The Tudor Brandons by Sarah-Beth Watkins – review

Mary_Tudor_and_Charles_BrandonChronos Books

Today is the anniversary of the marriage that originally didn´t go down very well with Henry VIII; that of his sister Mary and who must be called his best friend, Charles Brandon.

I thought this would be the appropriate day to review a book that will be out in a bookstore – or online shop – near you in June: The Tudor Brandons by Sarah-Beth Watkins

When I was first asked to review this book, I have to admit that the question “what more can there possibly be to know about Charles Brandon for anyone who has read a fair bit about Henry VIII and his relationship to this man.

A fair bit, it turns out.

Not least was I ignorant about Charles Brandon´s illustrious grandfather and father, I had no idea, for example that Henry Tudor´s standard bearer at the Battle of Bosworth, the man killed by Richard III himself, was in fact Charles Brandon´s father. But he was.

Truth be told, I would have liked to read more about the two older Brandon´s, but with any luck there will in time be books about them as well.

Another thing that I didn´t know that in spite of chivalric values, Charles Brandon was220px-Charles_Brandon,_1st_Duke_of_Suffolk a bit of an…. a-hole.

But short re-cap. Charles Brandon basically grew up with Henry VIII, raising to fame but not as much fortune as he most likely would have wanted after the ascension of Henry VIII in 1509.

Mary was Henry´s younger sister, for a short while queen of France through her marriage to the more than 30 year older and sickly king Louis XII. Lucky for her, probably, the marriage didn´t last long and her loving brother sent his best friend and trusted companion Charles Brandon to escort her back from France, which he did, but not before he and Mary was married.

There was a problem here, you didn´t just marry the king´s sister and French queen dowager on a whim, and you most certainly didn´t do it without the king´s consent.

The happy couple was however forgiven, and the book The Tudor Brandons for the most part deals with the years Mary and Charles spent together, through ups and downs and fallings out with the most royal of brothers/brothers-in-law.

Sarah-Beth Watkins give a good and well researched account of the couple´s life through births and deaths of their children, through triumphant moments like their participation in the Field of Cloth of Gold and troublesome times such as the brewing war with France only a few years after the grand display itself.

marytudor-smIt also makes perfectly clear, in the event someone thought so, that Charles Brandon had a much more important part to play than just being a side-kick to the king, and how he on a number of occasions got firmly on the nerves of Cardinal Wolsey by putting his nose in diplomatic affairs where it didn´t belong, as well as his role in the sentencing of both Thomas More and Anne Boleyn

It also gives insight to the dealings with belated papal dispensations, annulments and legitimacy of the Brandon children at the very some time Henry was working his way through his great matter, at which point Mary herself didn´t have many years left to live and we get to follow Charles through his fourth and last marriage after Mary.

For the reader who has taken a particular interest in the reign of Henry VIII, much of the book will be familiar, but now from the angle of people close to him, with their joys and grievances. It´s a book very much worth reading, and I highly recommend it.



On the Trail of the Yorks – new book by Kristie Dean

To visit places where people you´ve only read about once lived or visited during important frontcoverbooktimes of their lives can give a new understanding both of the individuals and the period in which they lived and died. 

In her book Kristie Dean takes her readers to the places that in different ways helped to shape the House of York. Below an excerpt from the book which will be out for sale today, March 15th 2016:

On the Trail of the Yorks – Amberley Publishing.

Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire

This tiny village, amid the breathtaking scenery of the hills of Northamptonshire, seems too small and peaceful to have been the scene of one of the more momentous events in the history of England. Prior to King Henry VIII’s changing its name, Grafton was known by Grafton Woodville and was home to the Woodville family. Here in Grafton manor, Edward IV’s future queen was born. The eldest child of Jacquetta, Dowager Duchess of Bedford, and Richard Woodville, Elizabeth was born soon after her parents’ marriage.

