HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Richard, Duke of York’ by Matthew Lewis

Richard, 3rd Duke of York is frequently used to recall the colours of the rainbow with the mnemonic ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’, wrongly believed to be the Grand Old Duke of York who had 10,000 men, or mistaken for his youngest son, Richard III. The son of a traitor, he inherited a dukedom aged four, became the wealthiest man in England at thirteen and later rebelled against his king, and if he is remembered, it is as a man who ignited the Wars of the Roses. Further eclipsed by two of his sons, who would become the mighty warrior Edward IV and the recently rediscovered Richard III, he is an ancestor of the Tudor monarchs and fifteenth great-grandfather to Queen Elizabeth II, yet the man himself is obscured from view. Matthew Lewis pushes aside the veils of myth and legend to challenge the image of Richard as a man whose insatiable ambition dragged a nation into civil war, revealing a complex family man with unparalleled power and responsibilities. The first person ever recorded to use the Plantagenet name, he pushed the political establishment to its limits, dared to fight back and was forced to do the unimaginable.

cover and blurb via amazon

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I was looking forward to this book for a number of reasons – firstly, because it’s Matthew Lewis, and also because Richard, Duke of York, really was kinda sorta the right person to be king if you dig through the family tree. This book didn’t disappoint at all.

Henry VI was in power, a man who was king as an infant, and England first had to go through a period ruled by the Lord Protector, the Duke of Gloucester, before Henry VI, a meek boy and then weak man, took over. Henry VI got himself a bride who was smart, strong and up to something with the Duke of Somerset. French lands in English hands were lost before Henry VI had a chance to rule them, and England was going to hell. (No offence, H6, it wasn’t really your fault).

Richard Plantagenet was a descendant of Edward III, like pretty much everyone in the War of the Roses. Through his mother, Richard was related to Edward II’s son Lionel Duke of Clarence, and through his father, Richard was related to Edward III’s son Edmund Duke of York. Edward III had five sons and three daughters who survived to adulthood (eight sons, five daughters in total, yikes!), and Richard Plantagenet was a descendant of surviving sons number two and four. As King Richard II, son of Edward The Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III, died without children, Lionel’s descendants were supposed to inherit (Richard’s mother’s family line, the Mortimers).

But the Lancaster branch took over. Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt – the Lancaster line, usurped the throne from Richard II, led by Gaunt’s son Henry IV, leading to Henry V and Henry VI. But the Mortimer/York branches, now joined in marriage, thought they deserved the crown. And by right they did.

Richard Plantagenet sought to claim his right, resulting in the War of the Roses, killing off all the direct male descendants of Edward III, more or less. It was bloody, it was awful and needless and could be confusing if not for great books like this one. Richard had a solid claim to the throne, but Henry VI also had a claim, and was an anointed king. Richard Plantagenet is portrayed as a greedy, bloodthirsty man who tried to steal the throne, when it was essentially stolen from him by his own relatives years ago. Richard’s own father was beheaded for trying to assert the same right. Richard’s head too ended up on a spike, and his son Edmund was killed with him.

But two of Richards’ three remaining sons went on to be kings – Edward IV and Richard III (they killed their other brother, long story). Richard may have been killed in 1460, but his seven surviving children all continued to fight as Yorks against the Lancasters for the right to the throne, ending with Richard’s granddaughter Elizabeth, who married Lancastrian Henry VII and became queen, ending the wars for good.

A huge thanks to Matthew Lewis for this book, giving Richard Plantagenet a book of his own to show him as more than a usurper who got what he deserved. The Yorks had every right, just as Richard believed.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Owen Tudor’ by Terry Breverton

For generations, the ancestors of Welshmen Owen Tudor had fought Romans, Irish Picts, Vikings, Saxons, Mercians and Normans. His uncles had been executed in the Glyndwr Welsh War of Independence, his father pardoned, but his estates stripped from him. Owen’s now landless father took him to London to try and find employment, and Owen fought for Henry V in France. He entered the service of Henry’s queen, Catherine of Valois, and soon after the king’s death he secretly married her, the mother of the eight-month-old Henry VI. Owen and Catherine would have two boys together, hidden from the world and the boy-king Henry VI by the Bishops of London and Ely. Henry VI would go on to ennoble them as Edmund Earl of Richmond, and Jasper Earl of Pembroke, but upon Catherine’s death Owen was imprisoned. Escaping twice, Owen was thrown into the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses with his two sons. Edmund died in Wales, and Jasper became the only lord who fought throughout the civil wars until his nephew, Edmund’s son Henry Tudor, was established on the English throne as Henry VII. When Jasper led the Lancastrian forces at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461, the aging Owen led a wing of the defeated army, was captured and executed. Without the secret marriage for love, there would have been no Tudor dynasty.

cover and blurb via amazon

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I have to admit I had only read fiction about Owen Tudor until I picked up this book. The author has written a bountiful amount of Tudor works, so before reading the books on Jasper Tudor and Henry VII, I decided to start with Owen Tudor.

