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. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Three Sister Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

In this novel published in 2016, Philippa Gregory has tackled the intertwined lives of two Tudors and the daughter of Aragon and Castile. While much has been written about Katherine of Aragon, less has been written about the sisters of Henry VIII. 

Margaret the eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York is the narrator and at times not a very likable character. Filled with pride, envy and at times greed, she is not someone I could sympathize with even though her life seems to have had more downs than ups. 

Little is actually known about her from contemporary records except that she was not as lovely as her younger sister Mary. She was married young to the King of Scotland James IV. Most of her life after that was spent in Scotland. Her husband the king died at the battle of Flodden against the Engish. Her sister-in-law ordered no prisoners and took the body of her brother-in-law back to England as a trophy. 

As you can imagine this provides a lot of material for the future interaction between Margaret and Katherine. 

Mary was married to the elderly French King and on his death, defied her brother the King and married for love to his friend Charles Brandon. She would be the grandmother of Lady Jane Gray. 

Katherine's story is familiar with her first marriage to Arthur and the long wait for Henry to come of age after Arthur's death. Her inability to give him a living son resulted in England leaving the Catholic Church so Henry could divorce her and marry Anne Boleyn. 

Gregory has done a good job of filling in conversation and scenarios that let us become a part of this fascinating time in history. The major timeline is correct and if you are not an expert, you won't even notice where things go astray. 

I honestly couldn't put this book down, it is a very good read and it gave me a better overview of the lives of these three sister queens. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Royal Affairs by Leslie Carroll

If like me, you are attracted to the foibles of the royals, you will enjoy this book as much as I did. I love British history and along with that goes my love of the monarchy. Often, some of the more interesting characters were the ones who unofficially had great power over the kings, their mistresses. 

The story begins with the Angevins, who can ever forget the luscious Rosamund de Clifford and her bower!! Her lover was King Henry II, he who caused  Thomas Beckett to be murdered with an idle comment and was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine. This is as steamy a May December romance as any in history. 

On to the Plantagenets and Edward II who had several very powerful and greedy lovers who were not women. It is a fascinating story with some very interesting characters that doesn't end well for any of them, including the King. 

Edward IV had one of the most beautiful women in the world as his wife in Elizabeth Woodville but that didn't stop him from spreading himself around with half of his court. Perhaps his best-known mistress was Jane Shore who seems to have captured his heart as well. 

As the Tutor era is ushered in, Henry VIII not only had six wives, he had his share of mistresses as well. It seems to have been easier for him to get a son on a mistress than it was with his wives. His daughter Elizabeth I seemed to have inherited his father's love of love. 

The Stuarts were a randy bunch, with James I batting for the other team and Charles II populating the current British aristocracy with his offspring. It makes for very easy reading. 

The Hanoverians brought their own taste in mistresses to the throne, they were known for loving large, if you get my drift. No dieting among their choice of women. 

The book takes us right through the affairs of the Duke of Windsor and the Prince of Wales. 

If you like a racy story and love the combination of history and a good romp, you will love this book. It is broken up into chapters by dynasty and then by mistress so you can read it in short bursts or like me from cover to cover in one sitting. 

I give it a 5 out of 5. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Plot summary: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is one of the great love stories in English literature. It takes place in a fictional village called Meryton in Hertfordshire where the Bennet family makes their home. The family consists of a father and mother and five unmarried daughters. The story revolves around the interaction of this family with their neighbors and family. The first line of the book “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” sets the stage for the story to unfold.

Mrs. Bennet, a loud and pushy woman of a lower class and little wit, is set on finding husbands for her daughters. Her daughters are determined to marry for love. Jane the eldest daughter, attracts a wealthy young man who is of a higher class than the Bennets. Jane is as sweet as she is lovely and she falls in love with Mr. Bingley. They are both quite shy so neither expresses their feelings in so many words. Mr. Bingley has brought his friend Mr. Darcy with him from London. Mr. Darcy is very wealthy and very proud. He doesn’t approve of the Bennets but at the same time is attracted to the intelligence and pretty eyes of Elizabeth Bennet.

The plot revolves around the relationship that develops between Darcy and Elizabeth and the many twists and turns that it takes. There are several subplots going on as well. The youngest daughter Lydia is soldier crazy and in a moment of lunacy elopes with a soldier who has a grudge against Mr. Darcy. When he doesn’t marry her, Mr. Darcy proves his worth by saving the family from a very great shame.

Another subplot in Pride and Prejudice is Mr. Collins relationship with the Bennet family. He is a distant cousin who is set to inherit since the Bennets have no son. When none of the Bennet girls want to marry him, he marries Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte Lucas. Elizabeth visits them and meets Mr. Darcy’s Aunt Lady Katherine De Burgh. She does not approve of Elizabeth and she dominates the lives of Mr. Collins and Charlotte.

We learn very clearly about the English class system in this story. Lady Katherine has a title and money. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingly have no title but have money. The Bennets have no money and the Gardeners (Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle) are in trade which is very low class indeed. Marriage and its many forms are a central theme of this story.

The Bennets are a poor match of two people of different classes. Charlotte and Mr. Collins are almost as mismatched because they married for convenience. We see hope in the relationships of Jane and Bingley and Elizabeth and Darcy. And as Elizabeth tells Lady Katherine, “I am the daughter of a gentleman and Darcy is a gentleman, there is no class difference.”

In the end, love triumphs over class and pride.

I realize that this isn't really a book review, but I so love this story that I enjoyed writing about it.