The Queen’s Lady by Joanna Hickson

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This is the sequel to The Lady of the Ravens, telling the story of Joan Guildford, nee Vaux, later Poyntz, who was a lady in waiting to Elizabeth of York and (probably) Catherine of Aragon, and Lady Governess to both of Henry VII’s surviving daughters.  It runs from 1502 until 1520; and it was a joy to read a book set in the later years of Henry VII’s reign and the early years of Henry VIII’s reign, a period which generally gets overlooked because of the dramas of the mid-1480s before it and the late 1520s after it.

There are a few annoying little historical inaccuracies.  Margaret Beaufort did not have the title of Queen Mother.  The future Charles V was Catherine’s nephew, not her cousin.  Catherine had an English grandmother on one side and an English great-grandmother on the other side, not two English grandmothers.  Just minor things, but they annoyed me.  It doesn’t take much to annoy me 🙂 .   But the actual events are described accurately – insofar as we know them.  There are some gaps in time during the book, meaning that Flodden Field isn’t mentioned, which was a bit odd; but I suppose it didn’t directly affect Joan.   But she was at court throughout much of the period, and also accompanied Princess Margaret to Scotland and Princess Mary to France, as well as being present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, so there’s plenty of high politics going on.

The book’s told in the first person by Joan, and we hear all about her life, including the death of her first husband and her remarriage to a much younger man, as well as about the lives of the Tudors.  There are also a number of presumably fictitious minor characters, who add to the picture of life at the time, notably Joan’s maids and their husbands, and two Moorish girls who were in Catherine’s household.

Apart the minor inaccuracies, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I would imagine that there’ll be a third book in the series, because Joan was one of the witnesses at the infamous trial concerning Catherine’s marriage to Arthur.   I shall be looking out for it, all being well – and thank you to Amazon for making this one available on a 99p Kindle deal.

The Rebel Daughter by Miranda Malins

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This is a prequel/companion novel to The Puritan Princess , told in a first person narrative by Bridget Cromwell, the eldest daughter of Oliver Cromwell and wife of Henry Ireton (and, following Ireton’s death, of Charles Fleetwood).  It’s told in the present tense, which I do find annoying – it makes me feel as if I’m back in the Infants, reading a Peter & Jane or Janet & John book – but it’s a fascinating story of weighty events combined with the domestic lives of the Cromwell women.

Civil War novels are generally about Cavaliers versus Roundheads, but this one focuses on the in-fighting between the Roundheads – Presbyterians versus Independents (which really ceased to be an issue in England, if not in Scotland and Northern Ireland, after the Restoration, but which was crucial in the late 1640s), the Putney Debates, and the role of the Levellers.  However, there’s no mention of the Diggers, which is a shame.  I find it interesting that the leader of the Diggers was from Wigan!  I also find it interesting that here are pop groups named after the Diggers, the Levellers and the New Model Army, but that’s beside the point.

The book finishes, apart from a brief epilogue, in 1652, so we don’t get the famous “In the name of God, go” speech, but there are numerous references to the frustration of the press and the public with politicians on all sides.  Some things don’t change very much over the years.  It’s particularly interesting to see two very controversial subjects, the execution of Charles I and the atrocities committed by Cromwell’s troops in Ireland, led by Henry Ireton, from Bridget’s viewpoint.

Puritans don’t get a very good press in England.  What do we know about Puritans?  They banned Christmas (with specific reference to mince pies) and they stopped people from playing football on Sundays.  Boo, hiss.  They went round people’s houses looking for old men who wouldn’t say their prayers, and taking them by the left leg and throwing them down the stairs.  There’s that brilliant episode of Blackadder in which Lord and Lady Whiteadder come to visit, and criticise absolutely everything that Edmund does.

