Book Review: “The Anne Boleyn Collection III” by Claire Ridgway

49466496._SY475_The story and myths of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, have been debated and dissected for centuries. Was she a cruel and calculating figure who got what she deserved or was she an innocent victim of an evil tyrant of a husband? The funny thing about history is that the truth is never clear cut. Historical figures are human beings, no matter how many centuries separate their lives from our own. They were not all good or all bad, which is the perspective that Claire Ridgway tries to show when she is writing about her favorite figure, Anne Boleyn, either in her books or on her blog, The Anne Boleyn Files. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Anne Boleyn Files, Claire Ridgway returns with the latest collection of articles, “The Anne Boleyn Collection III”.

Like the other two volumes of this series, Ridgway has taken some of the most popular articles from her blog, the Anne Boleyn Files. There are some recurring themes that Ridgway has highlighted in her previous two books, but there are some news topics that she discusses in length. Was Mary I or Lady Jane Grey the usurper? Did Anne Boleyn love Henry Norris? How did Henry VIII go from a Renaissance prince to an infamous tyrant? Who were the men who died with Anne Boleyn?

Ridgway’s passion for the Tudors, especially when it comes to Anne Boleyn, is extremely apparent when reading her books. That does not change at all in this book. Her writing style remains the same as in her previous books. It is like having a conversation with a friend about Tudor hot topics. What Ridgway added to this book was the use of poetry written about the historical figures that she discusses at length. I found the poetry refreshing and intriguing to delve deep into the meaning of the poet’s words.

I think this book is okay, but I did have a few problems when I was reading it. I did feel like this book was slightly redundant as it repeats some of the same points that she made in previous books. Now, this might be because they are articles from her blog and she wanted to focus heavily on certain topics, but I felt like there were other topics that she might have focused on. I wanted to learn new information about Anne Boleyn and her times.

Another issue that I had with this particular book was with the sources. Ridgway tends to favor certain authors and historians when it comes to her research, which is fine. However, I think there have been new biographies that were written before the publication of this book that would have helped Ridgway make her points even stronger. As a blogger, there are sources that we enjoy using, but one should be aware that there are other historians who are doing great research out there and they should be at least acknowledged. We should be open to new ideas, new sources, and new theories about historical figures, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them. It is how we grow as history lovers and how we can better understand the past.

Overall, I think this was a good book, but I was expecting a tad more, especially after how much I enjoyed book two of the collection. Ridgway’s feelings and passion for her subject were ever-present in this volume, but I think that she could have expanded her research a tad to include more recent biographies and books to get her point across to a new batch of readers. I think if you enjoyed her two previous books in this series, I would recommend you read Claire Ridgway’s latest book, “The Anne Boleyn Collection III”.

Book Review: “The Anne Boleyn Collection” by Claire Ridgway

13488604Have you ever watched a historical drama/ movie or read a historical fiction novel and started to wonder if the “facts” they a portraying are true? You start researching the history of these people and the times that they lived in and it soon becomes a passion. You have your favorite figures to study and you want to defend them when those online decide to criticize them in discussion boards. For some of us, that is as far as it goes, but some choose to make blogs to explore these topics even further. This scenario is similar to what happened with Claire Ridgway, the creator of the popular blog The Anne Boleyn Files; however, her inspiration came from a dream. To share her passion for all things Anne Boleyn, Ridgway has decided to compile some of the most popular articles from her blog into her debut book, “The Anne Boleyn Collection”.

As a fellow history blogger, I share Ridgway’s passion for finding the truth about the past through personal research and to share that information with other Tudor fans through articles. I admire her for finding a subject that she is so passionate about that she decided to write enough articles to create an entire book about Anne Boleyn and the topics around her. There were several articles in this book that I found fascinating; like the missing Boleyn children, the men and women of Anne’s household, the discussion of the Boleyns in popular historical dramas, and the discovery of Anne’s remains, which I think shows Ridgway’s desire to show a different side to the Boleyn story to those who study the Tudors.

Ridgway’s book is a series of articles that were well received on her blog. They are not in chronological order, but there are some mini-series of articles that discuss certain topics at length. Some of the articles do discuss Anne Boleyn and how she is portrayed in The Tudors and The Other Boleyn Girl, which are popular but they tend to show Anne and her family in a rather negative light. Ridgway has very strong views on these programs and makes them very apparent.

The one major issue that I had with this book was the fact that she reused articles that were on her blog and just put them in an order that made sense. To me, there is a difference in style between writing a blog article and writing a book. You can still have the casual writing style that makes you feel like you are having a conversation with the reader, but expand your thoughts that you had in your articles while using more reliable sources. Since these articles are the same ones that were on the Anne Boleyn Files blog, it feels a bit redundant to have them in this book and on the blog.