Elizabeth first married Sir John Grey, a Lancastrian supporter. Following his death at the second battle of St Albans, Elizabeth tried to gain control of her jointure, but was unsuccessful. From here, the story takes on legendary quality.

churchofstmaryat grafton (2)One variation of the story is that Elizabeth stood by an oak tree with her two young sons and begged Edward to help her. Hall says that Elizabeth was with her mother when Edward, out hunting, stopped by the manor.

She pressed her suit to him, and he was fascinated. He thought her to be an ‘excellent beautie’ and neither too ‘wanton nor to humble’. Impressed by her body and her ‘wise and womanly demeanour’, he asked her to be his mistress. Elizabeth rebuffed him, saying that if she was not good enough to be his wife, she would not be his mistress.

Mancini pushes the image further, having Edward pull a dagger, with Elizabeth coolly churchofstmaryat grafton (1)resisting his advances. Impressed by her character and enflamed with desire, Edward decided that she would make a fitting royal spouse.

The most accepted date for the marriage is 1 May 1464. Edward left Stony Stratford and hurried to Grafton. Here, Edward and Elizabeth were married, quietly and privately, with only the bride and groom, her mother, the priest, two gentlewomen and a young man who assisted the priest in singing. Whether this happened at the manor, the Hermitage or in the parish church is unclear, but Edward and Elizabeth did marry before she was publicly proclaimed his queen in September of that year.

Grafton Manor

The manor at Grafton officially came to the Woodville family in 1440, but it is believed they had been tenants there prior, since the family had lived in the village for years. After Earl Rivers was killed, the manor passed to his son, Anthony, who was executed after King Edward’s death. His brother, Richard, inherited, and once he died, the estate came to his nephew Thomas Grey, Elizabeth’s son by her first marriage. His son gave up the property to Henry VIII, who largely extended and renovated the existing manor home. The house was set on fire and ruined during the Civil War.

churchofstmaryat grafton (3)Visiting Today

Sadly, there is little to see of the Grafton Elizabeth would have known. The manor lands are not open to visits. It is possible to visit the parish church of St Mary, however. Some historians speculate that Elizabeth and Edward were married at the Hermitage, which was a small friary. However, the parish church was adjacent to the manor and would have offered a more private venue, especially at an early hour.

Elizabeth was almost certainly christened in the Norman font that still stands in the church today. The family was unquestionably active in church affairs, and Elizabeth’s grandfather, John Woodville, built its tower. The church warden speculates that a Woodville chapel may have stood to the left of the high altar. John Woodville’s alabaster altar tomb may still be seen in the church.

Grafton Regis is located just off the main Northampton road. If headed north, take the second right into the village; if headed south, take the first left. Park near the village hall and walk down the quiet country lane. After a short stroll through beautiful scenery, the church will be on the left, just past the entrance to Grafton Manor. Prior arrangements should be made by email to see the interior.


kristiesmallpic (2)About the Author

For as long as she can remember, Kristie has had her nose buried in a book about history, especially medieval history. It was this passion that led her to earn her master’s degree in history. Today, she writes about the medieval period at night and teaches history to students during the day. In her rare spare moment, she can be found at home with her husband, three dogs and two cats.

Elizabeth Woodville & Edward IV – A true romance by Amy Licence.

As Amy Licence points out in the beginning of the book, Edward IV is not the king inAmy English history that has gained the most attention, unless you have had a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses, that has come to fall on more notorious monarchs such as his younger brother Richard who would become Richard III and his own grandchild Henry VIII for example.

But Edward´s reign has many interesting stories to tell, and one of those is his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. The reason for this is that Edward did something which – in latter half of the 15th century – was considered outrageous, at least for the upper classes of society and most certainly for a monarch: he married for love.

In her latest book, Elizabeth Woodville & Edward IV – A true romance, Amy Licence allow her readers not only to meet the two who defied politics and conventions, but she also takes us back to the very beginning, explaining blood relations and relationships between the families involved as well as conflicts during a turbulent century which saw the end of the Hundred Years War only to be thrown into the bloody conflict we have come to know as the Wars of the Roses which resulted in the House of York taking the throne from the House of Lancaster.

