Book Corner: The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath

Today over at The Review, you can read my thoughts on Carol McGrath’s latest novel – out this week – The Woman in the Shadows, a fabulous look into the Tudor world of Thomas Cromwell’s wife Elizabeth.

And there’s a fabulous giveaway –  a paperback copy of this new release.

Here’s a taster:

What a treat!

Carol McGrath’s latest book, The Woman in the Shadows is a fabulous fictional account of the life and times of Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII’s famous – some would say notorious – adviser.  It is an enjoyable, thoughtful story which gives the reader an insight into life in Tudor London, in general, and in a Tudor household in particular. Following Elizabeth from the funeral of her first husband, through her widowhood and new love and marriage with Thomas Cromwell, this is not the story of Henry VIII and the Tudor court, but of the ‘ordinary’ people without whom the Tudors would not have been able to sustain their glamorous court.

Written in colourful, vivid language that draws you in from the first page, The Woman in the Shadows is a wonderful novel, full of life and imagery. …

 

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance in this fantastic giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment.

Good luck!

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Vikings to Virgin by Trisha Hughes

In Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of Being King Trisha Hughes provides the reader with a pacey introduction to the many pitfalls faced by the ambitious as they climbed the dangerous ladders of royalty. It is easy to think that monarchs are all powerful, but throughout the Dark and Middle Ages it was surprisingly easy to unseat one and assume the crown yourself. But if it was easy to gain … it was just as easy to lose.
From the dawn of the Vikings through to Elizabeth I, Trisha Hughes follows the violent struggles for power and the many brutal methods employed to wrest it and keep hold of it. Murder, deceit, treachery, lust and betrayal were just a few of the methods used to try and win the crown. Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of Being King spans fifteen hundred years and is a highly accessible and enjoyable ride through the dark side of early British monarchy.

Vikings to Virgin Book  1: The Hazards of Being King by Trisha Hughes is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining introduction to English history. Fast-paced and accessible it relates England’s history in a chronological narrative, from the time of the Viking invasions to Elizabeth I, arguably England’s greatest queen.

In England, the story of our kings tells the history of the country and its people. From the likes of  Alfred the Great and Edward the Martyr, through Henry II to Richard III and Queen Elizabeth I herself, the monarchs defined England’s history and the direction that was taken by its people. Trisha Hughes shows us that journey, pointing out where paths deviated, where events overtook the king and the people asserted themselves, such as Magna Carta and what could have been.

A great introduction to the length, depth and breadth of English history. Telling the story of each king in turn, it gives you their highs and lows, what they are famous for and the good, the bad and the despicable of each era. The author’s depth of knowledge of English history allows her to tell us the story of each king in turn, from the Saxons, the Danes, the Normans and Plantagenets, through to the Tudors, giving each monarch her personal attention and a fair appraisal of their achievements, failures and character, but giving no quarter to the ruthless and the weak alike.

By all accounts, Maud was remarkable. She was said to “have the nature of a man in the frame of a woman.” Fierce, proud, hard and cynical, her love of politics overshadowed all other passions. But Maud was with her husband in Anjou when Henry died and Stephen was first on the spot. Stephen also had an advantage – his brother was Bishop of Winchester with a great voice in council and with this backup, the barons stood by him.

The speed with which the aristocracy accepted Stephen was mindboggling and speaks volumes about the rules regarding female queens in the 12th century. The prospect was not a promising one for Maud. There was also the question of who had the most power, and in England at this time in history, succession was still not fully decided by blood alone. If that had been the case, Henry would never have been king in the first place. Henry had snatched the throne from William Rufus, and then stolen the throne from right under his elder brother’s nose while Robert was crusading in Sicily.

It seems that history was repeating itself because Stephen had no real claim since there was an elder brother, Theobald of Blois, whose blood claim was stronger. But Stephen was wealthy, powerful and charming and his wife’s country of Boulogne was important to England.

Trisha Hughes writes as if she is in the room talking to you. Her fun and easy manner makes the book a thoroughly enjoyable read. Her stories are engaging and her knowledge and love of English history shines through in every page. This book gives you the best and worst that English kings had to offer, giving an entertaining commentary and interesting insights into the characters and actions of the various kings and queens. The author’s assessments of the highs and lows of each reign are testament to her love of history and the depth of research she has invested in this marvellous book.

Vikings to Virgin Book  1: The Hazards of Being King can be read and enjoyed by all. It would be incredibly useful to anyone wanting an overview and understanding of the life and times of England’s medieval kings.  Whether reading for fun, or to expand your knowledge, from teenagers to octogenarians, from the amateur history fan to those new to the subject, there is something in this book for everyone.

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About the author: th2Trisha Hughes started her writing career with her autobiography ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ eighteen years ago. The debut novel was first published by Pan Macmillan Australia and became a bestseller in 1997 beating the current Stephen King book to the top 10 bestsellers at the time.  Since then she has discovered a thirst for writing.  She’s written crime novels but her latest book, the first in her ‘V 2 V’ trilogy, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ is her passion and due for release on 28th February 2017. She is currently working on the second in the series ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.’

