Book Review: Edward III by W.M. Ormrod

Edward III ormond

An excellent biography on one of the middle ages greatest kings, Edward III of England. What makes this biography different from others is that it offers a new perspective on Edward without the need of being condescending to other historians and biographers.

Ormrod acknowledges that many of Edward’s policies were innovative, and praises his maverick nature but he points out that much of the former were nothing new. He simply built on what his predecessors had done, altering some of their statues and regulations to ensure a more stable government.

The Edward that emerges from Ormrod’s biography is ambitious, scheming (plotting with the pope and other councilors to get rid of Mortimer) but also pragmatic and a great military commander who had a great team of administrators and above all, a man not afraid to compromise when the occasion called for it. Ormrod also puts his flaws, while a careful administrator and able leader, his taxation crippled many and there were times when he was forced to submit to Parliament’s rule and the commons’ representatives. This is not a sign of weakness, as Edward was a great negotiator and nothing he did came without a price.

The last years of his reign however after his wife and eldest son died, became decadent and this is seen through the demands of the Good Parliament that Ormrod goes over in various sections. I like the narrative, and that he went step by step explaining how each group was relevant in medieval society and how much it influenced or was affected by Edward’s policies. I only wish it had more details, it seemed as if each part was a short summary and he kept repeating himself at times. Nonetheless, it was still a good book.

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Book Review: Los Grandes – Maria Tudor

Maria tudor los grandes

El libro es mas que otra biografia sobre “Maria la Sanguinaria” como es mejor recordada. Esta biografia es acerca de la Maria historica. Una mujer que nacio en el Palacio de Greenwich en 1516, fue la unica hija que les sobrevivio a sus padres, Enrique VIII y su primera esposa, la Infanta Española Catalina de Aragon. Maria crecio mimada y con un futuro resplandeciente. Su madre era la hija de los Reyes Catolicos y por lo tanto esperaba que su hija heredara el trono de su padre. Sin embargo, la dinastia Tudor era bastante nueva e Inglaterra no tenia bien visto la idea de una Reina gobernante. Maria recibio una educacion de lujo pero esta fue suspendida una vez que Enrique se caso con Ana Bolena, declaro su matrimonio con Catalina nulo, y su hija una bastard.
El libro no excusa las acciones de Maria, pero tampoco da excusas para los otras personas que la rodearon. El siglo XVI era una epoca violenta, mas por los guerras religiosas entre varios grupos Protestantes y Catolicos, y tambien entre el Cristianismo y el Islam. Los autores no buscan dar una nueva interpretacion de Maria, si no reportar los hechos tal y como sucedieron, y presentar su mundo tal y como era. Y a Maria como una mujer que sufrio varias decepciones, las cuales influyeron en su decision de quemar varios Protestantes una vez que ella se volvio Reina. Aunque esto no fue de inmediato, no fue tan popular como se pensaba que iba a ser. Inglaterra estaba cambiando, y su decision de casarse con un hombre once años mas joven que ella, que no fue aceptado por el simple hecho de ser un extranjero, le trajeron muchos problemas. Felipe II, una vez que su padre abdico en su favor en 1556, tuvo menos interes en responder las cartas de su esposa o visitarla.
El libro termina con unas notas tristes, pero duras en cuanta a la vida de esta monarca. Claramente, ponerla como una incompredida heroina y angelita no le hace ningunos favores, pero exagerar su imagen y creer en todo lo negativo (mucho de lo cual era eso: exageracion) tampoco es bueno.

Los Grandes sigue siendo de las mejores ediciones de biografias historicas. No esperaba que me iba a gustar, pero me gusto porque a pesar de estar corta, el libro da a conocer todas los detalles importantes acerca de esta monarca. Tiene una buena documentacion y a la vez entretiene.

Book Review: Katherine the Queen by Linda Porter

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This is an exceptional biography that does justice to the sixth and last consort of Henry VIII. For centuries, Katherine Parr was seen in an auxiliary role. The nurse, the one that survived because she was tactful where two of her predecessors were not, and finally, the surrogate mother.
Out of these three, there is truth to the last two.
The real  Katherine Parr was a reformer. She had an active role in the English Reformation. While Anne Boleyn is credited with being the first royal consort to embrace Protestantism -and she certainly does deserve some of that credit- the truth is that it was Katherine Parr who was England’s first full fledged Protestant queen.
Where Anne believed that religious reformers should thread carefully and still embraced some of her forefathers’ traditions, Katherine Parr wanted to do away with almost every aspect of the old world.
In her view, women were the Protestant Reformation greatest asset. Women were supposed to be -according to the bible- virtuous. For this very same reason, Katherine encouraged her young charges to live up to the highest standard. Among her charges were the ill-fated Jane Grey and the future Gloriana, Elizabeth Tudor.
Linda Porter understands the period and her audience, including those who are new to this era. For this reason, she decides to cut straight to the chase and exclude details that might make newcomers lose interest.In spite of this, she weaves every thread to form a rich tapestry that presents us with a remarkable woman. Out of all of the Tudor consorts, she and Henry VIII’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon whom her mother -lady Maud Parr- served and whom she was named after) were the only queens to be appointed regents in their husband’s absence. Henry VIII saw in Katherine a nobility of spirit and intellect. When he left the country to seek glory in France, he entrusted the well-being of his nation and offspring into her hands. Though he had also left competent men who’d guide her through her new duties, the sole weight of England rested on her shoulders.
Katherine proved to be more than capable.
After having a brief brush with death, she spent her last years building a friendship with many members at court.
Porter is also quick to point out that while she did not want to take any credit for the English reformation, she was one of the de-facto leaders of this religious movement. Her last book, published months one year after Henry VIII died, helped shape Anglican thought.
Aside of her strict moral code, this biography also sheds light on her social life. Katherine fulfilled the other important functions of a consort by being an exceptional hostess. She loved to dance, hear her husband’s minstrels, and dress in rich gowns that would reflect well on the crown.
Porter is not afraid to touch on the controversy surrounding her youngest royal stepdaughter and ward, lady Elizabeth Tudor and her fourth and last husband, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley.
Since most of our knowledge of that incident comes from sources that were written much later; she tries to be as factual as possible, delivering the most likely scenarios and the reason behind Katherine Parr reacting the way she did.