Puritans who went to America, however, are seen in a rather romantic light.  That’s actually quite odd, given the way they treated Quakers and Baptists, and the Salem Witch Trials; but it’s that idea of wanting to found a New World, a New Jerusalem.  That in itself is problematic, given that Puritanism in in Dutch form was a major contributor towards apartheid, the idea of a chosen people who could help themselves to someone else’s land, but the romantic idea lingers.  And, having just typed “A New Jerusalem”, I’m now going to be earwormed by Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” all day.   I love the fact that she wrote that song as a hymn to New York.  Much as I love Hubert Parry’s musical setting of “Jerusalem”, I take great exception to William Blake suggesting that a town/city with “dark satanic mills” is the antithesis of a New Jerusalem.  Gah.  Sorry, that’s totally beside the point, LOL.

I very much doubt that the Pilgrim Fathers ever so much as mentioned a New Jerusalem, a City on a Hill and all the rest of it, but we tend to think that they did.  And there does seem to have been some sense amongst Puritans in England in the mid to late 1640s of a chance to build a new world – we had the Levellers and the Diggers, as already mentioned, and the Fifth Monarchists.  The book very much presents Bridget as an idealist, someone who genuinely believed in the idea of a godly Commonwealth, and who was devastated when her father eventually accepted a role not that far removed from that of king.

The character does come across very well, but there are some frustrating anachronisms.  “Liz” and “Olly” would not have been used as nicknames for Elizabeth and Oliver in the 17th century: “Bess” and “Noll” were the usual short forms of the names.  And people would not have been talking about women’s rights.  Even the title of the book’s odd, because Bridget doesn’t rebel.   Her interpretation of events is put across well, though – although people might take exception to it.  We see her justifying the execution of Charles I as supposedly being the only way to bring an end to the conflict (except that it didn’t).  And, whilst being horrified by what happened in Ireland, saying that it was in line with what happened to besieged towns during the Thirty Years’ War – which is true enough, but may not go down very well with Irish readers.

For the Civil War from a female viewpoint, my number one recommendation is Pamela Belle’s Wintercombe, but that’s about a woman living in a country house in Somerset, whereas this one’s about a woman at the centre of the big events at the time, so they’re not really comparable.   This one isn’t the best Civil War book I’ve ever come across, but it’s certainly well worth a read: the history’s accurate, and, in particular, it’s an interesting and unusual take on the period.  I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for any more books in this series.

The Stone Rose by Carol McGrath

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This is the final book in Carol McGrath’s trilogy about unpopular medieval queens of England; and it’s about Isabella of France, who’s probably better-known than either Eleanor of Provence or Eleanor of Castile.  The title relates to a fictional character who’s the daughter of a stonemason, but it’s an odd choice.  It rather makes the reader imagine Isabella singing alongside Ian Brown, maybe about how her glorious marriage to the English heir turned out to be fools’ gold, or about telling Roger Mortimer that she wanna be adored …er, right, let’s leave it there, because “This Is The One” and “Waterfall” are both used as football songs at Old Trafford, and that’s all a bit painful at the moment and I’m just hoping that Erik ten Hag’s tenure will see The Resurrection.

OK, OK, Isabella of France.  You know the story.  The She-Wolf of France and her lover, Roger Mortimer, overthrow her gay husband, Edward II, and get someone to murder him by shoving a red hot poker up … well, you know that bit of the story without my having to spell it out.  Then they’re overthrown in turn, when her son, Edward III, takes control.  And there’s that thing about the Scottish bloke in the cave with the spider.  However, most of what we think we know about those times is what was written years later.  What actually happened?  Well, we know the basics, that Edward became unpopular because of the defeat at Bannockburn and the influence of his favourites, and that he was deposed by Isabella and Mortimer, but we don’t really know the detail.

Carol McGrath’s done a very good job of creating a novel from what did happen and what may have happened.  My one real issue with it is that it’s too short.  There’s a huge amount of English political history in the book, plus a certain amount of social history, plus some nice little titbits about fashions, the growing popularity of knitting and life at court, plus some of the history of France at the time – she doesn’t go into the dissolution of the Templars et al, but she does include the history of the Capetians, as they were Isabella’s family – and that, alongside the development of the characters and their relationships with each other, is a lot to fit into a novel of fewer than 400 pages.  But saying that you wish a book had been longer is surely a great compliment to it.

Incidentally, we don’t see Robert the Bruce, with or without his spider.  I just mentioned that story because I like it!