Tudor was, of course, a Welshman, from a family fraught after the Welsh Independence wars. Tudor, born Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur, left for England for a new start. Tudor got a job, working for Queen Katherine de Valois, the bride Henry V took from France in return for peace. While Shakespeare wrote of Henry’s love for Katherine, all he did was basically purchase her, get her pregnant and then die. Katherine was left in England with a tiny baby who was king at nine months old, and all alone.

But all was not lost. Katherine had fallen in love with Owen Tudor, who had been working in her household on behalf of the king’s steward. Katherine and Tudor secretly married, and had up to six children – two sons who survived, Edmund and Jasper, plus Edward and Margaret ( who may or may not have entered the church and died young), and possibly two more, unknown, who did not survive (it’s a murky situation. For an author researching, a bit of  nightmare really). Sadly, Katherine passed away in 1437, aged only 35, leaving her kingly son in the Lord Protector’s hands and Tudor with the boys. Tudor was lucky not to be imprisoned or worse for secretly marrying a queen, as a law was in place that she could not marry without the king’s permission. There was no proof Katherine and Tudor ever legally married, and could have been nullified anyway. Tudor had all his possessions and lands seized but did keep his head and children.

Once Henry VI grew up a little, he treated his half-brothers well and kept Tudor on a good salary. Poor Tudor however was captured in Hereford during the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461 when his son Jasper’s army was defeated. Tudor was beheaded, his last words about Katherine. The bastard son he had fathered two years earlier had a headstone placed on his father’s grave years later.

Owen Tudor must be a hard man to write about, as he was not born royal and has a murky history, along with his family, given the lack of evidence about his life. What we do know is that Edmund died, leaving a pregnant Margaret Beaufort behind, who had Henry VII, and of course, had his bloodline through the royals ever since. I am definitely going to read the other books written by Terry Breverton.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Prince Arthur – The King Who Never Was’ by Sean Cunningham

During the early part of the sixteenth century England should have been ruled by King Arthur Tudor, not Henry VIII. Had the first-born son of Henry VII lived into adulthood, his younger brother Henry would never have become King Henry VIII. The subsequent history of England would have been very different; the massive religious, social and political changes of Henry VIII’s reign might not have been necessary at all.

In naming his eldest son Arthur, Henry VII was making an impressive statement about what the Tudors hoped to achieve as rulers within Britain. Since the story of Arthur as a British hero was very well known to all ranks of the Crown’s subjects, the name alone gave the young prince a great deal to live up to. Arthur’s education and exposure to power and responsibility, not to mention his marriage to a Spanish princess in Catherine of Aragon, all indicate that the young prince was being shaped into a paragon of kingship that all of Britain could admire.

This book explores all of these aspects of Prince Arthur’s life, together with his relationship with his brother, and assesses what type of king he would have been.

cover and blurb via amazon

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Henry VIII is far from the only man who took a throne and went mad. Some tend to be hard on him, as if he was the only angry ruler the world saw, making it easy to say ‘what would have happened if Arthur had never died?’

Henry VIII was the king who shouldn’t have been, making Prince Arthur the king who never was. Here is the book to answer all your questions had King Arthur I taken his place in history.

Arthur was born to role. The first child of his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Much has been made of little Arthur; some claim him fragile since birth, others draw the opposite conclusion. From a young age, Prince Arthur was given a top education, given a reigning position as Prince of Wales, close to his father the king.

Arthur was treated like a precious jewel, the king who would reign after the bloody battles of the War of the Roses. Arthur was the blood of the house of Lancaster and York combined; his existence alone suggested constant unity and peace. Given an education both in practical subjects, plus religion and humanism, Arthur got involved in local matters as a child, at his father’s side, completely prepared to take over England when the time came. Arthur had siblings, first a sister Margaret, then the spare heir Henry, and little Mary, to be followed by Elizabeth, Edmund and Katherine who all did not survive infancy. Henry and the girls were kept with their mother while Arthur was cradled for brilliance.

