In the fifteenth century, England and France’s interactions were anything but friendly. These icy conditions bring to mind to mind such terms such asIn the fifteenth century, England and France’s interactions were anything but friendly. These icy conditions bring to mind to mind such terms such as Hundred Years War, Wars of the Roses, King Henry V of England, etc. All of these eventually paved the way in later time to the Tudor Dynasty through Henry’s Queen Catherine de Valois and her entanglement with Owen Tudor of Wales. Rosemary Hawley Jarman brings this period to life in, “Crown in Candlelight”.
As a direct result of this novel’s summary blurb, many would expect “Crown in Candlelight” to be a tale dripping with romance highlighting the story of Katherine (as called in the novel) and Owen complete with terms of endearment and fluff. Luckily, this doesn’t describe “Crown in Candlelight” at all, as Jarman rather focuses on the history of the period, politics, and the efforts of Henry of England to conquer France. Jarman is known for her historical detail (her novels are more history than fiction) and “Crown in Candlelight” follows this mold brimming with luscious historical fact.
Elaborating on this, Jarman’s prose and language is rich and beautiful, truly making the reader feel that they are a part of the plot while the tapestry is woven versus simply being a spectator. In a sense, “Crown in Candlelight” feels more like a history lesson than character-driven but Jarman’s lovely storytelling still helps quicken the pace.
In usual Jarman fashion, “Crown in Candlelight” is divided into sections versus chapters and is often told from various viewpoints/characters. Being that these characters are well-developed and structured; this doesn’t make “Crown in Candlelight” confusing and instead adds layers to the story.
Also featured in “Crown in Candlelight” (and common to Jarman’s writing) is her penchant for including snippets of foreign languages (not translated) and plot twists involving magic and folklore. One may argue that this is realistic as it was commonplace during this period but it starkly stands out in a piece that is more politically-based.
Jarman’s coverage of the Battle of Agincourt is tightly-wound with emotion and truly brings it to life without overwhelming the reader and allowing the historical facts to sparkle (but with a novelization to carry it through). After this, “Crown in Candlelight” takes a personal approach and brings to light Katherine, Henry, and Owen with a fresh appeal and original view which sticks out from other similar-topic HF novels. Sadly, Owen Tudor doesn’t receive as much attention as one would hope, though.
“Crown in Candlelight” shifts to extend the romantic plot but this is slightly thin and isn’t as strong as former parts of the novel. On the other hand, Jarman intriguingly makes small comments foreshadowing future events during the Wars of Roses (outside the scope of the novel) which are small ‘Easter eggs’ for those readers familiar with the history. It is a nice touch.
The final quarter of Jarman’s novel is noticeably rushed, choppy, and disjointed from the rest of the piece. It feels like Jarman had to quickly end the story and the text reads like separate trains of thought/fragments instead of a cohesive plot. This weakens “Crown in Candlelight”. However, the actual ending has a burst of emotion and also indicates the legacy of the characters so the conclusion isn’t a total wash-out.
“Crown in Candlelight” isn’t as strong as “The King’s Grey Mare” but it is still a rich novel rife with historical fact and vivid descriptions. Jarman’s novels stand the test of time and are much better than many similar HF novels, today. “Crown in Candlelight” is suggested for HF fans of the Wars of the Roses and those interested in Owen Tudor. ...more
Those active in the Tudor online community are probably familiar with Barb Alexander’s “The Tudor Tutor” in which she presents Tudor history lessons iThose active in the Tudor online community are probably familiar with Barb Alexander’s “The Tudor Tutor” in which she presents Tudor history lessons in a sassy and witty way making it ‘fun’ and accessible. Alexander offers her knowledge for the first time in print-form in, “The Tudor Tutor: Your Cheeky Guide to the Dynasty”.
“The Tudor Tutor” is a slim volume offering a quick overview of the main topics in Tudor history. Imagine Alexander’s angle as bullet points or a play off her blog/site but written in a more narrative way. The pace flows easily and quickly, resulting in a fast read. “The Tudor Tutor” can be described as a “history-beach read”.
Alexander infuses “The Tudor Tutor” with humor and charm which is the reason behind her internet fame resulting in a few chuckles from the reader. There are some evident moments, however, where it is obvious that Alexander tries too hard to be funny which can be tiresome. Certainly do not expect an in-depth scholarly read with “The Tudor Tutor”. It teaches history but not in a credible, academic way.
Elaborating on this lack of depth, “The Tutor Tudor” is a ‘fun’ read but it doesn’t present any new information or offer any new angles to those familiar with the topic. Alexander’s work is best suited for those seeing a quick doctor’s office book inducing a few smiles. “The Tutor Tudor” is very much a blog in print form. Don’t misunderstand – it is not bad- it simply is very light so one has to merely take it for what it is.
Illustrator Lisa Graves adds some entertainment to “The Tudor Tutor” with colorful, hand-drawn illustrations. Although these are accurately based on historical paintings; even these have a hint of humor/snark (an occasional side glance or smirk on a figure’s face) which supplements Alexander’s text appropriately plus solidifies the information discussed with the reader.
Alexander does have the flaw of sometimes “crossing the line” with her descriptions, meaning that during her attempts to be comedic, Alexander can be offensive to those historical figures discussed or is biased in nature (against them). This isn’t overly harsh but still appears slightly childish. On the other hand, Alexander often ends paragraphs with questions which encourage readers to interpret the reading and encourages after -thoughts and personal research.
Despite my complaints, “The Tudor Tutor” is certainly entertaining and is a “cute” way to learn history. Plus, Alexander never claims to be an expert, doesn’t act elitist, and isn’t called a professional. Some other authors in the same realm (I’m talking about you, Susan Bordo) whom pen humorous history takes claim to be experts when they are FAR from it. Alexander doesn’t go down that path, keeping humility and not displaying any attitude or airs. Well done, Alexander!
