Book Review: “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

In medieval Europe, to be considered a strong king, you must keep a firm grasp on your crown, or those who see you as weak will take advantage. These men were known as usurpers throughout history who steal the throne through combat or by illegal means. Some of the most well-known kings in English history have been categorized as usurpers, but is this a fair assessment of their mark in history, or is it a case of propaganda changing their legacy? In her debut nonfiction book, “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings,” Michele Morrical explores the lives of six English kings who bear that title to see if it makes sense with the facts of how they came into power.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard this book was published, I wanted to see how Morrical described a usurper and which king she considered usurpers. I have never heard of a book that focused solely on those who stole thrones in England, so I was excited to see how well it read.

Morrical breaks her book into six sections, with each part focusing on one specific king and his rise to power. She focuses on William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII as examples of rulers in English history known to be usurpers. Morrical writes biography vignettes to give her readers an understanding of how they came to power and who they had to remove from the throne to become the next monarch. In some cases, it meant starting a new dynasty, and in others, it was just a continuation of the family’s lineage, but it was a different branch of the family tree. The biographies tend to get repetitive, especially with the sections dedicated to the Wars of the Roses. If you are new to these kings and the events of their lifetimes, the repetitive nature will help you understand how everything is connected.

I think Morrical can improve if she writes another nonfiction book by using quotes from primary sources and other historians to strengthen her arguments. I wish she had included discussions from chronicles or other primary sources from around the times that these men became rulers to see the consensus of the time towards the new king. It would have added an extra layer to the stories, and readers could see how our definition of a usurper king would have compared or contrasted to the views of the past. I would have also liked Morrical to have discussed whether being a usurper king had a positive or negative connotation. Many kings on this list were considered game-changers when ruling England and transformed how England was viewed in the grander scheme of European politics.

I think for her first book, Morrical does a decent job of presenting her viewpoints about certain kings and presenting the facts about their lives. One can tell that Morrical is passionate about usurpers and understanding why they took the English throne from their predecessors. Overall, I think it is not bad for a book that combines the lives of six kings of England into one text. If you want a good introductory book into the lives of usurper kings, you should give “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical a try.

Book Review: “The Sunne in Splendour” by Sharon Kay Penman

1321064._SY475_A banner decorated with three suns flaps in the wind on the field of battle. The young man behind this emblem is Edward, Earl of March, whose father Richard Duke of York and brother Edmund Earl of Rutland were tragically slain at the Battle of Wakefield. His younger brothers, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, will help Edward carry their father’s cause for the family of York to rule England. When loyalty is questioned even among family members, only one man would truly stand behind Edward until the bitter end. That man would be Richard Duke of Gloucester, or as we know him today, the much-maligned King Richard III. He is often viewed as a treacherous child-killer who coveted the throne after Edward IV’s death, but is that accurately portraying the last Plantagenet king? Who was the real King Richard III? In her magnum opus, “The Sunne in Splendour,” Sharon Kay Penman presents her case for Richard III as a man betrayed, both in life and after his death.

I want to thank everyone who has recommended this book to me in the past. I know that Sharon Kay Penman recently passed away, and I felt that the only way to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field this year was to read this novel. I knew that it was well beloved in the Ricardian and the Wars of the Roses communities, so I wanted to see what made this novel so memorable.

Penman chooses to tell this story through multiple points of view, which, contrary to popular belief, works cohesively and allows each character to have their voice. We are introduced to Richard as a young boy before his father and Edmund die in battle. He is a timid child who witnesses death and destruction all around him and is trying to process everything. We see him grow from a scared child to a warrior duke and later into a king who had to deal with betrayal and heartache around every corner.

What Penman does brilliantly is how she writes her characters to make them so realistic that you forget that you are reading a novel. She fleshes out the conflicts exceptionally well, like the struggle between the brother Richard, George Duke of Clarence, and Edward IV. The love between Richard and his bride Anne Neville is pure and wholesome. The loyalty between Richard and Edward IV and towards Edward’s children, especially the princes in the tower is undeniable. Then there is the tension between the brothers and their cousin Richard Earl of Warwick trying to establish this new York dynasty. And what would a series of wars be without those fighting to keep their rule, which was the Lancastrians led by the ferocious Margaret of Anjou. It felt like I was being introduced to a new side of the Yorkist cause when I read this novel.

