HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves” by Heather R. Darsie

Anna was the ‘last woman standing’ of Henry VIII’s wives ‒ and the only one buried in Westminster Abbey. How did she manage it?

Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ looks at Anna from a new perspective, as a woman from the Holy Roman Empire and not as a woman living almost by accident in England. Starting with what Anna’s life as a child and young woman was like, the author describes the climate of the Cleves court, and the achievements of Anna’s siblings. It looks at the political issues on the Continent that transformed Anna’s native land of Cleves ‒ notably the court of Anna’s brother-in-law, and its influence on Lutheranism ‒ and Anna’s blighted marriage. Finally, Heather Darsie explores ways in which Anna influenced her step-daughters Elizabeth and Mary, and the evidence of their good relationships with her.

Was the Duchess Anna in fact a political refugee, supported by Henry VIII? Was she a role model for Elizabeth I? Why was the marriage doomed from the outset? By returning to the primary sources and visiting archives and museums all over Europe (the author is fluent in German, and proficient in French and Spanish) a very different figure emerges to the ‘Flanders Mare’.

Cover and blurb via Amberley

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There is a piece of fiction out right now, which suggests that Henry VIII was right, Anna of Cleves was no virgin. I will not be reviewing that work, as I only publish five-star reviews, and leave the rest in privacy. Instead, I am here to show you THE book on Anna of Cleves, a piece of written beauty.

Anna of Cleves starts out with a look at Anna’s childhood, her family, its history, and life in Germany at the time. The book has researched German life and child-rearing for those in Anna’s rich position. No music, dancing and sewing days for Anna – girls were taught by women to learn finance, in order to run a home worth of a duchy. Yes, Anna could sew, with her fine embroidery and needlework on clothing, but could also read, write, understand money and German customs, values and politics. While all that is great, Anna learnt a German way of life, and the German language, one of her original problems in England.

The book tells us of Anna’s early life, rather than only focusing on her once she was purchased as a queen. The Cleves Court was an intriguing place, with a wholly different look at politics and customs of the time period. Without giving away spoilers, the stark difference between Germany and England shows just how much Anna had to go through upon her marriage and carefully negotiated life.

Germany, of course, was in the process of the Reformation, leaning Protestant, just how my personal beloved Thomas Cromwell wanted for England. Between the changes of Germany and the power still held by the Holy Roman Empire at the time, Anna marrying into England would have massive repercussions, and as someone who had to write the death of Thomas Cromwell, the book was an immense eye-opener on how Anna of Cleves’ marriage brought down England’s greatest minister of all time.  The situation was never as simple as Henry thinking Anna was ugly. No spoilers, but damn!!!

Anna of Cleves is an extraordinary woman. She managed to survive an annulment from Henry after only a few months (and didn’t have to sleep with him), and became the king’s ‘sister.’ Anna made friends with the grandest of women in England, Henry’s daughters Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth, and also the exciting Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk. Anna managed all this in England, living a longer life than any other Henry wife, but never had to let go of who she was.  It has been a long time since I found a book with so much new information; we just needed to wait for Darsie to deliver such brilliance. History has relegated Anna to a role of being the ugly foreign wife Cromwell brought to England. A woman so repulsive Henry became impotent (though, come on, none of us ever believed that was her fault). A woman married for an alliance not wanted or needed, and disposed of for a pretty teenager. Anna was beautiful, educated, kind, clever and resourceful. Thank you for this wonderful book!

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HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me” by Matthew Lewis

King Richard III remains one of the most controversial figures in British history. Matthew Lewis’s new biography aims to become a definitive account by exploring what is known of his childhood and the impacts it had on his personality and view of the world. He would be cast into insecurity and exile only to become a royal prince before his tenth birthday.

As Richard spends his teenage years under the watchful gaze of his older brother, Edward IV, he is eventually placed in the household of their cousin, the Earl of Warwick, remembered as the Kingmaker; but as the relationship between a king and his most influential magnate breaks down, Richard is compelled to make a choice when the House of York fractures. After another period in exile, Richard returns to become the most powerful nobleman in England. The work he involves himself in during the years that follow demonstrates a drive and commitment but also a dangerous naïveté. 