“The Tudor Tutor” ends strongly with a somewhat lesser-discussed factoid (Stuart vs. Stewart spelling) which leaves on a memorable note. Alexander also offers a timeline of Tudor dynasty events and a light list of sources for further reading.
“The Tudor Tutor” is a humorous and indeed ‘cheeky’ look at the Tudor reign. Although light and not academic; it is a good introduction to those new to the topic or would fit well as a supplement to an exhibit. However, it is not necessarily suggested for those well-versed on the topic unless one is searching for a laugh. Again, don’t misunderstand my complaints: “The Tudor Tutor” is a fun ‘guide’. I am merely saying that is all it is so don’t expect anything more. ...more
Although letter writing may seem like a thing of the past (I still write letters!); the practice was just emerging in the fifteenth century. Letters wAlthough letter writing may seem like a thing of the past (I still write letters!); the practice was just emerging in the fifteenth century. Letters written during this period give us an intricate look into the way of life as these words dictated local, political, and even international affairs versus just the nuances of personal life. The Pastons, a family living in England during the ‘Wars of the Roses’; wrote and kept a plethora of letters which are still extant today giving us an open window into both the family’s and England’s affairs. Editor Richard Barber gathers and presents these writings in, “The Pastons: A Family in the Wars of the Roses”.
“The Pastons” focuses on the content of the family’s letters presented in a pseudo-narrative strain whereby some letters are offered in full, others are quoted, and meanwhile they are explained or set into context. Therefore, Barber doesn’t simply offer a string of letters but instead provides illuminating reading which actually has a lively flow and pace.
The letters chosen by Barber initially highlight familiar and estate affairs versus that of political events but these are not boring and bring a vivid picture of the way of life. The reader will almost feel as though conversing with the Pastons, themselves. This then flows into more eventful letters describing quarrels, battles, law suits, and civil unrest in England. Not only did the Paston family lead eventful lives but they were also involved first-hand with the turmoil taking place in England.
“The Pastons” is perfect for both history lovers and HF fans of the period as the letters are accurate and factual primary sources which are ideal for fact checking but Barber also implores a narrative arc which makes “The Pastons” feel almost like a novel. The work is thus very accessible and easy-to-read versus being overly heady.
Adding some meat to the skeleton “The Pastons” is Barber’s inclination towards detective work and thereby meticulously debunking some hearsay reports. This truly adds to the essence of the work and results in an even heartier read.
The concluding focus of “The Pastons” is well-rounded with letters on various topics from love letters (so romantic!) to disease and politics. The actual ending, however, is quite abrupt. Fortunately, this is met with a pleasing Epilogue explaining the future of the family during subsequent reigns and a brief discussion of the discovery of the letters.
“The Pastons” is not an exhaustive look at the family or letters but it serves as an excellent introduction as well as a resource for the period. “The Pastons” is much recommended for history or even HF fans with an interest in the Wars of the Roses or of the Paston family (for they are often mentioned in texts on the period). ...more
For staunch Tudor lovers, the name Margaret Pole is not an unfamiliar one. Yet, even though the Countess of Salisbury was smack-dab in the middle of cFor staunch Tudor lovers, the name Margaret Pole is not an unfamiliar one. Yet, even though the Countess of Salisbury was smack-dab in the middle of courtly drama; she seems to play a side note in most books. Phillippa Gregory brings Pole to the forefront in her latest historical fiction novel, “The King’s Curse”.
Before I even proceed further, I want to make something clear for those who aren’t regular readers of my reviews: I do not think of Gregory as a God nor of her work as the Bible. Her books of the past few years have been fluffy, filled with historical liberties, and with an overabundance of fantasy topics like magic. Don’t even get me started on her obsession with the, “As you know, Bob”- style of writing. To say the least, I have not been impressed. Lo and behold though, ladies and gents, because it appears that PG finally listened to complaints and produced a work which actually isn’t terrible!
“The King’s Curse” begins with Pole characterized as an adult so there is no discrepancy of the strain of growth from childhood to adulthood. Following Pole’s life (both personal and courtly); her feelings and role come alive with a strong portrayal. Readers will actually feel as though they are walking into Margaret’s psyche and not in a dummied down version, either. Margaret is both believable and accessible.
The most stroking trait of “The King’s Curse” is its accuracy which has not been the way to describe PG lately. In this novel, Gregory stuck mostly to the facts with the liberties being more on par with various debated theories historians have proposed versus fluff created in Gregory’s mind. Meaning, the novel is NOT thoroughly accurate but the inaccuracies are based on proposed theories and ideas. The descriptions and speaking style feel mostly authentic and the visuals are rich. Best of all? The “As you know, Bob” style is very limited! It is still present but rarely. I’m telling you: “The King’s Curse” is a million times better than the past few years of Gregory output.
The pace of the plot is also solid and with an exciting heartbeat. Although much of the novel focuses on courtly affairs (the downfall of Henry VIII); the novel is moving and dare I say: a page-turner. All of the other characters are well portrayed with Mary Tudor (future Queen Mary) being a standout. In fact, many of the events are quite vivid and emotionally poignant. No mention of magical crap was even needed to do so (believe it or not, the silly curse is barely mentioned despite the novel’s title).
On the negative end, some of the hatred in “The King’s Curse” towards Anne Boleyn and the frustration with Henry VIII is somewhat over the top. Yes, Margaret was a supporter of Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor but the spewing of anger and calling Anne a ‘whore’ numerous times was a bit much. We get it! Margaret didn’t like Anne! Sheesh! On the other hand, this is a sort of refreshing look from the opposition of the Anne camp versus those novels focusing on Anne’s wit and charisma. Regardless, some Anne supporters may be offended or annoyed.
Notably, Gregory intersperses the novel with genealogical charts (instead of singularly just in the beginning of the novel) which illuminate some of the figures featured in the respective chapters. This is definitely unique to “The King’s Curse” (and I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or not).