There’s a fairly recent theory that Edward II escaped to Italy.  We don’t actually know.  It’s not talked about very much.  The Princes in the Tower seem to have cornered the market as far as royal mysteries and conspiracy theories go.  But there is a theory.   On top of that, the term “She-Wolf” wasn’t used about Isabella until Elizabethan times, and it really isn’t clear from the sources from the time whether Isabella and Mortimer were lovers, nor whether Edward and Piers Gaveston were lovers, nor whether Edward and the younger Hugh Despenser were lovers. There’s also the fact that, whilst Edward was probably bisexual, people in the Middle Ages didn’t really identify as straight, gay, bisexual or anything else related to sexuality.  As for Bannockburn (and this book doesn’t actually show Robert the Bruce, with or without a spider), yes, it was a disaster, but Edward II’s reputation’s also suffered from being his sandwiched in between Edward I and Edward III, whose reigns both saw huge military success.  Pretty hard to compete with those two.

This book is generally very, very good.  Yes, it’s sympathetic towards Isabella, and it makes the point (perhaps a little too often) that she was a strong, independent woman,  but it’s not overly biased against Edward.  Someone once said that Charles I was “a very silly man”.  So was Edward II.  He allowed himself to be overly influenced by Gaveston and the Despensers, and, because of that, he became alienated from his wife, from other members of his family, and from the nobility in general.   He was a weak man, with very little common sense and that’s what this book shows.   Isabella is shown not as a “she-wolf” but as an intelligent woman who wasn’t willing to be dominated by men … which, unfortunately, is how some men would define a “she-wolf”.  Does any strong, independent woman risk being labelled a “She-Wolf”?  Maybe not a She-Wolf, but female politicians are inevitably labelled “bossy” and “domineering”.  Isabella’s certainly not shown as being callous and calculating, and I think that that’s fair enough.

There are also various sub-plots.  One involves Agnes, the fictional character mentioned above, and her future husband Gregory.  The main plot only covers the period from 1311 to 1330: Agnes and Gregory, in 1352, tell the reader what happens after that.  Another is the story of the Tour de Nesle affair, which saw her two sisters-in-law and their alleged lovers executed.  And another is the story of the de Clare sisters, who all played prominent roles at Edward II’s court.  And then there’s the romance between the future Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.

Overall, it’s a fascinating book.  The history’s spot on, insofar as it can be – I won’t give away which versions of events Carol McGrath chooses for her book – ,the characters come across well, and there’s a lot going on.  As I said, my one and only real criticism of it is that it needed to be a bit longer.

 

The Player’s Boy and The Players and the Rebels by Antonia Forest

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These two books, set in the final decade of Elizabeth I’s reign, feature Nicholas Marlow, an ancestor of the Marlow family of the Kingscote books, as a young man running away from home and joining a group of theatrical players.  The final chapter shows him going away to sea, which if I recall correctly is mentioned in one of the Kingscote books, but the rest of the story shows him as one of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men – a friend of William Shakespeare, an acquaintance of Walter Raleigh, and an associate of the Earls of Essex and Southampton.

This, of course, is the period of Essex’s Rebellion.  I’m afraid that I’ll always associate it primarily with Essex barging in on Elizabeth before she’d put her make up on, but obviously the fact that he did actually plan to seize control of London and force the Queen to dismiss Cecil was rather more serious than that.  Well, probably.  I hate to be seen with no make up on.   There’s so much focus on the events of the late 1580s, the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and, of course, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, one of the defining moments in English history, that the period from 1588 to 1603 tends to be rather neglected, so it was an interesting idea to set the books at this time.   And it’s rather convenient that Christopher Marlowe’s surname was very close to that of the Marlows, and that Essex’s steward shared the surname of Merrick with the Marlow’s neighbours.

There genuinely was a link between the theatre and the rebellion, and that’s what we see in these books.  The Earl of Southampton was Shakespeare’s patron, and a performance by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men of Shakespeare’s Richard II, showing an anointed monarch being deposed, did cause a fair amount of controversy.

