Book Review – Tudor Book of Days by Tudor Times

By Nathen Amin

You won’t forget the first time you hold the Tudor Book of Days, that’s for sure. What a remarkable publication this is from the folk who run the ever-growing Tudor Times empire. Solidly bound with a stunning cover featuring depictions of embroidered Tudor roses, I fell in love with the book before I’d even opened it up.

But first, some context – what exactly is a Book of Days? Well, its based on the Book of Hours, a literary item often owned and used by the great and good of the medieval and renaissance period to aid lay people in practicing their religion to utmost of their ability, such as serving as a remainder of important feast days or to collect biblical texts, liturgies or prayers that could be used by the owner throughout the day. These books were very much a much-revered and highly sought-after fashion accessory at the uppermost levels of society, and were often individually commissioned, bearing the owner’s coat of arms or other family emblems. They were then passed through the generations. They were annotated when important events occurred, such as Margaret Beaufort marking in her Book of Hours when her namesake granddaughter was born in 1489.

What the Tudor Times have done here, is replicate the idea of a Book of Hours but with a more useful, modern twist, coming up with the Book of Hours, creating a composite publication suitable for the 21st Century. It is a perpetual calendar in planner format, allowing you to mark important recurring events, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, meetings etc on the date they occur. This is a key selling point of the planner – days of the week (i.e. Saturday) and years (i.e. 2017) are not included, just the date (i.e. 15 January), allowing you to keep using this Book of Days for many years. It is not designed to have a 12-month shelf life, just like the original Book of Hours.

Each page of the planner, therefore, has the date (e.g. 1 November), the feast day if one happens to fall on that date (e.g. All Hallows’ Day), a fact of history relating to that date (e.g. Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, died 1456) and a space to jot down any thoughts or events you want marked yourself. At the start of each month is a summary of all historical facts for quick reference, and a section to write down all birthdays, anniversaries, reminders, project, occasions, festivals etc you want to note.

Other helpful additions to the book, aside from its main section, are a page to input your personal details that you may refer to regularly, and an index of each figure featuring in the titbit of trivia throughout the book with short biographical details.

In short, what the Tudor Times have produced here is a masterpiece, a unique but incredibly useful planner that will help any Tudor enthusiast navigate through the quagmire that is their day-to-day lives. An absolute must on the wish-list of any organised 16th century aficionado, and one I will personally be putting to very good use hereon in.

________________________________________________________________________________

Tudor Times is the place to go for a wide variety of information about the Tudor and Stewart period 1485 – 1625. On the website you can find material on People, Places, Daily Life, Military & Warfare, Politics & Economics and Religion. It features Guest Articles from well-known Tudor & Stewart historians. The site has a Book Review section, with author interviews and a book club. It also has comprehensive family trees, and a ‘What’s On’ event list with information about forthcoming activities relevant to the Tudors and Stewarts.
Advertisements

Book Review – The Survival of the Princes in the Tower by Matthew Lewis

By Nathen Amin

The Princes in the Tower is possibly the UK’s most enduring historical mystery, certainly up there with the disappearance of Lord Lucan and the Jack the Ripper murders, one which the author probably rightly believes is as hotly debated today through social media as it was in contemporary taverns during the 15th century. Thanks to the remarkable pen of Shakespeare and the many incarnations of his play on stage and silver screen, many people still hold the princes’ uncle Richard III responsible for the murder of the boys shortly after he placed them in the Tower of London. The dastardly, wicked uncle, consumed by ruthless ambition and all-encompassing evil, barely hesitating before murdering a pair of innocent souls. But what if the boys actually survived?

In Matthew Lewis’ latest offering, the author asks us to momentarily forget what we think we know about history’s greatest cold case, and open our minds to the intriguing possibility that we may have been led astray all along, initially as part of a concerted propaganda effort by supporters of the Tudor succession and thereafter by generations of scholars and historians who failed to interpret the source material without their innate bias. The result is a fascinating read that grips from start to finish, readable investigative history that engages the mind. Murder, Mystery and Myth is a most appropriate subheading.