When crisis hits in 1483, it is to Richard that his older brother turns on his death-bed. The events of 1483 remain contentious and hotly debated, but by understanding the Richard who began that year, it will become clearer what drove some of his actions and decisions. Returning to primary sources and considering the evidence available, this new life undoes the myths and presents a real man living in tumultuous times.

cover and blurb via Amberley Publishing

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I have to be honest, I am very much Ricardian. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Richard III get vilified by Shakespeare (well, by 21st century actors, anyway) and barely contain my rage.  I don’t think Richard is perfect, a completely impeachable hero (no one is), but I also don’t think him a child-killing villain. There are few like Richard, a man who had suffered a great deal in a short time before his fateful battle at Bosworth. And it takes an author as fine as Lewis to dig into the details of Richard’s life. Most books either love or hate Richard, whereas this writer doesn’t go down either road, and instead gives us an insight into the mind of a man who became king, lost his own family, and then was overthrown by a man with a flimsy claim. Richard was a king, now a legend, but he was also just a man, and here is a book where we finally get to meet Richard. I moved books around on my Richard shelves to make room for this biography before it even came out.

While many books write about 1483 onwards, so much happened in Richard’s life leading up to the crown. The first half of the book digs deep into Richard, those in his life, the battles he fought, his ideals in life and religion, all as he grew into the king people focus on now. Much happened to Richard in his short life – overcoming a spinal deformity would have shaped his thoughts. He grew up around powerful people, like the Nevilles, who would do anything for power. Richard was prepared to lay down his life for his brother Edward, and yet his brother George betrayed them both, harm which would cause a wound that could never truly heal. Edward was king on the back of Richard’s hard work, and Richard ran the north in England and kept an eye on Scotland for his sovereign, all before the age of thirty.

But when King Edward died in April 1483, all the moments in Richard’s life which shaped him would come in play. The next three months have been debated since the moment they happened, but this book gives a reader a more detailed insight into why Richard acted as he did, thought as he did. It seems Richard was neither a murderous villain desperate for power, or an innocent caught up in a disaster. The illegitimacy of the Princes in the Tower is well discussed too, whether Richard was fooled, or did he simply miss important details, or was he the master? I can’t tell you, because spoilers, but the murky situation and Richard’s handling is a reflection of many events long before the mess with the Princes. Another important detail in the events of 1483 is the death of Hastings, a particular favourite subject of mine. Again, in the interest of spoilers (as in the excellent research on Lewis’ part) I won’t share all that is written, but the whole situation felt fresh to me, a tough feat after 500 years and a whole lot of writing on the subject.

Richard’s life went from a powerful ruler in the north after years of fighting, to having brother George executed, to his brother Edward dead before his time, to being thrust onto the throne, to his nephews disappeared, to his precious wife and son dead from illness, to betrayal by men he trusted… how much can one man take in only a few years? By the time Richard faced Henry Tudor at Bosworth, Richard’s life was circling the drain, yet he remained confident of victory. This book talks of Richard in a positive way, without soundly like it is gushing with adoration; rather, it shows the whole life of an extraordinary man. England could have had a fine king, had Richard been given the chance.

This book is worthy of five stars. Matthew Lewis wrote The Survival of the Princes in the Tower not to long ago, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Loyalty Binds Me is an excellent addition to any library. Imagine saying you like Richard III but don’t have Lewis in your collection?

Celebrate Thomas Cromwell’s fictional birthday with half-price novels

While Thomas Cromwell’s birthdate is unknown, we do know he was born in circa. 1485. So, for the purposes of writing Cromwell fiction, I placed his birthday in November. Which means, for November, you can buy Queenmaker Book One, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, and Queenmaker Book Two, SHAKING THE THRONE, for half price on Kindle all month! Here is all you need to know –

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.

That man needs to be the Queenmaker.

