Book Review – Catherine of Aragon; An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence

By Nathen Amin

I’ve said in previous book reviews for Amy Licence, that she is unquestionably the most prolific historian writing today. Her output of books in recent years is incredible, the culmination of a life’s fascination and study of the subject, and this continues with her latest offering, Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife.

My first thought upon receiving the book, is that it’s MASSIVE. It’s a seriously thick book, comprising 560 pages split across 7 separate parts. Covered are Catherine’s birth and childhood in Spain, her marriage to Prince Arthur, her widowhood, her early marriage years to Henry VIII, her life as Queen of England, the downfall of her marriage and her final, tragic years. It’s fair to say, this may just be the definitive account of the life of Catherine of Aragon.

Licence’s speciality is the study of the Tudor women, as women in their own right, not as mere decorations of their husbands, fathers or brothers, and it is this expertise she applies to Catherine of Aragon, the foremost Tudor woman for the first quarter of the sixteenth century.

The author leaves no stone unturned, and covers the entirety of Queen Catherine’s life, not just her more infamous moments. Anyone with a passing interest in the Tudors will know of Catherine’s doomed marriage to Arthur, followed by her second union with his brother, Henry. This does not, and should not, define Catherine, however, and the author does a great job in examining the early life of the Spanish princess, from her birth in 1485 to her upbringing amongst the fascinating and colourful royal court of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, Europe’s renowned Catholic Monarchs. Catherine’s later devoutness and stubbornness did not come from nowhere, it was imbued in her as a product of this illustrious Spanish union.

14591841_1222548391146094_4556601838587401747_nParticularly fascinating, and crucial to Catherine’s life, is the detailed account of her 1501 wedding to Arthur, particularly the subsequent ‘did they, didn’t they?’ bedding ceremony, or ‘the most famous bedding ceremony of all time’ as Licence aptly puts it. Intriguingly, Licence offers a third, graphic, scenario as to what happened on that fateful night, a compelling theory that may just make you blush.

We are also treated to an in-depth insight into Catherine’s life in between her marriages. It is often overlooked that this span of time was eight years, that is almost a decade of character growth which is often disregarded in other books on the subject. It is these insights into the lesser-known minutiae of the queen’s life that make Licence’s book a worthwhile purchase. In fact, I’d argue it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to study, or gain greater knowledge, of the first half of the Tudor century of rule.

As expected perhaps from the leading Tudor historian on female matters, this book is sympathetic and understanding of its subject, but that’s not to say in a biased or predisposed way. Licence comes to her conclusions about Katherine through sheer research of her character, her influences and her actions, and puts forward a compelling case of a pious and courageous woman who only sought to serve her god, and serve her husband, in the manner she thought best. This is a compassionate and positive portrayal of Catherine, but that is only because it is the least the woman deserves.

Quite simply, there doesn’t appear to be anything more said on the subject of Catherine of Aragon, that what Amy Licence has covered in her colossal biography.

Catherine of Aragon’s First Meeting with the Tudors

The following is an exclusive extract from Catherine of Aragon, An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence, available now by Amberley Publishing.

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By Amy Licence

The man that Catherine met on the evening of November 6, 1501, was approaching forty-five and had been on the English throne for sixteen years. He was described extensively by the Italian Humanist Polydore Vergil, who first came to England in 1502, just short months after Catherine’s arrival, and was welcomed at court, with ample opportunity to observe the King at this time in his life. Henry was above average height, with a slender but strong, well-built body. Vergil judged him to be “remarkably attractive” in appearance “and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking,” his eyes were “small and blue,” his complexion sallow and, by this age, his hair was grey, turning white, and his teeth “few, poor and blackish.” Two years earlier, his clothing had been described by Trevisa, another foreign visitor, who was impressed that “his Majesty wore a violet-coloured gown, lined with cloth of gold, and a collar of many jewels, and on his cap was a large diamond and a most beautiful pearl.”

Vergil also commented at length on Henry’s character, finding his “spirit distinguished, wise and prudent, his mind was brave and resolute and never, even at moments of the greatest danger, deserted him.” He had a good memory and was shrewd and prudent, so that “no one dared to get the better of him through deceit or guile” and knew well how to maintain his royal majesty “in every time and place.” No doubt he made Catherine fell welcome, as Vergil claimed him to be “attentive to his visitors an easy of access,” adding that “his hospitality was splendidly generous (and) he was fond of having foreigners at his court and he freely conferred favours on them.” Vergil was also critical of Henry’s harsh judgement of transgressors and his avarice, but these would only become relevant to Catherine in the coming years.

