Book Review: “The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk” by Kirsten Claiden- Yardley

52957091._SX318_SY475_The stories of the men behind the English crown can be as compelling as the men who wore the crown themselves. They were ruthless, cunning, power-hungry, and for many of them, did not last long. However, there were a select few who proved loyal to the crown and lived long and eventful lives. They are not as well known as their infamous counterparts, yet their stories are just as important to tell. One such man was the grandfather of two of Henry VIII’s wives and the great-grandfather of Elizabeth I. He lived through the reign of six kings and led his men to victory at the Battle of Flodden against King James IV of Scotland towards the end of his life. Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk had his fair shares of highs and lows, including imprisonment, but his story is rarely told. That is until now. Kirsten Claiden-Yardley has taken up the challenge to explore the life of this rather extraordinary man in her book, “The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howards, 2nd Duke of Norfolk”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I honestly did not know a whole lot about the Howard family, other than Katherine Howard, so this book sounded intriguing to me.

Claiden- Yardley begins her biography by exploring the rise of Thomas Howard’s family and how his father, John Howard, became a powerful man. What was interesting was the Howard connection to the de Mowbrays and how John used these relations to his advantage to help his growing family find favor with the nobility and the monarchs of the time, including Edward IV and Richard III. She explores the relationship between Thomas and Richard III, including the possibility that Thomas had something to do with the Princes in the Tower.

It was at the Battle of Bosworth Field where things get treacherous for the Howard family. Richard III and John Howard were both killed and Thomas Howard was captured, stripped of his titles, and sent to prison to await Henry VII’s decision on how to handle him. After some time, Thomas not only was released from prison, he became a valuable asset for the Tudor dynasty. He would be a diplomat, a chief mourner for Arthur Tudor’s funeral, and escort two princesses to their weddings in France and Scotland. He worked hard to make sure that his family married well and that they were financially stable.

The Battle of Flodden would be Thomas’ defining moment, even though it was towards the end of his life. Claiden-Yardley takes the time to explain why this battle had to be fought and the details of the battle. I found this extremely interesting to see how Thomas led his men into battle and how he helped stopped a Scottish invasion of England at the age of 70.

Claiden-Yardley has done extensive research into the life of Thomas Howard. I did find her writing a bit dry in some places, but overall, she did what she set out to do. She shed some light on a rather remarkable man who was really behind the curtain during the reigns of quite a few English kings. His loyalty to the crown and his family was unwavering. If you want to read a good biography about Thomas Howard and how the Howard family rose to power during the Tudor dynasty, I would recommend you read, “The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk” by Kirsten Claiden-Yardley.

Book Review: “Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI” by Lauren Johnson

50270709._SY475_Medieval kings are often painted as strong, colorful figures in history. They were warriors who fought to protect their families and countries. Often, we tend to think of men like King Henry V and King Edward IV when it comes to the late medieval kings of England. However, there was a man who was sandwiched between these two pillars of strength. He was the son of Henry V, the king who came before Edward IV, and the man who started the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. Unlike these two men, Henry VI was a pious peacemaker and is often viewed as a mere man in the background who never measured up to the standards his famous father left behind. His story is often incorporated into other biographies of people of his time; Henry VI has not had a solid biography about his life in a long time. That is until now. Lauren Johnson has taken up the challenge of exploring the life of this often-overlooked monarch in her latest biography, “Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI”.

When Lauren Johnson announced she was writing this book, I knew that I wanted to read it. As someone who finds the Wars of the Roses fascinating, I have wanted to read more about the Lancastrian side of the conflict, especially about Henry VI, to understand the conflict completely. This remarkable tome delivered everything that I wanted in a biography about Henry VI.

As the only son of the great warrior king Henry V, Henry VI had enormous shoes to fill, especially when his father died while Henry VI was just a baby. To add to the complicated situation of a baby king in England, with the death of the king of France, Henry VI was also the king of France. Until Henry became of age to rule both countries, he relied on the men around him to rule, while he continued his studies to become a strong ruler. Many books on the Wars of the Roses tend to skip over these informative years of Henry VI’s minority, but by delving deep into this time, Johnson gives the reader an understanding on why he made the decisions that he did later in life and why he was more of a pious scholar who wanted peace rather than a warrior.