Now, lets get the burning question out of the way – Lewis has not solved the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, nor, to his credit, does he claim to have done so. This book is about putting forward a different idea, to deconstruct the myth surrounding the case and to get the reader to reassess the sources that they may already be familiar with and ask the question – “what if the princes survived?”. Surprising, the evidence, or what is left of it, does not work against such a possibility as perhaps first thought. As he wittily notes, there is ‘no smoking gun, or longbow’, that satisfactorily solves the case.

Lewis opens his book with a fitting quote from the 17th Century French philosopher Pierre Bayle, stating ‘the antiquity and general acceptance of an opinion is not assurance of its truth’, and it is this very idea that the reader must consciously retain as they turn each pages of the book, to focus on interpreting primary and secondary sources without the learned bias each reader often brings to the table.

It is satisfying to note shortly into the book that Lewis states he has no intention of solving the mystery of the Princes’ fate, one which must remain unsolvable due to the lack of evidence which has survived. What the author intends to do in this work is put forward an alternative theory as to the eventual fate of those princes initially locked in the Tower in 1483, one that imagines their survival. His rationale is sound – if we have been able to speculate of the two boys’ death for 500 years, despite a palpable lack of evidence outside innuendo and rumour, why not flip matters on their head and entertain the idea they survived?

Now, one may be tempted to treat any book which seeks to answer the question “were the Princes in the Tower murdered at all?” as yet another tiresome attempt to restore the reputation of Richard III, ​but Lewis’ book doesn’t fall into the trap of extolling the virtues of ‘good king Richard’ and shouldn’t be written of as such by sceptical readers. As early as page 22, after all, Lewis accepts Richard had the means, motive and opportunity to slay the princes, something often denied by his most ardent supporters. Lewis’ argument, of course, not only absolves Richard of the blame, but also by extension Henry VII, and it is also satisfying to note the author not ascribe to the frankly preposterous belief that Margaret Beaufort was either a religious zealot or had plotted for the crown throughout the life of her only child. This is not a book just for Ricardians.

Lewis works systematically through contemporary sources such as Polydore Vergil, Croyland Chronicle, Dominic Mancini and Bernard Andre, providing historical context to their production and revealing much of the bias behind their writing. He is not wrong to believe that when we focus our mind on accepting for one moment that the princes survived, the sources themselves do not immediately contradict such a notion. We must also try and account for other facts such as how Thomas More, famous for much of the anti-Richard ideas that persist, ceased working on his ‘History of Richard III’ shortly after writing about the Princes in the Tower, with Lewis speculating this may have been because he found holes in the theory they had been killed (More’s worth was later continued by a different writer).

Other facets of the mystery Lewis discusses include the supposed discovery of the princes’ bones in the Tower of London during the 17th century, which the author notes have yet to be satisfactorily subjected to rigorous scientific testing, whilst prudently noting they were conveniently unearthed at a time when Charles II was keen to deflect his detractors by pointing to England’s past tyrants, in this king Richard III who ‘killed’ such innocent children. He also deals at length with the rebellions of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, who he speculates may have been the princes, before ending with another thorough account of the life and times of Doctor John Clement, a member of Thomas More’s household who has been alleged to be one of the princes based on an analysis of a family painting that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dan Brown novel.

The Survival of the Princes is a book that will undoubtedly divide opinion, with some unfairly writing it off before even turning a page. The main issue Lewis faces is that the reader, including myself, will come to the subject with their own bias. Those who are convinced Richard III killed the princes will be looking for holes in his theory, whilst supported of that same king will be more emboldened by the work, all whilst reading the very same words. I can only reiterate that the author, to his commendable credit, does not himself feed into the biases and makes no grand claims either way. It is my personal opinion that Richard III was likely the cause of the princes’ disappearance, and subsequent death. However, I can’t prove this, and this is where Lewis’ book comes into its own – if death of the princes’ cannot be proven, then surely survival must also be considered.