London 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey has ruled England in King Henry VIII’s name for most of his reign. Now Henry wants to leave his extraordinary Spanish wife of twenty years, Queen Katherine, to marry Anne Boleyn and secure a male heir for the kingdom. Only God can end a marriage, through his appointed voices on Earth, the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio sent from Rome in the Pope’s place. Wolsey’s faithful attendant, commoner Thomas Cromwell, has the mind, the skills and the ambition to secure a royal annulment.

Cromwell’s forgotten past in Italy reappears with Campeggio’s new attendant, Nicóla Frescobaldi, the peculiar son of Cromwell’s former Italian master. While the great Cardinals of Christendom fight the King, the Pope and their God for an annulment, Cromwell and Frescobaldi hold the power over a country at war with its own conscience. Cromwell is called the double-minded man, whose golden eyes make money appear. Now Cromwell wants the power to destroy the Catholic Church in England. Frescobaldi is known as the waif-like creature, the Pope’s favourite companion, but Frescobaldi wants freedom from Pope Clement and his Medici family in Italy.

Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.

That man needs to be the Queenmaker.

November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the king’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.

But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.

England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the king on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.

Kings will rise, queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, while Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

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A Cromwell Adventure – Part 10: Henry Fitzroy

Seven days from now, SHAKING THE THRONE will be available! Today is part four of a ten-part series, letting you into the world of King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, and his master secretary Nicóla Frescobaldi, as they embark on part two of THE QUEENMAKER SERIES.

Part one of the series, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, is out now, covering Cromwell and Frescobaldi in 1529 – 1533,  SHAKING THE THRONE, covering 1533-1536, will be available worldwide on October 1st. NO AMOUR AGAINST FATE shall cover 1537 – 1540 and will be released September 2019.

Let’s jump right in, but first, the synopsis –

November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.

But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne, while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.

England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the King on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.

Kings will rise, Queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, but Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Read part 1, part 2 and part 3 of the FAQ’s here, otherwise here we go…

Henry Fitzroy

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, 1519 -1536

In late 1518, Henry VIII’s glorious wife Queen Katherine was pregnant for the final time, and Henry was enjoying the company of his long-term mistress, teenager Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Blount. Elizabeth was a maid to the Queen and Henry’s quiet mistress for about eight years, young and exceptionally beautiful. The only twist – Elizabeth got pregnant at the same time as Katherine. In November 1518, Katherine delivered of a girl, who sadly died after birth. It would be Katherine’s final child.

Elizabeth, however, continued her pregnancy and in June 1519, gave birth to a boy at Augustinian Priory of St Lawrence at Blackmore, which no doubt crushed poor Katherine. Henry though was thrilled, as it proved he was capable for making sons.

Henry grew uninterested in Elizabeth after the birth of their son, who was named Henry Fitzroy, meaning ‘son of the king’. Elizabeth was only around 17 when she gave birth, and went on to marry and have more children, while Fitzroy was raised in obscurity. But Fitzroy meant something to Henry, for he was the only illegitimate child the King ever acknowledged. Elizabeth may have given birth again in 1520, a daughter that may have been the King’s. Elizabeth never returned to the royal court as a mistress, as Henry had moved on to Mary Boleyn, while Elizabeth went on to give her husband many children.

Come June 1525, little Fitzroy was six, and his father made him a Knight of the Garter, and then Duke of Richmond and Somerset in a glorious spectacle at court. The King had already married off both Elizabeth Blount and Mary Boleyn, and was eager to celebrate his ability to have a boy. Little Fitzroy became Lord High Admiral of England, Lord President of the Council of the North, and Warden of the Marches towards Scotland. At age six, Fitzroy was the highest ranked man in the north of England.

Young Fitzroy went to live in Yorkshire, living like a prince and received a top quality education. The King even thought his son, known as handsome, intelligent and gentlemanly, fine enough to marry Henry’s daughter Princess Mary (yes, his own half-sister). Even the Pope was ready to let the siblings wed for the sake of the throne. Luckily, for Fitzroy, Princess Mary and genetics in general, Henry fell in live with Anne Boleyn, and instead thought he could save this throne with Anne’s womb.

