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.

Book Review: “The Great Matter Monologues: Katherine, Henry, Anne” by Thomas Crockett

46047317There have been certain events in Tudor history that have become as famous as those involved. None more so than the divorce between Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon so Henry could marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, also known as “The Great Matter”. We often study this time through the perspectives of the many historians and authors who have written about this topic. But, what if Katherine, Henry, and Anne had a chance to speak for themselves about the events of “The Great Matter”. Thomas Crockett decided to have the main figures of this famous divorce tell their tales in his latest work, “The Great Matter Monologues: Katherine, Henry, Anne”.

I would like to thank John Hunt Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. The premise of this particular play intrigued me so I wanted to read it, even though I haven’t read many plays or monologues before.

Unlike many narratives about “The Great Matter”, Crockett begins with Katherine finding out that Henry wants to divorce Katherine because she has not given her his desired son. It is a bit of a strange starting point since other narratives show the courting of Henry and Anne. Crockett’s monologues deal with Katherine, Henry, and Anne discussing the events that recently happened as well as flashbacks to easier times. As a reader, you can feel the emotional turmoil that each character is going through as the marriage of Henry and Katherine is ending and a new relationship begins.

While I did enjoy the emotional dialogues that Crockett shared to give the audience a sense of what Henry, Katherine, and Anne might have felt during this time, I did have a problem with the other pieces of dialogue. When the characters were remembering past conversations with relatively minor characters, it was hard for me to follow what was going on, but I think it might have been because I was not used to reading monologues.

The characters are each interesting in their own ways. Katherine mourns for her marriage and fights for Henry’s love, her daughter Mary, and for her crown. Henry wants what he wants and he doesn’t care who he steps on in order to get his way. The character that I really did not like in this series of monologues was the woman who was caught in the middle, Anne Boleyn. To me, she comes off as power-hungry and whining. It feels like Crockett did not like Anne Boleyn at all when he wrote this book.

Overall, I thought that this book was okay. There was nothing new about “The Great Matter”, but Crockett did bring to life the emotional struggles that Henry, Katherine, and Anne must have been going through. If you are not familiar with the divorce of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon then “The Great Matter Monologues: Katherine, Henry, Anne” by Thomas Crockett is a good book that gives you a different perspective of this historic event that changed England forever.

 

Book Review: “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer

8800906The Tudor dynasty and the enigmatic figures who made this time period so fascinating have been hotly discussed for centuries. Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII after defeating  King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. King Henry VIII, the second son whose numerous wives and his split from the Catholic Church made his name infamous in history. King Edward VI, Henry VIII’s beloved son who died before he really could accomplish the reformation that he had planned for England. Queen Mary I, who was the first Queen of England to rule in her own right and wanted to restore the Catholic Church. Finally, Queen Elizabeth I, who never married and led England to a “Golden Age”. Many historians have viewed the Tudor dynasty as a time of great change and England was in a good place. However, G.J. Meyer paints a darker picture of the era in his book, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty”.

Unlike many of the books on my blog, I did read this book before when I was in college. It was the only Tudor book that I read as an assigned book and I do have fond memories reading it, so I decided that I would go back and reread it years later. 

I will say that the title “Complete Story” is a little bit misleading. Meyer tends to focus on Henry VIII (over 300 pages on Henry VIII and the Great Matter) and his children, but he briefly mentions Henry VII and Lady Jane Grey. I feel like if Meyer wanted to have a “complete story” about the Tudors, it should have included these two figures a bit more. I did want more about Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. They were wives of Henry VIII, but they felt like afterthoughts in Meyer’s book. I also wanted more about Elizabeth I’s reign, since she did reign for a long time and without a husband, but her section in this book felt rushed. 

 When Meyer does talk about Henry VIII and the other Tudors, he seems to use the same negative stereotypes that have been used in the past, (Henry VII was a miser, Henry VIII was a monster, Edward was a sick child, Mary as “Bloody Mary”, and Elizabeth was concerned about keeping her youth and her ruthlessness). Of course, this book was written in 2011 and many of these myths have been proven untrue by more modern books about the Tudors. 

This book does not revolve around the popular history tales of the Tudors. Instead, Meyer tends to focus on the political and ecclesiastical issues that dominated the time period, in England and throughout Europe. This is where Meyer shines as he goes into details about these issues, both in regular chapters and in background chapters that help bring this time period to life. Meyer does have a good writing style that helps novices of Tudor history understand the complex time period. 

Overall, I think this was a pretty good book. It was a bit darker than other Tudor books that I have read previously, but the Tudor time period was not all sunshine and roses. There were dark times and really good times that happened during the rule of this rather remarkable dynasty. If you want a decent book that will give you an introduction to this family drama, I recommend you read, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer.  

Book Review: “Tudor Victims of the Reformation” by Lynda Telford

31617175._SX318_The reigns of the Tudor monarchs were full of change, not only in court and in culture, but also when it came to religion. None more so than in the reign of King Henry VIII, especially during the incident known as “The Great Matter”, when the king wanted a divorce from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Many people were swept into the chaos of this time, but there are two who were infamous during this time; Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn. These two were adversaries, vying for the attention of the king. They both experienced extreme highs and tragic lows as they navigated the change in England that would be the start of the Reformation. Lynda Telford explores the lives of Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, as well as the lives of other people who were caught displeasing King Henry VIII during this tumultuous time in her book, “Tudor Victims of the Reformation”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book to read and review. The title had me intrigued and I really wanted to dive into this interesting book.

Before I started reading this book, I thought that this book was going to be about the entire Tudor dynasty and the stories of the victims of the Reformation, from King Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth I. I also thought that this book might touch on the victims of the counter-Reformation during the reign of Queen Mary I. That is not what this book is about. Instead, Telford decided to focus on the lives of two main individuals, Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, ending in 1536. The title seemed rather misleading to me since the main focus of this book is “The Great Matter” rather than the Reformation, which was getting its start at this time, but really didn’t go into full swing in England until later in the Tudor dynasty.

Telford tells the story of Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn and how they rose to be by King Henry VIII’s side. Wolsey was a brilliant scholar who rose to prominence in the Catholic church and in the court of the King. He became an ally and advisor to Henry VIII during the early years of his reign. Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn 1st Earl of Wiltshire and an English diplomat. She was able to capture the heart of the king, even though he was still married to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Henry decided that after decades of being married to Katherine of Aragon that she would never give him the son that he wanted, so it was only sensible to divorce her and marry Anne Boleyn. This decision would radically change England and the lives of so many forever, including Wolsey and Anne Boleyn.

As someone who knows the story of “The Great Matter”, the rise and fall of Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, and how these decisions affected England as a whole, this book felt like a review for me. There were points when I did feel like this book was a tad dry, but Telford did add more information from other European sources that helped give a new perspective about this time. Personally, this book felt like a review for me, but for someone who is being introduced to this topic for the first time, this book is a good place to start. If you have just started studying the Tudors and the event known as “The Great Matter”, I would recommend you read Lynda Telford’s book, “Tudor Victims of the Reformation”.