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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Two Queens in One Isle by Alison Plowden

The story of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots has been told many times before. What Alison Plowden does in Two Queens in One Isle to bring this relationship to life in a way that makes both of them sympathetic. 

Mary and Elizabeth were first cousins once removed. Mary's grandmother Margaret Tudor was the sister of Elizabeth's father Henry VIII. What is quite amazing is that the two women never met in person. Mary was Elizabeth's prisoner for more than 18 years and a threat to her throne for most of that time. 

Elizabeth didn't want to meet Mary in person due to many factors but it was important for the security of the country that she not give any legitimacy to Mary's claim to the English throne. Mary was a Catholic and thus was supported by the pope and English Catholics and of course, Elizabeth's mother was Anne Boleyn who was pregnant with her when Henry finally broke with Rome and declared his first marriage invalid and married Anne. He later declared Elizabeth a bastard and his second marriage invalid. This made her right to the throne somewhat precarious since in the eyes of Catholics she was a bastard. 

In spite of all the provocation she received over the years from Mary, Elizabeth had always been reluctant to execute her cousin. Once you execute a legitimate queen, you have opened yourself up to similar treatment. 

This book is a fascinating look at the letters and relationship between these two very different cousins and what made both of them act the way that they did. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Traitors of the Tower by Alison Weir

Traitors of the Tower is one of the books in the Quick Reads Series. It is only 75 pages long and the print is large. I read it in about an hour and found it vastly enjoyable. If you are looking for a quick synopsis of the seven most tragic deaths to take place in the Tower of London this book will satisfy your need.

As always, Alison Weir's work is very readable. She sticks to the known facts and doesn't add a bunch of her own twists but in these seven cases, the facts are interesting enough without embellishment to provide an hour of enjoyment. 

The book begins with Lord Hastings who was beheaded in the Tower of London by Richard of Gloucester on the eve of his seizing the throne in 1483. Her explanation is one of the best I have ever read and it has shaken my faith in the innocence of King Richard III. 

Next comes Queen Anne Boleyn who was as much a victim of her own ambition and ill temper as anyone who was ever executed in the Tower. 

Margaret Pole, Duchess of Salisbury is about as saintly a victim as the tower has ever seen except perhaps for Thomas More. She was King Henry VIII cousin and it was her royal blood and unruly sons that caused her demise. She is the Maggie of the White Princess if you were a fan of that series. 

Queen Katherine Howard was probably the stupidest person ever beheaded on Tower Green but it never is a smart thing to cheat on an old and jealous husband who has already beheaded a wife for adultery. 

Lady Jane Rochford is probably the most deserving of the victims in this book, not much good can be said about her. 

The most innocent and heartbreaking traitor is Lady Jane Grey, she never wanted to be queen, never wanted to threaten her cousin Queen Mary and as the pawn of her parents and in-laws lost her head.

The last traitor truly was a traitor, Robert Devereaux did plot against Queen Elizabeth I but his big sin was seeing her as the old aged woman that she had become.

These are the seven people that we meet in this book and it is so worth a read. I bought it from Abe Books and I recommend, if you are looking for a short and sweet read, you give this one a try. 



Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Stuart Princesses by Alison Plowden

I have to admit, Alison Plowden is one of my favorite authors of history. She has an easy to read style that makes even the most mundane moments in history come to life. In The Stuart Princesses, she introduces the daughters of the Stuart Kings James I, Charles I and James II. She might have titled this book the unknown Stuart princesses since most of this book was all news to me. 
It begins with Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of James I who became known as the Winter Queen. She was married at a young age to Frederick Count Palatine of the Rhine. It turned out to be a very happy marriage but their ill-thoughtout acceptance of the crown of Bohemia affected the rest of their lives. Elizabeth was the mother of Prince Rupert who was such an important figure in the English Civil War and grandmother of King George I of England. 

The daughters of King Charles I of England are quite thoroughly covered as are the daughters of James II, who both became Queens of England. 

If you are an English history buff like I am, you will find this very eye opening. In most histories, these woman are given very little covereage and yet they played a vital role in the dynastic history of Europe in the 17th and 18th century. 

I think this is a great addition to any histories that you have previously read and in her usual style, Alison Plowden has made this easy to read and enjoy. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5. 






Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tudor Women Queens and Commoners by Alison Plowden

While women during the Tudor age did not have a lot of power in their own right, times being what they were, they did have a lot of influence and they played a vital role. Beginning with the mother of Henry Tudor, Margaret Beaufort, Alsion Plowden brings us the nitty gritty and not always pretty story of the women who shaped history for the better part of 150 years in Tudor Women Queens and Commoners. 

Margaret Tudor had no control over a great deal of her life and yet, she is probably the most powerful woman of the era. She learned early to work behind the scenes to get what she wanted. She was the most important woman in her son's life even after his marriage. Luckily for her, his wife Elizabeth learned early that it was better to be friends with her mother in law.  

Much has been written about the marital machinations of King Henry VIII but this book takes a different look at the women that he married and how they influenced the King and also history. 

 This is not just the story of the Royals, however, interspersed throughout the book are tidbits about what life was like for the average woman during this time. It is fascinating to get this glimpse of the lives outside the court, in the towns and villages of England. 

Much changed during this period though women would not reach anything like equality for more than 500 years. If you enjoy Tudor history and like a book from a woman's perspective, I highly recommend this book. It isn't a large book, less than 175 pages but it is jam-packed with great information and presented in an easy to read chatty fashion. I give it a 4.5 out of 5. 


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

Catherine Parr was the 6th wife of Henry VIII. This book particularly appealed to me since she has always been one of my favorite wives and I have visited her grave at Sudley twice. I was not disappointed with this rendition of her. 

