Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monthly Mailbox

OK, this is really almost kind of embarrassing: I added 15 books to my library this month!

Bought from ebay:
My Wanton Tudor Rose by Lozania Prole (Katherine Howard)
The Queen’s Ward by Heba Elsna (court of Elizabeth I)
Suffolk’s Queen by Jean Evans (Henry VIII’s sister Mary and Charles Brandon)
The Unravished Bride by Terry Tucker (Richard II)

From PBS:
Brief History of the Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley (non-fiction)
The Perfect Prince by Ann Wroe (non-fiction about Perkin Werbeck)
The Love Knot by Elizabeth Chadwick
Secrets of the Tudor Court: The Pleasure Palace by Kate Emerson
The Tory Widow by Christine Blevins (American Revolution)
Henry VIII: The King and his Court by Alison Weir (non-fiction)
Kleopatra by Karen Essex
Richard the Lionheart by John Gillingham (non-fiction)

Signora da Vinci by Robin Maxwell (giveaway from the published at Historical Fiction Online)
Hand of Isis by Jo Graham (Library Thing Early Reviewer Program)
The King’s Rose by Alisa Libby (review copy from the author; YA fiction about Katherine Howard)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday Mosaic

Ferdinand of Aragon was born in 1452 and married Isabella of Castile on October 19, 1474, creating a united Spain. Their regin is probably most noted for the financing of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World, driving the Moors from Grenada, creating the Spanish Inquisition and for two of their daughters: Joanna "the mad" and Katherine of Aragon (first wife to Henry VIII). Ferdinand died in 1516.

He has a serious 5 o'clock shadow going on here!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

New This Week

Royal Blood by Rona Sharon. US Release 3/31/09; UK release 4/2/09. I mentioned this one a few weeks ago - a vampire story based in Tudor England.

The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham. US re-release 4/1/09. The story of Eleanor de Clare, niece of Edward II and married to Hugh Despenser. I read this when it first came out a couple of years ago and I highly recommend it.

Amenable Women by Mavis Cheek. UK paperback release 4/2/09. I think this would be considered a "time shifting" novel. Since it involves Anne of Cleves, I'm thinking about giving it a try.

The King's Mistress by Emma Campion. UK release 4/2/09. Novel about the notorious mistress of Edward III, Alice Perrers.

Henry VIII: Man and Monarch by David Starkey and Susan Doran. UK release 4/1/09. This book is a catalogue to accompany British Library exhibit of the same name, celebrating the 500th anniversary of Henry's accession to the throne (exhibit runs 4/22/09 - 9/6/09). The book will include photographs of 250 exhibits and related material. Since my trip to Europe this year is looking less likely, I may have to content myself with buying the book!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Good Books, Good Friends....Good Reads

I didn't really need another place on the internet to spend my time, but I joined GoodReads yesterday anyway. Even though I also belong to Library Thing, GoodReads seems to be a little more interactive. So, I'm entering all my books, and will eventually get around to ratings and reviews. There are new friends to make, old friends to connect with, groups to join and books to talk about. What more could a book lover want?? As in most places, I go by Tanzanite over there if you'd like be friends!

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen by Leanda de Lisle

For all his dynastic ambitions, Henry VIII must have been pretty disappointed as he contemplated the future of the monarchy that would follow his death: a frail, motherless, young son and two illegitimate daughters. The marriage of his oldest sister Margaret to the King of Scotland had not brought about the desired results and there was increasing debate on the religious front between Catholics and those who were part of the reform movement. Seeking to control the future from the grave, Henry made the succession of the monarchy a part of his will: if his children should die without heirs, the crown would pass to the heirs of his youngest sister, Mary, bypassing the usual claim of Margaret. He probably thought it would never come to that.

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen is an account of the three young women who would play into Henry’s decision: the granddaughters of his sister Mary – Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey. Although Jane’s story is the most well known of the three, Katherine and Mary also experienced tragedy in their short lives because of who they were and the threat (real or perceived) they represented to Queen Elizabeth I.

De Lisle spends considerable time setting up the Grey sisters’ story and the political and religious environment of the time, mostly leading up to the infamous nine day reign of Jane and the political ambitions of those around her. But de Lisle chooses a slightly different view from the generally accepted “child-victim” Jane, concluding that Jane had her own ambitions (mostly religious) and that although she may have reluctantly accepted the crown, once the deed was done, Jane was not the innocent puppet history has made her out to be. In addition, de Lisle indicates that Jane’s mother Frances probably does not totally deserve her legacy as a selfish and cruel mother.

