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Mary, Mary quite contrary – except she wasn’t

MARY ~Tudor PrincessToday I’ve invited Tony Riches (more about him can be found at the end of this post) to pop by with a guest post about his latest book, Mary – Tudor Princess. And no, this is not a book about the Mary who would go on to become Mary I, but rather about Mary, younger sister to Henry VIII. She rarely gets much more than a passing mention in most history books, and I am pleased Tony has taken it upon himself to shed some limelight on this lady! 

They say you should avoid reading reviews of your books, as there’s no ‘right of reply’ although sometimes the feedback can be thought provoking. One recent example was in a review of my novel about one of my wife’s ancestors, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham. The male reviewer wondered if, as a man, I was able to understand Eleanor’s female point of view. It’s a good question, as I’ve just spent a year ‘in the shoes’ of Henry VIII’s youngest sister Mary Tudor.

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I chose to write about Mary because I’d researched her birth and early life for my last book, Henry – Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy. In the trilogy I’d moved forward one generation with each book, so it appealed to me to write a ‘sequel’ which did the same. I’d become intrigued with Mary’s story of how she risked everything to defy her brother when he became King Henry VIII.

When I began the Tudor trilogy, I had little factual information about Owen Tudor, Mary’s great-grandfather. The amount of information increased exponentially by the time I reached the story of Mary’s father, Henry Tudor, as he kept detailed legers of his finances. Some of Henry’s letters also survive, including some to his mother, but they were all rather formal.

This time, I had the advantage of a fascinating book The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe (Queenship and Power)  by Erin Sadlack, which includes all Mary’s surviving letters, many with replies, as well as an insightful analysis of her state of mind at the time. I prefer primary research and found her letters offer an evocative ‘voice’ for Mary, as well as revealing how she felt about people and events.

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Charles V

I wanted to explore Mary’s vulnerability as well as her strengths, and I was assisted in this by her brother, who broke off her engagement to young Prince Charles, future Emperor of Rome, to marry her off to the fifty-two-year-old King Louis XII of France. Although Mary was barely eighteen at the time, Henry saw his younger sister as a small price to pay for a treaty with France.

I enjoyed untangling the many myths about what happened next, from causing the death of King Louis with her ‘passionate exertions’ to her dying of ‘grief at her brother’s divorce from her friend Catherine of Aragon.’ I also had the benefit of knowing a great deal about the people and places of Mary’s world.

The difficulties came when I had to show Mary’s struggles with the dangers of medieval childbirth. I was present at my daughter’s and my son’s births, and there are plenty of historical accounts to draw from, but I believe only a woman can fully understand how it feels to bring a new life into the world.

If you’d like to see how well I’ve done, my new book Mary – Tudor Princess is now available on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon AU in eBook and paperback. An audiobook edition will be available later in the year.

Thank you, Tony! As I have spent quite an enjoyable weekend reading Mary – Tudor Princess, I’ve written a little review: 

Having previously read Mr Riches’ books about three male Tudors—Owen, Jasper and Henry—I was intrigued to find he had now chosen to write about Mary Tudor. Not the Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, who became Mary I, but the Mary famous for defying her brother Henry VIII and marrying the man she loved when her first husband, King Louis of France, died.

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Mary and Charles Brandon

I must admit to knowing little about Mary prior to reading this book. Yes, I knew she was the grandmother of Lady Jane Grey, yes, I knew she’d married Charles Brandon for love and seeing as I’m a hopeless romantic I rather liked her for that.

Life, however, is rarely romantic. Mary’s life was bordered by losses: that of her mother when she was still a young child, that of her father some years later, that of her impressive grandmother a year or so after her father. Her flamboyant brother did not hesitate to use Mary as a pawn to achieve political gains, which was how Mary also lost her betrothed, the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and instead ended up married to the old and ailing King Louis of France.

