Thursday, 4 January 2018

Best Books of 2017

As is usual for me at this time of year, here are my best books of 2017.

1.  Without a doubt, the book I've been waiting a very long time for.  Kathryn Warner's 'Long Live the King! The Mysterious fate of Edward II'  is a fascinating, well researched read.  I've been an avid reader of Kathryn's superb Edward II blog, and have been fortunate to read all her posts on the possible survival of Edward II.   Kathryn's meticulous research, and well-balanced arguments are extremely readable.  A book I literally could not put down.

2.  'Young, Damned and Fair.  The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII', by Gareth Russell.   No doubt, Tudor bios are extremely popular and churned out regularly with very little, or indeed no new information on the subject.   There has been far too many on Catherine Howard, of whom we know very little.  Therefore, interpretation of her life has been the central focus, and revisionist historians have painted her as a victim of child abuse.  But not Gareth Russell, who opens his biography with a superb chapter on explaining attitudes in Tudor times, in particular, the Tudor attitude, and acceptance of, death.  We also get a Catherine set in her own context - in Tudor times, Catherine would not have been seen as a victim of child abuse - at 13, and once a girl had started her periods, she was deemed old enough to be a wife and mother.  Catherine Howard led a risqué life, knowing the consequences, and paid for it with her life.  She was not some innocent child dangled like an ornament by her family for Henry VIII to devour.   In many ways, she was responsible for her own fate.

3.  'Henry VII - The Maligned King', by Terry Breverton.  I always enjoys this authors books, and he has written an excellent, balanced biography of Henry VII, whose success is often over-shadowed by his much-married son and of course his predecessor, Richard III.  Henry VII is certainly maligned in that his successful financial and foreign policies are over-looked, as is his seemingly happy marriage to Elizabeth of York and his being free from scandal.  A worthy biography of a worthy king.

4.  'Richard II, a True King's Fall', by Kathryn Warner.  A well researched biography of the complex king Richard II.  Plenty of details showing many facets of Richard's personality.

5.  'Houses of Power -the Palaces that shaped the Tudor World' by Simon Thurley.  A well-researched and interesting book on the palaces occupied by the Tudors - those still standing and those that have disappeared.   There's a lot of focus on the design and architecture, which makes for a refreshing change for a book about the Tudors.

6.  'Richard III, Brother, Protector and King' by Chris Skidmore.  A balanced and fair biography of Richard III, and how it was circumstances, rather than personality, that 'bounced' Richard into the actions he took.

7.  'Take Courage - Anne Bronte and the Art of Life'.  A much needed biography of the neglected Bronte sister. 

8.  Just started 'Elizabeth's rival - The Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys' by Nicola Tallis, and it's already shaping up to be a cracking read.

Biggest disappointments

A book I was so looking forward to - 'The King's Assassin - The Fatal Affair of George Villiers and James 1st' by  Benjamin Woolley.  I know very little about James 1st and was intrigued by the title and blurb of this book - but basically, it turned out to be a biography of George Villiers and gossip from the court of James 1st.

Anne Boleyn - Amy Licence.  OK, I know there is only 1 definitive biography of Anne Boleyn - the one written by Eric Ives.  I always try to read every new bio of Anne, and am inevitably disappointed.  There is no new information on Anne Boleyn - but there have been plenty of interpretations and speculation.  And that's what we get here - Anne might have met Leonardo da Vinci, she might have been present at this meeting, at that palace, might have read this book, could have seen this piece of art , met this person - and then of course she may not have done any of them. Nothing new again and padded out with maybes. I had low expectations, and was right.  Amy Licence can do better than this, as her  previous biographies have proved.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

It's that time of year again.   A very Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for 2018!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Ludlow Castle - the apartments of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon

 The eldest son of Henry VII, Prince Arthur, born in Winchester and named for glory and drawing on his Welsh ancestry, was sent to govern in Ludlow Castle at a very young age.  His father was following the example, set by Edward IV, of sending the heir to the throne to govern the troublesome Marcher lands on the Welsh borders.  It was deemed an ideal 'apprenticeship'.
 These photos show the inside and outside of the apartments occupied by Prince Arthur.

