Publication of ‘Elizabethan Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue and Treason’!


I’m absolutely delighted to be able to announce that my debut book ‘Elizabethan Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue and Treason’ is available to order in the UK RIGHT NOW.

You can order it direct from Pen and Sword here.

If you have pre-ordered it from somewhere like Amazon, Waterstones, or Foyles, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until the official release date of 30 January. But if you’ve been thinking about buying it, now is the time and Pen and Sword also have 20% off as an introductory offer!

If you’re in the US or anywhere outside the UK I believe the official release is 7 February, so only a couple of weeks to go, though you can get it through Book Depository with free worldwide shipping if you can’t wait the extra week.

I don’t think I’ll quite believe it until I hold a copy of it in my hands, it still feels quite surreal! New business cards arrived today and I’m having a celebration with friends and family in just a week and a half, and a few other things lined up so watch this space!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been so supportive throughout the whole process; everyone at Pen and Sword, and all of you who read my blog, follow me and comment and social media, and everyone who has already bought my book! You guys are awesome.

But special thanks have to go to my amazing friend and editor, Laura, as well as friends Mark, Ben, and Hattie. And my sister, Matilda. You all know I couldn’t have done it without you.

This has been a lifelong dream for me, though I haven’t liked to admit it to myself, believing it would never actually happen, and now it has. I’m two-thirds of the way through writing book two now, so look out for that, also from Pen and Sword, in July 2024. Ideas for two more books are floating around in my head, including one based around the research I did for my Masters dissertation way back in 2013.

As I write in the dedication of this, my first book, it’s “for everyone out there facing trials that get in the way of your dreams”. Keep persevering. I’m not saying it will definitely happen, I mean I don’t know the future. But. If you work hard and put the effort in, you’re much more likely to get there.

See some early reviews below:

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

“Hardwick Hall; more glass than wall”


Hardwick Hall (photo is author’s own)

I have visited Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire for the first time this week, and wow, what a place. Even though I’ve seen pictures of the hall, they don’t do justice to the sheer amount of glass. In the sixteenth century that must have been incredible to anyone who saw it!

I also hadn’t realised that Bess of Hardwick had died at the grand old age of around 80, though her exact date of birth is unknown c.1527. She was a fascinating woman in her own right, marrying four times, and rising from a minor gentry family to become a countess and a powerful woman. Bess was born at the Old Hall, then a small manor house, close by the current Hall, though she later decided to renovate and then build a new Hardwick, which is what survives today.

Bess’s first husband was Robert Barlow who died around 1544, her second was Sir William Cavendish, her third was William St Loe, and her fourth was George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. When Bess was married to William Cavendish they gained the land including the manor of Chatsworth. It would take decades to build this house.

Bess of Hardwick remodelled Hardwick Old Hall, where she was born, in the 1580s. She had married the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1568. But they were given the duty of guarding Mary Queen of Scots when she arrived in England, and this would ruin their marriage. In summer 1584 Shrewsbury forced Bess out of her home at Chatsworth and this is when she decided to renovate Hardwick. She was barred from many of Shrewsbury’s houses, so retreated to her own home. She had to buy Hardwick when her brother, James, died bankrupt in the Fleet prison.

Bess of Hardwick’s initials ‘ES’ on top of one of the turrets at Hardwick Hall. ‘ES’ stands for ‘Elizabeth Shrewsbury’ (photo is author’s own)

To Hardwick Old Hall Bess added two additional wings. The house was occupied by Bess, her son, William, and his family, and her grand-daughter, Arbella Stuart. Arbella was the granddaughter of Margaret Douglas, who was the granddaughter of Henry VII. As such, she was considered a potential heir to Elizabeth I.

As the renovations to Hardwick Old Hall reached completion Bess of Hardwick began to build the Hardwick Hall we see today, beginning work just as her husband, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, died in November 1590. The turrets at Hardwick have Bess’s initials ‘ES’ for ‘Elizabeth Shrewsbury’ emblazoned in stone atop them, and her arms in stone sit above the entrance. The house is full of beautiful furniture and tapestries which give a sense of the grandeur you would have been met with if you visited at the end of the sixteenth or beginning of the seventeenth centuries.

Bess liked symmetry, as seen at Hardwick with the sheer amount of glass and the turrets. Bess of Hardwick certainly knew the master mason, Robert Smythson, though it is unsure exactly how much input he had in the building of Hardwick Hall. Possibly he provided some ideas or plans while Bess and her team did the rest. This would explain a payment made to him in 1597. Materials for the house were locally sourced, as was the labour. The new Hardwick Hall took around seven years to build with the foundations and cellars being dug in 1590 with the ground floor built in 1591, the family floor the following year, and he second floor in 1593. The roof and turrets were built in 1594. Paving and glazing were completed in 1597 and Bess moved in that year. We know this from her own accounts.

Bess of Hardwick’s records room at Hardwick Hall (photo is author’s own)

There is a room at Hardwick which is a bit of a legend, called the Mary Queen of Scots room. Many people assume that, because Bess of Hardwick and her husband were the gaolers of Mary Queen of Scots that she must have been in residence here, but Hardwick Hall wasn’t even started until after Mary’s execution in 1587, so she cannot ever have been in residence. The guidebook to Hardwick Hall suggests that the Mary Queen of Scots Chamber was furnished to feed the myth that she was there. Now Mary’s arms are over the door, though this would have just been a chamber within the bedchamber in Bess of Hardwick’s day.

