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 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

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

Book Review – The Tudor Kitchen: What the Tudors Ate & Drank by Terry Breverton

By Nathen Amin

Did you ever wonder what the Tudors ate and drank?

This new book by historian Terry Breverton gives us an overview of the very fabric of Tudor life, for both rich and poor. The age saw an amazing variety of new dishes, many of which have been taken from contemporary sources for this cookbook. As well as giving us interesting and useful recipes, the book tells us to forget popcorn – when being entertained by Shakespeare’s plays, theatre-goers enjoyed vast quantities of oysters, crabs, cockles, mussels, periwinkles and whelks, as well as walnuts, hazelnuts, raisins, plums, cherries, dried figs, peaches, elderberry and blackberry pies and sturgeon steaks. Among the Tudor court food purchases in just one year we count 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer and 53 wild boar, plus thousands of birds such as peacock, heron, capon, teal, gull, shoveler, quail, pheasant, swan and cygnet.

Part One of the book explains how the Tudors farmed, their animals and cereals, with the majority of the population having a monotonous diet with very little meat or fish. The first two chapters describe Tudor food and drink, and the differences between diets and the classes. The third chapter informs us about the great kitchens such as Hampton Court and Chapter 4 tells us of royal feasts, etiquette and helps understand why Henry VIII went from a 32-inch waist aged 30, to a 54-inch waist aged 55.

Part Two gives us around 500 recipes of the times, which can be tried by curious or enterprising readers. There are some astonishing combinations of flavours, and Tudor cuisine is something we are only now coming to appreciate.

Examples of such Tudor foods featured in the book include;

  • EGGES IN MONESHYNE – EGGS IN MOONLIGHT (The Proper Newe Booke of Cookerye c.1557), when the eggs are cooked by poaching in a syrup of rose water and sugar, so that they look like moons.
  •  BUBBLY BEER CHEESE BREAKFAST SOUPTO BOYLE A LEG OF MUTTON WITH LEMMONS – LEMONED LAMB (The Booke of Goode Cookry Very Necessary for all Such as Delight Therein 1584, 1591);
  • SALMON SALLET FOR FISH DAYS – SALMON AND ONION SALAD WITH VIOLETS – PANSY SALMON (Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswifes Jewell 1585, 1594, 1596)
  •  CAPONS IN DORRE – CHICKEN IN GOLDEN ALMOND MILK (Gentyll manly Cokere MS Pepys 1047 c.1500)
  •  BOYLED CAPON IN WHITE BROTH – SWEET AND SOUR ALMOND CHICKEN (Sir Hugh Plat’s Delightes for Ladies 1602)
  • STEAMED ASPARAGUS SPEARS IN ORANGE SAUCE (Traditional Elizabethan recipe, originating in Granada, 1599)
  • WHITE GINGER BREAD (A.W., A Booke of Goode Cookry Very Necessary for all Such as Delight Therein 1584, 1591).

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Who knew that the Tudors ate ravioli, crackers, macaroni, rice, crisps, quiche, Jerusalem artichokes, couscous, puffins, badgers and favoured sweet and sour dishes? And that COMPOST is the more attractively renamed COLD SPICED VEGETABLES IN WINE AND HONEY SAUCE? And GARBAGE was a BROTH OF CHICKEN HEADS, FEET AND LIVERS? Or that CRESSEE was a GINGER PASTA CHEESE CHESSBOARD SANDWICH? Or that SWEET POTATOES IN ROSE AND ORANGE SYRUP (Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book 1605) was a popular dish for nobility?

