Book Review – Whitehall Palace in a Nutshell by Philip Roberts

By Nathen Amin

Many people today use the term Whitehall to refer to the government of the present day, but not many of those will be aware that the term emanates from the Palace of Whitehall which once stood on the site of modern governmental buildings in Westminster. One man who is more than aware of this is historian and researcher Phil Roberts, who has put together this handy history of the main London residence of the kings and queens of England from 1530 to 1698.

Roberts is an enthusiastic student of his subject, captivated by its history and eager to share his knowledge with the wider public. His book ‘Whitehall Palace in a Nutshell’ is the first step to achieving this aim. Although the book is concise, part of publisher Made Global’s intriguing ‘in a Nutshell’ series, Roberts commendably succeeds in covering all aspects of the Palace’s history, from its requisition by Henry VIII to the reign of James I, also taking into account its place in the English Civil War, the execution of Charles I, and the Cromwellian era. His attention to detail is noted, including trivia such as Henry VIII paying £1,130 in 1531 to buy up the buildings around the palace or that he owned over 2028 pieces of plate and 2000 pieces of tapestry by 1547. The miscellany of events towards the end of the book is particularly a mine of information.

The palace started life as York Place, the London residence of the Archbishops of York, but after Cardinal Wolsey’s fall, was acquired by Henry VIII in 1530. Within two years, it was known as White Hall and became the favoured residence of the king and Anne Boleyn when in the capital. It was a massive complex, growing to contain 2000 rooms and covering 23 acres, eclipsing Versailles, the Vatican and Hampton Court. His account of the fire that finally brought the Palace tumbling down is particularly gripping, highlighting how we lost one of the most splendid Tudor palaces in the country. ‘Whitehall Burnt! Nothing but walls and ruins left’ exclaimed the diarist John Evelyn, reporting the tragedy, as shown in Roberts’ book, robbed us of a wonderful building.

51zZCa+O7dLThe maps are a helpful guide for the modern visitor to London to place themselves on the spot where kings once rested their heads, although unfortunately there isn’t much remaining.  In fact, the wine cellar still survives below street level and whilst is not open to the public, Roberts used personal connections to gain access, a benefit which is noticeable in his work, particularly in photographs of the interior.

All things considered, Whitehall Palace is a short read that is detailed enough to give new information and small enough to be used as a guide book when traipsing through the streets of London. Whitehall Palace in a Nutshell is a valuable addition for any student of both Tudor and Stuart periods, whether academic or amateur. An interesting read that is enough to compel me to pay more attention to my surroundings next time I am down by the Thames in Westminster. I suspect that was the author’s aim.

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Philip Roberts, author of Whitehall Palace in a Nutshell, is employed as an ambulance crew member. He is also a Tudor era enthusiast, having been a member of the Mary Rose Trust Information Group Team for well over twenty years, educating people on King Henry VIII’s warship, and on everyday Tudor life. He has also been a reenactor as a Tudor at Kentwell Hall, Suffolk, the world famous Elizabethan mansion, and still re-enacts at the Mary Rose Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Book Review – The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles – Henry VIII’s Nearest & Dearest by Sarah-Beth Watkins

By Nathen Amin

Anyone who has watched controversial Showtime Television Series ‘The Tudors’ will be well aware of name Charles Brandon, a brooding lothario who snagged the sister of a King. And King Henry VIII at that. We are introduced to the couple as they get together, marry without the king’s consent, suffer banishment from court, grow apart and eventually their respective deaths. But that is fiction. What Sarah-Beth Watkins succeds in accomplishing in her new book The Tudor Brandons is replace the fiction with fact, exploring the real life story of the Suffolks, bringing them to life with far greater accuracy than the television series.

Although things have changed in recent years, the Tudor book industry is still dominated by the larger than life figure of Henry VIII and his six wives, and so any book focusing on the lives of those in his circle rather than the king himself is always welcome in my house.

