Book Review – Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor by Phil Carradice

By Nathen Amin

‘Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor’ is part of Pen & Sword’s ‘Following in the Footsteps’ series, which has so far followed historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell, the Princes in the Tower, and Edward II, with the promise of more to come, no doubt. This Henry Tudor edition has been penned by Welsh author Phil Carradice, a veteran of more than two dozen books and a native of Pembroke, and follows the first Tudor king through eleven chapters from his birth at Pembroke to his victory at Bosworth.

Carradice astutely notes in his introduction that when one considers Henry Tudor, or Henry VII as he’s become known, it is “hard to know where the truth stops and the stories begin”, for his early life before becoming king was one “shrouded in mystery and confusion”. Considering “for years he has been overshadowed by his children and grandchildren”, a scenario “both oversimplistic and unfair”, a book uncovering these early years of Henry then makes much sense for such a project.

The result is eleven chapters, the first of which includes a curious fictional account of Henry Tudor’s return to Wales in 1485 after fourteen years in exile. Though not in keeping with what is a non-fiction book, it is nevertheless one of the finest written passages I’ve read on the matter, and suggests to me this is where the author’s talent truly lies; if Carradine was to produce a full-length fiction book on Henry Tudor, I’d certainly pick up a copy without hesitancy.

The remainder of the book follows a traditional non-fiction narrative, with separate chapters covering Henry Tudor’s birth and childhood, his exile and return, the march through Wales and England, and the battle of Bosworth with a brief analysis of his time as king. Each chapter is presented in a simple, easy-to-read format that serves as a suitable introduction to the topic for the beginner. Those well-versed in the life and times of Henry VII, however, may find the basic overview somewhat too simplistic as Carradice tries to cover over 50 years in just 121 pages. The odd typo has slipped into the book (mixing up the white rose with the red, for example, or attributing the Richmond greyhound to the Woodvilles) but nonetheless it serves as an adequate springboard to learn the basics of the subject ready to delve into deeper research in future.

Two interesting aspects stand out; the first is Carradice’s intriguing argument that, contrary to several centuries of tacit acceptance, that Henry Tudor did not land at Mill Bay, but rather elsewhere on the Pembrokeshire coast. This is the one aspect of the king’s life that Carradice goes into fair detail, being otherwise restricted by the limited nature of the book. His employment of a modern geologist and personal knowledge of the coast area make for a compelling analysis that deserves some further examination. The other unusual approach Carradice takes is to include the memories of someone who personally followed in Henry Tudor’s footsteps in 1985 by walking from Pembrokeshire, through the heart of Wales, and on to Bosworth Field, gaining a unique perspective on this period in the would-be king’s life. The gentleman in question, Peter Lewis, provides us personal testimony such as the following, which is certainly new information to this reviewer:

“It was lonely up there on the hills. Every five or ten minutes a car would pass or speed towards me but mostly I was alone, staring out at the grass, the rocks and watching the buzzards and kestrels. Back in 1485 those soldiers would have seen nothing, no passing traffic. It must have been mind blowing. I know that by the end I was in poor shape. God knows what Henry’s soldiers must have felt like.”

It is not a contemporary source, but nevertheless allows the reader a moment to really visualise what the march must have been like. In a well-trodden subject, it’s certainly a different way of looking at old history. In short, ‘Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor’ is not, nor was it intended to be, a comprehensive account of the life and times of the first Tudor king, but it does provide a readable overview of events between 1457 and 1509, and should prove a useful introduction to the topic for the casual reader looking to learn more about the Welshman who became king of England. For the more seasoned reader, you will lose nothing by having this on your bookshelf. And Carradice should certainly consider penning a full-length fictional novel on the topic.

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Book Review – John Morton: Adversary of Richard III and Power Behind the Tudors by Stuart Bradley

By Nathen Amin

John Morton may not be a name familiar to the casual observer of English history, but few men were as integral in establishing the Tudor Dynasty upon the English throne as this son of Dorset who rose steadily through the church ranks to become an archdeacon, bishop, archbishop, and finally in 1493, a cardinal.

In his introduction to this fascinating project ‘John Morton, Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors’, Dr Stuart Bradley declares the subject of his biography to have been ‘a man of immense ability’ whose story deserves to be brought ‘from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden’, and by the end of this concise study, it is clear to the ready he has done exactly this.

