Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cecily Neville Mother of Kings by Amy Licence

Publisher: Amberley Books August 19, 2014
Genre: Non-fiction, Cecily Neville, House of York, House of Tudor, House of Neville, House of Lancaster, House of Plantagenet, England, Kings and Queens of England, British History Reading Challenge 2014 
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 272, with 47 color illustrations
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Free copy from Amberley Books in exchange for a review. All reviews are expressed from my own opinion.

Summary:
Cecily Neville was born in May of 1415, at Raby Castle in northeast England. In October of 1415, England and Wales battled the French in the Battle of Agincourt on French soil. Cecily's parents were Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and Joan Beaufort. Cecily had ten half brothers and sisters," and "nine surviving full siblings."Joan Beaufort's parents were John of Gaunt, and Katherine Swynford. John of Gaunt, was the son of Edward III. At the age of fourteen Cecily married Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. It was a dynastic marriage which produced thirteen children, including two sons who became kings of England. Her death in 1495, meant she had survived through most of the 14th century. She had outlived a husband, children, and grandchildren. 
Historical documents are limited pertaining directly to Cecily. A few letters and a household ordinance remain. Amy Licence remarks in the opening page, "Writing a biography of Cecily Neville has been rather like striking a series of matches in the dark. There are moments when she steps forward and claims the historical limelight, when rumours question the paternity of her son Edward, or the moment she learns of his victory following the Battle of Towton. But her voice is muted." Page 9. 

My Thoughts:
I feel Amy Licence, has achieved a well-written book on a historic person in which limited information is documented. By piecing together information about family members in reference to her, and where she was living at the time she delivered another child, which was documented with birth place and date, a path in life for Cecily is exposed. To study her family lineage, wealth, historic events, and places she'd lived, also gave a perspective of her life. Licence has not written a work of fill-in fictional information, but the history of England during this period, with Cecily and her York children being at the center. 
Cecily gave birth to thirteen children. As a mother, the love and protection for her children is most important; however, there is another side of Cecily, decisions she made, alignments and even betrayals which I find shocking. Licence explores this other nature of Cecily, the pivot away from maternal love and to who would be on the throne of England. 
I admire Licence's approach in taking me to a level where I understand the people of the 14th century. From marriage arrangements, to birthing, and child rearing; descriptions and history of London, churches, castles, political acts, and battles.
After reading Cecily Neville Mother of Kings, what I have come to understand the most is the York family. Another way of saying this, is I understand a bit better what made them tick. 
Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York. Husband of Cecily. 
See also: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. 

Author Biography:
Amy Licence is the author of Royal Babies: A History 1066–2013, In Bed With the Tudors: The Sex Lives of a Dynasty from Elizabeth of York to Elizabeth I (‘What really went on in Henry VIII’s bedroom’ The Daily Express), Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen and Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen (‘A fascinating story, well told’ The Good Book Guide), all published by Amberley. She lives in Canterbury. 

Jack of Spies by David Downing

Publisher: Soho Crime May 13, 2014
Genre: Fiction, World War I, British spy
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Free copy from Soho Crime in exchange for a review. All reviews are expressed from my own opinions and feelings.

Book is available @
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Books a Million

Book page at Soho Press.



Summary:
Jack McColl, is a middle age traveling salesman in 1913. His ancestry is Scottish. When the book begins he is in China, stalking German's for information about what they're up to in a possible war in Europe. Jack's "real" job is intelligence for the British government. Intelligence and espionage is in its infancy. Jack's pay for the work is minimal and traveling is lengthy.
Jack of Spies, is the first book in what will be series on the British spy Jack McColl, during the period of time before World War I and during World War I.
Ground work begins in Jack of Spies. What kind of personality Jack has, his talents and abilities, weak points; also, the history of intelligence during this era is explored.
Jack of Spies, gives a panoramic view of the world in 1913-1914. From China to Japan, from the west coast to the east coast of America, England and Ireland, Germany, and Mexico. Significant events from the countries are depicted, for example the uprising and bloodshed in Dublin, Ireland.