You can connect with Trisha through:  Trisha’s Website: www.trishahughesauthor.com Or: www.vikingstovirgin.com and you can find Trisha on Facebook at Trisha Hughes Author and Twitter at @trishahughes_

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

For a King renowned for his love life, Henry VIII has traditionally been depicted as something of a prude, but the story may have been different for the women who shared his bed. How did they take the leap from courtier to lover, to wife? What was Henry really like as a lover? Henry’s women were uniquely placed to experience the tension between his chivalric ideals and the lusts of the handsome, tall, athletic king; his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, was on one level a fairy-tale romance, but his affairs with Anne Stafford, Elizabeth Carew and Jane Popincourt undermined it early on. Later, his more established mistresses, Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, risked their good names by bearing him illegitimate children. Typical of his time, Henry did not see that casual liaisons might threaten his marriage, until he met the one woman who held him at arm’s length. The arrival of Anne Boleyn changed everything. Her seductive eyes helped rewrite history. After their passionate marriage turned sour, the king rapidly remarried to Jane Seymour. Henry was a man of great appetites, ready to move heaven and earth for a woman he desired; Licence readdresses the experiences of his wives and mistresses in this frank, modern take on the affairs of his heart. What was it really like to be Mrs Henry VIII?

I love the writing style of Amy Licence, she makes history enjoyable and accessible; so much so that when The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII dropped on my doormat I put down what I was reading and jump straight in. And I was not disappointed. A thoroughly fun and entertaining read, this is a book that examines every aspect of Henry VIII’s love life, with particular focus on the women, rather than the king.

No stone remains unturned in Amy Licence’s hunt for the women in Henry’s life. Each rumour is examined in great detail, with comprehensive arguments for or against their actual relationship with Henry. As you would expect, Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon, and the other 4 wives, all find their place within the pages of this book. Bessie Blount and Mary  Boleyn are also discussed in detail. Amy Licence does not judge, she tells their stories, the highs and lows, with great sympathy and compassion. The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII also brings to the fore the less well-known women who have been linked to this most controversial of kings. Etiennette de la Baume, Jane Popincourt and several other, even more obscure, women have their relationships with Henry examined.

Investigations are also made into the claims of the illegitimate children, not only those of the children of Mary Boleyn, but also those less well-known, such as Thomas Stukley and John Perrot. Amy Licence expertly investigates their claims and convincingly argues the truth – or not – of their parentage.

Workshop_of_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Portrait_of_Henry_VIII_-_Google_Art_Project

The watchwords for Mary’s relationship with the king were secrecy and discretion. Yet history has tarnished her with scandal and rumour, insults and aspersions, leaving her with a reputation worthiest of the greatest whore at Henry’s court. Just like so many of the facts of Mary’s life, her real personality and appearance elude us. Historians and novelists have deduced various things from the known dates of her service in France, particularly her comparative lack of education and the circumstances of her marriage, yet these have often raised more questions than they have answered. Mary is illuminated in history by the light that fell upon her sister and she has suffered from the comparison ever since. Sadly her light will always be dimmer, her biography more nebulous.

Amy Licence has a reputation as an excellent researcher and writer, she shines a light into the deepest, darkest corners of the Tudors and, indeed, history itself. In  The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII she brings women into the limelight whose fifteen minutes of fame have long since been extinguished. And that is what is truly amazing about this book, not only are the famous and infamous discussed, but the author also highlights those women who have become footnotes in Henry’s life. Every woman who has been linked to Henry, before and after his death, is examined, as is the veracity of their interractions with the king. She tells their stories, examines their relationship with Henry, the rumours and the truth to them.

Through looking into the women involved, Amy Licence also paints a picture of Henry that is rarely seen; Henry the man and lover, rather than Henry the king. Her diligent research and well-thought out arguments demonstrate Henry’s continual search, not only  for an heir, but for love itself. We discover a complex man, a king who can have whatever he wants in material possessions, but who is continually searching for the immaterial, a son and true love.

The text is supported by over 30 gorgeous, colourful images, photographs and reproductions of paintings which help give the reader an impression of the life and times in which Henry VIII, and the women associated with him, lived. Written in a relaxed narrative, the book is as easy to read as any novel, and as exciting as enjoyable as the best of them. Accessible, engaging and brimming with original research, it would be difficult for anyone to not learn something new when reading this wonderful book.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is a wonderful, exquisitely written investigation into the lives of the women in Henry VIII’s life.

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Amy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is available on Amazon in the UK and in the US.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Henry by Tony Riches

Bosworth 1485: After victory against King Richard III, Henry Tudor becomes King of England. Rebels and pretenders plot to seize his throne. The barons resent his plans to curb their power and he wonders who he can trust. He hopes to unite Lancaster and York through marriage to the beautiful Elizabeth of York.

With help from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, he learns to keep a fragile peace. He chooses a Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon, as a wife for his son Prince Arthur. His daughters will marry the King of Scotland and the son of the Emperor of Rome. It seems his prayers are answered, then disaster strikes and Henry must ensure the future of the Tudors.

“A fine end to a superbly researched and well-written trilogy, one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in this period of history.” Best-selling author Terry Tyler.

Henry is the final installment of Tony Riches‘ excellent Tudor Trilogy which has followed the rise of the Tudors from Owen’s relationship with Catherine of Valois, through his son, Jasper, and now to his grandson, Henry, the first Tudor king.

