I may have done a little dance of joy when I got home and found that the postman had delivered me all of these wonderful books! I’m looking forward to getting stuck into these (and would you believe there are more on the way too!). Lady Jane Grey is next on my “to read” list and after that who knows, but three of those books are ones I have been looking forward to for a long time – Lady Jane Grey by Eric Ives, The Winter King by Thomas Penn and The Boleyns by David Loades. I’m sure within the next few weeks you’ll be bombarded with book reviews. You’ll notice though that the two at the top of the pile are in fact novels – after watching “The Pillars of the Earth” and loving it, I decided I should use the opportunity to take a break from the non fiction and get stuck into a good story!
Below is a list of the books, with a quick typed up version of their blurbs.
The Winter King – Thomas Penn
It was 1501, England had been ravaged for decades by conspiracy, violence, murders, coups and counter coups. Through luck, guile and ruthlessness, Henry VII had clambered to the top of the heap – a fugitive with a flimsy claim to England’s crown. For many he remained a usurper, a false king. But Henry had a crucial asset: his queen and their children, the living embodiment of his longed for dynasty. Now his elder son would marry a great Spanish princess. On a cold November day this girl, the sixteen year old Catherine of Aragon, arrived in London for a wedding upon which the fate of England would hinge…
Lady Jane Grey – Eric Ives
Lady Jane Grey is the Queen England rejected. In July 1553, Edward VI, the heir to Henry VIII, died after only a brief reign as a minor. His death left the Tudor dynasty in turmoil. In the aftermath, Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen only to be ousted after thirteen days by Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s bastard daughter. Seven months later she had Jane beheaded. History has portrayed Jane as both a hapless victim of political intrigue and a Protestant martyr, but most of all as an irrelevance, hence the popular but erroneous label, the “nine days queen”. Revisiting the sources surrounding Jane Grey’s upbringing, Eric Ives challenges these views, presenting Jane Grey as an accomplished young woman with a fierce personal integrity, and England’s outstanding female scholar. He teases out the complex evidence of the 1553 crisis and dissects the moves and motives of each of the other protagonists: Edward VI himself, feverishly re-writing his will during his dying days; Mary Tudor, the woman who ‘won’ the crown; John Dudley, Jane’s father-in-law, traditionally the villain of the piece; and her father Henry Grey. As the story moves through the summer of 1553 to Jane’s execution, we see these people as agents in Jane Grey’s unfolding tragedy and her eventual moral triumph. The result is a new and compelling dissection by a master historian and storyteller of one of history’s most shocking injustices.
Nell Gwynne: A Passionate Life – Graham Hopkins
Nell Gwynne, the archetypal tart-with-a-heart, lived the classic rags to riches story: the poor woman who fell in love with a King. Nelly – as she was known – also stole the heart of a nation and has held the affection of generations since. A star of the stage – an accomplished and much loved comedienne – she caught the eye of King Charles II, becoming one of his mistresses and bearing two of his thirteen children. Their relationship lasted over 17 years and only ended with his death in 1685. The story of Nell Gwynne is the story of romance itself. Born into poverty, Nelly progressed from selling oranges in the theatre to performing on the stage itself, becoming the leading comedy actress of her day. Set in the dizzying times of Restoration England you have an irresistible romance between the merry monarch and the woman Pepys called ‘pretty, witty Nell’. Confident, mischievous, generous, caring and outrageously funny she became an icon in her own lifetime. Graham Hopkins’s passionate account of Nelly’s life and times shows us why she remains so today.
The Boleyns – David Loades
The fall of Anne Boleyn and her brother George is the classic drama of the Tudor era. The Boleyn’s had long been an influential English family. Sir Edward Boleyn had been Lord Mayor of London, his grandson Sir Thomas had inherited wealth and position and through the sexual adventures of his daughters Mary and Anne, ascended to the peak of influence at court. The three Boleyn children formed a faction at court, making many enemies: and when those enemies secured Henry VIII’s ear, they brought down the entire family in blood and disgrace. George, Lord Rochford, left no children. Mary, left a son by her husband William Carey – Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon. Anne left a daughter, Elizabeth I – so like her in many ways and a sexual politician without rival.
Nell Gwyn – Charles Beauclerk
Beautiful, quick witted and sexually magnetic , Nell Gwyn remains one of England’s great folk heroines. The story of her exceptional rise from an impoverished, abusive childhood to the wealth and connections that came with being Charles II’s mistress is a dramatic mix of lust, money, high politics and love. famously spotted selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Nell’s wit and charm brought her to the attention of one of the theatre’s leading actors. Under his patronage. she soon established herself as the greatest comedienne of her day so caught the eye of Charles II, the newly restored ‘merry monarch’ of a nation in hedonistic reaction to puritan rule. Their seventeen year affair is one of the great love stories of our history, played out against a backdrop of fire, plague, court intrigue and political turmoil
Elizabeth The Queen – Alison Weir
In her highly praised “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” and its sequel “Children of England”, Alison Weir examined the private lives of the early Tudor Kings and Queens, and chronicled the childhood and youth of one of England’s most successful monarchs, Elizabeth I. This book begins as the young Elizabeth ascends the throne in the wake of her sister Mary’s disastrous reign. Elizabeth is portrayed as both a woman and a Queen, an extraordinary phenomenon in a patriarchal age. Alison weir writes of Elizabeth’s intriguing, long-standing affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, of her dealings – sometimes comical, sometimes poignant – with her many suitors, of her rivalry with Mary Queen of Scots, and of her bizarre relationship with the Earl of Essex, thirty years her junior. Rich in detail, vivid and colourful, this book comes as close as we shall ever get to knowing what Elizabeth I was like as a person.
The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follet
Set in the turbulent times of twelfth century England when civil war, famine, religious strife and battles over royal succession tore lives and families apart; The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the building of a magnificent cathedral.
World Without End – Ken Follet (The Pillars of the Earth #2)
On the day after Halloween, in the year 1327, four children slip away from the Cathedral at Kingsbridge. In the forest they see two men killed. As adults their lives become braided together by desire, determination, avarice and retribution. They will see prosperity and famine, plague and war. Yet they will always live under the shadow of the unexplained killing on that fateful, childhood day.