This book is a much needed addition to the subject of the Princes of the Tower, putting forward an additional logical theory without becoming trapped in nonsensical arguments about ‘good king Richard’ or ‘evil Margaret Beaufort’.​ The best compliment I can pay Matthew Lewis is that whilst I can’t prove that the Princes survived, even after reading his carefully constructed and well-thought out argument, neither can I prove they were killed. And despite what you may read elsewhere, most vociferously online, neither can anyone else. The Survival of the Princes, therefore, is a worthy read, regardless of the side of the fence you sit on in matters of the 15th century. This is a book anyone with an interest in historical mystery must pick up.

Let the discussion commence…

________________________________________________________________________________

Matthew Lewis is the author of two histories and two historical fiction novels about Richard III and the Wars of the Roses. The medieval period is a particular passion of his, which he hopes to spread through his blog. He is dedicated to teaching and discussing this period, operating two history podcasts and providing bite-sized facts to his Twitter and Facebook following. Wars of the Roses, the Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy, Medieval Britain in 100 Facts and Richard, Duke of York; King by Right are all available on Amberley Publishing, with Survival of the Princes in the Tower; Murder, Mystery and Myth from the History Press.

Book Review – Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann

By Nathen Amin

Black Tudors by Dr Miranda Kaufmann is an ambitious book loaded with little-known Tudor trivia that has long been overdue in the study of 16th century England, and fortunately for the future of this little-explored topic, the result is a fascinating production of the utmost quality that takes a close look at ten individuals who could, quite accurately, be considered Black Tudors.

There is a common-held belief that these British Isles were inhabited by a native, white population before the rise of Slavery, the Industrial Revolution, and the onset of twentieth century globalisation with the voyage of the Empire Windrush from the Caribbean, that people of colour quite simply were unknown to our Tudor-period ancestors. Yet, as Dr Kaufmann shows in this illuminating and extraordinarily in-depth publication, such a view is quite simply nonsense. As the author notes in the blurb, people of colour were christened, married and buried by the church in England, and were paid wages just like any other 16th century person. They formed integral parts of the communities they lived in, and provided services that were often welcomed, and in many cases, essential.

A Black Tudor presence is first explicitly noticed shortly after the arrival of Katherine of Aragon in England for her wedding to Prince Arthur, around the turn of the 16th century. The Spanish princess brought her own servants across the Channel, which included a woman of a Muslim Moorish background named Catalina, whose duty included making the future queen’s bed. Perhaps more famously is the arrival of a trumpeter to the Tudor court who became known, ironically one imagines, as John Blanke, a man who would serve both Henry VII and Henry VIII with distinction, and for which he was handsomely rewarded. Henry VIII even footed the bill for Blanke’s wedding, ordering a gown of violet cloth, a bonnet and a hat as a gift for ‘our trumpeter’

For even the most ardent of Tudor readers and students, there will be much within Black Tudors that you simply didn’t know, and this is where the true value of this work can be found. Dr Kaufmann is not simply covering well-trodden ground, an issue which has often plagued the study of the sixteenth century, but instead is revealing information that most of her audience will be coming across for the first time. The results are astounding.

Who knew, for example, that Africans were the predominant divers of their day, a fact which witnessed the recruitment of an African named Jacques Francis to try and salvage some items from the sunken Mary Rose in 1450s, over four hundred years before the ship was eventually raised from the sea bed. Sir Francis Drake was just one prominent figure of his day who employed a person of colour, in his case Diego, a freed slave from Panama who would go on to circumnavigate much of the globe with his English captain, often working as an interpreter.

Of course, the history isn’t always joyous, as discovered by the tragic tale of Black Maria, a woman aboard one of Drake’s ships who was raped, impregnated and then abandoned on an island when she presumably had outlived her usefulness. We are also treated to the curious tale of a black porter named Edward Swarthye, who in 1596 in rural Gloucestershire was employed to whip a white member of the gentry named John Guye, perhaps an incident unfathomable to our preconceived ideas of enforced black subservience in the past. A particular entry which I thoroughly enjoyed reading involved the wonderfully-named Reasonable Blackman, who was able to take advantage of his freedom in England to become a successful silk weaver in Southwark, counting many wealthy aristocrats and merchants amongst his clientele.

