Anne Somerset

Tudor, by Leanda de Lisle – review

As parvenus, the Tudors were unsurpassed. In the early 15th century no one would have predicted that within a couple of generations these minor Welsh land-owners would mount the English throne and rule the kingdom for more than 100 years. Notwithstanding their ‘vile and barbarous’ origins, their name would become synonymous with historical glamour and

The Devonshires, by Roy Hattersley – review

Recalling being taken as a teenager on repeated outings to see Chatsworth, Roy Hattersley disarmingly confesses that in those days ‘I was impressed by neither the pictures nor the furniture’. Over the past three years, while working in the Chatsworth archives on this history of its owners, the Cavendish Dukes of Devonshire, Hattersley would break

The strange potency of things

Building on the success of his acclaimed Radio 4 series and bestselling book A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neil MacGregor has now successfully narrowed down the format. Selecting 20 objects that he suggests formed part of ‘the mental scenery’ of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, he exploits what he calls ‘the strange potency

What did he see in her?

When King George I came over from Hanover in 1714 to claim the crown he had inherited from his distant cousin Queen Anne, he was accompanied by his mistress of more than 20 years, Melusine von der Schulenberg. George’s wife Sophia Dorothea was left behind in Germany. She had made the mistake of taking a

A conflict of wills

It might seem odd that Eric Ives, the acclaimed biographer of Anne Boleyn, should turn his attention to another executed Tudor queen, Lady Jane Grey. As he points out, in the past six years alone, seven biographical studies of Lady Jane have appeared, and while this could be said to demonstrate the perennial fascination exerted

House-building and husbandry

Bess of Hardwick has usually been viewed as a hard-hearted schemer, an unscrupulous woman who triumphed in male-dominated Tudor England by never allowing emotion to impede her ambition. Allegedly driven by acquisitiveness and a lust for power, she married four times, always moving on to a husband richer than the last. Having gained a sizeable

Tricky regime change

At Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in April 1603, the predominant emotion among the spectators was relief. For the past 45 years her subjects had lived in continual terror of being engulfed in civil war when the childless queen died, leaving behind her a disputed succession. There were as many as 12 possible claimants to the throne

The woman in black

Catherine de Medici was, quite literally, the original black widow. After her husband, King Henri II of France, was accidentally killed in a jousting contest in 1559, she always dressed in black, despite the fact that French queens traditionally wore white mourning. Figuratively the term might seem equally apt, for Catherine has customarily been depicted