Despite so little to go on, Bryson does a wonderful job examining Mary Boleyn's life in a fair and balanced way, celebrating her accomplishments, and Despite so little to go on, Bryson does a wonderful job examining Mary Boleyn's life in a fair and balanced way, celebrating her accomplishments, and questioning what was and wasn't possible in the frustratingly little documented life of "the other Boleyn girl"....more
I loved how this book placed the history of Henry VIII’s six wives in the bigger picture of 16th century European politics.
I was also intrigued by the I loved how this book placed the history of Henry VIII’s six wives in the bigger picture of 16th century European politics.
I was also intrigued by the fact that the style of the book made me ponder the question: Is it right for historians to make judgments?
Because wow is this guy a Judgey McJudgerson, very quick to throw around words like “stupid”, “silly” , “lust” , “shrew”, “vain” , “proud” , etc.
Should history be a dry recitation of facts, figures and dates ? Or would that be too dull? Or should we point out the human foibles, hold up the negative and positive under bright lights to try and truly see what happened? Or would that be too prejudicial?
No idea, but interesting approaches to consider. ...more
Dan Jones is good when it comes to presenting known facts – doing a very good job presenting in an understandable and linear fashion, the crazy of the Dan Jones is good when it comes to presenting known facts – doing a very good job presenting in an understandable and linear fashion, the crazy of the Wars of the Roses. Great explanation about the background and showcasing how England went from glory to anarchy in one generation
Say what you will about electoral systems (and lord knows there are flaws) at least it doesn’t lead to putting minors in charge of governments!
It’s pretty insane here to watch the highest ranks of England’s government going through the motions of “asking” two year old Henry VI what he wants his foreign policies to be and “thanking” him for his sure hand on the reigns of power, etc. etc.
It’s no surprise political factions in this environment lead to outright murder – the weird part of watching the rest of the country go along with it, taking up arms by the thousands to fight for this or that lord.
It’s no surprise, when we get to the end, that most of the country sits on the sidelines as Henry Tudor and Richard III duke it out for the crown at Bosworth – everyone else is so sick of the fighting it’s hard to get worked up anymore over which person with a cup or so of royal blood gets the throne.
Jones makes a strong point that the Tudors “won” not so much because they were that awesome, but simply because the Planatagents had done such an excellent job of exterminating themselves there was almost no one left when Hnery VII marched onto the scene.
Jones, however, slips on two points: One, he doesn’t do a very good job showing what an important role a lot of women took in the events of the War of the Roses and Two he is absolutely 100% convinced Richard III killed the Princes in the Tower and that Warbeck was an imposter, with no doubts or other possible theories presented.
When he stated that Richard III benefited from the princes death, I was all, umm, hello? The Tudors ended up benefiting a heck of a lot more! I wouldn’t put it past Margaret Beaufort (whom David Starke, the stuffed shirt, has lovingly described as “a right old battle axe”) of shoving poison down the brats’ throats – then saying a Hail Mary for their souls.
So, overall, good with facts, less than stellar with theories. ...more
5 stars for the data, but 3 for the presentation, so let’s average it out to 4.
The line art style makes the book i Dense, dense, and dense. And dated.
5 stars for the data, but 3 for the presentation, so let’s average it out to 4.
The line art style makes the book instantly look out of date to modern eyes, which (let’s be honest) often makes one question the veracity of the material. But, if you can make it through the unapproachable text and illustration layout, there are quite a lot of good nuggets of information buried in this heavy tome. Literately heavy – you could use the book as part of a free weight work out.
This is not a book for the introductory level – this is for someone coming in with a lot of background on the subject and who is probably looking for specific information.
Highly recommend for SCA members and other costume makers looking for high level details on the people and clothes of the 16th century. ...more
An examination of the sources more than the people themselves, it is well presented and makes some good points about new interpretations of the data, An examination of the sources more than the people themselves, it is well presented and makes some good points about new interpretations of the data, but oh dear God it’s depressing. ...more
Norton traces the beginnings of the Boleyn family and shows that there were quite a number of Boleyn women worthy of attention before Anne and her dau Norton traces the beginnings of the Boleyn family and shows that there were quite a number of Boleyn women worthy of attention before Anne and her daughter rolled onto the scene.
The problem, of course, is before Anne Boleyn was in Henry VIII’s line of sight, the Boleyn women were very much not on the scene, being very much a country family who were known and successful in their own county, but absolutely nowhere near the world stage.
This means that Norton doesn’t have a lot of primary sources to work with, but she is able to extrapolate quite a lot about these women’s lives from wills and grave memorials as well as that always useful cache of 15th century gossip – the Paston letters. Oh those gossipy Pastons!
Surprisingly, (or not, given the lack of primary sources) we already get to Anne Boleyn’s mother by the 50 page mark, and by 100 pages in we’re covering Mary Boleyn’s affair with Henry VIII. (“never with the mother” hehehe) Norton gives a fair amount of coverage to Mary Boleyn, acknowledging she was just as much a Boleyn as her sister and worthy of historical analysis. Norton, however, unlike Weir, comes down heavy on the slept-around-the-French-court theory.