The story of Henry and his wives is pretty well known by everyone so one would imagine that Ms. Gregory would not be breaking any new ground here. You would be wrong, in her usual manner by creating a dialogue between the main players she will open your mind to what it was really like to be at the court of Henry VIII and the sort of quicksand that his wives were always walking on. 

Henry came to the throne at the age of 17 having lost his mother when he was 12. His father had kept him very close since he was the only heir after his brother Arthur died. He was delighted to throw off this yoke and chart his own path. Unfortunately for everyone involved, he had never really been trained to be king and as a younger son had been greatly indulged and he never knew what it meant to not get exactly what he wanted. 

When you realize this, some of his future actions make more sense. He wanted a son, Katherine of Aragon couldn't give him a son who survived more than a few weeks, therefore it was her fault not his and she lost his love. And much as with Mr. Darcy "My good opinion once lost, is lost forever". This theme runs through this look. 

Jane Seymour was the perfect wife she gave Henry a son and then had the good sense to died before he tired of her. By the time Henry was looking for his sixth wife, he had killed two, divorced two and Jane had died. Catherine Parr had been married and widowed twice and Henry wanted her, it was really as simple as that. She had no say in the matter. 

The fact that after being married twice to please her family she preferred to marry someone of her own choosing was not taken into account. Marry the king she must. 

If you don't enjoy rather graphic sexual descriptions, then there are parts of this book that will offend. Leave it to your imagination how this grossly overweight man who had to be assisted to even walk could consummate his marriage to a woman half his age. Imagine a young woman having to submit, enough said. 

This was a book hard to put down once I started reading it. I already knew the story and the ending and even the high points but they were presented in such a captivating way that I just had to keep reading. 

If you don't know the story, you will find yourself rooting for the charming, pretty, bright woman who actually was the first woman to author a book in the English language. She was a woman who deserved so much more and we all hope eventually she finds it. 

Like with all of Philippa Gregory's books, this is historical fiction within a historic and well-researched background. It will leave you wanting to learn more about some of the figures you will meet like Anne Askew. 




Friday, November 10, 2017

Elizabeth of York a Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir

Elizabeth of York was the mother of King Henry VIII and if you are a fan of fiction, "The White Princess". In this wonderful biography by Alison Weir, we meet the real Elizabeth, not the fictionalized one. While it is not as entertaining, the facts are presented in an easy to read way and I had a hard time putting this book down even though I knew most of the facts. 

Elizabeth was the first child born to one of the most handsome Kings to ever grace the throne of England, Edward IV and his equally handsome wife, Elizabeth Wydeville (Woodville). Not surprisingly, she was a very pretty girl who grew into a beautiful woman. 

She lived through one of the most tumultuous periods of England's history. She saw her father lose his throne and regain it, she was in sanctuary with her mother during part of the reign of her uncle Richard III, during this time her two brothers disappeared in the Tower of London and were never heard from again. She became a pawn in the struggle for power that culminated in the Battle of Bosworth and she was married to the winner, Henry Tudor. 

She has been overshadowed by the six wives of her son, Henry VIII and yet she was a much more success queen than any of them. In this book, we learn the facts of her life and we get a glimpse of the woman she was. Of course, she didn't keep a diary and we don't know her inner thoughts but we do see what her life was like and how she coped with the many trials and joys that came her way. 

Alison Weir writes what is termed popular history. She does not claim to be a historian but her works are extensively researched. She presents some possible suggestions for events that are clear-cut, like the death of the princes in the Tower but sticks pretty close to what is known and not what we would like to have the truth be. 

If you enjoyed the White Princess, you can't help but compare it to this work and if you like your history to be historical, there is really no comparison, the history is much better in this book. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Red Queen by Phillipa Gregory

Even though The Red Queen was published second in the series The Cousins War it should be read third after The Lady of the Rivers and The White Queen. The story is told to us by Margaret Beaufort one of the major female players in the War of the Roses. 

Margaret tells us her story from the time she is a child through the victory of her son Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth. First let me say, Margaret, is not a sympathetic figure, while we may feel for her at times, throughout the book she is obsessed with her place in the world and her lack of recognition. She is jealous, overly religious but not in a good way and lets absolutely nothing and no one stand in the way of her ambition for her son Henry.  

In order to understand her a little better, you need to understand where she came from. She is the daughter of John Beaufort, first Earl of Somerset and his wife Margaret Beauchamp. John is the grandson of King Edward III. His father is John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster and Katherine Swynford his mistress and then 3rd wife. He was born illegitimate thus baring him from the throne but was legitimized by King Richard II. 

John Beaufort took his own life and that was a great embarrassment to his daughter Margaret. Margaret Beaufort and her mother did not have a warm relationship and she was engaged and then married to Edmund Tudor when she was only 12 years old. Edmund was the son of Owen Tudor and Catherine Valois who was the former Queen of England, thus making him the half-brother of King Henry VI.  

Margaret gave birth to her only son Henry Tudor when she was either still 12 or barely 13. She was a widow within the year. Women had little power in this day and age and her mother arranged for a second marriage for her which meant she had to leave her son to be raised by Jasper Tudor. 

Her story is not really a happy one. She didn't love any of her husbands and other than God and her son, she seems to have cared very little for anyone else. The book brings this powerful and virtually unknown woman to life and while I never find myself rooting for her, one has to admire her single-minded devotion to her son and his cause. 

Again, this is historical fiction, while the outline is based in fact a lot of liberty has been taken with the details but it is as are all Phillipa Gregory's book an interesting read and a book that is hard to put down.