 In 1501, the young Prince was married to the Spanish princess, Katherine of Aragon.  It was a superb match for the Tudor family.
 The young couple were sent to Ludlow, to live, in my opinion, as husband and wife.   The idea of Prince Arthur being a sickly youth is a later invention.   No mention of sickliness was made at his wedding, when he and his bride were on view for all to see,and Katherine's parents would surely have enquired as to the health of the young prince.  There was no hint of the tragedy to follow.
Both Arthur and Katherine caught some type of sickness in April 1502.  Both were expected not to survive.   sadly, Arthur died, and Katherine was too ill to even know her young husband was dead.

The young couple seem to have been really happy here.  Years later, their private life would come under intense scrutiny.   Their apartments are currently under renovation.  If only walls could talk!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Ludlow Castle

I've been very lucky to visit Ludlow twice this year.   The castle is spectacular, and of huge significance to anyone with an interest in Medieval history.
It has been held by the Mortimer family and the Dukes of York.
The chapel was added by the infamous Roger Mortimer, after helping Queen Isabella dethrone her husband Edward II.

Richard, Duke of York, abandoned the castle in the so-called 'Wars of the Roses', leaving behind his wife, Duchess Cicely, and her young children, including George, the future Duke of Clarence, and Richard, later Richard III.  He naturally made sure his eldest 2 sons were safe.

It was also the castle where the young Edward V was schooled as a prince, ready to take over from his father.   Henry VII subsequently sent his son Prince Arthur there and later, Henry VIII sent the Princess Mary there.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Belated Anniversary Wishes

November 1st 1307 was the anniversary of the wedding between Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare, niece of Edward II.  Margaret was the second daughter of Gilbert de Clare and the daughter of Edward 1st, Joan of Acre.   This was Edward's way of bringing Piers into the Royal family.   The Vita Edwardi Secundi says it was Edward's aim to 'strengthen Piers and surround him with friends '.  Margaret was aged 14 and doubtless had no say in the marriage.   We don't know how Margaret felt about her husband but we do know she accompanied Piers to Ireland on his second banishment and that Piers returned from his third banishment when Margaret was due to give birth to their daughter Joan.  If Piers was as chivalrous, graceful and  magnificently dressed as he was described, it's not difficult to imagine Margaret being impressed with her husband.   Being made Countess of Cornwall no doubt helped.   Whatever the relationship between her husband and Uncle, Margaret must have recognised the importance of her marriage to the King's favourite and saw a bright and successful marriage ahead.  If only......

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Mortimer History Society - presentation by Kathryn Warner

Saturday, October 7th, is I date I will never forget!    The Mortimer History Society were holding a historical event in Ludlow.    One of the speakers was Kathryn Warner, who was to give a talk about Isabella of France, based around her book 'Isabella, Rebel Queen'.     I've 'known' Kathryn for about 10 years, but only through e-mail and her superb blog on Edward II.  After all this time, we were finally going to meet and I was going to hear her presentation.   And what a wonderful day it was!

Ludlow is such a picturesque town on the borders of England and Wales, and of huge importance to the Mortimer family.  Kathryn was due to talk for about 50 mins - and I wondered how on earth she would be able to keep to 50 minutes!    How Kathryn managed to paint a superb 'pen portrait' of Isabella in such a short time, I'll never know!    But it was all there - the history of her parents, her childhood, marriage and her relationship with Piers Gaveston and the collapse of her marriage which ended with the deposition of her husband, Edward II.   I'm amazed that for almost an hour Kathryn didn't stop for a sip of water and made use of just a couple of cue cards.   Her talk was riveting, informative and entertaining!      Myths such as Piers receiving Isabella 's wedding presents were dismissed and there was laughter as any notion of William Wallace being Edward III's father were demolished.    The complicated lineage of Edward and Isabella was expertly explained.

