Book Review: “Jasper Tudor: Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty” by Debra Bayani


Jasper Tudor was the half-brother of King Henry VI of England and the uncle of King Henry VII. For his entire life, he was loyal to the Lancastrian cause during the Wars of the Roses. His support of his nephew was pivotal in the emergence of the Tudor dynasty. Before now there has not been a comprehensive biography of this enigmatic figure.

Debra Bayani had an incredible journey researching and writing this book. She says in the preface she learned about Jasper while reading an historical novel and was amazed to learn there had been no biography written about him. She immediately began doing research, traveling to Wales to find sources. She says it was not her intention to write his definitive biography but I think she has come pretty close.

It is clear in reading Bayani’s work she has gone to incredible lengths to get as much information as possible. There is great detail on the estates and incomes Jasper was rewarded for his loyalty to the Lancastrian kings as well as his whereabouts and travels. The wheel of fortune had wild turns for him as it did for many noblemen during the Wars of the Roses. For all intents and purposes, he acted as father to Henry Tudor who lost his biological father before he was born.

Of particular interest to me was the information on Jasper and Henry’s exile in Brittany and France and their efforts to raise troops and funds to invade England in an attempt to take the throne. Bayani gives us lots of particulars on this crucial mission. Jasper was amply rewarded for his support after the Battle of Bosworth. This book is filled with numerous pictures of places related to Jasper’s life. The author has also included an appendix section of many Welsh poems related to Jasper. In my opinion Bayani has done a terrific job writing this book and I highly recommend it for lovers of Tudor history.

Book Review: “Lancastrians, Yorkists and Henry VII” by S.B. Chrimes

Chrimes Lancastrian book cover

Upon the recommendation of a respected history friend, I purchased a used copy of this book. In my pursuit to learn more and understand the Wars of the Roses, it appeared this would be a valuable read. It is easy to get confused among all the descendants of King Edward III and the possible contenders for the English throne in the fifteenth century. I also had enjoyed Chrimes biography of King Henry VII.

My friend was right, this is an excellent book. In the forward, Chrimes tells us the origins of the term “Wars of the Roses” and how it didn’t come into being until the eighteenth century. He swears he will not use the term in the course of the book and he keeps his promise. The only thing I’m wondering is what, if anything, the people of the time period called the conflict. This question is not answered.

Chrimes begins with the children of King Edward III and traces the roots of the family feud to John of Gaunt’s son Henry of Bolingbroke’s usurpation of the throne from his cousin King Richard II. This was the beginning of the Lancastrian dynasty which lasted until the deposition and eventually the death of King Henry VI in 1471. The first section of the book describes the Lancastrian dynasty, how it came into being and how it ends. The second section of the book tells us about the rise of the Yorkists. He goes into great detail about the reign of King Edward IV and how he reestablished a strong working government after the lapses of the Lancastrian kings.

After the sudden death of King Edward, the House of York divided itself with Richard III usurping the throne from his nephew. Chrimes’ point of view is that Richard started out strongly but after the death of his heir, Prince Edward, followed by the death of his wife, Anne Neville, things began to unravel. It was too soon after Richard took over and some Yorkists defected to Henry Tudor. Henry was an unlikely heir assumptive to the throne, having only a weak at best claim and no experience in government or military matters. Richard should have won the Battle of Bosworth but there was no controlling the behavior of the Stanley’s or Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.

It was clear the powers that be were tired of the civil strife. Henry Tudor’s oath to marry Elizabeth of York promised peace. Chrimes is very complimentary of Henry Tudor’s grasp of governing and stresses how he kept in place the Yorkist administration, exploiting and expanding on it. The book includes many pictures from illuminated manuscripts of the central characters and my copy has a family tree of Edward III and a map of England with areas marked for Lancastrians and Yorkists. The entire panoply of characters are presented here in a concise retelling of the history. Chrimes is fair-minded and even-handed, not taking sides or judging and all of this is done with an amiable and kindly sense of humor. I was sorry the book ended and will likely use it for reference in the future.

