason. It is this execution that will haunt him for the rest of his life. I find it fascinating that throughout this story, Edward is striving to be like his father, yet he mourns for the mother that he never had a chance to meet, Jane Seymour.

The conclusion to The Seymour Saga is a sheer delight. Wertman has described the rise and the fall of the Seymour family in the Tudor dynasty masterfully. Throughout this novel, you witness Edward growing from a timid boy who has to rely on others to a proud and confident king who knows exactly what he wants for his kingdom. I think that what Wertman has created with her Seymour Saga is a magnificent window into the lives of the Seymour family, and “The Boy King” is the piece de resistance of the entire series. If you have enjoyed The Seymour Saga so far or you want a stand-alone novel about Edward VI, “The Boy King” by Janet Wertman is the perfect novel for you to read.

Book Review: “A Tudor Christmas” by Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke

imageChristmas is seen today as a time of gift giving, twinkling lights and joy. We often celebrate it only one day a year, on December 25th, and then we celebrate a few days later the New Year from December 31st to January 1st. However, in the past, Christmas and New Years were a part of 12 days of celebrations. We often think that our traditions for Christmas date from the time of the Victorians, but that may not be the case. In fact, some of our more time-honored traditions for the holidays may in fact date from the Tudors and further back in history. So what are these traditions and how was Christmas celebrated in the time of the Tudors? That is the topic that Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke wanted to explore in their book, “A Tudor Christmas”.

Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke lay out the premise of this fascinating book:

In this book, we will be exploring all the fascinating aspects of a Tudor Christmas: how it was kept by ordinary people, and how the court celebrated, for what happened at court had a strong influence on what happened elsewhere. The Tudor period was an age of momentous and divisive religious change, with the Reformation of the 1530s severing ties with the Pope and the Church of Rome, and the establishment in 1559, under Elizabeth I, of the Protestant Anglican Church; and it is interesting to explore how this impacted on the way people celebrated Christmas. We have also broadened the scope of the book to embrace the pagan and medieval origins of the various customs, and to look at what transpired in the seventeenth century- when England became a Puritan republic- to interrupt the centuries-old traditional celebration of  Christmas, and how those observances were preserved. (Weir and Clarke, 10-11).  

This delightful little book, which happens to be less than 200 pages, is broken down into chapters which represent the days of Christmastide, from December 24th until January 6th. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the Christmas season. Food, decorations, carols, games, pageants, and masques all had important roles to play in the entire Christmas season. The number of details, the drawings at the beginning of every chapter,  and the poetry included really enhanced the reading experience and made the whole idea of a Tudor Christmas come alive. It also shows how the changing religious environment really impacted the celebration of Christmas and even had it banned for a time.

As someone who is somewhat aware of some Christmas traditions and their origins, I found this book extremely informative. It is the perfect book to read while drinking a cup of hot chocolate or tea, sitting in a comfortable chair with a blanket. It will put you in the holiday spirit. I have always wondered what Christmas was like during the time of the Tudors and this book exceeded my expectations. If you want a book that gets you into the holiday spirit while learning more about how the Tudors celebrated Christmas, I highly recommend you read, “A Tudor Christmas” by Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke. It is the perfect book for the holiday season for any Tudor nerd.

Book Review: “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett

9780451477996_p0_v1_s550x406After the death of Henry VIII and Edward VI, there was an explosion of religious intolerance, not just in England, but in Europe as a whole. Many believe that it was Mary I “Bloody Mary” who really started this trend, however, the fires of hatred between Protestants and Catholics extended further into the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. We often focus on the monarchs and their inner circles during this time and how the religious persecutions affected the decisions that they made. That tells only part of the story, but how did this religious fighting between Protestants and Catholics affect the normal person? What were their lives like? Ken Follett explores this topic in his third book in his historical fiction series, the  Kingsbridge Series, “A Column of Fire”.

Every historical fiction book needs a great opening to engage the reader and Ken Follett delivers with his prologue:

We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can’t kill a man in front of God’s face you probably shouldn’t kill him at all. The sheriff brought him up from the dungeon below the guildhall, hands tied behind his back. He walked upright, his pale face defiant, fearless. The crowd jeered at him and cursed him. He seemed not to see them. But he saw me. Our eyes met, and in that momentary exchange of looks, there was a lifetime. I was responsible for his death, and he knew it. I had been hunting him for decades. He was a bomber who would have killed half the rulers of our country, including most of the royal family, all in one act of bloodthirsty savagery- if I had not stopped him. I have spent my life tracking such would-be murderers, and a lot of them have been executed- not just hanged but drawn and quartered, the more terrible death reserved for the worst offenders. Yes, I have done this many times: watched a man die knowing that I, more than anyone else, had brought him to his just but dreadful punishment. I did it for my country, which is dear to me; for my sovereign, whom I serve; and for something else, a principle, the belief that a person has the right to make up his own mind about God. He was the last of many men I sent to hell, but he made me think of the first…”(Follett, prologue).

