Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Margaret TudorMargaret Tudor was the oldest sister of Henry VIII and the wife of James IV of Scotland.  For someone who is more than a bit fascinated by the Tudors, I realised on seeing this book up for review, I knew nothing about her – something I immediately felt the need to rectify.

What I found was a woman who seemed to be passionate, determined, and unable to not make the wrong choices (so when her husband died, his will said that she would be regent for their baby son as long as she didn’t remarry – which is what she went and did pretty much straight away, spending the next decade then fighting for her right to rule and to see her son).

Monthly Update: October, 2017

Month in review

So it’s bye, bye, October and hello November, with the dark nights now fully here and the cold weather making itself known, it’s the perfect time of year to snuggle down with a good book – well, at least it is in my part of the world!  Thankfully, I’ve had some good books this month and have the promise of more to come (yay!).  Here’s what I liked, loved and just weren’t for me this month…

The Real Guy Fawkes by Nick Holland

This is officially my favourite time of year.  First, you have Halloween.  Then, it’s Bonfire Night.  As a child, living in a small village, we would have a real community bonfire, with potatoes baking in the embers and a small – but perfectly formed – fireworks display.  I don’t know how many of these type of events exist anymore.  Our local bonfire is a huge affair, run by the local council and so many fireworks it makes your head spin.  There is no more baking potatoes – or kids wandering the streets asking for a “penny for the guy” (and how much does a penny get you nowadays?).

For all of this love of Bonfire Night though, I know very little about the man himself – no more than the legend that has grown up around him and the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament.  Which is why I wanted to read The Real Guy Fawkes by NIck Holland, especially as I was promised the truth about the man behind the myth.

Queens of the Conquest by Alison Weir

Queens of ConquestAnyone who has read my blog for a while will know that I have a thing for books on royalty – well British / English royalty.  I can’t help myself – especially when it comes to Queens.

I find the women who ruled (or almost ruled) my country to be endlessly fascinating, especially those who looked to assert power at a time when females were seen as a lesser class of citizen and the weaker sex – property of their fathers then their husbands.

One of a woman’s main jobs was to marry well – marriages agreed by her parents and those of her future spouse.  Marrying up was the key, or marrying for gain – money, land, or power.  And so it was for the Queens of the Conquest, each of whom found themselves supporting their husbands in their quest for power (bar Empress Maud, who aimed to be a Queen in her own right).

Tuesday intro: Wedlock

Once again I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. In really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week I’m reading Wedlock by Wendy Moore – with the strapline “How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match”.  So far I’m a hundred or so pages in and I am really enjoying it.  Here’s what it’s about…

6022200When Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore, was abducted in Oxford Street in broad daylight in 1786, the whole country was riveted to news of the pursuit.

The only daughter of a wealthy coal magnate, Mary Eleanor had led a charmed youth. Precocious and intelligent, she enjoyed a level of education usually reserved for the sons of the aristocracy. Mary was only eleven when her beloved father died, making her the richest heiress in Britain, and she was soon beset by eager suitors. Her marriage, at eighteen, to the beautiful but aloof Earl of Strathmore, was one of the society weddings of the year. With the death of the earl some eight years later, Mary re-entered society with relish and her salons became magnets for leading Enlightenment thinkers – as well as a host of new suitors keen to court her fortune.

Mary soon fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney, but scandalous rumours were quick to spread. Swearing to defend her honor, Mary’s gallant hero was mortally wounded in a duel – his dying wish that he might marry Mary. Within hours of the ceremony, he seemed to be in the grip of a miraculous recovery …

Wedlock tells the story of one eighteenth-century woman’s experience of a brutal marriage, and her fight to regain her liberty and justice. Subjected to appalling violence, deception, kidnap and betrayal, the life of Mary Eleanor Bowes is a remarkable tale of triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.

And, after that rather long “blurb”, here’s a rather long intro…

London, 13th January 19777

Settling down to read his newspaper by the candlelight illuminating the dining room of the Adelphi Tavern, John Hull anticipated a quiet evening. Having opened five years earlier, as an integral part of the vast riverside development designed by the Adam brothers, the Adelphi Tavern and Coffee House had established a reputation for its fine dinners and genteel company. Many an office worker like Hull, a clerk at the Government’s Salt Office, sought refuge from the clamour of the nearby Strand in the tavern’s first-floor dining room with its elegant ceiling panels depicting Pan and Bacchus in pastel shades.  On a Monday evening in January, with the day’s work behind him, Hull could expect to read his undisturbed.

