Book Corner: La Reine Blanche by Sarah Bryson

Mary Tudor’s childhood was overshadowed by the men in her life: her father, Henry VII, and her brothers Arthur, heir to the Tudor throne, and Henry VIII. These men and the beliefs held about women at the time helped to shape Mary’s life. She was trained to be a dutiful wife and at the age of eighteen Mary married the French king, Louis XII, thirty-four years her senior.

When her husband died three months after the marriage, Mary took charge of her life and shaped her own destiny. As a young widow, Mary blossomed. This was the opportunity to show the world the strong, self-willed, determined woman she always had been. She remarried for love and at great personal risk to herself. She loved and respected Katherine of Aragon and despised Anne Boleyn – again, a dangerous position to take.

Author Sarah Bryson has returned to primary sources, state papers and letters, to unearth the truth about this intelligent and passionate woman. This is the story of Mary Tudor, told through her own words for the first time.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France, is probably my favourite Tudor. She is a woman who understood duty, but also managed to forge her own way in life, while keeping her mercurial brother (Henry VIII) appeased. I have loved reading anything I could find on her since watching the film The Sword and the Rose as a teenager.

Mary Tudor followed her duty and married the husband her brother chose for her – Louis XII of France. However, before leaving England’s shores for her new life as Queen of France, she managed to extract a promise from her brother which would mean she could eventually choose the direction of her life. Henry  promised that if she married the husband he had chosen for her, then she would be allowed to choose her next husband. And Mary knew that she would have a second husband; Louis XII was 53 and Mary was 18. Their marriage lasted less than 3 months.

Not wanting to trust to her brother’s ability to keep to his promise once she was back under his roof, Mary then married the man of her choice before she had even left France. He was Charles Brandon, one of  her brother’s closest friends. The marriage could have caused great scandal, Brandon was far lower in rank than his royal bride. It did cause the couple financial hardship, that lasted the duration of their marriage; Henry exacted a heavy price, in fines, for his sister to follow her heart.

Sarah Bryson tells the story of Mary Tudor with great empathy and a deep understanding of the woman, her personal and private life, her highs and lows. Using Mary’s own letters as the backbone of the book, the author brings the French Queen to vivid life. It is impossible not to read this book and come to a new admiration for this remarkable lively English princess.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

Mary would not have been able to challenge men verbally, or publicly speak her mind. To do so would have been to step out of the mould that had been so carefully created for her by the men in her life and the culture of her time. Many men held the belief that to publicly challenge a man meant that a woman was not in fact a true woman, or that the woman was somehow mentally unbalanced. There were even physical and humiliating punishments for women who dared to challenge or speak ill of their husbands. Therefore Mary influenced the men in her life by using what skills and means she had at hand – in her case it was letter writing.

Mary Tudor’s letters are a fascinating and captivating look at how a woman could wield power without publicly challenging the patriarchy. They show how Mary was able to manoeuvre those around her to follow her heart – marrying her second husband for love, rather than being dragged back to the international chess game as a marriage pawn. They are also, on occasion, a way of looking into Mary’s life whereby the layers of princess and queen are stripped back and only the woman remains.

La Reine Blanche by Sarah Bryson provides an intimate assessment of the life of Mary Tudor. The author’s love of her subject shines through on every page. Her extensive knowledge of Mary, Charles Brandon and Henry VIII serves to make this book both entertaining and informative and makes it eminently readable. The reader is engaged from the first page and transported to the life and times of the subject and her family.

La Reine Blanche is well written and engaging. With impeccable research it follows Mary’s story from cradle to grave, giving a deep insight into the woman and the times in which she lived. It analyses the constraints which were placed on a woman – and especially a queen – at that time. It also provides an interesting assessment of Henry VIII, both as a brother and a king. There is a wonderful balance between Mary’s public and private life as the author delves into Mary’s experiences, motivations and clever manipulations of those around her. Sarah Bryson brings Mary to life through her letters, clearly demonstrating how the Tudor princess was aware of her station and the limitations placed on women; but used her own wiles and the art of flattery and persuasion to take as much control of her life as was humanly possible.

In reading Sarah Bryson’s wonderful biography, it is impossible not to fall a little bit in love with this amazing Tudor princess and French Queen.