The book opens with a poem from the Suffolk Garland, a novel way of opening the story and setting the context for the book. We are instantaneously made aware that this is the story of the Brandons, and not their king or various sisters-in-law. An extract from the poem, perfectly summarises the couple’s early relationship, the fair Mary and the knightly Brandon;

“Eighth Henry ruling this land

He had a sister fair

That was the widow’d queen of France

Enrich’d with virtues rare

And being come to England’s court

She oft beheld a knight

Charles Brandon nam’d, in whose fair eyes

She chiefly took delight”

Before Watkins delves into their relationship however, she covers the ancestry of Charles Brandon with commendable detail, particularly as he was not descended from the great nobles of the realm and therefore information is not easily accessible. Most books which mention Brandon generally only make passing references to his lowly birth and occasionally a mention of his father who fought at Bosworth for Henry Tudor. It is here that Watkins truly distinguishes her work, covering the Brandon family story from 1443 to Bosworth. Their beginnings are not as lowly as it sometimes suggested, for it is recounted that Brandon’s grandfather William was a merchant closely aligned with the Dukes of Norfolk, perhaps ironic considering Charles Brandon’s later dealings with a duke of Norfolk in the 1520s and 30s. I enjoyed learning nuggets of trivia such as Brandon’s grandfather’s indictment for assault, theft and threatening behaviour, although he did fight for the Yorkists at the Battles of Towton and Tewkesbury. By 1483 William Brandon had transferred his loyalties to Tudor and was recorded as hiding from Richard III in Colchester, with his son, and Charles’ father, on the run. It seems that criminal behaviour run in the family, for Brandon’s father, also called William, was arrested for rape in 1478 and only just escaped hanging. It would have been an ignominious early ending to a family that would become renowned half a century later.

510k+JBcHcLThe rest of the Brandon story is covered, with Watkins exploring the French marriage of Princess Mary, her widowhood and her return to court with Brandon. We learn about their involvement in the rise of Anne Boleyn and what became of Brandon after his wife’s early death. It is the early years however that make this book worth its while, although the fact that Watkins doesn’t get bogged down on the minutiae of King Henry VIII’s reign, well covered elsewhere, is particularly helpful. This is, after all, the story of the Brandons and the author never strays far from her subject. Sizable extracts from surviving letters provide the reader with the sources to make their own deductions, always a bonus in historical non-fiction in my eyes.

All in all, Watkins book is a worthwhile addition to any Tudor library, its light and readable without shirking on detail and provides a brilliant introduction to the lives of the Suffolks during those momentous earlier years of Henry VIII’s tumultuous reign.

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Sarah-Beth Watkins works in publishing and has a BA in Social Policy. She grew up in Richmond, Surrey and began soaking up history from an early age. Her love of writing has seen her articles published in various publications over the past twenty years. Her history works are Ireland’s Suffragettes, Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII and The Tudor Brandons.

Book Review – Richard, Duke of York; King by Right by Matthew Lewis

By Nathen Amin

In recent times there have been biographies aplenty in the Wars of the Roses, a trend that shows no signs of abating. Henry VII, Jasper Tudor, Edward IV and Richard III have received plenty of attention from historians in the last few years, to add to the Social Media groups and blogs dedicated to such luminaries of the fifteenth century.

Oddly, such a biography or study had yet to be written about the man who, in the eyes of many, initiated the brutal internecine conflict, Richard, Duke of York. It is true that he features as a major character either in works about others or general Wars of the Roses tomes, but for such an important figure however, a dedicated biography has been long overdue. Thankfully this is something Matthew Lewis has finally supplied.

Apart from being a highly influential fifteenth century figure deserving of modern analysis, Lewis outlines his motivation for the work to be an attempt to push aside the veils of myth and legend that surround the duke of York and to challenge the image of Richard as a man whose insatiable ambition dragged his nation into a civil war. Did Richard, after all, have a ‘burning ambition and unquenchable desire for the throne’ or was he merely acting in the general interest of the kingdom?