Book Review: “Henry VII” by S.B. Chrimes

Henry VII Chrimes book cover

As historians, we are lucky to have a selection of biographies on English kings published by the Yale University Press called “The English Monarchs Series”. For over thirty years, the biographies, written by eminently qualified historians, have given us the latest research on these important figures in history. S.B. Chrimes, born in 1907, was head of the department of history at University College, Cardiff, the University of Wales, from 1953 to 1974. This biography of Henry Tudor was first published in Britain in 1972 by a British publisher. A paperback edition was issued in 1977 and Yale University Press published their edition in 1999 with a new forward by George Bernard, reader in Tudor history at the University of Southampton.

Bernard’s forward essentially updates the research done by Chrimes since the original publishing of the work in 1972. For the most part he states the work is still valid with a few revisions based on new research. The earliest works on Henry were from James Gairdner and Wilhelm Busch from the 1890’s so Henry was definitely due for a fresher look. Chrimes is quick to point out the biography of Henry VII’s life from Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) should be taken with a grain of salt and refutes several of Bacon’s arguments.

Part one of this book gives us an overview of Henry’s life up to the Battle of Bosworth in August of 1485. This is followed by a chapter on his accession, coronation, marriage and family. Next he covers the issue of security which Henry dealt with for the rest of his reign. Chrimes recounts the uprisings and pretenders who haunted Henry for many years. This section of the book is very interesting.

The rest of the book gives us many details on Henry’s reign based on meticulous research by Chrimes and others. Part two of the book is entitled “The Personnel and Machinery of Government” with sections on the King Council, Seals and Secretariats, Financial Administration, Parliaments and Great Councils and Judicature. While this section is very informative, some may find the material dry and uninteresting. If you are a Tudor historian, you will learn a lot about the workings of early Tudor government.

Part three is entitled “Statecraft”. This section deals with law-making, law enforcement, fiscal and financial policy, economic and social policy, relations with the church, Henry’s policies toward Wales and Ireland and his handling of foreign policies. Again, some of this information may appear dry but I found the chapters on Wales and Ireland and Henry’s foreign policy to be very appealing. It was especially interesting to read about how Henry made overtures to find a wife after his queen, Elizabeth of York died in 1503 and how this impacted his foreign policy. For most of his reign he lobbied for a diplomatic and trade alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor and sought to marry Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy and Regent of the Netherlands. Ultimately, Margaret refused to marry him.

Chrimes addresses the viewpoints that Henry was rapacious and miserly. He basically argues yes and no to both. One item of interest is he refutes Francis Bacon’s statement that when Henry died he left a fortune of two million pounds. He says this isn’t true and that most of what remained in the treasury was precious items and jewels, Henry’s favorite investments. There is a diverse selection of appendixes in the book and a myriad of great photos. There is a valuable bibliography and a nice selection of family trees as well. This book is an excellent and reliable overview of King Henry VII’s life and reign and I highly recommend it to lovers of Tudor history.

Book Review: “The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy 1491-1499” by Ian Arthurson

perkin warbeck book cover

In the course of doing some research on Lady Katherine Gordon, the Scottish noblewoman who married Perkin Warbeck, the pretender to the English throne, I came across a reference to “The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy 1491-1499” by Ian Arthurson. I was very lucky a book seller in close-by Colorado Springs had a used copy of the book and received it quickly in the mail. While I knew the basic story of Warbeck, I certainly wasn’t versed in all the details.

Arthurson has done considerable and impeccable research on this subject and written books and articles about it. The book begins with Warbeck’s confession which is certainly unsatisfactory but Arthurson says it appears to be sincere and shouldn’t be doubted. While it is far from the complete story of what occurred, it is very telling. Arthurson continues by filling in the gaps of the confession, beginning with Warbeck’s origins in the city of Tournai in what is now Belgium.

In the nineteenth century, James Gairdner found information in the Tournai archives about Warbeck, his parentage and his family. Warbeck clearly was not a Plantagenet. Arthurson includes the family tree of the Werbecques of Tournai. Perkin’s grandfather Diercq was a boat builder and Perkin’s father Jehan was a pilot. The family was entrepreneurs who held town offices and even higher posts; they associated with princely courts and were well educated. Perkin was not the son of a lowly boatman but from the governing classes of Tournai (guilds).