Breverton’s research into Tudor meals has also enabled him to have some fun by attributing some of these sixteenth century dishes with modern namings. For example;

  •     RAPES IN POTAGE – BALDRICK’S TURNIP BROTH (The Master-Cook of Richard II, The Forme of Cury c.1390)
  •  CAPON BAKED WITH EGG YOLKS – FOWL PIE (John Partridge’s The Treasurie of Commodious Conceits & Hidden Secrets 1573)
  • A DISH OF PARTICULAR COLOURS – MULTICOLOURED CHICKENS (And Thus You Have a Lordly Dish: Fancy and Showpiece Cookery in an Augsberg Patrician Kitchen Sabina Welser 1553)
  • VENISON COFFINS – DEER PASTIES (A.W., A Book of Cookrye 1584, 1591)
  • HOW TO MAKE A FRIED MEAT OF TURNEPS – BALDRICK’S ERSATZ MEAT (Epulario, Or, The Italian Banquet, English translation of 1598)
  • BRAIN BALLS AND BRAIN CAKES – THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (English Housewifry, exemplified in above four hundred and fifty receipts, giving directions in most parts of cookery)
  • POMMES DORRES – FLY BALLS (The Master-Cook of Richard II, The Forme of Cury c.1390)
  • LET LARDES – MULTI-COLOURED CUSTARD FRY-UP (The Master-Cook of Richard II, The Forme of Cury c.1390)
  • PEARES SODDEN IN ALE, BASTARD AND HONNEY – PEARS IN BASTARD PIES (A.W., A Book of Cookrye 1584, 1591.)

 Indeed, of LAMPREY PIE Breverton writes: ‘It is a back-boneless, secretive, primitive, blood-sucking, worm-like parasite, and for these reasons I have renamed it Politicians’ Pie’.

Breverton’s final chapter is entitled THINGS YOU MAY NOT WANT TO COOK (OR EAT) (OR SEE). In this chapter is included such delicacies as

 LIVE BLACKBIRD, RABBIT, FROG, DOG OR DWARF PIE; ROAST CAT AS YOU WOULD WISH TO EAT IT; A GOOSE ROASTED ALIVE; ENTIRE LUNGS OF KID IN CAUL; PIES OF COCKS’ COMBS WITH WHOLE TESTICLES; POTATON TARTE THAT IS A COURAGE TO MAN OR WOMAN – APHRODISIAC SWEET POTATO PIE WITH COCK SPARROW BRAINS (Thomas Dawson’s The Good Housewife’s Jewell 1587)

PYES OF CALVES FEET (The Booke of Goode Cookry Very Necessary for all Such as Delight Therein 1584, 1591)

 SPARROWS IN MUTTON BROTH; BURSEU – A DISH OF MINCED PIG ENTRAILS; SEA-PIG – SEVERAL WAYS WITH A PORPOISE; LAMPREY IN BLOOD SAUCE WITH A DEEP-FRIED LAMPREY SPINAL CORD; AND TORTURED LAMPREY FRYED, BOYLD, AND ROSTED AT THE SAME TIME; RABBETES SOUKER ROST – ROAST FOETAL RABBITS (Coronation Menu of Richard III, 6 July 1483)

STUFFED SUFFOCATED CHICKS; HERON ROST – SPIT-ROASTED HERON; and CHAUDYNN FOR SWANNS – SWAN WITH BLOOD AND ENTRAIL SAUCE.

 And HART ROWS – PIG STOMACH LEGLESS HEDGEHOGS were pigs’ stomachs stuffed with pork, eggs and breadcrumbs, decorated with pastry spines to look like hedgehogs.

Breverton’s book is really informative and entertaining, useful for adding to both your historical knowledge and your cooking repertoire. You’ll have great fun learning, and perhaps trying out, these authentic Tudor recipes.

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

Breverton’s latest releases are ‘Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker’, ‘Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About The Tudors But Were Afraid To Ask’ and ‘The Tudor Kitchen’, all published by Amberley.

Book Review – Henry VIII’s Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors by David Baldwin

By Nathen Amin

David Baldwin’s latest release is a fascinating portrayal of a woman who almost became the seventh wife of Henry VIII; as it was the king died before any plans came to fruition and the name of Katherine Willoughby was somewhat lost to history. Baldwin attempts, and will succeed, bringing the erstwhile Duchess of Suffolk back into the spotlight with this in-depth account of her life at the most famous royal court in English history.