Lastly, this is one of the few books that paints a more complete picture of her noble ancestry. Out of all the four non-royals that Henry VIII married, her lineage was the most distinguished.
As previous stated, Linda Porter is not afraid of including the darker aspects of her life. In a perfect world, in a perfect time, she would have had it all. A learned and courteous woman, who was recognized for her intellect and her active role in the religious reformation, living happily ever after with a husband who loved and appreciated her with a child that will take after her mother.
 Nevertheless Katherine’s legacy lives through her writings and what she taught through her actions and her self to Elizabeth.

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

Anne Boleyn by Amy Licence

To understand Anne Boleyn, we have to know about her world first. Her roots, going back to the very beginning, tracing her family story, her role in the shifting religious climate of the Tudor era and finally, the differing views on women. When it comes to giving these women’s a voice, nobody is more suited for this task than renowned women’s historian, Amy Licence. The past comes alive in her new biography on Henry VIII’s second consort, and the mother to one of the world’s greatest female leaders who ruled England the longest out of all her dynasty, Elizabeth I.

Anne Boleyn lived during a time when many changes were going on. Nobody could have predicted her fall, or how far Henry VIII would have gone to have her. Nevertheless, looking back further, some things about her character start to make more sense.

Like her previous biography on Catherine of Aragon, this is a very detailed book. Highlighting the difference in status and the ever-changing cultural norms regarding gender, religion, and ceremony, she pulls the reader in to the 15th and 16th century eras. Another thing that I enjoyed from this book is that she did not shy away from the brutality and prejudices that characterized these time periods.

We often forget that these were people, subject to the same emotional and physical pain, although the later was augmented two-fold given the time and place they lived in, and the large gamble many of the up-and-coming families like the Boleyns took; nevertheless, something set them apart. They viewed the world through dark-colored lens.

The courts where Anne Boleyn served women like the archduchess Margaret of Austria and Queens Mary (her future husband’s youngest sister when she married Louis XII) and Claude of France, and later Henry’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon, valued order above all else. Decorum and class were everything for these people. Everything had to be structured, otherwise, society would come crumbling down and with it, chaos would reign.

Anne Boleyn was aware of this so she chose to follow the rules unlike her spirited sister Mary. But Anne was spirited in her own way. Instead of giving herself freely to men, be it through pressure or for passion, she preferred to shine by showing off her intellectual attributes. Her etiquette, her subtle playful and comely behavior, her occasional defiance, her passion for the new learning and indulging others, including Henry Percy and later the king, in harmless games of courtly love is what made her into one of the most alluring and interesting women at the Tudor court.

But, and this is something that historians still ask (and will likely continue to ask in the many years to come), is this what she intended? Was Anne Boleyn responsible for her fall? Was she a victim, pawn, or villain, homewrecker, or all of these things neatly wrapped together? Amy Licence doesn’t pretend to know the answer and as the book progresses, she is not about to give a definite answer but merely what she believed happened given what we know so far, and leave the rest for the reader to decide.

This is what a good historian. He or she gives the reader as much information as it is available, separates fact from fiction, primary from secondary sources and explaining the why, what, where, and when of the latter- letting the reader come to his own conclusion.

Anne Boleyn was a woman of many faces. She was a woman who might not have started out as the ambitious and unique ‘it’ girl from fiction, but as things got out of hand, she saw no other way but to play the waiting game and indulge the King. Having a strong moral compass -and another one of self-preservation- she did not let him take her virtue just like that. If the two of them were going to be together, he had to propose something grander. And ultimately that was marriage.

The road to the marriage bed was paved with obstacles, and it didn’t become any easier after she was crowned Queen of England. Anne was the first and only consort ever to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward the confessor -meant only for kings and queen regnants. Henry’s choice for this was not merely because of his passion and adoration for her, it was to symbolize something greater. He was not going to let anybody question their unborn child’s legitimacy, hence, his wife was going to have a coronation unlike something that hadn’t been seen before.
This is what the monarchy meant. Displays of force and splendor -and if there was something that Henry loved most of all, was wasting no expense on the latter.

But things turned sour and the rest as they say is history. Anne Boleyn’s story plays out like a Greek tragedy. A woman who chose to take the reins of her own destiny like her ancestors before her and navigate dangerous waters. Her gamble paid off (in the beginning). But she ended up losing everything. Yet, something of her remained, something which has catapulted her to fame. Her daughter. Elizabeth I is remembered as one of England’s greatest rulers. “Good Queen Bess”, “Virgin Queen” “Glorianna”, there is no shortage of titles that history has bestowed on her. But when it comes to Anne, people are still divided.

