The Most Happy is an alternative history, in short it asks the important question of ‘what if?’ What would have happened if Anne Boleyn had not been executed and she would have had more than one child. All this and more is explored in this book.
While historical fiction seeks to fill in the gaps in the historical records and to make the story more enticing to its target audience, alternative history delves further by rewriting it. And while it may seem as the two have nothing in common, I beg to differ and I suspect you will too once you read the book.
Novelists take this genre seriously, and it wasn’t surprising to find many things from this era come alive in Davis’ book. I remember when I read her other book, that is also alternative history, Cleopatra Unconquered and felt like I was transported to Ancient Egypt. That is the feeling I got when I read ‘The Most Happy’. From start to finish, the intrigues that history buffs are used to reading about the Tudor court, don’t stop. This book perfectly captures the dangerous time period that Anne Boleyn lived in, and how high the stakes were, not just for her, but for her enemies as well.
This was a period of great change. The Renaissance was not all that different from the medieval era, but there were many aspects of it that were still the same, one of it being the violence and fanaticism (now emboldened with the religious wars); throw in a dynasty that is not well-established and a queen whose religious affiliation is not with Rome -and is not recognized by the Vatican as such- and you have almost absolutely chaos. And I say almost because the protagonist doesn’t come off as a victim or a villain, but rather as a strong, intelligent woman who is determined to make things work.
Anne grows in her new role as Queen and mother to England’s future king. She is not afraid to take charge, or shy away from enforcing the rule of law when needed. She’s also proud, and can be vindictive but this behavior can be understood given the circumstances of her situation.
Fans of Tudor History and Historical fiction who are worried with how the iconic Tudor queen is portrayed in the media will love this novel. This is the one that has come the closest to capturing Anne Boleyn’s spirit in the past decade without the author shying away from her flaws or sugar-coating the complexities of this period. If this is your first time trying alternative history, you won’t be disappointed.
Looking for a good historical fiction to read that is true to Elizabeth of York and the tumultuous era she lived in? Look no further, the Plantagenet Princess is all this and more!
It is very hard to find a good historical fiction that is appreciate of Elizabeth of York, without downplaying on her strengths or ignoring her weaknesses.
Many novelists think it’s better to alter their female subjects, the ones who aren’t deemed “interesting” or “strong” in order to sell more books, by marketing them as progressive or ahead of their times.
This wouldn’t be a problem if novelists were honest with their audience but as it happens, they are not. So you can imagine my sigh of relief when I read this book and found an author who honored Elizabeth by staying as true as possible to her silent -yet strong- demeanor.
There is strength in silence and that is something that Samantha Wilcoxson emphasized on every chapter where Elizabeth comes out as an observant, proud, and pragmatic young woman who is aware of her importance, and is determined to be treated with the respect she rightly deserves.
As the firstborn of Elizabeth Woodville and Edwar IV, Elizabeth was well aware of her value. To quote from Susan Higginbotham in her biography on Elizabeth’s maternal family: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an unattached young king must be in search of a wife.”
And a man like Henry who’s claim to the throne was more tenuous than Elizabeth’s father, he needed a good marriage to keep himself in power.
Elizabeth is a caring young woman who is witty and at times outspoken, someone who has learned from her relatives’ mistake, has had to endure loss, but never feels sorry about herself. Her strength lies in knowing who to trust, her religious devotion and faith in herself. Sounds trite, but this is as close as you will get to time travel and meeting the real Elizabeth in historical fiction. The book is beautifully written, highly descriptive and character driven, with Elizabeth being not the only character that shines from this tale, but those are there with her at the end of her journey.
If you are a history buff who’s read plenty on the wars of the roses, and is fascinated by Elizabeth of York’s story, this is the book for you. If you are new to this era but wish to know more about the story behind the White Princess, this is the book for you too. Well researched, masterfully written, highly descriptive, Plantagenet Princess: Tudor Queen brings back the wars of the roses and the early Tudor era back to life, and gives justice to a figure who’s been easily discredited, altered, and her queenship dismissed.
They say that the good you do won’t do you any good. Sometimes this is true, but for a woman who had seen many kings deposed, murdered and killed in battle, and queens’ reputations dragged through the mud, sweetness and piety became her greatest strengths and her fertility a shield against anyone who’d think twice about her harming the new Tudor Dynasty.
