Book Review – ‘Queen Elizabeth I: Life and Legacy of the Virgin Queen’ by Paul Kendall


Thanks to Pen & Sword for a copy of this book to review.

I’ve previously read Paul Kendall’s book ‘Henry VIII in 100 Objects’ which I really enjoyed. Both that one of this goes through 100 different places and objects from the life of each of the monarchs. This book on Elizabeth I covers books, tombs, palaces, statues, paintings, and engravings. Her reign is often seen as a Golden Age, and this book covers everything from her birth and childhood to her imprisonment under her sister, Mary, her accession to the throne, through rebellions and the Spanish Armada, to her death in 1603.

The book is structured chronologically with plenty of images scattered in each of the 100 sections. Each section is only a couple of pages long at most, and each one has at least one image, meaning over 100 images throughout the book. It’s obviously well-researched and many of the photos are author’s own, so the author has obviously travelled to see many of the places and objects described throughout.

For anyone who is already primed on Elizabethan history this may be a little simple in its execution, but there are interesting tit-bits of information scattered throughout anyway that you may not know, related particularly to some of the most obscure objects discussed.

It’s almost like having a guide if you were travelling around to see these things. The story of each of the objects and places goes on past the Tudor era to see how they ended up where they did and in the condition they did. It’s an absolutely fascinating take on Elizabeth’s life and reign through the things that she interacted with, some on a daily basis.

Book Review – ‘Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck, and Warwick’ by Nathen Amin


Thanks to Amberley Publishing for a copy of this book to review.

This is an incredibly detailed and interesting book focused on the reign of Henry VII and the problems he had with pretenders like Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, as well as threats from those with real and legitimate claims like the Princes in the Tower and the Earl of Warwick. It is so detailed I had to go back and re-read sections to make sure I did Amin’s research justice.

The book explores how Simnel and Warbeck each rose to a position where they could make a play for the throne, pretending to be those who had a legitimate claim to the throne. Simnel pretended to be the Earl of Warwick and Warbeck pretended to be Richard, younger of the Princes in the Tower. Both managed to gain significant support from the likes of France, Burgundy, and Ireland, and pose a serious threat to the Tudor throne.

Amin’s writing is clear, and he has obviously spent many years researching this topic as there is plenty of new information and thoughts. He doesn’t explicitly state what his thoughts are on the pretenders but leads you towards making your own conclusions based on the evidence that survives. We will likely never be able to say for sure exactly who the pretenders were, but it is possible new evidence could still come to light, though unlikely I would say.

This is one of the best and most-detailed history books I’ve read recently, and on a topic that doesn’t normally get an entire book to itself. It adds greatly to the existing knowledge, and on an often-overlooked monarch, though Henry VII does seem to be gaining more attention as the years pass. For anyone interested in the Tudor period, this book is definitely for you!

Chapters:

  1. The Year of Three Kings
  2. The Triumphing General
  3. Rebels and Traitors
  4. Insatiable Hatred
  5. The Joiner’s Son
  6. A Mad Dance
  7. The Fortunes of War
  8. The Noble Triumph
  9. Werbecque of Tournai
  10. War of Necessity
  11. My Only Son
  12. The Devilish Enterprise
  13. Shame and Derision
  14. Mortal War
  15. Final Conclusion
  16. Fresh Revolution
  17. A Stranger Born
  18. The Most Savage Harshness
  19. Epilogue – One Rose

Book Review – ‘Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen’ by Mickey Mayhew


Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for a copy of this to review.

This is a very different take on the Mary Queen of Scots story. Starting really when she escaped Scotland into England in 1568 after being deposed in favour of her son, James, Mary’s nineteen years of captivity in England are told in detail through the people who were responsible for her under the eye of their queen, Elizabeth I.

The book is obviously well-researched with plenty of quotes incorporated into the text, and pop culture references to the likes of the film ‘Mary Queen of Scots’, and by the authors Jean Plaidy and Philippa Gregory. However, many of the contemporary quotes seem to come from secondary sources rather than the originals. This doesn’t detract when reading it, however.

Different chapters cover Mary’s time with different gaolers in different places, and both places and gaolers are described in some detail with how they came to be where they were.

There is an extensive bibliography, though largely of secondary sources, with plenty of information scattered through the book that I didn’t know before, especially about just how much she was moved around so that the places she lived in could be cleaned and freshened out for her return.