Somewhat fittingly for a future Duchess of Suffolk, Katherine was born in March 1519 in Parham Old Hall in Suffolk as the daughter of Baron Willoughby de Eresby and Spaniard Maria de Salinas. Her father was one of the greatest landowners in the region whilst her mother was a close friend and lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. The wedding of Baron Willoughby and Maria de Salinas incurred the support of King Henry and he attended the wedding where he bestowed a cash gift on the couple along with Grimsthorpe Castle. Henry even named one of his ships after Maria, the Mary Willoughby. Considering the closeness of Maria to Katherine of Aragon it seems probable that young Katherine Willoughby was named for the queen.

The child inherited her father’s barony at the age of seven on the death of her father in 1526 and this made her one of the greatest heiresses in the country and by proxy an eligible marital prospect. Her wardship reverted to the crown but was sold by the king to his close friend Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Suffolk married his ward in 1533 only ten weeks after the death of his wife, the king’s sister Mary. Rather scandalously the Duke was 49 years old whilst his young bride was only 14. Nonetheless they appear to have had a happy marriage that included two young sons, Henry and Charles.

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Although she had remained an ardent Roman Catholic, after the death of her Spanish mother in 1539 it seems Katherine embraced Protestantism. Whilst discussing the Duchess’ conversion from Catholic to Protestant, Baldwin helpfully attempts to summarise the divide between the two strands of Christianity for the modern reader. This is helpful in that the topic is often taken for granted by an author and helps add context to the importance of Katherine’s conversion and the impact it had on her life during this period of religious turmoil. Baldwin points out that disagreements between the two faiths was often a matter of life and death and into this void bravely stepped the Duchess during this period. The author takes the step of stating that “this daughter of a Roman Catholic mother became on of the most fervent Protestants of her day”. This was furthered by her friendship to King Henry VIII’s sixth wife Katherine Parr, a noted reformer and devotee to learning.

At the time of her elderly husband’s death in 1545, the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk was still only 26 years old, fertile and attractive with a wealthy portfolio of property. She was as attractive a marital proposition as she had been prior to her marriage to Charles Brandon. In spite of her close friendship to the king’s current queen, Katherine Parr, rumours spread across royal courts that the King was about to take another wife, namely Katherine Willoughby, widow of his best friend Brandon. In February 1546 Imperial Ambassador Van der Delft wrote: “I hesitate to report there are rumours of a new queen. Some attribute it to the sterility of the present Queen, while others say that there will be no change during the present war. Madame Suffolk is much talked about and is in great favour”.

Baldwin theorises “It is possible that by 1546 he had grown impatient with Queen Catherine’s failure to give him a second son, and more than ever saw this younger, perhaps more attractive, woman who was now a widow and the mother of two healthy boys as the solution to his problem. He would not have been the first man to think that a new, more exciting, relationship would somehow restore his lost youth”. As it was, Katherine never married Henry and the king died in 1547 still wed to her friend and intellectual companion, Katherine Parr.

Katherine Willoughby’s later life would be spent as a leading participant in the Protestant Reformation and Baldwin recounts her actions and movements during this period with alacrity and insightful analysis, including her grief at the deaths of her two sons from the Sweating Sickness in 1551. She spent a period in exile during the reign of Queen Mary due to her committed protestant beliefs before returning after the accession of Elizabeth. She remained a protestant figurehead until her death as an elderly woman in 1580, by which point she was close to irreconcilably falling out with the queen. Each moment is documented in detail by Baldwin who has used a wide range of sources to formulate his biography.