After Jane’s execution and Mary Tudor’s death, the book turns to the middle sister, Katherine, now the heir apparent to the Tudor throne. To everyone that is except Elizabeth. The device used by Henry VIII to dictate the succession set a precedent later used by his son Edward VI (naming Jane as his successor) that likely frightened Elizabeth and threatened her security as Queen. It disrupted the natural order of things and provided a rallying point for disgruntled subjects. It appears that for this reason, Elizabeth preferred the claims of the Catholic Mary of Scotland over that of the Protestant Katherine Grey. This reasoning seems somewhat illogical given the number of plots that were uncovered seeking to replace Elizabeth with the Scottish Queen. But perhaps the perceived order of primogeniture was more important to Elizabeth than the very real threats against her crown and her life.

Katherine and Mary Grey both decided to marry for love and without the Queen’s permission (an act that would be repeated in subsequent generations). This led to the imprisonment and separation of both couples for a number of years with Katherine giving birth to two sons, Edward and Thomas. It is understandable why Katherine’s marriage to Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford might have been viewed suspiciously by Elizabeth since Hertford was descended through his mother from Edward III and so between them they (and their children) had a pretty good claim. But the real tragedy for Katherine and Mary is that it was all so unnecessary as they both pre-deceased Elizabeth. The book concludes with the succession following Elizabeth’s death and a brief summary of the lives of Katherine and Edward’s descendants over the next 100 years.

A couple of characterizations surprised me. Besides the usual descriptions of being intelligent and kind, Katherine Parr is described as a sensual woman who loved beautiful silk dresses and paid meticulous attention to her person hygiene (bathing in milk and using expensive cinnamon for her breath). Katherine Suffolk (Charles Brandon’s second wife) is portrayed as a remarkable woman who combined great temper and wit with directness and honesty. I haven’t read that much about Katherine (except as a very minor character in some books) but somehow I just never imagined her that way.

De Lisle does a good job of helping the reader keep the varied players straight as well as their relationships with each other (which are often complex and multi-layered). Extensive family trees of Henry VIII, the Greys, Dudleys and Seymours are included as well as a lengthy bibliography and endnotes. In addition, the book contains several pages of beautiful color photographs. Overall, this is an enjoyable and easy to read biography of three young sisters – one who has lived on as a romanticized heroine victimized by her family and the other two as virtually unknown footnotes to a fascinating family and period of history.

Note: I bought the UK version. The book will be released in the US on October 13th.

Rating: Very Good

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Weekly Wishlist

Margaret of York: The Diabolical Duchess by Christine Weightman. Non-fiction. Reissued March 14, 2009 in the UK (To describe Margaret of York as "diabolical" seems to be a little strong).

Amenable Women by Mavis Cheek. Normally time shifting books aren't really my thing, but this one involves Anne of Cleves and since there is so little written about her, I might give this one a shot. Available only in the UK, the paperback will be released April 2, 2009 (hate the cover though).

Warrior Daughter by Janet Paisley. Fiction about Scotland's Iron Age warrior queens. UK Release 6/4/09; US release 7/2/09

The Rebel Princess by Judith Koll Healey. Third in a series of books about Princess Alais of France. US release 6/30/09; UK release 7/09)

The De Lacy Inheritance by Elizabeth Ashworth. 'When it becomes clear that Robert de Lacy will die without an heir there is more than one person who believes that a vast tract of land across Lancashire and Yorkshire should pass to them. Robert's cousin, Albreda Lisours is determined that the inheritance must stay in the family, but a local priest, the Dean of Wallei, believes it has been promised to him. The dispute is eventually resolved by the intervention of a leper, and Johanna FitzEustace finds that the solution provides the answer to her own difficulties. As well as telling the story of the inheritance the book explores some of the medieval concepts of the relationships between love, religion and disease.' UK Release August 4, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Awards, Awards, Awards

I have received some awards over the past few weeks that I would like to acknowledge:

From Amy at Passages to the Past and Alabama Bookworm, the Proximade Award:

"This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY-nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated.

From Margo TreeHugger, the When Life Hands You Lemons Award for showing great attitude and/or gratitude.

From Marie Burton, the Sisterhood Award.

Thank you ladies! I am very thankful that people actually read my blog and that some of you seem to like it!! Unfortunately, with my return to a full time office job the first of the year, my time for blogging, reading and catching up with all of my book friends has been severely cut back.