Opening as Henry  is victorious at Bosworth, it follows Henry VII from the moment he becomes king, through the many trials and tribulations of kingship and establishing a new dynasty. This is an enjoyable story of one of England’s least loved and most misunderstood English kings. Tony Riches does an excellent job of giving us an entertaining novel while offering the reader an insight into the life and problems of a man who was not born to be king and who knew little of his subjects after spending his entire adult life in exile in Brittany.

I love the fact that Henry is not the finished product from the very beginning. The author has thought hard about how a man, who suddenly becomes king, may act when feeling his way through the maze of court politics, factions and family divisions, and the actual day-to-day challenges of ruling a country that has suffered 30 years of intermittent warfare and political instability.

Henry paints a portrait of Henry as a man who grew into his role as king, learning from his mistakes and facing up to his insecurities; insecurities arising not from his right to the throne, but from the challenges facing him and not knowing what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Henry Tudor is portrayed as a all-too-human; a man whose decisions about others way on his soul, but are made to ensure the security of himself and his family. He walks a  fine line in an attempt to appease his opponents whilst establishing his authority – and his dynasty.

‘On what grounds do we imprison young Edward Plantagenet?’

Jasper sat in the spare chair and the stubble on his chin as he considered the question. He’d chosen to shave his beard on the journey from Wales. He looked younger clean-shaven, but a beard suited his uncle, and Henry guessed he was already growing it back.

‘King Richard considered the young earl enough of a threat to declare him illegitimate.’

Henry allowed himself a smile. ‘King Richard declared everyone illegitimate, other than himself. Young Edward is a cousin of Princess Elizabeth.’

Jasper returned his smile. ‘Half of England is related to the Woodvilles one way or another.’ His face became serious. ‘We need time, Henry. Time to win over the doubters. We could say it is for young Edward’s own safety?’

Henry picked up his quill and dipped it in Mayor Olney’s inkpot before signing the warrant. ‘We must ensure the boy is well treated – I wish no harm to him.’

Henry is the story of one man’s life and kingship. Moments of crisis and sincerity are interspersed with little moments of tenderness and humour. Tony Riches has taken time to seriously consider the character of his subject, and this comes across in every page of the book. He seems to have spent no less time on the supporting characters. Jasper Tudor and Margaret Beaufort, who have played prominent parts in all 3  book of the Tudor Trilogy are pivotal characters and are well thought out, complex figures. Henry respects them deeply and is well aware of the sacrifices they have made that got him to the throne. Each character in the book is credible, believable, and has his, or her, own unique qualities. The headstrong future king, Henry VIII is wonderfully contrasted with quiet and studious Prince Arthur, while the delightful Mary Tudor steals every scene in which she appears.

thumbnail_Late 16th-century copy of a portrait of Henry VII - Wikimedia Commons
Henry VII

The novel tells the story of Henry and Elizabeth with sensitivity and compassion; charting their life together from the first moments of getting to know each other, through the births and deaths of their children, and the toll that takes on them, not only as individuals, but also as a couple. Indeed, the author seriously considers the effect that being king must have had on Henry’s family life, the compromises he had to make. You get the impression that the poor chap never had enough time in the day to do everything he wanted and that every personal loss takes away a little part of him.

‘I like it here.’ He reached across and took her white-gloved hand in his. ‘We shall make Sheen into a palace fit for a royal family.’

Elizabeth squeezed his hand in agreement. ‘I would like that.’ She gave him a conspiratorial look. This is my most secret place. A sanctuary.’

Henry stared into her bright amber eyes. ‘You spent many months in sanctuary … yet you’ve never spoken of it?’

‘At first I didn’t understand the danger we were in.’ She stared, wide-eyed, into the far distance as she remembered. ‘My mother made a game of it, said it would be a great adventure. Years later she told me my father abandoned us and she thought our enemies might murder us all.’

There are many novels set during the Wars of the Roses. The huge majority revolve around Richard III and the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. If a novel sees Richard III as a hero, then you can practically guarantee that Henry Tudor is the villain. With Henry, you would therefore be forgiven for expecting the opposite; Henry the hero and Richard the villain.  Richard, of course, gets mentioned, but the story does not revolve around the fallen king and his guilt or innocence, rather it puts him firmly where he was when Henry was king – in the past!

As a novel, Tony Riches has created a fast-paced, enjoyable tale that is virtually impossible to put down – at least until your eyelids are so heavy they need matchsticks to hold them up. It also gives you a deeper understanding of the founder of the Tudor dynasty. I defy anyone – except, maybe, the most ardent of Yorkists – to read this book and not develop a deeper understanding of Henry VII, of the challenges he faced and compromises he made in order to secure peace for the realm and the continuation of his dynasty. Henry is a must-read book for anyone who has a love  of medieval history, the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors.

Although part of a series, Henry can definitely be read as a standalone. Entertaining and insightful, it tells a story that has rarely been told – the one from Henry’s own viewpoint. This is the story of the foundation of, arguably, England’s most famous royal house – and is not to be missed!