The final quarter of the “The King’s Curse” suffers from a great decline in the pace and effectiveness as much of the plot is told (with the characters discussing events) versus being ‘lived’. This is tedious, boring, and sadly more like Gregory’s other novels. This flows into an anticlimactic ending which is rushed and not on-par with the lead-up of the entire novel.
On the bright side, Gregory does explain some historical liberties in her ‘Author’s Note’ hopefully showing readers that her writing is not the word of God. Plus, her sources listed are those which Tudor readers are familiar with and mostly support.
Overall, quite shockingly, “The King’s Curse” is unlike Gregory’s recent novels with very little or none of the traits readers have been complaining about. The angle of the story is unique while Margaret Pole is presented as a complex figure inviting further research which is quite a feat coming from Gregory. “The King’s Curse” may not be the best historical fiction novel on the market; but the best from the author in years.
Note: My rating is perhaps more of a 3.5 in terms of HF novels overall (and therefore I would have given it a 3 rating) but because I am taking into consideration PG’s other works and comparing it to those previous works; it is being rated as a 4 ...more
If recent English history book shelves are solid indicators of trends, then it appears that the obsession with the Tudors has slipped backwards in timIf recent English history book shelves are solid indicators of trends, then it appears that the obsession with the Tudors has slipped backwards in time with a focus on how the Tudors came to gain the throne in the first place. Chris Skidmore joins this group of Tudor-background exploration in “The Rise of the Tudors: The Family That Changed English History”.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Skidmore’s book on Edward VI but not so much the book concerning Amy Robsart (sadly, because I love her); I was unaware of what to expect with “The Rise of the Tudors”. Fortunately, the reader is instantly smacked with an incredible tour de force of a book. Combining excellent writing skills (not that Skidmore was poor to begin with but he has grown exponentially), strong research, and evident passion for the topic (Skidmore recreated many life events and literally footed the same journeys as Henry Tudor in order to see through his eyes); “The Rise of the Tudors” is strong in every sense of the word.
“The Rise of the Tudors” feels alive and kicking with a strong heartbeat, exciting pace, and consistent storytelling. The text is not overly speculative and is instead objective without biases but yet flows like a narrative history allowing the reader to soak up facts without being either overwhelmed or bored. Skidmore’s writing is intelligent but easy-to-understand, resulting in compelling reading.
The biggest highlight of “The Rise of the Tudors” is the incredible wealth of information presented. Although I am very well versed on the Wars of the Roses, reign of Richard III, Elizabeth of York, etc; I still had some unanswered questions. Skidmore provides research and facts concerning background and angles which other books on the topic skim over. The enlightenment on this period of history is powerful with the reader enjoying many moments of clarity. Events made sense in a way they never have previously which in turn explains personalities and actions of future Tudors.
Furthermore, all of Skidmore’s storytelling has a rhyme and reason. There are moments in which it may seem he is going off on a tangent but there is a reason for every area explored and it all relates to the Tudors. Skidmore has the perfect ratio of mentioning these sideline areas but then bringing together the connection.
On the other hand, “The Rise of the Tudors” lacks annotated notes and strong sources which can question credibility. For instance, there are cases when Skidmore attempts to debunk writings of other historians but offers no sources and doesn’t elaborate. There are also a few (not many, but still existing) occasions in which Skidmore speculates on feelings and thoughts of historical figures.
Skidmore’s telling of the road to Bosworth is impressively a notable one as it is fresh, unique, and informative. Accompanied by maps showing the literal journey Henry’s troops took through each city to Bosworth; Skidmore provides an accurate play-by-play which truly sets the field (no pun intended) for the Battle of Bosworth. Along with rarely seen ‘letters of muster’ produced in full and details of defections; “The Rise of the Tudors” makes for one gripping and hearty book! Unfortunately, this strength weakens with the telling of the Battle of Bosworth. Although Skidmore’s depiction is illustrative and includes a map of the battlefield; he uses the same sources every couple of lines and constantly refers to a war-maneuver manual by Christine de Pazan claiming Richard and Henry must have consulted it. Not only is this an overreaching speculation but feels like filler material and is simply: annoying.
The concluding chapters of “The Rise of the Tudors” focuses on the aftermath of Bosworth concerning the personal ambitions/motives of those who fought in the battle, how it effected Henry VII’s early reign, the search for the actual battleground and battle relics, and a postscript on the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton. Skidmore is both entertaining with these chapters and also very knowledgeable. The book is supplemented with two full-color color plates with one focusing on Bosworth relics adding to a memorable piece. On a negative end, there are no end notes or annotations and the bibliography is cluttered.
Despite some complaints, “The Rise of the Tudors is undoubtedly Skidmore’s strongest work to date and is standout with its spunky look at the events leading to the Battle of Bosworth and the battle, itself. The work is more recommended for those with already-existing knowledge on the topic as the style is unique and the look at history is original compared to the ‘usual’ books. “The Rise of the Tudors” will reignite passion in those readers who perhaps have exhausted themselves regarding the topic. “The Rise of the Tudors” is not to be missed. ...more
Even though the Tudors are known for their drama-filled (albeit, somewhat short) dynasty; there was already a family making waves before them: the PlaEven though the Tudors are known for their drama-filled (albeit, somewhat short) dynasty; there was already a family making waves before them: the Plantagenets. Dan Jones explains those historical figures who paved the road for England in, “The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England”.
Jones states in his introduction to “The Plantagenets” that his work follows that of a narrative history. This means that although less scholarly and academic; one can at least hope for an exciting (almost fiction-like) sweep of events. This, however, would be a false expectation for “The Plantagenets”. Not only is Jones’s writing shallow in the academic realm, but it isn’t heart-thumping either.