Overall, I think that this was a decent debut book for Claire Ridgway. I thought she made some good points in her articles and her passion is evident in her writing. It does feel like having a conversation with Ridgway herself, which makes it easy for Tudor novices to understand. I did wish she expanded on some points and used more credible sources, but I thought it was a good book. If you are a fan of the Anne Boleyn Files and discussing hot topics about Anne Boleyn, I would recommend you check out, “The Anne Boleyn Collection” by Claire Ridgway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: “The 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: “The Peasants’ Revolting…Crimes” by Terry Deary

47135242In history, we tend to look at people based on their class. There are the upper class (royalty and nobility), the middle class, and the underclasses (peasants). Most of the focus tends to be on the deeds of the upper and middle classes, yet the underclasses had there own struggles, some of which resulted in them committing crimes. What was life like for the criminals of the underclasses? What type of crimes did they commit and what sort of punishments did they suffer once they were caught? Terry Deary decided to explore the crimes of the British peasants throughout history, in his own humorous way, in his latest book, “The Peasants’ Revolting….Crimes”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The description sounded really intriguing and I had never read a book by Terry Deary, so I decided to give it a try.

For those who are not familiar with Terry Deary, he is the author of a popular UK book series for kids about history called, “Horrible Histories”, a funny look at the past to get kids interested in historical figures. I will admit that I had heard people mention “Horrible Histories” and the video series, but I was not sure what to expect when it came to Deary’s writing style. I don’t normally read humourous history books because I love diving large biographies that contain minute details of the lives of historical figures, but I found myself enjoying this entertaining, yet rather unusual, history book.

This book was a delight to dive into. Deary breaks down his book by exploring the underclasses, from the nefarious Normans and the terrible Tudors to the vivacious Victorians and everyone in between. He included tales of arsonists, murderers, pirates, hooligans, beggars, rioters, and more to give readers a full view of crimes committed by those who were part of the underclasses. The topics that Deary discusses in this book can be rather dark and macabre, but it doesn’t have a dark tone to it. Instead, Deary infuses his own sense of humor that makes reading about these horrific crimes enjoyable. There were points while I was reading that I actually laughed out loud, but other points the humor did fall flat for me because it dealt with elements of living in the UK that I didn’t understand.

Deary does jump around a lot when it comes to the chronological order of this book, which did bother me a tad bit because I do prefer reading a historical book in chronological order. Yet Deary does get away with this since it is a book that acts like a comedy sketch instead of a serious study in the crimes of the underclasses. What I did wish Deary would have included in his book is a list of resources on the crimes that he mentioned so that those who were curious could look into the trials themselves, to help promote independent historical studies of the subjects.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Deary combined the study of history with humor to create a light-hearted and fun experience for anyone interested in history. Every once in awhile, it is good to take a break from serious historical studies and read something for fun. If you want a nice, casual read that explores the lives and crimes of peasants, I highly recommend you read, “The Peasants’ Revolting…Crimes” by Terry Deary.

Book Review: “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise” by Melanie Clegg

61QD1AenNQL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_The study of the Tudors tends to focus on England as a country of focus, however the Tudors did affect other countries like Spain, France, and Scotland. Many know the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her relationship with Elizabeth I, but many do not know the tale of her mother, Marie de Guise. Her tale is one of love for her family and her adoptive country of Scotland. It is of loyalty and strength to do what she believed was right. She was a sister, a daughter, a mother, a queen, and a regent of Scotland. Marie’s story tends to be overshadowed by her daughter’s tragic tale, until now.  Her story is the main focus of Melanie Clegg’s latest biography, “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this pleasant biography. I knew quite a bit about her daughter, but Marie de Guise is just as remarkable and deserves to be told. 

Clegg begins her biography in the most unusual way, but starting with the death of King James V, Marie de Guise’s second husband. This event, as Clegg will show, radically alters the path that Marie will take. Of course, Marie’s life took many turns, even from her early years. Marie de Guise was the eldest daughter of Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Guise and Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchesse de Guise. Her family, the Lorraines, were extremely close and very loyal to King Francois I of France, especially her father Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Guise. Clegg  explores Marie’s formative years, both with her paternal grandmother Philippa de Geulders, Dowager Duchesse de Lorraine, and inside the glamorous court of Francois I, and how both experiences shaped Marie into the remarkable woman she would become. 

It was truly a twist of fate that Marie de Guise would marry King James V of Scotland, who was her second husband. Marie was first married to Louis d’Orleans, Duc de Longueville and King James V was married to Princess Madeleine. However, both Louis and Madeleine died rather young, so Marie and James V both had to look for new spouses. James V wanted a French marriage, but he was not the only monarch who was looking for a bride. His uncle King Henry VIII just lost his third wife to illness and was trying to woo Marie. To say things did not go Henry’s way would be an understatement as Marie became Queen of Scotland. 

It was in Scotland where we see Marie’s true colors come out in full force. Clegg shows that although Marie loved James, things were not smooth sailing as they would have hoped. Marie’s daughter Mary Stewart, later Mary Queen of Scots, was born only a few days before her father’s untimely death shortly after the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. Such a triumph turned tragedy would have been agonizing for anyone to deal with, but Marie de Guise knew that she had to stay strong for her daughter. As Regent of Scotland, until Mary came of age, Marie did battle, both physical and spiritual, with every Tudor monarch, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. 