I was also astonished, more through my own ignorance of the subject as it was so poorly documented elsewhere before this book, that although black people existed as slaves in Spain, bought and sold on cathedral steps like inanimate objects, slavery was not recognised in England so that once these men and women arrived in England, they were considered free. For example, when Pero Alvarez, an African man who arrived in England from Portugal during the reign of Henry VII, he was instantly considered a free man, no longer subject to the shackles of slavery. The subject of slavery arose in an English court of law in 1569 when it was comprehensively determined that no man could be subject to slavery upon entering the kingdom, for ‘England has too pure an air for slaves to breath in’. Two decades later, William Harrison noted proudly;

‘as for slaves and bondmen, we have none; nay such is the privilege of our country by the especial grace of God and bounty of our princes, that if any come hither from other realms, so soon as they set foot on land they become as free in condition as their masters, whereby all note of servile bondage is utterly removed from them’

The author is an expert in her field, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and an Oxford graduate, where her doctoral thesis was based on the presence of Africans in Britain between 1500 and 1640. The subject couldn’t be in safer hands. Dr Kaufmann’s research is impeccable, and has to be for such a detailed if specific study of those people who for so long have been disregarded by centuries of historians. She treats each of her subjects as individuals in their own right instead of just a community, exploring each life with a delicate warmth and respect that endears those individuals to the reader. We are gripped by their story.

Black Tudors is essentially a fascinating and concise microhistory of a small but important community in 16th century living their everyday lives amidst the much greater socio-political matters occurring around them, from the Great Matter and Reformation of Henry VIII to the threat posed by Spain against Elizabeth I. This book has no filler, and is wholly focused on its objective, a heavily-researched, well-referenced and pioneering, production. At 34-pages, her bibliography is possibly the most exhaustive I have seen. Kaufmann succeeds in her project, and succeeds well.

In her introduction, Dr Kaufmann notes ‘the misconceptions surrounding the status of Black Tudors are part of a wider impression that any African living outside Africa before the mid-fifteenth century, be it in Europe of the Americas must have been enslaved’, further pointing out in her conclusion that Africans were seen and heard across England, from Hull to Truro. This book will hopefully go some way to dispelling this misguided belief that many of us hold. Kaufmann also states confidently “for all those who thought they knew the Tudors, it is time to think again”. She’s right.

________________________________________________________________________________

Dr. Miranda Kaufmann is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, part of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She read History at Christ Church, Oxford, where she completed her doctoral thesis on ‘Africans in Britain, 1500-1640’ in 2011. As a freelance historian and journalist, she has worked for The Sunday Times, the BBC, the National Trust, English Heritage, the Oxford Companion series, Quercus publishing and the Rugby Football Foundation. She is a popular speaker at conferences, seminars and schools from Hull to Jamaica and has published articles in academic journals and elsewhere (including the Times Literary Supplement, The Times, The Guardian, History Today, BBC History Magazine and Periscope Post). She enjoys engaging in debate at the intersection of past and present and has been interviewed by the BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera USA and the Observer.

Book Review – Edward IV: Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James

By Nathen Amin

Edward IV, much like his son-in-law, and political heir in many ways, Henry VII, has often found his position in history obscured somewhat by the mystery over the fate of his two sons, the Princes in the Tower, as well as the towering spectres of his younger brother Richard III and grandson Henry VIII. Whilst there have been several academic publications produced on the life and times of the mighty Yorkist king who reigned in two separate spells between 1461 and 1483, a readable narrative history on Edward is always welcomed. After all, as the author notes in his prologue, ‘few English monarchs fought harder for kingship than King Edward IV’. It’s probably the least he deserves.

Edward IV, Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James is essentially the story of how one man emerged from the fractious feuding between various noble families to become the most prodigious warrior of his age, winning a crown on the battlefield and ostensibly ending the wars before lapses in political judgement briefly cost him his throne, forcing a return to battle. It’s a captivating, even timeless, tale of a dramatic rise followed by a tough fall, a story of resilient redemption before success itself eventually destroyed Edward’s figure, and in time, his dynasty. A well-worn story it may be, but told so vividly by James it might well sound like the first time you’ve heard it.