Lewis’ book begins with Edmund of Langley, a son of Edward III and the first duke of York; the narrative helps outline the importance of pedigree to Richard of York’s story, quickly zipping through the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V until we come to Richard’s early life. It is these early years that is often missing from other accounts in which Richard plays a part; most works feature Richard in his later life as a divisive magnate connected to the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, so it is refreshing to read his early years where Lewis reveals details about where he was based and the development of early connections.

51IZwV6HEuL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_A typical insight into this often unexplored period of his life Lewis’ inclusion of a letter written by King Henry VI to a 16 year old Richard in 1428. The king addresses his ‘dear and beloved cousin’ and requests his presence to join the king’s household. ‘Do not delay in any manner, but know that your arrival we shall provide for you so well in household for your residence that you will be very pleased and content with this’. This is where Lewis’ book has worth – regular readers of the genre will be aware of the caricature of Richard towards the end of his life, but here we are provided evidence of his early life, on the cusp of adulthood.

Elsewhere, I noted that Lewis openly acknowledges the use of propaganda by the House of York, a dark art which was certainly used before the Tudors acceded the throne. It has become clichéd in recent years to castigate the Tudor Dynasty for their use of spin tactics in establishing their supremacy, but with Lewis recognising and revealing Yorkist use of similar methods, it only serves to show this is not a book built on bias to its subject, albeit one primarily from the duke’s point of view.

An example of this can be seen how the author doesn’t dodge the controversial question of the paternity of Edward IV, Richard’s son. Accusations by anti-Yorkists have long been levelled that Edward was not the son of Richard, but rather of an English archer. This supposition is based on the fact that Richard was possibly not with his wife at time of conception. Rather than rejecting this as a fanciful story designed to ruin the duke’s reputation, Lewis pays notice to the rumours rather than dismissing it out of hand, and whilst ultimately concluding that this controversy cannot be answered either way in the absence of DNA testing, it’s a logical and rational answer to a topic often treated emotionally. His later assertion that Richard wouldn’t have bothered seeking a prestigious match for a son he thought was not his, as well as the fact the duke always acknowledged his son, particularly resonate as a collected summary of the controversy.

The book is easy to read, with an engaging narrative merging gently with original sourced material in the form of chronicles and patent rolls. Richard, Duke of York, is a figure who ‘towers over late medieval history in England’ and this is a handy and much-needed biography of his life and times. The fact that I spent every work lunchtime over the last two weeks reading the book, and not feeling that I had wasted that time, speaks volumes for the writing style and content. A good addition to Wars of the Roses genre that is even-handed if sympathetic, detailed if concise and enjoyable to read.

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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.

Book Launch – Jasper, Book Two of the Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches

I’m pleased to announce the launching of Tony Riches’ second book in his historical fiction trilogy series, Jasper.

Following the best-selling historical fiction novel OWEN – Book One of The Tudor Trilogy, this is the story, based on actual events, of Owen’s son Jasper Tudor, who changes the history of England forever.

England 1461: The young King Edward of York takes the country by force from King Henry VI of Lancaster. Sir Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, flees the massacre of his Welsh army at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross and plans a rebellion to return his half-brother King Henry to the throne.

When King Henry is imprisoned by Edward in the Tower of London and murdered, Jasper escapes to Brittany with his young nephew, Henry Tudor. After the sudden death of King Edward and the mysterious disappearance of his sons, a new king, Edward’s brother Richard III takes the English Throne. With nothing but his wits and charm, Jasper sees his chance to make young Henry Tudor king with a daring and reckless invasion of England.

Set in the often brutal world of fifteenth century England, Wales, Scotland, France, Burgundy and Brittany, during the Wars of the Roses, this fast-paced story is one of courage and adventure, love and belief in the destiny of the Tudors.

“Without the heroic Jasper Tudor there could have been no Tudor dynasty.” Terry Breverton, author, historian and Television Presenter.