Morton was born around 1420, and received his first appointment of note when he was made a Rector of Shellingford, Berkshire, in 1453. Within two years, however, this rising churchman’s career was impeded by the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, and having pledged his support towards the Lancastrian cause, was captured by the Yorkists in 1461. Though he escaped captivity and fled into exile, by 1471 Morton was reconciled to the House of York under Edward IV, and served this king until his death in 1483.

Opposing the rise of Richard III, during whose reign he became an ‘agent provocateur and master spy’, Morton played a ‘major role in coordinating the rebellion and ongoing subversion throughout Richard’s reign and in the machinations that resulted in the accession of Henry VII’. It was thus Morton became the ‘power behind the Tudors’ as described in the book’s subtitle. One of the few men the new king had utter trust in, Morton ‘gritty doggedness’ thereafter, as Archbishop, Cardinal and Chancellor, helped establish the fledgling dynasty, refilling the royal coffers and, with pen and parchment rather than sword and shield, helping fend of repeated challenges to the Tudor ascendancy.

The book is clearly the work of an author who really understands the period he is writing about, with extensive use of source material such as chancery documents, diplomatic correspondence and chronicler accounts, with insightful analysis to bolster his argument – an unusual but appreciated inclusion is the occasional use of tables within the text to support a claim, for example on page 38 which shows a breakdown of the amount of Patent Rolls issued for each month between 1476-1485, allowing the reader to really see for themselves how the conflict of the day affected government business. Rather than just make the point, Bradley invites the reader to see just how he arrived at this deduction.  The level of research is not lacking, either; chapter 6, for example, has 123 instances of endnotes.

It was the opinion of the 17th century antiquarian George Buck that Morton was ‘a stern and haughty man, odious at court and more generally so in the country’, an ‘evil spirit transformed into an angel of light and wearing the habit of religion’; any reader will put Bradley’s work down full informed this caricature of the cardinal was not a fair statement, and does not stand up to scrutiny. As the author himself declares, ‘the arguments of Ricardian apologists are difficult to reconcile with the evidence’, and that particular king exempted, Morton was nothing other than ‘the exponent of faithful loyal service’ to the other kings he served, namely Henry VI, Edward IV and Henry VII.

I am presently unaware of any other biography of Morton, certainly not a modern publication, so Dr Bradley’s book is a welcome addition to 15th century study, bringing, as he intended, this intriguing royal servant out of the shadows. Though only 135 pages (with another 75 as an appendices), it is not long, but covers everything that is known about Morton’s life, using all surviving source material and commendably avoiding the common trap of merely padding out a biography with semi-relevant fluff that may or may not be pertinent to the study at hand. Bradley never loses sight of his subject, and the result is truly a scholarly study with a fresh angle. Morton was ‘a man whose story deserves to be told’, and here, Bradley has made a highly admirable attempt to do so.

Book Review – The Tudor Crown by Joanna Hickson

By Nathen Amin

Joanna Hickson is one of the most popular fiction scribes currently producing work on all things 15th and 16th century, a position well-earnt by her consistently entertaining and insightful writing. Already a multiple best-selling author through her previous critically acclaimed work The Agincourt Bride and The Tudor Bride, The Tudor Crown follows on from last year’s triumphant release First of the Tudors, a captivating tome which followed the life and struggles of Jasper Tudor.

Hickson’s latest release features Jasper as a background character, continuing this hardy adventurer’s story somewhat, but the narrative has switched to his young nephew Henry Tudor, and the boy’s redoubtable mother, Margaret Beaufort. This manoeuvring mother-and-son team, separated by the English Channel and living in the precarious world of their dynastic enemies, the Yorks, work tirelessly towards the end goal – the place Henry upon the throne of England, an unlikely scenario that gradually hurdles towards reality as you race through the book.

The tagline of the Tudor Crown is ‘She’ll betray her king to crown her son’, though there is much more to Margaret’s story than mere betrayal – as her real-life inspiration, it’s about responding to external factors and seizing the opportunities presented her with remarkable determination. It is refreshing to see this resolute woman portrayed in a positive light rather than as a villain, as has depressingly been the case in recent times. She is a good person trying her best in a ruthless world, though unquestionably tough, and willing to do whatever it takes – “I quashed my Lancastrian pride and thought of my son’s future; I would kneel at my enemy’s feet”.