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Ten Things You Might Not Know About Henry Tudor, by Tony Riches

During the four years of research for my trilogy about the early Tudors, I discovered many little known facts about one of our most overlooked kings, Henry Tudor. Here are a few of my favourites:

  1. Instead of Tudor, Henry could have been called ‘Tidder’ or ‘Tetyr’ or even Tewdwr It seems the name Tudor was a simplification used by scribes in the time of Henry’s grandfather, Owen Tudor.
  2. After his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Henry led a procession through the narrow streets of York, where he was attacked by a man with a dagger. His bodyguards saved him but his reign was nearly over before it began – and he later travelled with some fifty ‘Yeomen of the Guard’ for protection.
  3. Henry didn’t invent the ‘Tudor rose’ – the combined red and white roses had long been known as symbols of the Virgin, representing sacrifice and purity – he simply adopted it as his ‘branding’.
  4. Henry loved gambling with cards and dice and lost huge sums more often than he won. He also kept detailed records of who he’d played against (which included his wife, Elizabeth of York)– and how much he’d lost.
  5. As well as lions and other dangerous animals, which he kept at the Tower of London, Henry kept a pet monkey, thought to be a marmoset, in his private chambers. One day he discovered it had torn up his detailed diary, so there is a gap in his meticulous records.
  6. When the pretender Perkin Warbeck was finally captured, Henry was so enamoured of Warbeck’s wife, Lady Katheryn Gordon, that he kept them both in his household – but wouldn’t let them sleep together. He also bought Lady Katheryn expensive dresses and she became a close companion and confidante, even after Henry had her husband executed.
  7. Henry nearly lost his crown to a mob of Cornish rebels, who marched on London in an armed protest against his tax raising. More men joined them on the way and the rebels reached Blackheath before they could be stopped.
  8. Henry kept various ‘fools’ to entertain his court, including one named ‘Diego the Spaniard’ (possibly as a joke at the expense of Catherine of Aragon’s father, King Ferdinand, who failed to provide the dowry he’d promised.)
  9. At Christmas 1497 Henry and his family were woken in the night by a fire in his private chambers at Sheen Palace. They barely escaped with their lives but the old palace was ruined and Henry had it rebuilt as the Palace of Richmond.
  10. Towards the end of his life Henry suffered from a throat disease referred to as ‘the quinsy’ which his physicians treated (unsuccessfully) with a remedy of celandine, fenugreek and hedgehog fat.

Tony Riches is the author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy as well as other historical fiction set in the medieval era. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and website www.tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.  The Tudor Trilogy is available on Amazon UK  Amazon US and Amazon AU

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Queen of Martyrs, the Story of Mary I by Samantha Wilcoxson

‘God save the Queen! God save our good Queen Mary!’

When these words rang out over England, Mary Tudor thought her troubles were over. She could put her painful past – the loss of her mother and mistreatment at the hands of her father – behind her.

With her accession to the throne, Mary set out to restore Catholicism in England and find the love of a husband that she had long desired. But the tragedies in Mary’s life were far from over. How did a gentle, pious woman become known as ‘Bloody Mary’?

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is the final book in Samantha Wilcoxson’s Plantagenet Embers series. It tells the story, in the third person, from the point of view of Mary I. Mary was the eldest daughter of King Henry I and England’s first ever queen regnant. Although part of a series, the book also works perfectly well as a standalone.

Samantha Wilcoxson has a unique writing style which makes her stand out from other Tudor storytellers. She gets into the mind of her main character and writes Mary’s story as if she’s seeing it through the queen’s own eyes. If Mary did not see something happen, then the reader does not know about it until the queen is informed. This distinctive writing style makes the book a personal journey, both for the subject and the reader.

Mary I

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I tells the story of Mary I, from the time  of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine Parr, to her own death.Telling the story through Mary’s own eyes, we follow her personal and  public relationships, through her brother’s reign and the usurpation of Lady Jane Grey until she is sitting on the throne herself.

The novel demonstrates the human side of Mary I, her fears, insecurities and compassion, and her innate need to be loved; by her sister, her husband and her people. It shows her as a child of the Reformation, just as much as Elizabeth I, but on the opposing side. She is a queen struggling to do the right thing by her conscience and her people.

This compassionate portrayal helps to explain how the descent into the burning of protestants was not a plan, but a consequence of cumulative events and Mary’s own fear of displeasing God. Mary cuts a sad and lonely figure, desperate for love and constantly disappointed; by her father, her sister and, ultimately her husband.

With no children of her own, Mary doted upon Edward and Elizabeth in a way their father never would. She made her way now through the small, crowded room to her father’s other bastardized princess.

Elizabeth performed a perfect curtsy for her sister before letting her guard drop and offering a smile.

“I pray you are well, sister.” Elizabeth said with a sincerity of one unaware of the former bad feelings one has had toward them.

“My thanks to you and to God for seeing that I am indeed restored to health and am able to see a good friend and my dear father united in marriage.” As she said it, Mary was surprised to find that she meant it.

“I wish them great happiness,” Elizabeth agreed without emotion.

“You will find Katryn to be a loving mother, and she may be a calming presence for our father,” Mary encouraged her.

“Undoubtedly, you shall be proven correct.”

Sometimes Elizabeth’s habit of saying only what was expected could annoy, but Mary knew that she was simply doing her best to play her part to perfection. It was an effect of the quick succession of stepmothers and the gruesome connection between marriage and death that the young girl had witnessed.

What I love about this book is that it is Mary’s story. Elizabeth is a peripheral figure, making few appearances and always in her sister’s shadow. Philip of Spain is an unsympathetic character, desperate to get away from a marriage that he doesn’t want. The only character who is symbiotic with Mary is her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, she sees him as an equal, in faith and outlook and he’s the only one she seems comfortable with.