The book is written clearly and concisely, covering all main events in Edward’s life, helpfully illustrated with several maps, battlefield diagrams, family trees and a few dozen photographs of the people and places mentioned in the text. James has an extensive knowledge of battles in particular, which naturally receive considerable coverage throughout the text, and I was intrigued by his use of war gaming photographs to illustrate the various battles in Edward’s life, something I have not seen elsewhere.

Written chronologically from Edward’s birth in Rouen, through his rise to the throne, his contentious marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, and on to his final days of excess shortly after his fortieth birthday, James’ book serves an ideal introduction into the life of the first Yorkist king of England. As is always the case with books of this period, and for good reason, the book also covers the wider Wars of the Roses conflict and features considerable supporting roles from figures such as Henry VI, Richard III and the Woodvilles, yet crucially never fails to lose sight of its titular subject. This is Edward’s story, unashamedly told from Edward’s position.

The result is an engaging read that serves as a gateway into further study of Edward IV and the period. His analysis of the complex events is balanced, with little room for wild speculations based on assumptions and presumptions. James systematically deconstructs Edward from the stereotypes he has become reduced to, be it warrior king or promiscuous lover, and reveals Edward the man, who committed both just and questionable acts during his time. There are no outlandish claims or unfathomable theories presented based on flimsy evidence, and therefore Edward IV, Glorious Son of York, crafted upon the known facts and most likely scenarios, is a solid, and enduring, addition to the libraries of any self-respecting aficionado of the Wars of the Roses.

________________________________________________________________________________

Jeffrey James has published numerous articles on military history and is the author of An Onslaught of Spears, a history of Viking attacks on England leading to Cnut’s conquest in 1016, and Swordsmen of the King, covering the exploits of Charles I’s German nephews during the English Civil War. He lives in Southsea, England.

Book Review – Owen Tudor by Terry Breverton

By Nathen Amin

Many will be aware of the work of Welsh historian Terry Breverton, particularly his recent forays into the world of the Tudors. Amongst his recent work has been biographies of Henry VII (2016) and Jasper Tudor (2014) which sandwiched the interesting Tudor Kitchen; What the Tudors Ate & Drank (2015). On the tails of his work on two previous Tudors come this interesting biography on arguably the most fascinating member of this Welsh dynasty that captured the English crown – Owen Tudor.

The book is subtitled Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty and this aptly summarises the life and times of Owen Tudor. He was born around 1400 to a Welsh family torn apart by his uncle Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh Wars of Independence, and migrated to England at a young age to find his fortune. And find a fortune he did, in the form of a queen of England, no less. Owen met, fell in love, and married Katherine de Valois, widow of Henry V and mother of the incumbent king, Henry VI.

His life thereafter is one of the most remarkable tales in English or Welsh history. Through Breverton’s easy to follow, if often blunt, narrative, we learn how Owen survived persecution and imprisonment after his royal wife’s premature death, helping raise two sons who would become earls of the realm as half-brothers to Henry VI, and standing behind one of those sons, Jasper, as the Wars of the Roses erupted in the late 1450s. Owen’s life came to a brutal end during the aftermath of the battle of Mortimer’s Cross between his son’s Lancastrian army and a Yorkist force led by the future king Edward III, a skirmish in which the subject of this biography fought despite being around 60 years old. Owen was captured and led to Hereford where he was mercilessly beheaded on the market square.

Owen Tudor, Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty, also covers the ancestry of Owen, along with that of the woman with whom he would become forever associated, Katherine of Valois. The book is particularly interesting in that it is often written from a Welsh perspective by a Welsh author, offering insight into the life and motivations of the subject often lacking in English accounts through the ages, ignorant of the importance of Welsh prophecies and legends in helping propel the Tudors towards the throne of these islands. A chapter on Owen’s legacy makes for interesting reading, and naturally leads onto Breverton’s other books on Jasper and Henry Tudor, whilst an appendix uncovering Owen’s appearances in literature discusses his place in numerous fiction works, from a 1600 play called Owen Tudor through to the recent 2016 release by author Tony Riches. Its intriguing to read how Owen has been immortalised having just read his actual life story.

