Tag Archives: Tudor

Recommended Read – The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory

‘How long do I have?’ I force a laugh.
‘Not long,’ he says very quietly. ‘They have confirmed your sentence of death.  You are to be beheaded tomorrow.  We don’t have long at all.’

Jane Grey was Queen of England for nine days. Using her position as cousin to the deceased king, her father and his co-conspirators put her on the throne ahead of the king’s half-sister Mary, who quickly mustered an army, claimed her crown and locked Jane in the Tower. When Jane refused to betray her Protestant faith, Mary sent her to the executioner’s block. There Jane turned her father’s greedy, failed grab for power into her own brave and tragic martyrdom.

‘Learn you to die’ is the advice that Jane gives in a letter to her younger sister Katherine, who has no intention of dying. She intends to enjoy her beauty and her youth and find love. But her lineage makes her a threat to the insecure and infertile Queen Mary and, when Mary dies, to her sister Queen Elizabeth, who will never allow Katherine to marry and produce a potential royal heir before she does.  So when Katherine’s secret marriage is revealed by her pregnancy, she too must go to the Tower.

‘Farewell, my sister,’ writes Katherine to the youngest Grey sister, Mary. A beautiful dwarf, disregarded by the court, Mary finds it easy to keep secrets, especially her own, while avoiding Elizabeth’s suspicious glare. After watching her sisters defy the queen, Mary is aware of her own perilous position as a possible heir to the throne. But she is determined to command her own destiny and be the last Tudor to risk her life in matching wits with her ruthless and unforgiving cousin Elizabeth.

 The Last Tudor is a thoroughly absorbing novel which tells the story of the three Grey sisters – Jane, Katherine and Mary – and the roles they played during the lives of the last generation of Tudors – King Edward, Queen May and Queen Elizabeth. Cleverly crafted, Ms Gregory gives each girl her own voice and they each tell their story in the first person. The style of writing is different for each of the sisters which deftly portrays their differing characters and beliefs. I am well acquainted with the story of Jane Grey but knew little about her sisters; the author has produced a book here which focuses on these relatively unknown siblings and through their descriptions of their feelings for the important people of the time – love, envy, anger, hatred – we are given an insight into the events which shaped the Tudor dynasty. This is a very clever personalisation which makes the history accessible and never dull or slowing the pace of the story.

Jane Grey is the eldest, she has strongly held Protestant beliefs and holds anyone of the Catholic faith in contempt. In the telling of her story she portrays herself as a rather impatient young woman who says that she is dutiful and humble yet comes across as slightly arrogant. Jane truly believes that the reformed church is the only way to salvation and, as such, pities those who will never get to heaven. Religion is the focus of her life and she is politically naïve which makes her the perfect pawn for those who wish to bypass Princess Mary as heir to the Tudor throne. When Jane’s cousin, King Edward, dies and she is placed on the throne it is obvious that she is unwilling to play the part yet unable to do anything else. Her simple belief as a sixteen year old girl that everything will turn out right in the end is both touching and frustrating, and leaves you wondering if she really thought this or just convinced herself of the matter as reality was too frightening to contemplate. A rude awakening awaits the young queen when Princess Mary comes to claim what is rightfully hers…

The middle of the Grey sisters, Katherine, comes across as materialistic, vain and arrogant; she is fiercely jealous of Elizabeth I and feels deliberately slighted by her. Katherine’s belief that she is the true heir to the Tudor throne prompts her to marry without the queen’s permission; after all, in her view Elizabeth is an illigitemate usurper, and even Henry VIII had her declared as such by Parliament at one time. Katherine’s marriage leads to trouble for her and her family, and as the years go by there is a change in her character as her belief that she has been wrongly treated affects her physical and mental health…