Johnson meticulously goes through every decision and every flaw of Henry VI’s rule to show why the Wars of the Roses began and the toll that it took on Henry’s health. Her reassessment of Henry VI’s mental health and its deterioration over the years is eye-opening and gives an entirely new perspective into his reign. His peace-loving nature explains the actions that he took while he was king and also when he was an exile on the run from Edward IV while his wife, Margaret of Anjou was trying to stage a comeback that would fail, resulting in the death of her son and husband. Johnson’s exploration into Henry VI includes the afterlife that presented him as a holy man.

It has been a while since I have read a biography with such vivid descriptions and was so meticulously researched that it leaves me speechless. It was a sheer delight to read this masterpiece. I did not want it to end. I truly felt sympathy for King Henry VI. Lauren Johnson’s magnificent biography, “Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI” is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the Wars of the Roses and the peace-loving king who started it all.

Book Review: “The Queen’s Sisters: The Lives of the Sisters of Elizabeth Woodville” by Sarah J. Hodder

49550323._SX318_SY475_The story of the Woodville family has fascinated those who study the Wars of the Roses for centuries. Their mother Jacquetta of Luxembourg married Richard Woodville because she loved him, even though he was the chamberlain of her late husband. Jacquetta and Richard had numerous children, notably Elizabeth Woodville, who would marry the first Yorkist king, Edward IV. Elizabeth and her brothers are often talked about when discussing the Woodville children, however, Elizabeth had several sisters who married relatively powerful men. The stories of the sisters are rarely told, until now. Sarah J. Hodder has decided to take on the task of exploring the lives of these hidden figures in her debut book, “The Queen’s Sisters: The Lives of the Sisters of Elizabeth Woodville”.

I would like to thank Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. As someone interested in the Wars of the Roses, I wanted to read more about the Woodville family, so this book caught my eye.

Hodder has a chapter for each of the sisters; Jacquetta, Anne, Mary, Margaret, Jane, Katherine, and the possible seventh sister, Martha. The order of chapters is important because it is the order of which they were born. There is no chapter strictly dedicated to Elizabeth Woodville since there are several biographies dedicated to her alone. Instead, Hodder has chosen to show how Elizabeth’s shift in her social standing, from a widow of a Lancastrian knight to a Yorkist queen, affected the lives and marriages of her sisters. They may not be as famous as their sister, but their stories are equally as fascinating as Elizabeth and her royal life. They are filled with struggles and triumphs, strong loyalty and betrayals. These sisters and their stories present a window into what it meant to be a woman during the Wars of the Roses and beyond.

This book is best described as a series of “bite-sized biographies” as each chapter is only a few pages long. Since women were rarely recorded in medieval history, unless they were royal women, not much is known about different aspects of the sisters’ lives and their feelings about their husbands, as Hodder explains several times in this book. Hodder does her best to use what evidence and facts that we have of these sisters to tell their tales. The only real problem that I had with this book was that I wish it was a bit longer because I wanted more of their stories.

Overall, I found Hodder’s debut book enjoyable, easy to read, and rather intriguing. She truly brought these sisters out from behind Elizabeth’s shadow and into the light so that we can better understand this dynamic family. Their children and grandchildren would go on to serve Richard III and the Tudors. This book is definitely for those who understand the basics of the Wars of the Roses as Hodder mentions members of the nobility and future royals who would either benefit or fall because of the Woodvilles. If you are compelled to learn more about the hidden figures in the Woodville family, I encourage you to read, “The Queen’s Sisters: The Lives of the Sisters of Elizabeth Woodville” by Sarah J. Hodder.

Book Review: “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors” by Dan Jones

24611635._SY475_England throughout the centuries has known internal strife with civil wars to determine who had the right to rule the island nation. None more so than in the fifteenth century when a tug of war for the English crown broke out. Today, we call this time period “The Wars of the Roses”, but what was it all about? Who were the main figures during this time? What were the crucial battles that defined these wars? How did the Plantagenet Dynasty fall and how did the Tudors become the new dynasty to rule England? These questions and more are explored in Dan Jones’ book, “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors”.

I will admit that this was not my first time reading this particular book. I did borrow it from my local library and read it a few years ago, but I enjoyed it so much that I decided that I wanted to add it to my personal collection.

