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.

The Heros' Welcome by Louisa Young

Title: The Heros’ Welcome
Author: Louisa Young
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Library
Rating: 5 out of 5

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The Hero’s Welcome opens in 1919 with the wedding of Riley and Nadine, childhood friends and sweethearts. In attendance is Riley’s best friend and captain during the war, Peter, and Peter’s son Tom.

Afterwards, Riley and Nadine go to tell their families, none of whom react well. Nadine and Riley are from different worlds, she is upper class, he working class. Before the war, their marriage would probably have been impossible. Then there is the fact that Riley was badly injured in the war. He lost his jaw, which has been reconstructed. With such a disfigurement, how will he possibly be able to find a job and support his wife?

Peter goes home to his wife Julia, hands over his son and goes into his study to start reading the Odyssey and drink whisky. Although he was not physically injured during the war, he is suffering. Memories and dreams of men he lost haunt him. Neither Julia or Tom, who is very young, understand and Julia, under the misguided idea that Peter would love her again if she was still young and beautiful has given herself a facial with caustic acid which has gone wrong, leaving her face permanently damaged.

Witches by Tracy Borman

Title: Witches
Author: Tracy Borman
Genre: Non-fiction, history
Source: Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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In September 1613, the Earl of Rutland’s son fell ill and died. Within weeks his second son also fell ill and died. No one is sure what they died of but their deaths were long and painful. This was a time when people believed in witchcraft, and it was witches that were blamed for the young boys deaths. The witches at whom the finger was pointed were all from one family, the Flowers, a mother and two daughters who had a grudge against the Earl of Rutland and had been heard to curse him.

The Flowers women were eventually tried and found guilty and it is through them and their trial Tracy Borman tells the story of witch hunts and witch trials in the early 17th century. She touches on trials across Europe but focuses on England and how James I’s beliefs played into what was close to hysteria. It looks at how if you were a women and poor, old or ugly, prone to speaking your mind or not very good at getting on with your neighbours you were almost doomed to be called a witch and there was a very good chance you would be burned at the stake.

Borman does a really good job of setting the scene for the growing hysteria. I was amazed by how little it took to be accused of being a witch (one woman was accused because her neighbours pigs had started making a different type of grunt if I remember correctly) and how how hard it was to disprove an accusation. There really was no way out for a woman accused. If she stayed silent it was seen as an admission of her guilt. If she spoke up and proclaimed her guilt she was lying and under the influence of the devil.

Lancaster and York by Alison Weir

Title: Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: History
Source: Library (audio book)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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When Henry VI came to the throne in 1422, he was 9 months old. The only son of Henry V, his age meant England was ruled by regents until he was 15. Once he was old enough, it quickly became clear that whilst Henry VI may have been born to rule, he wasn’t very good at it. He was too pious, too forgiving, and too easily led by the powerful factions that had developed during his minority. Add to that mental ill health and, from 1445, his domineering wife Margaret of Anjou, and things seem doomed to go badly.

The badly was the Wars of the Roses, 32 years of conflict which eventually led to the fall of Henry’s House of Lancaster and the rise of the rival House of York (before their defeat at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry Tudor).  Alison Weir’s book tells the story on these wars and what led to them, focusing on the people and how their personalities played a large part in what happened.

For me, it was absolutely fascinating to see just how many bad decisions Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou (plus their faction) made.  How many things they misunderstood about the English people and what they wanted in a monarch.  That doesn’t mean the House of York were much better but they understood how to get the public behind them.  And how to fight a battle.  I don’t know much about warfare but it seems they were a lot better at it.

The battles took up around half the book and Alison Weir describes them in great detail.  I learnt a lot about how wars were waged and was shocked by the level of brutality and cruelty (perhaps I shouldn’t have been but I was). By the end, though, I was a little battle’d out.  There was a bit too much pillaging and plundering for me and I started to lose track of what was happening, who was winning and who was losing.

The first half of the book was much more interesting for me because it was about the people.  I read Helen Castor’s book She Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth last year and so knew something of Margaret of Anjou but I knew very little about Henry VI, other than that he was insane.  (Insanity being the term used at the time for someone who was actually suffering from severe mental health problems, most likely brought on by stress).   By the end of the book, I actually felt quite sorry for him and wonder what would have happened if his father had lived longer or he had felt he could give up the throne and live a more peaceful life.

All in all, a good book if a bit too bloody for me.

Emma x

About the audio book

Narrator: Maggie Mash
Publisher: W F Howes
Release Date: Sep 28, 2012
Language: English
Duration: 22:10:51 (hh:mm:ss)

Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

Title: Love and Louis XIV
Author: Antonia Fraser
Genre: History, Biography
Format: Audio Book (narrated by Julia Franklin)
Release Date:2007 (paperback) 2012 (audio book)
Duration: 14:19:48
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Louis XIV, who called himself the Sun King, was born late in his mother’s life – she was 36 which, for the period, meant she was almost elderly. The first, and therefore most treasured son, his birth was seen as a miracle and from the day he was born his mother – Anne of Austria – doted on him. At the age of five his father, the King of France died, leaving him a “child-king”, with his mother acting as regent. For the next eight years, until he reached the age of majority and could rule in his own right, Anne of Austria raised her son and ruled France in his name. A pious woman, with a strict morale code, she defended his future right to be King and taught him that one day he would rule France as an absolute monarch and the world would be shaped to his desires.

This relationship with his mother was probably the most important relationship in his life and framed how he ruled France and his future relationships women – both his wife, Marie-Therese of Spain, and his mistresses, of which there were many including three significant ones, two of whom he had children with. It is these relationships Antonio Fraser focuses on in her book, which is sub-titled: The Women in the Life of the Sun King.