Breverton’s book may at times deviate from its subject, as to be expected from a study of a life of which we don’t know a great deal, but that’s not to say this work doesn’t have worth. Owen Tudor has long been an enigma of the medieval period, a swashbuckling hero almost more suited to romantic fiction than serious academic study. Indeed, the author notes in his introduction that this wasn’t an easy book to research. That being said, Owen Tudor by Terry Breverton is a long-overdue work dedicated to one of the more captivating figures of the Tudor dynasty. It should be remembered that every English monarch post-Henry VII was descended from Owen, not to mention various foreign rulers including five kings of France, several German emperors, kings of Spain, Norway, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Bulgaria and Belgium and even Marie Antoinette. An accomplished effort to conclude Breverton’s Tudor biographical trilogy.

________________________________________________________________________________

Historian Terry Breverton is a former businessman, consultant and academic and is now a full-time writer, having received the Welsh Books Council’s Book of the Month Award five times. He is an expert in Welsh culture and history and has presented documentaries on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel etc. Terry has worked in over 20 countries and has written over 40 well-received books including Richard III: The King in the Carpark; Breverton’s First World War Curiosities; Owain Glyndŵr: The Story of the Last Prince of Wales; Wales: The Biography; Wales: A Historical Companion; Immortal Words; Immortal Last Words; Breverton’s Nautical Curiosities: A Book of the Sea; Breverton’s Phantasmagoria; Breverton’s Encyclopaedia of Inventions; Black Bart Roberts; The Journal of Penrose, Seaman and Breverton’s Complete Herbal.

Book Review – The Family of Richard III by Michael Hicks

By Nathen Amin

It is fair to say that Richard III, whether his supporters appreciate this fact or not, is a veritable cash cow, a money-making market in himself into which many authors have recently jumped headfirst. Consequently, books on this infamous king are many, and have unquestionably accelerated since the uncovering of Richard’s remains in a Leicester car park in 2012. A simple search on a site like Amazon for ‘Richard III’ returns thousands of results, for example. Any book on Richard, therefore, is just one in a crowded arena jostling for attention, each covering the aspects of Richard’s life and times, before generally taking either a pro or anti view on his rise to the throne. Good King Richard or Bad King Richard, the debate shows no signs of dissipating, despite how tiresome that dispute sometimes is. It was with interest, therefore, that I opened the covers of ‘The Family of Richard III’ by Professor Michael Hicks, a book that promised to focus not on the well-trodden subject of the king himself, but rather on those currently marooned in the shadow of England’s most controversial monarch.

The author is certainly no stranger to the period, building a solid reputation as an authority on all things fifteenth century and with an extensive bibliography in his locker that includes biographies of Richard III, George, duke of Clarence, Edward IV plus work that looks at the Wars of the Roses in general. Having once been considered by BBC History Magazine as ‘the greatest living expert on Richard III’, Hicks is therefore an ideal scholar to examine this topic.

The Family of Richard III is at essence a biography of the House of York, building on much of Professor Hicks’ previous body of work and collating much of his broad research into one, handy production. The fifteenth century can often be difficult to comprehend when one contemplates the multitude of families at the top of English society, not to mention the fact these same families often intermarried and were therefore related in a variety of ways. Hicks’ book, therefore, endeavours to simplify this complexity for a reader who doesn’t have the wealth of experience of a seasoned medievalist, and in this he succeeds. This is not a book that takes any in-depth looks at the main events of Richard’s own life, that is, his upbringing, his years as duke of Gloucester or his seizure of the throne, but rather one about the people who flitted in and out of Richard’s life during these years. Therefore, the ‘family’ mentioned in the book’s title covers the life and times of Richard’s brothers, his wife and in-laws, and his own offspring, including those of illegitimate origins. England.