The youngest sister, Mary, was very small (barely 4 feet tall) and initially seems to have stayed under the radar of Elizabeth I (no pun intended). However, Mary follows in the footsteps of Katherine, believing herself so insignificant that the queen will not care who she marries. I must admit to a little frustration at her actions, but the truth is that she did behave as Ms Gregory tells (although the historical fact is rather sketchy in places). Mary develops from a small, insignificant and unimportant courtier into a woman with surprising courage and strength of character, and a determination not to suffer the same fate as her sisters…

The Last Tudor is interesting in its depiction of Elizabeth I as seen from the perspective of her cousins – a selfish and troubled woman who seems to care little for the future of England. As such, it is a novel which portrays the difficulties of history – we can look back in time to individual views of events but it is not always possible to ascertain the truth, particularly of people’s feelings and motives. Ms Gregory has conducted a great deal of research whilst writing this novel (some of the letters of the Grey sisters are included at the end of the book) and gives an engrossing view of what happened and why from the perspective of the Grey family; others, of course, would have seen things in a very different light.

As with all Ms Gregory’s novels this one places the reader squarely in a time and place in history with vivid descriptions of life at the Tudor court – the food and drink, the revels, the political intrigue, the fears, the treasons. The author has used very skilled writing to tell the story of Elizabeth and her advisors, the search for a husband and an heir, the delicate political situation between England, Scotland, France and Spain, in such a way as to convey an understanding of the scene quite briefly (as it is the backdrop to the story of the sisters not the main plot), yet in enough detail for the reader to understand its impact on the three young women.

The Last Tudor is one of the best historical novels I have read in a long time which gives us a clever telling of the politics of the court of Elizabeth I through the lives of three young women, and which has made me rethink some of my previous views on the glorious reign of Elizabeth I, as such it has inspired me to look once more at that whole period of history. If you like historical fiction and have enjoyed books by Philippa Gregory in the past I can guarantee that you will enjoy this latest offering. And if you have never read one of her novels? Then this would be a very good place to start.

The Last Tudor can be found on Amazon

You can find out more about Philippa Gregory and her books here

You can find more of my Recommended Reads here

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Recommended Read – First Of The Tudors by Joanna Hickson

Jasper Tudor, son of Queen Catherine and her second husband, Owen Tudor, has grown up far from the intrigue of the royal court. But after he and his brother Edmund are summoned to London, their half-brother, King Henry VI, takes a keen interest in their future.
Bestowing Earldoms on them both, Henry also gives them the wardship of the young heiress Margaret Beaufort. Although she is still a child, Jasper becomes devoted to her and is devastated when Henry arranges her betrothal to Edmund.
He seeks solace in his estates and in the arms of Jane Hywel, a young Welsh woman who offers him something more meaningful than a dynastic marriage. But passion turns to jeopardy for them both as the Wars of the Roses wreak havoc on the realm. Loyal brother to a fragile king and his domineering queen, Marguerite of Anjou, Jasper must draw on all his guile and courage to preserve their throne − and the Tudor destiny…

First Of The Tudors’ is a sequel to two novels about Catherine of Valois by Joanna Hickson (‘The Agincourt Bride’ and ‘The Tudor Bride’), but you do not have to have read these to enjoy ‘First Of The Tudors’ which can be read as a stand-alone novel. The author cleverly interweaves the backstory of Jasper Tudor and his family into this captivating and exciting novel to give a full understanding of previous events without slowing the pace of the story.

As with all good historical fiction this book weaves together historical figures and fictional characters to give a rich tapestry of life in another time and place. Ms Hickson accomplishes this by the clever use of two narrators – Jasper Tudor and his mistress Jane Hywel. Although Jane is a fictional character it is known that Jasper had children and so the creation of a mistress who cares for the young Henry Tudor is not unbelievable. In introducing Jane into her novel the author brings a balance between court life and intrigue, the domestic life and childhood of the young boy who was to grow up to be Henry VII, and how the events which led to the Wars of the Roses impacted on both spheres of Jasper’s  life.

