First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson

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“First of the Tudors” is a novel about Jasper Tudor. I assume that the title is meant to refer to the early Tudors in general, though.  My history A-level teacher always used to refer to Jasper Tudor as “Uncle Jasper”, in the same way that tennis commentators always refer to Toni Nadal as “Uncle Toni”; and that says a lot about how history sees Jasper.  First and foremost, he’s known as Henry VII’s uncle.  His wider role in the Wars of the Roses, before anyone could have seriously imagined that Henry would one day become king, tends to be overlooked.  So it’s nice to see a book focusing on Jasper from the early 1440s to the early 1470s.

In this book, Jasper has a mistress, by whom he has several children. Jane Hywel, the mistress, was actually a real person – the future Henry VII’s governess and – but there’s never been any suggestion that the real Jane was Jasper’s mistress, although it’s known that Jasper had at least one, and maybe two illegitimate daughters.  So a lot of this book is pure fiction, but, to be fair, the author explains that; and the fictional characters fit in with the real historical characters and the real historical events.  There’s also a sister, brought up in London by adoptive parents – although I’m not quite sure why Joanna Hickson invented her, because she doesn’t really play much part in the story.

Nearly everybody is really good fun in this book! Margaret Beaufort, usually seen as overly-religious and overly-disciplined, appears as a lively young girl who’s genuinely keen on Edmund Tudor.  The future Henry VII, who, however admirable as a king, never comes across as being particularly likeable, comes across as a very nice lad.  Margaret of Anjou, who usually – and unfairly – gets a very bad press, isn’t bad at all, and her horrible son Edouard comes across quite well too.  Henry VI, who’s usually dismissed as being too out of it to do anything, gets plenty to say.  Owen Tudor, who usually gets portrayed as a rather dreamy, romantic figure, is an old rogue with a twinkle in his eye and a fondness for the ladies.  The only person who is shown as being a real baddie is the Earl of Warwick, and he deserves to be shown as a real baddie!

There’s a lot in this book that’s fictitious rather than being historically accurate, but there’s very little in it that’s not historically accurate.  And, whilst the portrayal of the characters might be open to question, personalities, unlike facts, are open to interpretation, and I rather like Joanna Hickson’s.  It all makes for a rather entertaining read about a character whose important role in important events is rarely given the credit that it should be.

The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney

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Word Press“The Chosen Queen” of the title is Edyth of Mercia, Queen of Wales, Queen of England, granddaughter of the famous Lady Godiva and sister of the earls Edwin and Morcar.  After her father was exiled by Edward the Confessor, on charges of treason, Edyth’s family took shelter in Wales, where she married Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, the only man who can really claim to have been king of the whole of an independent Wales.  Gruffydd was killed in 1063 or 1064, in a dispute between his own men during an invasion of Wales by Harold Godwinson, and Edyth subsequently married Harold and became Queen of England.  Unfortunately, it’s not clear what happened to her after the Battle of Hastings, which is presumably why the book ends shortly after that point, or how many children she had.

Harold’s “handfasted” wife, Edith Swan Neck, is a much better-known figure, and she also features in the book.  However, she’s renamed “Lady Svana”.  I can see that having two major characters with the same first name might have got confusing, but surely one could have been referred to as “Edith” or “Edyth” and one as “Ealdgyth”?  Oh well.  Changing that name is understandable, but I found it ridiculously patronising that a lot of Anglo-Saxon names were changed to modern English names – for example, “Morcar” becoming “Marc” – because the author thought that readers wouldn’t be able to cope with Anglo-Saxon names such as Morcar and Gytha.  Talk about dumbing down!

It was all quite Mills and Boon-ish, as well.  A lot of heaving bosoms!  And a main element of the plot was the idea that Edyth and “Svana” were close friends, that Svana was absolutely fine about Edyth marrying Harold, and that both of them loved Harold and he loved both of them.  All a bit too Mills and Boon-ish”!  William the Conqueror is presented as a definite baddie, as is Tostig, Harold’s infamous brother who allied with Harald Hardrada and fought against Harold, Edwin and Morcar at Stamford Bridge.

So it’s not the most intellectually challenging of books, but it’s still an interesting read.  Everyone knows about Harold and William and the Battle of Hastings, but the other prominent personalities, and even the other events, of 1066 and the period leading up it aren’t nearly as well-known.  I’m surprised that, despite the efforts of English Heritage, more hasn’t been done to mark the recent 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, and it was nice to be able to read this book at this time.  It’s the first in a trilogy about the wives of the three men (Harold, Harald Hardrada, and William) vying to become King of England after the death of Edward the Confessor, and I’ll be getting the second once a cheap copy comes up on Amazon!