How do we view her? How do we judge a woman whose moral ambiguity still troubles many? The answer is simple and sometimes the simplest answer is the best: We view her as a woman of her times, a woman of her status, who rose too high and who was brought down by various factors. Some of them her doing, many of them not. Once we do this, a new picture of Anne starts to emerge -the same one which Amy Licence brings back to life in this stunning biography of one of England’s infamous femme-fatale.

Those of you interested in learning more about women’s lives, the struggles they faced, and how they used their different strengths to survive and fight against the rising tide, will devour this book.

Few historians choose to focus on women’s lives, and on the harsh realities that others had to face. And even fewer historians choose not to shy away from the less than flamboyant details that these people had to face, and this includes women’s hygiene, their ordeals during pregnancy, widowhood, and general views regarding these by the old and new church.
Ultimately, this biography is a great addition to our Tudor history bookshelves and more importantly to women’s history as it reminds us why Anne Boleyn is still relevant, and how easy it is for her story to be misappropriated or distorted. It is a product of the ever changing times just as she was a product of hers.

Book Review: Martin Luther, The Man who Rediscovered God & Changed the World by Eric Metaxas

Martin Luther bio by Metaxas

Martin Luther has become a firebrand icon but like so many firebrands, a lot of his story is steeped in myth. It has become another case of fiction replacing history, with novelists and (some) historians choosing that over reality. Eric Metaxas does a good job by deconstructing Luther and presenting us with the real man behind the leader of the Protestant reformation.

Novelists do not have an obligation to their readers, unless they feel they do. Some include author’s note explaining where they drew the line between fact and fiction, where they erred on the side of caution and where they took liberties for the sake of making their story more interesting. Historians on the other hand, do have a responsibility to their readers. Their jobs is to educate, but like Luther, they are trapped by their own biases. And we shouldn’t fault them for that, but we should hold them accountable when they let that take over the historical record to promote their agenda.

Martin Luther was for lack of better terms, a man of his times. Not ahead of them. He did what he did out of conviction and later desperation. His movement is also the product of centuries of heresies and attempts to reform the church that did not go unnoticed by the author.

By painting a vivid picture of the times he lived in, including explaining his background and the different customs in Western Europe, Eric Metaxas draws us the reader in right from the start. You don’t have to be a history buff and if you are but are new to this period, you don’t have to know a lot, to find this book engaging. Drawing on primary sources (and to some extent to understand where the fictional Luther comes from, secondary sources), and citing the archaeological evidence that still remains, Metaxas paints a vivid portrayal of the rebellious German ex-monk.

The man who rediscovered God and who changed the world is an accurate way to describe the figurehead of the Protestant movement -a movement he did not intent to create but like so much of what history has taught us, once things got out of his control, he had no choice but to push forward or to face certain death which would have meant being burned as a heretic like one of his idols, the infamous Dominican friar who also preached against the excesses of the church a century prior, Savonarola.

Ironically though, for better or for worse, Luther has also come to be seen as an icon and a source of inspiration for many political, religious and civic leaders. Some went so far as to change their names, and while others wasted no time placing him in a pedestal. Just as Luther did not intend to break away from the church, he did not intent to replace the cult of saints that he so much detested and railed against. But in the end, not even he would have gone against the power of the pen, nor controlled how he’d be remembered by his followers (or his rivals). And that is, as the author of this book points out, his greatest legacy -a legacy that will continue to be felt for decades to come.

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

House of Beaufort by Nathen Amin
This is a book every history buff needs to read if they are interested in finding out about the roots of one of the most infamous dynasties in world history, who will continue to fascinate us in decades to come.
I absolutely loved how descriptive this book was. From start to finish, I was hooked. And this is one of those books that I just had to re-read again because being a huge history buff, I wanted to see what important things I hadn’t highlighted. Turns out that with a book like this, everything is a highlight so you might as well be stuck taking notes and going back to the original source when you want to check something you might have missed.
Margaret_Beaufort,_by_follower_of_Maynard_Waynwyk;
Writing a biography is not easy, especially one that takes on the challenge of chronicling the life of a family that has been largely obscured by their most infamous and famous contemporaries. Nathen Amin begins with Henry Tudor’s ascension to the throne of England following Richard III’s defeat at the Battle of Bosworth. It is a tale that takes you back through time, to an era of deceit, love, loss, shifting loyalties and above all, survival.
When Margaret Beaufort watched her son being crowned, her confessor, later Bishop Fisher, said that they weren’t tears of joy but of fear. She was the only surviving member of the eldest son of John of Gaunt and his mistress (later wife) Kathryn Swynford. The fact that she had seen her family nearly fade into oblivion and lived through many reigns, was more than enough to worry about her son’s future.
But through it all, she like most of the first Beauforts persevered.
This is a tale of one’s family unlikely rise to power and whose descendants still sit on the throne of England. Those who are new to this era will learn a great deal about it from this book, and those who are already familiar with it won’t be disappointed either because unlike pop historians, the author was fairly objective, drawing his conclusions from reliable sources and forensic evidence.

I’m proud to say, this is a great addition to my collection of favorite books and I am guessing you will feel the same way after you finish it. This is a reminder that the impossible often became possible and that there were no shortages of twists and turns, often due to kings and aristocrats’ excesses and their miscalculation and plain sheer luck, that led to these least likely outcomes.