Brilliantly researched, this is a sympathetic portrayal of a queen, known in many history books as Bloody Mary, who is often vilified and criticised for the burning of Protestants. Samantha Wilcoxson doesn’t just go with the flow, but manages to examine the queen’s life, loves and personal tragedies. In doing so, she shows us why the name of Bloody Mary is too simplistic for this complex woman who went through so much adversity before she ascended the throne.

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is a wonderful, compassionate story of a frequently misunderstood woman. Samantha Wilcoxson’s writing style makes this an intimate portrayal of the Tudor queen, giving the reader a deep, personal relationship with the book and its subject, the queen’s story staying with them long after the last page has been turned.

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Picture of Mary courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley in September and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Seymours of Wolf Hall by David Loades

Although the Seymours arrived with the Normans, it is with Jane, Henry VIII’s third queen, and her brothers – Edward, Duke of Somerset, and Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley – that they became prominent.

Jane bore Henry his longed-for son, Edward VI, and both her brothers achieved prominence through her. Her brother Edward was central to Henry’s activities in Scotland and became Lord Protector for the young king, his nephew, a hugely powerful position. Thomas married Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, and after her death in 1548 aimed to marry Princess Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I), with whom he had flirted when she was in Catherine’s care, and for this he was executed for high treason. Edward fell foul of his fellow councillors and was also executed. Edward’s son was restored to the title of Lord Hertford by Elizabeth I, but was sent to the Tower when it emerged that he had secretly married Jane Grey’s sister, Catherine, who was Elizabeth’s protestant heir. Both her marriage and pregnancy were an affront to the queen.

This is the epic rise and fall of the family at the heart of the Tudor court and of Henry VIII’s own heart; he described Jane as ‘my first true wife’ and left express orders to be buried next to her tomb at Windsor Castle. The family seat of Wolfhall or ‘Wolf Hall’ in Wiltshire is long gone, but it lives on as an icon of the Tudor age.

The Seymours of Wolf Hall, A Tudor Family Story by Professor David Loades is the factual story of the family that achieved the height of power with the reign of Edward VI. Professor Loades traces the family’s story from their Norman origins, through Jane Seymour and her son, all the way to the current Seymour Duke of Somerset. It is the remarkable story of one family’s rise from minor gentry to sitting on the throne of England itself. Had Edward VI had children, we could have had Seymours on the throne for generations.

Edward VI

But it wasn’t to be and Professor Loades does not end the story there. He follows the fortunes of the family for centuries afterwards,  as they fell in and out of favour with subsequent monarchs, such as Elizabeth I and James I; usually for their disastrous marriage choices.

The height of Seymour influence was during the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) and Professor Loades highlights the lives of the king’s uncles, Edward, Earl of Hertford and later Duke of Somerset, and Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, as the central part of the book. The Seymours of Wolf Hall, A Tudor Family Story provides excellent analysis of the lives and actions of the two most famous Seymour brothers, dissecting their political and private influences on the young king and the nation at large.

So what sort of man was he, this Protector, the Earl of Hertford, shortly to become Duke of Somerset? He was soon to be known as the ‘good duke’ because of his alleged sympathy with the insurgents of 1549, and to be classed as a tolerant liberal by some twentieth-century historians. However, liberal in the twentieth-century sense he certainly was not, nor would he have understood what that meant. He was a man of action, particularly military action. knighted in the field in 1523, he had been largely responsible for the successful actions in Scotland after the victory at Pinkie Cleugh in 1547. Nor was he as interested in education as had been alleged. He had no intellectual training himself, and owned few books. Most of the dedications which he received owed more to his position as Protector than any known  sympathy with the causes maintained by the works concerned.

Jean Seymour

A fascinating part of the book comes when Professor Loades focuses on Edward VI himself, giving perceptive insight into this least known of the Tudor monarchs. He paints a wonderful portrait of this boy king who never got the chance to reach his potential, describing a boy whose emotions were well concealed but who had a calm and collected temperament – much like his mother, Jane Seymour.

Every family story is examined, such as the marriage of Seymour’s son to Catherine Grey, a claimant to the crown under Elizabeth I, which led to stays in the Tower of London for the happy couple. We also learn of the scandalous marriage of another Seymour, with Arbella Stewart, which led, again, to the Tower of London – and the couple being forced apart

The Seymours of Wolf Hall, A Tudor Family Story provides a fascinating, insightful look into the Tudor court from the point of view of one of its most prominent families. They are not studied in isolation, however, but also within the story of Tudor history as a whole, from the life of Henry VIII through the Reformation, the birth of Edward VI and beyond, with the family’s fortunes changing with each monarch.

Thoroughly enjoyable and a delight to read, this book is a must for any lover of English Tudor history, full to the brim with information about Henry VIII, his most-beloved queen, Jane Seymour, and a family who reached the highest echelons of politics and society through the birth of Henry’s long-awaited son and heir, Edward VI. Eminently readable and thoroughly researched, Professor Loades follows the family’s fortunes from its Norman roots, through its highs and lows, to the pinnacle of power to imprisonment and disgrace, leaving the reader breathless with their rise to power and subsequent fall from grace.