Jones begins his book with the horrific execution of the elderly Margaret Pole, the last white rose of York. Her death had more to do with her Plantagenet blood and the fact that she was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, than with any crime she committed. It was the royal blood and who had the right to rule that was at the heart of the Wars of the Roses, as Jones goes on to explain.

Although the true origins of the conflict go back to the sons of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Jones chooses to explore the reign of King Henry V, Catherine of Valois, and their son Henry VI. When Henry V tragically died of dysentery, his infant son Henry VI became king of both England and France. This wouldn’t have been a problem if Henry VI was as strong as his father, but alas, as king was very weak, which meant that he needed help to rule his kingdoms. It was the rivals between the powerful men and women behind the crown, like Richard, Duke of York and Margaret of Anjou, which led to the thirty years of civil wars.

What I appreciate about Jones’ book is that his focus is on the people who made the Wars of the Roses so fun to study. From Henry VI and his dynamic wife Margaret of Anjou to the sons of Richard duke of York; Edward IV, Richard III ( Ricardians might not agree with Jones’ assessment of Richard III) and George Duke of Clarence. Then there are figures who stand on their own who worked behind the scenes, like Warwick “The Kingmaker”, Margaret Beaufort, Owen and Jasper Tudor, the Princes in the Tower, and the ultimate victor, Henry VII.

Jones was able to weave the stories of these extraordinary people with the bloody battles and the politics that defined the era into this delightful book. It acts as a fantastic introduction to this turbulent time in English history that brought the downfall of the powerful Plantagenets and brought forth the Tudors. Another enjoyable and engaging book by Dan Jones. If you want to begin a study into this time, I highly recommend you read, “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors”.

Book Review: “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty” by Elizabeth Norton

9781445605784_p0_v1_s550x406The Wars of the Roses was a time of great hardships and strong men and women who did everything they could in order to survive. One of these remarkable people was a woman who did everything she could to make sure her only son lived and prospered. She was the daughter of a man who, allegedly committed suicide, she had four different husbands and gave birth to her son at the age of thirteen. She helped organize rebellions and a marriage that helped her son win the throne of England. Her name was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. Her remarkable story is told in Elizabeth Norton’s insightful book, “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty.”

This was a time of extraordinary men and women who knew both triumphs and tragedies. Margaret Beaufort was no exception as Fortune’s wheel gave her quite a ride, as Elizabeth Norton explains:

The idea of Fortune’s wheel, with its random changes from prosperity to disaster, was a popular one in medieval England, and Margaret Beaufort, with her long and turbulent life, saw herself, and was seen by others, as the living embodiment of the concept. Margaret was the mother of the Tudor dynasty in England, and it was through her that Henry VII was able to bid for the throne and gather enough strength to claim it. She knew times of great prosperity and power, but also times of deep despair. These were, to a large extent, products of the period in which Margaret lived, and her family, the Beauforts, had also suffered and prospered from Fortune’s random spin in the years before her birth. (Norton, 9).

Norton begins her book by explaining the origins of the Beaufort family, with the relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. It is through John of Gaunt that the Beauforts were able to go from illegitimate children to royal relations. This connection brought them a lot of favors, but it also brought a lot of heartaches. When the Beauforts fell, they fell hard, like Margaret’s father John Beaufort who allegedly committed suicide after a failed mission in France. His death meant that Margaret, his only child, was made a very wealthy heiress and a very eligible young lady on the marriage market. She was married to her first husband at the tender age of 10, but it did not last long. Her second marriage was to King Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor. He died before he could meet his son, leaving Margaret a mother and a widow before she turned 14. This might have been a dark moment in any young woman’s life, but Margaret grows from this experience, for herself and her only son Henry Tudor.

Margaret used her next two marriages, to Sir Henry Stafford and Lord Thomas Stanley, to her advantage to help her son’s cause. Henry was on the run with his uncle Jasper during this time since the Yorkist cause saw him as a potential heir to the throne. It was Margaret’s influence with the court and her financial support that helped her son and her brother-in-law survive during this time. It all paid off and after years apart, she was reunited with her son after the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry was victorious and declared King Henry VII. The Tudor Dynasty was created, and Margaret Beaufort began her new role as the King’s Mother. She was a mother-in-law to Elizabeth of York, a grandmother to Henry and Elizabeth’s children, and a patroness for colleges and universities. Margaret was a devout woman who also had control of her own finances, even though she was married. Fortune’s wheel gave Margaret Beaufort quite a ride, but she endured it and helped create one of the greatest dynasties in English history, the Tudor dynasty.