Back to England as we follow more of the Boleyn family and their immediate relations. There is a Gordian knot of connections of parentage and marriage between Boleyns, Howards, Mowbrays, Beauforts, Sheltons, etc, plus, of course, all the passing around of titles to Norfolk, Sussex, Surrey, etc. It should all be headache inducing, but instead, I found it all absolutely hypnotizing to see the kaleidoscope of connections between members of the Tudor and Plantagenet courts and loooved getting this different perspective on how everyone I’d heard of before had these looooong backgrounds with everyone else.
This continues as Norton covers Anne Boleyn as courtier and then queen, showing how she was in the middle of a sea of family connections, some helpful, others hindrances, and she was navigating through decades worth of family-political alliances and feuds as well as the whole Reformation issue.
The dramatic fall of Anne Boleyn here focuses on the role various family members played and where everyone was when the Boleyn family suddenly lost their political capital. After that, Norton follows up on the various low key marriages, property settlements and estate planning all the Boleyn cousins settled into, most determined to keep their heads down after Anne’s spectacular failure.
Except, of course, for Lady Jane Rochford, who gets her own chapter so Norton can give the needed space to examining what might have happened and what on earth Jane was thinking.
After that debacle, Norton digs into Princess Elizabeth's childhood and I was surprised to learn that the Carey cousins (maybe half siblings), Henry and Catherine were, like, 99% chance, raised alongside Elizabeth and she retained a strong affection for them, especially since they all had the shared bonding experience of surviving the rocky reigns of Edward and Mary.
When she came to the throne, Elizabeth's cousins played some important roles at her court, and then, due to the fecundity of Mary Boleyn’s progeny, Queen Elizabeth had dozens of Boleyn relatives running around her court, arising some jealously from the other factions.
Norton does an excellent job examining the remarkable lives of the many Boleyn women and the part they played in British history. ...more
David – can I call you David? – what are you doing here? I get that Katherine Howard is a difficult biography to tell in a straight, linear fashion, b David – can I call you David? – what are you doing here? I get that Katherine Howard is a difficult biography to tell in a straight, linear fashion, but four full chapters before she steps on the scene, really?
The narrative rolls back and forth, losing momentum, going into tangents about different members of Henry VIII’s court, and getting way into the weeds about the small points of difference between various forms of English Catholicism and English Protestantism as well as the odd Catha-Protest-Reforma-Conserva-ism that was Henry’s religion.
David, you also have to learn to embrace the human school of thought that people are human too, no matter when they lived, what their gender, sex, skin color, religion, etc – they are going to be effected by the human basics like hunger, revulsion, desire, etc. You go on and on about the political hornet’s nest Katherine Howard stepped in an what she represented as a symbol of the Howard faction, but ignore the fact that Katherine was married to a man so fat “three men could fit inside his doublet.” This, just as a matter of basic physics, is going to cause problems.
Next time, more about the queen herself please, and less about those around her. ...more
Licence follows Elizabeth of York’s life from beginning to end, giving the reader both information abo I’m tempted to label this a “perfect” biography.
Licence follows Elizabeth of York’s life from beginning to end, giving the reader both information about what happened to Elizabeth directly and what was happening around her, to try and put her world in context. She digs up all the primary evidence she can get her hands on, sifts carefully through what other historians have had to say about it, and very deliberately and pointedly holds back on ascribing unknown emotions, rightly pointing out that short of a beyond-a-doubt proven personal diary of Elizabeth popping up in which she writes: ‘I hate my husband with the passion of a thousand suns,’ etc, we can’t know how she felt about the people and events around her. ...more
“What do you mean different versions? She isn’t Catwoman!”
This was my boyfriend’s bemused reaction to hearing what I was reading about. Laughing, I we “What do you mean different versions? She isn’t Catwoman!”
This was my boyfriend’s bemused reaction to hearing what I was reading about. Laughing, I went on to explain that, actually, yes, there can be just as many versions of a factual person as there can be of a fictional person, and Bordo does an amazing job here showing those versions.
What do we know, what do we think we know and why do we think that?
Excellent examination of the evidence – and lack of – surrounding the captivating Anne Boleyn. ...more
For a country where words like “stodgy,” “quaint,” “stiff,” and “civilized” are tossed about to describe the people, it appears to have a history abso For a country where words like “stodgy,” “quaint,” “stiff,” and “civilized” are tossed about to describe the people, it appears to have a history absolutely soaked through in blood.
Ackroyd tackles an ambitious project, perhaps overly ambitious, covering English history from the arrival of the first [i]homo sapiens[/i] circa 900,000 BC to the death of Henry VII in 1509. He covers so much ground that he is forced to gallop along at a break neck speed, rushing through events and having to move on just when things are getting interesting. The difficulty is that each chapter covers a subject worth a whole book by itself.
