Tudor history

Margaret Tudor – queen, regent and hapless intermediary

The history of princesses and queens has become well-trodden ground in the women’s history genre, particularly the Tudors. Linda Porter’s The Thistle and the Rose, a life of Margaret Tudor, queen consort to James IV and mother of James V, provides a refreshing change in subject. Margaret has had to share the stage with some of the most famous names and voices of the 16th century: Henry VII and his queen, Elizabeth of York; Henry VIII and his wives; and, of course, her namesake, Margaret Beaufort, the formidable Tudor matriarch who deftly helped place her son, the victor of Bosworth, on the throne. Margaret Tudor, though less considered in popular

At last we see Henry VIII’s wives as individuals

Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived. Nearly 500 years after the death of Henry VIII, can there be anything new to say about his queens: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr? Does the world need another book about this sextet? The answer to both questions, as this elegantly written and sumptuously illustrated volume makes clear, is a resounding yes. Published to coincide with the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition of the same name (20 June-8 September), Six Lives is a collection of concise, accessible essays written by experts with specialist knowledge of Tudor painting, music, jewellery, manuscript illumination and book binding, among

The perils of waiting on a Tudor queen

At 7 o’clock on a bleak February morning in 1542, King Henry VIII’s fifth wife Katherine Howard, so enfeebled by fear and misery that she could hardly stand, was half-led, half-carried from her cell in the Tower of London to the scaffold in a nearby courtyard. Watching as the axe fell on her mistress’s neck, and knowing it would be her turn next, was her lady in waiting Jane Rochford. This grisly scene illustrates the horror that underlay the glamour and magnetism of a court where ambition, intrigue, plot and counter-plot swirled in a giddying maelstrom and where balancing on the slippery tightrope of Henry’s moods was essential. Threaded through

The truth one year, heresy the next: The Book of Days, by Francesca Kay, reviewed

Bad historical novelists assume that people always live at the spearhead of their age. Good ones, like Francesca Kay in her fourth book, know that even when the world spins ‘faster than a weathervane in a gale’, most hearts and minds will tarry in the past, behind events. The Book of Days unfolds in a village north of Oxford in 1546 and 1547, as the unnamed old king dies and the accession of his child heir brings another round of ‘newfanglery’ in faith. The ‘commotion time’ returns with all its frightening convulsions: now, ‘what was truth one year is heresy the next’. It would be tempting to treat this book

Hampton Court: an architectural symbol of royal lust

The Dowager Countess of Deloraine, who was governess to the children of George II at Hampton Court and other royal homes, was a notorious bore – so much so that her ‘every word’ made one ‘sick’, according to the courtier Lord Hervey. When she naively asked him why everyone was avoiding her, he replied with exquisite irony that ‘envy kept the women at a distance, despair the men’. This kind of witty, skittish anecdote is scattered throughout Gareth Russell’s scintillating hybrid of a book, which is partly a biography of a place and partly something stranger: an episodic history of England from Tudor times to the present, illustrated by lightning