 

Beaufort women torn apart by war collage 1

 

The story of the Beauforts is also the story of a family being torn apart by dynastic warfare which was initiated by one of their own’s spouses when his enmity to the queen forced him to take a route that would change the course of English history, and propel one of their own’s unlikely candidate to become King of England. Through it all, this family produced some of the most notable members who worked alongside their Lancastrian half-brother and cousins, and most of them remained loyal but others, such as the women, were forced to make difficult choices in order to survive.
Kathryn Swynford and John of  Gaunt’s only daughter, Joan was the mother of the formidable Duchess of York, Cecily Neville aka “Proud Cis”. Never fully able to shake the stain of bastardry despite Richard II legitmizing in 1399 but his successor,  Henry IV, instating a clause that took them from the line of succession, became a pious woman and that piety was passed on to her daughter who in turn pass it on to her daughters and granddaughters (most notably, Princesses Elizabeth and Bridget of York). Then there is also the story of another Joan Beaufort, who had to go through unimaginable tribulations to protect her son’s throne and her ambitions. Another married into the up and coming Neville clan, producing one of the most formidable women of the age, Cecily Neville, aka ‘Proud Cis’, who married Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, a man who’d become the founder of a separate branch of the Plantagenet dynasty and whose ambitions and enmity with the queen, led to the dynastic civil war that lasted over three decades.

 

Portcullis 2
Through it all, a family whose last name died when its last male heir was beheaded after the battle of Tewkesbury, their legacy survived through one of its last descendants, Henry Tudor who besides creating a new device that embodied his dynasty, also included reminders of the House that passed his claim unto him.

Elizabeth of York: Forgotten Tudor Queen Review

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“The real Elizabeth remains inaccessible through the lack of surviving records”. Yet Amy Licence brought her back to life digging through contemporary date and relying on archeological evidence and knowledge of the time, instead of falling trap (like some writers often do) of later century (or centuries) “sources” (two George Bucks, Sir Francis Bacon among others). Even contemporary sources are analyzed carefully as she tries to peacdd together this queen’s life and separate fact from fiction and ask the important questions and give plausible answers behind each one. EOY was a woman who was pious and ambitious, who knew her duty and knew that the best way to fulfill the obligations that were expected of her was through marriage.


While Elizabeth’s role in queenship is often forgotten we forget that she emulated the virtues of medieval queenship and her sanctified image -sanctified thanks to the beautiful imagery at her funeral and afterwards when Henry was laid to rest next to her (six years after her death) in 1509- lasts into posterity. When Henry VIII came into the throne, the ideal of the “perfect queen” no doubt was influenced by his mother, her death had shocked him and he said it was one of the most painful events in his life and how he viewed queenship was due in parts to the role his mother played to and excelled at.

Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant

Thomas Cromwell Boarman

Thomas Cromwell is one of the most controversial figures of the Tudor court. He is cast either as a villain or a saint. In a man for all seasons he is the main villain who does everything in his power to convict the saintly Thomas More of treason. Thomas More in contrast, represents all the goodness in the world. But in real life, he wasn’t devoid of demons as Boarman shows us in this book. And neither was Thomas Cromwell whose reputation has been blackened since the nineteenth century. In actuality Thomas Cromwell was a man of many faces. The face he projected in the work place -in the Tudor court- was the face he likely wished to be remembered as. And then there was the face he kept at home, the one that people rarely saw or knew about, except for those he helped or were closest to him. As a man of his own times, subject to the era’s prejudices; Thomas was not devoid of cruelty. It was a dog-eat-dog world and coming from a lowly background, Thomas Cromwell had to be more ruthless than his enemies -the nobles- to advance in the world. But the Tudor statesman could also be loyal to a fault. He tried to help his master Wolsey as best as he could until he realized that he was finished and he had to move on.

As a father, Thomas Cromwell was diligent and attentive. In an age where parents were strict with their children and they were not far from hitting them to get results; Thomas Cromwell showed himself very different from most of his lower and upper class peers. While not much is known of his life with his wife and daughters, Boarman shows us his accounts to demonstrate that he did take an interest in his daughters’ education and wanted to give them significant dowries for when the time arrived for them to marry. As well all know, that time never came because they were taken shortly after his wife by the sweating sickness.

As a politician, Cromwell was highly pragmatic and this helped him in the difficult years following the demise of his master, Cardinal Wolsey. Yet he wasn’t without his faults. While he helped Henry get his annulment and his much wanted union with Anne Boleyn (recently elevated to Marques of Pembroke) and then her demise after she failed where her predecessor had failed, and made him rich with the money begotten from the dissolution of the monasteries; he was also arrogant and over-confident. As he grew more powerful and more sure of himself, he believed that nothing would bring him down. After all, his network of spies was immense, for every move one noble made, he was two steps ahead of him. And what was more, the king trusted him. The money made Henry one of the richest Kings in Europe after all, the treasury was overflowing with money, in addition to making him Head of the Church and helping him submit the opposition with an iron fist. But as the old saying goes “too much pride can kill a man” and that is exactly what happened in Thomas Cromwell’s case.