“Jasper Tudor was the greatest survivor of the Wars of the Roses. Whilst almost all his contemporaries suffered often brutal and bloody deaths, Jasper persevered against all the odds. That’s not to say it was easy, as you will discover.” Nathen Amin, Author of Tudor Wales

Book Two of The Tudor Trilogy

The book is available on Amazon UK, US and AU.

About the Author

Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sea and river kayaking in his spare time.

For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and his WordPress website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

Book Review – In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger

By Nathen Amin

Whilst everyone assumes that I am into the ‘Tudors subject’ as a whole, 1485 to 1603 is a substantial period of time covering many aspects. I find myself drawn to the early period of the Tudors and in particular the reign of Henry VII and the Wars of the Roses that preceded his rise. Henry VIII interests me, his multiple wives and successors less so.

Therefore I was expecting to be intrigued by this new offering from Morris and Greuninger, just not overly so. With books like this, focusing on parts of the Tudor reign that I normally choose to overlook as matter of preference, I tend to try and focus on any information relating to Henry VII that I didn’t previously know. Any concerns I may have had about being bored by the subject matter at hand however, was dispelled as soon as I saw the contents page. Castle after Castle and Palace after Palace, including some oddly unfamiliar ones.

This book follows on the heels of the pairs’ much-lauded book In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, a release that has become a must-have for those stimulated by the charismatic enigma that was Henry VIII’s second queen. Casting the net wider, this new offering seeks to, self-explanatory, follow in the footsteps of not only Anne, but also her five other fellow queens of Henry VIII.

51C52QElN8LGuide books like this are a particular favourite of mine. I not only enjoy reading history, I enjoy visiting history and judging from the continued survival of many of Britain’s historic treasures, this seems to be a widely held sentiment. Being able to picture a location from words alone can be rewarding, but to physically visit a site is even better. For those unable to, due to time, distance or otherwise, books like this are an invaluable aid in furthering ones knowledge. But do not be mistaken, this is not a basic guide book light on historical content.

The book is split into seven sections, with one covering the principal royal residences known to all, followed by an individual section dedicated to each queen. In total we are provided eighty locations, with a detailed history of each along with information on any interesting artefacts or features still extant. This is bolstered by over 130 pictures of the sites for those unable to physically visit. A welcome inclusion is the plethora of family trees, maps and timelines that augment the text. Each entry has also been visited by the authors, which is evident in their narrative as they paint a vivid mental picture with their words. Furthermore each queen is introduced with a short biography so even if you have no prior knowledge of the personalities involved, you are catered for. It’s information-overload in the best sense of the word.

The old favourites are here; Hampton Court Palace, Whitehall Palace and Windsor Castle. But where this book stands on its own is the inclusion of the lesser known sites which once hosted queens of England. Acton Court near Bristol has a room where Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII dined in whilst for the first time that I’m aware of we are introduced to the various locations in Germany and Spain with Tudor connections. Dusseldorf features prominently in reference to Anne of Cleves with Spanish sites such as the Royal Palace of Medina del Campo, Alcazar of Seville or the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral providing a thorough account of the early life of Katherine of Aragon. An example of the detailed narrative can be found in the entry for the Archbishop’s Palace, Alcala de Henares in Madrid, where Katherine was born. The authors describe the palace as;

“a vast complex of buildings, gardens and courtyards, more than double the size of the original fortress. It comprised several patios (courtyards), towers, galleries and chambers, including la sala de la Reyna, the queen’s chamber, elaborately decorated in Gothic-Mudejar style, and on the floor above, el Salon de Concilios, or Council Wing”.

Elsewhere, I hadn’t heard of the Echateau d’Amboise or the Schloss Dusselforf for example, so these were fascinating to discover. Closer to home, I hadn’t come across places such as Beddington Place, the Manor of Bletchingley or Thornton Abbey before. The research cannot be faulted.

In the introduction to the book, the authors note that In the Footsteps… takes the reader ‘from the sun-baked plains of Spain in the south, through the lush mountains of the Rhine Valley in Germany to the east, via the great abbeys of England’s West Country to the medieval cities of northern England’. They’re not wrong. Thoroughly enjoyable read, that can be used as and when you need it as a handy reference guide. I’ll certainly be taking it out and about next time I’m visiting any Tudor sites.
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Sarah Morris runs the website http://www.anneboleynbook.com, dedicated to her non-fiction and fiction writing about England’s most famous queen consort.

Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer and educator, and founder of http://www.onthetudortrail.com, a site about Anne Boleyn and Tudor England. She is the co-author, with Sarah Morris, of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn.

Book Review – Red Roses: Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort

By Nathen Amin

Amy Licence is arguably the most prolific historical writer in Britain at the moment, and I often marvel at how she constantly puts out numerous books concurrently without any depreciation in quality. Coming hot on the heels or her recent releases is Red Roses, the first book which focuses on the women of the House of Lancaster during the 14th and 15th centuries.

The story of the Wars is very much en vogue at the moment, which is great news for those of us enamoured with the struggle between York and Lancaster, a period often overlooked in favour of the later Tudor period. That being said, within a few years so many books have been released on the subject it seems difficult to find a book that takes a fresh look at the conflict. Licence has managed to do just that, concentrating on the females surrounding the various Lancastrian leaders. The men may have got the glory, but behind them were their women – the wives, daughters and mistresses whose lives and influences played a key role in how the Wars played out. Some, like Blanche of Lancaster and Joan Beaufort, were born Lancastrians whilst others like Katherine Valois and Margaret Anjou were married in. It is no surprise to see Licence, renowned for her women’s histories, note in her final chapter that the book is an attempt to provide an alternative narrative of English history and to ‘complement the dominant male version of events with one of female experience and influence’.

51kQmJqQr8LLicence’s book is chronologically split into five parts, allowing easy navigation between subjects and also breaking up the oft-times confusing nature of the period, which in this respect spans about 150 years. Part One focuses on the various wives of John of Gaunt, that father of the Lancastrian Dynasty and one of England’s most wealthy and influential magnates. Through his three wives, Gaunt’s descendants would reign over England, Portugal and Spain, spreading the Lancastrian connection across Europe. Part Two focuses on the struggle between Richard II and Henry IV with Part Three providing an overview of the early 15th century and the stories of Katherine Valois and Joan Beaufort, Queens of England and Scotland respectively. Part Four features the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, led in part by the domineering Margaret Anjou, queen to the beleaguered Lancastrian king Henry VI. The final part of the book finishes, perhaps fittingly, with arguably the greatest of all the Lancastrian women, Margaret Beaufort, a Lancastrian by descent and marriage.

We are treated to the author’s own reserved ideas on the period, putting forward her theories on events without leaping to sensational conclusions, as unfortunately often seems to be the case these days. The book runs through a number of primary sources, discussing contemporary opinions on the subject at hand with modern analysis. What is particularly appreciated is that the author does not attempt to enforce her developed opinion as fact, but rather puts forward the information and lets the reader decide. It’s a power I, as the reader, appreciates being given.

As is Licence’s wont, Red Roses is a thorough and detailed piece of work, well researched and different enough from other Wars of the Roses books to make it a worthwhile read. Although I would have preferred to see colour photographs, that this is the only real gripe I have with the book is indicative of the strength of the work presented. It’s a fascinating project documenting the lives of many intriguing women, connected through a shared Lancastrian affinity. An engaging and informative read.

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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. 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.

Book Review – Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville; A True Romance by Amy Licence

Author Amy Licence notes in her introduction that Edward IV has been somewhat overlooked in the annals of British history, noting that he was ‘a king who has been damned with faint praise’. This may at first seem surprising to those that study the fifteenth century over which his sizable figure looms large. Edward was tall and handsome, a courageous soldier on the battlefield who had been blessed an irresistible charm around his subjects. Yet when one takes a step back and looks at medieval England objectively, the author has a point; Edward IV has been overshadowed, if not by his brother Richard III or grandson Henry VIII then certainly by other monarchs like Henry V and Edward III.