Ms Hickson  peoples her novel with many historical figures from Jasper Tudor, the little known figure behind the rise of one of the greatest dynasties in British history, to Margaret Beaufort who enters the novel as an innocent and vulnerable girl yet grows to be a strong and influential individual capable of clever political manipulation to protect her beloved son, Henry. Henry VII is often overshadowed by his son Henry VIII and granddaughter Elizabeth I so it is interesting to see how, as a boy, he was shaped by his situation, his mother, and his uncle into a young  man who would be able to go on to found a dynasty; I look forward to finding out more about his life in the sequel to ‘First Of The Tudors’, which is due to be published next year.

First Of The Tudors’ is a character driven novel which paints a totally believable picture of life in the fifteenth century thanks to the meticulous research of the author. Her language is free-flowing and emotive, and her descriptions of place clearly recognisable to anyone who has visited any of the locations mentioned (Pembroke Castle, for example). It is the mark of a good writer of historical fiction that Ms Hickson is able to present a totally believable interpretation of a known historical story by the inclusion of fictional characters and speech without detracting from the facts as they are known. I found it interesting that the author chose to present this story through the eyes of the enigmatic figure of Jasper Tudor, a man who is rarely studied yet played such an incredibly important role when he became protector of his young nephew Henry VII at a time of incredible danger for the Lancastrians, and continued to lend advice and support for many years to come.

If you enjoy a multi-faceted view of history which brings to life people and places which have, for many years, been left in the shadows, then ‘First Of The Tudors’ is the book for you.

First Of The Tudors is available on Amazon

You can find out more about Joanna Hickson here

You can find more of my Recommended Reads here

 

Book Review – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel

wolf HallHenry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn, are well known facts of history. Most people even know the names of some of the other people who played key roles in this matter. What Hilary Mantel has done in ‘Wolf Hall’ is to breathe life into these people. To flesh out the brief, dusty biographies of history into living, breathing people. People we can love or hate, laugh with or laugh at, care for or hope for their downfall.

At the centre of it all is Thomas Cromwell. A man of humble origins, a traveller in his youth, a lawyer, friend of archbishops and, ultimately, confidant of the king. Ms Mantel has managed to get into the character of Cromwell, teasing out possible motives for his actions, deftly drawing the psychology of a man and of an age. History depicts Cromwell as a ruthless self-seeker, and there are aspects of that in this book, yet Ms Mantel digs deeper – a loyal friend, a family man, a loving husband and father, a cultured man who knew many languages, loved art and poetry, loved to hunt with his falcons, was keen to find and train young minds. This bringing to life of Cromwell, and many other characters, makes ‘Wolf Hall’ compelling reading, even though we already know the outcome of the story. Added to this is the in-depth depiction of life at court – the ladies in waiting, the kings gentlemen, intrigue and indulgence, banquets and religious disagreement, hunting and jousting – the list is endless. Along with the background of Cromwell this gives a fascinating insight into life in Tudor times for both rich and poor.

‘Wolf Hall’ is an historical novel with an emphasis on history, both in the plot and the descriptions. Ms Mantel has taken a story we all know and masterfully made it into something new, which any lover of history will enjoy. With one caveat. I enjoyed reading this book, but for some the style may be a little strange. Cromwell is always referred to as ‘he’, which can be confusing at times; so much so that, on occasion, the author resorts to writing ‘he, Cromwell, said…’. For myself, this is not a problem as the style is quite unique and gives a feeling of being in another time with another turn of phrase, another way of saying and doing things. For those who initially find this style difficult to follow I would ask you to persevere, a few pages in and you will cease to notice this most of the time as you become gripped by the story.

‘Wolf Hall’ is a fascinating read, and a great introduction to Thomas Cromwell. I am very much looking forward to following his story through Anne Boleyn’s time as Henry’s wife, and on to yet another queen in Ms Mantel’s sequel, ‘Bring Up The Bodies’.

Hilary Mantel’s website can be found here

Wolf Hall can be found on Amazon

You can find more of my Book Reviews here