Baldwin’s book is opened with a quote by Muriel St Clare Bryne who stated in 1981 that “Katherine Willoughby is one of the most interesting women of the Tudor Period” and Baldwin’s book serves to underline this notion. The author summarises her life as one ‘of privilege mixed with tragedy and danger, but she kept her head on her shoulders when many of her contemporaries lost theirs for less cause’. The book is concise and detailed; it focuses on events and their impact on his subject as opposed to other books on the era which often delve off on irrelevant tangents. All in all, Katherine Willoughby is a woman who was actively involved in some of the most important events of the Tudor age and was a contemporary of four Tudor monarchs; Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Her life was astounding and Baldwin chronicles it with an absorbing attention to detail that ensures his work is a captivating read.

David

Henry VIII’s Last Love by David Baldwin is published by Amberley, 2015. The book is available to buy at all good bookstores, as well as online at the Amberley website, Amazon and The Book Depository.

Book Review – Loyalty by Matthew Lewis (Audio Book)

By Nathen Amin

I should start this review by pointing out that I do not enjoy audiobooks and can certainly not be considered sympathetic to Richard III or the theories of Ricardians. That being said, when I came across an audiobook on the subject of Richard III I couldn’t resist giving it a listen.

Loyalty by historian Matthew Lewis was first published in 2012 and has been well received amongst historical fiction aficionados, currently receiving on average in excess of a 4-star rating from over one hundred reviews on Amazon, an impressive statistic and indicative of its quality.

The book has been praised for its intriguing plotline that unusually takes place across two notorious reigns – that of Henry VIII and Richard III. The premise is that Tudor court artist Hans Holbein is summoned to the house of Sir Thomas More for a commission. Whilst in the presence of More the painter is exposed to the true story of Richard III by his prestigious host; Holbein is an attentive if surprised listener as More regales the life of England’s most controversial king, unveiling a king far removed from the evil monarch that the English had come to believe had briefly ruled over them half a century before. By the end of the book Holbein is entrusted with a startling piece of information that could conceivably bring about the demise of the Tudor dynasty.

Lewis’ portrayal of Richard III is sympathetic and favourable, although not to the extent as to be considered preposterous in its bias. Lewis is an unabashed Ricardian but draws his conclusions about Richard III, as a man and as a king, from historical evidence and rational analysis, a process which results in Loyalty being a step above typical Ricardian works of fiction.

His portrayal of the king depicts a pious man who was a loyal brother and a skilled soldier, albeit with character flaws such as a raging temper and innate stubbornness. It is a balanced portrayal that paints Richard exactly as he was – a man of his time with real hopes, fears, dreams and problems. He experiences the highs of battle and the lows of personal grief. He is not a saint or a villain, but merely a man who happens to be born into the upper echelons of English society. Interesting is Richard’s nervous confidence, a feeling of worry as he bravely cuts his through late-fifteenth century English politics, rendered complex by the family dynamic between the House of York. I particularly enjoyed his portrayal as a more rounded, scheming character than a mere one-dimensional fairytale prince. During his test of wills with his brother Clarence over the Neville inheritance, he boldly bluffs by announcing Clarence can have all if Richard is only allowed the hand of Anne Neville. In most Ricardian works of fiction this device is used solely to portray Richard as a swashbuckling man of love, a romantic lead with only Anne on his mind. Lewis expands this by having Richard mentally acknowledge that this is a bluff tactic and that he does not really wish to give away the lands but is rather manipulating the situation to win a favourable outcome whereby he wins both the lands and the hand. This seems far more likely to have been the real situation to me. The motivations of Richard III would have been far more complex than general historical fiction has given him credit for.

This is what makes Lewis’ book a book worth reading, or as of this year, listening to. Towards the end of the book we encounter Lewis’ talent for creating suspenseful and emotional narrative, notably in two separate chapters that deal with drastically different situations. His grief-stricken Richard after the death of his child Edward is harrowing whilst his version of the Battle of Bosworth from Richard’s viewpoint is brutal yet captivating through its descriptive recounting. You are almost able to picture the seen unfolding through your own eyes. Particularly interesting is his tough, influential portrayal of Anne Neville, pushing Richard towards his destiny before falling apart after the death of her only child.