La Reine Blanche by Sarah Bryson is now available from Amberley Books and Amazon .

About the author: Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator. Se runs a website dedicated to Tudor history and has written on other websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and ‘Queen Anne Boleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade and is the author on Mary Boleyn and Charles Brandon.

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Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

Showcasing his renowned storyteller’s skill, Bernard Cornwell has created an Elizabethan world incredibly rich in its portrayal: you walk the London streets, stand in the palaces and are on stage in the playhouses, as he weaves a remarkable story in which performances, rivalries and ambition combine to form a tangled web of intrigue.

I have been a fan of Bernard Cornwell since reading my first Sharpe book as a teenager. I have read everything, eagerly awaiting each new book and devouring it within days of its release. So when I was offered the chance of an advance copy of Fools and Mortals – well – I jumped at it.

Fools and Mortals is a major departure for Bernard Cornwell. There are no world-changing battles as in the Sharpe and Last Kingdom books, no ancient legends such as in the King Arthur and Thomas of Hookton series; in fact, this book is all about pretend, following the antics of William Shakespeare’s younger brother as he tries to make his way as a player in Elizabethan England. And it is fascinating.

‘Show me the nightgown!’ the twin whose sword was still scabbarded demanded, and the Percy tossed down the rochet. ‘Oh pretty,’ the twin said. ‘Is this what papists wear to vomit their filth?’

‘Give it back,’ Alan Rust demanded, slightly raising his borrowed sword.

‘Are you threatening me?’ the twin with the drawn blade asked.

‘Yes,’ Rust said.

‘Maybe we should arrest him,’ the twin said, and lunged his blade at Alan.

And that was a mistake.

It was a mistake because one of the first skills any actor learns is how to use a sword. The audience love combats. They see enough fights, God knows, but those fights are almost always between enraged oafs who hack and slash until, usually within seconds, one of them has a broken pate or a pierced belly and is flat on his back. What the groundlings admire is a man who can fight skillfully, and some of our loudest applause happens when Richard Burbage and Henry Condell are clashing blades. The audience gasp at their grace, at the speed of their blades, and even though they know the fight is not real, they know the skill is very real. My brother had insisted I take fencing lessons, which I did, because if I had any hope of assuming a man’s part in a play I needed to be able to fight. Alan Rust had learned long before, he had been an attraction with Lord Pembroke’s men, and though what he had learned was how to pretend a fight, he could only do that because he really could fight, and the twins were about to receive a lesson.

I know that not every Bernard Cornwell fan will be impressed by this new story; if they  are only reading Cornwell for the blood-curdling action, they will be disappointed in this book. But if they read Cornwell because he is THE greatest storyteller, because he can transport you through time and space to a world that is recreated from history and his imagination, they will love this book.

William Shakespeare

I admit I was a little dubious at first, but once you start reading, it is – as usual with a Bernard Cornwell book – impossible to put down. It may be because this is not a war story, is not a crime thriller, and is a totally new departure for the author, that this story works so well. It proves just what an excellent wordsmith he is.

As has come to be expected with one of our greatest authors, the research is impeccable and interwoven in the story are many of the political concerns of the time, the opposition to theatres, the hunt for Catholics and their sympathisers, and even the constant need to impress the aging queen, Elizabeth I. However, Fools and Mortals is not a simple melodrama. There are many threads to the story, the development of professional theatre, love, intrigue, betrayal and sibling rivalry being just a few.

Everything about this book proves why Bernard Cornwell is one of the greatest storytellers of our generation. The writing is of his usual high standard, and keeps you engaged to the very end. The hero, if a complete contrast to Sharpe and Uhtred, is an engaging and entertaining protagonist, with whom the reader can readily invest their hopes and expectations of a great story. Richard Shakespeare is a young man, trying to find his role in life, whilst trying to survive medieval London and negotiate that age-old problem – a superstar older brother!

Any fan of Bernard Cornwell knows that he loves the theatre and the bestselling writer has put all his knowledge and passion into creating this amazing novel. It more than lives up to the high standards we have come to expect in all his work.

Fools and Mortals is released on 19th October in the UK.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Sharons book cover

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