The action scenes are intense, and the betrayals hit harder than what you usually read in nonfiction books about the Wars of the Roses. This novel is truly a love letter to this period and a brilliant work of literature. I am not sure why I waited so long to read this masterpiece, but I am glad I finally read it. If you want an exceptional novel about the Wars of the Roses and Richard III, “The Sunne in Splendour” by Sharon Kay Penman is a must-read.

Book Review: “The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings” by Sarah Bryson

50419855Loyalty to one’s king was imperative during times of war and strife. This statement was painfully true during periods of civil war when cousins fought against cousins. The Wars of the Roses was where we see families rise and fall like the tides, depending on which side they were loyal to and who was on the throne. One family who was able to navigate this political quagmire and end up on the side that would win in the end was the Brandons. Many recognize the name Brandon because of Charles Brandon and his rise in the court of Henry VIII, but how did they reach that point? What are the origins of the Brandon family? In her latest book, “The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings”, Sarah Bryson takes her readers on a ride to find out what loyalty to the crown gave this family and why their legacy lives on today.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I have read Bryson’s first book on Mary Tudor and her marriage to Charles Brandon, which I found a delightful read. When I heard about this book, I was interested in reading it as I have always enjoyed the story of Charles Brandon and I wanted to know more about his family.

Bryson begins her journey into the Brandon family with William Brandon, who lived during the reign of King Henry VI and the origins of the Wars of the Roses. William’s gradual rise in power is nothing short of extraordinary and it extended to his son, also named William. William Sr would serve Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III, even when his son William decided to work with Henry Tudor. William’s loyalty to Henry Tudor would ultimately cost him his life as he died at the Battle of Bosworth Field as the standard-bearer for the would-be king.

The bulk of this particular title explores the life of Charles Brandon and his relationship with his best friend, King Henry VIII. We have seen how loyal the Brandons can be with the first two generations, but Charles took it to a whole new level. Since Bryson had mentioned a good portion of Charles’ life in her previous book, this felt a bit like a review. I know Charles is her favorite Brandon man, but I wish she would have focused a bit more on his grandfather, father, and his uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon. These men were crucial to understanding what kind of man Charles would become and why he was so loyal to the crown, even if he didn’t agree with all the decisions that Henry VIII made.

Overall, I found this book informative and easy to follow. Bryson has a passion for the Brandon family, and it shows with this particular title. The family trees and the letters that she included in this book are impressive and give the reader a deeper understanding of the family dynamic as well as the dynamic between the Brandons and the kings that they served. If you are interested in learning more about the Brandon family and the depth of their loyalty to the English crown, I highly suggest you read, “The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings” by Sarah Bryson.

Guest Post: “Cecily Neville, Duchess of York: Inspiration for The Queen’s Rival” by Anne O’ Brien

The Queen's RivalToday, I am pleased to welcome Anne O’Brien to my blog to discuss the inspiration for her latest novel, The Queen’s Rival. I would like to thank Anne O’Brien and The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to be part of this blog tour. 

In past years I have written about a variety of medieval women, either royal or attached to the Court.  I enjoy investigating how these women played a role in the political manoeuvrings of their day.  Although we so rarely hear the voices of these women, since they lived in a man’s world and the history was invariably written by men, their involvement was often considerable and they deserve our interest.

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is one of the most appealing women of English medieval history, worthy of celebration.  Most medieval women verge towards the invisible, a two-dimensional entity without character or apparent influence; Cecily Neville is an exception.  The Wars of the Roses were both vast in scope and complex in the range of family connections.  So was Cecily’s own Neville family with its royal blood inherited through their mother Joan, Countess of Westmoreland, daughter of John of Gaunt. Cecily demanded in a regal fashion that she be allowed to speak for herself.  It was a challenge that lured me to become involved; I accepted the challenge and wrote about her. 

Without a doubt, Cecily was a remarkable woman, living for eighty years through five reigns, interacting with a vast dramatis personae of famous, infamous, and influential characters in these tumultuous years.  She was the mother of two kings, Edward IV and Richard III, and  grandmother to a Queen Consort, Elizabeth of York, who stepped across the divide between York and Lancaster and married King Henry VII.