Experiences shape us, and they certainly shaped Elizabeth but as I’ve previously pointed out, it is often our willingness to get back up despite how many times we’ve been brought down that makes all the difference. And Elizabeth never gave up. Although her weapons were invisible they were no less effective and as it happened, they guaranteed her success. She went down in history as one of the most successful English consorts, and gained a cult-like status.
When I delve into historical fiction, I tend to be very picky but will push aside certain liberties as long as the authors are honest about it. When it comes with alternative history, I am even pickier so take my word for it when I say that this is a good book that every history buff and lover of ancient Egyptian history will enjoy!
Cleopatra Unconquered is a good book that expands on the question of what if Cleopatra’s forces had won against Octavian’s forces. It is an entertaining, well researched book with very well-rounded characterizations of the historical people involved here that doesn’t make them seem as if they are out of place, but rather people of their times -holding the same prejudices and core-beliefs as you would expect from people born into those societies.
Helen R. Davis weaves as beautiful tale of love, hate, and deception to give us a convincing tale on how Cleopatra VII would have won against the armies of her rival, Octavian, and the consequences thereafter. This is the first book in a series that will explore more on how much history has changed, not just during the remainder of her reign, but after it.
Cleopatra comes out as a strong-willed queen, who is committed to remain in power and do what is best for her people, and as many pharaohs did back then, believes that she is being divinely guided by the gods, specifically Isis.
Fearless and unapologetic, Cleopatra VII is also ruthless and like other famous female regents and pharaohs before her, will go to great lengths to protect what is hers and show the world that she is not anyone’s puppet.
Falling Pomegranate Seeds: the Duty of Daughters is a fantastic novel written by Wendy J. Dunn, it is the first in her series on Katharine of Aragon. As a result, this focuses primarily on her formative years in Spain. Without vilifying or whitewashing her, Wendy J. Dunn weaves an intricate tale of hope, passion, and self-growth as Katharine prepares for the epic journey that awaits her.
Katharine of Aragon was Henry VIII’s first wife, and before that, his brother’s wife, and the daughter of two of the most prestigious monarchs in Christendom. Born and raised to do her duty, she was also among the most learned women of her times. Wendy J. Dunn doesn’t brush past this fact; it is a key component of her book. The book opens up with Beatriz Galindo, known as “La Latina” for her scholarship, being questioned by the Queen of Castile about her youngest daughter’s education. Beatriz is delighted to be charged with such a task, and dedicates most of her time to Catalina, ensuring that she will grow up to be a learned queen.
It is refreshing to see a historical fiction devote so much time to Katharine’s formative year, and set the stage for the next books in her Katharine of Aragon series.
Her Katharine is how I picture she was in real life. She starts as an assertive and curious child who is determined to become Queen of England because she believes that is her destiny, and as the story progresses, even when we know how it is going to end, we are still rooting for her as she sets sail to her new home. The emotions run high near the end, it plays like a farewell scene but it is not. One chapter of her life has ended and another will begin and we are left eagerly waiting for that.
Wendy J. Dunn brings out the best and worst aspects of her character, something that is much needed in a figure that often gets put on a pedestal or easily disregarded as the ‘boring one.’ Katharine is mischievous, she plays, she is everything you would expect in a child, but she is also curious and intuitive with a mind of her own -which becomes more evident when she is in her teens- and like her mother, she is very proud and grounded in her beliefs that she’s unwilling to compromise when that compromise goes against her moral view of the world.
I recommend this book to all history buffs and those of you who like me, are very passionate about Tudor history.
Under these Restless Skies takes places in Tudor England, specifically an England ruled by Henry VIII when he’s seeking a divorce from his first spouse, Katherine of Aragon to marry the alluring Anne Boleyn. I’m often very critical of historical fiction (and historical fantasy even more) because the characters tend to be one-dimensional and you have to suspend belief to really get into the story but with this book, not really because the characters were very close to their historical counterparts and the author really did her homework and was very accurate when it came to describing the rituals that men and women had to go through such as confinement, churching, coronation, and she included author’s notes at the end of her tale with a glossary and terminology.