Loyalty has been released in audio book for 2015 and has truly enhanced the book for anyone interested in this period of history. The book has been made available via Audible and is narrated by the dulcet tones of Nigel Carrington, his interpretation of Lewis’ characters nothing other than sublime. Stretching to over 14hrs in length, there is enough content here to keep the listener occupied during long journeys or short breaks. It is certainly fascinating hearing the well-written prose spoken aloud and enables one to paint a picture of the characters as they wade through Lewis’ interpretation of the events of the late fifteenth century. A bonus is the author notes which occupy the last chapter, a historical recounting of the period which served as the basis of the story. It is always gratifying to note the research that has gone into creating historical fiction, amid glaring errors and inaccuracies that exist in the genre today. Lewis does not shy away from justifying his theories and this helps his work stand on its own two feet as a book worth buying, both in paper and audio form.

As I stated at the beginning, I generally do not enjoy the topic of Richard III as told by Ricardians or listening to audio books. My only complaint after listening to this particular Richard III audiobook is that 14 hours went too quickly.

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Book Review – Henry VIII; The Life and Times of England’s Nero by John Matusiak

The historical depiction of Nero, Roman Emperor in the early first century, is that of an extravagant and cultured ruler with a ruthless streak, often committing acts that bordered on tyranny. John Matusiak’s reference to Henry VIII as ‘England’s Nero’ in the title of his biography sets out from the start the author’s opinion of this much-debated sixteenth century king.
Matusiak opens his work Henry VIII; The Life and Times of England’s Nero, by History Press with the following quote, said to be Aristotle’s words to Alexander the Great and later quoted to the future Henry VIII by his tutor John Skelton;

“You have vanquished your enemies, you have gained many kingdoms, you have subdued many empires… but all the same you have neglected to control, or have been unable to govern, the small domain of your mind and body”

Once again, the conclusion of Matusiak on his subject is evident from the outset. Nonetheless his book’s claim to be a new look at an old topic certainly holds true once the content is ingested. This isn’t just another ‘by-number’s’ look at Henry VIII.
Matusiak’s explores the mind of Henry whilst attempting to explain the king’s disastrous decline from Renaissance prince to chaotic tyrant. In effect Matusiak’s work almost reads like a psychological evaluation of Henry without allowing his work to become tedious. This is evident from such passages as the following, discussing Henry’s disorganised reformation attempts throughout the latter part of his reign;

“…the King’s religious thinking in these years grew out of and epitomised his egocentricity and arbitrariness, as well as the ultimately unsystematic nature of his thinking”.

Matusiak maintains an intriguingly erudite and captivating narrative throughout the work, keeping the attention whilst accomplishing something which has become difficult in recent times – to make the subject of Henry VIII and his life and times appear fresh. One subject that Matusiak’s glosses over but doesn’t obsess on is the various wives of Henry. We learn what we need to know and how they affected Henry, but we do not become bogged down in needless narrative on Anne Boleyn et al.

It must be noted that the author does not paint a positive portrayal of the man throughout the work, exposing Henry’s flaws, weaknesses and fears in what is overall a cold and ruthless analysis. This, Matusiak argues, just supports the theory that Henry was a mere man, and not the mythical figure that has become a cliché in recent memory. Indeed it is to Matusiak’s credit that whilst he doesn’t seek to glorify Henry, he also ensures he doesn’t demonise him. This book is a portrait of a real man with real issues, worries and concerns and how these personal issues found themselves manifested in matters of state.

Matusiak’s overall conclusion on Henry seems to be that, for all the fluff that exists around the subject, Henry was simply a bad king, undeserving of mythological status. He was indecisive, he was egotistical and he was selfish. Was Henry ‘unfit for power’ as Matusiak puts it? After reading this work, it’s difficult to disagree. A recommended piece of work.

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