Book Review: “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton

51qnw6zqydL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Henry VII  winning at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, is viewed as the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty. However, the story of the Tudor family goes back centuries in Wales. What we consider the story of the Tudors tends to start with a man named Owen Tudor, a servant, who fell in love and married the dowager Queen of England, Catherine of Valois. Quite a romantic tale, but how much of it is true? Were the Tudors simple folk or did they have a bigger role to play in their native Wales? What roles did Owen and his sons play in the Wars of the Roses? These questions and more are explored in Terry Breverton’s latest biography, “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this fascinating biography. Owen Tudor is someone that has always interested me, so I was quite delighted to find out that Breverton had written the first biography about this extraordinary man and his life. 

Breverton begins by exploring the origins of the Tudors and how the Welsh bards were the ones who helped preserve the history and prophecies of Wales for future generations. One such prophecy was the prophecy of Cadwaladr, which speaks of the red dragon of Cadwaladr defeating the white dragons of those who the Welsh considered barbarians. It was also the Welsh who believed that a mab darogan (“the son of prophecy”) would conquer England. Breverton must discuss these ideas because they would help the Tudors gather support that was necessary for future victories. Breverton also discusses the history of Wales and England and the Glyndwr War. He explores the Tudor family tree and how Owen Tudor’s ancestors were very influential in the decisions that Wales made in these critical years. I found this part extremely fascinating to read because casual readers of the Wars of the Roses do not read about Welsh history and the Tudor ancestors, which is vital to understand how they were able to come out victorious in the end.

Breverton also explores the family history of Catherine of Valois and how she came to marry  King Henry V and her relationship with her first son, King Henry VI. However, the center of Breverton’s book is centered around the relationship between Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. He describes it as the “strangest marriage in English history”, but unlike other scholars, Breverton believes that an actual marriage did happen between Owen and Catherine. Their sons, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, would prove extremely important men during the Wars of the Roses, and tried to bridge the gap between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Breverton was able to track down where Owen was during his service during the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses through his sons and through government records of the time, until his death shortly after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, on February 4, 1461. The one thing I wish Breverton would have included were maps of Wales, England, and France so it would be easier to understand which towns fell and where battles were fought.

Breverton does a superb job shedding light on Owen Tudor’s fascinating life and legacy. It was an absolute joy to read, I didn’t want it to end. This was my first time reading a book by Terry Breverton and now I want to read more of his books. Breverton blends an easy to understand writing style while maintaining scrupulous attention to details. You can tell that Breverton meticulously researched Owen Tudor and the events that shaped him. This may be the first biography about Owen Tudor, but I don’t think it will be the last. If you want to read a fabulous biography about Owen Tudor and the origins of the Tudor Dynasty, I highly encourage you to read “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton. 

“Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton will be published in the US on November 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order a copy of this book, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Owen-Tudor-Founding-Father-Dynasty/dp/1445694379/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Owen+Tudor+Founding+Father+of+the+Tudor+Dynasty&qid=1566589023&s=books&sr=1-1

Book Review: “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle

61tJwNfDrEL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)Every family has their own stories. Stories of how they became a family, how they fought hard to get where they are today. Stories filled with love, drama, and endurance. When it comes to royal families, their stories tend to be broadcast to the masses, and none more so than the Tudors, who have captured the imagination of history lovers for generations. The Tudor’s story is often told in parts, focusing on individual people like Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. The Tudor story is fascinating told in parts, but as a whole, one sees how hard they worked to become a dynasty that will be remembered for centuries after their deaths. It is time for the story of this extraordinary family to be told as a whole and Leanda de Lisle does so in her book, “Tudor”.

The Tudors and their story often starts in books with the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, but that does a disservice to the humble beginnings of Owen Tudor and how they struggled to survive during the Wars of the Roses. It is their origin story that the Tudors used to their advantage, as de Lisle describes in her introduction:

The Tudors believed they were building on the past to create something different- and better- even if they differed on how. The struggle of Henry VII and his heirs to secure the line of succession, and the hopes, loves and losses of the claimants- which dominated and shaped the history of the Tudor family and their times- are the focus of this book. The universal appeal of the Tudors also lies in the family stories: of a mother’s love for her son, of the husband who kills his wives, of siblings who betray one another, of reckless love affairs, of rival cousins, of an old spinster whose heirs hope to hurry her to her end. (de Lisle, 4).