The book is written in the first-person, albeit from the eyes of two protagonist, namely the aforementioned mother-and-son. The chapters alternate between the two, reflecting their unfolding story as one battles through the world of the York court in England, and the other struggles and strives abroad in exile. The result is almost two different books in one, with two distinct perspectives from two unique individuals – and yet this premise works well as we are catapulted from one intrigue to another, their stories bonded only by the letters regularly exchanged between our two heroes. We see Margaret grow bolder in her schemes, and the resilient Henry grow from reluctant youth into a regal pretender, and naturally we find ourselves rooting for a pair who are scrapping against the odds for a positive outcome to the dreary hand life has dealt them.

Though the outcome is one of the most famous episodes in British history, Hickson calls on her full evocative repertoire to make us feel as though we are alongside Margaret and Henry for their turbulent journey, living the drama with them and uncertain of our destiny. She must be commended for this, as it’s not easy to maintain tension writing towards a finale already known by most readers. Hickson captures the hopes and dreams of the pair well through their story, clouding our mind with the same frustrations and worries her sympathetic characters experience several times over during their tribulations. Meanwhile enough names of real-life figures are mentioned for one to note the research Hickson has undertaken, as well as provide breadcrumbs for further research.

The mentioned finale is a masterpiece of fiction writing – the detail leading up to the fabled Battle of Bosworth almost transports the reader to the very field in question, through the eyes of the victor Henry Tudor himself – “The next hour was the most dreadful I had ever known…those clashing lines of screaming, swearing, charging men consisted of fathers and husbands, uncles and sons and I had led them into this hellish maelstrom of blood and guts and madness”.

In short – this author with a growing repertoire of excellent books has produced yet another winner. Oh, and the cover alone is beautiful. One hopes Hickson continues the story of Jasper and Henry into the successful twilight of their life.

 

Book Review – The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his Daughter Mary by Melita Thomas

By Nathen Amin

Interest in the life and times of the Tudor monarchs is as strong as ever, and so finding new ways to take a fresh look at a well-studied dynasty is always a difficulty for the historian wishing to bring something new to the table. As individuals, Henry VIII and his eldest surviving child Mary I have incurred considerable attention in recent years, but in The King’s Peal by Melita Thomas, the author has focused on dealings between father and daughter, and the result is an accomplished study of a complex and often fractious relationship that helps us understand better Mary the queen.

It is Thomas’ opinion that Mary, ‘a pearl of the world’, was a gambler – a headstrong force who risked everything she had in 1553 – her life, freedom and religion, in bidding for the throne, and this bold if reckless rise to become queen had its roots in her dealing with her father Henry, who both ‘loved and bullied’ his daughter throughout her youth. Recent re-evaluation of Mary’s reign has started to portray a queen who was more tragic than bloody, a victim of her father, but as Thomas exhibits throughout her work, their relationship was more complex than that – Mary was unquestionably doted upon by Henry when a girl but not so much when she developed into an obdurate teenager who questioned his setting aside her mother for Anne Boleyn.

When Mary continued to refuse to recognise Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church after both her mother and Anne’s deaths, matters reached a head in 1536, by which point father and daughter had been estranged for 4 years, when the king wrote to his daughter advising if she didn’t accept his will he would take leave of her forever, thinking her the most “ungrate, unnatural, and most obstinate person living”. Harsh words indeed, and just an insight into the tumultuous relationship of the pair.

And yet, as Thomas explores in The King’s Pearl, Mary remained the only figure to ever publicly clash in such a manner with the mighty king and not be destroyed. Wives, mentors and friends came and went, yet Mary remained, if at times firmly out of favour. Henry could willingly destroy any and every one, but he could never bring himself to wholly ruin his daughter, although it must be speculated upon how much such behaviour later affected her outlook.

Although the father-daughter personal relationship was complex and often confused by external political factors, Thomas’ book retains a gripping narrative throughout, never short on detail but always engaging. Well-referenced and commendably impartial, Thomas succeeds in not treating Mary or Henry as stereotypical two-dimensional parodies, and doesn’t take an obvious side in her study, preferring to present the evidence with reasoned commentary.

The book is a thought-provoking read that will help contextualise the later reign of Mary I, and perhaps explain the decisions taken by pearl who would, against the odds, one day become queen. Mary was far more her father’s daughter than is sometimes presumed, as this book superbly highlights.