This book was a joy to read. Melanie Clegg was able to make a biography read like a novel, yet stay informative and academic. I did not know what to expect, since this was the first book by Melanie Clegg that I have ever read, but from page one I was hooked. This was the first biography about Marie de Guise that I have ever read and now I want to read more about her. If you would like to read an engaging biography about Mary, Queen of Scots vivacious mother Marie de Guise, I highly recommend you read, “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise” by Melanie Clegg.

Book Review: “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley

51+Uk6sMNqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)In history, many people tend to focus on the big names. The kings and queens, the rebels, and those who really made an impact. The political advisors and men of the church tend to get left behind in the dust since they are not seen as “important”. However, it is these men who were the backbone of the monarchy, who helped make the king’s vision come to fruition. They tend to come and go, so that is why John Morton’s story is so extraordinary. John Morton helped three separate kings of England, was the enemy to a fourth king, tried to reform the church, and had numerous building projects. His life tends to be overshadowed by the kings that he served, but his life is brought into the light in this biography by Stuart Bradley, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Morton’s life and his service to the kings he served was rather fascinating to read about and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Like any good biography, Bradley begins by exploring John Morton’s life before he moved up the ranks to work with kings through his collegiate career, which was rather impressive. It is imperative to understand Morton’s education and background to show what type of skills he brought to the political and ecclesiastical positions that he would have later on in his life. Morton caught the eye of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourgchier, who helped Morton get into his position as Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall, which put him in direct contact with Prince Edward of Westminster, Queen Margaret of Anjou, and King Henry VI. He served King Henry VI until his death in 1471. 

Morton could have decided to live as an exile during the reign of Edward IV, but instead, he accepted a royal pardon and decided to work with the Yorkist king. This may seem like an unusual step for a man who was once loyal to the Lancasterian cause, but Morton was loyal to his country first and foremost. During this time, he helped establish peace with France and became the Bishop of Ely. When Edward IV died and his sons disappeared from records, Morton could have retired, since he was in his mid-sixties at this point, but instead, he leads a rebellion against King Richard III, with young Henry Tudor as his choice for the next king. Morton helped arrange for Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York to be married, as well as help Henry VII stop the pretenders from taking the English throne. Under King Henry VII, Morton worked non-stop as both Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, to guide the king and to ensure the survival of the dynasty, until his death in 1500.

It is remarkable to see how much Morton did during his lifetime in politics, for the church, and the building projects. Morton was one of those figures that I honestly did not know a lot about before I read this book, but now I want to know more about him. Bradley obviously thoroughly researched Morton’s life and times and is able to articulate this research in this engaging biography. If you want a fantastic biography about a rather remarkable man who helped England navigate through the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, I highly recommend you read, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley.

Book Review: “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence

61lJBy4FGrL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I, is one of the unique characters of the Tudor era. She was the sister of one of the king’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn, which she could have been, but Henry wanted Anne as his queen. Unfortunately, he was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. It is Henry’s divorce to Catherine and his relationship with Anne, the rise and fall, is what many people look at, but there is more to Anne’s story than just her life with Henry. What was Anne’s life really like and what really caused her fall? These are just a few questions that Amy Licence tackles in her latest biography, “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire.”

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review. I haven’t read many biographies about Anne Boleyn so this was a unique experience.

In her introduction, Amy Licence explains her approach to Anne’s life and why she is such an interesting figure to study:

Anne’s is very much a Tudor story, a narrative that balances on the cusp of old and new, equally informed by both. It has been told many times before, but what this version aims to offer afresh is a sense of continuity with earlier Boleyn generations. She was born into an ambitious dynasty, with each generation taking a step forward in terms of career and martial advancements…. That she was the most successful Boleyn cannot be disentangled from her gender and class. By the definitions of her time, Anne was an overreacher in more than one sense. She was a woman, born to be a wife, but not that of the king. She was an aristocrat, descended from the influential Howards, observing but not trained in the demands of queenship. She transcended boundaries of expected behaviour on both counts, which was both her most remarkable achievement and created her two areas of greatest vulnerability. This account of Anne’s life prioritises her relationship with the defining issues of gender and class, tracing their role in her rise and fall. (Licence, 8).

Licence begins her biography by going back to the origins of the Boleyn family, with Anne’s ancestor, Geoffrey Boleyn. Geoffrey came from very humble beginnings, but he worked hard and rose to become the Lord Mayor of London, as well as a knight. His descendants continued this tradition of working hard, which Licence takes the time to explain thoroughly so that the reader can understand that they were not necessarily overreachers; they were hard workers. This background information is extremely helpful to understand the Boleyn family as a whole.

The main focus of Licence’s book is  Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII, her husband. By including the letters between Anne and Henry, the reader can see how the relationship started and how their relationship ended in a dramatic fashion. Henry was the one who really took control of the relationship.  Anne may have learned how to be a strong woman from working in the French court, but she was no match for Henry VIII.

Although there have been many biographies about Anne Boleyn, this one stands out because Anne is seen in more of a sympathetic light. Licence combines a plethora of details with a writing style that is easy to understand to bring Anne out of the dark side of history. I learned so much about a queen I thought I knew.“Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence was an absolute delight to read. It is a real page-turner and is a must for anyone who loves to read about the Tudors, the wives of Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn.

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”.