De Lisle begins her book with the story of Owen Tudor and the Welsh Tudors. It is a story of an unlikely love between a Welsh man who served in the house of the mother of the King of England. However, their story is a bit more complex. Owen Tudor descended from those who were involved in a Welsh rebellion against Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king, he married the wife and mother of two other Lancastrian kings, and his sons were the half-brothers of a Lancastrian King, Henry VI. Talk about a twist of faith. To top it all off, his only grandson, Henry Tudor, was the only child of Margaret Beaufort, who was married four different times and did everything in her power to protect her son. It all culminated in one battle at Bosworth Field where the Tudors go from nobodies to a royal dynasty.

It is this thin line of royal blood that the Tudors cling to as a lifeline to hold onto their throne. Starting with Henry VII, who fought against usurpers and rebels to hold onto the crown that he won on the battlefield. Henry believed in the importance of his family and so he chooses marriages for his children that would benefit the family as a whole. What de Lisle does well is she gives each child of Henry VII the respect that they deserve; she does not just focus on Henry VIII but gives attention to Arthur, Mary, and Margaret Tudor and their children. This is so important as it gives the reader a broader sense of how far the Tudor family ties went. Sure, we all know the stories of Henry VIII, his wives, and his children, but the Tudor story is much deeper than just the family in England. It is a story full of European players all vying for the crown of England.

Leanda de Lisle is able to masterfully tell the story of the Tudors, which has been discussed for centuries and breathe new life into this complex family drama. De Lisle balances meticulous research with an easily accessible writing style in this book that fans of the Tudor dynasty, both scholars and casual readers, will appreciate. This is a book that you will not want to put down. I would recommend this book, “Tudor” by Leanda de Lisle, to anyone who is enchanted with the story of the Tudors and their legacy on England. “Tudor” is an absolute triumph and a delight to read over and over again.

Book Review: “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman

91Fs0VzQnKLThe Tudor era has enchanted generations of history lovers with its interesting monarchs and scandals. The beautiful outfits, the political drama of the age, the legendary marriages of King Henry VIII, the children of Henry VIII, and how England grew into a dominant force in European politics. These are the things that people tend to focus on when studying the Tudors, yet this is a very narrow view of the time period. We tend to focus on the inner workings of the court system, but we don’t focus on the common people who lived in England during this time. What was it like to live in Tudor England for the common people? This is the question that Ruth Goodman explores in her book, “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life”.

In her introduction Ruth Goodman explains her journey into studying the lives of ordinary Tudors and why she chose to write this particular book:

There are many books and studies based on the lives of the Tudor elite, upon the powerful and well-documented, but my interest has always been bound up with the more humble sections of society. As a fairly ordinary person myself who needs to eat, sleep and change the occasional nappy, I wanted from the beginning to know how people coped day to day, to know what resources they really had at their disposal, what skills they needed to acquire and what it all felt like. Twenty-five years ago I could find no book to tell me, and even now when social history receives far more academic attention than before, information is still thin on the ground. So I set out to try and work it out for myself: hunting up period recipes and trying them out; learning to manage fires and skin rabbits; standing on one foot with a dance manual in one hand, trying to make sense of where my next move should be. The more I experimented, the more information I began to find within the period texts that I was looking at. Things that I had just skimmed past in the reading became quite critical in practice, prompting more questions and very much more intense research. (Goodman, xii-xiii).

Goodman has taken her research and her adventures in trying to live like a common Tudor and has written a book that everyone can enjoy. This book explores daily activities of the ordinary Tudor family, from morning to night, in order to give her readers a better understanding of this remarkable time period. It is a book that provides a plethora of information from which Tudor bed is the most comfortable to how normal Tudors bathed, to how to brew your own ale and how to make your own bread and cheese.

All of this information is rather interesting, but Goodman takes it a couple steps further. First, she explains her own experiences attempting to replicate what she found in manuals and sources from the Tudor time period. It is one thing to read primary sources, which Goodman does include, but by including experiences from the author herself, it adds another level of depth and credibility to the book and to her research. Another step that Goodman takes in her book to add depth is explaining the reasoning behind why the average Tudor did what they did. Some of it is because of religion and some had to do with how they understood how the human body operated through the four humours. By taking the time to understand these elements, the reader can understand why the Tudors did things a certain way, which may seem a bit foreign to a modern audience.

Ruth Goodman gives the lives of ordinary Tudors the attention they deserve. The Tudor dynasty was not just about the flashy monarchy. The majority of the people were common farmers and craftsmen. In order to understand this period of time, one has to look at the lives of the royalty and the regular people. “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman is a stunning example of how living history can help explain the past and should be on anyone’s booklist who is interested in seriously studying the Tudor dynasty.  This book is an absolute delight to read. 

