HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Mary: Tudor Princess’ by Tony Riches

From the author of the international best-selling Tudor Trilogy, the true story of the Tudor dynasty continues with the daughter of King Henry VII, sister to King Henry VIII. Mary Tudor watches her elder brother become King of England and wonders what the future holds for her. 

Born into great privilege, Mary has beauty and intelligence beyond her years and is the most marriageable princess in Europe. Henry plans to use her marriage to build a powerful alliance against his enemies. Will she dare risk his anger by marrying for love?

Meticulously researched and based on actual events, this ‘sequel’ follows Mary’s story from book three of the Tudor Trilogy and is set during the reign of King Henry VIII.


I have read Owen, Jasper and Henry, and also Warwick, by this author, so having a woman as a title character is an exciting addition! But it is not about Mary I, but Princess Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. That’s when I really jumped for the book, as I love both Mary and Margaret, forever eclipsed by their king brother.

The book starts in 1509, and Princess Mary is but 13 years old. Her brother Henry is only five years older but has just been crowned King of England. Henry knows who he shall marry – Katherine of Aragon, widow of Arthur, and now Mary is going to be an equally powerful princess – powerful in that selling her to the highest bidder will help increase Henry’s power.

Mary has, in the past, been written as a fool, a simple girl interested in princes and gowns, no head for politics. What a silly notion, because Mary is the daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, her sister is Queen of Scots, Arthur was to be king, before Henry took poor Arthur’s place. How could Mary possibly be dim? Here, Mary is educated, confident and a brave young woman at the heart of a very serious political match for her country. Yes, she may break down in private, but her public face is one of total poise, the way only a royal upbringing could provide.

Mary considers Katherine of Aragon a sister when she marries Henry (Mary was very young when Katherine married Arthur). Henry and Mary are close, even though Henry is never an easy man to love, and is often heartless to Katherine. Mary has lost both her parents, and Henry breaks her betrothal to the  Holy Roman Emperor Charles, also just a child, and instead gives Mary in marriage to King Louis of France.

Mary may be a queen, but is also Europe’s most beautiful princess of 18 years when she marries the frail 52-year-old Louis. Mary does as she is bid (and has a child Anne Boleyn in her household, just a little side bonus) and marries the old Frenchman. But first Mary told her brother – I shall marry Louis if  can choose my second husband.

That is where Mary is so grand. Louis kicks the bucket three months in, and kings and dukes are clamouring for Mary less than a week into widowhood. But Mary has her suitor all ready, Charles Brandon, Henry’s best friend and (while the Duke of Suffolk) not at all good enough for her. Secretly married, Mary defies her brother and King, and is banished from court and from his kindness.

Never mind all these details; Mary is written as a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister. She becomes a queen of France (who killed her old husband with too much sex, so they gossiped, eww), then a woman who married for love, then a wife who had to endure infidelity, the births and deaths of children, the heartache she felt for Queen Katherine and the fortunes of all around her. Mary also suffered with her health for her whole life.

Mary was an important princess in the royal history of the time, and is not prone to being frivolous, and so is written as an educated woman. While the Tudor world is filled with politics, law, religion, it is also filled with love, friendship, parties and jousts, colour and excitement, and the book weaves all together.

Did Brandon love Mary back? The book gives hints about such as Mary’s life is followed. Mary’s death is beautiful and tragic, and the process starts over, as Brandon marries a child as a firm alliance just a few months later (he was a lucky man to capture both Princess Mary and Catherine Willoughby!). Mary’s granddaughter Jane would become queen for nine days many years later, and must have had the blood of THIS type of Princess Mary in Jane’s veins.

Thank you, Tony, for a wonderful novel!


About the Author Tony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Goodreads as well as Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

A Cromwell Adventure- Part 3: King Henry VIII

The infamous painting of Henry by Hans Holbein the Younger

Everyone knows Henry; famous ginger, head chopper, tantrum thrower, binge eater, wife collector. But while writing Frailty of Human Affairs, I found that beyond those few things, people knew less than I expected. So, instead of writing lengthy discussions about his life, here is a brief round-up, plus the obvious and less-obvious facts on King Henry VIII.