After the King lost Jane Seymour, Thomas Cromwell wasted no opportunity to push forward for a new alliance. While he favored an Imperial alliance since Anne’s downfall was on its way; he was more interested in promoting religious reform. When all of the King’s outrageous proposals to France and the Empire failed, Cromwell convinced him to turn to Cleves. Cromwell was very astute to know how dangerous Henry was at this stage, yet so powerful he had become, that he believed he could keep on his hold on the King. This proved to be a grave mistake. By the late 1530s the King’s behavior was becoming more unpredictable, and he started to distrust Cromwell, possibly (as Boarman explains) suspecting of his Protestant sympathies. Cromwell realized this and believed his best bet lay with the King’s wife to be. If he brought the King into the Schmalkadic League, it would drive England further away from the Roman Catholic powers, and if Anna of Cleves gave him a Duke of York, it would make Cromwell strong again. None of these things proved true. Cromwell over-exalted Anne of Cleves’ appearance. Besides telling Holbein to draw a favorable portrait of Anna; he also gave extreme compliments about this unknown bride, telling the King that there was no bride more beautiful than and that the sun shone upon her, etc. Age was catching up with Henry at this time. He was no longer the young man he had been when he married his first Consort or when he’d begotten his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy. He was now morbidly obese, suffering from an ulcer on his leg, and tyrannical. It was a far cry from the athletic, noble, handsome, scholar he had been in his younger years. If Anna was to his liking, she could make him feel young as he once was. She was after all a year older than his eldest daughter, the Lady Mary (whom Cromwell negotiated [in theory] a marriage between her and the future queen’s brother, the now Duke of Cleves. Yet Cromwell saw Mary as a threat. Even if the girl were to turn, she would still be a threat, so while he told the ambassadors to praise her, he also said not to overdo it so they wouldn’t convince the Duke to take her as a possible wife. Ironically, that is exactly what Cromwell did with Anna). When the day finally came to meet her, it proved a disaster and Henry was reputed to have said “I like her not” and urged Cromwell to break his engagement. Cromwell the faithful servant that he was, but also interested in this alliance, told Henry he could not since they were already promised and so the King was forced to marry his unwanted bride. But Henry was not one to be patient. Once an idea got in his head, nothing was going to take it away. He got rid of Anna, and once again Cromwell helped him for his own sake; and after he did, he paid the price for his initial mistake by being arrested at a dinner in 10 June 1540 on charges of treason. He was executed a month afterwards, and on the day he was executed, Henry married the cousin of his direst enemy (the Duke of Norfolk). The bride was Katherine Howard and in another ironic stroke of fate; Henry would also annul his marriage to this woman and like her cousin Anne Boleyn, cut her head.

In the epilogue, Boarman states that while Henry didn’t feel any remorse for Cromwell initially, he did at the end and according to some sources said that he needed a Cromwell. We will never truly know if this is how Henry felt, or he was just saying this so he could press his councilors to work harder to get what he wanted. In the end though, one thing was clear: His master secretary was loyal. He did everything and anything to get what the King desired, regardless of how he might have felt. And like so many of his contemporaries he was ruthless in getting his own way. His mistake? Was becoming too overconfident. You didn’t bet lightly when it came to Henry VIII, by 1539 Cromwell should have known that –especially since he had been witnessed to his master Wolsey’s downfall.

Cromwell is for posterity a mysterious figure and perhaps that is how he wanted to be. To be two steps ahead of his enemies, he wanted to keep the image of the ruthless and conniving man; he succeeded. For many years people have seen him in such a way, and fiction has not been too kindly to him until recently. While Boarman credits Hilary Mantel’s novels for revitalizing interest in Cromwell, I think the interest for him has always been there and hopefully it will continue to be, and he will be seen for the complex individual that he was –neither villain nor heroic, but a consummate politician, a good father, and a survivor first and foremost.

Boarman weaves a good factual tale of betrayal, intrigue, and paternal love. And while she gets right all the things regarding Cromwell, including his charity to his friends and the poor widows whom he gave homes and money; her portrayal of the second, fourth and fifth wives are questionable. Recent biographers and historians have dispelled myths regarding Katherine Howard as the harlot and giddy young girl as well as of Anne’s appearance. Nevertheless, this biography continues to be one of the most groundbreaking biographies about the once maligned councilor in the court of Henry VIII. For many years, Cromwell was depicted as a conniving, amoral, uncaring, cold, cruel man whose thirst for blood could not satiated. In one of the most iconic historical dramas of the 60s ‘Anne of a Thousand Days’, he was a one-dimensional character whose specter lingers there at the court. First he helps Anne rise then he is the cause of her downfall. There is no emotion in his face, he looks more like a mobster hit-man than the intelligent, cunning politician he really was. In the Six Wives of Henry VIII and its movie version Henry VIII and his Six Wives, in the 70’s, he is pretty much the same. It is not until the Tudors, the semi-historical drama, where James Frain finally gives birth to a multi-dimensional (and likeable) Cromwell. A Cromwell who is neither hero or villain but a human being like you and me who loved, who hated, and hoped. Hilary Mantel’s most recent portrayal in her Cromwellian saga ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ and the adaptation of these on TV, presents us with a more positive portrayal –one that has inspired people to look at him in a different way. This biography offers the same, using primary sources and revealing a man of many faces, one he presented to the king, another he presented to his enemies, and another he presented to his family and friends.

Glorianna: The Death of Queen Elizabeth I & the End of an Era

Elizabeth I's most iconic portrait, the "Rainbow" portrait.
Elizabeth I’s most iconic portrait, the “Rainbow” portrait.

