My partner, who had obviously been looking through my bookshelves for inspiration, bought me Kate Williams' book Becoming Queen in the September of 20My partner, who had obviously been looking through my bookshelves for inspiration, bought me Kate Williams' book Becoming Queen in the September of 2011 as a gift. Due to my interest being elsewhere, however, it was never read until now. This was, I have recently learnt (January 2014), rather a large mistake on my part.
Becoming Queen: How a tragic and untimely death shaped the reign of Queen Victoria is described on the back cover as a book that "...tells the astonishing story of Queen Victoria's youth, her bitter struggle with her mother- and how her life was shaped by the death of her forgotten cousin, Princess Charlotte, the queen who never was." This, in my opinion, does not really do the book justice, as it is so much more than that.
The first part of this book is all about Charlotte, daughter of George IV and his estranged wife, Caroline; at that time, the only legitimate grandchild of George III of Great Britain. The biography is very thorough and explains not only Charlotte's life and childhood but discusses events surrounding her too; the bitter struggle between her parents, her position in the middle, her father's attempts to control her and and her various suitors as she came of age. The detail is wonderful and the writing superb, and even though I wasn't expecting to read anywhere near as much as I did about Princess Charlotte I found myself thoroughly enjoying learning about her and her world and was very sad when her chapters, and her life, came to an end. She was a remarkable woman, and her end was tragic.
Following a part called 'Interlude', which discusses the aftermath of Charlotte's death and the race between George III's sons to marry princesses and produce heirs , is the early life of Princess Victoria, the daughter of the duke and new duchess of Kent and the new heir to the throne. Her father died when Victoria was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her mother and her shifty advisor, John Conroy, in Kensington Palace. This part of the book takes us through Victoria's childhood under the 'Kensington System', her coming of age, her marriage and the birth of her first two children, taking us from child to young woman to queen. Victoria would go on to rule Great Britain and the ever-expanding Empire for 63 years and 216 days; at the time of writing, she is the longest reigning monarch this country has ever had.
Kate Williams' book is beautifully written in an accessible tone, yet is never dumbed down either. Her prose is chatty and informal, making this book an easy read for newcomers (or returners!) to the period. The level of detail is perfect, and though the text does not have in-text numbers or citations there is still a full reference list in the back of the book. In practice, this might make following up sources a little more time consuming, but for the sake of reading this book through without stopping the absence of citations is helpful- I think a nice middle ground has been struck with Williams' method. The two sets of plates in the book are beautiful and colourful, and there is a very useful family tree at the beginning of the book.
On the whole, this is a terrific book and I would recommend it to everybody and anybody who is interested in this period of British history. It's definitely one for my 'keeper' shelf....more
I read this while formally studying a module about the English Civil Wars, to help me get events in order and consolidate what I had already learned.I read this while formally studying a module about the English Civil Wars, to help me get events in order and consolidate what I had already learned. It is well written and does its best to make a complicated period of history accessible to the non-expert, something which I definitely am when it comes to the seventeenth century! I would recommend this to a beginner in this period, or someone who just wants an overview of the main events of this conflict. ...more
The bits of this book I did read were riddled with basic errors and it completely put me off. Lord Hastings a leading Lancastrian? Yes, lifelong loyalThe bits of this book I did read were riddled with basic errors and it completely put me off. Lord Hastings a leading Lancastrian? Yes, lifelong loyalty to the Yorkist King was a tell-tale sign of leading Lancastrians. Not. Execution dates were wrong, descriptions of people were wrong, even descriptions of the plates were wrong. I was really disappointed with this, mainly because I was so excited when my copy arrived. Avoid like the plague....more
The Uncrowned Queen is a short story written by Anne O’Brien. It covers a period early in the reign of Edward III- he is a teenage King, his father haThe Uncrowned Queen is a short story written by Anne O’Brien. It covers a period early in the reign of Edward III- he is a teenage King, his father has been overthrown by Roger Mortimer, and both he and his Queen Philippa of Hainault are living under his and the Dowager Queen Isabella’s rule.
The story is told from Philippa’s point of view. We open at her coronation ceremony, as she is heavily pregnant with her first child. Edward gathers his friends as plots against Mortimer are being made; his uncle the Earl of Kent has one, Edward himself has another… Will Edward be able to take control of his kingdom back from Mortimer?
The story is exciting, emotional and well told. The historical detail is excellent- modern research into the 14th century has been taken into account, which was great to read. The language and dialogue is easy to follow and the story flows perfectly. I read it in an hour!