NB: you dapper British people probably know everything

Facts you probably know about King Henry VIII
  • King Henry loved to party. A childhood of relaxation meant he took the throne without any preparation
  • Of Henry’s six famous queens, three of them were named Catherine. That’s weird
  • Henry had Anne Boleyn as a queen, Mary Boleyn as a mistress (separately, phew)
  • Henry took the throne aged only 17, and held on until age 55
  • Henry had England and Wales and Ireland together, but never secured Scotland
  • Henry was not a huge fat man his whole life. He was over six feet tall (huge then) and regarded as a handsome, athletic man. (Might be true; people couldn’t write he was ugly, could they). Henry was considered a catch, crown or not
  • Henry brought the Protestant faith to England, crushing Catholic rule. It would have happened without him, just slower, and maybe less bloody. Religion is a nightmare
  • Henry had a bastard son, named Henry. The poor boy died as a teenager, much the same way as Henry’s legitimate son, at much the same age. Coincidence?
  • Henry fell from his horse while jousting in 1536, bursting open his thigh, which never healed, making him in disgusting pain, and probably mad as hell all the time. The same accident likely caused massive brain injuries
  • Henry got upwards of 180kgs when he died. That’s upwards of 400 pounds for you Americans, upwards of 30 stone for you Brits. Eww
  • Had diabetes been a thing, Henry would probably have been diagnosed due to his weight issues. The obesity is, in theory, part of the brain injury caused by his famous 1536 jousting accident
  • Henry loved playing jokes on people, plus dancing and generally goofing around
  • Henry was great with languages; he spoke English and French, along with Latin, bits of Spanish (obviously) and even some ancient Greek

Facts you probably didn’t know about Henry VIII

  • Henry was a publisher author, writing on the Catholic faith (his love for it, while it suited him), and also wrote music, and the odd love poem
  • Henry ruled a spot of Belgium in 1513 when he invaded Tournai. Okay, France owned it then, but still. He gave it back in 1518
  • Henry loved tennis (as they played it then).
  • Henry said his fourth wife looked as ugly as a horse. He was no oil painting by that stage himself. Poor Thomas Cromwell got beheaded due to her ‘ugliness’ and Henry’s inability to get an erection
  • Henry is buried with wife number 3, because she bore a living son, not Katherine his first wife, who he knew since the age of only 10. Dick.
  • Henry basically created the English navy. They only had five boats when he took power. They had more like 50 ships by the time he died.
  • Henry and Anne Boleyn were not love at first sight. Anne had been floating around court for a while, trying to win a chosen duke for a husband by the time Henry stopped sleeping with her sister and noticed her
  • All of Henry’s wives were descendants of King Edward I to some degree. But the nobility was always an inbred lot
  • Henry beheaded 72,000 people, including two wives and one Thomas Cromwell!
  • Henry lost one million pounds (today’s figures) on gambling in only three years. But he never played with people who couldn’t afford to lose. Kind of nice, I guess…
  • Henry’s only descendants are in dispute. Mary Boleyn had two children, rumoured to be his (or at least the daughter, not so much the son). Queen Elizabeth II would be related to Henry if there was a way to prove the link. The facts make a very strong case (it’s hard to hide affairs when babies come out ginger). Current Prince George would be related to Henry on both sides of his family!
  • Henry had a fear of illness. He moved constantly to avoid plague and sweating sickness. After Prince Arthur died, it probably made Henry paranoid of the Tudors’ losing the crown. Every little thing needed to be checked out for Henry; he would take no risks (can’t blame him; germs were friggin’ everywhere!)
  • It’s claimed Henry had syphilis, but he never displayed symptoms, nor the side effects of syphilis treatment. He was no ladies man; he had his favourites
  • Henry was neat and tidy, not the food guzzling pig imagined. He liked to eat in private and was a fastidious hand washer at meal times
  • It’s theorised that Henry had Kell positive blood, a blood type that, if passed to a child, it would abort the fetus. That would explain so many dead children, especially for Queen Katherine
  • Henry’s beloved sister Mary married his best friend, Charles Brandon, secretly in France. Henry was livid – Charles was only there to collect Mary because her husband of three months, the King of France, had dropped dead
Henry looking smug in 1531, by Joos van Cleve

Henry, before he favoured beheading

Little Henry was born 28 June, 1491, at the Palace of Placentia (now demolished) in Greenwich. He was baby number three, the second son of his father Henry VII, the first Tudor king. His mother, Elizabeth, was the great white rose of York, the marriage ending the War of the Roses and civil war in England. He had a comfy childhood as he was not to be king, as his older brother Arthur was groomed for the role. Henry grew up with his mother, older sister Margaret and younger sister Mary. His younger brother Edmund and youngest sister Katherine did not survive infancy.