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: “Pustules, Pestilence and Pain: Tudor Treatments and Ailments of Henry VIII” by Seamus O’ Caellaigh

51reJRJpGeLThe everyday life of those who lived in the past has been an area of fascination for those who study any period in history. We often wonder what it was like to dress like a person in the court of Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, what their diets were like, and how they interacted with one another, either in the royal court or as commoners working everyday to make a living. One of the areas that is always mentioned is the health of a monarch. In the case of the Tudors, when we speak of health, many look to Henry VIII as he had a lot of different medical conditions and accidents that affected his life. What was 16th century medical practices like? How did doctors treat their patients in the time of the Tudors? This has been an area of Tudor life that has not received much attention.  That is until now. Seamus O’ Caellaigh gives us an in-depth look at the treatments fit for King Henry VIII from the doctors who actually treated the king in his book, “Pustules, Pestilence and Pain: Tudor Treatments and Ailments of Henry VIII”.

In order to show us what the world of 16th century doctors would have been like, Seamus O’ Caellaigh decided to look at one of the most well-documented rulers of the time, Henry VIII, but it provided its own unique challenges.

The medical staff of Henry VIII of England left gaps in the medical history of the king. While it is possible that the records have just been lost or destroyed, it is very likely that Henry VIII’s physicians did not keep records of what they did to treat Henry, possibly for their own protection. I approached the filling of these gaps by first finding references to his illnesses in letters from his court and from first-hand accounts, recorded in biographies, written by courtiers and staff. Next, I analysed works written by Henry’s physicians to determine what Tudor physicians would have done to treat the various illnesses. Using the works of Henry’s medical staff, I recreated some of the identified treatments, and I examined the ingredients to look at the history of their uses through early medical texts, and at the harmful effects that could have happened because of our knowledge now of modern medicine and science. This book is a case study of a person over a period of time, not only to present possible treatments for an infamous ruler, but to humanize a science and open a window into the world of Tudor medicine. (O’Caellaigh, 1).

Authors and historians have often written about Tudor medical treatments and illnesses in their books, but O’ Caellaigh takes it a few steps further. He looks at the treatments, giving us, the reader, the actual texts that the physicians wrote in its original form. Now for those of us who cannot read the Latin phrases or Tudor English, O’Caellaigh includes a translated version of the texts on the next page. He also includes origins of the different medicinal ingredients and why the physicians used the ingredients in the treatments. It is fascinating to read about the different ingredients like wild lettuce, lead, rose oil and sulfur, since they seem like odd ingredients to use in medicine. Modern readers may have no clue what these ingredients would have looked like, which is exactly why O’Caellaigh included photographs of what each treatment looked like and how it might have been applied.

This book may be small, but it packs tons of information, both written and as pictures, inside its pages. Before I read this book, I knew about the different ailments and illnesses, but I really had no clue about how the physicians would approach the illnesses and ailments in order to treat them. This book is a fantastic introduction into the world of Tudor medical treatments and Tudor physicians. Seamus O’Caellaigh was able to make a complex topic, Tudor medicine, and make it easy to understand and rather fascinating to study. If you are interested in Tudor medical treatments, I highly recommend you read Seamus O’Caellaigh’s book, “Pustules, Pestilence and Pain: Tudor Treatments and Ailments of Henry VIII”.

Book Review:“Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World” by Alison Weir

91FsSB3hb9LThe Wars of the Roses was a dynastic battle between the houses of York and Lancaster for the throne of England that lasted for 30 years. There were plenty of people who lived during this time that continue to fascinate us even to this day. Men like Richard III, Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VII,  and Richard Neville duke of Warwick to just name a few. There were also women who worked hard on the sidelines to make sure that their sides would win the wars. Women like Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily Neville, and Margaret Beaufort. However, one of the most important person during this conflict tends to get left behind when discussing the most influential people of this conflict; Elizabeth of York, the wife of Henry VII. She was the mother of the Tudor dynasty, yet she does not get the attention that she rightfully deserves. In Alison Weir’s book “Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World”, Weir explores the life of this influential woman and her impact on the world around her.