Having read Kathryn's book and her blog, Kathryn's talk was still thought-provoking.   I hadn'I realised that Isabella's last child was born when she was only 25 - still at the height of her fertility.   It begs the question why?    Was it because of her fertility or her husband's?   Or did Isabella and Edward cease sharing a bed?   As Kathryn has shown, the marriage was happy and the couple were rarely apart and shared a bed frequently.   Isabella was an ideal Queen and provided huge support for her husband.   It may well be fertility problems weren't issue - or was it the influence of Hugh Despencer that changed Edward's attitude to his wife?   It's an intriguing thought.

It was a wonderful day and I really enjoyed chatting away to Kathryn about Piers, Edward, Isabella, Hugh........Made me realise once again how happy I was when recovering from a severe bout of tonsillitis, confined to bed, having just re-read Jean Plaidy's 'The Follies of the King', I googled 'Piers Gaveston ' and found Kathryn 's superb blog!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Long Live the King!

This is the book I've been waiting for from Kathryn Warner for a long, long time!  I'm sorry it's taken me some time to post this review, but I've had a very busy summer and am only now getting round to posting it.  I've been a longtime fan of Kathryn Warner's Edward II blog and have been intrigued by the possible survival of Edward II.  The sheer number of books about Richard III and the disappearance of his nephews has dominated royal mysteries for  years.  We'll never, ever know what happened, and in my opinion, it's obvious Richard had them killed to ensure his survival.   But the mystery of Edward II's supposed survival has far more evidence than any you can find on the mystery of the Princes.  Edward's possible survival needs far more attention than it's been given - and Kathryn does so in her marvelous book.   Biographies of Edward focus on his weaknesses and his tyranny, and any reference to his survival is quickly brushed over, usually dismissed, and even if not, deemed as unworthy of further investigation.   But it's a fascinating possibility, and anyone who likes a good detective story will find it here.  I won't give a way too much, but for me the most intriguing parts of the story are -

  • that such a personage as the Archbishop of York, Melton, someone who knew Edward, was utterly convinced Edward was a live.  An intelligent and powerful man was willing to commit to paper his belief that Edward was still alive and wanted to raise money to gather support for Edward.
  • the whole plot to 'entrap' the Earl of Kent, who believed his brother to be alive and was trying to gather support for him.  Why would Roger Mortimer and Isabella, having given out the news that Edward was dead, seek to 'entrap' Kent into believing his brother was alive?  Surely the last thing they would want was any speculation that Edward was alive?
  • We're not told what killed Edward at Berkeley Castle.  From being in good health, and we have evidence he was treated well in captivity, and with descriptions of him being strong and no sign of poor health, what exactly did he die of?
  • Whatever killed Edward, his body was never put on public view.  Think of when Henry VII paraded the body of the defeated Richard III, and how Edward IV and Richard put the bodies of Henry VI and Warwick the Kingmaker on view to prove they were dead.  Interestingly, it's the first royal funeral to use a wooden effigy.
  • The Fieschi letter.   I've read and re-read it so many times, and it's fascinating.  Is it a fake?  and if so, why would anyone want to fake it?  What would there be to gain?  If it was genuinely written by Fieschi and is a 'blackmail' attempt by the Papacy - it's a pretty flimsy attempt.  If Edward III ever received it as such, it seemingly had no effect.  There is one detail in particular that Kathryn has linked with her research - and I won't say what it is - but it certainly lends weight to the Fieschi letter being genuine.   
  • Key for me for the survival of Edward is his attitude to the crown.  In my opinion, he didn't want his crown back.  He knew he was unpopular, and I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted a Civil war for his son, so what better than to surrender his person into the hands of the papacy and live a simple life as a hermit?

This is a thought-provoking book and I literally could not put it down - constantly referring back to it and re-reading passages again and again.