Emma started a bit of a Mary Sue at first but after Anne’s glorious moment, she starts acting more human, exploring the darkest aspects of our species and becoming more human herself. As with every good book, you suffer from book withdrawal at the end or what I like to call book blues. There is a lot of good moments where the author describes the customs and beliefs of the period through dialogue and by doing this she keeps the story moving and interesting.
The only thing I disagreed were some instances regarding Anne Boleyn. I like Anne Boleyn for being an outspoken and intelligent woman, she was also flawed and she was known for her temperament. You could say some contemporary accounts were bias and she wasn’t entirely responsible for what her family did or said to Mary, or said about her mother -Anne’s predecessor and enemy, Katherine of Aragon- but she wasn’t entirely blameless either. Anne did not order her death -Katherine died of natural causes which were accelerated by her living conditions- but she did encourage her female relatives to be mean to Mary so she could accept her father’s new marriage and her condition as the king’s bastard. While I do not like some of Anne’s attitude, a great deal of it was brought about by the situation she was in. She was playing a highly political game and the stakes were *really* high. As she tells the original character (Emma) before her coronation, she must be recognizes as Henry’s true and only wife and one word, one rumor could be the difference between life and death. (Which is exactly what happened when Henry looked to replace her. She was tried for treason and executed. The evidence used against her was ridiculous. Even Chapuys who was one of her biggest critics, wrote he couldn’t believe that they were trying her on scant evidence and that it was amazing how anyone could believe any of it). It was a good portrayal nonetheless where Anne is seen as a strong yet also vulnerable woman through the eyes of the immortal Emma Sommers. It is hard to write about Henry VIII, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the man as there are about Anne Boleyn, that often authors lend credibility to them. The author nailed down Henry VIII showing him at his best and his worst.
Finally, there is the fantasy part of the selkies or the sea creatures that the author wrote about. I said it before, but I will say it again. I felt like this was a good twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s the little mermaid. A fish out of water who comes face to face with a terrestrial and she falls in love with him, and is willing to let a piece of her be taken so the two can be together. But instead of a handsome prince, her one true love is Will Sommers, a man with a bad back but a heart of gold, and instead of love being one-sided, Will Sommers shows her that he loves her as well.
The author has a blog where she has written extensively about the Tudors, and dispels many myths about them, primarily Anne Boleyn whose figure continues (and probably will for many years to come) to be at the center of many heated debates.
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.
An excellent book that covers ALL the Tudors! Not just the ones in movies. It starts at the beginning with the event that changed history, Owen and Katherine Valois’ meeting. And goes into all of their descendants’ (and Owen’s illegitimate son) lives, including those we rarely hear about like Meg Douglas and the Brandon sisters, and their place in English history. What I liked most about this book was highlighting the brutality and beliefs of this period that so often are neglected in place of a more clean version.
The period these people lived in was absolutely brutal and yet there are so many things that are so universal to the human experience that as we read their stories we can relate to some of them. The Tudor monarchs get represented in terms of good and bad in the media and that always irritates me because no one is absolutely good or bad, we all have our shades of grey and in a period so divided by dynastic wars and later by religious wars, no one (absolutely no one!) was without guilt or prejudice. The monarchs did some horrible acts that if they lived today, they would be widely condemned. But they don’t live today, they belonged to another era, an era so alien to us that we still have trouble understanding it, so we create our own versions of them. The miser king. The good old Hal and his six wives. Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded and survived. The boy king. The Protestant martyr. The wicked evil Catholic and last but not least, Gloriana -who saved her country from her sister’s evil regime had brought with her a golden age. But these depictions are no more real than the porteayals we see on TV.
The Tudors knew how to use propaganda as we’ve been showed by the quote above. They created this image of themselves through expensive clothing, portraits and thanks to the proliferation of new ideas and the printing press since the later half of the 1450s, that they made sure could survive into posterity. Leanda tears through this artistic visage and reveals the Tudors, their cousins and everyone around them for who they really were by using contemporary sources and archaeological evidence. What comes out are extremely complex individuals, filled with prejudice, who plotted against their nearest of kin and (in the case of the monarchs) capable of great mercy and great cruelty and no one was exempt in this. There’s a lot I didn’t know about Margaret Douglas beyondv her marriage and her son, that I found very interesting and I also recommend that once you finish this book, continue with the Appendixes. A lot of good information there.