My Thoughts:
I love all of the "Station" series written by David Downing. When I found out his new book, Jack of Spies, had been published, I was pronto to read and review it.
When reading the first book in a series, it is important to take in to consideration the first book is a foundation for the future books. It is not a puzzle piece standing alone, but is the first in which several others will then be placed, all bringing about a full and clear image.
I feel Jack of Spies is a splendid first story.
My reasons for a 5 star review.

  • Jack is not a spy compared to what we see on modern film. He is at times floundering, unprepared, anxious, lonely, average. Humanity is shown in his imperfect character. This is a captivating way to lay-out a character, because he is fallible, and thus we are not quite sure he will "make-it."  
  • His friend with benefits is assertive, sensual, prepared, young. In some ways she is the opposite of our hero Jack.
  • A spectrum of the world in 1913-1914. I loved the essence of all that was captured in how people in other countries lived, their fear of war, political unrest in Ireland, availability of newspapers highlighting information available from all pivots of the world, a changing perspective of women in regards to equality and rights.
  • Contrasting views are seen. For example, a young female prostitute in China who is unable to secure a job doing anything else, versus an American woman that is an independent-minded-feminist journalist. 
  • Spy techniques at this time is minimal. A spy wanting information finds someone willing to be paid to "find out what they can". Sometimes those who accept money from you might also be accepting money from the enemy. It's a rag tag game. 

David Downing's page @ Amazon which features his books. 
The Station series by David Downing:
  • Zoo Station (2007) 
  • Silesian Station (2008)
  • Stettin Station (2009)
  • Potsdam Station (2010) 
  • Lehrter Station (2012)
  • Masaryk Station (2013

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Question and Answer with Conn Iggulden Author of Stormbird


Conn Iggulden is the author of two previous series on Julius Caesar and on the Mongol Khans of Central Asia and also the co-author of The Dangerous Book for Boys. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and children.



A Conversation with
Conn Iggulden
Author of
WARS OF THE ROSES: STORMBIRD


  1. Your upcoming novel WARS OF THE ROSES: STORMBIRD focuses on the backstabbing and betrayals of the Wars of the Roses. Can you tell us a little about what drew you to this period?

I spent a long time looking for something worth doing after Genghis and Kublai Khan. I’d been wrapped up in that world for about five years and I wanted to find a story at least as good. I knew I had one more Roman book in me, a period of joyous nostalgia as I went back to the Caesars and so revisited my younger life, when I didn't know the first book would be published. For two years then, I looked. Friends and family suggested subjects, topics, characters. I thought of writing a massive series on the generals of Alexander the Great, after he was dead. They sat in a room and carved up the world. That would be a great first scene. I looked at King Arthur, as I studied all the known texts in university. The trouble with that one was that Bernard Cornwell had produced a superb trilogy on Arthur – too recently for me to think of tackling the subject. I did get as far as writing the first chapter and choosing when it should be set, but oddly enough, I couldn't solve the problem of magic to my satisfaction, not for that subject. Either Merlin is a charlatan, or he could be written with real power that somehow doesn't work today. Neither option appealed, particularly. Historical fiction is very similar to fantasy in some ways – a darker twin, perhaps. I wasn't ready to blur the boundary that far, at least for now.

I considered a number of lives, from birth to death. Yet I’d done that with Genghis Khan. I felt ready for a different challenge. I’d read GRR Martin’s Game of Thrones and over and over I heard they were based on the Wars of the Roses. I looked and yea, the door was opened unto me. I found a story – one that, like Genghis, was known to most and yet not known at all. More, it was an English story, which filled me with both dread and excitement. The history of England has a special place in the culture, in part because every generation delights in believing the previous generation is completely uneducated. Yet the stories are the best in the world, I think, even the ones that have sort of slipped under the carpet over the centuries. Not many people today know James Brooke, the Rajah of Sarawak, for example, or the Victorian, Richard Francis Burton, but their lives are great tales and there are hundreds more. In King Henry VI, I had the perfect tragic figure – the son of Henry V, the greatest warrior king of them all. His son was decent and honorable, too much so for the fifteenth century perhaps. His story is one worth telling, with all those around him, strong and weak, right and wrong.

  1. The worlds you write of are pretty far from the dreary day to day of modern life. Does writing offer escapism for you, and do you try and offer that to your readers?