What’s more unfortunate (for my blogging and reading that is) is that my time may become stretched even thinner as we are contemplating starting a business - something my husband has always wanted to do. Since he still hasn’t found a job since our move to Denver, I guess now might be as good a time as any. He is excited but it scares the hell out of me! It's not definite yet, we have to see about getting either some financing or some investors.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday Mosaic

Lady Mary Grey was the youngest sister of Jane and Katherine Grey. Born in 1545, she is described as being very short in statute with a crooked back. Like her sister Katherine, she married for love in 1565- the royal gatekeeper Thomas Keyes (who was supposedly the largest man at court) - and was also imprisoned when the Queen found out. After her husband's death in 1572, Mary was released and lived modestly until her death in 1578.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New This Week

King's Fool - Margaret Campbell Barnes. US release 3/22/09. Although originally scheduled to be released on April 1st, a few days ago Amazon's web site indicated it would be available starting on the 22nd.

Hand of Isis - Jo Graham. US release 3/23/09 (released in the UK on 3/5/09)

Richard III, The Young King to Be - Josephine Wilkinson. Non-fiction. US release March 2009 (currently available on Amazon).

Richard III and the Death of Chivalry - David Hipshon. Non-fiction. UK release March 2009 (currently available on Amazon UK)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Weekly Wishlist

A couple of non-fiction books added to the list this week:

A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris (Edward I); US Release - 4/28/09

1415: Henry V's Year of Glory by Ian Mortimer; UK release only 9/24/09

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Second Sister by Marie Sandeford

Almost a year ago, this 1999 book appeared on my Amazon UK recommendations. There was no description for the book, but the one review indicated it was the story of Lady Catherine Grey, sister to Lady Jane. Not knowing much about Catherine, I put it on my wish list to keep an eye on when it might be back in stock. After weeks (if not months) of waiting, one day in September I noticed it was actually available so I ordered the last remaining copy Amazon claimed they had in stock (I have never seen the book actually in stock again – the Amazon UK site consistently indicates that the book is out of stock but if you order it, it will be sent when it is available…)

Subtitled, "A Royal Tudor Romance", The Second Sister is about Catherine’s secret marriage to Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford (his father was Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector of England for Edward VI and Queen Jane Seymour’s brother). By the terms of Henry VIII’s will, Catherine and her sisters Jane and Mary were named as successors to the throne of England if his children should all die without heirs. As such, their marriages were affairs of state concern.

A political marriage was made for Catherine when she was 12 to Henry Herbert, the son of the Earl of Pembroke. But when her sister Jane and their father are executed, Pembroke decides the young Catherine is a political liability and has the unconsummated marriage annulled. Catherine then goes to court where she becomes friends with Jane Seymour (niece of Queen Jane) and meets her brother, Edward (Earl of Hertford). A romance quickly develops between Catherine and young Hertford with his sister Jane acting as a messenger, go-between and decoy. Through the uncertain times of Mary’s reign and into the early days of Elizabeth’s, Edward plans to ask for permission to marry Catherine but the time never seems right. Given the unpredictable moods of the Queen and Catherine’s own actions that tend to annoy Elizabeth, it begins to look as if they will never be given permission to marry. So, they decide to do it in secret.

Elizabeth is not without suspicion as the relationship develops and there are those who try to warn both Catherine and Edward. But their warnings fall on deaf ears and as a pregnant Catherine rapidly begins running out of time, the truth comes out. Elizabeth is furious over what the “little featherhead” has done and at the presumption of the Earl of Hertford for daring to marry someone with royal blood. Her solution: put them both in the Tower (separated of course). But with the help of sympathetic jailers, the couple is reunited and eventually, a second son is born to Catherine. Elizabeth is beyond angry at this point and forces the separation of Catherine from her husband and eldest son, even as Catherine’s health begins to deteriorate.

Catherine is a sweet, young girl who loves dogs, music and poetry. Not as intelligent as her sister Jane, she is ruled by her heart and her emotions, failing to recognize the dangerous situation she has placed herself in even as she recognizes herself as Elizabeth’s potential successor. Edward is the dashing young man who sweeps her off her feet and who genuinely seems to love Catherine, despite Elizabeth’s certainty that his only interest in Catherine is his ambition. Elizabeth is mostly a shrill, bitter woman who plays with people’s lives like a child with a toy, disguised as doing what is best for the country. Neither Catherine nor Edward really seem to understand (or articulate) why Elizabeth would be so against them, although the birth of sons and the people’s subsequent pity for their situation lends some clues as to her continued harsh treatment of the couple.