Licence endeavours to bring this first king of the House of York out of the shadows of his illustrious relations, a task in which she succeeds with this book, the first non-fiction work about their relationship. The story of Edward is principally the story of his scandalous, kingdom-dividing marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, a topic Licence examines in detail in an attempt to uncover the significance of their controversial nuptials in 1464. It is a subject the she feels continues to fascinate ‘as an enduring love story set against the most turbulent of times’. She’s right.

Edward could have chosen any woman in Europe to have been his wife; after valiantly winning his crown on a battlefield at the age of only nineteen, he was every inch a stereotypical fairy tale prince. Tall, handsome, athletic, rich and young, he possessed ‘princely and knightly courage’. Edward IV was the most eligible bachelor in the western world. It was therefore inconceivable that he took for his wife the widow Elizabeth Woodville, five years his elder and allied to the Lancastrian affinity. It was unpopular with his nobles, his subjects and his family. Perhaps the fact she was considered ‘the most beautiful woman in the island of Britain’ had a bearing, but as the author points out, there was much more to Elizabeth than her looks. That Edward persevered with Elizabeth is an indication of his genuine love and attraction for his wife.

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The first part book provides ample background information on both Edward and Elizabeth, focusing on their childhood and early adulthood, culminating in their fortuitous meeting, some say, under an oak tree. Particularly welcomed is the detail Licence provides about the early years of Elizabeth, not a topic often covered in most works which tend to concentrate on those of royal birth. Personally I was intrigued to discover that, prior to her first marriage, Elizabeth was courted by Sir Hugh Joneys of Swansea. I was aware that Joneys would later be entrusted with tutoring the young Henry Tudor in martial arts during the 1460s and was pleased to discover this other, lesser-known, event in his life. Such small detail is a credit to the research Licence has undertaken.

No book about Edward IV and Elizabeth is complete without covering the latter part of their relationship, the demise of the king due to his excessive lifestyle and the subsequent tragedy of the Princes in the Tower. Unlike many writers who may feel the temptation to do so, Licence doesn’t dwell on history’s most famous ‘whodunit’ other than to discuss the events from the viewpoint of her subject, the desperate Elizabeth, again an often underdeveloped perspective of the period.

It is difficult to cover such a broad topic as the Wars of the Roses and the multitude of characters without confusing a reader new to the subject, but Licence succeeds in simplifying the era and in particular the complex genealogical aspect of the conflict. To do this without omitting any vital detail is applauded. Another welcome aspect of the book is Licence’s regular usage of extended sourced material as part of the main text rather than footnoted, for example the letter of Edward as a child to his father in 1455. Whilst on some occasions this may interrupt the narrative, it is utilised to such effect by the author that in this instance that it helps the reader’s understanding of the period as well as perhaps formulating their own interpretation of the source along with Licence’s.

Overall the book is well researched and engaging piece that offers a fresh view of a well-told subject, a talent which Licence has shown numerous times in her previous work. At one point Licence poses the question – ‘What was it about this woman that so captivated Edward that he was prepared to take such a risk?’. Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville, a True Romance goes some way to helping answer that question.

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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.

Book Review – Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle

Watch the Lady is the latest release by acclaimed fiction author Elizabeth Fremantle and focuses upon the intriguing yet captivating figure of Penelope Devereux, a legendary beauty of the Tudor court who possesses a smile that could ‘light up the shadows of hell’. Watch the Lady is the third book in Fremantle’s Tudor series and is the story of political intrigue and romance in the court of Elizabeth I. The story almost instantaneously leaps back and forth between plotting and love, both seemingly entwined with one another as various plans and strategies between the key characters gradually unveil themselves with absorbing results.

The real life Penelope Devereux was an Elizabethan noblewoman who was related by blood and marriage to some of the heavy-hitters of the late sixteenth century. Her father was Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex and her mother was Lettice Knollys, the woman who later married Robert Dudley. She was born in 1563 and married firstly Robert Rich, 3rd Baron Rich and controversially afterwards to Charles Blount, 1st Earl of Devonshire. Through her Boleyn ancestors, she was a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth. She was a golden-haired beauty, acknowledged to be a talented dancer and singer whilst also possessing the ability to converse in French, Italian and Spanish.