It’s such a cliche to say one can ‘lose themselves’ in a book, but it’s so instantly recognizable to any reader as well. Escapism suggests there is something worth escaping and of course that could be true. Yet feverishly turning the pages of a good book in the small hours, watching the alarm clock tick, but being completely unable to put the thing down – that’s not a retreat from something, that is a joy, an experience. It’s pouring water into a cracked jug, (at least in my case) as a great deal leaks right back out again, but good characters, good lines stay with me, influencing me.

Writing that has just made me recall a period in my late-teens when I tried to solve moral problems by employing four or five fictional characters as my guides. That sounds a little bit like multiple personality disorder, but it wasn't that at all, at least I don’t think it was. (And neither do I.) If you’d given me a problem then, I might have asked myself how Sherlock Holmes would handle it, Or James Bond – he was one – or one of the incredibly capable characters in the science fiction of Robert Heinlein. I’m not saying it worked – it was a disaster, as it happens, but that’s a story for another day.

  1. How do you go about researching for a historical series like WARS OF THE ROSES: STORMBIRD?

I have to go to places, if at all possible. I like to think it’s not a failure of the imagination, but it probably is. When I knew I was going to write sailing scenes for The Death of Kings, I signed on for a tallship in the Pacific. My older brother was second mate and I learned about taking watches and tying a bowline knot, but I also picked up a thousand sense impressions, from watching dolphins under the bow, to crashing about in a storm, or the smell of damp, or watching the sun come up. I met a Shetland islander there, who was dour and unresponsive, monosyllabic to the point of grunting once or twice a day. Then we caught a fish, three or four foot long, heaved up onto the deck to flop about with extraordinary energy. He took a wooden club and battered it dead, spattering tiny blue scales on the wooden deck. That was interesting, but not the point at all. The point was that for the next hour, he came awake. He talked and laughed and reminisced about his days in Shetland, mending nets with his grandfather. For just a time, he was cheerful and vital – then it seeped out of him once again. I don’t think I could have made that up, not without the actual experience of it. In the presence of death he came alive, or to be blunt, killing something woke some spark in him for just a time. It is my feeling that men like him would be very, very useful in times of war.

That’s research, for me. I ended up with brutal saddle-sores in Mongolia, because I really needed to see the place and experience the smells and sounds and colours of the landscape. Oh, and I read, of course. I read a lot. I hang about the British library and antiquarian bookshops and I collect anything and everything I can find on a subject, the older and more obscure the better. I read as much as I can and I make notes and there comes a time when I’m so filled up, I’m ready to write the first scene. It doesn't stop then, of course. It never stops, while I’m writing a subject. I read, and I read, and I read – and I write.


  1. Much of WARS OF THE ROSES: STORMBIRD is very accurate to the original history. How hard is it to strike a balance between entertainment and believability?

My job as a writer of historical fiction is to show the men and women of the past as real people, rather than names and events, or battles. I choose to believe that ‘entertainment’ comes from bridging that gap, from feeling that Genghis walked and rescued his kidnapped wife in such a way – and there we are, with him, standing at his side, seeing his flaws and his greatness. Lots of things from history are absolutely unbelievable. Is it really true that a Spanish regiment ran from the sound of their own rifle fire while fighting with Wellington in the Peninsular war? Well, yes, it did happen and it is true. Is it true that Julius Caesar was captured by pirates and held for ransom when he was very young? Yes, also true. Entertainment can stretch the bounds of believability, when the truth is sometimes so very strange. I've always included an historical note at the back of books, outlining major changes I might have made to keep a plot going, but mainly just to confirm some of the more extraordinary bits of the real histories.
  1. As this is your first series based in England, how did carrying out your research for this differ from previous series?

I was able to get in my car and drive to the battlefields and castles. The other main difference is that I drove myself absolutely frantic trying to get the details right, much more so than for the Genghis series. I had an excuse there – it was on the other side of the world, for a start. Though I’m half-Irish and half-English, this would be considered my culture – and so mistakes would not be easy to forgive. I suspect I’ll still get emails, of course. Bernard Cornwell once had an email from an ‘archaeological botanist,’ who pointed out that the snowdrops Cornwell had mentioned in a hedge, were not indigenous to Britain and were imported later than the period in which his story was set. That kind of specialist knowledge is difficult to reproduce, when an author is, you know, describing a hedge and chooses to put some snowdrops in the description.

