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The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII by Suzannah Lipscomb

Posted By Claire on December 18, 2015

The king is deadBefore I begin my review of the content, let me start by saying that Suzannah Lipscomb’s latest book The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII is stunning. It’s a square-shaped hardback book with a beautifully illustrated cover. The cover image has embossing and the K and the D of the title are illuminated. It’s just the kind of book that you want decorating your coffee table – gorgeous. It also features colour illustrations inside – very well produced.

But now to the content…

I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since I heard that Suzannah was working on it. I’ve done a fair bit of research in the past on Henry VIII’s will and the changes he made to it in December 1546 and I knew that Suzannah’s work was going to offer a new take on the topic. As Suzannah explains in her introduction, and then in more detail in the main book, some eminent historians have argued that Henry’s final will “was the product of a conspiracy staged by an ‘evangelical’ or proto-Protestant faction at court seeking to advance reform”, led by Edward Seymour and Sir William Paget, and that it did not reflect Henry VIII’s real wishes. However, Suzannah puts forward a case for Henry VIII being in full control at this point and challenges the validity of the argument of those other historians and the evidence that they base it on. Step by step, she dismantles that argument while putting forward evidence for her view. It really is a fascinating analysis of those last few months.

As well as looking at the will itself, and the changes that were made, Suzannah covers the background to the will (the political/religious context etc.), Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine Parr and her near-fall, Henry VIII’s final year – Wriothesley’s moves against reformers and the fall of Surrey and Norfolk, they men who were in positions of power at the time, and those chosen to be executors and Edward VI’s council (and why Stephen Gardiner was removed). One bit that really intrigued me because it’s an event that I had never come across, or that just hadn’t struck me before, was the story of George Blage. When Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, was out of the country, Thomas Wriothesley launched a “targeted campaign” against reformers, which, of course, included the interrogation, torture and execution of Anne Askew. In July 1546, Wriothesley also targeted courtier George Blage, a member of the king’s Privy Chamber who was also a diplomat, soldier, evangelical, poet and a friend of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and Thomas Wyatt. Blage was also a friend of the king, who referred to him as “my pig”. Wriothesley seemed to think nothing of targeting Blage and arresting him for heresy, but, as Suzannah points out, this move “was an extraordinary miscalculation”. Although Henry VIII was very much against heresy, Blage was his good friend and personal servant and Wriothesley had gone to far. The king was furious and ordered Wriothesley to issue a pardon. I found this event interesting because it shows that nobody could move against someone the king cared about without his blessing. As Suzannah comments, “The incident reveals the audacity of conservative machinations at court, but also, importantly, the limits on any attempt to force Henry to do anything.” She goes on to say that this is one thing we need to take into account when considering the creation of his will.

I won’t go into any more detail as I don’t want to spoil your reading.

I found Suzannah’s reasoning compelling. I haven’t yet taken ‘sides’ as I want to re-read this book, along with the works of G.R. Elton, David Starkey and John Guy, as well as Eric Ives’ work on “the protectorate provision, before I make my mind up. I love books like this because fresh takes on a subject always leave me hungry for more and always lead me on to more research, which I love. All in all, it’s a fabulous book and anyone who is receiving it for Christmas will be delighted. I can’t say enough good things about it really! Read it!


On 28 January 1547, the sickly and obese King Henry VIII died at Whitehall. Just hours before his passing, his last will and testament had been read, stamped and sealed. The will confirmed the line of succession as Edward, Mary and Elizabeth; and, following them, the Grey and Suffolk families. It also listed bequests to the king’s most trusted councillors and servants.

Henry’s will is one of the most intriguing and contested documents in British history. Historians have disagreed over its intended meaning, its authenticity and validity, and the circumstances of its creation. As well as examining the background to the drafting of the will and describing Henry’s last days, Suzannah Lipscomb offers her own, illuminating interpretation of one of the most significant constitutional documents of the Tudor period.

Illustrated with portraits of key figures at Henry’s court, including the executors named by Henry in his will, THE KING IS DEAD is a Tudor gift book to cherish, as authoritative as it is beautiful.

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Head of Zeus (5 Nov. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1784081922
ISBN-13: 978-1784081928

The King is Dead is available as a kindle book from (I’m not sure when the US hardback will be released) and as a kindle and hardback from Amazon UK.

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The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor by Elizabeth Norton

Posted By Claire on December 10, 2015

Temptation of Elizabeth TudorHistorian Elizabeth Norton’s latest book focuses on the years 1547-1549 when the teenage Elizabeth, the future Elizabeth I and the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, becomes embroiled in a scandal regarding Thomas Seymour, the new husband of Elizabeth’s stepmother Dowager Queen Catherine Parr.