On the 24th of March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace at the age of sixty nine. She had ruled England for forty five years, the longest reigning monarch in Tudor history and the third longest ruling female monarch in English history. Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. She was born on September 7th, 1533, she was bastardized less than three years later in 1536, following the execution of her mother. It is not known whether Elizabeth remembered her mother, likely she did not. However, she spent a lot of time with people who did, namely her maternal family. Through them, she probably got to know the woman who gave birth to her. She had one ring with her picture on it, and while she didn’t renew the validity of her parents’ marriage as her sister had done with hers; she made them an important part of her coronation celebrations, showcasing them together along with their sigils, the Tudor rose and the glorious white falcon crowned. Elizabeth also made an important point of showcasing her paternal grandparents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and what their union represented: The end of the wars later known as the wars of the roses, and the bringing of peace. Elizabeth I’s reign was not an easy one and she was always plagued by conspiracy, betrayal and suspicion. As she got older the Queen saw enemies everywhere, and as her predecessors she became more ruthless. While her religious establishment was more conciliatory than any of her ancestors (especially her father, sister and brother) had been, she still burned heretics, namely Anabaptists, and persecuted many Catholics who resisted her rule.

Out of all the monarchs, Elizabeth was unique in the sense that she never married. She refused to be tied to anyone; not so much because she feared love but because as a woman in a country that was not used to female rule, she knew that being married would mean submitting to her husband’s rule, or worse. If she married into another House, that House would expect more favor than the others and that could disrupt the whole order of things. Elizabeth I had many favorites nonetheless, but it is unlikely she had any sexual relations with any of them. They were more of platonic love interests, who gave the Queen companionship and who (like Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester) also served as faithful advisors.

News of the Queen’s death spread like wildfire, also reaching her preferred successor, James VI of Scotland. Weeks before, on March 9th, Robert Cecil, the son of her most trusted adviser, William Cecil (Lord Burghley) wrote to George Nicholson, the English Ambassador in Edinburgh, informing him that the Queen was ailing and that “her mouth and tongue” were “dry and her chest hot” and that she couldn’t sleep anymore. This is somewhat false. Elizabeth was deathly ill, but she was far from helpless as Cecil’s report suggests. She was in fact, walking back and forth in her chambers, perhaps pondering of what the future would bring once she was gone. Less than a week later, she became worse and was no longer able to move so freely. On the 19th of March she gave a last audience to Sir Robert Carey (Mary Boleyn’s youngest grandson). She held Carey’s hand and confessed to him that she was not well. Her cousin tried to cheer her but it was clear to everyone that their beloved Queen wouldn’t live for much longer.

On Tuesday, the twenty-second she was brought to her bed where she stayed until her death. Her councilors visited her and insisted that she dictate her will, but she refused. Like before, Elizabeth refused to name an heir. All those who had been potential heirs, had suffered tragic fates. Katherine Grey had been punished for marrying without royal permission, and with her only witness to her wedding, dead, she had been incarcerated and forced to give birth (twice) in prison. Then she died from depression. Her youngest sister, Mary Grey was forbidden from having intimate contact from her husband who was of lower rank, with no royal ties whatsoever. She was later forgiven and became one of Elizabeth’s most loyal subjects. Her other cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, suffered the worse penalty by being executed for plotting against her. Her son, James VI, was Elizabeth I’s councilors favored heir.

According to one story, on the day before her death, the Privy Council seeing that she was unable to speak, suggested that she raised her finger to the successor she’d like. Supposedly, she raised her head when they mentioned James, giving her approval to her late enemy’s son. Others who were present, said that she never moved.

It didn’t matter in the end. Everyone was set on James and probably Elizabeth knew it, and that could have been the reason she refused to move, knowing that as the sun was setting on the Tudor dynasty, nothing she did, would have changed her soon-to-be former subjects’ minds.

Elizabeth-I-Allegorical-Po

“This morning Her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree … Dr. Parry told me he was present, and sent his prayers before her soul; and I doubt not but she is amongst the royal saints in heaven in eternal joys.” –John Manningham

She died on the next day, between two and three o’clock in the morning.

Eight hours later, her cousin, Sir Robert Carey with whom she had an audience days before, was given the order to go North to Scotland to carry the ring his sister had taken from the Queen’s finger and deliver it to James as confirmation of his new future as King of England.

It was the end of the Tudor Dynasty and the beginning of the Stuart Dynasty.

Some historians today dispute the image of Elizabeth as Glorianna, and while their reasons are well-founded, no one can deny that Elizabeth I was unique in many ways, and that as her sister; she fixed the coinage that had been debased during their father’s and brother’s reigns. And while her “idiosyncratic attitude to marriage left her equally isolated … she was saved, once again, by divided counsel” writes Starkey. Therefore, after nearly forty five years of rule, Starkey adds, “she handed over to her Stuart successor something that was recognizable as the inheritance of Henry VIII”. And yet she continues to divide public opinion. Some want to portray her in a negative light, overturning previous propaganda, and this is equally bad because it is doing the same, only in another extreme. In reality, Elizabeth was as Leanda de Lisle, Tudor biographer, writes in her latest book, neither heroine nor villain. Both she and her sister, ruling England, a country which had a negative perception of female rule, were both “rulers of their time”. Both had to take on the role of mother. Mary had shown herself as a mother to her children in her speech during the Wyatt Rebellion. Elizabeth I had done the same, and gone a step further by presenting herself as the defendress of the faith, as a new Deborah, defending the precepts of the holy tenant, a reluctant warrior who would be mother and protector to her people. It was an image that put everyone at ease, and by doing little to change the social order, she earned the acceptance of most of her subjects. Truly, as Claire Ridgway says in her book “On this day in Tudor History”:

“Elizabeth I’s death was the end of an era in so many ways: the end of England’s “Golden Age”, the end of a long reign and the end of the Tudor dynasty.”