Yet, when I look back at the first Caesar book, The Gates of Rome, I put a character in there who could heal with the touch of his hands. I put in magic, in fact, because if I can’t find it here and now, I want it somewhere.
I did get emails from people insisting Caesar and Brutus were father and son (they weren't) or that Brutus was a nobleman (Plutarch says opinions were divided) and so on, and so on. Not one person mentioned you can’t heal people with your hands. I miss the confidence of that younger writer, sometimes. Yet when a botanist writes to me to point out some plant I included is wrong, I’m sure I shall be very polite.

  1. How do you think the idea of the battle for the throne translates to readers who are living in a time without active monarchs? Do you see any of this alive in modern politics?

I remember wondering once, in an idle moment, what would happen if Prince Charles walked out into St. James’ Park in London and planted the banner of the Prince of Wales and said: “Come to me, if you are loyal.” – or words to that effect. You don’t think anyone would come, as word spread? I think there’d be about a million people standing with him before the end of the day. Sandwiches would definitely be needed. Monarchs may not have real political power any longer, but they still have weight in the minds of the people. There is something powerful there, even if it is only the echoes of history. Beyond that, the ‘Clinton effect’ as it’s sometimes called, or the instant charisma of a position of power is fascinating. Some human beings can lead – they are rare and extraordinary snake-charmers, one and all. The stories they create around them are always worth the price of admission. (Usually £6.99 for a paperback, though often discounted.)

That said though, it is of course true that historical fiction can’t deal with just the rulers. In real life, we are connected to dozens of other people, surviving trials, falling in love, living well and falling ill. No historical fiction book is about the king, not really. Even Genghis would have been a shadow without his parents, his wives and his brothers and sons. It’s all part of a character, of course and lies at the heart of why we read. People are interested in people, even those who claim they’re not. We like stories, because we have an ability, unique in the world, to feel the pain and the triumph of another person. “It is not enough to succeed; others must fail,’ as Gore Vidal said. People are complex, be they kings or chimney sweeps.

  1. A lot of your earlier writing focuses on heroic males. How did you find writing a heroic female from history as your lead character?

Margaret of Anjou isn't the lead in quite the same way that Caesar and Genghis were leads, with everything revolving around them. What I tried to do in WARS OF THE ROSES: STORMBIRD was set up a court, with three or four ‘leads,’ rather than making it the tale of Margaret and Margaret alone. As such, I’ve written dozens of female characters before – and she really is a special one. I’m intrigued by the challenge of representing her growing and changing. After all, she comes to England to be queen at just fifteen years of age. I don’t know what you were like at fifteen, compared to say thirty, but I was very different. From my point of view, it’s a wonderful chance to develop depth – and therefore a step closer to reality – with a character.

Having a central female character in a position of power is interesting, I must say. For reasons that escape me, she’s been treated rather badly by both historians and writers of historical fiction. Her story is tragic, without a doubt, but by God, she fought. She gave her entire life to protect her husband and her son from men like Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. All I have to do is speak well for her. Her story is good enough without any flourishes I might add.

  1. What has been your most interesting discovery whilst researching for this series?

In terms of single events, I’d say it was the Jack Cade rebellion. I think I knew the name, or at least had heard it somewhere, but I didn't know he fought his way across the only bridge into London and successfully breached the Tower. Just a week ago, I was standing next to the London stone in Cannon Street that Cade struck his sword on, that night in 1450. It’s what I always hope to find when I’m reading around the main events of a period: smaller stories that are not well known, but are nonetheless brilliant and interesting episodes in the life of the time. Like the Chinese general defeated by Genghis, who rode from the battlefield and returned to the emperor knowing he would be executed. Instead, he killed the emperor and assumed power himself, in the middle of the Mongol invasion. Moments and events like that are the meat and drink of historical fiction, at least as far as I’m concerned.