Elizabeth Norton sheds light on Margaret Beaufort’s story. In recent years, Margaret Beaufort has been vilified but reading the letters written by Margaret and from people who knew her shows who she really was, a strong and devout woman who would do anything for her son. Norton is able to balance the facts that we know about Margaret’s life and times with letters and poems about her and Norton’s engaging writing style to give Margaret a biography she deserves. This biography is meticulously researched and a delight to read. If you want a fascinating biography about this remarkable woman, I highly recommend you read Elizabeth Norton’s “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty”.

Book Review: “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462” by Hugh Bicheno

519b6FCcEGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In recent years, the study of the English conflict known as the “Wars of the Roses” has become rather popular. The Lancasters and the Yorks fighting for the English throne. Only one can be the winner. When we do look at this time period, we tend to focus on the people involved in the battles and the political aspect of the conflict. The battles, how they were fought, and why the conflict started in the first place tend to be pushed to the sideline. That is not the case with this particular book. In Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”, the political and military aspects combine with family histories for a comprehensive look into what made this time period so fascinating.

I came across this particular book by browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I saw that it was about the Wars of the Roses, but I was not familiar with the author. I decided to give it a shot and I am so glad I did. This book is a delight and a fantastic resource.

Bicheno starts his book by exploring two extraordinary women whose families would shape the direction that the Wars of the Roses would take; Jacquetta Woodville and Catherine de Valois. Both women married for love and this love would shape who would win the crown of England, as Bicheno explains:

Sometimes love does conquer all: despite having turned their backs on the game of power, Catherine and Jacquetta became the common ancestors of every English monarch since 1485. Before that could happen, all those with a superior claim to the throne had first to wipe each other out. This they did in what was, in essence, a decades-long, murderously sordid dispute over an inheritance within a deeply dysfunctional extended family. It became merciless not despite but because the combatants had so much in common, and projected their own darkest intentions onto each other….it was an extraordinary period in English history. Four of the six kings crowned between 1399 and 1485 were usurpers who killed their predecessors, undermining the concept of divine right as well as the prestige of the ruling class. (Bicheno, 10-11).

Family drama is the center of Bicheno’s book so he spends several chapters laying out the major players and how they were related to one another. This can get a tad bit confusing for those who are not familiar with the story, so Bicheno has included family trees and a list of protagonists and marriages to help readers. I will say that they became very useful for me as I was reading this book and I would highly suggest you use the resources that Bicheno has included in this book for future research. Bicheno also included maps, which corresponded with the different battles that were important between 1440 and 1462, not only in England but in France, Wales, and Scotland as well.

What really impressed me about this book was the amount of detail that Bicheno was able to include and making it understandable for any casual student of the Wars of the Roses, yet engaging enough for a scholar. That is not an easy feat, but Bicheno is able to do it. He uses modern data with extensive research of historical documents, knowledge of medieval military strategies, and interpreting all of this information for modern readers, which included a few nods to a certain popular show(Game of Thrones) that is roughly based off of the events of this time period.

Hugh Bicheno breathes new life into the study of the Wars of the Roses. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first started reading this book, but I am extremely glad I did. Even if you think you know tons about the Wars of the Roses, this book will surprise you with new information and make you question your previous knowledge about the battles in the first part of this tumultuous time. If you have an interest in the Wars of the Roses and understanding how it occurred from a military and a political point of view, I highly suggest you read Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”. It is an eye-opening, riveting reading experience.

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Trinity” by Conn Iggulden

61793uzwgql._sx324_bo12c2042c2032c200_England is on the brink of civil war. Families with royal blood in their veins are fighting amongst each other as King Henry VI has fallen ill.  Mistrust runs rampant and sacrifices are made in order to gain the throne. This is the England of 1454 and the beginning of the period in English history that we know today as the Wars of the Roses. Families like the Nevilles,  the Percys, and the houses of York, Lancaster, and Tudor would gain fame and infamy during this time. Conn Iggulden decided to explore this tumultuous time after the Jack Cade rebellion, which he explored in his first book “Stormbird”, in the second book of his “Wars of the Roses” series called “Trinity”.