Jones has a poorly-written, flat style which follows a “Person A did this and then that”-style. The flow is unnatural, the reader is not engaged, and the historical figures are not revealed. “The Plantagenets” doesn’t feature any new information while also being deadpan about the information it does give. Furthermore, the chapters in “The Plantagenets” are short and abrupt. Don’t expect an overall history of the Plantagenets as the format is one which instead focuses on one key figure or event per chapter. Although chronological, Jones doesn’t dive deep enough, cuts off the chapters too quickly, and has a choppy presentation. This leaves the reader with many unanswered questions.
Jones is also guilty of filling his text with speculation and phrases divulging what figures “thought”. Unless he has access to top-secret diaries, he does NOT know what anyone thought. Not to mention, information which does sound solid is not properly sourced with facts mentioned similar to, “A contemporary stated…” but the contemporary is never detailed. To say the least, much of “The Plantagenets” is an overview and one which doesn’t even feel credible.
As “The Plantagenets” progresses, Jones finds a more confident path in his storytelling. However, the text is merely that: a retelling of events which reads like a high school student’s history report. Plus, the work is inconsistent with some chapters being exponentially more interesting than others (which also demonstrates Jones’s own biases).
The second half of “The Plantagenets” is markedly better with its focus on Edward II and Edward III. The text flows much more smoothly and is more compelling than earlier chapters. Even despite this minor momentum kick, however; Jones’s work contains blatant errors (which the seasoned history reader will catch), plus some repetition in storytelling. Jones also insists on quoting secondary sources, again making the work feel like a “recap”.
These negative points roll into an overly-rushed conclusion which instead of detailing the drama between Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke in a memorable way; instead focuses more on Jones’s clear dislike for Richard. The epilogue of “The Plantagenets” also fails to sum-up the work in a resonating way.
For staunch history lovers, “The Plantagenets” lacks proper citation notes and sources with only a brief (and somewhat unclear) list of suggested “further reading”. A section of color plates exists but in black and white and again: lacking detail.
Sadly, “The Plantagenets” was a huge let down and is only suggested for those new to the topic seeking a lighter fair versus historical depth. The storytelling is weak and inaccuracies exist which should be kept in mind when reading “The Plantagenets”. I might consider the author again but only as a book I would skim and wouldn’t be jumping over hurdles for it. ...more
It appears that as of late, there is a boost of interest in the reigns of Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII (which is certainly not a bad thing).It appears that as of late, there is a boost of interest in the reigns of Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII (which is certainly not a bad thing). This brings with it a curiosity in the lesser-discussed female figures of these times. One of these is Elizabeth of York. Alison Weir attempts to reveal some Henry VII’s Queen in, “Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World”.
The Subtitle to “Elizabeth of York” is truly fitting as Weir’s work is really about Elizabeth’s ‘world’ versus about Elizabeth, herself. Granted, not much information exists (no diaries, few letters, etc). As a result, Weir mostly describes the people and events surrounding Elizabeth instead of presenting a true biography revealing the inner psyche, as the book claims to do. Thus, what is formulated is a slow work with an emphasis on “would be”, “could have been”, “possibly”, and “maybe” phrases. “Elizabeth of York” is more speculative than Weir’s work on Mary Boleyn and is very frustrating.
“Elizabeth of York” doesn’t begin to quicken the pace until about 100 pages in. Elizabeth still feels like afterthought, but at least at this point Weir begins to describe some detective work and debunk a few myths. However, be cautious with her myth busting; as Weir’s descriptions aren’t 100% convincing or explored and takes on a sort of, “I believe it, so should you”, tone. At the same time, Weir displays less biases than usual in her work which makes “Elizabeth of York” more readable (unless you are a Ricardian because she is still anti-Richard).
Weir is also guilty of some inconsistencies and double-standards. For instance, Weir stated that a document written 20 years after an event took place is hardly credible but when another document written almost 20 years later suited her stance, she claimed that the writer’s memory could still be in tact. Hmmm…
Despite these issues with the content and format, “Elizabeth of York” flows well in terms of writing style and is a good introduction for those new to the topic but contain some debate points that a more-versed reader will be interested in (but again, these mostly concern the time period versus Elizabeth). In fact, although anything by any author of current day is debatable; Weir does make some very strong points which are well-argued and shed some light on areas in a way which readers may not have previously considered and thus resulting in ‘ah ha!’ moments.
It isn’t until approximately page 200 until Elizabeth receives more of a focus. Even then, it is more external with a look at her role and its effects (or lack thereof) instead of at her actual person. This information simply does not exist. Weir therefore supplements “Elizabeth of York” with many details of privy purse spending, household accounts, gifts received, etc. This causes the momentum to be lost and for the writing to feel stretched out. Although this is a regular trait of Weir’s writing; it isn’t as extensive as many of her other books and should thus please those who dislike details.
Towards the conclusion of “Elizabeth of York”, Weir annoyingly concludes sections with, “Elizabeth would not live to see this…” We get it! She will die soon! This is supposed to be a biography; stop with the odd foreshadowing! This is compounded by the weak ending in which Weir attempts to create a legend out of Elizabeth and show her impact but fails to do so because none of this was demonstrated throughout the hundreds of pages in the book.
On the other hand, the appendices are actually quite interesting (more so than much of the book), color plates are available (although they are at the end versus the middle and not on glossy paper), and a credible list of sources and notes are presented which strengthens the work.
Sadly, Elizabeth continues to be a mysterious figure whether due to a lack of sources or an absence of personal drama. Weir doesn’t bring her to life (hardly even mentions her in ratio to the number of pages) and “Elizabeth of York” suffers from over-speculation and tangents. I am a Weir fan of over a decade but “Elizabeth of York” is a feeble piece. The book is recommended for a Woodville/Edward IV/Henry VII refresher course but don’t expect much on Elizabeth. For those readers who are well-read on the topic: don’t rush for this one. ...more
One of the biggest open windows into the lives of royal figures is the letters written by their own hands (since we clearly can’t travel back into timOne of the biggest open windows into the lives of royal figures is the letters written by their own hands (since we clearly can’t travel back into time to actually converse with them personally). Anne Crawford, a former Assistant Keeper at the Public Record Office, compiled some letters (and biographies) of some of the Queens (or Queen Mothers) in “Letters of the Queens of England”.
