Tuesday intro: The Real Guy Fawkes by Nick Holland

Once again I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon.

tuesdayI’m also joining in with Teaser Tuesday, hosted by The Purple Booker, where you share teasers from your current read. I read a lot of these posts over the course of an average Tuesday so thought it would be fun to join in here too.

This week, and in keeping with the soon to be November season, I’m reading The Real Guy Fawkes by Nick Holland, which – so far – is proving and easy and interesting read.  It’s also confirming that, when people are asking about the current Guy Fawkes show on the BBC, “does it have to be so violent?”, the answer is it does.  Here’s what it’s about…Read More »

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Queens of the Conquest by Alison Weir

Queens of ConquestAnyone who has read my blog for a while will know that I have a thing for books on royalty – well British / English royalty.  I can’t help myself – especially when it comes to Queens.

I find the women who ruled (or almost ruled) my country to be endlessly fascinating, especially those who looked to assert power at a time when females were seen as a lesser class of citizen and the weaker sex – property of their fathers then their husbands.

One of a woman’s main jobs was to marry well – marriages agreed by her parents and those of her future spouse.  Marrying up was the key, or marrying for gain – money, land, or power.  And so it was for the Queens of the Conquest, each of whom found themselves supporting their husbands in their quest for power (bar Empress Maud, who aimed to be a Queen in her own right).Read More »

Tuesday intro: Wedlock

Once again I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. In really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week I’m reading Wedlock by Wendy Moore – with the strapline “How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match”.  So far I’m a hundred or so pages in and I am really enjoying it.  Here’s what it’s about…

6022200When Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore, was abducted in Oxford Street in broad daylight in 1786, the whole country was riveted to news of the pursuit.

The only daughter of a wealthy coal magnate, Mary Eleanor had led a charmed youth. Precocious and intelligent, she enjoyed a level of education usually reserved for the sons of the aristocracy. Mary was only eleven when her beloved father died, making her the richest heiress in Britain, and she was soon beset by eager suitors. Her marriage, at eighteen, to the beautiful but aloof Earl of Strathmore, was one of the society weddings of the year. With the death of the earl some eight years later, Mary re-entered society with relish and her salons became magnets for leading Enlightenment thinkers – as well as a host of new suitors keen to court her fortune.

Mary soon fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney, but scandalous rumours were quick to spread. Swearing to defend her honor, Mary’s gallant hero was mortally wounded in a duel – his dying wish that he might marry Mary. Within hours of the ceremony, he seemed to be in the grip of a miraculous recovery …

Wedlock tells the story of one eighteenth-century woman’s experience of a brutal marriage, and her fight to regain her liberty and justice. Subjected to appalling violence, deception, kidnap and betrayal, the life of Mary Eleanor Bowes is a remarkable tale of triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.

And, after that rather long “blurb”, here’s a rather long intro…

London, 13th January 19777

Settling down to read his newspaper by the candlelight illuminating the dining room of the Adelphi Tavern, John Hull anticipated a quiet evening. Having opened five years earlier, as an integral part of the vast riverside development designed by the Adam brothers, the Adelphi Tavern and Coffee House had established a reputation for its fine dinners and genteel company. Many an office worker like Hull, a clerk at the Government’s Salt Office, sought refuge from the clamour of the nearby Strand in the tavern’s first-floor dining room with its elegant ceiling panels depicting Pan and Bacchus in pastel shades.  On a Monday evening in January, with the day’s work behind him, Hull could expect to read his undisturbed.

At first, when he heard the two loud bangs, at about 7 p.m., Hull assumed they were caused by a door slamming downstairs. A few minutes later, there was no mistaking the sound of clashing swords. Throwing aside his newspaper, Hull ran down the stairs and tried to open the door to the ground-floor parlour. Finding it locked, and growing increasingly alarmed at the violent clatter from within from within, he shouted for waiters to help him force the door.  Finally bursting into the room, Hull could dimly make out two figures fencing furiously in the dark. Reckless as to his own safety, the clerk grabbed the sword arm of the nearest man, thrust himself between the two duellists and insisted that they lay down their swords. Even so, it was several more minutes before he could persuade the first swordsmen to yield his weapon.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Emma

The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir

imageI think I’ve mentioned before my fascination with the Tudors, so when I saw this audiobook at my local library I couldn’t resist. Plus it was Alison Weir, whose books I like in general, regardless of their subject.

Of all Henry’s wives, Anne is probably the most interesting and the one who most influenced English history as it was Henry’s desire to marry her – after eight long years of trying to get a divorce – that led, in part, to his break with Rome and the forming of the Church of England. She is also probably the most disliked of all his wives – reviled, even, at the time for having stolen Henry’s heart from the beloved Katherine of Aragon, and the subject of much gossip and misunderstanding, both before and after her death.