The book follows not only Elizabeth and Edward from childhood until their meeting, but offers a thorough introduction to their parents, and the paths that they took, either by choice or through decisions taken for them, not least was this the case for the women.

Even though it is a story of a man and a woman, Amy Licence highlights the situation of the women of the time, rarely masters of their own fate, and thereby follows through on her ambition in her previous work, to give, if not a voice to, so at least an increased understanding of how it was to live a life that didn´t quite belong to you.

When Edward and Elizabeth met in 1462, she was a widow and a mother of two boys, as well as five years older than Edward. She belonged to a family in the lower aristocracy and her parents themselves had caused quite a stir through their marriage, her mother being of Burgundian royal blood and the widow of the Duke of Bedford, uncle of Henry VI while the man she met – the future father of Elizabeth – was a mere knight.

By all accounts, the marriage between Elizabeth Woodville and Edward VI was a happy one, despite his many mistresses, and it certainly did result in a lot of children, two of whom would later tragically be known to history as “the Princes of the Tower”.

But it wasn´t without controversy, not at the beginning and not during its course, and in Amy Licence book you learn what happened. All in all, it´s a knowledgeable book, packed with facts and information that has something to offer both those who are entirely new to the era and the people involved as well as those who has studied the period before.

The Middle Ages Unlocked ~ Guest post

I have been offered the opportunity by Amberley Publishing to open up my blog to Gillian Polack and Katrin Kania, authors of the book “The Middle Ages Unlocked” and their ungoing promotion blog tour. Due to this you find a guest post below on the topic of folklore written by Dr Gillian Pollack.

Further down you will find more information on the two authors, the book and a link to where you can find even more information. Enjoy!

~    ~  ~Pilgrim

Folklife in the Middle Ages was rich and varied. It peeks its head up from time to time in literature, in archive documents, in archaeology. We don’t have a complete picture, but we have fascinating tidbits that give us an inkling of how people saw the world around them.

When scholars write about folklife, they often tell the stories that appear in literature and chronicles. There were two green children who came out of the ground, for example. The boy died, but the girl lived and lost her green colour. King Harold didn’t die at Hastings but lived a holy life for many years after the battle in 1066. Tiny devils sat on a lady’s long train because she went into church wearing the dress with that train, full of pride and vanity. The ghost of someone’s nephew told them where treasure was hidden.

There are so many stories. Some are anecdotes and enter medieval literature in passing. Some are greater and longer and become whole tales.

One of my favourite stories in the long tale department is the story of Melusine.

I mention this a lot at the moment, because I used it for my most recent novel. It was

first put into a full length tale by Jean d’Arras. Long before Jean d’Arras, famous people explained that they had demon ancestry (Richard I is famous for this claim) and that it explained why they were special. Melusine was the ancestress of the Lusignan family, and was a guivre. In Christian mythology this probably means she was classified as a demon. In folk mythology, however, she was an otherworldly being.

It’s very easy to look at these tales, both long and short and say “This is medieval folklife.” It’s only a small part of it. It’s very easily accessible to us, because it’s written down. We’re more likely to be able to interpret it and to understand it, but it’s only a part of the whole.

We can reconstruct burial practices and popular piety from a combinations of sources and archaeological finds. We can read what the theologians say about how people should be buried and then compare them to actual graves. This gives us an idea about what people thought about death and the afterlife. When bishops were buried, the question of their rings, for example, is important. Whether they were buried with their very expensive rings or with cheap replicas tells us how far those rings were expected to be considered as literal objects to be carried into the afterlife, or whether they were considered symbolic.

archersMost folklife perished with the people who practised it. It wasn’t buried with them: it just disappeared. Most medieval people weren’t literate and they really didn’t care if we (in their distant future) knew whether they put milk out for spirits or buried a shoe or witch bottle in a wall. Witchbottles come after the Middle Ages, but because we really don’t know what peasants in the Middle Ages did everyday, in terms of folk belief, evidence from as late as the nineteenth century has been used to argue “They did this.”