The GGBP editions of these two books have a number of forewords, one of which was written by the late Joy Wotton.  I was fortunate enough to know Joy via Facebook, and to meet her at the Harrogate Book Fair a few years ago.  She was a lovely person, and it was quite poignant for me to read her words.  Hilary Clare’s foreword points out that Antonia Forest got some of the historical details, notably the relations between different social classes, wrong, but that she got the actual course of events spot on.   What we don’t know is where Shakespeare actually was during the 1590s.  I go with the idea that he was at Hoghton Tower – OK, OK, spot the Lancastrian! – but we don’t know, and he may well have been with a group of players.

I can’t say that these are the greatest historical novels that I’ve ever read, and I doubt if I’d have read them had it not been for the Marlow connection, but they’re not bad at all, especially bearing in mind that they were meant for children/young adults; and, as I’ve said, this period of Elizabeth I’s reign tends to be neglected.   Nicholas came across very well, and the lives of real people and fictional people were interwoven pretty much seamlessly.   They also give a fascinating picture of theatrical life at a crucial time in the development of English theatre.  I rather enjoyed them!

Seeking Eden by Ann Turnbull

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This is the sequel to No Shame No Fear  and Forged in the Fire, the final book in the trilogy.  This one takes a different turn, as Will and Susanna and their children emigrate to the newly-established city of Philadelphia, seeking a Quaker Eden, and is narrated by their son Josiah.

Josiah gets what he thinks is a good job, as an apprentice to a merchant from Skipton, falls in love with the merchant’s daughter Katherine and she with him, and thinks he can see a promising future for himself … until they sail to Barbados and he realises that the merchant is involved in the slave trade.  Over the years, people have sought to associate slavery with particular religious groups, in an attempt to discredit them, but the fact is that members of many different religions were involved.  Quakers are probably the one group whom you’d think weren’t; but, in fact, some of them were.  And the way in which the story’s tackled is interesting, and not what you would expect of a 21st century book.

This is a young adult story, and not overly realistic – Josiah and Katherine are horrified when they find that Antony and Patience, two slaves who are lovers and expecting a baby, are to be sold separately when their owner returns to England.  They try to help them to escape, and fail, but, ultimately, Katherine’s dad arranges for the couple to be married, for the baby to stay with Patience, and for Antony to be able to stay with them sometimes.  OK, it *did* happen, but I’m not sure that a book written for adults would have gone with a happy ending.  And Katherine’s dad forgave Josiah and Katherine for helping them to escape, and agreed to give Josiah his job back and let him court Katherine.

It was quite strange, because the author was trying to present a balanced view of things, and doing that is very controversial now.  Some owners were kind.  Many slaves were able to get married, and, even if they didn’t live in the same place, spend time with their spouse.  But it’s difficult to show that, because it suggests some sort of positivity.  The book does show Antony being badly beaten, and makes it clear that their lives are insecure and that he, Patience and their baby could be parted at any time, but there is this happy ending.

And this is the first time that I’ve ever read a book showing Quakers as slaveowners or slave traders – and the author says that she herself was shocked when she found out that it did happen.  Philadelphia wasn’t the Eden that it was meant to be.  And I suppose that’s the whole point of the book – the very difficult paradox of the New World, which was seen as a land of liberty but also being a land of slavery.  That’s something which no-one is able to come to terms with.  And it’s difficult to write about it in a way which isn’t wholly condemnatory: the book never suggests that Katherine’s dad is a bad man, and shows some of the Quaker slaveowners as being decent people, but says that they accept slave trading and slaveholding because it’s the norm there.  That’s very difficult to do, and it’s an interesting choice.  I’m not saying that it’s right, wrong or indifferent, just that it’s an unusual choice in a 21st century book.

This book really wasn’t what I was expecting.  There was a lot to think about.

 

 

 

The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins

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This was a fascinating idea, to write a book with Frances Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell’s youngest daughter, as the protagonist, and show how she went from being the child of a country gentleman, leading a quiet life and expecting to marry a man of, within reason, her own choice, to living at what was a court in all but name, surrounded by political intrigue and facing a marriage arranged for reasons of state.