Warbeck left home when he was relatively young, becoming a merchants assistant. This allowed him to travel very far, associating with many people and princes. He spent a considerable amount of time at the court of the Portuguese king. Later, he was taken to Ireland by his Breton master Pregent Meno. This is where the origins of the pretender conspiracy begin.

The Irish has accepted an earlier pretender named Lambert Simnel in an attempt to dethrone the new Tudor (Lancaster) king of England, Henry VII. In 1487, Simnel had actually been crowned at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin as King Edward VI. So Ireland was ripe with conspiracies. While Warbeck was in Ireland, he was mistaken for the young Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence and brother of King Edward IV. Warbeck denied he was Warwick. Some people said Warbeck was an illegitimate son of King Richard III. Again Warbeck denied this. Eventually, it was decided Warbeck was Richard, Duke of York, second son of King Edward IV, who supposedly was murdered in the Tower of London. Warbeck denied this too but eventually was persuaded to go along. There was rebellion in Ireland in York’s name with Warbeck as the focus. Due to ineptitude and a lack of funds, it took some time to quell this rebellion but eventually it died down.

Warbeck made his way to France where he was in March 1492 when King Henry VII attacked France. Warbeck was forced to flee, going to the court of Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy. Margaret would have been Richard, Duke of York’s aunt. Margaret took up Warbeck’s cause and he was even accepted as the real Duke of York by Maximillian I, Holy Roman Emperor. All of this plays into the politics and diplomacy of the time. Arthurson goes on to explain the players in the Warbeck conspiracy, the battles, who funded him, who supported him, who raised troops and supplied ships, who was executed because of the rebellions and who was pardoned. Arthurson is fair and honest in his assessment of all the players from the kings and emperors all the way down to the lowliest conspirator.

Arthurson cites all the sources from the era, fiction and non-fiction. He is very convincing in his assessment of Perkin Warbeck as a supreme actor. He must have been to carry out this persona for eight years. Whether those who supported him believed him to be Richard, Duke of York is immaterial as the rebellions and conspiracies happened anyway. Warbeck was able to carry off his role of pretender with incomparable ability and ease. This book reads like a detective story and I enjoyed it very much. If you want to know the truth about Perkin Warbeck, this is the book.

Book Review: Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy License

Elizabeth of York book cover

Because of the TV show “The Tudors” which aired recently, there had been an increased interest in this fascinating dynasty of English kings. Consequently, there has been an upsurge in the number of books written on the dynasty itself, as well as the many historical figures from the era. While it has been common knowledge among historians that there is very little detailed information on the life of Elizabeth of York, mother of King Henry VIII, this hasn’t stopped a couple of authors from writing biographies of her.

Alison Weir recently released her biography “Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World” and Amy License also penned a work on her life. License is prolific and popular writer of books, articles and blog posts about women’s and children’s issues in Tudor and medieval England. She also has appeared on television and radio in England talking about these topics.

Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen unfortunately has very little information about Elizabeth herself. However, License’s style is unique in that she views her subjects from a family and feminist perspective. There is a lot of information and detail about how women lived during this era. There is some good information on Elizabeth’s mother Elizabeth Wydeville. I learned Elizabeth of York enjoyed a very close knit family, seeing her parents often and having very loving relationships with her siblings. License also has good explanations for the politics of the War of the Roses and how Elizabeth’s husband Henry Tudor dealt with the myriad of pretenders to his throne.

So while there is not as much detailed information about Elizabeth in License’s book as there is in Weir’s, it is still a worthwhile read because of License’s distinctive feminist point of view and there are also some great pictures in the book. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Tudor women.

Book Review: Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton

Margaret Beaufort book cover

I had heard all the usual things about Margaret Beaufort. She was married very young, had a child and was never able to conceive again, connived and conspired to put her son Henry on the throne of England and she was the mother-in-law from hell. I had no idea if any of this was true or not and wanted to learn more. When I heard Elizabeth Norton had written a biography of Margaret, I ordered my copy and settled down to read it.