Childhood was a lavish affair, with many titles given to him and a top-notch education, the spoiled little boy in a household of women. At age ten, Henry was part of his brother Arthur’s wedding to the legendary Princess Katherine of Aragon. Then everything changed for little ginger Henry.

On 2 April, 1502, just twenty weeks into marriage, Prince Arthur died of sweating sickness at Ludlow Castle in Wales. Suddenly  Henry was next in line to be king. His parents Henry and Elizabeth had adored Arthur and trained him well, and now were terrified to lose their only son, and possibly peace in their country if Henry didn’t ascend the throne. But Henry took on no royal duties, and while he was elevated in status, he could never go anywhere.

Queen Consort Elizabeth could do only one thing to help her country; have another son, in case something happened to Henry. She fell pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Katherine, who died after birth. Sadly, Henry then lost his precious mother to childbirth fever. But the kingdom couldn’t wait; within months Henry was betrothed to his brother’s widow, and his sister Margaret was sold off to be Queen of Scotland. Henry and his sister Mary, three years younger than himself, became even closer in a world which hid them away in preparation for the future, he as King of England, her as Queen of France.

As Henry aged, he disliked the idea of marrying Katherine of Aragon, and called off the arrangement, leaving Katherine in poverty in London, as her Spanish king father would not take her back and her powerful mother died.

Henry VII died on 21 April 1509, which left 17-year-old Henry as the King. He buried his father and decided to marry the 23-year-old Spanish princess after all, his father’s dying wish (maybe; sounded good, right?). They had a small wedding but had a dual and incredible coronation at Westminster. Henry and Katherine were a happy couple, lucky considering arranged marriages.

Henry in 1509, artist unknown

Henry, the young, prudish, king ready to take power

It was time to start beheadings. Men Henry disliked, or were found guilty of crimes, were quickly dispatched; men disliked by Henry VII were pardoned or released and Henry VIII’s enemies were chopped. But as Henry found his way, his first daughter was  stillborn in early 1510. New Year’s Day 1511 brought a precious boy named Henry, who died a few weeks into his short but celebrated life. More stillborn sons in 1514 and 1515 brought strain to the happy couple, before Princess Mary was born healthy in early 1516. Katherine again bore a stillborn daughter in 1518, bringing an end to the royal offspring.

Henry had a few mistresses, as was custom when a woman was pregnant (which was a lot). He kept Anne Hastings early in his marriage, and then Elizabeth Blount from 1516. Blount gave birth to a bastard son named Henry in 1519, and he was made a duke, despite being illegitimate. A king’s manhood needed soothing after all, and a son did that greatly.

Henry met with the King of France and the Pope in 1520. Apparently a dragon went too. artist unknown

It wasn’t all sleeping around. Henry invaded France in 1513 while pregnant Katherine invaded Scotland and killed their King, who was married to Henry’s sister Margaret. War in France went badly, but Henry’s beloved sister Mary was made the French Queen for a few months and then peace reigned. With young kings in England, France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, Europe was unusually calm. England and France had the famous Field of Cloth and Gold in 1520, a lavish peace treaty signing, and Henry was named Defender of the Faith by the Pope in 1521, as Henry was a jovial king, but also a well-read and religious man.

But there was no legitimate son and heir. Henry was still young, and in 1525, was sleeping with Mary Boleyn, who was rumoured  to have birthed two ginger children (Catherine and Henry; pick new names, people!), but were officially considered her husband’s children. But by 1526, Henry was deeply in love (lust? womb envy?) with Mary’s sister, Anne.