He starts by examining England’s history before the written record – what fragments of bone, a few bits of burned wood, and some stone carvings can tell us. Quite a lot, actually. I’m impressed with the archeologists’ ability to look at a field with a few potshards and skulls in it and be able to re-create a city or battle. England, apparently, was site to many, many, bloody battles, as bad as anything in the 19th or 20th century, well before the Romans came, and then,
When the Romans did come, all bets were off, and even worse when the empire collapsed, and England split into pieces, filled with warring factions and invaders, followed, slowly, slowly, by a melding as the people intermixed and began to create the genetic mix of the true ‘English’ – a blood line that seems to have a little bit of everything that Europe has to offer.
After going through the mists of King Arthur, the book goes back and forth between the documented succession of the English crown, and the development of the land in general – towns, roads, church, law, etc. With still plenty of bloodshed in any given time period.
It’s a meaty but uncomplicated read, and I, personally, found it helpful to read up on the kings and queens of England in a straightforward succession, seeing them laid out in the big picture to get a better grasp on who reigned when. ...more
Between the bloody War of the Roses and the sexploits of Henry VIII and his six wives, Henry VII tends to be overlooked.
If he’s mentioned at all its Between the bloody War of the Roses and the sexploits of Henry VIII and his six wives, Henry VII tends to be overlooked.
If he’s mentioned at all its in the context of what came before or after him. Historians dismiss him as a miser, only grudgingly admitting he did a good job keeping the country and economy stable, out of war and out of debt. He sired sons to keep the line going, thought decisions through to avoid mistakes, and kept himself out of anything the least bit scandalous or even interesting.
Therefore, the common impression is that he’s just too boring for words – especially since if you press the fast forward button you get the good stuff with Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
Dr. Penn takes a magnifying glass to the reign of Henry VII and – surprise! – there is actually quite a lot going on.
So, it appears Henry VII practically invented the CIA. He’s so-called “secure” reign had lots and lots of conspiracies and rebellions – and a lot more than just that Warbeck affair that makes the history books. Henry VII was a man under siege, and employed a legion of spies to catch anyone who might be plotting against him.
Also, Henry VII and his closest advisers, such as Bishop Morton, were able to squeeze more money out of the citizens than just about any other monarch I’ve heard of. Henry VII was particularly good at giving people passes for jail time and treason in exchange for a hefty fine.
He neither killed people, like monarchs of his time, nor jailed people, like today’s first world countries – he merely took his people for every penny they had. Prince John’s tax collectors pale in comparison to his two main tax collectors, Dudley and Empson.
Dudley and Empson pop up a lot in history books when historian like to point out Henry VIII was a bloody tyrant right from the start, executing two tax collectors at the start of his reign just to make himself look good to his people. Now, however, seeing the whole story of the tax system of Henry VII and how dirty these two tax collectors operated, I may have cheered a bit when the book finally gets to their execution.
The whole book in fact, while being an amazing biography of Henry VII, acts as an excellent prequel to the story of Henry VIII – this is where so many of the people in his story came from, this is what molded them.
The author starts out with an academic's version of The Little Red Hen:
Who will help me find the primary sources? Who will help me analyze the primary The author starts out with an academic's version of The Little Red Hen:
Who will help me find the primary sources? Who will help me analyze the primary sources? Who will help me analyze the secondary sources? Who will help me write new secondary source? Well, I guess I will just have to enjoy the royalties from my new book All By Myself.
Anyway, the book finally gets to Henry VII. He rushes through Henry's place in the War of the Roses in very general terms, skimming through the first 28 years of Henry's life quite quickly, and things don't get exciting until the Battle of Bosworth, where he shows you Richard and Henry duking it out for the crown, up close and personal. He makes it clear that Henry wins not because he did so well - but because Richard did so bad.
So, Henry gains the crown, and there are some interesting points along the rest of the way as he describes Henry's life as king. Then, halfway through the book, we are already at Henry's failing health, the elaborate plans he draws up for his funeral, and his death.
The second half of the book is very, very, very dry academic analysis of different economic and political themes in Henry's reign, in no particular chronological order, examining aspects of early Tudor government in such a way that leaves you with the impression you are reading an early draft of a graduate student's thesis; a paper which the student cares madly about, the advising professor is perhaps mildly interested to see how the facts have been rearranged, and the rest of the population could give a flying shoe.
Where is the day to day life? Where is the interaction with his family members? Where are the first bricks being laid down that will lead to all the glory and horror of the later Tudor reigns?
The author claims that being between the violence of Richard III and the sexacapades of Henry VIII, Henry VII's ability to maintain a strong central government and collect taxes on a regular schedule leads to some dull reading. Ok, yes, anyone compared to Richard III and Henry VIII is going to come off as less than larger than life. But, ok, even if not larger than life, Henry VII was a man, and was more than just his various economic and foreign policies.
Basically, its a mislabeling to call this book a biographyy - historiography wold be the better word.