In the chapter Cadet of the House of York we are treated to a discussion of the first family Richard knew, that is, the one of his parents and siblings. A thorough account of the births and childhoods of all his siblings is included, and a brief look at the origins of the wider House of York to which he belonged as a son of Richard, the 3rd holder of the dukedom of York. Interesting is the section on King Richard’s wider relations, such as the Bourchier and Stafford families, an aspect regularly overlooked in books about the Yorkists, as well as the vast Neville connection Richard was kin to through his mother Cecily Neville. As Hicks astutely points out, ‘Richard of Fotheringay was related to almost everyone who was anyone, often several times over’.

The book also covers in considerable detail the first version of the royal House of York in the 1460s under the kingship of Richard’s brother Edward IV, examining Richard’s relationship with not only his brothers Edward and George of Clarence, but his Neville cousins under leadership of Warwick the Kingmaker, and Woodville in-laws that grew increasingly conspicuous as the reign progressed. This explosion in number of Richard’s relatives, both of blood and marriage, was bolstered by the illegitimate children he had during his youth, at least two of which are known, John of Pontefract and Katherine. Hicks speculates that Richard’s family grew so quickly during this period, he probably started to lose track of the sheer number of relatives he had – the marriages of his brothers alone brought Richard 11 brothers-in-law, 10 sisters-in-law, two nephews and a host of other cousins alone. The evolving relationship between the three brothers of York during the 1470s also receives attention, including the often confusing Neville dispute between Richard and Clarence, which prompted a chronicler to note how ‘so much disputation arose’ between the pair.

Richard’s own family unit, that is, his wife and legitimate son, are examined as would be expected, before Hicks considers what he terms ‘the self-destruction of the House of York’ through Richard’s usurpation of the throne. Hicks, for the avoidance of any doubt, is clear that it was a usurpation, arguing he was probably driven by ambition, and that the princes were dead by the end of 1483. If Richard had indeed killed the princes, the Hicks asserts this was ‘the most ruthless and unnatural rejection of family ties’ by the king. Whilst this is a traditionalist view of Richard, much to the chagrin of some, Hicks does sponsor two uncommon believes; firstly, that Elizabeth of York had romantic feelings for her uncle, and secondly that the bones in Leicester were not, in fact, those of Richard, arguing the identification with the king is ‘more unlikely than likely’. Whether you are in agreement with Hicks or not, and in the interests of clarity I personally do not subscribe to his theories, he certainly puts across his case in a manner as to make you consider his views.

Where I personally found particular value in this book is where Hicks, true to the book’s purpose, expands the study of Richard’s ‘family’ to the modern day, a discussion of the hundreds of thousands of descendants of the king’s various siblings, his collateral relatives, investigating the known status of this family as it exists in the present age. Plenty of tables are provided within the text to aid the reader in keeping tabs on the complex connections between individual and families, providing a helpful visual guide along with the six pedigree illustrations at the beginning of the book. It also serves as a valuable introduction into the often confusing world of DNA, particularly to the reader not Scientifically-minded, such as myself. The book gave me a far greater understanding of mitochondrial DNA than the academic press releases of Leicester University ever could, for example.

‘The Family of Richard III’ is not a book that uncovers exciting new research, or dares to raise new theories unpublished elsewhere. But that isn’t what the purpose of the author is for this work, as he openly states in the introduction. As a book which endeavours to collect all of Richard’s family, in their various guises across multiple generations, into one convenient study, however, the book certainly achieves all of its objectives. A recommended addition to the scholarship of Richard III, which in its own way helps add another context to the live, times and decisions of England’s most infamous king.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Michael Hicks is Professor of History at King Alfred’s College, Winchester. He has written extensively on medieval England and is regarded by many as the leading expert on the Yorkist dynasty. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He lives in Taunton.

Book Review – The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

By Nathen Amin

Some may argue that the topic of Henry VIII and his six wives is a subject that has suffered oversaturation in recent decades, with innumerable works produced analysing every possible aspect of the Tudor king’s relationship with the women in his life. The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence, however, proves to be another worthy addition to the genre, taking a fresh look at an old subject as has become the author’s trademark in recent years.