On the surface, this would seem to be a life bringing Cecily immense satisfaction and personal achievement, but it was also a life of tragedy.  Cecily outlived all but two of her twelve children, both daughters, some dying in infancy, others meeting terrible ends.  George, Duke of Clarence, was executed for treason, on the orders of his brother King Edward, in the Tower of London.  Richard III died on the battlefield at Bosworth; Edmund of Rutland met his end in an act of revenge after the Battle of Wakefield.  What heartbreak this must have inflicted on her, added to the death of her husband, Richard, Duke of York, at Wakefield.

Cecily’s life also witnessed its share of scandal.  The rumour of her liaison with the common archer Blaybourne, thus prompting the blot of illegitimacy against King  Edward IV, was too valuable a rumour to ignore for those such as the Earl of Warwick and Duke of Clarence who would willingly depose King Edward.  Was the scandal true?  Unlikely, but the widespread gossip must be faced.  How difficult for a woman of Cecily’s pride to accept that her own family would dishonour her reputation.

Would such tragedy obliterate the strength of Cecily’s character?  Cecily worked tirelessly for the House of York. She stood by her children as far as it was possible, even George of Clarence, trying to bring him back into the Yorkist fold.  In Ludlow, abandoned by her husband, Cecily faced a leaderless Lancastrian army and howling mob intent on plundering the town. She proved to be a woman of great courage.  As old age approached, she devoted herself to a life of duty and formidable piety almost worthy of the life of a nun, a life of loyalty to the family she had always supported.

Cecily, Duchess of York, was the doyenne of late medieval history, the Queen who was never crowned.  It would have been unforgivable of me to leave her out of my pantheon of medieval ‘heroines’. 

The Queen's Rival final version(Blurb)

England, 1459. 

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandons her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

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Anne O'Brien promo picAuthor Bio

Anne O’Brien

Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.

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Book Review: “The Killer of the Princes in the Tower: A New Suspect Revealed” by MJ Trow

56549199 (1)In 1483, King Edward IV’s family received a devastating announcement; the king in the prime of his life died, leaving the throne to his young son Edward V. However, neither Edward V nor his younger brother Richard of York would ever see the throne. Instead, they were taken to the Tower of London by their protector, Richard of Gloucester, for protection, never to be seen again. For over five hundred years, many theories have emerged about what happened to the princes in the tower and who might have possibly killed the boys. In MJ Trow’s latest book, “The Killer of the Princes in the Tower: A New Suspect Revealed”, he works hard to uncover the truth of what might have happened to the sons of King Edward IV.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I first heard about this particular title, I was curious yet skeptical. There are so many books and theories about the princes in the tower. I questioned how this one would differ from those who are experts in this field. So, of course, I decided that I wanted to read this book to find out.

Trow’s approach to this case is to treat it like an investigation that modern police would do. First, we must examine the bodies or the lack of bodies in this case. Trow does mention the bodies that were found in the Tower in the 1600s and the examination of the bones in the 1900s. As it is hard to accurately determine if these are indeed the princes without further DNA analysis of the bones, Trow goes into what we know about the case, the actual facts from sources that he claims are dubious. He tends to use the works of Shakespeare and Thomas More quite a lot although he is hypercritical of both sources.

It is here where Trow actually presents his main discussion of the book; who was the killer of the princes in the tower. He starts with the usual suspects (Richard III, Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort, and the Duke of Buckingham), which he quickly dismisses. Then, Trow dives into the more obscure suspects. I actually found some of the people who he suggested ridiculous suspects because of who they were and their connections to the princes. I had never heard some of the theories he suggested in this section and I considered them a bit of a stretch. The person that Trow actually believes could have been the murderer is an intriguing character and he does make a compelling case for him committing the heinous act.

For me, it was Trow’s research and how he presented his case that was extremely poor when I was reading this book. I wanted Trow to move away from the more ridiculous suspects to focus on his main suspect and develop his theory. When he discusses his theory, he uses modern examples of similar cases to prove his point. I think he would have made a stronger case if he showed examples closer to the date of when the princes were killed.
In general, I found this book rather different than other books that are about the princes in the tower. There were some compelling theories and the suspect that Trow believes did the deed was not someone that I remotely considered. I think this book will definitely have people talking about this new suspect. If you want to know MJ Trow’s opinion about who he thinks killed the princes, consider reading “The Killer of the Princes in the Tower: A New Suspect Revealed.”

