I’ve been a little quiet this week as I have been reading lots and lots of history – I am currently heavily steeped in the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors both as fiction and non-fiction. Rather than posting for each book I shall do a bit of a round-up – maybe even a bit of the old ‘compare and contrast’ which I remember from my school days…
In terms of fiction I have been fairly firmly in the Wars of the Roses having read both Conn Iggulden’s Stormbird, and The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien – the former is the first in a new series by a master of historical fiction and the latter is more of a historical romance. I enjoyed both – the Iggulden is not my usual genre, being more of an adventure story (as befits the author of the Dangerous Book for Boys), but it had a good tight plot featuring English longbowmen and a shadowy spymaster. As always the history seemed pretty accurate (and, as I said earlier I have been reading lots of straight history on the period too) and I will certainly be looking forward to seeing how the series develops. The latter book covers the relationship between Owen Tudor and Katherine de Valois, the widow of Henry V and grandmother of Henry Tudor and was more familiar ground to me. I enjoy historical fiction generally, even though I usually know what is going to happen, and maybe this is because I am a big fan of an ‘unhappy ending’. In this book we certainly end badly as our heroine is, at the last, confined to a nunnery (where she was to die in poverty) and parted from both her lover and her children.
In terms of non-fiction titles I have been split between pre- and post-1485 – including The Plantagenets by Dan Jones and The King’s Grave by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones for the pre-Tudor period. The Plantagents covers the period from Henry II to Henry IV ( nearly 250 years) and shows how the foundations of the Wars of the Roses were laid.
The King’s Grave is more focussed – covering Richard III’s short reign, ending with his death at the Battle of Bosworth and the rise of the Tudor dynasty – and also covers the recent discovery of his body under a carpark in Leicester. The first book gives a good broad view of how mediaeval monarchy developed yet goes into enough detail to show the various characters involved. The second contrasts the archaeological dig to recover the remains of the last king of England to die on the battlefield with a reappraisal of his life. In fact, the main aim seems to be an attempt to convince the reader that the Tudors grossly maligned Richard III – I was largely convinced although I do feel that the authors, who are both Riccardians through and through, were maybe a touch too harsh on Henry Tudor. If Richard’s supression of his enemies was justified by his firm belief that he was the rightful king surely the same should apply to Henry?
I have also read two histories of the Tudors – one by Leanda de Lisle and the other by Peter Ackroyd – which despite covering much of the same material I found very different from each other. The former is a history of the entire family, starting with Owen Tudor, and covering the whole family tree and its links to the thrones of Scotland and continental Europe. It is particularly interesting, to me, for the way it covers the female angle – including Elizabeth of York, Margaret Beaufort and the sisters of Henry VIII as well as the better known Tudor Queens. Ackroyd’s book, on the other hand was far more concerned with ecclesiastical and political history. It was generally well-written and gave some good insights into the way that Europe, at the start of Henry VIII’s reign, was suddenly in the control of the three young kings of England, France and Spain. However, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying to me – aside from the fact that women in the Tudor period, aside from Elizabeth I and Mary, were sidelined to a great extent I spent the whole of the first few chapters feeling let down by the fact that the book started with the reign of Henry VIII. I felt that this was taking things out of context although I do realise that the religious conflicts were the main focus and these did, indeed, start with Henry VIII. Maybe I just felt that I didn’t get to know any of the individuals in this telling of the story. Or maybe I was peeved that although a King’s actions could be described as making changes ‘piece by piece so that no one could contemplate or guess the finished design; that was the reason it worked’ a Queen is called ‘hesitant and indecisive’….
And my next adventures in history? I think I need to start on World War One – this could take a while….