Fitzroy continued his quiet yet generous upbringing during his father’s angry divorce from Queen Katherine, never seeing his mother, but reports of his life reached his father, who adored his son. In 1532, Fitzroy met the French king, and corresponded with the Scots king. By November 1533, Fitzroy was married to Lady Mary Howard, daughter to the Duke of Norfolk. It was a celibate marriage, to spare Fitzroy’s health, as the King believed sex had contributed to his brother Arthur’s death.

Fitzroy spent no time with his wife, but rather her brother, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. Fitzroy was living in London at St. James’ Palace in the mid-1530’s, when he was called to sit on the jury at the trial of Anne Boleyn. Fitzroy watched his stepmother executed and then attended his father’s marriage to Jane Seymour two weeks later.

In this turbulent time, young Fitzroy was ill. He suffered chest infections and a nasty cough many times, but now couldn’t shake off his illness. Just a month after his 17th birthday, Fitzroy was bedridden with consumption, and died at St. James’ Palace. Some claimed poison, so Fitzroy could not be elevated over Princess Mary or baby Princess Elizabeth in the line of succession, but no proof ever appeared as Henry refused an autopsy.

King Henry, in his raw grief, ordered Fitzroy’s death hushed up, and the Duke of Norfolk sent Fitzroy’s body 80 miles north to Thetford Priory, where Fitzroy was buried with no dignity. Days later, the grieving King screamed at the burial, regretting, or even forgetting, his own decision, and it was a turning point in Henry’s behaviour in his final decade. Henry had only told Fitzroy month earlier that he felt grateful he and Princess Mary had been saved from the clutches of Anne Boleyn, but now his perfect son was gone.

Once the dissolution of the monasteries reached Thetford Priory, Fitzroy was moved to St. Michael’s Church, Framlingham in  Suffolk, and was only joined by his wife in 1557, after never marrying and shunning royal life.

Fitzroy is a central character in SHAKING THE THRONE as the cherished only son of King Henry, the never-King of England.

Tomorrow – themes in the novel: Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher and Elizabeth Barton

FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, the first edition in the Queenmaker trilogy, is available worldwide in paperback and on Kindle now.

FROM NOW UNTIL OCTOBER 1ST, GET BOOK ONE FOR 50% off on Kindle.

A Cromwell Adventure – Part 8: Author Q+A2 – The Classic FAQ’s

Nine days from now, SHAKING THE THRONE will be available! Today is part two of a ten-part series, letting you into the world of King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, and his master secretary Nicóla Frescobaldi, as they embark on part two of THE QUEENMAKER SERIES.

Part one of the series, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, is out now, covering Cromwell and Frescobaldi in 1529 – 1533,  SHAKING THE THRONE, covering 1533-1536, will be available worldwide on October 1st. NO AMOUR AGAINST FATE shall cover 1537 – 1540 and will be released September 2019.

Let’s jump right in, with answers to the most commonly asked questions about the adventures of Cromwell and Frescobaldi, in order of most common FAQ’s, but first, the synopsis –

November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.

But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne, while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.

England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the King on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.

Kings will rise, Queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, but Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Read part 1 of the FAQ’s here, otherwise here we go…

DO I NEED TO KNOW ALL ABOUT THE TUDOR PERIOD TO READ THE SERIES?

I realise there are a large number of my readers who do not read much in terms of Tudor fiction. Whether you’ve come here from the Canna Medici series or from Secrets of Spain, or are new to my work, you can read the Queenmaker series. I have tried to write the series in way that caters for the broad range of readers who buy my books.

There are a large number of characters in this series, as I feel that no one in history could be left out. Plus, I have chapters which have half a dozen Thomases sitting around a table, so I always double down on making sure it is clear who is who, etc. If you know the Tudor period, you will have no trouble; if you are new, you should be able to keep up.

I do recommend reading the books in the order I wrote them. You could read them out of order, though if you read SHAKING THE THRONE first, you may not fully understand the dynamic of Cromwell and Frescobaldi.

WHAT ABOUT FRESCOBALDI’S SISTER?