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Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley in September and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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Pictures of Edward VI and Jane Seymour courtesy of Wikipedia.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2017

Book Corner: A Guest Post from Amy Licence

indexToday, it is my pleasure to welcome Amy Licence on the final leg of her Blog Tour. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Amy’s latest book, Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife and today she is back with an extract from this fabulous look into the life and struggles of Henry VIII’s first queen.

This extract is taken from the end of 1529, just before the Reformation parliament meet, illustrating how the marriage was under tension but Catherine was still fighting back.

Catherine was permitted to return for the Christmas season, which was traditionally presided over by the King and Queen together. And Henry was not quite ready to dispense with traditions, either religious or marital; he would need a couple more years for that. Hall related that the season was observed “in great triumph… with great plenty of viands and diverse disguisings and interludes, to the great rejoicing of his people” but it was definitely not a triumph for Catherine. To observers, it seemed that Henry was being pleasant to Catherine, showing his wife “more consideration than was his wont,” and with Anne not making an appearance. However, all was less than harmonious behind the scenes. On Christmas Eve, after her return, Henry had told Catherine that even if the Pope declared their marriage lawful, he still intended to divorce her and he would get his way, as the Church of Canterbury was more important than Rome and he would declare the Pope a heretic. Something must have broken in Catherine to hear this. She had, related Chapuys “lost all hope of bringing him to a sense of right and duty” never could think that her affairs would fall so low as they are at present. She always fancied that the King, after pursuing his course for some time, would turn away, and yielding to his conscience, would change his purpose as he had done at other times, and return to reason.” She had been wrong.

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Portrait of Catherine of Aragon by Michel Sittow

Yet the Queen had also been working behind the scenes. She might have been down but Catherine was nothing if not an indefatigable fighter, so she was not yet out. In the knowledge that Henry was hoping for the French and Italian universities to confirm his view of his marriage, Catherine set out to counter his efforts. She was more than a match for him intellectually and in terms of character, but in her present restricted circumstances, there was little she could do, being excluded from the political process as the Reformation Parliament met for the first time. Appealing to the universities was something positive that she hoped might influence the Council. The same Edward Lee, Henry’s almoner, had informed the king that nobody in Spain apart from the Emperor, “cared a straw” whether or not the marriage was dissolved, so Catherine asked Charles to ask the Spanish Universities to write in her defence, along with her niece, Empress Isabella. She hoped that if the Archbishop of Toledo could gather their responses, “her case might be considerably improved.” She also wrote to Margaret of Savoy with the same request, and “wherever else it may be considered expedient” as it was the only thing now she thought might “stop the King in his course.”

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Woodcut of Henry and Catherine’s joint coronation

Catherine feared that her husband was “so blind as passionate in these matters, that it is much to be feared that one of these days he will take steps which may perhaps induce his people and the Commons… to consent to the divorce.” She begged Henry for permission to consult her Council of advisers, and was granted permission for them to attend her at Richmond. However, this kindness may have only been conferred “in order to discover whether she had received a recent dispatch from Rome.” In fact, Henry’s new Parliament would not yet discuss Catherine and her marriage in its coming session, instead they were setting about the process of undermining the ties that bound England to Rome.

I would like to congratulate Amy on a fabulous Blog Tour, and thank her for asking History…the Interesting Bits to be a part of it. You can find out more about Amy Licence on her website, and this amazing, definitive, biography of Catherine of Aragon is available from Amazon.

If you’d like to catch up with the previous stops on Amy’s Blog Tour, simply click on the day: Monday; Tuesday; Wednesday; Thursday.

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Pictures courtesy of Amy Licence

©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016 & Amy Licence 2016

Book Corner: Catherine of Aragon by Amy Licence

indexCatherine of Aragon continues to fascinate readers 500 years after she became Henry VIII’s first queen. Her life was one of passion and determination, of suffering and hope, but ultimately it is a tragic love story, as circumstances conspired against her. Having lost her first husband, Henry’s elder brother Prince Arthur, she endured years of ill health and penury, to make a dazzling second match in Henry VIII. There is no doubt that she was Henry’s true love, compatible with him in every respect and, for years, she presided over a majestic court as the personification of his ideal woman.

However, Catherine’s body failed her in an age when fertility was a prerequisite of political stability. When it became clear that she could no longer bear children, the king’s attention turned elsewhere, and his once chivalric devotion became resentment. Catherine’s final years were spent in lonely isolation but she never gave up her vision: she was devoted to her faith, her husband and to England, to the extent that she was prepared to be martyred for them. Banished and close to death, she wrote a final letter to her ‘most dear lord and husband’. ‘I pardon you everything… mine eyes desire you above all things.’ The fidelity of this remarkable woman never wavered.

Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence is one of those incredible books that you can’t get away from. Days after you’ve finished it, your mind is still pondering the twists and turns in the incredible story that has unfolded before you. And yet, this is not a gripping novel, it’s a biography … a real-life story of one of England’s most famous queens, told in an expert, accessible fashion by one of today’s most prominent historians of women’s history.

330px-juan_de_flandes_002The level of detail in this book is incredible, Amy Licence has looked into every corner of Catherine’s life-story. It paints a wonderful, vivid picture of the life of a Renaissance princess. From even before her earliest years, the author charts Catherine’s life in its entirety, giving us a complete picture of the world that surrounded the young princess from the moment she was born to the moment of her death.