Henry needed to find a way out of a marriage nearly twenty years old.

Then we move to the part of Henry’s life people know.

When the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Katherine, and Cardinal Wolsey, King’s closest friend and advisor, couldn’t help him (and then died on the way to his trial and execution!), Henry got Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s secretary, to change the laws of England and crush the Catholic Church’s power in England, creating the Church of England and Protestant reform. Henry married Anne in 1533 and Katherine, the perfect wife for over twenty years, was stuck out in the countryside in poverty.

Henry in around 1537 by Hans Holbein the Younger

But Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, and had two miscarriages. Henry’s cut off Anne’s head on fake charges of adultery in 1536. He married Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, ten days later and she bore a son in 1537, only to die weeks later. Henry then married a German Protestant noble Anne of Cleves, to help fend off Catholic enemies domestically (the country was half of fire over the religious changes as monasteries were ruined) and abroad, only to find Anne ugly. Henry annulled Anne of Cleves, cut off Thomas Cromwell’s head as punishment for the idea, married Catherine Howard, an English teenager only one-third of his age, but cut her head off 18 months later for adultery. So Henry married another Catherine, Catherine Parr, then bankrupted the country losing in a war against France, and then died fat, old, cranky and possibly mentally ill. But he had his precious male heir (who died as a teenager, but that is another story).

Henry in 1542 by Hans Holbein the Younger

The Henry I write of in Thomas Cromwell’s life is from 1529 onwards, a man touching 40 and desperate to gain a son. It is all before his brain injury, his changes and his rampant tantrums, though they will make their presence felt! What kind of man was Henry before he became old and bitter? That I have been able to create for myself.

Henry’s six queens. (Anne of Cleves, wife 4, bottom left, is so not ugly!)

 Up next – Cardinal Thomas Wolsey


all photos auto-linked to source for credit

A Cromwell Adventure – Part 1: The King’s “Great Matter”

Just 80 days from now, my latest novel – Frailty of Human Affairs – book one of the Queenmaker series, shall be released worldwide. So here is the start of my new blog series, detailing the huge myriad of characters and issues dealt with in the book.

Frailty of Human Affairs (FOHA) starts in London, 1529.

King Henry VIII has been on the throne for twenty years. He is married but has the most notorious mistress of all time – Anne Boleyn. Henry is ready to take on the Pope to marry Anne Boleyn. Henry’s Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, has to take on his King and his God in order to remain in power in England.

Ask anyone about Henry VIII, and they will know about the six wives. They know about the obesity. Many know of his jousting injury and subsequent mental instability. Ask about his queens and everyone can name Anne Boleyn. Thanks to many movies and television shows, they can probably name a few wives. Then there are history lovers who know all the wives and histories, including the grand queen of them all – Katherine of Aragon. What many people don’t know much about (at least until Wolf hall was released, anyway) is how Henry ended up able to have six wives, and how the Catholic nation of England ended up Protestant due to Henry and his daughter, Elizabeth I.

While I have been researching and studying history for 12 years, the last three have been dedicated full-time to Tudor history (though Tudor stories have been with me for as long as I can remember). FOHA is the start of putting all that together in novel form, through the eyes of my favourite Tudor character, Thomas Cromwell.

Thomas Cromwell, as played by James Frain in the series ‘The Tudors’

My beloved Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell was nothing until the mid-20th century when he was researched and brought to light as the bad guy of Tudor England. The 21st century has seen Cromwell re-cast as a hero of sorts, thanks to Hilary Mantel. I write my Thomas Cromwell as both and neither of these.

FOHA is not the story of history; this is a fictional version of a man, working for the most powerful man in England – Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the true power behind the throne. Cromwell has a secret weapon of sorts, a companion, whom all call ‘The Waif’ , who holds more power and control than anyone has realised, control over Cromwell, Henry VIII and even Pope Clement. FOHA is the start of the tale when Cromwell meets ‘The Waif’, when a legatine court is set up to decide whether Henry and Queen Katherine were ever truly married – the King’s “Great Matter”.

So what is the “Great Matter”?

