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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biography: Jasper Tudor

410px-Arms_of_Jasper_Tudor,_Duke_of_Bedford.svg(Born November 1431- Died December 21, 1495). Son of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. Married to Catherine Woodville. Jasper was really one of the unsung heroes of the Wars of the Roses. He never gave up on fighting for the cause he believed in and he did his best to keep his nephew Henry Tudor safe.

Jasper Tudor was the second son born to Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois born in 1431. He was the brother of Edmund Tudor and half- brother of King Henry VI. After his mother’s death on January 3, 1437, Jasper and Edmund were sent to Barking Abbey where they were raised and educated by Katherine de la Pole from July 1437 until March 1442. Around that time, their half-brother Henry VI allowed for Edmund and Jasper to live at court, where they received the military training that would be essential for their survival later in life. In 1449, Jasper was knighted and in 1452, he was created the earl of Pembroke.

Jasper worked hard to stop the fighting between the Yorks and the Lancasters while he was still living in the courts. Jasper’s brother Edmund took in a young Margaret Beaufort as his ward and he later married her on November 1, 1455. The following year, on November 3, 1456, Edmund died of the plague, leaving his young and pregnant widow in Jasper’s custody. Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond was born on January 28, 1457.  Jasper was also responsible for maintaining the Lancastrian ties in Western Wales between 1456 and 1459. In 1460, Jasper was able to capture the Duke of York’s North Welsh stronghold of Denbigh Castle.

Jasper and his father Owen Tudor raised an army in Wales for Henry VI and met against the Yorkist forces at the battle of  Mortimer’s Cross on February 2, 1461. It was an utter defeat for the Lancastrians. Owen Tudor was taken into custody and executed while Jasper escaped first into Ireland and then into Scotland.  Jasper then went to France where he was welcomed by King Louis XI in 1462. He stayed in France for 6 years, until he returned to Wales in 1468, when he lost his title of earl of Pembroke and Pembroke Castle to William Herbert.

Jasper did regain the earldom of Pembroke when Henry VI was restored to the throne, but in 1471, he fled to the continent yet again once Edward IV was crowned king. Jasper  and Henry tried to gather more support for the Lancastrian cause but they got caught in a bad storm in the English Channel while escaping from Tenby. They landed in Brittany where they sought the protection of Francis II, Duke of Brittany, which he did give to them.The Lancastrians along with Jasper and Henry, were housed at  the Château de Suscinio in Sarzeau. Edward IV tried his best to apprehend Jasper and Henry but he failed to do so.

In October 1483, Jasper and Henry tried to go back to England, but it failed and they were forced to return to Brittany. When the Duke of Brittany got very ill in 1484, his treasurer Pierre Landais made a deal with Richard III to give over Jasper and Henry in exchange for 3,000 English archers to defend a French attack. A bishop in Flanders John Morton heard about the deal and warned Jasper and Henry just before Landais could reach them. Jasper and Henry fled into France where King Charles VIII allowed them to stay until Duke Francis II felt better.

Jasper and Henry made their way back to England in August 1485, where they faced off against Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. Richard III was defeated and Henry became Henry VII. Jasper’s titles and properties were all returned to him and he was made a Knight of the Garter as well as Duke of Bedford. On November 7, 1485, Jasper married Catherine Woodville, the sister of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. They had no children. Jasper would die on December 21, 1495 at Thornbury Castle at the age of 64.

Biography: Owen Tudor

Full name: Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur. (Born around 1400- Died February 2, 1461) Son of Maredudd ap Tudur and Margaret ferch Dafydd. Husband of Catherine of Valois.  Father of 4-6 children, including Edmund and Jasper Tudor.

Owen Tudor was the son of Maredudd ap Tudur and Margaret ferch Dafydd. We do not know much about his early life. Owen’s father and his uncles were involved in the rebellion of Owain Glyn Dwr, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, against the English. This rebellion was suppressed and Welshmen moved into England to find work. In 1421, he found work with Sir Walter Hungerford, the steward of King Henry V. In 1422, King Henry V would die from dysentery, leaving behind his 21 year old wife Catherine of Valois and their baby son, who was now King Henry VI. It was during this time that  it is said that Owen came to work in Catherine’s household.