Officially married in 1501 after four years of being married by proxy, 15-year-old Arthur was to move to his castle in Ludlow, to rule over Wales, as his title suggested. Princess Katherine of Aragon was at his side, a Spanish princess there to ensure that Arthur’s future children would be recognised as the sole rulers of England, to soothe Henry VII’s constant fears of being usurped. Arthur boasted of bedding his new bride, words that would live for all time.

Only a few months into the marriage, Prince Arthur died at Ludlow Castle, of possible sweating sickness, leaving a widow not pregnant with the future heir. While spoiled little Henry would take the crown seven years later, along with the princess, England never got their perfect king. Queen Elizabeth died only a year after Arthur, and Henry kept his son hidden away, in the fear something might happen to his remaining son. Little Henry should have been given Arthur’s education, yet received nothing.

It is easy to suggest that Arthur’s reign would have been different. Naturally, there would have been differences. Henry broke from Catholicism in order to get rid of his wife of twenty years, on the grounds that Katherine had slept with Arthur, which she denied all her days. It is easy to say the Protestant Reformation would have never occurred in England without Henry’s need for divorce. Reformation would have come to England without Henry’s divorce, but simply would have taken a different route, as it did with other nations. Henry divorced to gain an heir with another woman, the exact same pressure Arthur would have faced if he couldn’t produce a son to inherit. For all his kindness and intelligence, Arthur could have suffered the same infertility problems as his little brother.

Cunningham’s book gives you an insight to the life of King Arthur I. It is impossible to tell for certain, but here is a good best-case scenario, with a fine leader on the throne, and a stable dynasty as a result.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Edward IV: Glorious Son of York’ by Jeffrey James

Few English monarchs had to fight harder for the right to rule than King Edward IV – Shakespeare’s glorious son of York. Cast in the true Plantagenet mould, over six feet tall, he was a naturally charismatic leader. Edward had the knack of seizing the initiative and winning battles and is free from the unflattering characterisations that plagued his brother, Richard III, having been portrayed as a good-looking and formidable military tactician. Described sometimes as reckless and profligate, all sources remark on his personal bravery. In the eleven years between 1460 and 1471 he fought five major battles in the Wars of the Roses. Three of them – Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury – rank among the most decisive of the medieval period. This book covers Edward’s family background, the Yorkist takeover and the drift to war. It charts the tensions created by the controversial Woodville marriage and Edward’s deposition by the Earl of Warwick and subsequent exile. The return of the king brought with it battles anew and Edward’s decisive campaigns against Warwick and Margaret of Anjou. Finally, Edward’s sudden death heralded the demise of the House of York and the triumph of the Tudors against Richard III. This is a history of Edward IV’s struggle to gain and retain the kingship of England during a period of sustained dynastic turmoil during the Wars of the Roses.

cover and blurb via amazon

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Edward IV had a great claim to be England’s king, sadly, he was not the only one. The author starts easily, giving us the background of Edward’s family claim to the throne. A monster of man in those days, at 6′ 4″, Edward took the throne in 1461, and reigned over nearly a decade which had some of the most bloody battles of the War of the Roses.

While Edward was in line to claim the throne, overthrowing a sitting monarch, betraying his greatest ally and marrying for love (lust?) instead of gain did Edward no favours. For a man with battlefield experience, and political knowledge, he made errors during these dangerous years, racking up local enemies like no one else.

Edward had no trouble winning battles; Towton, then Barnet and Tewkesbury are just some of the battles he needed to fight in order to hold the throne, and this book tells the tale more like a story rather than a military strategy. Included are illustrations of the locations pivotal in Edward’s life.

One of Edward’s largest mistakes was the marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. However, had Edward married as his allies wanted, things could have still fallen apart, but without the Woodville family, doubtless lives may have been saved.

The book flies though these troublesome years until Edward’s overthrow in 1470, only to win his crown back again in six months, shortly before the death of Henry VI in prison. While the second half of Edward’s reign was far quieter, having killed the vast majority of his enemies and relations, Edward still fought in France, killed one of his brothers and grew chubby and lazy. His death in 1483 was still a great loss; while the War of the Roses saw much blood under his rule, at least some peace had begun to settle in. It would be only two years before all Edward fought for would be erased, his two sons killed and his precious brother Richard deposed by the last remaining Lancastrian enemy, Henry Tudor. But not all was lost; Edward’s daughter Elizabeth became queen, there as peace reigned in England (mostly), and their children became king of England, queen of Scotland, and (briefly) queen of France.