Crawford introduces “Letter’s of the Queens of England” by announcing to the readers that some of the figures portrayed have more letters available than others which resulted in having to decide which would be more valuable to use/include in the anthology. Conversely, some Queens left no letters behind but were included with biographical coverage in order to provide a comprehensive look at these women. This explanation provided a clear insight into what to expect in “Letters of the Queens of England” and was thus, well appreciated.
The introduction also includes facts regarding when signatures were first used, which languages (and why) letters were written in, fertility rates, and marriages and is therefore a great queenship introduction to the average reader. Crawford immediately demonstrates intelligence and passion concerning the topic.
“Letters of the Queens of England” is divided into five sections (Norman Queens, Angevin Queens, Plantagenet, Lancastrian & York, and Tudor) which allows for readers to pick and choose their queens of interest. For those opting to read the text through, the chronology makes sense and is smooth. This can also be said about the writing style which is clearly well-researched but not overly scholarly (more of a brief look) resulting in an interesting and well-paced read.
At times, the abundance of names and figures can become difficult to handle especially for those readers unfamiliar with the histories. Crawford does provide genealogical charts and marriage tables in the appendix which helps to sort through the cluster.
Although it is effective and revealing to read letters written by queens; some of Crawford’s biases do bleed though regarding each queen, meaning that it is clear what image is being attempted to define each female and the message that is being reinforced with each letter (although the letters’ contexts are also described). Luckily, these opinions aren’t overly pushed down one’s throat (but they are still obvious).
“Letters of the Queens of England” becomes a bit repetitious and dry as each section describes the same elements of each queen’s life and the information therefore runs together without standout moments. On another negative note, “Letters of the Queens of England” also contains some inaccurate information. However, most were minor and the accuracy overall is acceptable. Although, some of these errors question the editor of the book (for example: Lady Rochford –Jane Boleyn—being called Anne).
Although purely personal, I would have preferred Crawford to have used a different font for the actual letters for ease of quick differentiation of the passages.
Overall, “Letters of the Queens of England” is a terrific resource for those doing research on specific queens and wanting to cite their letters in full. Plus, the content is certainly interesting for Anglophiles and is accessible and interesting with a better insight into the lives of these women. “Letters of the Queens of England” is suggested for royalty-lovers. ...more
Although the Tudor dynasty is oft accredited to Henry VII’s success at the Battle of Bosworth; the Tudor line matriarch is arguable Catherine of ValoiAlthough the Tudor dynasty is oft accredited to Henry VII’s success at the Battle of Bosworth; the Tudor line matriarch is arguable Catherine of Valois. However, before her marriages to Owen Tudor and King Henry V of England; Catherine already led a life of intense intrigue. Joanna Hickson narrates Catherine’s youth in, “The Agincourt Bride”.
Without a doubt, “The Agincourt Bride” suffers from stylistic issues and a slow beginning. Being narrated by “Mette”, Catherine’s nurse maid; “The Agincourt Bride” is told in a reflective voice which results in a story being passive rather than ‘lived’. This means that the pages lack true action and instead include too much talking in an, “As you know Bob”- style. To say the least, this makes for a rather boring novel which does nothing to sweep the reader away.
Also indicative of the weaknesses of “The Agincourt Bride” is its blatant shallow depths. The story is thin and flat reading more like a bare skeleton which Hickson has not properly fleshed out. The attempt at ‘more’ is evident as “The Agincourt Bride” is not fluffy per se; but perhaps Hickson held back or did not know how to follow through. This also pertains to the characterizations as none experience any growth arcs, none stand out, and all are too reserved making them quite bland. The biggest disappointment is that readers do not get to truly ‘know’ Catherine or her actions as, again, the story is more of a reflection.
Hickson’s prose is light making “The Agincourt Bride” easy-to-read and quick despite its long page count. However, this is not necessarily a positive trait. Plus, the language is much too modern and lacks historical accuracy making the novel more ideal for YA readers or those new to HF and not wanting to be overwhelmed by context and facts.
At approximately the 200 page mark, “The Agincourt Bride” becomes strikingly stronger with more complexity and raw situations which increases the pace and results in more page-turning. Sadly, even here there is a consistency issue as the pages bounce between this new-found strength and the errors of the former pages.
Unfortunately, this arousal is fleeting as “The Agincourt Bride” takes a tumble and returns to a thinner consistency. The story becomes repetitive while the events that are supposed to evoke emotions fall flat. Literally, devices such as the inclusion of letters (fictional without historical merit); fail to add to the novel and instead make Hickson’s effort feel elementary, forced, and dragged out.
The concluding chapters of “The Agincourt Bride” are painfully slow and somewhat meaningless. The introduction of Owen Tudor is too fairy tale-esque (foreshadowing at its height) while the ending is somewhat weak and abrupt. On the other hand, it is a good-enough set up for the follow-up novel.
Sadly, Hickson does not fortify the novel with a note describing her historical liberties which would be helpful to those new to the subject because much of the plot is contrived. The text also includes some punctuation and grammar errors (at least the edition I read).
Overall, “The Agincourt Bride” is certainly not the strongest HF novel and has many flaws and weaknesses. Yet, Hickson does attempt to focus more on politics than romance which adds some merit. Also notable is the fact that at least Catherine of Valois is depicted from a French view point of a strong and beautiful female versus the HF novels from an English view of a flippant, spoiled girl. It is interesting to see a different characterization. Although “The Agincourt Bride” isn’t amazing, will even bore at times, and doesn’t truly ‘teach’ anything; it is recommended if looking for light entertainment and for a focus on Catherine which is not readily available (which is exactly why I plan to read the second novel). Otherwise, it can be skipped. ...more
Outshined by the Battle of Bosworth, Henry VII, and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty and her son own, the future King Henry VIII; Elizabeth of YorkOutshined by the Battle of Bosworth, Henry VII, and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty and her son own, the future King Henry VIII; Elizabeth of York has a seemingly quiet voice in history. Philippa Gregory attempts to strengthen her cry in “The White Princes”, the final book in the “Cousins’ War” series.
