Book Review: “Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Ambassador” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

45704941During Henry VIII’s reign, those who were most loyal and the closest to the king did not often last long to enjoy the rewards of his friendship. However, there was one man who stayed in relatively good favor with the king throughout his reign. He was a sailor, a soldier, a diplomat, and acted as an English ambassador mostly in France. He was a cousin to a few of Henry VIII’s wives, a lover of wine, and an infamous womanizer. The name of this rather extraordinary man was Sir Francis Bryan and the story of how he survived the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII is told in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ latest biography, “Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Ambassador”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Sarah- Beth Watkins’ previous books and this one sounded really interesting to me since I did not know a lot about Sir Francis Bryan before I read this book.

Unlike many of Henry’s closest allies, Sir Francis Bryan was born to help the king. His father, Sir Thomas Bryan of Ashridge, Hertfordshire, was a knight of the body to both King Henry VII and Henry VIII. His mother, Lady Margaret (Bourchier) Bryan, a lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon and the governess to Henry VIII’s children, was related to Elizabeth Howard, which meant that Francis was related to both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. It was these connections that would prove both a blessing and a curse in Bryan’s career.

Bryan’s career was mostly based abroad as an ambassador for Henry VIII. After his service to the king in Scotland, he was transferred to France where he would prove his loyalty to Henry by pushing his ideas on the French king. It was the way he handled certain situations that gained Bryan the nickname, “ the vicar of hell”. Not exactly flattering, but it helped Bryan keep his head when so many of his friends, allies, and family members did not.

Watkins’ biography on Sir Francis Bryan provides a great window into the life of such a colorful character in Henry VIII’s court who doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. But, it is one thing to tell about Bryan’s life and quite another to allow the readers to read transcribed letters that were either addressed to or about Bryan. They provide great insight into the decisions that Bryan made and his feelings about the events that were going on around him, including The Great Matter and the break from Rome.

Like Watkins’ other books, this one acts as a great introduction to the life of Sir Francis Bryan. It was extremely informative and well written for a small book, acting as a stepping stone for those who want to learn more about “the vicar of hell”. A best friend of King Henry VIII and loyal until the end to the Tudors, Sir Francis Bryan lived a remarkable life. “Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Ambassador” by Sarah-Beth Watkins is a book that I highly recommend if you are a fan of Sarah-Beth Watkins or if you want to learn more about Sir Francis Bryan and how he survived the tumultuous reign of King Henry VIII.

Poetry: A Song of an English Knight

I believe that poetry can really help modern readers understand how historical figures and their legacies changed over time. That is why I have decided to start this project, to show poetry that people might not be familiar with to give us a new perspective about different Tudors. I have decided to include the entire poem so that others can read it.

The first poem I found in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.  According to Watkins, she found this poem in a book called “The Suffolk Garland: or, A collection of poems, songs, tales, ballads, sonnets, and elegies, legendary and romantic, historical and descriptive, relative to that county”, by James Ford. James Ford was an English antiquary, who compiled many antiquarian subjects into books for easy access for the public. This particular book was written in 1818. This poem is just one that he included in this book, but he sadly does not include the author of this poem. We may not know who wrote this poem, but we can take a guess that he might have been a Protestant by the last few lines of the poem. Who do you think wrote the poem and why do you think they wrote it?

A Song of an English Knight

Eighth Henry ruling this land,

He had a sister fair,

That was the widow’d Queen of France

Enrich’d with virtues rare;

And being come to England’s court,

She oft beheld a knight,

Charles Brandon nam’d, in whose fair eyes,

She chiefly took delight.

 

And noting in her princely mind,

His gallant sweet behaviour,

She daily drew him by degrees,

Still more and more in favour:

Which he perceiving, courteous knight,

Found fitting time and place,

And thus in amorous sort began,

His love-suit to her grace:

 

I am at love, fair queen, said he,

Sweet, let your love incline,

That by your grace Charles Brandon may

On earth be made divine:

If worthless I might worthy be

To have so good a lot,

To please your highness in true love

My fancy doubteth not.