The great hall at Hardwick (photo is author’s own)

For those who are Harry Potter fans, as I am, Hardwick Hall was used as the basis for Malfoy Manor in the films. They only filmed using the outside of the house, but the inside was used as inspiration for the sets created for the actors to film on.

If you want to visit Hardwick Hall, it is a National Trust property, though the Old Hall is looked after by English Heritage.

If you want to visit, check the National Trust website for up-to-date information, though it is open daily, depending on conservation work happening. It is free if you are a National Trust member, otherwise an adult ticket is priced at £16 and a child at £8 though there are also family and group booking options.

References

Hardwick on the National Trust Website – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardwick-hall

Hardwick Hall Guidebook

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 – ‘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

Book Review – ‘Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I’ by Amy Licence


I was so excited to get a review copy of this book from Amberley Publishing. It doesn’t disappoint as it discusses the Tudor women across the whole period and how they compare to each other in their styles of motherhood, queenship, and relations with the men in their lives. It shows how resilient the women were and how essential they were to the dynasty. It doesn’t just examine the period 1485 to 1603 but looks at the women before this period who shaped it, like Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort, the matriarchs of the dynasty, without whom it wouldn’t have existed.

This book tries to tackle some of the prevailing myths about these women and the dominating views of the past centuries. It opens up new areas for exploration and tries to redress the balance of views on these incredible women. It’s good to focus on the women, who are often seen as supporting rather than leading figures, as the focus is often on the men who wield the power. The women of the period may have often been side-lined, but they often wielded power behind the scenes more often than in the public eye.

Although it is a long book and can seem daunting to start with, it is well worth investing the time to read it, as Amy Licence manages to sprinkle little details throughout and asks questions which make you think and consider different angles. It makes me want to delve into others of Licence’s books which are sat on my shelves, but I haven’t gotten around to reading yet! It also makes me want to know more in particular about Henry VIII’s sisters, Margaret Queen of Scotland, and Mary Duchess of Suffolk.

I would thoroughly recommend this, even if you don’t know that much about the Tudors, as it offers different angles on people sometimes overlooked in the period or misunderstood. It is easy to read and written chronologically so that if you are looking for a particular thing, it is easy to find. Obviously well-researched and concisely written.

Chapters:

  1. Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort 1437-1460
  2. Women as Witnesses 1460-1463
  3. A Queen is Made 1464-1469
  4. A Queen is Unmade 1469-1472
  5. Elizabeth of York 1472-1485
  6. The First Tudor Queen 1485-1486
  7. Dynasty in Danger 1487-1492
  8. Tudor Princesses 1489-1501
  9. The Spanish Bride 1501-1503
  10. The Two Margarets 1503-1509
  11. New Wives 1509-1515
  12. Widows 1513-1515
  13. Legacies of Love 1516-1520
  14. Gold 1520-1525
  15. Breaking the Queenship Model 1525-1533
  16. Wives and Daughters 1533-1534
  17. Queen, Interrupted 1534-1536
  18. The Search for Love 1533-1537
  19. Changing Times 1537-1540
  20. Women in Danger 1540-1542
  21. Weathering the Storm 1543-1546
  22. Such a Brief Happiness 1545-1549
  23. Dangerous Women 1547-1553
  24. Queens in Conflict 1553-1554
  25. The Half-Spanish Queen 1554-1555
  26. Saving the Nation’s Souls 1555-1558
  27. Autonomy 1558-1562
  28. Gender Politics 1563-1569
  29. The Queen’s Person 1570-1588
  30. Finale 1589-1603
  31. How the Tudor Dynasty was Built by Women 1437-1603

Book Review – ‘House of Tudor: A Grisly History’ by Mickey Mayhew


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

This is quite a different take on the Tudor period which I really enjoyed. It’s written in really short chapters which makes it easy to read and dip in and out of and return to if you want to refresh your memory on a particular event.

The book covers 45 different events of the Tudor period which are the most grisly events of the period rather than the most common events. These include the poisoning of Bishop Fisher, the blackened heart of Katherine of Aragon, Mary I’s phantom pregnancies, and the kidnap of Mary Queen of Scots, among many others. Particular attention is paid to some of the more gory or unusual aspects of the events described which is quite novel and something that some history books skate over.

The book has a great selection of images, and a comprehensive index. There are two things I will say that stops this being a 5-star read for me, maybe just as a historian myself, there is a lack of original / contemporary primary sources listed in the bibliography though they have been used in the text itself, but that certainly doesn’t detract from the excellent discourse and ease of reading of this book which I thoroughly enjoyed! There is also only mention of Henry VII in the Bosworth chapter but no further mention of him really, even given the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions and the execution of the Earl of Warwick.

Aside from these two things I can’t really fault it! This is a fantastic addition to my Tudor bookcase and one that I will certainly come back to when working on my own writing! It really does cover so many different things that there will be something for everyone whatever your interests are; political, personal, medical, or death. A brilliant gory discourse on my favourite period of history!