Parliament passed a bill that stated that the dowager queen could not marry again unless she had the king’s permission. If she did marry without permission, her husband would lose everything, but their children would remain legitimate. It is said that the couple was married between 1428 and 1429. In May 1432, Owen Tudor was given the same rights as an English gentleman. The couple had at least 4 children; Edmund born in 1430, Jasper born in 1431, a son who is rumored to have become a monk, and a daughter who either died young or became a nun.

Catherine would enter Bermondsey Abbey to receive medical attention, where she died on January 3, 1437. Edmund and Jasper were sent to the Abbess of Barking to receive  their education while Owen dealt with the king’s Regency council. Owen was nervous about the council and so he sought sanctuary at Westminster Abbey; when he did arrive at the council, he was cleared of all charges and was allowed to return to Wales. However, he was captured by Lord Beaumont and sent to Newgate Prison.

In 1438, he managed to escape with the help of a priest and a servant; he was recaptured and held at Windsor Castle under the guardianship of Edmund Beaufort. In 1439, King Henry VI pardoned Owen Tudor, restored all of his lands, provided him a position at court, and made the Keeper of the King’s Parks in Denbigh. In 1442, Henry VI welcomed his half- brothers Edmund and Jasper to court with open arms. In November 1452, Edmund became the earl of Richmond and Jasper became the earl of Pembroke. On November 3, 1456, Edmund Tudor died from the plague, leaving his young son and wife in the capable hands of his brother Jasper Tudor.  Owen and Jasper would serve Henry VI by capturing Yorkist supporters for the king and in return gaining their estates, including John, Lord Clinton in 1459; that same year, Owen had a son with an unknown mistress named Sir David Owen, born at Pembroke Castle.

Owen joined his son Jasper’s army to raise an army in Wales in January 1461. On February 2, 1461, their army faced off against the Yorkist army at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross. It was a devastating loss for the Lancasterian cause. Jasper Tudor escaped, but Owen was captured and beheaded under the orders of Edward Earl of March, later Edward IV, at Hereford.

Biography: King Henry IV (aka Henry Bolingbroke)

(Born April 3, 1367- Died March 20, 1413). Son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of mw03072Lancaster. Married to Mary de Bohun and Joan of Navarre. He had 7 children with Mary, including the future Henry V. He was the 1st king from the house of Lancaster.

Henry was the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster and was born at Bolingbroke Castle on April 3, 1367. Early in his life, he became one of the Lords Appellant who were opposed to the rule of Richard II. He stepped down from this role in 1389 and in 1390, went on his first adventure, journeying with the Teutonic Knights to Lithuania. Two years later, he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. During this time, he visited numerous courts in Europe and was held in high regards. He was a handsome young man, but it was early in life where Henry’s ill health that plagued him during his reign started to appear.

Henry was a good person to help the king, however the only one who failed to realize this was Richard II. He banished Henry in 1398 for ten years, but when John of Gaunt died the following year and Henry became the next Duke of Lancaster, Richard II took all of his lands and banished him forever. This was the last straw for Henry. While Richard was occupied with unrest in Ireland, Henry took his chance and invaded England, forcing Richard to abdicate. The next one in line to the throne was Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, but he was only eight years old, so Parliament agreed that Henry would be a better choice to be king. His reign as Henry IV began on September 30, 1399.

However, not everyone was happy with Henry as king. Henry IV’s first rebellion that he had to deal with was by the earls of Kent, Salisbury and Huntingdon, just a month after he became king. Henry took care of this rebellion quickly and violently. It is also believed that this was around the same time that Henry ordered the death of Richard II. A few months after the first rebellion, Henry IV had to deal with a second rebellion in Wales, where Owain Glyn Dwr was declared Prince of Wales in September 1400. This revolt was quickly put down, but Owain evaded capture for several years, leading to guerrilla style warfare.