This story follows the lives of several different people and their families, but the main story focuses on a man named Ned Willard. After he can’t marry the girl he loves, Margery Fitzgerald,  and his family is crushed by bad investments, he decides to work for a young Elizabeth Tudor, who would later become Elizabeth I. His works will lead him all over England and Europe to help thwart plots to kill Elizabeth and replace her with a Catholic ruler. One of his biggest opponents is the elusive Jean Langlais, a man who works in the shadows, yet he is closer than Ned thinks.

What Follett does so well is that he incorporates people from other countries into this story. Sylvie Palot from France, the young Protestant bookseller, who is not afraid to sell Bibles to those who wish to own a Bible. Pierre Aumande, the man who will do anything in order to gain power. Alison McKay, the fictitious best friend of Mary Queen of Scots, who would do anything for her queen. Ebrima Dabo, a slave who will do anything to be free. Barney Willard, Ned’s brother, who wants nothing in life, except to sail the high seas looking for adventure.

Follett’s cast of original characters adds a depth to an already tumultuous time in European history. Follett is able to blend the fictitious characters with real historical figures and actual events like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the death of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada.

This is my first book by Ken Follett and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were so many twists and turns in this story that I was not expecting that I really could not stop reading this book. I found it rather engaging and exciting. I found it interesting that Follett decided to end the book during the reign of James I and that he called King Philip II of Spain by his other less common Spanish name Felipe. These are more stylistic choices instead of historical choices.

Overall as a historical fiction book about the religious persecution in the Elizabethan era, I found this book dynamic and thrilling. Although this is the third book in a series, I believe it can stand on its own.  After reading this book, I really want to go back and read the first two books of the series. If you want a great historical fiction book that you can easily get lost in, I enthusiastically recommend you read “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett.

Biography: Catherine Carey

800px-Steven_van_der_Meulen_Catherine_Carey_Lady_KnollysAlso known as Catherine Knollys or Lady Knollys.
(Born around 1524- Died January 15, 1569)
Daughter of Mary Boleyn and William Carey.
Married to Sir Francis Knollys.
Mother of Mary Stalker, Sir Henry Knollys, Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex, William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury, Edward Knollys, MP, Sir Robert Knollys, MP, Richard Knollys, MP, Elizabeth Leighton, Lady Leighton, Sir Thomas Knollys, Sir Francis Knollys, MP, Anne West, Lady De La Warr, Catherine, Baroness Offaly, Lady Butler, Maud Knollys and Dudley Knollys.

Catherine Carey was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn, and William Carey. She was the mother of Lettice Knollys and the Chief Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I.

Catherine Carey was born around 1524 to Mary Boleyn and William Carey. William Carey was from Aldenham in Hertfordshire. He was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Esquire of the Body to Henry VIII. Her parents were married in 1520 and soon after, it is believed that Mary Boleyn started her affair with Henry VIII. Contemporaries have claimed that Catherine Carey was in fact an illegitimate child of Henry VIII, but there is no evidence to support this claim and Henry VIII never acknowledged her as his own child. It is said that Catherine was a witness to Anne Boleyn’s execution, but that is simply not true.

Catherine would become a Maid of Honour for both Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. It is believed that Catherine met her future husband Francis Knollys when he was part of the group that welcomed Anne of Cleves to England in November 1539. We do not know if their families arranged the marriage or if the king had a hand in the match, but Catherine and Francis were married on April 26, 1540. The couple had fourteen children, including Lettice Knollys. Francis Knollys was knighted in 1547 and Catherine was called Lady Knollys. During the reign of Mary I, Francis and Catherine took part of their large family and fled to Germany because they were very staunt Protestants.

In January 1559, Catherine and Francis returned to England after the death of Mary I and the succession of Elizabeth I. Sir Francis Knollys was appointed Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household and Catherine was made Chief Lady of the Bedchamber. Elizabeth never supported the claim that Catherine was her half sister, but for the ten years that Catherine served Elizabeth, she was seen as one of Elizabeth’s favorites at court and her favorite first cousin. Catherine Carey would die on January 15, 1569 at Hampton Court Palace and she was buried in St. Edmund’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Carey
https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/26-april-1540-the-marriage-of-catherine-carey-and-francis-knollys/

Biography: Sir Walter Raleigh

(Born around 1552- Died October 29, 1618)220px-Sir_Walter_Ralegh_by_'H'_monogrammist
Son of Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne
Married to Elizabeth Throckmorton.
Father of Damerei, Walter (also known as Wat), and Carew Raleigh.
Sir Walter Raleigh was a writer and an adventurer who helped establish a colony near Roanoke Island. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London a few times and was later executed for treason.