After people grew tired of James’ extravaganza, they began to look back and think differently of their late queen. And so, the legend of Glorianna began, a legend that has endured since then.

Elizabeth I tomb

Elizabeth is buried at Westminster Abbey, on top of her half’s sister, in a magnificent tomb which has the next inscription:  “Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection.”

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle.
  • Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
  • Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle.

Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey

Isabella warrior queen book

Isabella has been compared with Ferdinand and her larger than life, Anglican counterpart, her granddaughter Mary I’s half-sister, Elizabeth I. But it was Isabella, who had firstly defied gender stereotypes, who refused to conform to the life of a docile and pleasing wife, and teach her daughters domestic skills that would have pleased their husbands. She couldn’t change their attitudes, nor their arrogance. Some of them suffered from the latter, others were more conniving than their oldest siblings, but all of them benefitted greatly from their mother’s example and the education she brought them. All of Isabella’s daughters had the opportunities this imposing Queen never had. She had been born to a highly religious, and very jealous mother, Isabel of Portugal. Named after her, she grew up in a very religious environment but also a very unusual one. Chacon, her tutor and longtime friend, taught her to admire strong female saints and biblical figures who were known for their outspokenness and fighting skills rather than for their passiveness. The girl who was abandoned by her half-brother when he became King, and denied, her, her mother and her younger brother their annuities and lands, and had to watch as girls of lesser rank than her dressed more richly, grew up to become one of the most fearsome figures of the fifteenth and sixteenth century. Downey could not have said it better when she said, that in Isabella Castile and all of Spain had a true monarch, a woman who did not see her gender as an impediment but rather as a strength and gave her daughters the best things money, religion and status could buy. “Out of all her daughters” Downey writes, it was Katherine who was the most “resembled the Spanish monarch” in appearance and demeanor. Katherine of Aragon was sweet, beautiful, and petite like her mother and also headstrong, devout, cunning, and ambitious, using whatever tools she had to her advantage and further her cause. During Katherine’s early years of widowhood, Isabella was teaching her most difficult child, Juana how to rule. Juana as the author states here was *not* crazy but in fact very sane. The problem lay in her husband who has gone down in history as Philip “the fair”. A vain, conniving man whose patronage of artists and scholars did not make up for his incompetence. Like Isabella’s father and brothers, he was dominated by his male courtiers who had a deep dislike for the Spaniards whose customs they considered odd. Juana’s religiosity was nothing out of the ordinary. In Castile widows were known to take chastity vows and cover themselves from head to toe in black, or lead ascetic lives or take religious orders. Isabella’s mother had been one of these widows. Though she had dressed in the finest gowns when she was queen and like Juana had a strong temperament, she had left all this behind when her husband died and her stepson, the new King, Enrique took her allowance and everything else that was left for her and her children. Juana did not go to these extremes, but she did take comfort in the religion that had so often comforted her female ancestors and gave her mother strength. She had seen her mother at her best and worst, and she was determined not to let her down. Unfortunately, Juana thought that Philip would give her the same love and respect that he had given her mother in the first years of their marriage and that their marriage would become a partnership as theirs had during the campaign against the Moors, and the defense of Italy against the Turkish menace and later the French. Philip did not show any interest in Juana, other than using her to breed children and get money out of her. When she became his wife, he locked her up, retired her servants and bribed her remaining ones so they would be loyal to him and when he was told she’d given birth to his daughter, he showed disgust and told the ambassadors that he would leave Juana to support herself. There was talk that he would leave her for a French bride –which was the hope of his councilors who were the real rulers of Burgundy- and he was this close to doing this but Juana gave birth for a second time, this time to a boy two years later in Ghent. This boy would become Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and I of Spain. Isabella always the pragmatic woman, immediately recognized him as her heir, and so did Ferdinand. But Ferdinand would prove to be a poor Regent to his wife’s dominions after she died. In recent dramas he has been depicted as a loving husband, whose union to Isabella was a love match and filled with passion, but the truth is not so beautiful. Using primary sources and delving into the history behind the religious conflicts between all three monotheistic faiths of the time, Downey paints an accurate picture into the life of Isabella I of Castile, and explains how is it a woman whose reign started with a greater degree of tolerance (than her brother’s) could have descended into one of religious persecution to the point where Spain became a region of religious homogeneity; and the reasons behind every one of her daughter’s actions, including her daughter in law (the beautiful Marguerite whom Isabella grew very fond of and whose miscarriage of their dead son’s baby, sent the imposing Queen into despair and extreme melancholy and left many to question her reign); and last but not least, how is it that a woman such as her, whose sponsorship of such brave but merciless men like Christopher Columbus, Humanists like Martyr, “La Latina” among others, has been forgotten and had her name blackened for centuries?