The two last things I’ll point out is that it dispels a lot of the romantic myths about Elizabeth, Jane Grey, the wives, and so on. Jane was not a hapless victim, she was an extremely well educated youth who knew what was expected to her and in a society where women were supposed to be married to the highest bidder, Jane seems to have accepted this arrangement and bore no resentment. She was alsovery close to her father. Her last letter to him says it all. Like Mary she believed her religion was the true faith and encouraged her father to go fight for her and angrily told her sister and former tutor that if they converted to Catholicism then they would go to hell and called the people to arms.
Mary I received great support, even by some of the Protestant elite and her initial policies were very flexible where religion was concerned but they became strict on the aftermath of the Wyatt rebellion. A lot of her accomplishments with the navy, in education, financing were carrued out by her sister who as Mary I started with a very flexible establishment but became stricter once rebellion broke out. And last but not least she rehabilitates Margaret Beaufort who’s been the subject of endless trashing thanks recent portrayals in the media. Margaret was pious but so was everty other woman in the period known as wars of the roses. Orphaned from her father when she was just a bab, Margaret became very close to her mother and half sibling. Interesting in education, she funded and created colleges and was the patron of many scholars. Her son, the first Tudor monarch was also very learned and in contrast with the skewed image we have of him in fiction, he was a man who loved to laugh, gamble and engage in many lively pastimes.
“Tudor” is an engrossing biography of mammoth proportions. I learned a lot about Margaret Douglas, the other unknown Tudors as well as the lives of their descendants and how close they were to their royal cousins, or in what way they influenced events. But it is ironic, as the author points out, that it all started with an accidental misstep, an accidental meeting between a royal French widow and a handsome, dashing Welsh steward whose romance changed the course of history forever. Spanning over two centuries, this book chronicles the life of every descendant, whether he or she played a major role or not. Unlikely Kings, Queens, bastard Princesses and pretenders, family intrigue and treachery. This book has it all and although the Tudor line officially died out, it did not die out completely. Mary Queen of Scots married her cousin Henry Stewart. Both descended from Henry VII’s eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor and their son was his grandmother (Margaret Douglas) number one priority, and she and her husband battled for his safety and his rights. Although Mary and Margaret Douglas died, their line lasted. Margaret’s jewel depicts her grandson wearing the crown of Scotland and England, all joined as one -a prediction which came true. Through imagery, the Tudors rewrote history and bolstered their claim and increased their power, and they were also vicious in doing it.
Chronicling the heraldic rise of the houses of Lancaster and York to the house of Tudor, the Hollow Crown is a tale of glory, betrayal, triumph, sadness, and lastly rewriting history.
Dan Jones wasn’t kidding when he said this is the real game of the thrones. In one of the chapters he includes the gruesome detail of a band of brigands fighting during the English occupation in France, kidnapping, murdering, torturing and raping women and one scene was so vivid that (believe me!) surpasses anything seen on television.
Bishops, archbishops murdered, noses cut off, widows wailing as their loved ones are hacked to pieces and last but not least a mother takes her two children hand in hand as she goes on to plead for the warring Queen, Margaret of Anjou (who has issued warrants against her sons, husband, brothers and nephew) for mercy, trying to escape the danger of the villages near Ludlow as she sees many more women being despoiled of their goods and others of their dignities right in front of her and her two sons, George and Richard. Cecily Neville, Duchess of York had the good fortune of enjoying a good relationship with the Queen yet nothing could save her husband and second eldest son and two brothers when they returned to England and forced parliament and the king to name the Duke of York, Henry VI’s heir.