 

Or if that gentry might convey

So great a grace to me,

I can maintain that same by birth,

Being come of good degree.

If wealth you think be all my want.

Your highness hath great store,

And my supplement shall be love;

What can you wish for more?

 

It hath been known when hearty love

Did tie the true-love knot,

Though now if gold and silver want,

The marriage proveth not.

The goodly queen hereat did blush,

But made a dumb reply;

Which he imagin’d what she meant,

And kiss’d her reverently.

 

Brandon (quoth she) I greater am,

Than would I were for thee,

But can as little master love,

As them of low degree.

My father was a king, and so

A king my husband was,

My brother is the like, and he

Will say I do transgress.

 

But let him say what pleaseth him,

He’s liking I’ll forego,

And chuse a love to please myself,

Though all the world say no:

If plowmen make their marriages,

As best contents their mind,

Why should not princes of estate

The like contentment find?

 

But tell me, Brandon, am I not

More forward than beseems?

Yet blame me not for love, I love

Where best my fancy deems.

And long may live (quoth he) to love,

Nor longer live may I

Than when I love your royal grace,

And then disgraced die.

 

But if I do deserve your love,

My mind desires dispatch,

For many are the eyes in court,

That on your beauty watch:

But am not I, sweet lady, now

More forward than behoves?

Yet for my heart, forgive my tongue,

That speaketh for him that loves.

 

The queen and this brave gentleman

Together both did wed,

And after sought the king’s good-will,

And of their wishes sped:

For Brandon soon was made a duke,

And graced so in court,

And who but he did flaunt it forth

Amongst the noblest sort.

 

And so from princely Brandon’s line,

And Mary did proceed

The noble race of Suffolk’s house,

As after did succeed:

And whose high blood the lady Jane,

Lord Guildford Dudley’s wife,

Came by decent, who, with her lord,

In London lost her life.

Sources:

https://archive.org/details/suffolkgarlandor00fordiala/page/120

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ford_(antiquary)

Watkins, Sarah-Beth. The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles — Henry VIIIs Nearest & Dearest. Chronos Books, 2016.

Book Review: “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51M3PWFQLjLThe children of Henry VIII have been the center of historical studies for centuries. Edward VI, Mary I,  and Elizabeth I were all considered Henry’s “legitimate” children and were able to obtain the crown of England. Henry Fitzroy was the illegitimate son of the king, but he was still able to gain titles and a good marriage before he died. They all had something in common; they were all recognized by their father, Henry VIII. However, there was another child who many believed to have been the daughter of the king. The name of this intriguing lady was Lady Katherine Knollys and her story comes to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this great book. I have never read a biography on Lady Katherine Knollys and I found this a delight to read.

Katherine’s mother was the sister of Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn. For a time before Anne came into the picture, Mary was Henry VIII’s mistress. Henry VIII did have a child by another mistress, which he did declare as his own, so why did he not acknowledge Katherine as his child? Watkins offers an explanation on why Katherine was not acknowledged by the king and what her life was like:

Katherine would grow up never to be acknowledged as King Henry VIII’s daughter. Henry had every reason not to acknowledge her. He has his daughters, one already born when Katherine came into the world, and he needed no more. His denial of his affair with Katherine’s mother, Mary, would be something that would always position Katherine as a bastard. Yet Katherine joined the Tudor court as maid of honour to Queen Anne of Cleves and she went on to serve Catherine Howard as well as becoming one of Elizabeth I’s closest confidantes- cousins for definite, more likely half-sisters. Katherine lived through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and on into Elizabeth I’s. Never far from court, she lived in a world where she would never be a princess but a lady she was born to be. (Watkins, 1).