With this historical basis Fremantle’s Penelope is solely dedicated to securing her family’s future, even at the risk of committing treason against her godmother, the Queen. Penelope holds the queen responsible for the death of her father, the exile of her mother and her own failure to marry her true love. Penelope’s mother was Lettice Knollys, despised by the queen for marrying Robert Dudley, Lord Leicester. Although the queen gradually looked upon young Penelope as a surrogate daughter of sorts, the affection is not reciprocated.

After Leicester dies, the aged queen becomes infatuated with Penelope’s handsome if hasty brother, Robert, Earl of Essex. Indeed, Robert Cecil, a key adversary of the Devereuxs, refers to Penelope as ‘perfection had she not that brother, Essex’. Essex’s tumultuous career in an age of foreign threats and religious turmoil is covered in enthralling detail, influential as it is on Penelope’s own story and scheming.

It soon becomes clear in the first few pages that Penelope not just a pretty face, itself a formidable weapon in the sixteenth century, but a skilled political manipulator adept at placing herself in the right place at the right time. Her smile, it is said, ‘hides a perspicacity, a dangerous quality in a woman’. She is the archetypal wounded woman, deeply bitter at perceived injustices committed towards her family by some at court, particularly the Queen. She grows into a proud and astute noblewoman, outwardly a respectable jewel of Elizabeth’s court but silently plotting to influence any situation to the benefit of the Devereux family.

Yet she is a sympathetic character, eternally heartbroken and at times a cruel victim of late sixteenth century gender inequality. Her desire to ‘win’ at all costs is an admirable trait, but doesn’t make her an unpleasant character. This is to Fremantle’s credit that she has produced a complex multidimensional character. Her Penelope plays the game as capable as any noble duke or earl, her life at risk with every covert action or secret letter. Her every step is alluded to in the title of the book, monitored with elaborate detail by Cecil.

The book is an impressive weight and is a hefty 496 pages, plenty of stimulating content to keep the reader occupied and engaged. Although Watch the Lady is far from the first book which focuses on the themes of political intrigue, romance and treason in the Tudor period it is nonetheless a welcome addition to the genre and worth delving into.

The historical research behind the fiction is detailed and to be commended, with stale facts transcribed onto the page in such a way that they become dramatic markers in an ever-evolving and fast-paced story. It’s a powerfully gripping narrative that at times jumps of the page. It’s fair to suggest that Fremantle’s work is on par with any offering from writers such as Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory or Hilary Mantel and may in some cases supersede those bestselling literary giants.

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Elizabeth Fremantle is the author of Queen’s Gambit, Sisters of Treason and Watch the Lady. She holds a first in English and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck. As a Fashion Editor she has contributed to various publications including Vogue, Elle, and Vanity Fair. Watch the Lady is released on 11 February 2016

Book Review – Tudor Tales by Dave Tonge

By Nathen Amin

The Tudor Tales by Dave Tonge is a recent release by the History Press that is a welcome addition to an admittedly bulging sixteenth century genre. This however is a book with a twist – part-fact, part-fiction. Essentially Tudor Tales is a book of two halves, and that’s not necessarily a problem. In fact, it’s part of its charm.

Tonge is a notable storyteller and has been operating as such since 1999, utilising his degree in English History and a penchant for re-enactment by taking his show on the road and entertaining scores of adults and children across the country. His public speaking work has now been transferred to book format, and it crosses over well.

The book itself is a handy size, capable of being carried around with ease in a pocket. The cover is a wonderful red affair with gold typeface and is impeccably smooth. Physically, this is as beautiful a book as it’s possible to get. The blurb on the back of the book declares that ‘the common sort were no different from us’ whilst the book promises ‘a sometimes coarse but often comic telling of the everyday ups and downs in Tudor life’. This is exactly what we get.