What I like about this book is that, while accurate, it doesn’t flow like a non-fiction biography, rather more of a story of a man who thought he was the rightful king. Trouble was, everyone thought themselves the rightful king.

A Cromwell Adventure – Part 5: Queen Katherine

Katherine of Aragon was the Queen of England for 24 or 27 years, depending on how you look at history. Either way, Katherine is one of history’s most profound queens.

Portrait by Juan de Flandes thought to be of 11-year-old Katherine

Katherine of Aragon was born at the Archbishop’s Palace in Alcalá de Henares outside Madrid on 16 December 1485, the youngest child of the mighty Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, the two monarchs who brought modern Spain together. Unlike the stereotypical Spanish look, Katherine had red hair and blue eyes to go with pale skin, a possible throwback to her English ancestry from her mother. Named after Catherine of Lancaster, her great-grandmother, Katherine was third cousins with her father-in-law Henry VII of England, and fourth cousin to her mother-in-law, the extraordinary Elizabeth of York. By age three, Katherine was already betrothed to Henry and Elizabeth’s son, Prince Arthur, heir to the English throne.

Katherine received an excellent education, especially for a girl, in both canon and civil law, history, languages, religion, literature, theology and genealogy. Her strong Catholic faith was the focal point of her upbringing, and spoke Spanish, Latin, Greek and French. Even with all these academic studies, she also mastered all the ‘female’ subjects, like dancing, sewing, mannerisms, weaving, and lace-work.

Katherine and Arthur married by proxy in mid 1499, but she needed to wait to travel to England until Arthur was 15, the agreed age he should be with his bride. Katherine arrived in England in November 1501 to meet her husband and married officially on November 14 at Old St. Paul’s Cathedral. While Katherine’s dowry was 200,000 crowns, her parents paid only half upfront, an issue which would rear its head later on. While both Katherine and Arthur could speak Latin, they could not understand each other with their accents and pronunciations.

Prince Arthur was an intelligent and kind boy raised to be a leader but suffered constant ill-health. The marriage was never consummated (as sworn by Katherine and her ladies), and they moved to Ludlow Castle in Wales, 150 miles from London. Arthur was Prince of Wales, the title for the future King, but Arthur fell ill months later, possibly of the sweating sickness. Katherine too caught the illness, and awoke from fighting the disease to find Arthur had already died, aged only 15, on 2 April 1502. This was a devastating loss for the Spanish princess, Arthur’s parents and the country who had a good king-in-waiting to keep the country at peace.

Portrait of Katharine of Aragon by Michael Sittow, c1502

Sending Katherine home to Spain meant Henry VII had to return the 100,000 crowns in dowry to the Spanish monarchs. He wanted to keep the money, and potentially get the other half of the dowry payment. When Elizabeth of York died in 1503, Henry considered marrying Katherine for the money, but instead betrothed Katherine to Henry, Arthur’s younger brother and new heir to the throne. But with Katherine’s mother now deceased in Spain, her ‘value’ was less than before. As Henry was not old enough to marry, only 11 at the time, Katherine had to wait. Her father would not pay the rest of her dowry, Henry would not send her home, and Katherine resorted to living in poverty in London, selling all she had to feed herself and her attendants. Despite all this, she was the Spanish ambassador to England in 1507, and seen as a weak negotiator, being female. Only everyone had underestimated Katherine.

Henry VII died in 1509, and the new Henry VIII promptly married Katherine by choice, rather than by any pre-contract or agreement. The Pope consented to her marrying her brother-in-law due to non-consummation with Arthur. Katherine was now aged 23, considered old for a bride, and Henry was just about to turn 18. They had a private wedding but huge double coronation at the Tower of London, with days of celebrations for all and the people of England were thrilled with their young new king and perfect bride at his side.

Within months, Katherine was already pregnant, only to lose her daughter during a premature birth. One year later she gave birth to her son, Henry, who died of unknown causes (possibly stomach related) at only 52 days old. Just a few months into her third pregnancy in 1513, Katherine was alone in England as regent while Henry fought in France. She led the country and a led an army in full amour against Scotland, killing the Scottish king, while Henry failed in his French invasion. Sadly Katherine’s son died in premature labour that November.