Weir begins her book by explaining her role in history:

Elizabeth of York’s role in history was crucial, although in a less chauvinistic age it would, by right, have been more so. In the wake of legislation to give women the same rights in the order of succession as male heirs; it is interesting to reflect that England’s Elizabeth I would not have been celebrated Virgin Queen but Elizabeth of York. But in the fifteenth century, it would have been unthinkable for a woman to succeed to the throne. Elizabeth lived in a world in which females were regarded as inferior to men physically, intellectually, and morally. It was seen as against the laws of God and Nature for a woman to wield dominion over men: it was an affront to the perceived order of the world. Even so, Elizabeth of York was important. She was the daughter, sister, niece, wife, mother and grandmother of monarchs: daughter  to Edward IV, sister to Edward V, niece to Richard III, wife to Henry VII, mother to Henry VIII, and grandmother to Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I; and she was the mother of two queen consorts. She was also the ancestress of every English monarch since 1509, every Scots monarch since 1513, and every British monarch since 1603, including the present queen, Elizabeth II. (Weir, xviii).

Elizabeth of York obviously had a significant impact on English history from the end of the Wars of the Roses on to the present day, but what is more impressive is when you realize how much Elizabeth went through in her lifetime in order to achieve these accomplishments. Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.  She was going to be married to the Dauphin of France, until the French decided to pull out of the marriage agreement. When her father fled as Warwick marched against him for the Lancastrians, Elizabeth Woodville took her children into sanctuary, where she gave birth to the future Edward V. Her father was a strong man, but he tragically died at the age of 40. Her young brother Edward V was to be the next king, but Edward was taken into the custody of her uncle, the future Richard III. Elizabeth Woodville took her children back into sanctuary where Richard told Elizabeth to give up her younger son. She did comply. The young king and his brother were taken to the Tower, Elizabeth’s brothers were never seen again, and Richard III became king.

Elizabeth’s mother never liked Richard so she arranged a marriage between Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor, the son of Margaret Beaufort. When Richard III’s wife Anne Neville died there were rumors circulating that Richard would marry his niece, but Weir explains thoroughly the relationship between Elizabeth and her uncle. After Richard was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry VII waited to marry Elizabeth of York and have her crowned queen, which angered many Yorkist supporters, but Elizabeth loved Henry and kept her cool. Elizabeth took her role as wife and mother very seriously. When there were those who tried to take Henry’s throne by pretending to be Elizabeth’s brothers, she stood by Henry and by his claim to the throne. Elizabeth was the mother of Arthur Tudor, Margaret Tudor, Mary Tudor and the future Henry VIII. When Arthur died, Elizabeth consoled her husband in his sorrow and helped him realize that they did have another heir in Henry. She would die on February 11, 1503. Her husband Henry VII would never marry again and mourned her greatly.

Alison Weir brought Elizabeth of York’s life and her world to life in this book. As many of you know, I love the Wars of the Roses and one of the reasons I do is because of the life of Elizabeth of York. There is just something about her story that completely fascinates me. I have read a few fiction books about the life of Elizabeth of York,  but this was the first biography that I have read about Elizabeth of York. Like any Alison Weir book, Weir is able to balance her unique writing style with amazing details to create a vivid description of the person’s life, in this case the life of Elizabeth of York. This is a beautiful book about the life of a pious queen who united the houses of York and Lancaster to create the Tudor Dynasty through her marriage with Henry Tudor. I highly recommend “Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World” by Alison Weir for anyone who is interested in the Wars of the Roses or the love story of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII. An amazing woman who lived in an extraordinary time.

Top 5 “Tudor” Men to Study

Hello everyone! So a few weeks ago, I made a list of my top 5 Tudor women to study. This time around, I decided to focus on the men of this era. The reason that I have the word Tudor in quotations is that one of the men on this list is technically not a Tudor nor did he serve in the Tudor court. As always, this list is in no particular order and it might change after I do more research on the era. These men at the moment fascinate me and I look forward to learning more about them as I continue my exploration of the Tudor age.

1.) Jasper Tudor

The man in the sidelines who helped make the Tudor dynasty happen.80aa362b8647d5844194e415a130c3fd

Brother of Edmund Tudor, half- brother to Henry VI, and uncle to Henry Tudor. A man of many titles, but also a man who spent most of his adult life on the run. Jasper is one of those people who has an epic story, but he really doesn’t get a whole lot of attention and to me, that’s a little sad. I can’t even imagine what was going through his head when he found out that his brother died and that his widow Margaret Beaufort had a son. And that was just in a span of a few months. Now let’s throw in the fact that the time that Jasper was living in was the Wars of the Roses where they basically played musical chairs with the crown of England so one minute his half brother was king of England and the next he was a prisoner. Pretty stressful is putting it mildly. To add insult to injury, Jasper’s nephew Henry, was placed into York households to be raised and to watch over the young boy.