As always, Mr Riches presents the historical background in great detail. Clothes, food, furnishings all add vibrancy to the story as does the convoluted political situation. While the book centres on Mary and how the unfolding events affected her, Henry VIII, Queen Katherine, Cardinal Wolsey and the rather delicious Francis I of France all add colour to the narrative—as does Mary’s husband, Charles Brandon. I am in two minds about Charles: did he love Mary as she loved him or was she a convenient stepping stone? I suppose that the fact that he risked his king’s rage to marry her indicate he did have strong feelings for her—at least initially. But where Mary’s life revolves round Charles, their home and their children, Charles’ life revolves around his king and best friend, Henry VIII.  That oh, so sweet story of a secret marriage turns out to be not quite as fluffy and pink as one would have thought…

Mr Riches has done a great job of depicting just how restricted the role of a woman was in the 16th century. From Queen Katherine to Mary, a wife cannot overstep the boundaries set by their husbands or by society. Women may be strong and resourceful, but in Tudor times they were also vulnerable—extremely so, at times. Mr Riches has left us with a portrait of a woman who, from a very early age, knows herself to be a pawn, no more, no less.

MARY Tony Riches AuthorAbout 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 and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Of Concubines and kings

I am very proud to be hosting Judith Arnopp on my blog today. A prolific writer, Judith has a fondness for depicting strong women throughout the ages. For more information about Judith and her books, please visit her website.

Anyway, today’s post is about that most fascinating of English kings, Henry VIII. Somehow, after reading this I view him in a slightly more sympathetic light, no matter how many wives he went through. Maybe you will too! So, Judith – take it away.

Henry Tudor’s Annus Horribilis

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In my novel The Winchester Goose Henry VIII is a background character, his brooding presence affecting the lives of everyone around him, but when it came to writing The Kiss of the Concubine, a story of Anne Boleyn Henry had a more prominent role and I had to deepen my research and really think about how I wanted to portray him. We all think we know Henry quite well, but during the course of researching the novel I found to my surprise that he was emerging as not a bad fellow at all.
That can’t be right! I hear you cry, but in order to make Henry as authentic as possible I had to divorce myself from the knowledge of the man he later became. He was not always the despot we love to hate.
In The Kiss of the Concubine Henry is in his prime, in love with his wife and still has faith that his quest for an heir will end positively. His relationship with Anne passes from flirtation, to love, to courtship, to marriage and lastly into disillusion. The descending path of their relationship and the destruction of Henry’s chivalry is clearly detectable in the historical record, the question that needs to be answered is did he fall out of love with her, or was he pushed?

Prior to 1536, contemporary reports give no clue as to the embittered man Henry was to become. On his assumption to the throne, when his future stretched ahead in an unspotted landscape of grace and chivalry, he seemed the answer to the nation’s prayers. With the blood of both houses flowing through his veins, Henry himself personified an end to years of discord between York and Lancaster and the future in England looked bright.

Henry wasn’t born to rule, as the second son he was intended for the church but was thrust suddenly into the limelight by his brother Arthur’s sudden death. His father’s reign was beset by dissent and rebellion, ensuring that Henry learnt first-hand the insecure nature of the throne. He was now subjected to an abrupt and vigorous schooling in the art of kingship and the main lesson he learnt was the importance of sons, one was not enough.

Initially, on his accession, Henry stuck to his intentions. Married to his brother’s widow, Catherine, with a special dispensation from the Pope, the new king threw off the gloom of his predecessor and the royal court took on new light and colour. A lover of art and music, Henry embraced the new ideas from Europe and when his queen proved quickly fruitful, England looked set for a long and peaceful reign.
Bells rang out and wine flowed.
Things were looking good.

However, the first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. The second in 1511 produced a son, whom they named Henry, and great celebrations were held throughout the realm – the future seemed set until, at just a few weeks old, the boy died.
No one knows when Henry first began to have doubts about his choice of bride but we can be quite certain he never saw the failure to produce an heir as his own shortcoming. Catherine and Henry’s marriage lasted the longest of all; apparently content with one another, their only sorrow was that try as they may, they could only produce one daughter. And daughters were no use to Tudor kings.

