Thursday, 22 July 2010

New Historical Fiction Coming Soon

Browsing on Amazon yesterday I was pleased to find that there are two new historical fiction books coming out in the next two months.

Phillipa Gregory's The Red Queen, released August 19th 2010. This is the second of three books on the Wars of the Roses. The first, The White Queen, focused on Elizabeth Woodville, and this new book will focus on Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of the future Henry VII.

C.J. Sansom Heartstone, released September 2nd 2010. Not strictly historical fiction, but set in the Tudor period, this is the fifth book in the Shardlake series, and if the other books are anything to go by then this is going to be worth looking out for. I found out about this author through reading historical fiction and would heartily recommend him.

Those of you who like historical fiction in general may want to look at these recent releases.

Alison Weir, The Captive Queen, which focuses on Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Suzanna Dunn, The Confession of Katherine Howard.

Emily Purdy, The Tudor Wife.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Today in History: Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales Dies in Ludlow Castle: April 2nd 1502

Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales (1486-1502) was Henry VII eldest son. He was heir to the throne of England, and he had just married the Infanta, Catalina (Katherine) of Aragon. The Tudor Dynasty had never looked so secure, and when the young couple were sent to Ludlow in December 1501, the king and queen of England must have been full of hope that the new family would prosper. Unfortunately that hope was not to last. On the 2nd April 1502 Arthur died suddenly in Ludlow Castle of what was known in the sixteenth century as the sweating sickness, an almost flu like sickness that took hold very quickly. It could also be deadly, and surviving the first twenty four hours was very important.

In the past many historians have attributed Arthur's premature death at the age of 15 to him being sickly, and although this opinion has changed in recent years, some still believe that this was the reason behind Arthur's death. What is rarely mentioned is that Katherine of Aragon was ill at the same time, but happened to survive. Sweating sickness was also rife in Ludlow in 1502 and so it is likely that both Arthur and Katherine caught it. I am certain that Arthur could not have been that sickly child! The records that survive do not mention other illnesses, and due to the importance of the prince's rank such things would have been recorded. The king and queen, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York were happy to send their son and daughter in law to Ludlow in December 1501. If Arthur had been prone to illness it is not likely that the king would have wanted to risk his son's health by sending him to Ludlow, known for being damp and cold. This is seen in his attitude to Henry, duke of York who was not sent to Ludlow after Arthur's death because he did not want to lose another heir. I suspect if there was any concern for Arthur's health then he would have been kept in London after the wedding of 1501.

Arthur's death also had consequences. His younger brother Henry would become heir and in 1509 upon the death of Henry VII, he became Henry VIII. Henry VIII's contribution is well known, and whereas I am not a great fan of counter-factual history, sometimes I do wonder what would have happened in England if Arthur had lived.

If you are interested in knowing more these sources in particular are invaluable.

Garrett Mattingly, Catherine of Aragon, (London: Cape, 1942)

Steven Gunn, and Linda Monckton (eds.) Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, Life Death and Commemoration, (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2009)

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Henry VIII Patron or Plunderer

I have just come across this rather fascinating programme on Henry VIII and the architecture connected with him. It is the first in a two part documentary by architectural historian, Jonathan Foyle, who examines the palaces, tapestries, music and paintings created in Henry's name, and whether any of these commissions compensated for the religious treasures that he would eventually come to destroy.

Here is the link. I imagine it will be on iplayer for the next week maybe two. If you are interested in the architectural aspect of Henry's reign then this is a programme well worth watching.

Friday, 19 February 2010

History Recommendations February 2010

(1) Mary Boleyn: Josephine Wilkinson.

In the last few weeks I have been trying to read more history during the day. Now don’t get me wrong, I am reading lots of history at the moment particularly since I have just finished the first three chapter drafts of my dissertation. What I mean by reading more is that I have just been looking to read more for fun as opposed for my work. The city library has just been refurbished and so they have many more history books than they used to including new books. I was very pleased to pick up the first two. Josephine Wilkinson’s 'Mary Boleyn' and Leanda De Lisle’s 'The Sister’s Who Would be Queen.' The latter of which I will be reviewing next, but now on to the first of these books.

This is a book that I have been looking forward to reading. Mainly because I have quite a few books on Mary’s sister Anne, but in many of these books you don’t learn much about Mary at all. Aside from Philippa Gregory’s popular novel 'The Other Boleyn Girl,' Mary has not received much attention. In the beginning, I was surprised by the length of the book, it being less than 200 pages. However, when I began to read it became obvious why. The large double spaced print of the book suggested that there was not a great deal to tell, and that in a paperback edition the book would be even smaller, perhaps no more than 100 pages in standard print and 1.5 space. Looking at the sources used in the study a wide range of both primary and secondary evidence is used, but even then you could get a sense that there was not much available evidence on Mary herself, and what was obtained was from other records on Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn. This is okay though as it helps to explain the length of the book. There is probably not enough evidence for a longer study. Unfortunately, I felt that there may not have been enough evidence for what she had written because sometimes I felt that he attention went more to Mary’s sister Anne, of which we all know more about. Of course proper context is needed and for this Anne's position needs to be explained, but perhaps Mary was lost a little in the middle as the author reiterates Anne Boleyn’s rise to precedence. The focus does come back to Mary in the end when her second marriage is discussed. In places the author had to rely on circumstantial evidence, but she held up her arguments by coupling this evidence with the documentary evidence. This is seen with regard to the paternity of Mary’s children, which is something that we cannot know for certain, but the author offers her own views as to who it could have been.
Nevertheless, it was good to read a book on Mary as opposed to Anne. This along with the recent biography on Jane Boleyn brings to the forefront some of the more forgotten characters in Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s story. I did find that the book was very well written. I found it easy to follow, but the author also had a clear argument which is refreshing to see in popular history. Even if there is not much about Mary to know, I would still recommend this book particularly to anyone who reads often on the Tudors or on Anne Boleyn, and wishes to know more about an often forgotten sister.