  1. Why do you think we are fascinated with the likes of Game of Thrones, The Borgias, and The Tudors TV series?

History is full of good stories and great characters, of course. It’s us, humanity, cheerfully poisoning each other, betraying, loving and stamping down on the fingers of everyone else climbing the ladder. As I've said above, we have the ability to sympathize or empathize with strangers, to come to know them and admire them, or at least forgive their flaws. The separation of centuries has an odd effect on morality as well, as we can tolerate ruthlessness much more easily in a historical character than one set in the modern era.

With the exception of George R.R. Martin, all those series have been cherry-picked from history by writers, delighted at what they found. They have the added joy for those reading or watching them that we come away with a little knowledge of the period and the people involved. I have always relished learning history through historical fiction. It’s the best way to soak it in. In GRRM’s case, of course, he used the same structures and added just a pinch of dragons. That works as well, clearly.

  1. How do you prepare for writing a battle scene? Do you enjoy the violence or find it hard to get through?

I admire the skills, certainly. I've always enjoyed martial arts, though three years of Tae Kwon Do and another three of Judo only heightened my awareness that I am too clumsy to ever be a danger to anyone except myself. As my dad once said when he boxed for the RAF, he quite enjoyed hitting the other fellow, but not so much getting hit himself. That same father saw many of his friends and colleagues die around him in Bomber Command during WWII. He told stories that fascinate me still, with their dark humor at the edge of great pain.

Bernard Cornwell and I met George McDonald Fraser once, shortly before his death. Cornwell said to me that the difference between the three of us was that George had fought in a war, was in fact, such an efficient killer that it became almost like murder, rather than anything resembling a fair contest. As a result, Fraser could handle battle with lightness and humor, whereas Bernard and I, to borrow a phrase from Terry Pratchett, ‘inexplicably forgot the intestines’ at times.
I suppose I do enjoy the mechanics of battles – the difficulties of communication over large areas, for example, or the sheer exhaustion that comes with fighting, more than any other activity. I prepare for it, by visiting the spot if I can, in case there is some hill or river that might not be mentioned in the official accounts, but must have played a part. I read as much as I can find on it, as well as the necessary details of army structure, tactics and weaponry. After that, I focus on the main characters present at the time and write it from their point of view – often with limited understanding, as of course they don’t have the Godlike perspective granted to me.

  1. Who have been your biggest writing inspirations growing up and in your career?

I’m certain every writer would answer this in roughly the same way: when I was a kid, I found certain books absolutely gripping. I found myself caring about certain characters and wanting to know very much what happened next. Over time, I began to want – or to need – to make up stories myself. I learned what worked by reading: scene gaps from Raymond E. Feist’s Magician, for example. I remember being infuriated by the way he did that, but also intrigued. I learned about creating characters from writers like Stephen King, David Gemmell and James Clavell. I began to pick up plot development from Wilbur Smith and Bernard Cornwell as well as a hundred others, a thousand. I soaked it up, often without conscious thought. It’s a kind of magic that readers can care about someone who doesn't exist – though of course historical fiction has the Ace of trumps because the characters did exist, once. All I ever wanted from the world is that it had magic in it, somewhere, some twist of reality that is more than carbon atoms and amino-acids dancing in sterile spirals. The great frustration of my life is that I can’t lay my hands on what I could see so clearly in my imagination – so I damn well had to go out and make some. I just wanted to make, rather than to destroy. Destruction was just too easy.

  1. What does your typical day of writing look like?

Messy, probably. I've learned not to sweat too much when it doesn't come easily. Actually, that’s a complete lie. I drive myself to frantic insanity trying to force it, like a man trying his kid’s shoes on and losing his temper, over and over. I drink a lot of coffee and I smoke far too much, but sometimes it comes easily and I’ll have written three thousand words that please me – that is a good day. I often work at odd hours – it’s 1:36 am as I write this for example. If the kids are knocking around downstairs, I tend to wander down and play with them. That’s why summer holidays should be banned, in my opinion. Or they should be kept in a sound-proofed room during daylight hours.

  1. Is there a book that moved you more than any other?

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome made me laugh out loud until I couldn't stand it. I've read that book many times and it still makes me chuckle. David Gemmell’s endings might have occasionally led to a bit of eye-moisture, the sort of thing a man might experience if he watched his mum jump on a grenade to save his favorite dog, something like that – not hysterical sobbing or anything.