I am not a fan of Gregory’s claims of historical accuracy and I compare her novels to the same realm as Carolly Erikson’s “historical entertainments”. Therefore, I don’t expect much historically and ‘go into’ her novels expecting merely a ‘fun’ and ‘fluffy’ read. However, even I didn’t expect what met me with “The White Princess”.
The novel begins with a slow and bland pace, extremely inaccurate fluff, and ample doses of witchcraft which is a prominent theme in the series. All this by only page 25! Continuing with extreme fiction (Elizabeth raped by Henry encouraged by his mother); Gregory tries much too hard to be racy and controversial. Granted, “The White Princess” is a fictional novel so Gregory has the right to impose such plots; however, these could have been spread out versus throwing it at the reader all at once which decreases believability and just appears pathetic. This attempt at excitement doesn’t mesh well with the characters that are poorly developed and flat.
The pace in “The White Princess” is inconsistent as some sections are dull and drag while others are somewhat more entertaining. Gregory’s writing style is also elementary, lacking any literary tact and feels much too modern. This also inhibits the above-mentioned believability and reduces the urge to “care” about what happens.
Gregory implores her first-person narrative preference which in turn induces the “As you know Bob…” method to explain historical back stories. Plus, as common in the other books in the series, each character constantly refers to other by title (this isn’t how natural conversations flow) which is much too dummied down and geared for the mass audiences. Not to mention, Elizabeth persistently calling Richard III “my lover” is not only speculation but annoying, as well.
“The White Princess” is certainly pro-Ricardian and presents Henry VII as a terrible husband. Although I give credit to Gregory for going outside the box and offering alternate views; this is also forced and much too over the top. “The White Princess” is more fiction than history and is basically YA fiction, at that. As the “The White Princess” progresses, it does become more tolerable with Gregory creating an area of tension surrounding Henry and pretender to the throne.
Sadly, “The White Princess” takes another lagging turn halfway through with focus on events but not actually partaking in them, resulting in a slow and boring story. Elizabeth’s characterization is much too underdeveloped and is shown basically as a “stupid” girl while Henry is a vile tyrant. Gregory is also guilty of confusing comments such as saying Elizabeth Woodville’s abbey home is “beautiful” but then a “prison” and then “lovely and she is well served”. Make up your mind, Gregory!
Not much occurs until about three-quarters through as the novel is very repetitive and repeats the same events and actions in new way. Nothing is truly “felt”. Although, there is a showdown between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth which is not only climatic but also causes the reader to re-think Margaret’s personality and actions and encourages further research/thinking.
The conclusion of “The White Princess” is weak and focuses mostly on a Gregory-created curse that Elizabeth and her mother fictitiously cast which results (in Gregory’s eyes) in the real-life ending of the Tudor dynasty with Elizabeth I. It is guaranteed that general readers will believe such fluff. The entire novel is empty and is dragged out with a lack of real events. Much of the text is repetition and could be omitted. Furthermore, “The White Princess” is misleading as it barely focuses on Elizabeth and she is a weak character, overall. At least the novel does encourage further reading regarding the Tudor throne pretenders and the Princes in the Tower.
Gregory’s “Author’s Note” is only about a page in length and barely acknowledges her massive number of historical liberties and historical errors. Again, this contributes to uneducated readers taking her word as fact. As mentioned, I agree that Gregory has the freedom to write fiction but she writes “alternate histories” and it should be marketed as such.
Although the entire “Cousins’ War” series is rather poor; “The White Princes” has terrible writing, repetition, undeveloped characters, a lack of believability, too many historical errors, and the list goes on. Basically: it stinks worse that the chamber pots dumped into the London streets of Tudor England.
Note: If each reader received a nickel for every time Elizabeth says “I don’t know” or “My cousin, Maggie” in the novel; we would all be rich. ...more
The influence, power, and dominance of large families have been a prevalent concept in both history and modern times. One of these families, who playeThe influence, power, and dominance of large families have been a prevalent concept in both history and modern times. One of these families, who played a key role in England during the Wars of the Roses, was the Woodvilles: the family of Elizabeth, Queen Consort to Edward IV. Susan Higginbotham explores the role of this notorious family in, “The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family”.
Higginbotham is well-known for her historical fiction novels focusing more on the historical end of events (versus narrative fluff) resulting in strong and informative writings. This style paved the way for Higginbotham’s first foray into nonfiction. The interesting factor of “The Woodvilles” is that Higginbotham avoids a chronological biography/portrait view of the family and instead focuses on events, myths, and important happenings; creating a topic-by-topic discussion. Don’t be alarmed that this causes confusion, as Higginbotham is very clear and concise making “The Woodvilles” very readable. Not many authors could pull this off successfully but Higginbotham does so with ease.
One of the positives of the stylistic format of “The Woodvilles” is that Higginbotham can avoid over speculation, biases, and assumptions which other authors use to fill their pages when not enough information is available. Granted, there are some speculative statements in “The Woodvilles” but these are few and far between. There are also some word phrases that are a bit blurry such as on page 65 where Higginbotham states that, “In recent years, popular fiction, especially the novels of Rosemary Hawley Jarman and Philippa Gregory…” This causes confusion as Jarman’s novels were published in the 70s. Again though, these are not excessive issues.
The most striking feature of Higginbotham’s “The Woodvilles” is her thorough and almost detective-like investigation, debunking myths left and right. One can assume that Higginbotham’s experience as a working attorney played a large part in her writing as all of her arguments could hold up in a court of law considering at least circumstantial evidence. Notably, “The Woodvilles” is one of the strongest history books on the topic with its ‘case closed’ attitude; yet, without a conceited tone. “The Woodvilles” is an expert blend of entertainment and fact.