The title of “Puritan Princess” was a bit of a misnomer and presumably chosen largely because of the alliteration: Puritanism didn’t really come into it, strangely enough.  And I’m with the Victorians, OK.  I do not like Cromwell.  I see him as the man who killed the king.  And banned mince pies.  However, I do accept that that view may be a teensy bit biased, as the book showed.  And it was a very interesting book.  I initially thought it was going to be a disaster, when Fanny/Frances started going on about “empowering” women and “owning” her own story as someone who wasn’t of aristocratic origins – seriously, “empowering” and “owning”, in the 1650s?! – but it did get better!

It was a fascinating story.  As the book said, these were times when no-one knew what the rules were, because there were no precedents.  Cromwell might easily have become king – as, over a century later, George Washington might easily have become king of the new United States.  Was that the best option?   What exactly had the Roundheads been after?   And had that changed, and when, and how?  How would people react?  What was meant to happen?  The book did go into the debates quite deeply, but it was a lot easier to read them all as discussions in amongst the family life of the Cromwells than to wade through Hobbes or Locke.

I’m not sure that I quite got the idea of everyone addressing the Cromwells as “Your Highness”, but the Cromwells are the author’s specialist subject so I assume she must have got that from somewhere.  But they did become a demi royal family of sorts, and, as the book said, there was even talk of marrying Fanny to the future Charles II.  In the end, Fanny was able to marry Robert Rich, the man of her choice, but, sadly, he died only a few months after the wedding.  So, in amongst all the complex politics of the time, we saw Fanny’s happiness and then her grief, and also the ups and downs of her siblings and their spouses, including her brother Richard who took over as Lord Protector after their father’s death, but was soon deposed.

And, at the end, Miranda Malins included the story that, after the Restoration, Cromwell’s daughters took their father’s body away and substituted it for someone else’s, when they heard of the plans to hang, draw and quarter it.  Was that true?  We still don’t know.

We live now in an era in which the lives and loves of Royals are treated as a soap opera, but people, in the social media age, seem to forget that politicians are actually human, and vilify and dehumanise them.  I suppose history has done that with Cromwell – as much as he’d probably prefer to be seen as a soldier rather than as a politician.  Having said that, he always seems to end up near the top of those “100 Greatest English people”/”100 Greatest Britons” lists we get from time to time, which I don’t get at all … but the point is that we don’t really think about what it must have been like for him, and even more so for his family, to go from being fairly obscure country gentlefolk to being at the centre of power.  And then back again!   This book made me think about that for the first time.  After a disappointing start, it really was a good read.

 

Forged in the Fire by Ann Turnbull

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Large gatherings have been banned, places of amusement have been closed, travel restrictions have been imposed, health-related certificates are required in certain circumstances, and anyone in a household where there’s infection is required to isolate.  Some people advocate restrictions, whilst others are concerned about the loss of their liberties.  And there are grave concerns about the effect of it all on the economy.  Not to mention a lot of conspiracy theories.  No, this is not 2020 or 2021: it’s a book written in 2006 about life in London in 1665/1666.  But doesn’t it all sound strangely familiar?

This is the sequel to No Shame, No Fear.  It’s not as good as the first book, but it’s not bad.  Three themes – the persecution of Quakers, Will and Susanna’s romance, and the outbreak of plague – all intermingle.

Will’s gone off to London, to try to find a decent job which will enable him and Susanna to marry.  Going to London to seek your fortune’s a bit cliched, and I’m sure he could have found a job in Shropshire, but anyway!  The persecution of Quakers is continuing and, when he protests against some of his friends being deported, Will is thrown into prison.  Meanwhile, it’s difficult to get post out of London due to concerns about infection.  Panicking about his safety, Susanna goes to London to look for him – but gets the wrong idea when she founds out that he’s moved in with a wealthy man with a beautiful daughter.  (He’s actually working as the man’s librarian.)