One of my bug bears with this book, however, is that there is no bibliography. I like to be able to dip in and out of books if I’m looking for particular information and I find I cannot necessarily do that with this book, despite it being written in chronological order – for instance, looking for the Ridolfi and Throckmorton Plots are within the longest chapter in the book.

Mickey Mayhew’s book offers a lot to research on Mary Queen of Scots and her period of captivity in England, where focus is usually on her marriages, the Casket letters, the disasters of her queenship, and her execution. The focus of her captivity is usually the rebellions against Elizabeth I, but this book examines it in a more domestic light, which I’ve never seen before. It’s fascinating.

Chapters:

  1. Mary’s Path to Imprisonment
  2. Sir Francis Knollys
  3. ‘Keeping Mary’ – the North of England
  4. The Earl of Shrewsbury and Bess of Hardwick
  5. ‘Keeping Mary’ – Coventry
  6. ‘Keeping Mary’ – the Sheffield slog
  7. Ralph Sadler
  8. ‘Killing Mary’ – Chartley, Tixall and Fotheringhay
  9. Life after Mary
  10. Gaolers in Fiction, on Film and TV

Book Review – ‘On the Trail of Jack the Ripper’ by Richard Charles Cobb


I’ve had a fascination with the Jack the Ripper mystery for years. Well, unsolved mysteries generally which started with the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, and the death of Amy Robsart. But the Jack the Ripper mystery is a lot gorier and more disturbing.

This book discusses the five canonical victims in detail, especially the locations connected with each murder and how they relate to London as it is now. There are lots of helpful maps plotting London as it was in 1888 over the street layout today. The sad thing is that many of the streets and locations have now been lost, many in the last decade or two with building works. I went on a Jack the Ripper tour in Whitechapel last year with a friend and it’s amazing how little actually remains, so those locations that do remain are more significant in a way.

Richard Charles Cobb discusses each of the canonical murders, but also discusses the other Whitechapel murders not always considered to be his work (there were 11 in total in the files). It was really interesting to read some of the newspaper articles, the alleged writing of the Ripper, and police reports and memorandum – words spoken or written at the time. Cobb doesn’t really go into suspects, so I think that might be what I’ll look for in my next book on the Jack the Ripper mystery. I want to know more.

Be aware if you buy this book that there are images of the dead women; including the wounds inflicted on the last canonical victim, which are just horrifying. Some authors I know choose not to show the images in their books or put them in a spread in the middle so you can just jump past them, but these images are set into the text so just a trigger warning, though I imagine if you’re reading a book on Jack the Ripper you might be aware of the images!

Book Review – ‘The Peasants Revolting Lives’ by Terry Deary


I was gifted Terry Deary’s previous book ‘The Peasants’ Revolting Crimes’ and I so enjoyed it that I knew I get to get this one when it came out and I wasn’t disappointed! I’ve always enjoyed Terry Deary’s style of writing, right from when I was little reading the Horrible Histories. He makes you feel engaged and want to read on.

What I like about this book, and the previous one, is that it is scattered with quotes, both contemporary and modern, related to what he’s discussing in any given chapter. This could feel disjointed, but Deary makes it work. It covers so many areas including education, warfare, sickness, work, entertainment, and courtship. You can really begin to get a sense of what things would have been like and how, when people say they would rather live in a past century, they haven’t really thought about what it would be like.

His focus on the peasants offers a new insight into the history we think we know – that of monarchs, politicians, and the nobility. We can begin to see what life would have been like for the bulk of the population, rather than focusing on a small percentage of the elite. It’s so well-written, but there was a small error I noticed when it was said that James II was the son of Charles II, rather than his brother! Overall, you could tell it was incredibly well-researched and that Deary was really engaged with his subject.

It’s thought-provoking in the sense that it’s a section of the population often overlooked and seeing how things didn’t really improve much through the centuries, just being trodden down in different circumstances, was quite an eye-opener. I would really recommend this, to find out more about a section of society which we don’t really focus on.

Chapters:

  1. Work
  2. Entertainment
  3. Courtship
  4. Sickness
  5. Housing
  6. Religion
  7. Food
  8. Sport
  9. Warfare
  10. Education

Book Review – ‘Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer’ by Tony Riches


Thanks to Tony Riches and Preseli Press for a copy of this book to review.

I enjoyed this book about a man I didn’t really know a lot about. I knew that he’d travelled to the New World, written ‘A History of the World’ and been imprisoned in the Tower of London twice, once for marrying one of the queen’s ladies. But those are the popular things, so it was intriguing to read his story in a fictional sense, and get a sense of the man, though obviously fiction has to be taken with a pinch of salt to allow for some historical licence.