“The Woodvilles” is effectively filled with quoted documents, letters, and even a poem written by Anthony Woodville; in full. These are strong supplements for those readers who appreciate primary sources and enjoy historical figures “speaking for themselves”. However, some readers may find this to break up the text too much and that it chops off the narrative flow.
A small but intriguing detail present in “The Woodvilles” is Higginbotham’s occasional sarcastic and slightly snarky comments. These appear in several of her books but rather than being juvenile or displaying biases; they are downright hilarious and enjoyable.
The concluding chapters of “The Woodvilles” are well-written and memorable capturing the essence of the Woodvilles while also summarizing the theme of the book with poignancy. Plus, Higginbotham encourages further research on members of the family not usually discussed (such as Edward Woodville). Flowing richly into an appendix which offers the full wills of some Woodville figures; “The Woodvilles” is truly engaging.
“The Woodvilles” includes a section of photo plates, bibliography (nicely sectioned by type of source), and notes. Unfortunately, a genealogical chart would have strengthened the text due to the many figures listed but is absent.
Overall, “The Woodvilles” is a very unique look at a family which is often gossiped about but not necessarily spotlighted. Higginbotham creates excitement backed up with intense research and detail, delivered in a readable prose. “The Woodvilles” is simply delicious and recommended for fans of Higginbotham’s novels and everyone interested in the Wars of the Roses. ...more
Although Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of Edward IV, is known for her perhaps unscrupulous catching of Edward’s eye; he is more so to blame if looking atAlthough Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of Edward IV, is known for her perhaps unscrupulous catching of Edward’s eye; he is more so to blame if looking at his track record of sexual debauchery. Anne Easter Smith follows the course of Jane Shore, his last and possibly most well-known, concubine in “Royal Mistress”.
Immediate credit must be given to Smith’s inclusion of a list of characters forthright which clearly depicts which are true to history and which are fictional. This is quite useful for those readers new to the cast of characters and helps strongly mark the line between history and fiction.
On the flip side, “Royal Mistress” has a much too slow and flimsy start, focusing on a fictional romance between Jane Shore and Tom Grey. Approximately 60 pages are filled with her yearnings and love when they met all but two times. This becomes annoying (as the novel reads like a YA high school romance) and also bores as the plot refuses to move forward.
As more characters are introduced, “Royal Mistress” unfolds from various viewpoints and becomes more entertaining. However, the plot is still thin and focuses solely on Jane seeking (and receiving) attention from every man she encounters; while, the characters are oversimplified and lack depth. “Royal Mistress” is heavier on the fiction, using the historic figures as the character roles versus of strong historical credence.
Smith applies the tactic of each character recalling historical events or the, “As you know, Bob…” – method. At least, these portions are historically accurate, well researched, and garner more interest than the fictional plotline. Perhaps Smith would be stronger at penning nonfiction writing.
Frustratingly, Jane’s character arc doesn’t expand and both her personality and the plotline merely revolve around her being a mistress. There are no subplots concerning her role which results in the reader not learning about either Jane or history. Plus, it consequentially gives the impression that Jane was nothing more than an empty-headed whore. Often times, “Royal Mistress” simply seems pointless.
Excitement doesn’t begin to build until approximately page 250 (very late), as Smith incorporates more historical happenings to various characters. However, even here there are issues: the characters are quite stereotypical, the plot has too much foreshadowing, and some of the fluff is overly ridiculous (the murder of George, Duke of Clarence, to name one). Plus, Smith presents this fictionalized romanticism with such ease, that it will certainly cause those who are new to the topic to believe it all as fact.
As “Royal Mistress” focuses on the drama of Richard III’s reign and the Princes in the Tower; the plot is slightly thickened and has an ounce more of depth. Even Smith’s historical liberties (and there are many) are somewhat interesting at this point, as they explore theories of the events. However, Jane’s characterization is still shallow and pointless, while Richard’s is too “good”. It appears that Richard is either always a saint or sinner in novels and Smith makes her Ricardian stance clear, excusing all of this behavior to the point where even a Ricardian would his/her eyes.
A highlight of the novel is Smith using actual quoted letters and excerpts of speeches, true to text. On the contrary, the habit of Jane’s random poem/lyric writing is, bluntly: silly.
The ending of “Royal Mistress” is much too ‘cheesy’ and ‘happily ever after’ diminishing believability. However, the epilogue brought creativity to the table, exploring possibilities behind Thomas More’s written “history” of Richard III. This leads into a much appreciated “Author’s Note” in which Smith explains her motives and historic deviations.
Overall, “Royal Mistress is one-dimensional, fluffy, and more fiction than history. Yet, it is entertaining if searching for a light historical fiction ‘filler’ novel and in such a case, I would read Smith again. Just don’t expect a deep, historically accurate, literary novel. ...more
Although the bickering between the Houses of York and Lancaster (now known as the Wars of the Roses) was heavily a “man’s world”; there were strong feAlthough the bickering between the Houses of York and Lancaster (now known as the Wars of the Roses) was heavily a “man’s world”; there were strong female players lurking in the shadows and controlling some strings. Sarah Gristwood explores the links between Margaret of Anjou, Cecily Neville, Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York, Anne Neville, and Margaret of Burgundy (Margaret of York) in “Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses”.
“Blood Sisters” is not merely a portrait of the events of the Wars of the Roses but a biography (hepta-biography?) revealing the hidden links and worlds of the aforementioned key women. The first section introduces these players and unveils information of interpersonal relationships which I was previously unaware of making “Blood Sisters” hearty at its beginning. This also opens a new angle to learning about the Wars of the Roses and almost a behind-the-scenes look. One can’t help but realize that these women had more involvement than formally believed.