It all comes down to character. If the writer has done his job and the reader really cares about the people, their tragedies strike home. At least for me, tragedy is perfection, the aim of all fiction.

Questions and Answers courtesy of G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons/A Penguin Random House Company July 8, 2014
Genre: Historical fiction, The Wars of the Roses, England, House of Lancaster, House of Neville, House of York, House of Beaufort
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 496
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Free copy from Putnam/Penguin in exchange for a review. All reviews are expressed from my own opinions and feelings.

Another review from Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers. 

Book is available @
Amazon
Barnes and Nobles

Website of Conn Iggulden



Summary:
Stormbird, follows the period of time from the betrothal of Henry VI (1443) to Margaret of Anjou, through to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, becoming Protector and Defender of the Realm (1453).
Conn Iggulden backed up in the prologue to the death of Edward III (1377). His sons and their heirs, were the beginning point for the Wars of the Roses.
Stormbird, portrays the weak, lamb-like Henry VI, and his French bride Margaret of Anjou, who at first is naive and passive, but later became her husbands greatest ally.
William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk, and a fictional character named Derry Brewer, are the strong arm of Henry's throne. Their duty is to protect the king and secure the throne. Margaret depends on them, especially on the Duke of Suffolk. Yet, as she matures she finds her voice and will.
The York family through Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, have their own ambitions. Fate will bring him closer to the throne.
A war in France, and the loss of English land, brought rebellion and revenge to London, England.
Stormbird, is historical fiction at its finest, with courageous men, medieval warfare, medical practices, political power struggles, alliances, betrayals, and sacrifice.

My Thoughts on historical fiction:
I first want to express my feelings on historical fiction. I've read many comments from historical fiction readers who are upset and downright volatile, when it comes to fiction in history. Fiction is a made up story for entertainment. Non-fiction is fact, or is expected to be truth in a book. Historical fiction is a real historical event which has fictional parts. Now, the problem seems to be in how much fiction should be allowed in historical fiction. This is decided by the individual author. When I read historical fiction, I'm not looking for the book to be factual, but entertaining and well-written. It is a book, a fiction book. I do read more non-fiction history books than historical fiction. I am beginning to notice the fictional parts in historical fiction, because I read more non-fiction. I read Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and Encyclopedia Brittanica; also reading several websites and Facebook groups which specialize in British history.
Conn Iggulden, was gracious in adding a chapter at the end of his book, which tells us what changes he made and how he felt about it. I appreciate him and all historical fiction authors who communicate their purpose and mission.

My Thoughts of Stormbird:
A top priority for me when reading a work of fiction is its characters. The characters in Stormbird, are dimensional, evolving, and vivid. The characters have life, they breathe and die in the pages of Stormbird, and I as a voyeur, even felt empathy towards the reprobate.
Conn Iggulden, shows me the London of 1400s, by painting a grim picture which are stories of their own, for example: those people who committed suicide by drowning in the Thames river. The Guild of Surgeons bought these cadavers for their study.
I saw Margaret of Anjou's perspective in the story. Most of the books I'd read of her was in her later years. Stormbird, begins with her as a young teenage girl living in France. She is petite, innocent, and naive to the life before her in England. It is an interesting shift in the story when she "takes" matters in to her own hands.
William de la Pole is a person I have not read about before, a strong interest has developed in wanting to read more about him.
Henry VI, he is so pitiful, he needs to be swaddled in a blanket. His passive weak nature is made more so, by the strong men (many men) in the story. It is an unbalanced view of a weak ruler, against potent men.
The atmosphere of the story is tense, we know the ending, but to watch it unfold is stressful.
While reading Stormbird, I was concurrently reading Cecily Neville (non-fiction) by Amy Licence. Similar characters in both books. The books complemented each other.
Stormbird, begins and ends with blood. I believe there is symbolism in this illustration. Life is in the blood. The lives of the rival families each compete for power and control of England, they give birth and die for their cause.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay

Publisher: Amberley-Books, February 2014
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography
Labels: Eustace Chapuys, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor, Tudor History, England, British History Reading Challenge 2014
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Rating: 5 Stars for Excellent
Source: Free copy from Amberley Books in exchange for a review.

