Since today is Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day, I thought I share some travel to the way past. I recently spent several weeks in the 15/16th century. My general feeling is - it’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. My time machine was four books.
Three Sisters, Three Queens by Phillipa Gregory
I actually read this book back in September and mentioned it briefly then. It’s a 500+ page book about the lives of three women, Margaret Tudor, Catherine of Aragon, and Mary Tudor, all of whom had ties to Henry VIII.
So just a teeny bit of real history here
Henry VII (the first Tudor) m Elizabeth of York and their surviving children were:
Arthur (Married Catherine of Aragon at age 12. He died at age 17 and the consummation of the marriage was questioned then to now)
Margaret (Married James IV of Scotland and after his death, married a second time – divorced, then married a third time)
Henry VIII (Married Catherine of Aragon plus several others)
Mary (married Louis XII of France and after his death, married a second time)
Each a queen – Scotland, England, France. Sisters by birth and marriage.
The story is told entirely from the viewpoint of Margaret Tudor, historically the least well-known sister, and is about her relationship with Mary and Catherine. The three queens find themselves set against each other throughout the book. Catherine commands an army against Margaret which kills her husband James IV of Scotland. But Margaret’s son becomes heir to the Tudor throne when Catherine son(s) die in infancy. Mary steals the widowed Margaret’s proposed husband, but when Mary is widowed it is her secret marriage for love that is the envy of the others.
And, because I was curious, I did some fact checking and historically, the book is accurate enough. The fictional part being, of course, the loves, feelings, hurts, joys, jealousies, thoughts, threats, words and everything else that made surviving as a royal possible. It’s a good book though.
Next I read Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel, books one and two of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy. Now, you may have already seen the TV ministries, Wolf Hall, starring Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis. It’s excellent. However, I had the feeling that giant leaps were happening throughout the show. And, they were. The six episodes are based on both books (which are each 500 pages). That’s a lot of stuff going on. So, if you haven’t seen the TV ministries, you should read the books first. If you have seen it, read the books anyway – they will fill in the gaps.
The books are a bit wordy but there was a lot going on during this time. Once again, as I’d read along, I’d stop and “fact check” the “real” history against the book. They’re pretty accurate. According to Ms. Mantel, “To avoid contradicting history, she created a card catalogue, organized alphabetically by character, with each card containing notes indicating where a particular historical figure was on relevant dates”.
Born to a working-class family of no position or name, Thomas Cromwell rose to become the right-hand man of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, adviser to the King. He survived Wolsey's fall from approval and became the most powerful of Henry's ministers. In that role, he observed turning points of English history, as Henry asserted his authority to declare his marriage annulled from Catherine of Aragon, married Anne Boleyn, broke from Rome, established the independence of the Church of England, and called for the dissolution of the monasteries. There’s a lot more that goes on including the accusations, imprisonment, and death of Boleyn. I thought Cromwell was portrayed more as a human person rather than a cruel evil bastard. I’ll want to read the third book whenever it is out.
Lastly, I read The Devil's Queen, A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Jeanne Kalogridis.
Catherine de Medici was Duchess of Urbino and heir to rule Florence. When her family fell from power, she was imprisoned and ultimately married off to the young French prince, Henry. Catherine has prophetic dreams throughout the book and in an effort to understand those dreams, relies on astrology and a knowledge of the “black arts”. Through war and tragedy, Henry became King and Catherine, Queen. Henry, however, paid little attention to his wife (instead favored his attention to his mistress) which causes Catherine much distress. Eventually, Catherine convinces Henry he must have a legal heir and through the use of magical amulets and seduction, she gave birth to ten children. After the death of Henry, Catherine became adviser and regent for her sons, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, each of whom became king of France for a short time. Like the previous books, I did curiosity fact checking and the book runs true to history with all the extras thrown in to make it historical fiction. It’s another big book – nearly 500 pages. Still, it is good and I enjoyed it.
After that, I was glad to be back in the 21st century. As I said before, interesting time to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. Or if I did, I’d rather have been the wife of a prosperous merchant. Being a noble or royal woman was certainly not all gallant knights, jewels and roses.