After the birth of Princess Mary there were further miscarriages and still-births, and with each disappointment Catherine became wearier, she grew older and more defeated. Always pious, she looked for comfort in fervent prayer, while Henry turned to other women.
This period of disillusion coincided with the arrival of Thomas Cromwell whose determination to please his monarch stopped at nothing. It was Cromwell who, armoured with his desire for church reform, showed Henry the way to achieve his desires and allowed him to recognise the extent of his own power. It is around this time that the axe began to fall in earnest.
Henry was devoutly religious but in his quest for a male heir, and his pursuit of Anne Boleyn, he went so far as to dispense with the Pope, bringing down the wrath of Rome on his kingdom and the displeasure of Catholic Europe upon himself.
And still he did not get a son.

JA blob bild2 His quest to become Supreme Head of the Church in England and to impose the Act of Succession saw many of his dearest friends executed. There is no record of his feelings about this but his actions can only have been the result of disappointment, and a monumental sense of betrayal.

Even though he was aware that an heir was vital to prevent England from reverting to civil war, in his heart of hearts he cannot have justified killing his friends for the sake of a son. Or maybe he did manage to justify it, for shortly afterwards his quest led to the sacrifice of his wife, a woman he had pursued for seven years, and for whose sake he had severed ties with Rome and brought the church in England to its knees.
Shortly before Anne’s arrest, Henry fell from his horse and was unconscious for several hours, some reports suggest his life was despaired of. This accident, although it didn’t kill him, seems to have altered Henry’s personality. The injuries sustained put an end to his active life, his hunting days were largely over and his tremendous energy forced into other avenues.

No longer king of the joust, he became king of the feast, indulging in vast meals, and now that he was no longer active, his weight piled on, the ulcer in his leg refused to heal and his temper grew short. Disappointment can sour the best of us but Henry, in his position of power, was able to indulge that sense of disappointment, and rage against the dying of his youth and hopes.

By the end of 1536, the Renaissance Prince of 1509 was gone, and in his place was an increasingly frustrated lion, an ageing lion with very sharp claws. Henry had wanted to be remembered for his nobility, his Christian humanity but instead he became a monster. After his excommunication from Rome, when he made himself head of the church in England, it was downhill all the way.

Susannah Lipscomb in her book 1536: The Year that changed Henry VIII says, “By the end of 1536, over a few short months, he had experienced an unbelievable catalogue of loss – two lost son, two lost wives, the loss of his health and youth, and the loss of his sense of masculinity and honour. This was suffered in the midst of threats, which looked like betrayals – the judgement of his cousin Reginald Pole, and the sword of Damocles of the papal bull, prepared with the knowledge of his fellow monarchs.”

1536 saw the beginning of his spiral into despotism. The merry court of his youth turned into one of fear, and it was all for want of an heir. In producing just one son with his third wife, Jane Seymour, and two daughters of wavering legitimacy, he feared he was failing as a king. As age took a stronger hold, his suspicion and cynicism grew greater and each time he executed an old friend his self-hatred increased.

With each wife he dispatched, his self-loathing increased and, as time went on it was easier to look the other way and pretend it wasn’t happening. In failing in the fundamental laws of chivalry and kingship Henry, who had been searching for it all his life, never found love, and to the detriment of those closest to him, he never found happiness. The only ambition he realised was lasting fame and even that fame is grounded in ignominy.

JA blog b3In my novel The Kiss of the Concubine I mark Henry VIII’s transition from hope to despair through the eyes of his most famous victim, Anne Boleyn. You can watch a trailer here:

The Kiss of the Concubine

Judith Arnopp

28th January 1547. It is almost midnight and the cream of English nobility hold their breath as King Henry VIII prepares to face his God. As the royal physicians wring their hands and Archbishop Cranmer gallops through the frigid night, two dispossessed princesses pray for their father’s soul and a boy, soon to be king, snivels into his velvet sleeve.
Time slows, and dread settles around the royal bed, the candles dip and something stirs in the darkness … something, or someone, who has come to tell the king it is time to pay his dues.

The Kiss of the Concubine is the story of Anne Boleyn, second of Henry VIII’s queens.

The Kiss of the Concubine is available on Kindle now and in Paperback soon.

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