Sadly, this insight doesn’t extend to the individual women themselves, as Gristwood mostly retells events versus bringing them alive or revealing the women’s psyche through any personal letters/writings. Although this makes “Blood Sisters” academic on some level and heavy on facts; it also leads to many sections being too dry, listless, and overly political. The average reader without strong interest in the topic may find “Blood Sisters” to be too heavy at times.
Oftentimes, “Blood Sisters” lacks direction, backtracks, and is downright confusing not due to the topic but in regards to the writing. Not only does Gristwood repeat herself enough times that it is noticeable but she also uses many “would have” and “could have” speculations, sources such as anonymous poems, and depends heavily on quotes from Shakespeare (I thought we agreed that Shakespeare was NOT a historian?!). This lowers the scholarly feel and is distracting.
Also frustrating is Gristwood’s constant, and I mean constant, mention of “fortune’s wheel” when describing events turning in favor of one woman over another. This happens several times on one single page and is simply quite annoying.
Some of the women stick out and are more vibrant than others (such as Margaret Beaufort). Whether this is due to personal bias on behalf of Gristwood or because sources are more readily available, I can not solidly deem. This isn’t a positive or negative trait of “Blood Sisters” but is noticeable and worth noting as it may cause some readers to conclude that the work is uneven and chunky.
Even though “Blood Sisters” is more of a history retelling without new information; there are some moments where Gristwood plays detective and presents compelling research or debunks some myths. These perky moments add to the flesh of the book and keep the pace of “Blood Sisters” moving. Another positive is that Gristwood doesn’t appear to have any major biases and doesn’t merely point fingers, allowing the reader to make self-decisions on who is to blame for what.
The highlight of “Blood Sisters” is without a doubt, the climatic description of the Battle of Bosworth. Gristwood’s coverage is exciting and descriptive. This flows into a strong portrayal of Elizabeth of York and her relations with Margaret Beaufort in the early years of Henry VII’s reign. As Elizabeth tends to be somewhat hidden in history, Gristwood gives her ample due in “Blood Sisters”. Also satisfying are the in-depth theories relating to Perkin Warbeck’s background and motives. Basically, the last quarter of “Blood Sisters” is the strongest.
Although Gristwood makes firm statements which haven’t yet been proven; “Blood Sisters” is relatively up-to-date even mentioning the 2012 finding of Richard III’s body in a Leicester parking lot. Sadly though, “Blood Sisters” tends to otherwise use poorly sourced facts and annotations which dampen the academic value.
“The conclusion of “Blood Sisters” over-reaches in attempts to be emotional and to tie the women of the book to Elizabeth I. It felt a bit stretched and forced.
Overall, “Blood Sisters” is a readable look at the Wars of the Roses with a unique angle of the women involved—it merely has execution flaws. My biggest complaint is that I didn’t really feel that I got to know these figures any more than I already did and therefore didn’t feel the book was memorable or that Gristwood succeeded her goals of revealing these women. Despite this, “Blood Sisters” is great for a review of the Wars of the Roses or an introduction to the women involved....more
Margaret Beaufort, the pious and assertive mother of Henry VII, is considered to be the matriarch and mover-and-shaker of the House of Tudor having seMargaret Beaufort, the pious and assertive mother of Henry VII, is considered to be the matriarch and mover-and-shaker of the House of Tudor having seemingly helped to push her son to the throne. Her legacy had an impact long after her death. Yet, not enough information is available to constitute full biographies. Linda Simon attempts to portrait this formidable woman in, “Of Virtue Rare: Margaret Beaufort, Matriarch of the House of Tudor”.
“Of Virtue Rare” is a thin selection aiming to bring Margaret Beaufort to light. By ‘thin’; one means not only the thin volume but also the content which immediately overviews the world of Margaret and the “Wars of the Roses” but is noticeably not a scholarly biography of the woman that Margaret was. It is evident that this isn’t due to a lack of research on Simon’s end but merely because of the absence of material surrounding Margaret. Regardless of the cause, this leaves the reader begging for more and not having a clear insight into Margaret at all.
Elaborating on this, Simon’s writing is a bit too simplified reading more like a quick summary article. The text is not detailed nor properly cited which does create a moving pace and easy read; but does not truly educate or inform. “Of Virtue Rare” is best described as a young adult selection helping to ease young readers into this period of history. Also on a juvenile level of writing is Simon’s insistence of quoting poetry or folklore from the period which are not credible sources and, again, don’t even pertain to Margaret. Margaret continues to be on the back burner throughout “Of Virtue Rare”.
Readers familiar with the topic and time period will notice some historical errors within the pages “Of Virtue Rare”. Much of this can be blamed on the book being dated (published in 1982) but Simon presents these ‘facts’ as staunch truths without proper backing evidence. Not to mention, much of what is stated as fact is more of an opinion or assumption. Simon makes claims as to what Beaufort of other figures ‘thought’ even though one can’t know what was thought without authentication such a diary or written document.
In the middle of “Of Virtue Rare”, Simon sidetracks intro a discussion of the overall time period and way of life. Although this sets the scene and allows the reader to see the big picture; it doesn’t blend cohesively to the text, doesn’t address Margaret, and doesn’t feel like it has a real point (and therefore could be eliminated). Simon clearly didn’t have anything to add at this point and simply grasped for information to include.
The concluding chapters of Simon’s work hardly mention Margaret and seem to rush over the material making “Of Virtue Rare” lack complexity or attention-grabbing insights. The same can be said of the ending which attempts to leave Margaret on a strong note but fails miserably. “Of Virtue Rare” could be condensed to about 10 pages if it stuck to actually discussing Margaret.
Simon offers a section of photo plates, a (very) brief notes section, and a bibliography within “Of Virtue Rare”.
“Of Virtue Rare” is a quick read (1-2 days, max) best suited for YA readers seeking a non-academic piece. The text is slightly dated and sadly does not mainstream Margaret therefore disappointing readers seeking hard-hitting history. “Of Virtue Rare” can basically be skipped if hoping to learn more about Margaret Beaufort. ...more