Many who study the Wars of the Roses believe that it started in 1455 with the First Battle of St. Albans. However, Conn Iggulden begins “Trinity” with a conflict between the Percys and the Nevilles, which is known as the Battle of Heworth Moor. Iggulden explains why he chose this point to begin his story in his Historical Note:

The ambush by some seven hundred Percy retainers and servants on the Neville wedding party took place a little earlier than I have it here, in August 1453- around the same time King Henry VI fell into his senseless state. It was a key event among years of low-level fighting between the families as they struggled to control the north and widen their holdings. That attack by Thomas Percy, Baron Egremont, was one of the most brutal actions in that private war, sparked by the marriage of Salisbury’s son to the niece of Ralph Cromwell, a union which placed estates claimed by the Percy family into Neville hands. The ‘Battle of Heworth Moor’ failed in its main aim of slaughtering Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. I have not included a dozen minor skirmishes, but that feud played a key part in deciding where the Nevilles and the Percys stood in the first battle of St. Albans in 1455- and its outcome. (Iggulden, 463).

The Battle of Heworth Moor is a unique place to start. We are thrust into the middle of the Percy family’s feud with the Nevilles. The plan is to attack the Nevilles during a wedding, but the Percys fail. It would not be a wedding that either family would forget for a long time. The Percy family decides to side with the Lancasters and the King, while the Nevilles side with the Yorkist cause. In the beginning, the Wars of the Roses was nothing but feuds between families to determine who should be taking care of the sick King Henry VI. Iggulden describes Henry VI in a way that shows the King as weak in body but his mind is sharp. When he wakes from his first bout of illness, he dismisses Richard Duke of York from being Lord Protector and reverses everything that  Richard did.

Richard and the Yorkist cause are not upset with the king, but rather those who they believe are responsible for being in control of the king; Queen Margaret of Anjou, the Duke of Somerset and the Nevilles. Anger boils until it bursts at the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455. This battle was so pivotal in the evolution of the conflict that Iggulden goes into great detail to explain how the battle unfolded. The Yorkist cause may have one the “first” battle of the Wars of the Roses, but it ignited a flame inside of Margaret of Anjou to not only protect her son and her husband but to also completely destroy Richard Duke of York. As the story progresses, we see both sides working hard to gain control of the king in a more complex version of “capture the king”.

Conn Iggulden delivers a high action and extremely descriptive sequel to “Stormbird” with “Trinity”. He incorporates beloved characters from the previous novel, like Margaret of Anjou and the charismatic Derry Brewer, with new faces like the Tudors, Thomas Percy Baron Egremont, Warwick, Richard Duke of York and his eldest son Edmund Earl of Rutland. Iggulden transports the reader to this volatile time in English history. This book is so engaging and it keeps the reader wanting more, so he included a side story that is equally entertaining. Once again, Iggulden makes the Wars of the Roses and all of its intrigue come alive. If you were a fan of Conn Iggulden’s first book in the “Wars of the Roses” series “Stormbird”, I strongly encourage you to read “Trinity”.   

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Stormbird” by Conn Iggulden

17830079The Wars of the Roses is often remembered for the battles that were fought in England. Bosworth. Towton. Barnet. Tewkesbury. These battles and the names of the men and women like Richard III, Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI, Richard Duke of York, Edward IV and the Tudors are etched into the history of England. However, what started this conflict was not on the battlefield, it was inside the English Court.  The decisions of a few men led to revolts that swept throughout England. So what was life like during this tumultuous time in English history? That is one of the questions that Conn Iggulden wanted to explore in his book series, “Wars of the Roses”. The first book in the series is called “Stormbird” and it explores the time after Henry VI marries Margaret of Anjou as well as Cade’s Rebellion, which wanted to tear England apart.

Conn Iggulden begins his book with the death of Edward III and his sons around his bedside, wondering what would happen to their beloved England. The sons of Edward III would become the patriarchs of some of the most important houses during the Wars of the Roses, York, and Lancaster. The story truly begins 66 years after the death of Edward III and young Henry VI is on the throne. Henry needed a truce with France and it was up to men who he could trust to make sure this happened. One of these men was William de la Pole, Duke of Somerset. The other, at least in “Stormbird”, was Henry VI’s spymaster Derihew “Derry” Brewer. Derry Brewer is a unique and complex character who works in the shadow to make sure that his king and his country are well protected. That includes arranging a marriage between Henry VI and the young Margaret of Anjou.