The book is obviously well-researched and doesn’t fall into some of the myths and legends surrounding Raleigh, like the fact that he laid his cloak over a puddle, so Elizabeth I didn’t get her feet wet. I kept waiting for that to come up and it didn’t, which demonstrated to me that Riches was taking his subject and research seriously.

The story mixes time at court with Elizabeth I, Francis Walsingham, Robert Cecil, and Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, with a life of travelling to the New World and the Azores, and then the comfortable home life with his wife and children. The book, being part of the Elizabethan trilogy, only really takes us up to the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, so doesn’t cover Raleigh’s second imprisonment in the Tower writing ‘The History of the World’, or his *spoiler* execution. It would have been interesting to see how Riches tackled this, but maybe for another time as he obviously can’t include everything, or the book would be a mile long!

The sense I got was that Riches wanted to portray some of the lesser-known aspects of Raleigh’s life, and how each decision he made impacted others. For example, his adventuring always seemed to be to the detriment of his family after his marriage. He was drawn to the court and the queen but at the same time wanted to keep away from the intriguing after his first spell in the Tower. Raleigh seems to have been a man who wanted so many things at once, but couldn’t seem to grasp them all.

I haven’t read any complete trilogies by Tony Riches at this point, just odd books, but I have really enjoyed the ones I’ve read and look forward to investing in the others in the future.

Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: Regal Retribution’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


Another triumph in the Kindred Spirits series – I adore this series, and I think this may have been the best one yet, but definitely on par with ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’ which has been up to now my favourite of the series. These books make me laugh so much and I wish that these communities of ghosts living at the likes of the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and Windsor Castle were real.

It was hinted at in the last in the series, ‘Kindred Spirits: Ephemera’ that this book would feature that most famous King Henry VIII, and it doesn’t disappoint, as those ghosts who were closest to Henry VIII in life come together – the likes of Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. Richard III again takes centre stage as he struggles with his relationship with Henry VII and the haunting of ghosts he cares for.

The story pushes on, with every chapter adding something to the storyline, and nothing wasted. We see more and more of these characters from history – potential vulnerabilities and how they adjust to the changing modern world, and confront difficult decisions and relationships.

It’s a different way of looking at figures from the past and I really enjoy it. This book seems to bring together the communities at the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey as the previous books haven’t so it’s interesting to see ghosts intermingling in a way we haven’t in the series before. I absolutely adore these books and cannot wait for more ghostly adventures!

Book Review – ‘The King’s Chamberlain: William Sandys of the Vyne, Chamberlain to Henry VIII’ by John Jenkins


Huge thanks to Amberley Publishing for gifting me a copy of this to review.

William Sandys wasn’t a person that I knew much about, to be honest. I’d heard of him mentioned in other Tudor history books I’ve read, but he wasn’t someone I really knew other than to recognise the name and that he was at the English court.

This was certainly an interesting read, though it did seem to get bogged down in details at times and was quite repetitive at other points. There is a slight dearth of surviving information on Sandys, as he wasn’t really massively involved in major events, though he did take part in the likes of the Battle of the Spurs, the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the fall of Anne Boleyn. He sounds like a it of a bureaucrat, determined to assist the crown however he could and whatever that meant, without too many scruples, though he was said to be a conservative rather than a reformer.

The world needs more research on figures like Sandys and others who played an important role in history but have been overlooked or underestimated. This book adds to the Tudor canon of the figures we know less about. Hopefully we will see more books like this in the coming years which open our minds to figures we know less about, although no doubt that will depend on the availability of sources and information.

A great book, well written, though feels like it gets a bit bogged down in places. The timeline at the back is helpful to know where Sandys was at various points, what he was doing, and the sources that allow us to know that.

Errors:

  • Wrong birth date of Elizabeth I given – said it was 9 September but was actually 7 September.
  • Said Anne Boleyn miscarried in 1565 when she died in 1536.
  • Claimed Henry VIII married Jane Seymour the day after Anne Boleyn’s execution, but that was the date of the betrothal not the wedding.

Chapters:

  1. William, Lord Sandys: His Ancestors and the Medieval Vyne, Hampshire
  2. The Young William Sandys
  3. Knight of the Body for Henry VII
  4. High Marshal of the Army
  5. The King’s Chamberlain
  6. Sandys’ Works and Patronage
  7. Descendants of William, the 1st Baron Sandys
  8. Summary and Conclusions
  9. Chronology of William, Lord Sandys’ Life
  10. Sandys’ Manors and Lands c. 1490-1612
  11. Transcription of William Sandys’ Will, December 1540

Book Review – ‘Gloriana: Elizabeth I and the Art of Queenship’ by Linda Collins & Siobhan Clarke


Thank you to The History Press for a copy of this book to review.