This isn’t the first book on Anne I’ve read and it’s not the first time she has been written about by Weir but I haven’t got bored yet and, here, I found more to peak my interest and help fill in the gaps (possibly) of what I know. I say possibly because little is actually known about Anne, not even what she looked like – there is only one known confirmed likeness of her because they were all destroyed after she was executed. Much of what was written at the time was by people who disliked her and were biased against presenting a likeable or sympathetic person for the most part.

Weir manages to do that, though, allowing a picture of Anne to develop that is not quite the evil home wrecker she is often made out to be. There is no doubt she schemed and played politics but so, it seems, did most people back then. It was the way the world of the royal court worked and it was an accepted part of life. Perhaps that Anne tried to play the game as a woman was part of the problem, as was the fact that she threatened the established power of many of England’s richest families.

It will always be impossible to know exactly who she was and whether she was guilty of the crimes she died for but that is part of the fascination. Weir presents the facts, few as they are, and the conjecture, giving her opinion on what might or might not be true, coming to the conclusion she probably was innocent. I tend to agree.

For those who want to know more about Anne, this is a great book. She really is the focus, not Henry – though there is plenty of him and Cromwell for those interested in them too. It is full of little details, like her having a double fingernail, which make her come alive and feel less like a character, more like a person.

As an audiobook, it was easy to listen too, with good narration and pace. There was plenty to keep me listening, including a great chapter at the end that talked about ghost stories and legends relating to Anne. I have a huge desire now to go start spending nights in Norfolk (her birthplace) looking for a lady in white. I’ll let you know if I find her!

Emma

P.s. If you couldn’t guess, I really liked this book – a recommended read.

Middleham Castle, North Yorkshire

Over the summer, we visited North Yorkshire and did the Richard III trail. Our base was Middleham so this was the first castle we visited. It was great walking through the village and seeing the castle rise up from behind the houses (quite a few of which were apparently built with castle stone). Built in the 12th Century, the castle was added to over the years to become a luxurious fortress before being allowed to become a ruin during the reign of the Tudors.

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It was the childhood home of Richard III and one of his favourite places to stay throughout his life, becoming part of his Northern power base. The castle belonged to the Neville family, the Earls of Westmoreland and of Warwick, who were Richards’s wards, and it was here Richard met his wife, Anne Neville, and where his son died aged 10 or 11.

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During The War of the Roses, both Edward IV and Henry VI were prisoners here at different times. Because I was reading about the War of the Roses at the time, this was the most interesting part of the castle’s history for me but there is so much more to it than that and we spent a good hour or so walking around the grounds and learning more about it’s past, plus that of Middleham (if I remember correctly, for example, the town still say a mass on Richard’s birthday).

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To help you get your historical bearings, there is information in all of the key people connected to the castle in a small exhibition space and children get an activity sheet for going around the castle, encouraging them to look for features etc. There is also plenty of space for them to run around and explore.

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As mentioned at the beginning, the castle is slap bang in the middle of the village and Middleham is a great place to spend some time. There were a lot of people on walking holidays whilst we were there as it is in Wensleydale, a beautiful part of Yorkshire, and great pubs and tea rooms for those in need of refreshments. There are also some cute shops if you want to spend your money. Definitely worth a visit! Emma

Muddy Puddles at Kenilworth Castle

Sunday was cold. For a change though, at least for England in January, the sun was shining. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to drag my husband and daughter off to some stately home or ruined castle, the English Heritage guidebook was dusted off after being given a break over the holiday season and we were bundled up and in the car within an hour or so. Kenilworth Castle is an easy 40 minute drive from our house and is one of our favourite places from the summer so it seemed a good choice.

Kenilworth Castle - geograph.org.uk - 103123

Kenilworth began life as a Norman Keep in the time of Henry I (1120 or so) and became a royal castle under Henry II. Over time, it was built up into an island stronghold able to protect Henry III (though it is no longer surrounded by a mere or lake). With each monarch, it changed. This can be seen in the Tudor Stables (which now house a rather tasty tea room) and the Elizabethan Gatehouse. The Gatehouse was built by Robert Dudley as a place for Elizabeth I when she visited. Walking around, it’s interesting to see the changes and imagine what it was like during so many key periods in my country’s history. Not that we are the only one who have ever done that…

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When we’d been there last summer (a couple of times) we’d taken a picnic as there is plenty of space for lazing on the grass. On one visit we’d been lucky enough to catch a demonstration of Elizabethan dancing and music, which our daughter loved. There weren’t any demonstrations on Sunday and lolling on the grass wasn’t an option but we still had fun climbing the battlements and visiting the house before walking around the walls and splashing in the mud and puddles – thankfully we’d taken our wellies…

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After a couple of hours, and a stop at the coffee shop for a cream tea (because it wouldn’t be a trip to a historical site without a pot of tea and a scone), the sky started to come in dark and the chill in the air turned bitter, meaning it was time to go home.