On December 30, a day that would live in infamy for the Yorkists, their patriarch Richard, his son Edmund and his most important brother in law, the earl of Salisbury and his younger brother, were caught by surprise by Lancastrian forces. The way Dan Jones narrates this chapter is done in such a way that you are in suspense as you are reading of Edmund Plantagenent trying to make his way to sanctuary alongside his tutor and priest, only to be caught by one of the men whose father Edmund’s father killed and in something reminiscent of the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones, the man (Lord Clifford) stepped down from his horse and sent his dead father’s regards “As your father slew mine” then “drew his dagger thrust it through his heart. The blood debt of St. Albans had been paid”. There are more examples of his merciless bloodshed from Henry VI mysterious death -which was likely murder under the command of Edward IV, to weeks before the gruesome battles that wiped out all the Lancastrian threats -except for one- Barnet and Tewksbury where the King’s cousin and former staunch supporter, the earl of Warwick had been killed and then stripped down of his clothing and paraded naked through the countryside and Edward of Wesminster (who was proving himself to be like his grandfather, the great Henry V) and Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset killed in the latter battle with Edward and his brothers breaking the rules of sanctuary and dragging Edmund and his associates from the church he was hiding in and mercilessly executing him. And yet, the wars of the roses is also a story of great things and good intentions gone awry. Richard Duke of York believed he was more entitled to the privilege and positions bestowed on Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou’s favorites (de la Pole and Beaufort) and that he could do a better job than them, unfortunately his good intentions were lost when he became mad with power and believed that the only way he could rescue England from perdition was by declaring himself king (a bad move which even his closest associates thought was ridiculous); after her partially got what he wanted, Margaret (a formidable woman whose appearance in the book is tremendous, a well educated, and capable leader who had the great example of both her grandmother and mother taking positions of power during her father’s absence or imprisonment, and likewise she wanted to do the same with the same good intentions for her husband’s House) turned the tables on him by defending her only son’s right to inherit his father’s crown and her forces slew him and in his in laws. But this only provoked the Yorkist and what happened afterwards as they say is all history. Likewise, Richard III, proved to be his father’s son. The youngest of Cecily and Richard’s three surviving sons, he believed it was his right to govern the realm in his nephew’s minority and saw the favors bestowed upon the Woodvilles (who, despite their good administration and military leadership) as inadequate and unfair. He was the late king’s loyal brother and had stood by him in all things, when their cousin Warwick and brother George rebelled against him, he didn’t and he had waged war against Scots forces, defending the English borders but his brother’s will (which is now lost to us) appointed the Woodviless to equal positions of power, he was justly angry. He intercepted Rivers and Richard Woodville (Elizabeth Woodville’s second eldest son by her first marriage) and then along with others had them killed but as his namesake he faced a great problem in a king who wasn’t going to bend to his will.
Richard’s decision to depose his late brother’s brood by declaring the illegitimate through his priest Shaa the previous man was the first of his many acts that mirrored his brother’s ruthlessness of disposing of rival claimants. The princes likely were murdered by Richard, though not by himself, someone closest to him -as they began to be seen less and less to quote from contemporary sources after the summer of ’83 until they disappeared altogether in the autumn of that year. Unfortunately for Richard, this created a lot of hostility towards his reign and after his son and wife died, the way was clear for Henry Tudor who, in ordinary circumstances, would have NEVER been considered as a serious claimant to the throne but Richard III’s accession and the loss of his son and wife changed everything.
The battle of Bosworth fought at Ambion Hill has gone down in Tudor history as a sign of divine providence and perhaps it was but more than that, it was thanks to Henry’s uncle’s supporters in Wales where he had build a power base and angry Edwardian Yorkists, Woodvilles and staunch Lancastrians and of course the Stanleys that helped him win the crown. What came after that was a Tudor creation -the double rose or Tudor Rose. Red and white to symbolize the union of both houses of Lancaster and York and the end of the bloodshed but the bloodshed was far from over. When Henry became more insecure after his son and later his wife and newborn daughter died, he turned his eye on the de la Poles whose Yorkist came through their mother Elizabeth Plantagenet (second eldest daughter of Richard and Cecily Neville) and two of these who escaped were actively engaged in plots against the king whom they had previously served. It wasn’t until his son, Henry VIII that the “White Rose” as the last de la Pole nicknamed himself, was squashed during the battle of Pavia when he fought alongside Francis I . The end of the last “white rose” would have brought stability to the Tudor monarchy had it not been for the religious squabbles that became a large part of the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth century. The more powerful white rose descendants were through Margaret Pole (daughter of George, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville) and when they decided to remain loyal to their faith, they came under Henry’s radar and it wasn’t a matter of whether they were guilty or not as Jones supposes, but the fact that their faith and their Yorkist blood posed a threat to the king. They too tasted the cruel fate that befell their previous ancestors when he last granddaughter of Richard Duke of York was hacked to pieces in 1541.