At first, when he heard the two loud bangs, at about 7 p.m., Hull assumed they were caused by a door slamming downstairs. A few minutes later, there was no mistaking the sound of clashing swords. Throwing aside his newspaper, Hull ran down the stairs and tried to open the door to the ground-floor parlour. Finding it locked, and growing increasingly alarmed at the violent clatter from within from within, he shouted for waiters to help him force the door.  Finally bursting into the room, Hull could dimly make out two figures fencing furiously in the dark. Reckless as to his own safety, the clerk grabbed the sword arm of the nearest man, thrust himself between the two duellists and insisted that they lay down their swords. Even so, it was several more minutes before he could persuade the first swordsmen to yield his weapon.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Emma

The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir

imageI think I’ve mentioned before my fascination with the Tudors, so when I saw this audiobook at my local library I couldn’t resist. Plus it was Alison Weir, whose books I like in general, regardless of their subject.

Of all Henry’s wives, Anne is probably the most interesting and the one who most influenced English history as it was Henry’s desire to marry her – after eight long years of trying to get a divorce – that led, in part, to his break with Rome and the forming of the Church of England. She is also probably the most disliked of all his wives – reviled, even, at the time for having stolen Henry’s heart from the beloved Katherine of Aragon, and the subject of much gossip and misunderstanding, both before and after her death.

This isn’t the first book on Anne I’ve read and it’s not the first time she has been written about by Weir but I haven’t got bored yet and, here, I found more to peak my interest and help fill in the gaps (possibly) of what I know. I say possibly because little is actually known about Anne, not even what she looked like – there is only one known confirmed likeness of her because they were all destroyed after she was executed. Much of what was written at the time was by people who disliked her and were biased against presenting a likeable or sympathetic person for the most part.

Weir manages to do that, though, allowing a picture of Anne to develop that is not quite the evil home wrecker she is often made out to be. There is no doubt she schemed and played politics but so, it seems, did most people back then. It was the way the world of the royal court worked and it was an accepted part of life. Perhaps that Anne tried to play the game as a woman was part of the problem, as was the fact that she threatened the established power of many of England’s richest families.

It will always be impossible to know exactly who she was and whether she was guilty of the crimes she died for but that is part of the fascination. Weir presents the facts, few as they are, and the conjecture, giving her opinion on what might or might not be true, coming to the conclusion she probably was innocent. I tend to agree.

For those who want to know more about Anne, this is a great book. She really is the focus, not Henry – though there is plenty of him and Cromwell for those interested in them too. It is full of little details, like her having a double fingernail, which make her come alive and feel less like a character, more like a person.

As an audiobook, it was easy to listen too, with good narration and pace. There was plenty to keep me listening, including a great chapter at the end that talked about ghost stories and legends relating to Anne. I have a huge desire now to go start spending nights in Norfolk (her birthplace) looking for a lady in white. I’ll let you know if I find her!

Emma

P.s. If you couldn’t guess, I really liked this book – a recommended read.

Middleham Castle, North Yorkshire

Over the summer, we visited North Yorkshire and did the Richard III trail. Our base was Middleham so this was the first castle we visited. It was great walking through the village and seeing the castle rise up from behind the houses (quite a few of which were apparently built with castle stone). Built in the 12th Century, the castle was added to over the years to become a luxurious fortress before being allowed to become a ruin during the reign of the Tudors.

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It was the childhood home of Richard III and one of his favourite places to stay throughout his life, becoming part of his Northern power base. The castle belonged to the Neville family, the Earls of Westmoreland and of Warwick, who were Richards’s wards, and it was here Richard met his wife, Anne Neville, and where his son died aged 10 or 11.

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During The War of the Roses, both Edward IV and Henry VI were prisoners here at different times. Because I was reading about the War of the Roses at the time, this was the most interesting part of the castle’s history for me but there is so much more to it than that and we spent a good hour or so walking around the grounds and learning more about it’s past, plus that of Middleham (if I remember correctly, for example, the town still say a mass on Richard’s birthday).

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To help you get your historical bearings, there is information in all of the key people connected to the castle in a small exhibition space and children get an activity sheet for going around the castle, encouraging them to look for features etc. There is also plenty of space for them to run around and explore.

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As mentioned at the beginning, the castle is slap bang in the middle of the village and Middleham is a great place to spend some time. There were a lot of people on walking holidays whilst we were there as it is in Wensleydale, a beautiful part of Yorkshire, and great pubs and tea rooms for those in need of refreshments. There are also some cute shops if you want to spend your money. Definitely worth a visit! Emma