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If it hadn’t, we might have risked the 30 minute round trip to Pleasance, site of an island retreat built by Henry V, or 10 minute walk to Kenilworth Priory, the remains of an Augustinian monestry founded in 1124. About the same distance away is a great park for kids (with the added attraction of an ice-cream shop) – all good for summer visits, when no doubt we’ll be back!

Note: For some reason, I managed to not take a photo of the walk up to the castle. The one used is courtesy of Angela Tuff [CC BY-SA 2.0],

The Heros’ Welcome by Louisa Young

Title: The Heros’ Welcome Author: Louisa Young Genre: Historical Fiction Source: Library Rating: 5 out of 5 The Hero’s Welcome opens in 1919 with the wedding of Riley and Nadine, childhood friends and sweethearts. In attendance is Riley’s best friend and captain during the war, Peter, and Peter’s son Tom. Afterwards, Riley and Nadine go to tell their […]

Witches by Tracy Borman

Title: Witches
Author: Tracy Borman
Genre: Non-fiction, history
Source: Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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In September 1613, the Earl of Rutland’s son fell ill and died. Within weeks his second son also fell ill and died. No one is sure what they died of but their deaths were long and painful. This was a time when people believed in witchcraft, and it was witches that were blamed for the young boys deaths. The witches at whom the finger was pointed were all from one family, the Flowers, a mother and two daughters who had a grudge against the Earl of Rutland and had been heard to curse him.

The Flowers women were eventually tried and found guilty and it is through them and their trial Tracy Borman tells the story of witch hunts and witch trials in the early 17th century. She touches on trials across Europe but focuses on England and how James I’s beliefs played into what was close to hysteria. It looks at how if you were a women and poor, old or ugly, prone to speaking your mind or not very good at getting on with your neighbours you were almost doomed to be called a witch and there was a very good chance you would be burned at the stake.

Borman does a really good job of setting the scene for the growing hysteria. I was amazed by how little it took to be accused of being a witch (one woman was accused because her neighbours pigs had started making a different type of grunt if I remember correctly) and how how hard it was to disprove an accusation. There really was no way out for a woman accused. If she stayed silent it was seen as an admission of her guilt. If she spoke up and proclaimed her guilt she was lying and under the influence of the devil. Read More »

Lancaster and York by Alison Weir

Title: Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: History
Source: Library (audio book)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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When Henry VI came to the throne in 1422, he was 9 months old. The only son of Henry V, his age meant England was ruled by regents until he was 15. Once he was old enough, it quickly became clear that whilst Henry VI may have been born to rule, he wasn’t very good at it. He was too pious, too forgiving, and too easily led by the powerful factions that had developed during his minority. Add to that mental ill health and, from 1445, his domineering wife Margaret of Anjou, and things seem doomed to go badly.

The badly was the Wars of the Roses, 32 years of conflict which eventually led to the fall of Henry’s House of Lancaster and the rise of the rival House of York (before their defeat at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry Tudor).  Alison Weir’s book tells the story on these wars and what led to them, focusing on the people and how their personalities played a large part in what happened.

For me, it was absolutely fascinating to see just how many bad decisions Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou (plus their faction) made.  How many things they misunderstood about the English people and what they wanted in a monarch.  That doesn’t mean the House of York were much better but they understood how to get the public behind them.  And how to fight a battle.  I don’t know much about warfare but it seems they were a lot better at it.

The battles took up around half the book and Alison Weir describes them in great detail.  I learnt a lot about how wars were waged and was shocked by the level of brutality and cruelty (perhaps I shouldn’t have been but I was). By the end, though, I was a little battle’d out.  There was a bit too much pillaging and plundering for me and I started to lose track of what was happening, who was winning and who was losing.

The first half of the book was much more interesting for me because it was about the people.  I read Helen Castor’s book She Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth last year and so knew something of Margaret of Anjou but I knew very little about Henry VI, other than that he was insane.  (Insanity being the term used at the time for someone who was actually suffering from severe mental health problems, most likely brought on by stress).   By the end of the book, I actually felt quite sorry for him and wonder what would have happened if his father had lived longer or he had felt he could give up the throne and live a more peaceful life.

All in all, a good book if a bit too bloody for me.

Emma x

About the audio book

Narrator: Maggie Mash
Publisher: W F Howes
Release Date: Sep 28, 2012
Language: English
Duration: 22:10:51 (hh:mm:ss)

Goodrich Castle: A Noble Ruin

This weekend, we went to Goodrich Castle, a Norman medieval castle (or rather the ruin of one) just outside Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire and about 10 miles from Monmouth on the Welsh border. I read online that William Wordsworth described it as a noble ruin and I can see why. It’s pretty impressive and much more complete than I expected.

IMG_0087.JPG (Yes, this was another visit on a grey day – I have a knack for this!).

It was also much busier, despite the not that great weather, meaning my ability to take photos without people in them was limited but I did manage a few, mainly from outside the castle walls…Read More »