Margaret is portrayed as a caring and loving wife to Henry VI who will do anything to make sure her husband is taken care of and their young son is strong.  Their marriage seems happy, however, there are those who live outside the royal court who are suffering. With a weak leader and men who help the king lead making things worse,  the common people take it the hardest and they decide to do something about it. Led by a man named Jack Cade, the Cade’s Rebellion decides to march on London to overthrow the government.

In his Author’s Note, Conn Iggulden explains why he decided to focus a lot of his book to the riots and unrest in England:

Historical fiction sometimes involves filling in the gaps and unexplained parts of history. How is it that England could field fifty thousand men for the battle of Towton in 1461, but was able to send only four thousand to prevent the loss of Normandy a dozen years earlier? My assumption is that the unrest and riots in England put such a fear into the authorities that the major armies were kept at home. Jack Cade’s rebellion was only one of the most serious uprisings, after all. Rage at the loss of France, coupled with high taxes and a sense that the king was weak, brought England close to complete disaster at this time. Given that Cade breached the Tower of London, perhaps the court and Parliament were right to keep soldiers at home who could have been used to good effect in France. (Iggulden, 479).

“Stormbird” is a fantastic first book for Conn Iggulden’s “Wars of the Roses” series. It is filled with tons of battle scenes and intrigue. There were quite a few scenes where the amount of gruesome details made me cringe, but I wanted to read more. Iggulden was able to make this time before the actual Wars of the Roses come alive. Seeing both sides of the unrest, the commoners and those who served the king, really was intriguing. This was my first time reading a book by Conn Iggulden and I loved it. I look forward to reading the rest of the series and to see how he approaches the Wars of the Roses. If you want a great historical fiction book that is engaging about the unrest in England before the Wars of the Roses, I highly recommend “Wars of the Roses: Stormbird” by Conn Iggulden.

Book Review: “The Lady of the Rivers” by Philippa Gregory

10796011The Wars of the Roses was a time full of fascinating people, both men, and women. They chose to live their lives to the best of their abilities. They had to decide who they were loyal to and, in some circumstances, they had to switch sides in order to survive. They had to chose to take destiny in their own hands, even if the decisions they had to make were controversial to others. This would perfectly describe the protagonist of Philippa Gregory’s book, “The Lady of the Rivers”. This is the story of Jacquetta Woodville, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville and a woman who took destiny into her own hands

Gregory is a great historical fiction author, however, in this book, she has taken some historical facts and has twisted them slightly. In this book, Gregory takes the story that since Jacquetta’s family claimed to be descendants of the water witch Melusina, Jacquetta was a witch herself. Although Jacquetta was accused of being a witch later in her life, she was cleared of these charges.  There were parts early in the book where Jacquetta used her skills to try and make sense of the future, but for one of the biggest decisions in her life, Gregory chose a different route for Jacquetta. After the death of her first husband, Jacquetta could have waited for the king to choose another husband for her or she could make her own path and marry the man she loved.

I am a woman of earth now, not a girl of water. I am not a maid, I am a lover. I am not interested in foreseeing; I will make my own future, not predict it. I don’t need a charm to tell me what I hope will happen. I throw the gold charm which is like a wedding ring up in the air and catch it before it falls. This is my choice. I don’t need magic to reveal my desire. The enchantment is already done: I am in love; I am swore to a man of the earth; I am not going to give this man up. All I have to do is consider how we can stay together. (Gregory, 107).

Gregory begins her book with Jacquetta meeting and becoming friends with Joan of Arc before she died. Shortly afterward, Jacquetta is married to John Duke of Bedford, who chooses to marry her solely because she was a descendant of Melusina. According to Gregory’s book, he wanted to marry her to help with his pursuits in alchemy. The addition of alchemy in the story adds an element of magic and mystery to an already compelling read. Jacquetta, in her first marriage, is more of a pawn to help her husband than a wife.

Jacquetta’s life would radically turn upside down when she fell in love with a man who was well below her station, Sir Richard Woodville. It was their loving marriage and their large family which kept Jacquetta going, even when England has been torn asunder by civil war. Jacquetta befriends Margaret of Anjou and helps her as she adjusts to life in England and as her husband, King Henry VI falls ill.

