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