Book Review: “Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck, and Warwick” by Nathen Amin

50419850August 22, 1485, marked the end of the Plantagenet Dynasty with the death of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. The man who succeeded him as King of England after his death was young Henry Tudor, whose dynasty would live in infamy in English history, thought that he was done fighting on the battlefield for his right to rule. This was only the beginning of a decades-long war against those who claimed to be lingering shadows of the past. They claimed to be the Princes in the Tower, whose disappearances in 1483 left to doubt and confusion on what happened to them and gave those who despised this new dynasty opportunity to exploit a young king’s fear of being overthrown. The young men who made this king who won his way to the throne on a battlefield quake in his boots are known today as “the Pretenders”, but who were they? In Nathen Amin’s much-anticipated book, “Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck, and Warwick”, he traces the origins of each pretender to show what type of threat that they posed to the first Tudor king.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. When Nathen Amin announced that he was writing this particular book, I was instantly interested in reading it. I thoroughly enjoyed his “ The House of Beaufort”, so I wanted to see how he would approach the enigmas of the pretenders. I was not disappointed as this was a historically riveting masterpiece.

To understand why the pretenders were able to gain supporters, Amin takes his readers to the Tower where the two sons of King Edward IV disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Since neither King Richard III nor King Henry VII could answer if the princes were either alive or dead, we have been left with Schrodinger’s cat-like situation. This proved to be a mistake on Henry VII’s part as it allowed young men with relatively obscure origins to take advantage and try to overthrow the king and his family. Two of the most famous pretenders were Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, who had help near and far to try to end the Tudor dynasty before it really began. However, there were others including the tragic tale of Edward, Earl of Warwick, whose only crime was to be born of Yorkist royal blood.

There have been other books that have touched on the topic of the pretenders, but what Amin has done in this particular book is nothing short of remarkable. By acting as a historian/detective, Amin dived deep into the archives to follow the path that these men took from obscurity to prominent threats to the crown. Along the way, Amin kept Henry VII and his actions central to the narrative to show a different side to the first Tudor king that many might not have anticipated.

To write such a definitive and thought-provoking nonfiction book on such shadowy figures like the pretenders is no easy feat. Amin created an outstanding narrative that balances scrupulous attention to details with a coherent and engaging writing style to bring the complex story of Henry VII and the pretenders to life for the modern age. If you love learning about new aspects of the Tudor dynasty, “Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck, and Warwick” by Nathen Amin is the book for you. This is easily my favorite book Nathen Amin has written thus far.

Book Review: “Princess of Thorns” by Saga Hillbom

55613765 (1)The year 1483 proved to be a pinnacle point of change for the short-lived Yorkist dynasty. After finally defeating the Lancastrian army, King Edward IV and his family bring peace and order to England, but even their happiness cannot last as King Edward IV dies unexpectedly on April 9, 1483. A power struggle ensues between Richard Duke of Gloucester and Elizabeth Woodville over who should be King of England. Most of Elizabeth Woodville’s children side with her, but there is one child who is staunchly loyal to the Yorkist cause and her uncle Richard; Cecily of York. In her latest novel, “Princess of Thorns”, Saga Hillbom tells the heartbreaking tale of Cecily of York showing how deep her loyalty to her family was and how loyalty came with a cost.

I would like to thank Saga Hillbom for sending me a copy of her latest novel. This is the first novel by Saga Hillbom that I have read. When I heard that this novel was going to be about Cecily of York, I was intrigued since I have never read any novels where Cecily was the protagonist.

As the third daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily of York can be the vivacious white rose of York, without the pressures that her brothers and her eldest sister have on their shoulders of one-day ruling a country. She can observe life at court while waiting for the day when she is married to a nobleman who shares her Yorkist views. However, that wish she has for her life comes crashing down when her father dies and her brothers, known in history as the Princes in the Tower, go missing. Cecily’s beloved uncle Richard becomes King Richard III, which causes Cecily’s mother Elizabeth Woodville to side with her once mortal enemy, Margaret Beaufort, and her son Henry Tudor.