While the book’s cover and title focus on Elizabeth, The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor is actually broader than that and gives a very detailed account of the Seymours’ rise to power, Henry VIII’s death and Edward Seymour’s protectorship, and Thomas Seymour’s rise and subsequent fall. It serves as an excellent biography of Thomas Seymour, allowing the reader to gain insight into what drove this man to do what he did. The book also offers an explanation into how and why Catherine Parr allowed her husband to have such an inappropriate relationship with her step-daughter. We’ll never know for sure what went on and how everyone felt about it, but Elizabeth Norton offers some convincing arguments. She also explores the rumours regarding Elizabeth being pregnant in 1548.

The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor brings a whole host of Tudor personalities to life, for example, the Seymour brothers, Edward VI, Elizabeth, Catherine Parr, Kate Ashley and Thomas Parry, and it is fully referenced with full citations in the notes at the end and also useful footnotes. Although it’s a non-fiction book, I really enjoyed the narrative and almost felt that I was reading a novel at times. It really was compelling reading and I congratulate Elizabeth Norton on this book. The prologue is beautifully written, setting the stage for the rest of the book and ending with the words “The Virgin Queen was born out of the ashes of his fall”, which really make you hungry to read more! I think I’ve read all of her books, but this stands out to me as the best yet and it is certainly a book I will go back to as I do my own research on the Seymours. A brilliant book.

Available in the US on Kindle and to pre-order as a hardback – click here, and as a hardback and kindle in the UK – click here.


England, late 1547. Henry VIII is dead. His 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth is living with the old king’s widow Catherine Parr and her new husband Thomas Seymour. Ambitious, charming and dangerous, Seymour begins an overt flirtation with Elizabeth that ends in her being sent away by Catherine.

When Catherine dies in autumn 1548 and Seymour is arrested for treason soon after, the scandal explodes into the open. Alone and in dreadful danger, Elizabeth is closely questioned by the king’s regency council: Was she still a virgin? Was there a child? Had she promised to marry Seymour? In her replies, she shows the shrewdness and spirit she would later be famous for. She survives the scandal. Thomas Seymour is not so lucky.

The Seymour Scandal led to the creation of the Virgin Queen. On hearing of Seymour’s beheading, Elizabeth observed ‘This day died a man of much wit, and very little judgement’. His fate remained with her. She would never allow her heart to rule her head again.

Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Head of Zeus (5 Nov. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1784081728
ISBN-13: 978-1784081720

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Seven Will Out: A Renaissance Revel by JoAnn Spears

Posted By Claire on November 25, 2015

Seven Will OutBack in 2012, I read and reviewed JoAnn Spears’ Six of One: A Tudor Riff describing it as “a fun, rather irreverent, entertaining spoof”. I thoroughly enjoyed it because it was just so different to the usual historical fiction, and it was entertaining and cheeky.

In Six of One, the protagonist history professor Dolly was preparing to marry Henry, a man with ‘baggage’ – six ex wives, two daughters and a son, when during her bachelorette party Dolly choked, lapsed into unconsciousness, and then travelled to another plane of existence. There, she met various characters from her historical studies – women like Elizabeth of York, Margaret Beaufort, Kat Ashley, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey, Mary Queen of Scots, Bess of Hardwick etc. – before being granted an audience with Henry VIII’s six wives, who had been charged with talking to brides “facing a treacherous marital decision”. It was such a fun read so I was more than happy to read and review JoAnn’s latest book.

In Seven Will Out: A Renaissance Revel, we are reunited with Dolly and also with many of the historical characters of the first book because Dolly collapses at an awards ceremony and is whisked off to that other plane. This time, she meets, Arabella Stuart, Blanche Parry, Jane Dormer, Anne Hathaway, Lettice Knollys, Douglas Sheffield, Amy Robsart, Catherine de’ Medidic, the Grey sisters, Margaret Douglas, Helena von Snakenborg and Emilia Lanier, as well as her old friends. Last time, she found out the real truth about the fate of the Princes in the Tower and this time not only does she find out what really happened to Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley who died in strange circumstances in 1560, but she also finds out who really wrote the works of William Shakespeare, and it’s not Shakespeare, Marlowe, Bacon or Oxford! One bit that really made laugh out loud was the “true” origin of Lady Macbeth’s famous line “Out, damned spot,” and who Lady Macbeth was actually modelled on.