Overall, this is a nice little romantic story (virtually no sex) of two people who gambled with love and paid the price. Even though their story is sad and tragic, it seems likely they thought it was worth it.

Rating: Good

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Mosaic

I am finishing a book about Catherine Grey, one of Lady Jane Grey's younger sisters. She was born in 1540 and secretly married the Edward Seymour, the 1st Earl of Hertford (son of Edward Seymour, Queen Jane Seymour's brother). As specified in Henry VIII's will, Catherine was in line to the throne, and her marriage infuriated Elizabeth so much that she had Catherine and her husband imprisoned. At that time Catherine was already very far along into her first pregnancy and she eventually gave birth to a second child while Elizabeth's "guest". Sadly, Catherine died at the age of 27. This portrait was painted during Catherine's late teen years by Levina Teerlinc.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

New This Week

A Daughter's Love: Thomas Moore and His Dearest Meg by John Guy; non-fiction; US release - March 17th

Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin; medieval mystery set during the reign of Henry II; US release - March 19th

1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII by Suzannah Lipscomb; non-fiction; UK release - March 20th

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Master of Verona by David Blixt

In Italy, an old prophecy predicts that a man known as the “Greyhound” will come and unite the land and bring about a new golden age. Many in Verona and the surrounding cities believe they know who the prophecy refers to. But are they right? Could there be more than one possible claimant to this great destiny?

The leading contender for the honor is Francesco “Cangrande” della Scala, the womanizing, charismatic leader of Verona. Raised by his sister, Katerina, he has been led all his life to believe that he is the reputed “Greyhound”, the savior of Italy. As a patron of the arts, he has welcomed the poet Dante Alaghieri to his court after his forced exile from his native Florence. Dante has brought his two sons with him – his middle son (and now his heir), Pietro, is a reckless, young man whose sense of courage and loyalty will lead him to commit extraordinary acts of bravery, earning him a trusted place in Cangrande’s service.

But all is not what it seems to be and behind Cangrande’s every move is a questioned motive and the building blocks of a grand puzzle. What is really behind the obviously tense relationship he has with his sister? Where does his illegitimate son, Cesco, fit into his plans? Who is the shadowy figure who always seems to be one step ahead of him? And what exactly does he want from Pietro?

The Master of Verona is a fast-paced, roller coaster adventure full of intrigue, deception, love, family loyalty, betrayal and secrets. Young Pietro seems to have a knack for finding himself in life-threatening situations and the ability to get himself out of them in ways that often defy explanation. Early on, his partners are his two friends- Antony Capecelatro and Mariotto Montecchio. But a dispute between the two forces Pietro to choose sides and will set up one of the greatest romantic tragedies of all time – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (however, this is not the primary storyline).

Cangrande is the larger-than-life hero with a triple threat – charming, smart and devious when necessary. Pietro is a likeable young man who holds to the virtues of chivalry and longs to escape from the shadow of a famous father and make a name for himself. Blixt includes a number of references to astrology and the drawing of star charts for various characters and then weaves those into a story of destiny and fate, drawing Pietro further and further into Cangrande’s plan.

From the list of characters, there appear to be several nods to Shakespeare’s characters from several of his other plays although I will have to admit to most of them being lost on me since I have never been a fan of his plays (although I love Zefirelli’s 1968 movie, Romeo and Juliet). Even though I might have missed a few subtle references or “inside jokes” based on those characters, I definitely did not feel that my lack of knowledge impaired my enjoyment of the book in any way. Actually, the contrary is probably true – I didn’t worry about trying to find all of the references and was able to enjoy the story.

The story can become a little battle-weary at times, but they are so vividly detailed that I can’t consider them a negative. Overall, this is a fantastic debut novel that tells an exceptional story. By the end, most of the pieces of the puzzle have come together, only to set up a new one that will undoubtedly be the subject of Blixt’s follow up, The Voice of the Falconer, which should be released in 2010. I will definitely be buying it.

The meaning of destiny: "Fate throws an obstacle in our way. We decide how to deal with it. That’s our free will. We cannot fight Fate, but we can choose our reaction to it.” Pietro to Cangrande during a discussion of the power of destiny and the stars.