Plans for Catherine’s marriage started early. As far back as the spring of 1489, Ferdinand and Isabella had received a delegation sent by Henry VII of England, seeking her as a bride for his son. That March the royal family were at the castle of Medina del Campo, a blockish red medieval fortress situated on a mound dominating the town, to hear the culmination of a year’s worth of offers and promises, conditions and stipulations, about the futures of two small children. Catherine was then three years old, a small sturdy princess with auburn hair … Her prospective husband was barely out of the cradle. Henry VII’s eldest son Arthur, was the first-born child of a new dynasty, and nine months Catherine’s junior …

Not only does the author retell the events of the life of Catherine of Aragon, chronologically, but she also highlights the influences that affected her decisions and actions throughout that life. From her parents and the reconquest of Spain, through her marriage to Arthur and the lonely years following Arthur’s death, we see the events that influenced and shaped Catherine’s life as Queen of England and wife of Henry VIII.

Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife discusses the personalities and character of those who had a major effect on Catherine’s life, giving us an unprecedented, detailed view of those who surrounded her at various stages in her career as princess and queen. Catherine’s marriage to Prince Arthur is thoroughly examined, giving an insight into the relationship of this young couple, a relationship that would eventually change the course of English history. We see the good and bad of the men who were to decide Catherine’s fate, in her father, Ferdinand, and father-in-law, Henry VII, and learn of Catherine’s struggles to stay positive in the face of the two kings trying to get the best deal for themselves in Catherine’s marriage. And we see an intriguing biography of Henry VIII as he grows from being Catherine’s saviour and a magnificent Renaissance prince, to being her jailer and tormentor.

330px-catherine_aragonAmy Licence places Catherine’s life firmly within the Europe of the time, displaying a brilliant understanding of the Reformation, and its progress from central Europe to Henry’s court. Moreover, despite the eventual failure of the marriage, Amy Licence paints a glittering picture of the court of Henry and Catherine at its height, when this young, formidable couple were the superstars of Europe.

The most revealing part of the book is in the character of Catherine herself. The author has researched every aspect of Catherine’s life and personality, providing a portrait of a formidable woman navigating her way through a male-dominated world while trying to hold true to her deeply ingrained Catholic principles. And with this comes the realisation that it must have taken an inordinate amount of personal courage to face down Henry and his demands, and the overriding fear for her own personal safety.

Of course, the latter part of the book focuses on the divorce. I am no great fan of Catherine of Aragon and have often wondered at her stubbornness and why she was so unmovable in the face of Henry’s desperate need for an heir. Amy Licence explains Catherine’s viewpoint with absolute clarity; the reasons she stuck to her guns at the risk of her own safety and that of her daughter. The author’s theories and arguments are well though-out and incisive, giving an unprecedented insight into  the mind of this amazing queen and evoking empathy in the least sympathetic of readers, I’m sure.

I have no doubt that Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife will be seen as the definitive biography of Catherine of Aragon. It is an impressive, essential complement to any Tudor library.

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10384680_10153841333263942_6977345604197683474_nAmy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.

Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife is available on Amazon in the UK from 15th October and in the US from 14th March 2017.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Book Corner: Margaret Pole, the Countess in the Tower by Susan Higginbotham

indexOf the many executions ordered by Henry VIII, surely the most horrifying was that of sixty-seven-year-old Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, hacked to pieces on the scaffold by a blundering headsman.

From the start, Margaret’s life had been marred by tragedy and violence: her father, George, Duke of Clarence, had been executed at the order of his own brother, Edward IV, and her naive young brother, Edward, Earl of Warwick, had spent most of his life in the Tower before being executed on the orders of Henry VII.

Yet Margaret, friend to Katherine of Aragon and the beloved governess of her daughter Mary, had seemed destined for a happier fate until religious upheaval and rebellion caused Margaret and her family to fall from grace. From Margaret’s birth as the daughter of a royal duke to her beatification centuries after her death, Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower tells the story of one of the fortress’s most unlikely prisoners.

Margaret Pole: the Countess in the Tower tells the story of an amazing woman who navigated two eras of history. Born into the Medieval world, during the reign of her uncle, Edward IV, she survived the change of dynasty and prospered during the reign of Henry VII; marrying and starting a dynasty of her own. During the reign of Henry VIII, she was accorded the title of Countess of Salisbury in her own right, and given the charge of her cousin’s most prized possession; his only daughter and heir, Mary Tudor.

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George, Duke of Clarence – Margaret’s father

Susan Higginbotham tells Margaret’s story in great detail. Starting with a childhood marred by  her father’s attainder and execution by his own brother – Edward IV – the reader is drawn into Margaret’s life and family. From the highs of being governess to the princess, through the lows of her years of imprisonment in the Tower, and eventual execution at an age – 67 – when she should have been allowed to spend her days in quiet retirement, surrounded by her grandchildren; Susan Higginbotham tells a fascinating story of family tragedy, national politics and religious upheaval.

What Margaret thought of the death of her uncle Richard III we cannot know, but as she rode south on the orders of the new King Henry, she must have done so with some trepidation. Orphaned, with her closest relative a boy younger than herself, she had no powerful male relations to speak up for her, nor could her female ones be of much help. Her paternal grandmother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, was the mother of a defeated king; her maternal grandmother, Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, had been stripped of her lands during Edward IV’s reign….Thus, young Margaret’s future rested largely in the hands of a man neither she nor most other people in England had even met.