Biography on Eustace Chapuys from History And Other Thoughts.

Reviews and Interviews:
Tudor Book Reviews by the Anne Boleyn Files
On The Tudor Trail
Nerdalicious
Anne Boleyn: From Queen to History
Tudor History

Further information on Eustace Chapuys can be found at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 

Book available @:
Amazon
Barnes and Nobles
The Book Depository

A lengthy book preview from Google. 

Author Lauren Mackay

Summary:
The Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain, and nephew to Katherine of Aragon, was Charles V. He sent Eustace Chapuys, to be an envoy for Katherine of Aragon, during Henry VIII's quest to divorce her. He was also to represent and promote political interests in England. Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, was educated and experienced in civil and canon law, and he had a discerning, winsome, and cunning personality. The previous ambassador had been Inigo de Mendoza. Mendoza's role was short-lived, he had not sought to develop relationships with court officials; further, he had lost his temper, alienating him from communication regarding Katherine. When Chapuys arrived in England, "the Kings Great Matter" was at hand. Henry wished to divorce Katherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Henry's need, albeit an obsession, was to have a son as an heir to the throne. During Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, one daughter Mary Tudor survived. Through letters and dispatches written by Eustace Chapuys, we see his perspectives of: Katherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Cranmer, Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, Anne of Cleves, and Katherine Parr. He arrived at Henry VIII's court in 1529 and he retired in 1545.
Lauren Mackay explains,
"Eustace Chapuys has for too long remained in the shadow of other Tudor personalities. However, he is there, hidden among the footnotes." Page 7.  
Mackay has delivered Eustace Chapuys out from behind historical documents, and brought to life his remarkable and vibrant career at Tudor Court.

My Thoughts:
My first impression while reading Inside the Tudor Court, is the amount of reading and research Lauren Mackay undertook. Secondly, her desire to represent Eustace Chapuys, as more than a mastermind of vicious gossip and verbal abuse aimed at Anne Boleyn. Thirdly, Mackay has left out of the book anything that is not documented.
Mackay reminds the reader to be objective in reading Chapuys dispatches, as they are his perspective. He was sent on a mission by Charles V to be a source of comfort, wisdom, spokesperson and adviser for Katherine and later Mary. It should be expected that he would not like Anne Boleyn. It is to be expected his dispatches to Charles V would be as honest and reliable as possible. His perspective is made from his personal feelings, personality, culture, knowledge of the situation, education, and religious background. We too have a perspective of any given situation, and it may or may not be the same as others who have witnessed the same event.
The preface is an important chapter that should not be missed. Mackay brings several points forward in the validity of Chapuys dispatches, how historians have handled him, and a solid amount of critical thinking which brightens up any dour belief that Chapuys is not a valuable resource of Tudor Court.

Jewels in the book:
1. Katherine of Aragon's interrogation late at night by a posse of Henry's men.
2. "Anne's downfall", is covered in detail, of course through the eyes of Eustace Chapuys.
3. Henry's temper tantrum.
4. The differences in how Katherine "handled" Henry and how Anne "handled" Henry.
5. Chapuys view of Thomas Cromwell. A dissecting of Cromwell's personality.
6. Jane Seymour as a peacemaker among Henry's family.
7. A compassionate Katherine Parr and Mary Tudor at Chapuys retirement and leave from England.

What I like about Eustace Chapuys:
1. He survived Tudor Court. Some of his proteges did not survive.
2. He was a generally likable person.
3. Wise in how to act and interact with people.
4. Intelligent and savvy.
5. A man of courage.
What I disliked about Eustace Chapuys:
1. He was disrespectful to little Elizabeth. He may have only called her "the little bastard" a few times, but once is too much.

Quotes I loved:
"Cromwell on the other hand would persuade Henry to adopt a different and revolutionary path: force the English Church and Parliament to acknowledge the king as the supreme religious power in the land, the head of the Church in England, in which Rome held no sway." Page 46. 
"In a sense, it is through the detailed reports and fragments collected by Chapuys over the seven years he knew her that Anne emerges as a more complex, paradoxical and, most importantly, human and fallible figure." Page 82.