"Wisdom is not innate in greatness. It can only be gained through the trials of a man’s life." Dante to Cangrande’s wife during a discussion of greatness and fidelity.

Rating: Excellent

Friday, March 13, 2009

Weekly Wishlist

New to the list this week:

Royal Blood - Rona Sharon. Set during the Tudor Court in 1518, this is a historical romance that apparently features a vampire. A little out of the norm for me, but the trailer looks interesting. I might give it a go. Release date: 3/31/09 - US; 4/2/09 - UK

Jane Seymour: Henry VIII's True Love - Elizabeth Norton. Finally, a biography about one of the more neglected of Henry's wives (the other being Anne of Cleves). Release date: 5/14/09 (US & UK)

Elizabeth's Women - Tracey Borman. I believe this is non fiction but wouldn't swear to it. Release date: 9/10/09 (UK only)

Secrets of the Tudor Court: Between Two Queens - Kate Emerson. Non information available about this one yet. Release date: 1/5/10 (UK)' no information on Amazon US yet.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Tudors - Season Three

In a little more than 25 days season three of The Tudors premieres on Showtime. I'm not sure how the show will be without Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn, but I'm looking forward to seeing how Henry's relationships with Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves are developed. Here are a few pictures.

Joss Stone as Anne of Cleves. I actually think she pulls the look off rather well.

A promotional shot of Henry, Charles Brandon and Cromwell. I could have done without Cromwell in the shot (just not the same level of "yummy".)

Another promotional pic. I have no idea who/what the girl is in the background, but seated with Henry are Jane Seymour and his daughter Mary. I think the young lady that plays Mary looks quite pretty here.

A close-up of Jane Seymour. For whatever reason, the actress who played Jane last season has been replaced.

25 days and counting...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

When I was in middle and high school, I loved Greek Mythology. I thought the stories were not only interesting as just stories, but also how the stories were used by the Greeks (and the Romans in their own versions) to explain or describe the world around them. When I heard about a book where the gods of Olympus are stuck in modern day London and wreaking havoc on the world, I thought, "what a cool concept". Too bad the idea and the reality were two totally different things.

Living in a dilapidated house they bought during the plague, the gods find their powers waning and their purpose in the world in question. To try and make ends meet, some of them have found jobs: Artemis a dog walker; Aphrodite a phone-sex worker and Apollo is trying to make a name for himself as a cable TV star when he's not turning girls who won't sleep with him into trees (ala his lost love Daphne who wanted to be turned into a tree in order to avoid his advances).

What could have worked as a hilarious comedy quickly turns into a bad soap-opera with the family double crossing each other (when they aren't sleeping with each other) and dragging a couple of boring mortals into their battles. They are all petty, boring and flat. But what's even worse is the dialogue: juvenile and immature to the point that I felt like I was back in high school. Ugh. I gave it 70 pages and quit (which is really longer than it deserved but I really wanted to like this book). Bang! Right into the wall (figuratively speaking of course).

Rating: DNF

Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday Mosaic

I just finished The Master of Verona by David Blixt and one of the main characters is the Florentine poet Dante who is best known for his monumental work, The Divine Comedy. I remember reading The Inferno either in high school or college (can't remember which) and thought it was interesting even if it wasn't quite my thing. This picture may be the earliest known and was likely painted during his lifetime prior to his exile from Florence. It is attributed to the Italian painter Giotti in the Bargello palace.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

New This Week

There doesn't appear to be many new releases this week, but I am looking forward to reading this one:

The King's Grace - Anne Easter Smith

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Weekly Wishlist

Added this week:

Richard III and the Death of Chivalry - David Hipshon. Non-fiction. Release date March 2009 in the UK only.

1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII - Suzannah Lipscomb. Non-fiction. Release Date: 3/27/09 - UK; 8/1/09 - US

Lady Jane Grey - Eric Ives. Non-fiction. Release date 9/25/09 - UK only.

The Queen's Mistake: In the Court of Henry VIII - Diane Haeger. Release date 11/3/09

Her Mother's Daughter - Julianne Lee. Novel about Mary Tudor. Release date 12/1/09

The Lute Player - Norah Lofts. Reissue of her novel on Richard I. Release date 12/8/09

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mistress of the Monarchy by Alison Weir

“Men of title and privilege simply do not marry their mistresses,” according to England’s late Queen Mother. Although she was probably referring to her grandson, Prince Charles, her words (or a version of them) were probably repeated across the country more than 600 years ago when another prince of England married his mistress. Mistress of the Monarchy is the latest non-fiction book by Alison Weir and tackles the story of John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III, who dared to marry his mistress, Katherine Swynford, shocking the sensibilities of the medieval world.