"Acknowledging nothing out of the ordinary, Isabella took a seat on an improvised platform in the square. A silver crown was placed upon her head. As the crowd cheered, Isabella was proclaimed queen. Afterward she proceeded to Segovia's cathedral. She prostrated herself in prayer before the altar, offering her thanks and imploring God to help her rule wisely and well." As she stood there, Downey also adds, she showed no "trace of fear or hesitation. Inspired by the example of Joan of Arc."
“Acknowledging nothing out of the ordinary, Isabella took a seat on an improvised platform in the square. A silver crown was placed upon her head. As the crowd cheered, Isabella was proclaimed queen. Afterward she proceeded to Segovia’s cathedral. She prostrated herself in prayer before the altar, offering her thanks and imploring God to help her rule wisely and well.” As she stood there, Downey also adds, she showed no “trace of fear or hesitation. Inspired by the example of Joan of Arc.”

History is written by the winner. Isabella wrote history, she changed history, her story is herstory. She defied gender roles and made her own rules, made promises before God then conveniently forgot them. She did and said many things, regardless if they were sanctioned by the church or not, and her ideas were very similar to Luther’s -who defied her successor a decade after her death- and whose heroes were among Isabella’s. She saw herself as the real power behind the church, she brought this institution to its knees, bullied and forced it to reform. While Spain benefitted from this, many of the people she had welcomed with open arms and made many promises before God, did not. After altering the deal she had made to Muslims, shortly after the surrender of Granada on the second of January 1492; she gave them an ultimatum: Convert or leave. Those who remained would face the horrors of the Inquisition. To be fair, Downey also puts forth the horrors the Jews and Muslims faced on many other countries. Christians themselves were not safe, after the fall of Constantinople many women had been raped, enslaved, or killed in a most horrible manner. And although some of these accounts are Christian and could be exaggerating, some of them are not and the Turks themselves boasted of such horrors. Slavery, cruelty, debauchery, was the law of every land. Isabella was no stranger to these. Like every monarch of her times, she used cruel methods to accomplish her goals.

But the greatest legacy of this great queen perhaps is that she strengthen, for future generation of Christian rulers, including Protestants, Christianity and weakened the Turks and stopped their advance into Italy, further into the Iberian Peninsula and into other places of Europe (including Eastern Europe). Unfortunately, the man she married turned out to be her complete opposite. Always eager for profit, Ferdinand carried very little about the state of the church, or their daughters’ affairs. Isabella made him promise her on her deathbed never to marry again, and he said yes but as soon as she was dead he was out there negotiating for his next marriage. He chose the “Beltraneja” the daughter of their rival, Enrique IV whom Isabella always conveniently claimed, could not be her niece and displaced her from the line of succession. If he married this girl, then he could claim his marriage to Isabella was a sin before God and that his wife had been an usurper and his daughters (including Katherine and Juana) were nothing but bastards. Juana was not a fool, acting with stealth and determination that her husband did not possess, she ordered the Beltraneja be kept under lock and key and this angered her father even more.

"His long absences from Castile, his refusal to return home when Isabella needed him, and his sexual infidelities certainly made him appear unreliable" and they often quarreled. He wanted her to be subservient, but she was nobody's servant and demanded completely fidelity from him, something he did not give. And although the two learned to work together, and Isabella loved him; Ferdinand loved power more and after her death he conspired against their own daughter, did little to help their youngest, and did not bother to speak to the middle one Maria who was Queen Consort of Portugal.
“His long absences from Castile, his refusal to return home when Isabella needed him, and his sexual infidelities certainly made him appear unreliable” and they often quarreled. He wanted her to be subservient, but she was nobody’s servant and demanded completely fidelity from him, something he did not give. And although the two learned to work together, and Isabella loved him; Ferdinand loved power more and after her death he conspired against their own daughter, did little to help their youngest, and did not bother to speak to the middle one Maria who was Queen Consort of Portugal.

He married a French Princess who fashioned herself the Queen of Castile and worked alongside him to usurp his eldest daughter’s throne. Both he and Philip worked tirelessly to strip Juana of her sanity, but Juana retained it and fought against them, but in an era where female rule was frowned upon and where she did not have the pragmatism her mother had, she failed to defeat them both and she remained locked up for the rest of her life, first by her husband, then when he died by her father who claimed her extreme mourning was proof of her madness (it wasn’t. Isabella had done more extreme mourning when Juana’s brother died, but nobody said anything then. For the Flemings Juana’s customs were odd since they and the French were not used to such examples of religious devotion), and then her son who placed her under the supervision of an even crueler torturer. And for many years to come, her youngest daughter would not fare any better. Although Katherine obtained her goal and became Queen of England, she failed in giving the King what he wanted: a son. She was a firm believer that her daughter could be Queen, she had emulated her mother’s virtues, watched how her mother took advantage of the belief that women were weak and soft, and used it against her enemies to claim ignorance whenever it suited her or use it to attack her father’s mistresses and other female rivals. But England was not Castile, and it would be many years before the country got used to the idea of female rule. As for the memory of Isabella, it was already being shaped and rewritten by her male successors; Machiavelli, a contemporary of Isabella chose to praise her enemy Cesare, forgetting that it was Isabella whose qualities mirrored those in his book “The Prince” and it was her who became the most ardent defender of Christendom, and finally it was her who dared to do the impossible: Take Granada, unite Spain, bring the papacy to its knees, reform the church and take the crown –when it was not hers to take- and name herself Queen.