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The Tudor Tutor: Your Cheeky Guide to the Tudor Dynasty by Barb Alexander

Posted By Claire on November 2, 2015

Tudor TutorCongratulations to Barb Alexander, who you may know from The Tudor Tutor blog, on the re-release of her book The Tudor Tutor: Your Cheeky Guide to the Tudor Dynasty. Barb originally self-published her book, back in 2013, but is has been re-released by Skyhorse Publishing with beautiful colourful illustrations by Lisa Graves, author and illustrator of History’s Witches.

In my review of Barb’s book back in 2013 I said “The Tudor Tutor book is an entertaining yet highly accurate guide to this larger-than-life royal dynasty. Barb is spot-on with her descriptions of these monarchs and their reigns, and injects humor to keep readers of all ages entertained. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone with a love of Tudor history, and also to parents and teachers who want to bring the period to life for their children” and I still stand by that. Barb is a teacher, a Tudor history buff and someone with a quick wit and wicked sense of humour. This is a winning combination, particularly when combined with Lisa’s beautiful illustrations.

Barb skilfully sums up the Tudor monarchs in a pocket-sized guide, giving readers pertinent information in an easy-to-read and highly entertaining way. She has just the right amount of “snark” and I found myself chuckling out loud at some of her comments on Henry VIII. Her style makes the book perfect for “newbies” – you know, those people you want to indoctrinate! – students, children and those who want a quick introduction to the Tudor dynasty. This is no dry, academic history book, and its information can be relied on too. Entertaining and accurate, what a relief!

The Tudor Tutor: Your Cheeky Guide to the Tudor Dynasty also includes a full list of sources used (primary and secondary) and a useful Tudor timeline.

The Tudor Tutor: Your Cheeky Guide to the Tudor Dynasty will be released tomorrow (3 November 2015) as a hardback and kindle book, and can be pre-ordered now.


From the bloody Wars of the Roses to Queen Elizabeth I’s iconic rule, the Tudor Dynasty was a period of sex, scandal, and intrigue. Monarchs such as Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I have become a part of modern pop culture, resulting in endless parodies, satires, rumors, and urban legends that grace our television screens. But as with all urban legends and parodies, facts surrounding the lives of these rulers are greatly exaggerated. In this entertaining guide, Barb Alexander serves to debunk those rumors and educate you about the dynasty.

History doesn’t have to be dry, boring, and difficult to read. As an educator, Barb knows exactly how to engage an audience. This pocket-sized guide is not only informative, but also filled with cheek, snark, and wit. With 50 beautiful illustrations that depict Tudor Monarchs and key players during their rule, this book is guaranteed to garner a chuckle or two. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the lesson. Before long, you’ll be sharing Tudor history facts that will be sure to impress your less-informed peers.

Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (November 3, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 163450402X
ISBN-13: 978-1634504027
Available from, Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.

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Rebellion by Livi Michael

Posted By Claire on September 25, 2015

RebellionLivi Michael’s new book Rebellion follows on from her excellent historical fiction debut, Succession, which took readers from 1444, when the Earl of Suffolk stood proxy for Henry VI at his marriage to Margaret of Anjou, to the bloody Battle of Towton in 1461 and the accession of Edward IV. The story was told through the eyes of Margaret Anjou, wife of Henry VI, and Margaret Beaufort, the future matriarch of the House of Tudor, bringing relevance and emotion to these remote historical events.

Rebellion continues these two women’s stories, opening in June 1462 and taking us through the bloody battles and family feuds that made up the Wars of the Roses, right up to the 1471 Battle of Tewkesbury and its aftermath. Again, we see the events mainly through the eyes of these two women, but there are chapters told from the perspectives of the Earl of Warwick, Duke of Somerset, Elizabeth Woodville, Henry VI and Edward IV too, and I enjoyed seeing the events from different ‘sides’. The insight, albeit fictional, into the troubled mind of Henry VI was particularly poignant.

What I enjoyed most about Rebellion was the ‘humanness’ of the characters. So often, Edward IV is depicted as a romantic hero who has the perfect romance with Elizabeth Woodville, but here he is real and flawed. He lives his life to excess and his lifestyle is catching up on him, and Elizabeth is certainly not the only woman in his life. The two Margarets are fully rounded characters. They’re both strong women willing to fight for their sons’ inheritance and safety, but there’s more to them than that. Margaret Beaufort has been separated from her beloved son and has to deal with the fact that he doesn’t know her and that he sees his guardians as parents. The writing in these scenes provoked so much empathy in me as I read them, my heart broke for her. And poor Margaret of Anjou in exile and then travelling! It seems so understandable and human that she turns to another man for comfort.