Before I read this book years ago, I really didn’t know much about Jacquetta Woodville, but now I really enjoy studying about the Woodvilles. Jacquetta Woodville lived a rather remarkable life. Even though Gregory takes some liberties with the facts about her life, what Gregory does well is bring Jacquetta’s story into the spotlight. Jacquetta may not be as famous as her daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, but her life was full of twists and turns. Like any good historical fiction book, this particular book’s intent was to bring attention to Jacquetta Woodville’s life and make the reader aware of this amazing woman. If you want an engaging historical fiction read about the matriarch of the Woodvilles, I highly recommend you read, “The Lady of the Rivers” by Philippa Gregory.

Book Review: “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown” by Nathen Amin

51ygXgS66nL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The houses of York, Lancaster, the  Nevilles, the Howards, the Mowbrays, the Percys, and the Tudors are often recognized as the families involved in the Wars of the Roses. However, there was one more house that was just as important as the others; the Beauforts. The Beauforts were the sons and daughters of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and his mistress Katherine Swynford. They were considered bastards since they were born out of wedlock, yet they were connected to the house of Lancaster and rose to power by their own right. They would help change not only English history but the history of Europe forever. The Beauforts made a huge impact during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, yet many people only recognize Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Beaufort 2nd Duke of Somerset. The Beauforts don’t get much attention. Nathen Amin, the founder of The Henry Tudor Society, wanted to tell the story of this remarkable family.  It is in his book “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown”, that the Beauforts are given the attention that they rightfully deserve.

Nathen Amin explains why he chose to focus on the Beauforts:

The Beauforts are a family often encountered when reading or studying the fifteenth century and the Wars of the Roses, although commonly relegated to supporting roles in the life and times of more prominent figures like Richard, duke of York, Edward IV, and Henry IV, V, and VI. They were always in the background, serving a king, counselling a king, and even fighting for or against a king. …Yet, there were few family units more influential in the governance of England during the period, and none more devoted to defending the Lancasterian dynasty, whether against France in the last vestiges of the Hundred Years War, or against the House of York in a new war of a very different kind. Born as bastards to a mighty prince, the Beauforts were the right-hand men of their royal kinsmen, amassing considerable authority on the national and continental stage. From uncertain beginnings, the Beauforts became earls, dukes and cardinals, and in time kings themselves, their blood seeping into every corner of the English artistocracy within a few generations of their birth. (Amin, 7).

So how exactly were the Beauforts able to accomplish all of this, going from bastards to kings? It starts with John of Gaunt marrying his mistress Katherine Swynford, making his four children with Katherine legitimate and they were given the name “Beaufort”, after his second marriage did not work out. After their half-brother King Henry IV( also known as Henry of Bolingbroke) became king, he allowed his half-siblings to obtain royal status, however, they could not be in line for the English throne.

John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford’s four children found a way to live successful lives without pursuing the English throne and they continued to support their Lancasterian family. John Beaufort became the 1st Earl of Somerset and his children became earls, counts, dukes and his daughter Joan became Queen of Scotland. John Beaufort’s granddaughter was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the future King Henry VII. Henry Beaufort was able to become a very wealthy man and was promoted all the way to Cardinal of England, quite a feat for an English man at that time. Thomas Beaufort became the  1st Duke of Exeter and his sister Joan Beaufort Countess of Westmoreland was the matriarch of the powerful Neville family.

The Beauforts went through numereous highs and lows as they worked hard to protect England and the honor of their Lancastrian relations. Nathen Amin is able to navigate the complex world of the English court during both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses to give us the intricate story of the Beaufort family. As someone who is acquianted with parts of the Beaufort family story, I found this book rather fascinating and very informative. This was my first time reading a book by Nathen Amin and I cannot wait to read more of his books. In a complex time, it would be easy to forget one person, but Amin spends the time to write about each Beaufort child and how they made a difference.

The only real issue I had with the book was the family tree. I wished that there were birth and death dates included because I found myself getting a tad bit confused about who was who, especially when some of the Beauforts shared the same name and a similar title.

Overall, I found this book extremely fascinating and informative. Amin’s writing style is easy to understand and he brings the Beauforts from the background and onto center stage. They may have started as illegitimate children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, but they rose to be dukes and kings. If you want to learn more about this remarkable family and their influence in both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, I absolutely recommend that you read “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown” by Nathen Amin.