Many modern discussions about medieval folklife muddle things. The wish to understand pushes us beyond what we actually know and so we invent a set of beliefs and practices that belong to a mythical Middle Ages. I’m always amused by this, for I am a historian (and co-writer of The Middle Ages Unlocked), but also a writer of science fiction and fantasy. I keep those two sides of me distinct and keep the timelines for evidence very clear. I want to know what we actually know. If I want to invent a whole new folklore (as I did with Melusine) I write it into fiction.

I wish we knew more. I wish we knew whether the people of England knew about

Melusine or if they believed in guivres. I wish we knew if a London housewife did something odd and furtive to express her superstition as she left her house. I wish we knew if London housewives even had superstitions!

What this means is that we don’t really know tidbits about medieval folklife: we know tidbits about the folklife of educated people in the Middle Ages and just a few stray pieces of information about everyone else. It’s a fabulously rich treasure… and there is so much still to know.


Gillian Dr Gillian Polack is a novelist, editor and medieval historian as well as a lecturer. She has been published in both the academic world and the world of historical fiction. Her most recent novels include Langue[dot]doc 1305 and The Time of the Ghosts (both Satalyte publishing). Find her webpage at and her tweets under @GillianPolack.


Dr Katrin Kania is a freelance textile archaeologist and teacher as well as a publishedKatrin academic who writes in both German and English. She specialises in reconstructing historical garments and offering tools, materials and instructions for historical textile techniques. Find her website at and her blog at She also tweets under @katrinkania.




Middle Ages Unlocked front coverTo our modern minds, the Middle Ages seem to mix the well-known and familiar with wildly alien concepts and circumstances. The Middle Ages Unlocked provides an invaluable introduction to this complex and dynamic period in England. Exploring a wide range of topics from law, religion and education to landscape, art and magic, between the eleventh and early fourteenth centuries, the structures, institutions and circumstances that formed the basis for daily life and society are revealed.



Drawing on their expertise in history and archaeology, Dr Gillian Polack and Dr Katrin Kania look at the tangible aspects of daily life – ranging from the raw materials used for crafts, clothing and jewellery to housing and food – in order to bring the Middle Ages to life. The Middle Ages Unlocked dispels modern assumptions about this period to uncover the complex tapestry of medieval England and the people who lived there.


The Middle Ages Unlocked, link


Margaret Tudor – Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton


margaret bokIf one is interested in the Wars of the Roses/early Tudor era, the chances that one has come across a number of prejudice ideas about Margaret Beaufort; a conniving she-wolf who would do anything to put her son on the throne, a woman who plotted, backstabbed and in some versions also was the one behind the disappearance and presumed murder of the princes in the Tower, all the while being pious on the verge of a fanatic.

In Elizabeth Norton´s book the true Margaret Beaufort, mother and grandmother of the two first Tudor monarchs, peaks through the veils of history and for a while become a woman of flesh and blood, far from her maligned rumour. Here we instead met a woman who is strong in a time when strength was needed to survive, and who, after her first marriage, refused to be the pawn of others but took charge of her own destiny as far as it was possible.
It also becomes clear that far from her cold, nun-like persona of fiction, Margaret Beaufort was a loving woman who cared for those around her, siblings from her mother´s other marriages, stepsons and also the sister of Elizabeth of York, Cecily.

An incident with a thank you-note and a pair of gloves suggest that she also had a kind of sharp sense of humour. While Margaret Beaufort most likely never would have identified with feminism, she certainly is someone to draw inspiration from in determination and feeling of self-worth and she steps out of the shadows as an incredibly fascinating, not “just” woman, but individual of the period.

Then there is of course heart aching story of her struggle for her son. Maybe I, as the mother of a son, is more susceptible than someone without a son – or daughter for that matter – would be, but this actually breaks my heart a little. To endure the separation from a child also demands strength.
If you think you know about Margaret Beaufort, and that knowledge has more in common with the first lines I wrote, than the latter, you need to read this book. If not, I think you should read it anyway.

Richard III and the murder in the Tower

This is not a book to my liking. While that is not a general requirement for books, it is a requirement for books I read.