Watkins begins her book by exploring Mary Boleyn’s life and her relationship with Henry VIII and the birth of Katherine. As Mary fell out of favor with the king, we see the rise and fall of her sister, Anne Boleyn. As Katherine grows up, we see her becoming a maid of honour for Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, until she marries Francis Knollys at the age of 16. Katherine and Francis went on to have quite a large family. Their children included Lettice Knollys, who scandalously married Elizabeth I’s favorite, Sir Robert Dudley. Katherine spent a lot of her life serving others, never flaunting who her father might have been. The only time that Katherine’s life was in danger was when Mary I came to the throne. Katherine and Francis decided to take their family and flee abroad since they were Protestants, but they did return when Elizabeth returned. Elizabeth came to rely on Katherine as a close confidante and when Katherine did die, Elizabeth gave her an elaborate funeral.

This was my first time reading a biography about Lady Katherine Knollys and I really enjoyed it. I go back and forth whether I believe she was the daughter of Henry VIII or not, but I found it interesting to learn more about this fascinating woman. Watkins does a superb job of balancing letters, facts and an easy to understand writing style to tell the story of Lady Katherine Knollys, her family, and the life inside the Tudor court. If you want to learn more about the life of the remarkable daughter of Mary Boleyn, I highly recommend you read, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.  

Book Review: “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles – Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Tudor-Brandons-cover-pic-FBLove stories tend to be rare during the Tudor dynasty. They are often of royal women marrying men well below their station in life and then the ruling monarch throwing them in the Tower until they ended up divorcing or dying. Nothing really romantic about these stories. However, there is one story that breaks the mold of disastrous love. It is the story of Mary Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII and the Dowager Queen of France, who married the charming knight and best friend of her brother, Charles Brandon. Their story is often told in historical fiction novels, but Sarah-Beth Watkins decided to dive deep into the lives of these two lovebirds, before and after they were married, in her book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this delightful book. The relationship between Mary and Charles has been something that has fascinated me for a while now and I always like learning new information about their lives and their family.

When it comes to studying the relationship between Mary and Charles, one would think that it would be best to start by studying Mary, since she is the Tudor princess. However, Watkins decides to start her book about these two with Charles:

As Charles Brandon lay in his cradle, his father took to the field as standard-bearer for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth, on 22 August 1485. This defining moment in history, when the Plantagenet dynasty ended and the Tudor began, was also to be a defining moment in this small child’s life. Both Charles’ father and his grandfather were soldiers in the Wars of the Roses and the events leading up to this momentous day. Coming from mercantile beginnings, the men of the Brandon family all rose to positions of importance, but Charles would rise higher than them all to become King Henry VIII’s most favoured companion, and husband to his sister, Mary Tudor. (Watkins, 1).  

Watkins explores the origins of the Brandons, starting with Charles’ grandfather, who was quite an interesting figure. After reading what kind of man Charles’ grandfather was, it is kind of amazing to see how the Brandons rose to be loyal to the Tudors. Before Charles fell in love with Mary, he had a complex love life with Anne Browne and Margaret Mortimer, Anne’s rich aunt. Charles eventually married Anne after and she gave him two daughters before she died, Anne and Mary Brandon. During the time after Anne’s death and before he married Mary, Charles got into an international incident when he attempted to woo Margaret of Savoy. Charles may have looked the part of a knight, but his love life was a mess. That was until he went to France to pick up Mary Tudor, who was the Dowager Queen of France after her husband, King Louis XII, died shortly after their marriage.

The two decided to throw caution to the wind and get married to each other. They risked the wrath of Mary’s brother and huge fines, but they overcame it all and were still managed to be in Henry’s good graces. Charles and Mary were in the middle of court life during Henry’s marriage and divorce to Catherine of Aragon while they were taking care of their own family. Mary wasn’t thrilled about Anne Boleyn, but Charles kept his attitude about Henry’s mistress and future second wife to himself. Mary suffered from multiple bouts of illnesses and would die in 1533. Charles would marry again to Catherine Willoughby and have more children before he died in 1545.

