Book Review: “A Queen of Unrest” by Harry Tighe

A Queen of Unrest book cover

This book is subtitled: “The story of Juana of Castile, mother of Charles V., born 1479, died 1555” and is a reprint of a 1905 edition that was in the library of the University of Michigan. I’ve mentioned before I enjoy reading older history books and we are lucky some publishers are reprinting some of them or publishing them digitally so we can read them. In doing research on Juana, I found this book completely by accident as it came up as a recommendation on Barnes and Noble.

I’m just going to disclose up front I found this book to be a very weird. I can’t seem to find much information about the author but from what I did find, he was a playwright and a novelist. He may have written other historical books but it’s hard to determine the subjects of some of his titles as there is no information listed about them. This volume is a curious mixture of historical biography and descriptions of historical events mixed with elements of fiction. His list of sources is not very detailed and includes the “Encyclopedia Britannica” and ‘A Spanish book entitled “Juana of Castile”’ with no author given. This is not very promising.

From the early chapters, he says Juana was sickly, unattractive and not very bright. And he fervently insists that she was insane! From what I’ve read so far, Juana was at the very least attractive if not beautiful. I can’t see Philip the Handsome being instantly sexually drawn to a woman who was considered ugly. I also find it hard to believe a sickly woman gave birth to five healthy children. She was highly educated and spoke and read Latin so she must have had at the very least a modest intellect. As for her being insane, the jury is still out on that one.

Tighe gives a nice description of Juana’s childhood in Castile. He doesn’t waste much time on her life in Burgundy. There is some good information on her tours of Spain to be recognized by the Cortes as her mother and father’s successor. He spends a lot of time on Philip. There is a large chapter with a complete description of Philip’s visit with King Henry VII at Windsor which is a reprint of a chronicler’s record of the event. While this is of great interest, it doesn’t really have much to do with Juana. He only gives a passing reference to the fact that Juana was imprisoned for most of her life.

There is no explanation for the origin of the title of the book. It is unclear if he means that Juana was full of unrest or her kingdom was in disarray or a combination of both. The book is very short at 228 pages so I’m afraid there is not a lot of detailed and useful information on Juana. She is a woman about whom volumes could be written. That being said, I did get one huge insight from reading this book. Some of the descriptions of Juana’s behavior reminded me of a family member who suffered from depression. This has given me a great deal of food for thought and I’m going to do some further research on this illness.

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

Jaspertudorbookcover

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: “Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England” by Thomas Penn

Winter King book cover

I have to start off by saying Thomas Penn has written a rip roaring biography here. It is certainly easy to see how this book won the 2012 H.W. Fisher Best First Biography prize. If you are looking for an in depth survey of the reign of Henry VII, this is your answer.

Penn begins by reminding us how Henry’s reign is overlooked by many historians because of the notoriety of his son Henry VIII and grand-daughter Elizabeth I. He likens the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign to a metaphorical spring, a second coming of sorts because Henry VIII seemed to be the opposite of his father. This is why he named the book the “Winter King”.

Henry VII had a dubious claim to the throne of England based on ancestry alone. He had spent most of his early years in exile on the continent and essentially had no thought or chance of becoming King of England. But when dissent in England reared its head during the reign of Richard III, Henry’s horizon opened up to possibilities. Disenchanted nobles gathered by his side and an invasion was planned, executed and carried forth with worthy results for Henry. This part of the story is genuinely exceptional. After his victory at Bosworth Field, Henry married Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York. Almost immediately she gave birth to a son, Arthur, and the Tudor dynasty was on its way to establishing its splendid reputation in history.

After Henry quelled a few rebellions and crushed the hopes of a few imposters to the throne, the reign became relatively quiet. But in 1501-2, Henry’s heir Prince Arthur and then his wife died. It was a time of crisis for Henry. All his hopes were placed in his second son, Prince Henry. This was when Henry became physically ill with the tuberculosis which would eventually be fatal. His paranoia became even more evident. He was cautious and secretive and began resorting to extra-judicial measures. He found men to carry out his rare and extraordinary methods for collecting money and keeping people under control.

Penn is masterful in setting the scene here. He tells us about the men Henry relied on. He talks about secret plots and behind the scenes diplomatic maneuvers. He gives us great insight into the personality of Henry and what his motives were. There are delicious descriptions of visits of ambassadors, Elizabeth of York’s funeral, the entry of Catherine of Aragon into London and her wedding to Arthur Tudor. Really the entire panoply of Henry’s reign is described in great detail.

For me, the best chapters are in the last third of the book. After the death of Arthur and Elizabeth, King Henry brings Prince Henry to court to give him every advantage and to make clear the hopes of the dynasty rested on his shoulders. The education of Prince Henry as well as a great awareness of how he spent his leisure time is recounted. Prince Henry was closely guarded by his father and not allowed much leeway in his behavior. But the descriptions of him and his pals and their military training and jousting antics are really fun to read about.

I found that reading S.B. Chrimes biography of Henry first laid the foundation for a better understanding of Penn’s book so I would recommend that course of action. But it’s not totally necessary. For me the book seemed to start off a little slow, however it certainly picks up after a few chapters and begins to read more like an enjoyable historical fiction book. Only it’s not fiction! Really I can’t recommend this book enough if you are interested in the Tudor era and this overlooked king.

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.