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The book is separated into 8 chapters with a total of 33 tales; each chapter has a different theme covering such matters as silver-tongued tricksters, lusty knaves, naughty wives and horny monks. The overriding argument seems to be that the Tudors as a people weren’t that different from us – essentially different era but similar problems.

Tonge begins each tale with some academic background on the theme he is covering, introducing real-life scenarios from the sixteenth century supported by sourced information from court records and the cheap print. The research is detailed and produces some interesting insights into Tudor life amongst the general populace, particularly in matters of the male/female relationship.

For example a woman named Margaret Cock appeared in court charged with slander for accusing Lionel Wade of being an ‘old whoremasterly knave’ whilst the parson Robert Serton was brought before the church courts of Norwich accused of going to a lady’s house on daily basis under the premise of buying eggs but instead approaching her servants ‘to fetch a kiss from them and did by these lewd practices endeavour to abuse them’. There was also the accusation levelled at one Benjamin Wright by Martha Cambridge in a consistory court that he was ‘a saucy knave and a cunning knave who did come drunk or drunker into her house with his bobble hanging from his breeches like a horse’.

Where Tonge’s book differs from traditional work of the period is in the second part of each entry. After introducing the topic with some historical background Tonge recounts his ‘tale’, adapted from the spoken word tradition which he now embodies and used for the entertainment of the reader. Tonge notes in his introduction that many of the tales were printed as simple anecdotes and jests in the sixteenth century but once they were picked up by the storytellers, they were padded out for further entertainment. Here we are introduced to clever wives and devious monks, troublesome youths and shrewd villagers. Each tale ends with the protagonist or antagonist receiving their comeuppance with an underlining moral conveyed.

Tudor Tales is an entertaining read, part fact, part fiction, but all interesting. My only grievance about Tonge’s book, if in fact it can be considered a grievance, is that the tales themselves almost yearn to be read aloud and acted with enthusiasm. The words almost jump off the page and you can find yourself mentally picturing a storyteller recounting the tale to an enthused audience. I have yet to see Mr Tonge in action but if his book is anything to go by, I’m sure it would be an amusing and pleasurable experience.

The book is available directly from History Press by clicking HERE or Amazon by clicking HERE

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DAVE TONGE is a professional storyteller who travels the whole of England telling his entertaining versions of Medieval and Tudor folk tales. He works at schools, museums and heritage sites as well as literary, folk and story-telling festivals. The old tales allow him to draw on his historical knowledge and material gleaned from his MA and PhD research.

Prior to becoming a storyteller Dave studied sixteenth and seventeenth-century court records focusing on popular culture and social control, and he often uses the records alongside folk tales performances. He lives in Norwich and runs a very popular attracts an audience from all over East Anglia.

Book Review – Jasper; The Tudor Kingmaker by Sara Elin Roberts

By Tony Riches

Welsh academic and author Dr Sara Elin Roberts has produced a fascinating and detailed account of the life of Sir Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, Duke of Bedford, who was second son of Owen Tudor and the widowed queen Catherine of Valois. It was with Jasper’s support that King Henry VII returned from exile to defeat Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, leading to the establishment of the Tudor dynasty, yet Jasper has become what Dr Roberts calls ‘the forgotten kingmaker:’

‘Jasper was central to the world of the Wars of the Roses. He was, at different times, a key player in the unfolding, political game: a warrior in battles; a rebel fighter; a threat to the crown and the powers running the country; a potential claimant to the throne; and an exile.’

Although this is an academic study of Jasper’s life, I found it highly readable with a strong narrative thread. Dr Roberts draws from a wealth of contemporary sources from England, Wales and France, several of which were new to me, referenced in twenty-seven pages of endnotes. The book also has thirty colour illustrations and an informative appendix on the Welsh poetry and contemporary law texts which still survive. As well as providing a documented account of the events of the key people and events, the Welsh poems allow an often colourful insight into the late medieval period.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in understanding the world of the early Tudors.

Jasper the Tudor KIngmaker