Book Review: “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I” by Erin Lawless

38507412._SY475_In English history, the story of the royal families tends to capture the imagination of those who study it. Full of dynamic tales of kings and queens, and numerous nobles, these are tales that make it into history books and history classes. We tend to focus on the same kings and queens, who have become the popular royals. But what about those who are left in the dust of those popular royals? Who were the royal women who lived in the shadow of the throne that time has forgotten? What were the lives of these women like? It is these women who are the focus of Erin Lawless’s latest book, “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The title of this book initially caught my eye and I really wanted to see what royal women Erin Lawless would be discussing in this particular book.

Lawless has decided to write about thirty different royal women, from Scota to Princess Charlotte, covering several centuries of vivacious women. Some of these women I have encountered in my own studies, like Margaret Pole, Margaret Tudor, Eleanor Cobham, and Mary Grey( who are obviously women from the Tudor dynasty). Others were women that I have never heard of, like Gwellian ferch Gryffydd and Isabella MacDuff, who lead armies for their respective countries, Wales and Scotland respectfully, to fight against the English. Grace O’Malley, also known as Granuaile, who was Queen of Umaill, chieftain of the O Maille clan, and a pirate from Tudor Ireland. And of course, plenty of royal women who married for love and suffered the consequences.

These tales are truly tantalizing, yet they are tragically too short as Lawless only spends a few pages on each woman. Just as you are starting to really get into the story, you move onto another lady and her history. It may seem a little bit unfair, but I think it should be noted that Lawless did this with a rather important purpose behind it. Lawless wanted to give an introduction to the lives of these women, both the fictional tales and the facts so that readers would be intrigued and decide to study more about them. It’s a great strategy to get more people interested in studying the obscure and forgotten royal women in history. Of course, I wanted more details, but that is because I love having a plethora of information about a subject in books that I read, yet in this case, I think the amount of details works in Lawless’s favor.

The one thing that I really wish Lawless did include was a bibliography or a list of books that helped her with her own research when it came to this book. I really like seeing an author’s research in the back of biographies or history books, especially for a book that covers different topics, so that I can have a starting point for my own personal research.

Overall, I found this book incredibly enjoyable. It is certainly a conversation starter for those who discuss the English monarchy. Lawless has a delightful writing style that feels like you are having a casual history conversation with her. This book is small in size, but it could be the stepping stone for new research for those novice historians who want to write about someone who has been stuck in the shadow for centuries. If you would like to read short stories about royal women who have stayed in the background for a long time, I highly recommend you read “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I” by Erin Lawless.

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”.

Book Review: “1545: Who Sank The Mary Rose?” by Peter Marsden

44059242On a calm summer day in July of 1545, a battle was being fought in Solent between the Tudor navy and the French navy. Tragedy struck when the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship,  suddenly sank beneath the waves, sending hundreds of men that called the ship home to a watery grave. Many theories on why this particular ship sank have been discussed for centuries, but it was not until the Mary Rose was raised to the surface in 1982 that we start to understand what really happened. Peter Marsden, an expert on the Mary Rose decided that it was finally time to explore the ship thoroughly to explain what or who sank this magnificent ship. All of Marsden’s research is on full display in his remarkable book, “1545: Who Sank The Mary Rose?”

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. Before this book, I knew a little bit about this ship and that it did sink, but I wanted to learn more. This book was jammed packed with incredible details and gave the Mary Rose a new life.

 For those who are not familiar with Peter Marsden, he is a professional archeologist and is a founder of the Council for Nautical Archeology as well as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities. Marsden knew some of the key members of The Mary Rose Trust, whose goal was to bring the Mary Rose to the surface and to tell its story. It is his expertise in nautical archeology that makes Marsden the perfect person to tell the story of this remarkable warship.

 In order to understand how significant the sinking of the Mary Rose was at the time, Marsden begins by telling the story of how the French and English navies met at Solent in July 1545, giving a full account of the battle according to the historical records, both on the English and French sides. Marsden follows the admirals, Claud d’ Annebault for France and Sir George Carew for England, to understand why they made the decisions that they did before, during, and after the battle. 

The bulk of Marsden’s book is going into meticulous details about the Mary Rose itself. This was absolutely fascinating to read since it gives readers a better understanding of what the ship might have looked like in its heyday. The descriptions are paired beautifully well with detailed diagrams and illustrations so that even novices to Tudor shipbuilding, like myself, can get a picture of what the Tudor navy might have looked like. 

Marsden then explores the history of the salvaging of the Mary Rose and how it was not until the 1970s and 1980s when the modern world was able to see the ruins of this once magnificent ship. The modern effort to save and preserve this ship for historical purposes was truly a labor of love for all of those involved. They really took the time and effort that was necessary to protect the ruins of this ship and the remains of those who died tragically when this ship sank centuries ago. As Marsden explains, it is the artifacts and the remains of the men that give hints as to who sank the Mary Rose.

Marsden has written a masterpiece that explores this remarkable vessel. He is scrupulous in the details that will delight experts and novices of nautical archeology alike, yet his writing style makes you feel like you are watching a movie. This book is an absolute triumph and it brings a fresh perspective into the sinking of Henry VIII’s flagship. If you are interested in learning more about the story of this remarkable ship and the Tudor navy, I highly recommend you read Peter Marsden’s book, “1545: Who Sank The Mary Rose?”

 

Book Review: “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage

34411961The 16th century was filled with extremely strong women who went on to shape European and world history forever. This was true for England and Scotland, two countries whose stories were intertwined by powerful women. The women who ruled these two countries during this time were women that those who study this time period know about; Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. There was one woman who knew all four of these women and lived for over 80 years: Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury. The story of these five women is told in Jill Armitage’s book, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I am always interested in learning how different people in the 16th century interacted with one another, plus I didn’t know a whole lot about Bess of Hardwick and I wanted to learn more about her.

Armitage begins her book by exploring Bess of Hardwick’s family and how they rose in power so that Bess could serve royalty. It was interesting to learn about her family and the four husbands that Bess married throughout her life: Robert Barlow, Sir William Cavendish, Sir William St. Loe, and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. Bess also had numerous children and grandchildren who would go to be influential in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. I really wish Armitage had included family trees of the different families that were involved in her book to make it easier for the readers to understand the connections, which are vital for the stories mentioned in this particular book.

The story of Bess of Hardwick’s life begins at the height of the reign of the Tudor when Henry VIII is on the throne and ends with the beginning of the Stuarts Dynasty so Armitage does include the lives of the women who shaped these times. Armitage begins with how Henry VII and Henry VIII came to the throne, marching swiftly through the six wives of Henry VIII until reaching the reign of Henry VIII’s son King Edward VI. It is here where the pace of the book slows down a bit and we dive into the lives of the Grey family and how Bess of Hardwick knew them and how the family’s legacy came to an abrupt end with the execution of Lady Jane Grey. Armitage then explores the reigns of Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots and how Bess of Hardwick connects all three vivacious women.

Here is where I have another problem with this particular book; it is too short (less than 300 pages) when discussing all the history that Armitage has in it. Some parts felt like a review and other parts felt like facts were flying and she didn’t go into enough detail to explain it all. I feel like Armitage was a bit ambitious for the idea of this book and that if she wrote a bit more, the book would have flowed a lot better than it did.

Overall, I found this book rather interesting and relatively easy to understand. Armitage has a writing style that is readable. This is a great book for those who are being introduced to the Tudor dynasty, but for those who know about this time period, it feels like a review. If you are interested in learning about the connection between these five women, I recommend you read, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage.

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.