Dan Jones’ style of writing is very provocative starting by his introduction, detailing Margaret Pole nee Plantagenet’s execution to the epilogue when Elizabeth I, proving to be her grandfather and father’s granddaughter and daughter respectively uses the same motif once more for her coronation and has an epic poem telling the crowds that the Tudors are not just the product of the union of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York but a different dynasty altogether favored by God and thus then as the bard would say, they get to tell their tale.
An engrossing biography about the life of Anne Boleyn’s only brother, George Boleyn. A consummate courtier who was witty, bold and hardworking. The two Claires set the record clear on George as well as on his family, tracing back the origins of the Boleyn family and enlightening readers to the truth about his father (ambassador and courtier as George would become whose ideals influenced him and Anne) and his marriage. There’s a lot that we are yet to know of this period despite what pop history tells us, a lot of what we think we know of George comes from later centuries and negative propaganda started by his enemies and Catholic rebels during the Elizabethan regime. Others have come from much later like with Victorian historian Agnes Strickland. George Boleyn started his career early, and like his father he was not afraid to speak his mind (like with the king of France). But there is a difference between him and his sister who was also outspoken. He and Anne were good friends but were polar opposites when it came to their way of doing things. Anne was more hot tempered and wasn’t afraid to speak hard truths, while George was more diplomatic and like his father, a pragmatist and approached every situation with caution and -albeit false- courtesy. Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador had a good opinion of him and his father when he met them on his arrival to England. Even some of the Boleyn enemies, also remarked on how hardworking George Boleyn was.
On his missions abroad, his skill showed and the King trusted him for a reason: “Whether smugly self-satisfied with the result of the French mission or not, in reality, the small success George had achieved in France had no practical effect. Despite attempts to use Francis as a means of intimidation, the Pope remained unwavering. Irrespective of the Pope’s continuing refusal to relent, due to Anne’s pregnancy, and also to the intervention of Cranmer, matters that had taken six years to get to this point now started to move quickly. On 23 May 1533, Cranmer… declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine void, and five days later he declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to be valid, thereby stripping Catherine of her title as Queen. By having his marriage with Catherine declared void, Henry was in effect declaring his own daughter Mary a bastard, with no concern for her feelings or the feelings of her mother. As we have seen, it was also in May that Cranmer instigated the break with Rome, thereby making Henry head of the Church of England. The break would be completed by the Act of Supremacy in 1534. This was the beginning of the English Reformation, and the end of England as a Catholic country. Matters were now put in hand to have Anne crowned queen, and the date for her coronation was set for 1 June. 17 Unfortunately, having devoted much of his career to bringing it about, her brother was not able to attend his sister’s moment of glory. Less than two months after returning from France, George was sent back. In May 1533, accompanied his uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and a large contingency of courtiers so that they could both be present at the meeting scheduled between Francis and the Pope. 18 Henry had chosen a contingency of men who would be acceptable to Francis, and clearly George Boleyn was considered to be one of them, having spent considerable time with the French king on previous missions.“
He never failed to attend one council meeting he was summoned to and was what we would call today a ‘workaholic’.
His relationship with his wife was one of the hardest to tackle for these authors but they did so in such a way that they didn’t put words in either of the subjects’ mouths like so many old historians have done. There is no evidence as the two point out that proves Jane hated George or vice-verce. Arranged marriages were nothing new and despite the Parker family’s sympathy for Mary Tudor and her mother, they knew that a union with the Boleyns was good for them. If George’s family prospered so would they. That’s how things were done back then and both lived and dealt in a world where this was the norm, neither of them as the authors point out, questioned this. The woman in question who denounced George and gave false evidence in his and his sister’s trial was never referred to as his wife, but merely a ‘lady’. It has recently pointed out this ‘lady’ was lady Worcester and she could’ve done it out of spite or under psychological duress like so many were put on during the interrogation.
Nor is there any evidence that he was a homosexual.
Finally, George’s last words and his image immortalized by his friend Thomas Wyatt is one that brings the reader to tears.