The love story of Charles and Mary Brandon comes to life in Watkins book. What I love about this book is the combination of primary sources and poetry with Watkins’ easy to understand writing style. This book is an absolutely fascinating look into the lives of these two remarkable people and how their relationship helped change England. If you want a fantastic book to introduce you to the relationship between Charles and Mary Brandon, I highly recommend you read Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.

Book Review: “Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51d3s18bI5L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_When one thinks about Queens of Scotland during the time of the Tudors, many automatically think of Mary Queen of Scots and her tragic life. However, there was another queen who had a deep connection to the Tudors and was also a queen of Scotland. She tends to be pushed aside in favor of her more famous siblings; Arthur Tudor, Henry VIII, and Mary Tudor. Her story is full of turmoil and triumphs. Her only desire was to unite England and Scotland peacefully, but the choices that she made in her lifetime would prove foolish, leading to more troubles between the two nations. This is the story of Henry VIII’s oldest sister Margaret, which is brought to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister”.  

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. Before I read this book, I didn’t know a whole lot about Henry VIII’s eldest sister so it was quite a delight to learn a lot about this remarkable woman.

Watkins begins her book with the birth of Margaret Tudor on November 28, 1489. She was named after her formidable grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, and although she was not the desired second son that her parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York wanted, she was beloved. She proved herself to be a great big sister for her younger siblings, Henry and Mary. Margaret ’s early life in England was one full of love, but it was also full of training for her future role in life, that of a future queen. Her father, King Henry VII, like any good European ruler, wanted to build strong alliances with other European powers so he made advantageous marriages for his children. Margaret’s eldest brother Arthur was married to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon. Margaret’s first marriage was to the King of Scotland, James IV, through the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, which ceased hostility between England and Scotland.

Margaret married James IV through a proxy marriage ceremony on January 25, 1503. Later that year, Margaret made her way to Scotland, where she met her charismatic first husband. The first couple of days with James were quite happy until she found out that James had many mistresses and illegitimate children. Talk about an awkward situation, but Margaret and James were able to make their marriage work. Margaret did have six children with James but sadly only one survived infancy, the future King James V.  

The situation between England and Scotland was peaceful for a decade and then James decided to break the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1513 and attack England, in order to support his ally France. This was a huge mistake by James because it led to the Battle of Flodden on September 9, 1513, which was fought between English and Scottish forces, resulting in the death of James IV. His infant son, James V, was now King of Scotland and Margaret was named regent. Unfortunately, Margaret made a horrible decision in marrying her second husband Archibald Douglas 6th Earl of Angus, who the Scottish council hated. She had a daughter with Archibald named Margaret Douglas, who would later become the Countess of Lennox.

Margaret had to give up her regency to the Duke of Albany and had to rely on the aid of her brother Henry VIII to help her son James V. Margaret’s relationship with her brother is told through the letters that Watkins includes in this book. It adds another layer of depth to this book by including Margaret and Henry’s letters to one another. She would marry a third time, to Henry Stewart 1st Lord Methven but it was just as bad as her second marriage. Margaret would have three sons with Henry Stewart; Arthur, James, and Alexander.

Margaret struggles to keep the peace between  England and Scotland for her son. Through failed marriages and strained relationships with her family, Margaret finally sees her son become the rightful King of Scotland. It would take decades after Margaret’s death for her true vision of Scotland and England united under her great-grandson James I of England. Margaret Tudor was a woman who was strong, even if she did make some very foolish decisions, and would do anything to make sure her son James V was safe and secure. Margaret’s life and legacy comes to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ wonderful book. If you are interested in learning about the life of Henry VIII’s eldest sister and the politics between England and Scotland during the tumultuous time after James IV’death, I highly recommend you read “Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister”.