As part of her promotional tour for the book, Weir made a stop in Denver a few weeks ago so I went to hear what she had to say (and to try and get my book signed!). During her 45 minute presentation, I found her to be an interesting and entertaining speaker and I have to admit to thinking her British accent was very cool! At one point she indicated that she had originally planned to write a book about John of Gaunt but her publishers thought a book about Katherine would have more appeal. Fortunately for Weir, it really is a distinction without much of a difference.

Weir is up front that not much is known about Katherine. References to her in chronicles of the time are largely derogatory, calling into question her morals and integrity, while the details of the life of a royal mistresses were hardly considered important enough to record. Of course, if the chroniclers knew then what would happen to England in about 100 years, they probably would have paid more attention! As a result, Weir attempts to construct a life from the scant historical references and the records of John of Gaunt.

The story that emerges is largely (surprise!) that of John of Gaunt since you really can’t tell Katherine’s story without also telling the story of the man who became one of the most influential political leaders of his time. Besides, John’s life is fairly well documented from a variety of sources. Using the information about Katherine that is available, Weir makes quite a few inferences and suppositions as to the sequence of events that led Katherine into the Duke’s bed – and his heart. For the most part, it makes for a nice love story that is very readable and interesting.

Since this is a non-fictional account of Katherine and John (after all, how could anyone top Anya Seton’s classic fictional, Katherine), Weir is forced to qualify a majority of the assertions she makes with “maybe”, “possibly”, “could have”, “may have”, etc. After a while, the use of these phrases become rather tiresome – especially when they are used for no real purpose. For example, while describing a particular dress fashion of the time Weir speculates as whether it is possible if Katherine wore this type of dress; and while discussing the funeral of Blanche of Lancaster, " she may have witnessed" and "may have been present”. There are quite a few minor speculations like these and for some reason they annoyed the heck out of me.

A considerable number of pages are devoted to Katherine’s brother-in-law, Geoffrey Chaucer (not sure all of it was necessary) as well as Katherine and John’s four children (I thought this was interesting) who all seem to have more written about them than Katherine. The fact that her life can seemingly only be told in the context of the lives of those around her is rather sad. I applaud Weir for taking on the task of writing about such an enigmatic figure, but I don’t think it is very successful in providing any insight into Katherine or what she was really like. No one even knows for sure what she looks like, although Weir makes an argument for her appearance in a medieval painting.

What the book lacks in details concerning Katherine it more than makes up for in the details of medieval life and in her treatment of John of Gaunt. I don't think there are many books about him and so it was interesting to read more about his life. Weir treats him very sympathetically as a man who was loyal to his country, his king and his people and who worked tirelessly for their well being - even as he consolidated power as a de facto king. It seems therefore unfortunate (but perhaps expected) that he became the scapegoat for England's problems at the times.

One thing I thought was interesting was Weir’s conversion of medieval sums of money into modern terms (in British pounds). This allows you to get a sense of how wealthy John really was, the amounts given to Katherine throughout her life and the vast sums spent on various items and events.

Rating: I struggled deciding on a rating. Overall, I would consider the book "good", but only average in its coverage of Katherine Swynford's life. So, Average+.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New This Week

I don't know about you, but I'm finding it hard to keep up with all of the new releases coming out! So, I thought I would start a new weekly feature, highlighting some of the new books coming out that week.

Secrets of the Tudor Court - Kate Emerson

Catherine Howard (NF) - Lacey Baldwin Smith

The Kingmaking - Helen Hollick

Tudor Queens of England (NF) - David Loades

Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII's Obsession (NF) - Elizabeth Norton

Available in the UK only:

The Vow on the Heron - Jean Plaidy

Passage to Pontefract - Jean Plaidy

The Star of Lancaster - Jean Plaidy

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Mosaic

John of Gaunt (1340-1399) was the third son of King Edward I of England and the father of Henry IV. He was married three times - to Blanche of Lancaster, Constance of Castille and Katherine Swynford (his mistress of several years during his marriage to Constance). He and Katherine had four children who were given the last name of Beaufort, some of whom are the ancestors of the Tudor Dynasty. This portrait is attributed to Lucia Cornelli. Overall, he's not a bad looking guy (for the time period!) but his eyes look kind of sad.