“There are a number of different versions of George’s speech, but they all agree on the basic content. Only Chapuys has George confessing that he deserved death for “having so contaminated and so contaminating others with the new sects”, and praying everyone to abandon such heresies. That is clearly not what he said, and is more a matter of wishful thinking by Chapuys. 2 After stepping on to the scaffold, George addressed the crowd: I was born under the law, and I die under the law, for as much as it is the law which has condemned me. According to two eyewitnesses, he said this three times, almost as if he were collecting his thoughts before continuing. But there was another reason. To say he died “under the law”, rather than admitting his guilt, was the closest he dared go to declaring his innocence. Therefore, he ensured the point was reiterated to the vast crowd of spectators, many of whom knew him personally. He went on to say that he was not there to preach a sermon but to die. He told the vast crowd that he deserved death because he was a wretched sinner who had grievously and often offended. He did not relate his sins, telling the crowd that they would derive no pleasure from hearing them, and that he would derive no pleasure from stating them. He merely said that God knew them all. He warned everyone present to use him as an example, especially his fellow courtiers. He warned them “not to trust in the vanity of the world, and especially in the flatterings of the Court, and the favour and treacheries of Fortune”, which he said raised men up only to “dash them again upon the ground”. He blamed fortune for his current pitiful condition – or rather, he blamed himself, saying he had leaned too heavily on fortune, “who hath proved herself fickle and false unto me”. He said he prayed for the mercy of God, and that he forgave all men. He begged forgiveness of God and of anyone he might have offended. He begged those present to ask anyone not there to forgive him if he had offended them, and he told them that “having lived the life of a sinner, I would fain die a Christian man.””
The way Amy Licence writes the story of the wives and the mistresses is so unique and beautiful and this is a must-read for everyone that hasn’t read about the wives yet. Amy starts with setting the stage by explaining about the different beliefs regarding sex, conception, and the many methods …used in each. Religion also played an important part in this period, so a lot of the book focuses on the religious aspect from Catholicism to the different sects of Protestantism that were taking over England. The book dedicates a huge chunk on Henry’s first wives and deconstructing these women from what is believed to what actually happened. There were many other things that I wasn’t completely aware of this period that blew my mind when I found out. And this is how Amy writes, she does it in such a way that she dispels all the myths regarding these elusive figures, namely the women who are still seen through a male objective lens. She starts by Katherine of Aragon, including all the important details regarding her education, her preparation for her future role as Princess then Queen of England to all the contributions she did when she finally became queen, from being a great patroness of artists and humanists, to being the first of Henry’s wives to become Regent and on top of that, enjoy a very amorous and passionate relationship with him. The image that we have of Katherine as prude and old is not very accurate. As she got older she did become more pious and secluded from the material world -though she still enjoyed many of his banquets and participated in the jousts, observing her husband ride like he was still the passionate youth from his younger days. But in her youth she was a highly pragmatic, energetic, passionate and attractive young woman who probably caught Henry’s attention since he led her down the aisle to marry his older brother, the crown heir, Arthur. But there was also another aspect to Katherine and that was that in her years of political limbo, when her father’s enmity with her older sister and her husband forced her to be stranded on England with little to no help from anybody, made her highly dependent on her lecherous priest Friar Diego which in turn, turned out to damage her reputation for a while.
This is not to say that Katherine wasn’t strong. She was but she was also human and very young at the time and with her mother gone, her father and sister far away and at war with each other, she had very few people she could trust, and there was also that cunning and ambitious element of her that is often neglected. Katherine did everything she could after her father came with a temporal solution to alleviate her status by making her his unofficial ambassador. She sought Henry out more, she ingratiated herself with his sister, made sure she was pleasing to both of them, especially the young boy who turned out to be more handsome and athletic than his late brother at his age. By all means, crowned jointly and enjoying equal status, Katherine believed her marriage would be successful but two things happened: Her new year baby died and she suffered a horde of miscarriages and as she did, she also lost her figure and as her looks faded Henry turned his attention to other women. And this is where the author provides evidence that defies the notion that Henry was a prude with only two official mistresses.
Henry wasn’t the libertine monarch that Francis was. He didn’t flaunt his mistresses in Katherine’s face or showed them off to everyone or gave them official status of mistresses as he did. Henry, always concerned with his image, was cautious and with a great network of servants who were willing to do anything to please their king, they helped him keep most of these affairs secret. But occasionally word got out and on two of these occasions it put a strain on his first marriage. Katherine was humble and loyal but she could not accept at first that there was another woman besides her sharing her husband’s bed, she didn’t believe his servant was sleeping with Anne Hastings and argued ferociously with Henry about it but she soon became pliant and docile but her anger turned up again after he had a son with Bessie Blount which he showed off to prove that the fault lay in Katherine not in him for his lack of legitimate sons. Katherine’s discomfort became well known when Henry ennobled him with titles and mansions and gave him almost equal status to that of her daughter.