Book Review: “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

91UpsDD9PWL.jpgHenry VIII, the king who was notorious for his six marriages. His first three marriages, to Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour, gave Henry VIII his only children that were considered eligible for succession. Catherine of Aragon was his first foreign bride, but he would divorce her to marry Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn would later be executed and Jane Seymour would die after giving birth to Henry’s son Edward. Henry wanted to marry again, so his most trusted advisors decided to try for a foreign alliance as well as a new bride for the king. They decided that Anne of Cleves from Germany would be the perfect bride, but it did not work out and Henry decided to divorce her and claim Anne as his “sister”. She is often viewed as Henry’s “lucky wife”, but who was she and what was her life like before and after she met her husband Henry VIII? That is exactly the question that Sarah-Beth Watkins wanted to explore in her latest book, “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife”.

Sarah-Beth Watkins explains who Anne of Cleves was  and how has she has been described in the past:

Contemporary reports of Anne are mixed but time has not been kind to her memory. In a book by Sarah Tytler published in 1896, I was shocked to read Anne described as ‘a woman of entirely negative characteristics’. The author really had nothing good to say about her. She was ‘dull-witted as well as a hard-favoured young woman, possessed of a stolid sluggishness of temper’. Her writing reads as if Anne had personally upset her in some way. She was ‘plain and stupid’ and even had a ‘meaningless expanse of forehead’! She hasn’t favoured much better with other authors. Hume described her as ‘large, bony and masculine’ and Burnet coined the phrase ‘Flanders mare’ which has stuck to Anne throughout the centuries. Strickland, however, wrote with more sympathy that Anne ‘ was a most unfortunate, ill-treated princess…who deserved a better fate than to become the wife of a king so devoid of the feelings of a gentleman as Henry VIII’…She was Queen of England for just over six months and after became the King’s ‘sister’- a role she adopted and thrived on. She became the richest woman in England for a time with an astounding divorce settlement. Henry may not have wanted her for a wife but he did not blame her for the failure of their marriage- that would fall upon his chief minister. Anne would outlive the king and all of his other wives. (Watkins, 2-3).

Watkins begins her book by diving into Anne of Cleves’ life in Germany before she was even considered as a bride for a king. Anne’s life in Germany was simple. She didn’t really have the education that one would expect for a future queen, but she never was expected to marry a king. She was the sister to William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg. Her sister, Sybilla, was married to John Frederick, Duke of Saxony, who was one of the leaders of the Protestant Confederation of Germany and was considered one of the champions of the Reformation. Anne didn’t  follow her sister’s path to the Protestant faith as she was a devout Catholic, but the religious issue doesn’t seem to have caused a rift in the family.

Anne was supposed to marry Francis of Lorraine, but the engagement was broken since Francis was only 10 when it was arranged. After the death of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII needed a new wife. He wanted to make an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League, a league of Protestant territories that wanted to defend itself against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Anne was not exactly Henry’s first choice of bride to help join this alliance, but she was the one he decided to marry, and so Anne left her home in 1539. The marriage did not last long, only six months, before Henry divorced her. Anne was a bit disappointed, but Henry was able to provide her with a wealthy lifestyle, one fit for a former queen.  There were talks about Anne becoming queen again after the fall of Katherine Howard, but it never happened. Anne was able to form a close relationship with Mary, Henry’s eldest daughter since they were so close in age. Even when she was not queen, Anne of Cleves kept a close eye on what was happening, not only in the English court but what was happening in her beloved Germany. As stated before, Anne did outlive Henry VIII, the rest of his wives and King Edward VI. Anne of Cleves died at the age of 41 on July 16, 1557.

This is the first time that I have read a book by Sarah-Beth Watkins and I really enjoyed how easy it was to read and the amount of information in this book. I did not know a whole lot about Anne of Cleves before reading this book, other than the fact that she was married to Henry VIII for a short time. Watkins’ book packs in so much information that you want to learn more about Anne of Cleves and her family.  This book is well researched and thoroughly enjoyable. If you want a fantastic book to introduce you to the life of Anne of Cleves, I highly recommend you read “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.