After the Battle of Bosworth Field and Henry Tudor becomes King Henry VII, the remnants of the Yorkist cause slowly accept the Tudor dynasty. All except Cecily, who believes that Henry VII is a false king. We see Cecily go from a spoiled Yorkist princess to a woman who will fight for what she believes in and will never back down from an argument, even if she is arguing with the King of England himself. Along the way, she does marry and have her children, but even in her happiest moments, Cecily experiences tragic losses that will shape her future.

I usually don’t read many novels that side with the Yorkists, but this book was different. There was something about Cecily’s story that I found compelling. Her love and her loyalty to her family was her sword and shield as she waged war with life. Hillbom does repeat some of the old myths about the people that are central to this novel. I also wish Hillbom gave her readers more detailed descriptions of locations to give us a fully immersive experience.

I think this was a fine novel about the life of Cecily of York. Hillbom’s creative writing style allows the audience, whether Yorkist or Lancastrian in beliefs, to feel sympathy for Cecily and her life. This was an engaging and heartbreaking look at how the end of the Wars of the Roses was not the brilliant introduction of a period of peace that the Tudors often portrayed. There were still those who dealt with the pain of the end of a dynasty. If you are interested in a novel that focuses on one of the Yorkist princesses who does not get a lot of attention, Cecily of York, check out “Princess of Thorns” by Saga Hillbom.

Book Review: “The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers” by Kathryn Warner

55182670._SY475_In the times of medieval kings, the power of the crown was dependent on the support that they maintained with noble families. One of the most notorious noble families in England was the baronial family known as the Despensers. Between the 13th and the 15th centuries, the Despensers were at the heart of royal politics and some of the biggest power plays during the reign of the Plantagenets. We know about the few members who truly made waves during this time, especially Hugh Despenser the Elder and Hugh Despenser the Younger, but this family’s story is much more than a few members. In Kathryn Warner’s latest book, “The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers”, she takes on the challenge of explaining the entire family story of this infamous baron clan.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Kathryn Warner’s writing style in the past and when I heard about this book, I was intrigued. I will be honest and say that I only knew about Hugh the Elder and Hugh the Younger when they were mentioned in other history books that I had read in the past. I was excited to learn more about this family.

To understand this book, it should be noted that this is unlike any other modern medieval history book. It is a bit different than what Kathryn Warner has written in the past. In truth, this book feels like a modern-day chronicle of the Despenser family. Warner begins with the reign of King Henry III in 1265 with the execution of the Despenser’s patriarch, Hugh the justiciar, and concludes with Isabella Despenser, who was the grandmother of Anne Neville, the wife of King Richard III. Warner includes the more scandalous tales of love and betrayal that encapsulate the fascination that historians have had with this family for centuries.

What was compelling to me about this book is the stories of those who were in the background of the more sensationalized figures. The tales of triumph and sorrow that the family had to endure are remarkable. For the family to survive, they needed to make waves in the medieval marriage market, which they did spectacularly. It is these marriages and their impacts that Warner focuses heavily on to show that even in disgrace, the Despensers continued to rise from the ashes.

If I did have a problem with this book, there were points where it was a tad dry to read. This book is very academic and is directed towards those who know the history of the Despensers. Warner takes her readers on a deeper dive into this infamous family. You can tell from Warner’s dedication to this task that she truly enjoyed studying about the Despensers. As someone who was not familiar with this family and its numerous family members named “Hugh”, I found myself going back to try and figure out who was who.

If you want to tackle this book, my advice would be to take your time to truly understand this complex family. This book is exceptionally well researched and a true chronological treat for those who love to dive into the intricacies of medieval families. If this sounds like you, check out, “The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers” by Kathryn Warner.

Book Review: “The Beaufort Woman: Book Two of The Beaufort Chronicle” by Judith Arnopp

download (3)A young woman separated from her only son as a war divides the nation that she dearly loves. The struggle between York and Lancaster, the Wars of the Roses, grows in intensity and the only hope for the Lancastrians is the son of Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor. To keep him safe, Margaret must allow him to go into hiding as she adapts to the court of Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret’s journey through love, death, and court intrigue continues in Judith Arnopp’s second book in her Beaufort Chronicle, “The Beaufort Woman”.

As someone who is a fan of Margaret Beaufort and her life story, I have been finding myself enjoying The Beaufort Chronicle series by Judith Arnopp. Since I read the first book, “The Beaufort Bride”, I knew that I wanted to continue Margaret’s adventure.