Nicòletta Frescobaldi is the Duchess of Florence. The historical figure of Alessandro de’Medici, Duke of Florence, is written as faithfully as possible (here is a great book on ‘The Moor’).  The Duke did marry Margarete of Austria and have a mistress name Taddea who had his children, rather than his wife. The marriage between Nicòletta and Alessandro is pure fiction. Alessandro de’Medici was the alleged son of Pope Clement, and Nicòletta/Nicòla bind them all together. As Alessandro was faithful to no one, not even his favourite mistress, it is not inconceivable that he would keep a wife outside of Florence, hidden away from everyone. That theory allows me to write the Duchess as hidden from sight, and unable to keep her bastard daughter Giovanna. Of course, Nicòletta and Nicòla are the same person, as Nicòla is the sole surviving Frescobaldi family member.

CAN A WOMAN TRULY PRETEND TO BE A MAN?

You only have to look at many names in history to find it is entirely possible. Elisa Bernerström, Saint Marina, Hua Mulan, Hatshepsut, Hannah Snell, Margaret Ann Bulkley, Chevalier d’Eon… the list goes on. It is less about appearance, and more about confidence in pretending to be a man. In a world where men are powerful and women are not even human, it is easy to imagine women adopting new lives so they can live, rather than simply survive.

FRESCOBALDI SAYS “THE MIND OF A MAN IN THE BODY OF A WOMAN.” IS FRESCOBALDI A MAN TRAPPED IN THE WRONG BODY? IS IT RUDE TO ASK THE QUESTION?

In this instance, no, it’s not rude. Nicòla has a female body and a ‘male mind’, as it was thought, at that time, that educating a woman was folly, for they had no imperative other than reproduction. Frescobaldi certainly believes herself a woman, thinks and acts as a woman, but is considered the fantastical creature because it is impossible for a woman to be so naturally intelligent, cunning and capable (so they thought in the 1500’s). Queen Elizabeth I had to routinely say her weak female form was something she managed to overcome. We now know women are just as smart as any man, as capable, as powerful. Frescobaldi believes she has a male mind because that is what she has been told her entire life. Frescobaldi believes herself wholly a woman.

WERE CROMWELL AND HENRY VIII REALLY GOOD FRIENDS?

It is impossible to say for certain. Cromwell definitely gave the King everything he wanted, whenever he wanted it. I personally wrote Henry as a man ready to trust, ready to befriend, despite having been hurt before, the same way he never gave up on love (or what he thought was love). Cromwell was not a stuffy, boring politician – he was widely known as the king of parties and lavish events, hosted the King and everyone of note in England in his manors, was generous, charming, and kept swathes of birds in his Austin Friars garden, along with the ‘beast’ to entertain his guests (I wrote the beast as a leopard for the purpose of the story). I find it entirely possible Henry and Cromwell would have established a bond over the long periods they would have spent together.

Up tomorrow, the last few FAQ’s before we then head into details on the themes featured in the Queenmaker series. 

FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, the first edition in the Queenmaker trilogy, is available worldwide in paperback and on Kindle now.

FROM NOW UNTIL OCTOBER 1ST, GET BOOK ONE FOR 50% off on Kindle.

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom. That man needs to be the Queenmaker.

London 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey has ruled England in King Henry VIII’s name for most of his reign. Now Henry wants to leave his extraordinary Spanish wife of twenty years, Queen Katherine, to marry Anne Boleyn and secure a male heir for the kingdom. Only God can end a marriage, through his appointed voices on Earth, the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio sent from Rome in the Pope’s place. Wolsey’s faithful attendant, commoner Thomas Cromwell, has the mind, the skills and the ambition to secure a royal annulment.

Cromwell’s forgotten past in Italy reappears with Campeggio’s new attendant, Nicóla Frescobaldi, the peculiar son of Cromwell’s former Italian master. While the great Cardinals of Christendom fight the King, the Pope and their God for an annulment, Cromwell and Frescobaldi hold the power over a country at war with its own conscience. Cromwell is called the double-minded man, whose golden eyes make money appear. Now Cromwell wants the power to destroy the Catholic Church in England. Frescobaldi is known as the waif-like creature, the Pope’s favourite companion, but Frescobaldi wants freedom from Pope Clement and his Medici family in Italy.

Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.