Jasper was always on the run, trying to keep himself and Henry safe. Whether in Wales or in France, where both Jasper and Henry were held as prisoners for very powerful people, Jasper worked hard to keep them alive. You would think that these two would lay low the rest of their lives. You would be wrong. Margaret Beaufort, Henry’s mother, had bigger plans for her son. With Henry VI dead and the Yorks on the throne with Edward IV and then Richard III, Margaret believed that her son was the next rightful king of England. So while Jasper and Henry were overseas in France, Margaret and Jasper orchestrated a coup d’etat. They were able to muster a force for Henry so that he could march against Richard III and on August 22, 1485, their plan worked. Henry was declared king and Jasper went back to his natural place, working for Henry’s good as his right hand man.

As the step brother of a king, I have often wondered why Jasper didn’t seize the crown for himself. This man was full of such intense loyalty for his family and had such an interesting life and yet he chose a life on the sidelines. I want to read biographies on him. Such a dynamic figure in Tudor history.

2.) Henry Tudor (later on Henry VII)

download (1)The man who would become king of England and the patriarch of the Tudor dynasty.  

As stated above, Henry’s life started off rough. Always on the run, he never knew his father and he never really got a chance to know his mother that well until after he became king. That all changed  at Bosworth Field when Richard III was killed and Henry became king. From rags to riches real quick. But if Henry wanted to end the constant calamity that the Wars of the Roses was causing, he needed to marry the right woman. His mother and Elizabeth Woodville arranged a marriage between Henry and Elizabeth of York, joining the houses of York and Lancaster. It was a brilliant move and helped put an end to the fighting. Henry and Elizabeth would have a large family including two sons, Arthur and Henry, thus starting the Tudor dynasty.

Henry is often thought of as being a mizer and a usurper or being a hero, but who was the true Henry? The more I study him, the more I realize how complicated this man was. He was not just a man who took the throne or a hero who started a brand new dynasty, but a family man and someone who knew heartache and love. There is something about Henry that is intriguing. His descendants might get all the attention for all their drama, but Henry Tudor was a man who built a dynasty out of practically nothing. He had to fight for all that he had against numerous pretenders who believed that he was not the rightful king. Overall, he was a survivor who became king.

3.) Richard III

The “black legend”.

Now I know what you are thinking, Richard III is not a Tudor king or someone who King_Richard_III.jpgserved a Tudor king so why is he on this list? To me, Richard has just as much influence in creating the Tudor dynasty as the Tudors themselves. If you think about it, if he didn’t take the throne, then Henry wouldn’t have marched against him at the Battle of Bosworth Field. It was his death that helped start the Tudor dynasty.

I do tend to berate Richard quite a bit since I believe he did kill his nephews, but there is something about this man that keeps me wanting to learn more about him. I may think that he is a murderer but as a king, I am learning that he was pretty decent. Just like Henry Tudor was just a man who survived, so was Richard. The more I study these two, the more I am realizing how similar they were. Even though Richard only ruled for two years, there is still a lot that we do not know about him. Maybe he was a family man just like Henry. His childhood might have shaped the way he ruled England and how he handled his enemies.

Even though there has been quite a bit of research about Richard III in the last 500 years, he is still a mysterious legend and I look forward to learning more about him and his times.

4.) Henry VIII

henry-viii-of-england-1The man. The myth. The legend.

When you hear his name, instantly you think about his multiple marriages and his break from the Roman Catholic Church. But who was Henry VIII the man behind this legend? Henry was second in line to the throne behind his brother Arthur, but when Arthur died shortly after he was married to Katherine of Aragon, the throne passed on to Henry. To say Henry was not prepared for this, nor were his parents, would be the understatement of the year. But he had to carry on in his father’s place when he passed away. The boy who was once a scholar now had to become a king.  It was a tall order to fill and it looked like from the very beginning he was doing a pretty good job.

And then things changed rapidly when his attention moved from his first wife to his second, and so on and so forth. Henry’s major flaws were his wandering eyes and his anger. We think we know everything there is to know about Henry, but do we really? This legendary man seems almost too fanciful to be a real human being. But he was. He was flawed like everyone else. Though he was a king, he was still human.

That is what keeps me fascinated about Henry VIII and his life. How did the king figure compare and contrast to the man who was Henry VIII? Who was Henry VIII really? No matter how much I read about him and his reign, its his human aspects and how he dealt with his wives and children that keep me coming back for more. I believe that there is more to Henry VIII than most people realize.