By January 1515, Katherine gave birth yet again, another stillborn son. She got pregnant soon after, following her typical pattern of ease in getting pregnant, but hopes were low after four losses. But in February 1616, Katherine gave birth to Mary, strong and healthy, lifting Henry’s hopes for a healthy male heir. Katherine had an early miscarriage in 1517, and then in November 1818 she gave birth one more time, to another daughter who died just after birth. Katherine was at her end after extraordinary pressure on her body to produce the male heir.

Katherine portrait by Lucas Hornebolte

Katherine turned to her Catholic faith and her studies once more as she aged, and promoted education in women, which started to increase in popularity. The Princess Mary was titled Princess of Wales in a male heir’s place, but the issue of no son loomed. Henry had taken several mistresses during the marriage, and Bessie Blount, one of Katherine’s ladies, gave birth to a son in 1518, not considered for the throne by illegitimacy. Henry would not give his throne to a woman, thanks to a history of wars under female rule (basically men not able to get their crap together led by a woman).

Katherine’s nephew, Charles V, King of Spain, became the Holy Roman Emperor, making him in control of much of Europe. She tried to broker a peace deal with him, then instead encouraged Henry to sign the famous peace treaty with France at the Field of Gold and Gold in 1520. It lasted a short time, and England aligned with Charles, and Mary was considered as a wife for the Emperor.

Henry had a mistress, Mary Boleyn, but after two pregnancies (a daughter and son, maybe Henry’s, maybe not), in 1525, Henry changed his mind and wanted Mary’s sister, Anne Boleyn. A non-sexual relationship began sometime in 1526, and Katherine assumed it would be another flirtation, a woman Henry would bed and then marry off. But Anne was young enough to give birth, potentially to a male heir, and in 1527 Henry petitioned the Pope for an annulment, but was denied. As the law stated a woman could not marry her first husband’s brother, Katherine was in trouble despite gaining dispensation years ago. Thanks to a siege in Rome and the Pope a prisoner, the annulment was not granted. By 1529, Henry set up a legatine court in London, with English Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeggio from Rome, to settle the matter for good. Katherine was on trial as a wife and queen.

Wolsey was a champion of Henry and had ruled alongside Henry for twenty years. They stated the laws, civil and God’s law, that a man could not marry a brother’s wife, and dispensation could not change that. They also stated that Katherine lied, and that she had slept with Arthur almost thirty years earlier. Katherine had powerful allies – her nephew the Emperor pressured the Pope not to give an annulment, and in England the most celebrated powerful religious minds of the age – Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More supported her claim, along with Princess Mary Tudor, Henry’s sister.

The court case quickly crumbled and no result was given, the decision handed back to Pope Clement in Rome. Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s greatest friend, was arrested for colluding with the Pope to keep Katherine on the throne, and he died on the way to trial in late 1530. Katherine would to give up her throne, the only life she knew.

In 1531, Henry left Katherine at Windsor Castle, to live with Anne Boleyn by his side, though it was said Anne refused to sleep with him until an annulment was finalised. Katherine was moved to The More in Bedfordshire in late 1531, a small manor with few staff, to be forgotten about while Anne Boleyn took her place. Henry had Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s successor, change laws making the Pope unable to grant an annulment, and instead was able to gain an annulment through English clergy, the new Archbishop Cranmer, a Protestant reformer. Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn in Calais in November 1532 and again in England in January 1533, when she found herself pregnant. Katherine was titled Katherine, Dowager Princess of Wales, but she refused to believe the claims her marriage was over.

Katherine was moved between palaces several times and reduced to poverty once more. By 1535, she lived at Kimbolton Castle, in a single room, and forbidden to be with her daughter, despite Mary’s ill-health. Katherine and Mary could be reunited if they acknowledged Anne as queen and neither women would give in. Katherine continued to grow ill, and begged Charles the Emperor to protect the Princess Mary on her behalf. Katherine died on 7 January 1536, not seeing her daughter in four years. Poison was claimed, as her heart was black, though cancer is a more likely option. Henry and Anne celebrated, then claimed their yellow outfits were Spanish mourning colours, a fact never true in any time period.

The day of Katherine’s funeral at Peterborough Cathedral, seen by her last followers, Anne miscarried a son. Princess Mary was not allowed to attend her funeral, and the life of the greatest English queen was over, aged only 50. The people of England loved Katherine until her dying day and never accepted Queen Anne, who would be beheaded only a few months after Katherine’s death. Mary would continue her Catholic mother’s fight, and became Queen in 1553.

Up next… Anne Boleyn