Subtitled ‘The Women’s Stories’, this gives you an indication of what to expect from an author well-known for her work on the female gender of 15th and 16th century England, and this isn’t a negative thing. As with her previous, and probably future, books, this isn’t a work written by woman that is only intended to be read by women. Licence’s goal is to discuss the subject of Henry VIII and his tumultuous love life from the perspectives of his female companions, a varied and intriguing array of women whose voices have sometimes become obscured by the drama that surrounded this larger-than-life monarch. Even the most casual of observers is generally aware of Henry’s wants, needs and desires, noting how he infamously ploughed through several wives to satisfy his thirst; indeed, it has been documented time and time again.

In this particular work, however, Licence sets out, and succeeds, in her objective to bring sometime-queens such as Katherine of Aragon and Catherine Howard back to life, using contemporary sources to support her conclusions, some of which are mainstream and others which are innovative in their deduction. Where Licence’s book has worth, however, is in her thorough accounts of the lives of Henry’s lesser-known lovers, from Bessie Blount to Mary Boleyn, and from Elizabeth Carew to Jane Popincourt, women often reduced to a mere sentence or two in other works.

It soon becomes apparent that this isn’t a biography of Henry VIII, and true to her intention, the book is rather divided into sections documenting the life and times of the women, with each chapter and sub-section introduced with a contemporary quote, a nice touch. Part 1 of Six Wives covers the life of Catherine of Aragon, from her birth in 1485 to 1509, the year Henry VII died and Henry VIII became king, as well as her husband. Even so, Henry was powerful, handsome and lusty during the early years of his marriage, and Part 2 looks at Queen Catherine’s rivals in the Tudor court between 1510 and 1515, including Anne Hastings, the little-known Flemish maid Etiennette de la Baume, and the aforementioned ladies Popincourt and Carew. Etiennette, in particular, is an interesting addition as even well-read Tudor aficionados may not be aware of Henry’s French conquest, or another known mysteriously only as ‘Madame the Bastard’. Part 3, meanwhile, documents the king’s affair with Bessie Blount, the only woman with whom he had an acknowledged bastard, whilst parts 4-9 cover his remaining wives.

I particularly enjoyed the brief description of a man named William Webbe who cried vengeance against the king for Henry’s liaison with a woman described in official records as a ‘wench’, and whom he installed in a property for the purposes of adultery. I wished we knew more about Webbe, for it must have taken considerable courage to accuse the king when other men remained tight-lipped in such scenarios, out of fear no doubt.

What is evident from Licence’s study is that the women in Henry’s life were, as simply as it sounds, just that; living, breathing women, full of the same hopes and fears for their future as any woman walking the planet today. This may seem like an obvious statement, but too often in books relating to the Tudor era are the women reduced to caricatures – the proud woman, the scheming woman, the flirty woman and so on. The human mind is far more complex than this, shaped by circumstances both within and without each person’s control. Whilst we have the benefit of hindsight in knowing how their actions would shape their destiny, these women didn’t have that luxury. Licence attempts to explain those she is studying with this concept in mind, and in my opinion is successful in her endeavour.  The myth, in essence, is stripped away until we’re faced with the reality.

Amy Licence is unquestionably one of the most popular Tudor authors of her generation, a reputation created from her clear style of writing, attention to detail and refreshing takes on a well-worn subject. The blurb for The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII pointedly asks “What was it like to be Mrs Henry VIII?”. After finishing this book, you will have a much better idea. A valuable addition to the study of both Tudor and female history.

________________________________________________________________________________

Amy Licence is the author of several books on the Tudor dynasty and the Wars of the Roses, including In Bed With the Tudors (‘A fascinating book examining the sex lives of the Tudors in unprecedented detail’ Daily Express), Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York and The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, all published by Amberley. Amy has written for the Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and BBC History Magazine and has appeared on BBC radio and television. She lives in Canterbury with her husband and two children