This book is the first one I’ve read of this type, looking at the Elizabethan age through portraiture, including the more famous Coronation, Rainbow, and Armada portraits, and the lesser-known Pelican and miniature portraits. Also includes portraits of people of the Elizabethan age like Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare, and Robert Dudley.

It is divided into digestible sections covering different parts of Elizabeth’s life and reign, in largely chronological order, though with dives in and out of the lives of Elizabeth’s courtiers and favourites. There are lots of implications raised about the portraits, and what little things you might overlook could mean, whether it’s a gift from a courtier trying to curry favour through jewels, or the symbolism of a flower, hourglass, or animal that appears.

It’s not a biography of Elizabeth I but an art history, looking at the life and reign of Elizabeth through the portraiture. It clearly links the portraits to different parts of her life and reign, giving the context of how the portraits link to different periods of her life, and how the imagery changes over her life.

A must-have for any fans or academics of the Elizabethan era because it looks at the age from a new perspective and can offer plenty of insights into self-fashioning, image, and power. It was utterly fascinating and so well-researched.

Chapters:

  1. Elizabeth I and the English Renaissance
  2. Family and Survival: The Early Years
  3. ‘God Hath Raised Me High’: Accession and Religion
  4. ‘One Mistress and No Master’: Marriage Game
  5. Nicholas Hillard: The Queen’s Painter
  6. Secrets and Codes: Mary, Queen of Scots
  7. Elizabethan Arts: The Golden Age
  8. Gold and Glory: Exploration and Armada
  9. Dress, Dazzle and Display: Mask of Youth
  10. Final Years: Death and Legacy

Book Review – ‘Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England’ by Carol McGrath


Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the gifted copy of this book to review.

I really enjoyed this book. It was so interesting, and I learnt quite a lot about the way the Tudors thought about sex and the roles of women and gender. It is irrevocably tied in to the Reformation and changing religious views across the long Tudor century. This is all discussed throughout as McGrath dives into several different areas.

The perceptions of sex are discussed including when you should and shouldn’t have sex, words related to sex, and some humorous sections, as there was bound to be when discussing sex! It’s a great mix of informative and entertaining which I really enjoyed. It’s not too ‘heavy’ to read and quite a concise and clear read.

It offers a different view on Tudor England, though there is still quite a lot of focus on Henry VIII and his relationships with his wives. There could have been more on the general populace, and maybe looking more at court cases about women i.e. scolding, adultery, fornication, and children.

The main reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars was because I felt there was too much focus on the royal history, as well as a few errors as below:

  • Page 12/64 – Thomas Howard referred to as Earl of Norfolk when he was Duke of Norfolk
  • Page 27 – It was said that Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur were married at Westminster Abbey when they were actually married in St Paul’s Cathedral
  • Page 58 – Field of the Cloth of Gold said to have happened in 1521, but it was actually 1520
  • Page 88 – Anne Boleyn’s father was described as Duke of Wiltshire when he was Earl of Wiltshire
  • Page 88 – Francis Byron questioned over Anne Boleyn’s fall, but it was Francis Bryan
  • Page 92 – McGrath says that Catherine Carey was acknowledged as Henry VIII’s daughter, but she was never acknowledged, it was only rumoured

Resolving these errors would make the book read a lot better and make me feel more like I could trust what else the author was saying. Errors make me feel like I can’t believe everything the author is saying, but this book was so interesting that I didn’t want to knock more than 1 star off my review.

Chapters:

  1. The Church, the Lady and Sexuality
  2. Tudor Marriage and Matters Sexual
  3. Medical Practices and Beliefs Associated with Childbirth and Contraception
  4. Attracting the Opposite Sex
  5. Dress to Impress & Tudor Dance and Music
  6. Courtly Romance and Poetry
  7. Noli Me tangere, for Caesar’s I am & Court Mistresses
  8. A Visit to a Brothel and Illicit Sex Issues & Aphrodisiacs and Love Potions
  9. Sex and Witchcraft
  10. Renaissance Art and Sex
  11. The Commoner, Villages, Towns and Sex
  12. Naughty Vocabulary during the Tudor Era