I didn’t find this as good as the first book, as I said.  Will explains that Susanna’s got the wrong idea, but each of them refuses to speak to the other, and they both do a lot of sulking, and they come across as two 13-year-olds having strops rather than a couple who’d been on the verge of marriage. Then Susanna suddenly realises she’d got it all wrong when an old letter of Will’s, which has been backwards and forwards in the post for months, turns up, and, hey presto, all is forgiven, and it’s haste to the wedding.

Then the Great Fire breaks out, and there’s a detailed description of the characters’ escape from it.  Interestingly, it also makes a point about the number of books destroyed in the Fire, something which you never really think about.   And it all gets even cornier as Will’s estranged dad is so relieved to find his son alive that he decides he doesn’t mind about him becoming a Quaker and marrying a lower-class girl.  It really is a bit corny, but it’s a young adult book, not an adult book, so maybe I was expecting too much.  And I suppose it’s no cornier than Elizabeth Bennet completely changing her mind about Mr Darcy after reading his letter, or Scarlett O’Hara suddenly realising by Melanie’s deathbed that Rhett Butler’s her true love!   So maybe I’m being a bit too critical – I probably wouldn’t have worried about it being corny if I’d read it when I was 11 or 12.

So, like I said, not as good as the first book, but certainly not bad.

 

No Shame, No Fear by Ann Turnbull

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  This month’s Facebook group reading challenge was to read a “tender teen romance”.  So I read a book about the persecution of Quakers during the early years of the Restoration.  It’s a tender teen romance, OK!  Will is 17 and Susanna is 15.  And it’s very hard to find historical fiction with tender teen romances which *doesn’t* involve someone getting killed in the Great War.

This is a “young adult” book (what used to be called a “book for older children” in my day) so it doesn’t go as deep as a book for adults would, but it’s still very interesting.  We tend to think of the Restoration as being a very positive time, after the repression of Cromwell’s era, but, of course, it wasn’t.  This book’s set in 1662, so we only get part of the Clarendon Code, the big clampdown on Dissenters/Nonconformists, but we get enough of it to see life made very unpleasant for our characters – they’re subjected to assaults in the street from local hooligans, to the authorities invading their homes and businesses, and then to imprisonment even for children.

This *is* a tender teen romance, as I said, set in Shropshire, and we see Will, the son of a well-to-do Anglican family, being attracted both to Quakerism and to Susanna, the daughter of a lower-class Quaker family.  Their romance and Will’s religious conversion take place against the background of oppression and the opposition of his family.  It’s the first book in a trilogy, so it ends with Will going off to London to seek work, but we know that they’re going to get married and live happily ever in the end.

It’s not a pleasant time – and, of course, it’s so ironic that the official view of 17th century England was that it was Catholics who persecuted religious minorities.  Both Britain and America are still fighting the battles of the 17th century, in many ways, and this is how things could be for people before the Glorious Revolution.  It’s worth remembering that.  Having said which, look at some of what went on under Pitt the Younger.  But that’s getting off the point.  This is a very interesting young adult book, and offers a very different perspective on a time which is generally associated with – apart from the Great Plague, which we possibly don’t want to dwell on too much at the moment! – jollity and theatres and Charles II’s love life.  It certainly wasn’t like that for everyone.

 

Royal B***ards: The Rise of the Tudors – Sky History

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  OK, this was interesting.  Kind of the Wars of the Roses meets Shameless (I need a Yorkshire equivalent of Shameless, but can’t think of one).  Apparently, nearly everyone who was involved in the Wars of the Roses spoke in a broad northern accent, spent most of their time getting into brawls in pubs, and swore their heads off.  How stereotypical is that?  They’d never have shown people with Oxford accents getting into pub brawls.  Anyway.  Richard of York, whom I kept expecting to put on a Leeds United shirt over his armour, barged around looking thuggish all the time, even when he wasn’t in the pub, and failed in his attempts to become king because people thought he was … er, too thuggish.  The future Edward IV was also a thug, but apparently he did it in a medieval kingly way, so that was OK.  And they both had the wrong colour hair, which was really annoying.