We join Margaret as she is enjoying her third marriage to Sir Henry Stafford. This was probably her happiest and longest marriage, yet it is not elaborated on much. I think the way that Arnopp describes this relationship is thoughtful, considerate, and full of love. Obviously, like most relationships, there were hardships between Henry and Margaret, but Henry knew that what Margaret was doing was for her son. Life looks like it is going Margaret’s way, but then her husband Henry dies and she must make a difficult choice.

Margaret decides to choose her fourth and final husband, Thomas Stanley. Unlike her marriage to Henry, Margaret never really loved Thomas. Thomas was more of a tool to get her into the court of Edward IV to make sure her beloved son Henry could come home. When I have read Margaret’s biographies in the past, I have always wondered what life must have been like for her while she was in the court of her former enemies. To see her interacting with Elizabeth Woodville and her children was a delight and makes you wonder what life might have been like for Margaret if she had more children.

With the sudden death of King Edward IV in 1483 and the mysterious affair with his sons, Edward’s brother becomes King Richard III and fortune’s wheel takes another turn for Margaret. She must take dangerous steps to make sure that her beloved son can return home, even if it means risking her own. The amount of courage and patience that Margaret had was nothing short of extraordinary. You cannot help but admire Arnopp’s Margaret Beaufort.

I found this a thrilling second book to this stunning trilogy. Arnopp made Margaret Beaufort and her family even more relatable. I felt sympathy for Margaret as she had to make some extremely difficult decisions. I did know what was going to happen, but I still wanted to continue reading just to see how Arnopp would interpret the events in Margaret’s life. If you have read “The Beaufort Bride” and you want to continue the journey, you need to read “The Beaufort Woman” by Judith Arnopp.

Book Review: “Richard III in the North” by M.J. Trow

If you have studied the Wars of the Roses, you are obviously very familiar with the infamous last Plantagenet King of England, Richard III. He is known for many things, but the most notorious thing that he is associated with is the murder of the Princes in the Tower, his nephews. However, we cannot be certain that he committed this crime or if a crime was committed in the first place. These rumors swirled around London and Southern England where Richard III was not popular. It was a different story in Northern England, where he was much beloved. In M.J. Trow’s latest book, “Richard III in the North”, he tries to uncover the true story of Richard III by looking at his life while he was living in the North. Was he really the monster that literature has portrayed him as or do we have a case of misunderstanding a historical figure?

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I am by no means a Ricardian, but I do enjoy nonfiction books about a historical figure that gives a new twist to their story, which this book does rather well.

To understand why Richard was positioned in the North and why it was crucial, Trow takes readers on a journey through the past. Trow first explores the origins of Richard Duke of York and Cecily Neville, Richard III’s father, and mother, which was very interesting to read. As someone familiar with these characters, it was easy for me to follow the genealogy, but I know that there would be some readers who would have found family trees helpful in this particular section. At the start of each chapter, Trow has decided to include the coat of arms of a different historical figure that made an impact in Richard’s life, which I thought was an elegant touch.

Obviously, since Richard III lived in the time that we refer to as the Wars of the Roses, Trow spends quite a bit of time discussing major battles and causes of the conflict. What I really appreciated is when Trow went into details about major battles that are often overlooked, like Wakefield. These battles and these causes led to the decision by Richard’s brother King Edward IV to send Richard to the north to quell the violence that might have been caused by allies of the Lancastrians.

It is the North that Trow gives us as readers a different view of the much-maligned man. It was here that Richard was beloved and that he spent much of his adult life. He creates a different world that is hostile to Southerns, yet Richard is able to make a cordial relationship that would turn into him being adored by the people. Trow includes vivid descriptions of castles that were associated with and what life was like for him and his immediate family. It was a unique side of the infamous figure that made him more life-like instead of how he is portrayed in literature.

This may seem like yet another book about Richard III, but I think Trow’s focus on the relationship between the last Plantagenet king and the North makes this stand out from all of the rest. Trow has a very casual writing style but you can tell he has obviously done his research. I think if you are a Ricardian or if you want to look at a new aspect of the Wars of the Roses, I would recommend you read, “Richard III in the North” by M.J. Trow.