For the sake of ease, I shall write this first post so that even the newest person can get into the drama, though you Tudor aficionados will be well acquainted already. King Henry VIII married in 1509, right after taking the throne. He married Princess Katherine of Aragon, a beautiful and educated Spanish princess who had also married Henry’s older brother, Prince Arthur. Arthur died aged 15, just 20 weeks into his marriage, leaving Katherine in poverty in London for years (long story involving dowry money). Henry married Katherine, and together they were crowned and reigned over the nation, both led armies in battle, but also suffered the loss of five children; three sons, two daughters, but managed to have the healthy Princess Mary in 1516.

But Henry need a son, an heir to the Tudor throne, he being only the second Tudor to rule England. There was no faith that Princess Mary could rule, and claimants to the throne would spark war. Henry had several mistresses and bastard children, but when his eyes set on Anne Boleyn in 1525 (though she had been at court serving Queen Katherine for several years at this point), everything changed. Smart, pretty, educated and witty Anne Boleyn, after living in the famed courts of Europe, was a jewel many men wanted. Anne was no whore and would be no mistress. If Henry wanted Anne, he had to marry her.

By 1527, Henry, not the fat grumpy man people imagine, but an athletic, highly educated and religious man, had studied long enough to wonder – could he be annulled from Katherine on the grounds their marriage was not lawful? He had married his brother’s wife, something strictly forbidden in God’s eyes. Their dead children were proof of God’s laws, so Henry argued. Sure, the Pope of the time had issued a dispensation for Henry to have Katherine, and Katherine never slept with Prince Arthur… so she claimed.

Behind Henry was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, England’s richest and powerful man, who had run England on Henry’s behalf for years. Hated by the nobles for being born common, hated by commoners for taxing them to death, Wolsey was a king behind the King. But the Pope in Rome resisted Wolsey’s pleas for an annulment. Pope Clement VII, formerly Cardinal Giulio Medici of Florence (yes, those Medicis), was dealing with the sacking of Rome by the Holy Roman Emperor’s army. Eventually, it was decided that Wolsey and an Italian cardinal, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, would hold a legatine court, an ecclesiastical court, in London and decide on Henry’s marriage in the Pope’s, and in God’s, place.

The court sat in 1529, with both the King and Queen requiring to give evidence, along with many others; scholars, noblemen and clergy members. When the court failed to deliver a verdict, thanks to a plot by the Italians, Henry was furious. He, Queen Katherine and Anne Boleyn all lived at the court palaces together and life was getting too hard for a man who needed a son (and to get laid). Plus, sweating sickness had recently had killed countless thousands in England, and the King’s exchequer was short on funds. Patience had worn thin.

Queen Katherine was banished from Henry’s sight, moved to an ever-reduced lifestyle while Henry and Anne lived publicly, if not privately, as husband and wife. Wolsey was stripped of power, but up stepped Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s lawyer, a banker, a money-lender, a merchant, an advisor; a brilliant charismatic commoner with an astute mind. While being Wolsey’s closest friend, Cromwell wanted the King’s favour, his own power and to help Wolsey keep his head attached to his neck. But Cromwell believed he could get Henry married to Anne Boleyn. And, step-by-step, through legal means, Thomas Cromwell destroyed the Catholic Church in England until the King could have everything he wanted, all by changing laws, calling in favours, issuing the odd threat and creating a network of spies. Not only that, Cromwell was also able to push Henry into starting the Protestant reformation of England. FOHA will show the private life and sacrifices Cromwell made to make that happen, all in the company of ‘The Waif.’

Frailty of Human Affairs is book one of the Queenmaker series, set in 1529 – 1533. Book two shall be set in 1533 – 1537 and book three will be 1537 – 1540.

While my new book is fiction, the times, places, dates are all totally real, in keeping with what happened between Henry, Katherine, Anne and Wolsey during the Tudor period. The book features real people and their lives, along with the fictional character ‘The Waif’. Over the next 80 days, I shall post about all these people, from Cromwell, the royals, the Boleyns, Cromwell family, the clergy, and even ‘The Waif’, to introduce you better to the English court of the 1530’s, a story well-known and yet with more secrets to share.

Up next: Around the Book in 80 Days – Part 2: The Life of Thomas Cromwell