An excellent prequel to the forthcoming “King’s Concubine”. I am really looking forward to reading more about Anne’s Edward, Philippa and the infamous Alice Perrers in May....more
I really, really enjoyed this book. It is well written, flows beautifully and quickly becomes addictive. A friend of mine described it as a ‘grower’,
I really, really enjoyed this book. It is well written, flows beautifully and quickly becomes addictive. A friend of mine described it as a ‘grower’, and I think this assessment is spot on. There are unexpected little twists and a few hand up to your mouth SHOCK moments as we discover everyone’s secrets. Scenes with more than two speakers are not complicated; no-one skulks off to a corner while the other two talk (a common irk for me). The period detail is clearly very carefully researched, the descriptions of the characters surroundings and their clothes are meticulous and paint a lovely picture in your mind.
The scenes towards the end of the novel are set against the beginning of the French Revolution. These scenes were particularly good, and I really got a feel for the tension that was in the air, and the fear in the hearts of the royal family and French aristocracy.
There are some very large time jumps between chapters as the novel progresses, so it important to pay attention to the year at the head of each chapter as you read through the novel. (I admit it, twice I had to flick back to check my years. I was too keen to get more story!) The time jumps do keep the story flowing and relieves the reader of any boredom. Readers get lots of action, which is what we want.
This is an excellent novel and I highly recommend it. Melanie Clegg’s novel of ‘posh doom‘ certainly delivers....more
Review edited April 25th 2014 to remove links to my old weblog and make the review less angry.
Anyone who knows me knows I love thirteenth century EnglReview edited April 25th 2014 to remove links to my old weblog and make the review less angry.
Anyone who knows me knows I love thirteenth century England; it was the subject of my blog and one of the periods I spent the most time in before I settled into an ancient history degree. So, when this book showed up in my Amazon recommendations, it appealed to me immediately. A novel of Simon de Montfort and the court of Henry III sounded brilliant! Unfortunately, however, I have walked away from this book a very disappointed woman.
Ashe claims her book has 'historical integrity' and continually states '34 years of research have gone into its creation'. It seems to me, having read the novel, that rather than showing historical integrity she has gone out of her way to make Simon de Montfort look fantastic at the expense of every other character; rather than showing the figures of Henry's court as real, 3-dimensional people, we have extremely good goodies and cartoon, moustache-twirling baddies. Most sadly, the Plantagenet royal family are reduced to a bunch of cuckolds, bastards, whores and deformed freaks; characterisations which are NOT supported by primary source evidence.
Rather than showing the reader the factional politics of Henry's reign, or the struggles between Savoyards and Lusignans, Ashe reduces every storyline to sex. Eleanor of Provence becomes an adulteress (on more than one occasion!), as if a Queen of England at this time could be alone for long enough to commit such a sin! Eleanor was loving and faithful to her husband, and to suggest the struggles between her and Simon were based on an affair going sour is an insult to both their memories. In later Ashe novels, I am reliably informed that the deals between the (view spoiler)[ Earl of Gloucester (hide spoiler)] and Eleanor are reduced to a sexual affair too, doing this queen a grave disservice.
As if turning a faithful queen into an adulteress isn't bad enough, Ashe also insists that her storyline in which Lord Edward, later Edward I of England, is the bastard child of Simon de Montfort and not the king has some historical merit. Put simply, it doesn't. Simon was in Rome at the time of Edward's conception gaining a dispensation for his own marriage to Eleanor of England, Henry's sister, who had taken a vow of chastity after becoming a widow at sixteen (this highlights other errors in the text: firstly, that Eleanor was a nun, when she was in fact a vowess; and that Eleanor was married to William Marshal senior when we know she was married to his son, the second Earl of Pembroke). Further to the author's claims that Simon 'had returned early' and that Eleanor and Henry 'were staying at Simon's castle at Kenilworth', that can be proved incorrect too. There is no proof Simon returned early; on the contrary, Matthew Paris tells us he didn't return until October, a month after Edward's conception. We also know that Kenilworth was still a royal castle at this time; the close rolls show Henry appointing castellans and gifting people logs from his forests at the castle- something he couldn't do if the castle wasn't his anymore. This storyline also further defames Lord Edward when, in later novels, he embarks on an affair (sex again, lovely) with (view spoiler)[Simon's daughter Eleanor- not content with turning him into a bastard, he has to commit incest too! (hide spoiler)]
The final error I want to point out involves Edmund Crouchback, Henry's second son (who, thankfully, doesn't fall victim to Ashe's 'bastard hammer'). He does, however, go from warrior to hunchback- she twists his nickname to mean Edmund is severely crippled. This is just as outrageous, in my opinion, especially as we know Edmund was a crusader. How does a cripple go on crusade?