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Melita Thomas is the co-founder and editor of Tudor Times, a repository of information about Tudors and Stewarts in the period 1485-1625 http://www.tudortimes.co.uk. Her first book ‘The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his daughter Mary’ is available now.

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.

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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.

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.

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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

Henry (Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy) by Tony Riches

By Nathen Amin

‘Henry’ is the much-awaited third instalment of Tony Riches’ well-received and well-reviewed ‘Tudor Trilogy’ series, following up on ‘Owen’ (reviewed here) and ‘Jasper’, released in 2015 and 2016 respectively. As with its predecessors, ‘Henry’ follows a similar format with an easy-to-read narrative allowing you to become consumed by a fast-paced story covering the most fascinating aspects of the subject’s life. It doesn’t take long for you to feel part of the story, always a positive when it comes to a work of fiction you’re hoping will allow you an escape from the pressures of real life.

The book, twenty-five chapters long, begins in August 1485 with the attention-grabbing admission from the main character that he never in fact wanted to be king. Riches’ sombre Henry proves to be a reluctant hero, a man who stepped up to the plate because there was nobody else to challenge the tyranny of Richard III. As his uncle Jasper puts it to his nephew, “if you were king, you could bring peace to this country”. This serves as Henry’s motivation throughout the book, something I believe was true of the historical Henry;

“The archbishop blessed their union and declared them man and wife. Henry lifted Elizabeth’s gossamer veil and kissed her. As he did so, a weight lifted from his shoulders. He’d finally united Lancaster and York and would never have to face life alone again”.

As is Riches’ well-established style, the story doesn’t dawdle or stutter, and remains fast-paced throughout the work. There is little time wasted on irrelevant minute details, but rather the book is very much plot-driven, from Henry’s coronation to the birth of his children, whilst major story arcs include the various pretenders who threatened his throne and the heart-wrenching deaths of his wife and heir. This is not to suggest the work is rushed and incomplete; before you realise it, you will have read far more in one sitting than anticipated, such is the struggle to extradite yourself away from the Tudor court and put the book to one side.

A significant part of the book is spent exploring the relationship between Henry and his wife Elizabeth; unlike other fiction books featuring the pair, Riches’ follows known historical fact and puts forward a warm, even loving, relationship between the pair. They play cards together, hunt together, plan their family and even discuss policy in private, very much a united power-couple. I particularly felt touched by Henry’s gradual alienation from his children, and the realisation at one point that he barely knew his seven-year-old son Arthur, having become preoccupied with matters of state. At one point, the young prince, a serious character, refers to his father as ‘your grace’ and is gently admonished by the king.

‘Father’. He corrected his shy son. ‘You must call me father’. Henry studied his son’s thin, pale face and glimpsed an echo of his himself at the same age. ‘You are growing into a fine scholar, Arthur’, he grinned, ‘but we must make time for merrymaking. We shall spend more time together. I will teach you how to lose your money at cards!’

Henry is a likeable protagonist, portrayed at odds with the cold caricature often found in similar works that is at odds with the real Henry. He is backed up a charming Elizabeth for whom it is easy to fall for, her attractiveness leaping off the page. What I enjoyed most, however, was how Henry was shown to be a real man; not a superhero, not infallible, not perfect, but just a flawed man trying to navigate his way through a chaotic life using his considerable mental faculties, innate determination to do the best and natural inclination for caution. The book is an easy-to-read escape and a fitting conclusion to the Tudor Trilogy series. There are far worse historical fiction books on the market, and with ones featuring Henry VII, there are few better than Riches’ ‘Henry’. I strongly suggest you pick up your copy soon, or, even better, get hold of all three instalments in the trilogy.

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Tony Riches is a full time author from Pembrokeshire, West Wales, an area full of inspiration for his writing. After several successful non-fiction books, Tony turned to novel writing and wrote ‘Queen Sacrifice’, set in 10th century Wales, followed by ‘The Shell’, a thriller set in present day Kenya.

His real interest is in the history of the fifteenth century, and now his focus is on writing historical fiction about the lives of key figures of the period. Best known for his Tudor Trilogy, Tony’s other international best sellers include ‘Warwick ~ The Man Behind the Wars of the Roses’ and ‘The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham’. In his spare time Tony enjoys sailing and sea kayaking. Visit Tony online at http://www.tonyriches.co.uk, Tony Riches Author on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @tonyriches.