Margaret Beaufort, who looked about 8, didn’t have a pronounced northern accent and didn’t swear, but still hung around in the pub (well, at some sort of drunken gatherings, anyway).  Marguerite of Anjou did not hang around in the pub, but did swear, a lot, in an ‘Allo ‘Allo-esque French accent, calling everyone “pieces of sheet”.  The only person who sounded like an English aristocrat (OK, accents in the 15th century would have been different to today’s anyway, but we can only go off today’s) was Jasper Tudor –  which was rather odd, given that he was Welsh.

Having said all this, Richard of York and the Earl of Warwick probably *did* have pronounced northern accents.  And probably did swear a lot.

Also, there were no historians.  Instead, we had Philip Glenister, Sophie Rundle and Sheila Atim.

The whole thing was fairly bonkers – but, to be fair, the actual facts in terms of politics and battles (as opposed to Margaret Beaufort being in the pub) were pretty much spot on, and it was good to see the vastly underrated Margaret getting so much attention.  And it was certainly different!!  If we’d been shown this when we were doing history A-level, it would *definitely* have got our attention.  Possibly not quite as much as the Lady Jane film with Cary Elwes as a ridiculously romanticised Guildford Dudley did, but that’s beside the point.  It was actually quite cleverly done – it managed to put a populist twist on events without turning them into a load of nonsense.  Not what I was expecting, but I rather enjoyed it.

 

A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick

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 Yet another superb book from Elizabeth Chadwick, this time about Joanna de Munchensy, granddaughter of William Marshal, and her husband William de Valence, half-brother of Henry III.   I was recently fortunate enough to visit lovely Pembroke Castle, which was closely associated with them in the time of Edward I, but this book’s set during the previous reign.  As I’ve said before, Henry III’s reign tends to be strangely overlooked, and so do the de Valences, although their son Aymer’s name will be well-known to anyone familiar with the reign of Edward II – and anyone who’s read Carol McGrath’s recent The Damask Rose may recognise Joanna’s name from there.

It really is brilliantly written.  The characters just jump off the page.  It’s packed with history, but never in a didactic way; and it’s a wonderful read.

It starts off with Joanna as a young girl in the household of Eleanor of Provence (not, as the family tree at the start of the book proclaims, Eleanor of Provenance.  Very careless proof-reading there!).  Not that much is known about Joanna’s early life, but Elizabeth Chadwick explains in the afterword where she’s made assumptions.   Following the deaths of all her Marshal uncles without heirs, and then the tragic early death of her brother, Joanna unexpectedly becomes a great heiress, and is married off to William, one of the sons of Isabella of Angouleme’s marriage to Hugh de Lusignan.  The book shows the marriage as being very happy, and, as far as we know, it was.

It was one of a series of marriages of Henry’s half-siblings to wealthy heirs and heiresses, and resentment about their influence was one of the reasons why relations between Henry and many of his leading barons, notably his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort, deteriorated, resulting in war.  I think de Montfort’s much better-known these days than he used to be, because of Leicester Poly being renamed after him, but it’s still a period of history which doesn’t attract as much attention as it might.  Everyone’s heard of the Magna Carta, but how many people have heard of the Provisions of Oxford?

De Montfort’s traditionally had quite a positive press as playing a big role along the road to democracy, but I don’t like him.  And Elizabeth Chadwick clearly can’t stand him (or his dad, although de Montfort snr doesn’t appear in this book).  So we do get a fairly one-sided view of events – Henry’s mess-ups in France and Sicily are played down, the Lusignans/de Valences are very much presented as the victims of a smear campaign and xenophobia, and de Montfort comes across as a money-mad, power-hungry tyrant.   That’s an observation, not a criticism 🙂 – no reason that novels shouldn’t be one-sided, as long as they’re not factually inaccurate!   And we see William temporarily forced into exile, and Joanna very resourcefully hiding large amounts of money inside bales of wool as she travelled to join him.

And then, of course, de Montfort gets his come-uppance, and the book ends with the de Valences riding high.

It all comes across so well – the history, the personalities, the personal relationships, the descriptions of court, all of it.   Very, very good book.  Elizabeth Chadwick’s books never disappoint, and this one certainly doesn’t!