Henry was delighted with what he saw, although communication proved a little difficult. He hurried away to bring Arthur to her side and, finally, after years of correspondence, planning and anticipation, the young pair stood face to face. It was not how Catherine had imagined it, thinking she would first see her husband at the altar, dressed in her wedding finery, lifting her veil when the vows had been exchanged. Into the room came a boy who did not look unlike his father, with a long, thin face and dark eyes, sensitive mouth and fashionably cut dark hair, if his portrait of around 1499 is to be believed. In that, he poses with a white rose between his fingers, dressed in a gown of cloth of gold lined with fur, over a red doublet with gold edging, a jewelled pendant of black stones set in gold and a black hat and jewel, from which hang three pearls. Painted in oil with gold leaf on a wooden panel, it is the only surviving portrait painted during the boy’s lifetime, the closest impression of what Catherine saw at Dogmersfield.

An altarpiece depicting Henry’s family which was painted a couple of years after Arthur’s death, shows a youth with a somewhat generic face, the copy of his father’s long dark hair and eyes, wide mouth and strong nose. Other contemporary images, in a Guild Book of Ordinances and at prayer in a window at Great Malvern Priory, are similarly general and lacking in personal detail, even touched up in later years. A final image of Arthur from the 1520s depicts a more mature face, with strong nose and small mouth, the sitter wearing a gold chain of office and a red hat with a pilgrim badge, his empty right hand open before him, where the previous portrait had held a flower.

From these three images, it seems likely that the fifteen-year-old Arthur was dark in colouring, with a longish, slender face and nose, thin lips and a sensitive expression; a young king-in-waiting, wearing his learning and legacy as visibly as the marks of his status. There are definite facial similarities with a 1509 portrait of Arthur’s younger brother Henry, the future Henry VIII, about the eyes and mouth, with the boys having the same blunt, straight-cut bobbed dark hair under a black hat of Arthur’s 1499 portrait and the red gown with brown fur shown in the 1520 work. One key difference is the flower held between Henry’s fingers, which is red rather than white, emphasising his Lancastrian roots. There is no evidence to suggest that Arthur was in anything other than good health, or that his health during childhood had been poor: he was a tall, slender boy who elicited nothing but compliments from his contemporaries.

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Amy Licence is an historian of women’s lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also interested in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism.

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and other places. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and made her TV debut in “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” documentary, for BBC2, in 2013. She also writes literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

Her website can be found at amylicence.weebly.com and her new book can be found at the following Amazon link;

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Catherine-Aragon-Intimate-Henry-VIIIs/dp/1445656701/ref=la_B008GEGNV2_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479806880&sr=1-2

 

Book Review – Jasper, Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty by Debra Bayani

By Nathen Amin

Jasper Tudor, the greatest man you have never heard of, until now.

A hero of the Wars of the Roses, as the only noble to be present at the first and last battles of the thirty-years long internecine conflict, Jasper was, as the title of Debra Bayani’s insightful book, the ‘Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty’. Without him, there wouldnt be Henry VIII or Elizabeth I.

51ZX7+JqvgLA book on Jasper has long been overdue, and Bayani’s well-researched work serves to finally bring this forgotten hero of the fifteenth century out of the shadows. She covers all aspects of the earl’s life, from his secret birth in the 1430s to a former queen of England and her Welsh lover, through to the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses and his lengthy exile. Particularly pleasing is the final chapter, Jasper’s legacy, which perfectly captures just why the life of this man deserves a wider audience

From her words and her pictures, which are plentiful, it is clear Bayani has travelled extenisvely in the footsteps of Tudor, which manifests itself in her account of his life. The book is footnoted and contains a helpful appendix feature a wide collection of Welsh poems about Jasper which have been translated into English, as well as will. As both a leisurely-read and an academic-text, the book holds it ground. The cover, featuring a 19th century depiction of Jasper from Cardiff Castle, is amongst one of most beautiful covers created for the genre, and the book inside doesn’t let it down.

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 – 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