5.) Robert Dudley

The man who almost married the “Virgin Queen”220px-Robert_Dudley

If you have studied Elizabeth I, you know Robert Dudley. He was the man who stayed by Elizabeth’s side through the good times and the bad, even when he was married not once but twice. His first wife Amy, died when she fell down a flight of stairs, but many believed that Robert had her poisoned so that he could marry the queen. Robert was always close to Elizabeth and some in the court believed that he was too close. But maybe Elizabeth knew this when she suggested that Robert should marry Mary Queen of Scots. This deal, however, fell through when Mary married Lord Darnley.

As Elizabeth grew older, Robert kept trying to propose marriage, but he was become restless. He had affairs with some of Elizabeth’s ladies and would later marry Lettice Knollys, a kinswoman of the Queen. Elizabeth was livid and banished both Robert and Lettice from court. Robert would come back into her good graces; Lettice would not.

Robert loved Elizabeth deeply and many suspect that she loved him back. It is said that after he died, she kept his last letter to her in a chest that she kept close to her. Robert was a man who loved the queen, but he could never have her as his wife.

I have often wondered what Robert felt towards his two wives Amy and Lettice. Did he actually love them or did he use them to get closer to Elizabeth? If he did marry the queen, what would England look like? These are only a few questions that come to my mind when I think of Robert Dudley.

 

These are my top 5 “Tudor” men to study. Who are your top 5?

Book Review: “The Last Knight” by Norman F. Cantor

the-last-knight-9781439137581_lgWhen we think of knights, we often think of shining armor, King Arthur and his fabulous court, fair maidens, and of course chivalry. These are considered to be literary ideals, almost too fantastic to be real. However, knights did live in the Middle Ages into the 14th century where some of the greatest knights lived. One is known as The Black Prince; the other was John of Gaunt. Both were brothers, sons of Edward III, the one who helped launch the Hundred Years’ War with France. The Black Prince might have a pretty cool nickname, but the one who really stole the show was John of Gaunt. The subject of Norman F. Cantor’s book “The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era” is none other than the third son of Edward III, John of Gaunt.

Now I know what you are thinking, why do a book review for about someone who lived in the 1300s when this blog is focused on the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. The answer is simple. It is because John of Gaunt and his children with his third wife and mistress Catherine Swynford would create the Beaufort line, the same family of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, the founder of the Tudor Dynasty. It was also with John’s first wife Blanche of Lancaster, that the line of Lancaster was formed. He may have only been a third son but he became one of the wealthiest men in Europe and his family would shape the future of England forever.

Cantor, in this book, explores the world that John of Gaunt called home. What was it like in not just in England but in all of the medieval world? What about religion and literature? What was life like for women and knights in court? All of these aspects are explored throughout this book as well as elements in John of Gaunt’s life that made him unique, including his wealth and becoming King of Castile after he married his second wife Constance. Through wars and plagues, politics and rebellions, exploration and the beginning of the Renaissance, John of Gaunt navigated through it all.

It sounds like a very complex time, however, Cantor has a way of explaining it all in such a way that is both engaging and educational. Cantor through his writing style makes it easy to understand John of Gaunt’s legacy, not only is his time but how his legacy affected even our time. It was through his patronage that men like Chaucer and John Wyclif were able to complete their best works.

Shakespeare gave John of Gaunt a very patriotic speech, “this sceptre’d isle…This other Eden, demi-paradise”. Shakespeare was speaking as though John of Gaunt was an old man, reminiscing about the good times as the younger generation was taking over like Henry Bolingbroke and Henry the Navigator. Cantor brings to life the legend of John of Gaunt. Towards the end of his book, Cantor nicely sums up John of Gaunt’s life:

Above all, Gaunt’s taste for war, his frenetic energy, and his physical strength, as well as his love of women and his wealth and lifestyle, set the model for European aristocratic behavior, which went unchallenged until the nineteenth century and is still the pattern for all effective and durable social elites. (Cantor, 239).

John of Gaunt was a Renaissance man of his times. He wasn’t just some old man of Shakespearean lore. Cantor makes John of Gaunt and his world of the Middle Ages come alive. If you want to learn more about John of Gaunt, his family, and his world, Norman F. Cantor’s book “The Last Knight” is the book for you.

 

Sources

Cantor, Norman F. The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.

Sir Thomas More and His Controversial History

When we think of Richard III and the Wars of the Roses, most of us will first think of Sir Thomas More and his “The History of King Richard III”. It is probably one of the most controversial sources about the Wars of the Roses out there and yet historians still use it. The question is why is there such an attraction to this book and why did Thomas More write it? It is my hope with this article to shed some light on this book, on More and what his possible intentions were when he wrote this book. I will be breaking this article into two parts; who Sir Thomas More was and what the book says. It is important to understand More’s background if we are to have any hope in understanding “The History of  King Richard III”. I will only be writing about More’s life up until the time he wrote this book because his later life under Henry VIII and his execution really do not explain the purpose of why More wrote this book.