Owain’s supporters grew not only amongst Welsh barons, but English ones as well, including the Mortimers who were upset that Henry was king and not Edmund, who was Owain’s son in law after he married Owain’s daughter. Another supporter was Henry “Hotspur” Percy, the son of the earl of Northumberland who believed that he did not get the recognition that he deserved after he fought against the Scots. These forces came together and fought against Henry at the battle of Shrewsbury on July 21, 1403, where Henry defeated Hotspur easily and killed him. Henry was not going to let the rebel army get away and by 1408, they were all but eliminated.

Two years before this, in 1406, Henry IV took James I of Scotland hostage and his young heir was sent to France. James was in the English court for 17 years as a hostage and for that time, the relationships between England, Scotland and France were good. Things were looking up for Henry IV, except for his health. Starting in 1406, his health was in decline and there was a serious concern for his life. He tried to govern, but he became more reliant on his Parliament. In 1409, Henry’s son Prince Henry was made chancellor over Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury. Arundel returned in 1411 when Henry and his council were debating if he should step down in favor of Prince Henry, which Henry refused to do. Henry died in 1413 from some sort of wasting disease at the age of 45. His son Prince Henry would succeed him as Henry V.

Book Review: “Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy” by Tony Riches

Medieval knightOwen Tudor, the second husband of Catherine of Valois and the father of Edmund and Jasper Tudor. His affair with Catherine changed English history forever, yet not much is known about his past before he met Catherine. Was he married before  he met Catherine and after she died? What must have been like for him as the Wars of the Roses began to take hold of England and everything he worked hard for began to fade away. The man who started as a Welsh servant turned step- father to King Henry VI and the grandfather of King Henry VII, the patriarch of the Tudor Dynasty, this is the protagonist in Tony Riches’ book, “Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy”.

Tony Riches explains his fascination with Owen Tudor:

I was born near Pembroke Castle and recently visited the small room where the thirteen- year old Margaret Beaufort gave birth to Henry Tudor. I also stood on the pebble beach at Mill Bay near Milford Haven, imagining how Jasper Tudor would have felt as he approached with Henry and his mercenary army to ride to Bosworth- and  change history. These experiences made me wonder about Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who began this fascinating dynasty. I felt a responsibility to research his story in as much detail as possible and try to sort out the myths from the facts. There are huge gaps in the historical records, which only historical fiction can help to fill. As well as there being no surviving record of Owen’s marriage, no  reliable image of him exists….I would like to remember Owen , not as a victim of the Wars of the Roses, but as an adventurer, a risk- taker, a man who lived his life to the full and made his mark on the world through his descendants. (Riches, 168).

Tony Riches starts his book with Owen’s entrance into Catherine of Valois’ household as the Keeper of her Wardrobe after the death of her first husband, Henry V. Owen tries to focus on his job, and not on Catherine, but he cannot help it. He loves Catherine and she loves him. They decide to marry in secret and they have 3 boys; Edmund, Jasper, and a third son who joined the church. The happiness that Catherine and Owen had living in the countryside would not last long. Catherine dies shortly after giving birth to a daughter and their secret relationship is revealed. Owen is thrown in jail while his sons Edmund and Jasper are raised to be the step-brothers of King Henry VI.

Eventually, Owen is released and is allowed to live a good life as a commander in France while his sons are given titles and land. Owen helps escort Margaret of Anjou to England to marry Henry VI and he helps walk his daughter in law Margaret Beaufort down the aisle. Unfortunately, the wheel of fortune is always turning and the happiness is soon replaced with tragedy yet again. Edmund Tudor dies shortly before the birth of his son Henry Tudor and the Wars of the Roses tears the country apart. Owen is killed before he could see his family triumph as the new dynasty in England.

This is the story of Owen Tudor. I found Tony Riches’ book “Owen” a thrilling read. I have always been fascinated by the life of Owen Tudor and his sons and Tony Riches was able to write a story that made me want to study more about Owen Tudor and his life. Riches was able to combine the historical facts that we know about Owen with fictitious elements, including two other women that Owen fell in love with and a friend named Nathaniel, into a cohesive and engaging book. I did not want to stop reading this book. This was my first time reading a book by Tony Riches and I loved it. His writing style is engaging and very easy to read. I look forward to reading more books by him in the future.  I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Owen Tudor and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.