These errors are really only the tip of the iceberg, this novel and its sequels are full of them. Invented affairs, muddled and/or incorrect character names, date errors, place errors, whitewashing, intentional reputation ruining- I could go on all day. In short, if it is true that Ashe has researched this book for 34 years, there's either deliberate mistakes within her texts and she is deliberately peddling myths; either that or her research is just plain sloppy. Add to this some of the most heavy-handed purple prose I've ever read, with sentences that are overly descriptive, excessive in the extreme and with misused words.
In 2012, before writing any reviews of the novel, I contacted Ashe to ask her about her sources, because I was genuinely upset by the portrayals of the historical figures in this book. She does include a 'historical contexts' section in her novels, (authors note to you and me) but when checking the sources she cites myself I found she had cherry picked at them, deliberately changed and misquoted them, and looked at sources in a very narrow context. Her response to me was unfortunately rather rude, although I see from other reviews I am not the only one to be spoken to like dirt by her. She has defended her 'research' (and I use that term loosely) by publicly trashing the work of scholars such as Marc Morris, Michael Prestwich and Margaret Howell; and the work of much better historical novelists, such as Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Penman, among others. This does not strike me as the behaviour of a professional author with any integrity, historical or otherwise.
I do enjoy historical fiction very much and appreciate that dramatic licence is sometimes required. However, when something is advertised as historically accurate I expect it to be so. This is alternative history at best, and a terrible novel at worst.
Historical integrity my foot.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The aim of this book is to tell the story of the eight Plantagenet monarchs that ruled England between 1154 and 1399. Each monarch in turn has his sto
The aim of this book is to tell the story of the eight Plantagenet monarchs that ruled England between 1154 and 1399. Each monarch in turn has his story told; which wars he fought in, the land he gained and lost, who he married and who were his children.
In his prologue, Jones tells us his intention with The Plantagenets is to tell the story in an entertaining way. In this he is successful. I liked the stories of Henry II, Richard I and Richard II, because these are the reigns I am unfamiliar with at this time. As the book is written to entertain and tell the story of the Plantagenet dynasty, not to analyse, those that are familiar with the monarchs may find this book is not for them. I found I learned nothing new about John, Henry III, Edward I and Edward II; but this is because I knew about these reigns before reading, it is not the fault of the author. This book would be good as an introduction to the Plantagenet dynasty.
I have mixed feelings about this book. Some chapters, as I said above, really held my interest but others didn’t really engage me. I found that the author was often very biased, and his love or hate for the monarch in question was really obvious. John is described as a ‘delinquent’, Henry III ‘feather brained’ and Edward II as ‘England’s worst ever king’. These sort of sweeping, judgmental statements I found very off putting. I especially found with Edward II there was no attempt at all to be neutral; he was even blamed for the failings of Richard II. On the other hand, Edward III and Richard II’s chapters were very good reading. The author certainly knows his stuff where these two monarchs are concerned.
As this book is a popular, narrative history it was not referenced in an academic way. Primary source material is still used and quoted though, which was a nice addition to the narrative. When learning about Henry II, for example, we have a quote from Gerard of Wales; a man who apparently knew Henry well. This was ideal for a narrative book- someone who is reading for entertainment does not want to be bogged down with footnotes. A further reading section is provided at the back of the book, for people that want to learn more about the monarchs in the book that intrigued them.
The author uses his book to bust a few common myths, which I think is great. Henry II ordering Becket’s death and Edward II’s supposed red hot poker death are both challenged. Again, though, with the good comes the bad. The author states Edward II was kept in a dungeon at Berkeley; not true, he was kept in comfort in his apartments. Edward II did not give Isabella’s wedding presents to Piers, he asked him to take them to the Tower for safe keeping. (What is puzzling about these errors is Jones cites Seymour Phillips' Edward II biography in his aforementioned further reading section- if he had read this book, he would know these statements were incorrect.) Henry III’s attempted assassin broke into his apartments in September 1238, not some time in 1237- again, Jones cites Powicke as his source but manages to get the date wrong, somehow. There are other mistakes within most chapters of the book, which are also sloppy and easily corrected.
All in all, an OK narrative history. If you want a history-lite introduction to the dynasty, then perhaps this is a good book for you, but if you like your histories more accurate and challenging then perhaps it is not. I'm not sure I would recommend this book, as the inaccuracies in the chapters about monarchs I know makes me question the accuracy of the chapters about monarchs I did not. A book that could have been excellent sadly disappoints. ...more
I read this because it is a set book for one of my history degree modules. The stories in the anthology study cultures from all over the world. Some
I read this because it is a set book for one of my history degree modules. The stories in the anthology study cultures from all over the world. Some of the stories, 'The Ultimate Safari' for example, are very moving and thought provoking. Even though this time I read because I had too, I will not hesitate to pick this up again to read for pleasure. A great collection. ...more