Engaging and sympathetically told, Susan Higginbotham’s narrative is a joy to read. It draws you in to Margaret’s life, relating her fears and hopes – and a deep and enduring love for her family.

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Cardinal Reginald Pole – Margaret’s most famous son

Susan Higginbotham has undertaken an incredible amount of research for this book, an endeavour which shines through on every page. The author has reconstructed Margaret Pole’s life and death, using every primary source available. Highlighting contradictions and explaining omissions, she takes the countess’s story from her earliest days to her final, dreadful moments… and beyond. Included at the end of the book is an appendix of over 30 pages of written evidence taken in the Exeter Conspiracy; a conspiracy involving at least 2 of her sons, which would see her imprisoned in the Tower for years before she was sent to the executioner’s block. It made for some absorbing reading late into the night.

All the key players in Margaret’s story are discussed, their actions and influence on Margaret’s life analysed and assessed. From Henry VIII to Princess Mary and Margaret’s own children. Susan Higginbotham’s analysis is unrivalled, her words painting vivid portraits of all the main characters who had a part to play Margaret’s life and explaining her relationships in detail.

Moreover, Margaret’s story is firmly placed in the wider context of English and European politics of the time; and in the great upheaval of the Reformation. Where there is contention, the author presents all possible arguments, before giving her own opinion and explaining her reasoning. She makes clear where information is lacking and highlights where she is providing her own theory and opinions.

In my recent interview with her, I asked Susan Higginbotham if she saw Margaret as a victim or a heroine, and she replied:

I would say a heroine, because she had strong beliefs which she maintained in the face of pressure, and she conducted herself with courage and dignity throughout adversity. I don’t think she would like to be remembered as a victim.

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Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

This biography of Margaret reinforces Susan Higginbotham’s statement. Margaret is portrayed as a strong, independent woman, who had raised a large family single-handed, following the death of her husband. Margaret had a strong faith and demonstrated great loyalty to the Tudor dynasty. Her courage and strength of purpose shines through on every page – as does her intelligence. Margaret Pole was no meek and feeble woman, she stood up for her beliefs, herself and her family, while always maintaining her loyalty to the crown.

Susan Higginbotham treats Margaret Pole with great compassion and dignity, telling her story – and that of her family – in such an engaging manner that the book is impossible to put down. Knowing how events will eventually play out makes it no less compelling.

It is a fascinating story and – ultimately – a sad one; however, it’s also a story of faith, courage and perseverance. Margaret Pole: the Countess in the Tower is a wonderful read – shining a light on the life of a woman whose story deserves to be told.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Forgotten History by Jem Duducu

51qGNL5YngL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_Not all history is recorded in school textbooks or cast into towering monuments that shape city skylines. Quite often the most intriguing (and most bizarre) bits are forgotten and fall away into obscurity. In this fascinating book, Jem Duducu shines light on the almost forgotten, wonderfully strange, and often hilarious moments of history that would otherwise be lost forever.

Covering a wide variety of topics, from the time a Pope put his dead predecessor on trial all the way up to the awkward moment when the US Air Force accidentally dropped nuclear bombs on Spain, take a journey through time and discover the weird and wonderful history that you didn’t learn about in school.

 Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments From the Past by Jem Duducu is one of those wonderful books that you simply can’t put down. When it arrived through my door I decided ‘I’ll just have a peek’. Two hours later and I was still ‘peeking’. The book takes you on a fascinating journey from Ancient History through all the eras right up to the 20th century. It brings you those little pieces of history that you may have overlooked, or forgotten – or simply didn’t know. From the history of the Rottweiler, to the green children of Woolpit to Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in the First World War….

This book has something for everyone, it tells you the story, giving you the facts and the history of the history, so to speak. It is a fun and entertaining, and one you can read from cover to cover, or pop in and out of.

Well written and incredibly well researched, Jem Duducu has found those stories from history that have fallen through the cracks of most history books. He gives us the facts, events and personalities that you may have thought were just stories, but are, in fact, a part of our history.

For instance, I have loved Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers since I was a child, but did you know the heroic, dashing D’Artagnan was real?

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The real D’Artagnan

Someone Regarded as Legendary but Isn’t

D’Artagnan, or to give him his full name, Charlers Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan, was pretty much the man you’d hope for. He was the captain of Louis XIV’s elite Musketeer guard, and in this instance the legend isn’t far from the reality of the man’s true character. He lived during the time of Cardinal Richelieu, he was a brave and accomplished warrior, and he fought in many battles. However, the plots of the Musketeer books bear little resemblance to events in his life…

As well as covering the important, but often overlooked, characters from history – such as D’Artagnan and the Lady Aethelflaed of the Mercians – Jem Duducu has found some rather obscure, but fascinating, facts such as the origin of the croissant, the Nazi plot to kidnap the Pope and a statue put on trial for murder….

I could go on all day – which is probably why I spent hours reading the book after only intending to have a quick look!

Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments From the Past by Jem Duducu has something for everyone, whatever period or genre of history you like, you will find something interesting and new. Packed full of facts and information, it can be used as a learning resource, or simply as a book to read, devour and enjoy. With some wonderful photographs and illustrations to support the text, the book tells the stories in a wonderful, engaging and unique way, which will leave you with a smile on your face – and looking for just one more story before closing the book.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Picture of D’Artagnan courtesy of Wikipedia