Sir Thomas More: The Man

So who was Sir Thomas More and why should he matter? Robert Whittington in 1520 says:

More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning; I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? As time requireth a man of marvellous mirth and pastimes; and sometimes of  as sad gravity; a man for all season. (Murphy, 1)

Thomas More was born on February 7, 1478 (Ackroyd, 6) to John More and Agnes Graunger. More’s childhood saw the transition from Edward IV as king  to Richard III and finally to Henry VII. He attended school for a while at St. Anthony’s and then went on to become a page for John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, a man that More deeply admired and who would appear in his History as a wise man. ( Ackroyd, 35)

After working for John Morton, More studied for a little bit at Oxford University. It was at Oxford where he was able to engage in humanism which is studying classic literature through the study of  the languages of antiquity and once that was mastered, using rhetoric to debate certain topics. (Johnson, 34-35) Humanism would come to shape the writings of More and his friend Erasmus of Rotterdam, who’s translation of the New Testament would go against the Vulgate, questioning the authority of the papacy, and influence those like Luther, even those Erasmus was a devout Catholic. ( Elton, 113). To put it another way, “Humanists were concerned with integrating, not separating, the human and the Christian.” (Murphy, 7)

More left Oxford without obtaining a degree and went to New Inn and later he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in London in 1496. Inns were not what we considered inns today; they were where men who interested in law went to study. ( Ackroyd, 53). He was sixteen at the time. Peter Ackroyd explains how More was able to balance both his religious studies with his study of law:

Religion and law were not to be considered separately; they implied one another. That is why law was considered to be perfect in itself, undamaged by the bad judgments of individual practitioners; the same argument, on the merits of the Mass as opposed to the virtue of the priest who offered it, was at the heart of Catholic eucharistic belief. That is why the law was also considered to permanent; it was what was known to be true, withstanding change or decay. (Ackroyd, 63).

This must be understood in order to understand More. To him, using religious terms to describe political events was just another part of daily life. Another part of his daily life was his family; in 1505, he married Jane Colt and they had four children: Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecily, and John.(Murphy, vii). Four years later, in 1509, Henry VIII became king of England and in 1510, More was made Under- Sheriff of London and was elected into Parliament. (Murphy, vii). Three years later, More wrote his “The History of King Richard III”, but he never finished it. (More, 3).  

More’s “The History of King Richard III”

Many argue that More wrote his “ The History of King Richard III” for propaganda of the Tudor Dynasty, especially for Henry VII, however Ackroyd points out something very interesting about their relationship:

It has often been suggested that, at a later date, More professed hostility towards the financial exactions which Henry VII tried to levy upon London. There is no evidence of any open dispute but certainly, at the time of the accession of his so, More composed a sharp attack upon the dead king. (Ackroyd, 84)

If this is the case then what was More’s intentions in writing this book? Before we try to  answer that question, we have to explore the text itself.

“The History of King Richard III” by Sir Thomas More is roughly less than a hundred pages in length. Relatively short for such a controversial text. It should be noted that this text is considered a “history” in the loosest possible sense. In fact, More wasn’t using recent histories from his time to formulate his own history, but being the humanist that he was,  he used histories from Sallust and Tacitus as examples. ( Ackroyd, 161). Another difference from a typical history is that More relies on oral sources for his history. ( Ackroyd, 161). Anyone who studies history knows that oral sources are not always the most reliable source because words can be misconstrued.

More doesn’t start his history of Richard III with say his birth; instead he starts his book with the death of Edward IV. He describes Edward as  “a goodly personage, and very princely to be hold: of heart courageous…” (More, 4). More then goes on to describe the protector of Edward’s children, Richard III, obviously starting with his physical appearances first (More, 8) and then describes who he was as:

…Close and secret, a deep dissimuler, lowly of countenance, arrogant of the heart, outwardly coumpinable where he inwardly hated, not letting to kiss whom he thought to kill; dispiteous and cruel, not for evil will alway, but often for ambition…. Friend and foe was ,such what indifferent….(More, 9)

Not the most courteous way to describe the brother of a king who would be a king himself, but as Sylvester notes, it is not because Richard was a Yorkist king but because he was a “dissimulating tyrant”(More, xv). Now Richard was not Edward’s choice as protector, in fact it was the Queen’s brother Sir Anthony Woodville, “a right honorable man, as valiant of hand as politic in counsel”(More, 15). However, Richard did not like this suggestion and so he had Lord Rivers and his men sent to prison and then later beheaded for “treason”. (More, 21).