Norton’s writing style is very linear and chronological. It really made reading the book flow. And to my surprise, I found Margaret to be a very sympathetic character. Her early childhood was marred by the apparent suicide of her father but she was sincerely close to her mother and her step-sisters and brothers. She received a more than adequate education, unusual at the time for a woman. Margaret’s value as an heiress and good match was recognized early. Margaret was contracted to marry at the age of nine but this marriage was never consummated and was eventually annulled.

Margaret was associated with the House of Lancaster but managed to negotiate the landmine that was the War of the Roses very adeptly. King Henry VI gave Margaret to his half-brother Edmund Tudor in marriage and it was with him she had her son Henry to whom she devoted her entire life. When Edmund died young, Margaret was astute enough to find another husband and protector. She was forced to marry again when her third husband died after suffering wounds in battle. During all the ups and downs of the different kings on the throne between Lancaster and York, Margaret was flexible and agreeable and managed to carry on with her comfortable life until Richard III took the throne.

Margaret was certainly guilty of conspiring to elevate her son to the throne. At one point she was attainted by the government, lost all her wealth and land holdings and suffered house arrest. But her fourth husband Thomas, Lord Stanley, allowed her to continue to communicate with her son who was in France. Eventually Henry Tudor was successful in bringing forces to England and winning the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Margaret was now able to live her life as a free and independent woman and greatly enjoyed a high position at court. She was also a generous supporter of charity and university education.

And perhaps she wasn’t the mother-in-law from hell after all. The evidence from this book and from other biographies of Margaret’s daughter-in-law, Elizabeth of York all suggest the women probably got along quite well. That’s not to say they didn’t disagree on occasion. But there appears to have been some family unity. Norton has certainly done her research and her writing style makes this an informative and pleasant read. Norton also includes a transcription of all the surviving letters written by Margaret herself. I enjoyed the book very much and came to admire Margaret Beaufort as the formidable survivor that she was.

Review: “Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World” by Alison Weir

Portrait of Elizabeth of York

Portrait of Elizabeth of York

When I heard that Alison Weir was writing a biography of Elizabeth of York, I eagerly awaited its release. Having been a long time reader of Weir’s non-fiction works and knowing very little about Elizabeth of York made this book highly anticipated. And I was not disappointed!

Elizabeth of York has very much been an enigma to historians. While we still don’t know what her personality was really like, this book shines a bright spotlight on her. It starts out by explaining the circumstances into which Elizabeth was born as the eldest child of King Edward IV. The War of the Roses had been ongoing for about ten years at the time of her birth. Weir tells us of the family dynamics and how the throne of England vacillated back and forth between the members of the Houses of Lancaster and York. When Elizabeth was fairly young, her father was forced to flee the country and Elizabeth, her mother and her sisters sought refuge in sanctuary. Edward eventually came back and had a fairly peaceful reign until his unexpected death in 1483.

Elizabeth and her family’s life was thrown into turmoil as her uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, declared her and her brothers and sisters illegitimate. He set aside Elizabeth’s brother King Edward V and took the throne as king. Her mother took her family into sanctuary once again and both of Elizabeth’s brothers disappeared in the Tower of London, making Elizabeth her father’s heir. It was a very tense time. The plotting and scheming on the part of King Richard III, Elizabeth and her mother and Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry Tudor is explained in great detail by Weir.

Once Henry Tudor won the Battle of Bosworth in August of 1485 and gained the throne of England by right of conquest, he married Elizabeth. Weir explains that Henry wanted to make it clear he had won the throne and wasn’t relying so much on Elizabeth’s position as her father’s heir to legitimize his conquest. Perhaps this is why we don’t know as much about Elizabeth as we would like. Whether it was at her husband’s bequest or her own wish or both to remain in the background, we will never know.

Weir gives us a detailed account of Elizabeth’s life as queen, almost on a day-to-day basis. She tells us how Elizabeth spent her time and her money, who gave her gifts, the birth of her children and the status of her health. She has some great insights into Elizabeth’s relationship with her husband and her children. I found this to be quite fascinating. The book gives us great insight into life in the early Tudor court. It is meticulously researched and highly footnoted and has a very long list of sources. Weir has obviously done her research and is at the height of her writing powers. A thoroughly enjoyable read!