It´s not that I am unused to reading academic texts, but this is just too much, and fact is that when I read it I can´t avoid the feeling of being at a lecture where the speaker is so enthusiastic over his subject so he just don´t know where to start or really where to go.

Peter A Hancock´s aim is to analyse the events surrounding the murder of Will Hastings by – even if by proxy – Richard III, or as he was titled at the time; Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector under the minority of Edward V.

The author Peter A. Hancock want to find the answer to if Richard all along had the ambition to take the throne for himself, of if he was “just a man of his time” and acted on information given to him on the day of Lord Hastings death.

He makes the assumption that it may be connected to Edward IV:s alleged pre-contract with Eleanor Butler, and spends a great deal of time attempting to prove that such a contract even existed, which is quite a fruitless endeavour, because even in the event it existed at the time, any evidence is long gone.

But he goes through the connections of Richard of Gloucester and Edward IV to see how, where and when contact could have been made between Butler and Edward, he goes through William Catesby, well basically his entire family tree, as well as for Lady Butler, analyse the behaviour of Bishop Stillington who allegedly was the one who let the cat out of the bag; that is to say; revealed that there was a such a thing as a pre-contract which made the marriage between Edward and Elizabeth Woodville null and void, and thereby all their children illegitimate.

While there are many non-fiction books which work perfectly to read as a novel, this is not one of them, it may be better served in rather small portions, if at all.

It contains a lengthy reference list, but I find that Peter A. Hancock not to the extent I would like makes it clear in the actual text on what he based his assumptions, guesses and speculations on. This may sound like I belittle his work more than is required for making a point of not liking the book, but in this topic assumptions, guesses and speculations are all any of us have. The only “evidence” any of us have around the reason why Richard of Gloucester acted as he did when he assumed the crown for himself.

This book is clearly directed to the most staunch of Ricardians, and while I don´t see Richard as a villain, I´m not one of them, which may be a reason to why I can´t bring myself to think this is a book that was really worth the “trouble”.



Richard III murder in tower

The Lost Prince – the survival of Richard of York

I´m sure it happens to all reading people on rare occasions (or for the really lucky ones, more often) that we become Richard_of_Shrewsbury,_1__Duke_of_Yorktruly mesmerized by what we´re reading. It has happened to me now, and what has gotten me in this stage is this truly excellent book by historian David Baldwin (yes, the same David Baldwin I hardly mentioned at all in my last book review because I was slightly fed up with Elizabeth Woodville.

This book review is in perfect line with my earlier post  ”The Princes in the Tower – how it started”. As the title suggest, it revolves around the possible survival of the youngest of the princes, and I have to be really careful here to make sure I tell you enough to make you want to read it, and not so much you don´t feel there is any reason left for you to read it yourself.

I have to admit that I previously haven´t given much thought to the possibility that one or even both of the boys could have survived, more than a passing notion that maybe for example Perkin Warbeck was who he said he was. In all honesty, I didn´t even know that there existed such a variety of theories of which maybe I just know of a fragment now.

David Baldwin starts off by recounting a number of them, of which I find the one which may be the least credible the most “endearing”, that Richard lived out his life under the nose of the authorities as the son in-law of Thomas More. But for reasons better explained in the book than by me, this is highly improbable, and it isn´t the theory that David Baldwin choses to pursue. Instead it is the well-established rumour that the youngest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville lived to an old age as a bricklayer.

This I dare say, because this much you will learn just by googling the book.

What is fascinating is how – even though he starts out by stating that he himself is not sure whether it´s a book of fiction or non-fiction he has written – David Baldwin managed to tie together the different clues; “If that happened, then this most have been the case afterwards”

I can only imagine the satisfaction and the butterflies in the stomach he must have felt when he manages to prove his different assumptions and thesis.

Like I said at the beginning, I won´t reveal so much that I ruin anyone’s reading of this book, but I don´t any longer believe that two princes died in the Tower in the late summer of 1483. Edward may have died, young people did in those days when things that are curable or no longer existing harvested lives, but Richard survived to an impressive age. I do believe that.

The Lost Prince