The most opposition that Henry would face however would not come from his first wife but from Anne. Katherine despite failing to keep her anger and hatred over his affairs secret at times, was true to her motto of ‘Humble and Loyal’ and became beloved by the people for the charity work she did, her time as Regent defending the English borders from the Scots and emulating the virtues that were expected of women -especially royal consorts- at the time. Anne was very different in that respect. She was a cosmopolitan and highly energetic and like Katherine, highly educated woman who sported different religious ideas and whose path with him might not have been intentional as Amy Licence points out. After all, who could refuse the king of England? Nobody. Anne’s strong moral convictions and her refusal of Thomas Wyatt years before, as well as learning from experience after Wolsey had broken up her intended union with Percy, echoed those found in Vives’ books that women had to be on the look out for men’s attentions and refuse any sexual advances. Yet, the author also defies the notion that Henry abstained himself from sex the entire time and the proof of this once again lies in the contemporary sources listing the women present at the time who served or whose husband served Henry and whom he might have fathered illegitimate children with.
Anne’s tragic fall from grace lay in her failure to deliver (as her predecessor) a son. Shortly after her brother and alleged lovers and her own execution, Henry remarried. His third wife, Jane Seymour is more of a mystery and I wish there was at least one more chapter dedicated to her but this is possibly owed to the fact that her reign was very short. However she does dedicate a great deal of attention regarding the time of her son’s conception to Edward’s birth and her death and the possible causes for it. It is well known that Jane died of childbed fever but what led to it? At the time of the birth she was attended by male doctors who did not have the experience or knowledge that midwives did. It is at this point that women stories start to get omitted and women’s labor changes drastically because of it. Midwifery is start to be seen as superstitious whereas ‘learned’ men such as doctors are the new norm. Unfortunately theory is very different from practice and if they had just bothered to ask one of their female counterparts for directions like washing their hands, etc, Jane could have avoided her death.
Between the period of his mourning and courting for royal matches, Henry might have been spending time with other women and this is not such as a stretch as we have seen by the earlier examples. But as a king he needed to marry and unlike two of his wives, he needed a royal match to cement an alliance and the lucky bride was Anne of Cleves whom he later declared was unattractive and that she was not a virgin just by looking at her. The notion is so ridiculous as Amy notes, yet once Henry’s mind was made up, it was made up! And what could you do about it? Poor Anne of Cleves knew very little about the country she was about to get married in. She had been pre-contracted to the Duke of Lorraine and that was used as an excuse to annul her marriage. As a girl she had been trained to be the perfect duchess, not a queen. When she reached Calais her brother wrote to Wriothesley and other royal officials to teach her sister of the English ways and they did just that, but they failed in teaching her about the masques that her future husband loved to engage in. This one omission made a great difference. When Henry met her in disguise, Anne had no idea he was the king and turned away from him coldly exclaiming she didn’t find his attentions funny. This was the whole catalyst for his dislike of her. His next wife was the contrary. She was energetic, to his judgment she was a virgin, and like his third wife Jane Seymour she adopted a similar motto that was meant to express she would be the perfect docile wife. But her past soon caught up with her and when Henry was told of it in a letter he devastated. Katherine Howard would share the same gruesome fate as her first cousin, Anne Boleyn. But her relationship with Thomas Culpeper is also put into question. Was it sexual or just platonic? We will probably never know.
The last wife to take the center stage is the rich (twice) widowed, Katherine Parr. Like the first Katherine she inspired confidence and she was kind, humble and loyal. She was married to Henry for nearly four years, his second longest marriage. She encouraged him to see his children more and she was partly responsible for reinstating Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession. And far from the ‘nurse’ stereotype that is attached to her figure, she was an educated, highly pragmatic and religious advocate whose work helped fast forward the Reform movement in England.
Like with all her books, Amy Licence lays out the facts for you but it is up to you to make the decision whether you believe them or not.
This book is a great addition to the Tudor shelves and to women’s histories which she tells in such a way that hasn’t been told before.