Of course in Sir Thomas More’s book, there are no dates, which makes it difficult to pinpoint when these events exactly happened or if they happened at all, including the speeches that More included such as those of the Duke of Buckingham who is trying to convince the former Queen Elizabeth Woodville to hand over her other son to Richard.( More, 29-33). Likewise when Elizabeth refuses to give up her son (More, 35-39) and then later when she reluctantly agrees to do so (More, 41-42). These are very iconic speeches in this book that are full of passion and heartbreak.

So why would More included these either factual or fictitious speeches? Peter Ackroyd gives us an interesting insight into that question:

It is significant, too, that the most elaborate passages of More’s narrative are conceived as speeches; the merits of sanctuary for the royal children are the subject of long debate, for example, while the right of Richard to be king is explained in a number of orations. ‘The History of Richard III’ can be understood, then, as a lesson in the arts of disputation and rhetorical debate similar to those in which More engaged as a schoolboy and a scholar….In his grammatical work More was instructing those who might well be chosen to administer the government of the state: grammar was part of rhetoric, and rhetoric was part of public duty. (Ackroyd, 162-163).

This book is not just a “history” but it is also a lesson in rhetoric for those in government. More may have been a fan of reading history, but his true love was humanism and government, in which rhetoric and grammar were immensely important. It is that love of humanism and government that we see throughout the entire book.

More goes on with Richard’s case on why he should be king. After Richard gets rid of his traitorous former friend Lord Hastings (More, 49-54), he moves on to the important part of his argument; that his brother Edward was already married to a Mistress Shore before he married Elizabeth Woodville.(More, 55-58). Since his brother was already married, that meant that any children that he had with Elizabeth Woodville would be considered bastards, including the young king Edward V. This was damning enough but Richard wanted to make sure that it had legal backing he made a document, that declared the children of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville bastards. (More, 60-61). Richard also asks for Dr. Shaa to preach a sermon against Edward’s children with Elizabeth and the Duke of Buckingham giving his speech on how great Richard is (More, 70-76). This leads to the epic conclusion where Richard “reluctantly” takes the throne since he is the obvious choice to take crown since his brother’s heirs were declared bastards. Richard III has become King of England.

But there is one more piece to the puzzle. What happened to the young king and his brother? More leaves us questioning what happened to them because he speaks of rumors of  John Green, Sir Robert Brackenbury, the Constable of the Tower, Sir James Tyrell and John Dighton being ordered by Richard III to kill the brothers.(More, 85-90). One has to wonder if this is a credible theory or just rhetoric since More only heard this theory and the fact that there is no written evidence. More does not go into any more detail about this and “ends” the book with Bishop Morton trying to convince Richard III to lead the country with wisdom. (Ackroyd, 35). This is a very unusual ending for someone who is supposed to be writing the book as propaganda for the Tudor dynasty.

Conclusion

So knowing that More was writing this as more of an exercise on humanism and did not finish this book, how should we approach “The History of King Richard III”? I don’t believe that we should merely toss it out. It was not propaganda for the Tudor dynasty since it was written in 1513, before More’s political career really took off. The speeches can be seen as examples of rhetoric. There are some historical facts like the death of Lord Hastings and Lord Rivers, Elizabeth Woodville handing over her son to Richard, and legal document as well as Dr. Shaa’s sermon. Those match up with other sources. As for Mistress Shore and the murder of the princes of the tower, it’s a bit harder to prove since we do not have actual paper evidence to support either theory.

Overall I think More’s history should be understood as a take on history from a humanistic lens. It’s an important piece to read because some of the facts in this piece are in fact true and it gives us an interesting view into what a Tudor scholar thought about those who came immediately before the Tudors. “The History of King Richard III” by Sir Thomas More is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in the Wars of the Roses, a darker view on Richard III, or on how humanism could be applied in a written sense. I  highly recommend that you read this book.

Want to Learn More about More? (Sources)

Ackroyd, Peter, and Diarmaid MacCulloch. The Life of Thomas More. London: Folio Society, 2017.

Elton, G. R. England Under the Tudors. London: Methuen, 1956.

Johnson, Paul. The Renaissance: A Short History. Bridgewater, NJ: Distributed by Paw Prints/Baker & Taylor, 2008.

More, Thomas. The History of King Richard III. Edited by Richard S. Sylvester. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.

Murphy, Anne. Thomas More. Liguori, MO: Triumph Books, 1997.