Sir Walter Raleigh was born around 1552, although some believe he was born in 1554, to Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne in Devon. He was the youngest of five sons born to the couple. His half-brothers John Gilbert, Humphrey Gilbert, and Adrian Gilbert, and his full brother Carew Raleigh were also prominent during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. Catherine Champernowne was a niece of Kat Ashley, Elizabeth’s governess. The Raleigh family were very devout Protestants and they were persecuted during the reign of Mary I, especially Sir Walter Raleigh’s father who had to hide in the Tower of London to avoid execution. From a young age, Raleigh had a deep hatred for Roman Catholicism and was an extremely devout Protestant, even more than Elizabeth I herself.

In 1569, Raleigh went to France to help the Huguenots in the religious wars, at the age of seventeen. In 1572, he attended Oriel College, Oxford, but he left a year later without a degree. He would later attend the Middle Temple law college in 1575, but in his trial in 1603, he would deny that he studied law. It was during this time that Raleigh’s love for poetry is said to have started.

In 1578, Raleigh set out with his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert on a voyage to North America to find the Northwest Passage. They never reached their destination and the mission degenerated into a privateering foray against Spanish shipping. Raleigh’s actions were not well received by the Privy Council, the monarch’s advisors, and he was briefly imprisoned. Between 1579 and 1583, Raleigh took part in the suppression of the Desmond Rebellions. These rebellions were motivated to maintain the independence of feudal lords from their monarch, but also there was an element of religious antagonism between Catholic Geraldines and the Protestant English state. He was known for his ruthlessness at the siege of Smerwick and establishing English and Scottish Protestants in Munster. One of the people he met while in Munster was the English poet Edmund Spenser.

By 1582 he had become one of Elizabeth’s favourites, and he began to acquire monopolies, properties, and influential positions. In 1583 the queen secured him a lease of part of Durham House in the Strand, London, where he had a monopoly of wine licenses, in 1583, and of the export of broadcloth in 1585. In 1585, Raleigh was knighted and he became warden of the Cornish tin mines, lieutenant of Cornwall, and vice admiral of Devon and Cornwall and frequently sat as a member of Parliament.

In 1584, Queen Elizabeth granted Raleigh a royal charter authorising him to explore, colonise and rule any lands that were not under Christian rule, in return for one-fifth of all the gold and silver that might be mined there. This charter specified that Raleigh had seven years in which to establish a settlement, or else lose his right to do so. Instead, he sent others to found the Roanoke Colony, later known as the “Lost Colony”. In 1588, he did help

In 1591, Raleigh was secretly married to Elizabeth “Bess” Throckmorton. She was one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, 11 years his junior, and was pregnant at the time. She gave birth to a son, believed to be named Damerei, but he died in October 1592 of plague. The following year, the unauthorised marriage was discovered and the Queen ordered Raleigh to be imprisoned and Bess dismissed from court. Both were imprisoned in the Tower of London in June 1592. He was released from prison in August 1592 to manage a recently returned expedition and attack on the Spanish coast. The fleet was recalled by the Queen, but not before it captured an incredibly rich prize off a merchant ship. He was sent back to the Tower, but by early 1593 had been released and become a member of Parliament. It was several years before Raleigh returned to favour, and he travelled extensively in this time. Walter and Elizabeth had two more sons, Walter (known as Wat) and Carew.

Raleigh himself never visited North America, although he led expeditions in 1595 and 1617 to the Orinoco River basin in South America in search of the golden city of El Dorado. In 1596, Raleigh took part in the Capture of Cadiz, where he was wounded. He also served as the rear admiral of the Islands Voyage to the Azores in 1597. On his return from the Azores, Raleigh faced the major threat of the 3rd Spanish Armada during the autumn of 1597.

Raleigh’s aggressive policies toward Spain did not recommend him to the pacific King James I His enemies worked to bring about his ruin, and in 1603 he and others were accused of plotting to dethrone the king and was consigned to the Tower. In 1616 he was released but not pardoned. With the king’s permission, he financed and led a second expedition to Venezuela , promising to open a gold mine without offending Spain. Raleigh’s son Walter died in the action. King James invoked the suspended sentence of 1603, and he remained imprisoned in the Tower until 1616. In 1617, Raleigh was pardoned by the King and granted permission to conduct a second expedition to Venezuela in search of El Dorado. During the expedition, a detachment of Raleigh’s men under the command of his long-time friend Lawrence Keymis attacked the Spanish outpost of Santo Tomé de Guayana on the Orinoco River, in violation of peace treaties with Spain, and against Raleigh’s orders. A condition of Raleigh’s pardon was avoidance of any hostility against Spanish colonies or shipping. On Raleigh’s return to England,Count Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, demanded that Raleigh’s death sentence be reinstated by King James, who had little choice but to do so. On October 29, 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was executed.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Raleigh
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/raleigh_walter.shtml
https://www.biography.com/people/walter-raleigh-9450901
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Walter-Raleigh-English-explorer