While Rebellion is an exciting account of the events of the Wars of the Roses, it was the superb writing of the poignant scenes that ‘did’ it for me. I connected with the characters, I got to know what made them tick, and I could empathise with them no matter what side they were on.

Like Succession, Rebellion has excerpts from primary sources throughout, reminding the reader that these events really did happen and bringing a real historical perspective to the story. Livi Michael ends the book with a section “About the Chronicles” in which she gives details about the primary sources she quotes in her novel. She also explains why she chose to use them in her novel, how “they convey the spirit of the age without resorting to interior perspective or reflection” and so complement the different approach to writing taken by a historical novelist. It worked!

At the start is a Lancaster and York family tree and a guide to the key characters, which will be very useful to those who are not familiar with the real history and to those who struggle with the fact that everyone seemed to have been called Margaret, Henry, Edward, Richard, William and Anne!

I highly recommend this historical novel, it’s a wonderful read but do make sure you read Succession first.

Book Details


Margaret Beaufort and Margaret of Anjou – two women who will stop at nothing to place their sons on the English throne.

In exile in France with her young son Prince Edward, Margaret of Anjou at last gives up on promises of aid by King Louis and sets sail for England. There, she will return her husband Henry to the throne – and ensure young Edward will be its heir.

Meanwhile, Margaret Beaufort, separated from her son Henry of Richmond when he was an infant, sees the unrest surrounding the Lancastrian defeat as her chance to finally get him back. But the steps she takes to return her son imperil the kingdom and the throne’s current occupant – King Edward IV.

With rebellions tearing the country apart, how far will each woman go to further the interests of their sons? And who can stand in their way?

Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Penguin (13 Aug. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0241966701
ISBN-13: 978-0241966709
Available from, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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Anne Boleyn’s Sleeve: Poems by Juliana Gray

Posted By Claire on July 21, 2015

Anne Boleyns SleeveI have loved poetry since I can remember. I can’t write it for toffee, unfortunately,but I do love getting lost in it. I was, therefore, over the moon to be sent two poetry books to review recently – Ruth Stacey’s Queen, Jewel, Mistress, and Juliana Gray’s chapbook Anne Boleyn’s Sleeve.

Juliana Gray’s chabook tells Anne Boleyn’s story through verse. It begins with “The End”, a poem about Anne Boleyn’s remains being buried in the arrow chest, and then goes on to tell of Anne’s rise and fall, from Henry VIII noticing her at court right up to her execution.

Being a chapbook, it’s short (31 pages) and easily digestible. One reviewer described it as a “page-turner and bodice ripper”, which completely bemused me, as I didn’t read it like that at all. It does tell of Henry and Anne’s love and passion, but certainly not in a bodice-ripping way!

It is a very different and fresh way of learning Anne’s story and it offers insight into what she may have felt at different points in her life. It’s well worth a read if you enjoy poetry and you’re interested in Anne Boleyn’s story.

Anne Boleyn’s Sleeve won the 2013 Winged City Chapbook Press Poetry Prize and is available to order from

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Queen, Jewel, Mistress: A History of the Queens of England & Great Britain in Verse

Posted By Claire on July 21, 2015

Ruth StaceyQueen. Jewel, Mistress: A History of the Queens of England & Great Britain in Verse by Ruth Stacey is a very different book to what I usually get sent to review by authors and publishers. Usually, I receive novels, non-fiction books and biographies, so it was lovely to have a bit of a change and to receive a collection of poems.

Ruth covers every queen and queen consort from the 9th century Judith of Flanders, wife of two Kings of the House of Wessex, Æthelwulf and Æthelbald, all the way to our present queen, Elizabeth II. She also includes Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Not only is her book a collection of poetry, it is also a journey through history and this is helped by the seventeen pages of “Notes on the Queens of England and Great Britain” at the end of the book.

I have to admit to skipping to the section on the House of Tudor first – yes, I’m that predictable – and, of course, I read Anne Boleyn’s first. I was delighted by it. I love Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt” which is said to be about Anne Boleyn. His poem is about a hind being hunted down and it ends with the words:

“And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.”

Ruth carries on with this theme in her poem, portraying Anne as a doe watching Caesar hunt her. It is beautiful.

Through her poetry, Ruth really gives these historical women voices and I found her poetry very moving. If you love history and poetry, then this is a book to get hold of and treasure.


Listen to the voices of the Queens of England and Britain, from the Anglo- Saxon era to the modern age, as each one is evoked through poetry. Some poems are instantly recognisable as they mimic a familiar form; others are free verse or epistle. Each poem captures a distinct personality and gives the reader the experience of moving through different poetic styles as well as observing the changing role of a queen/consort.

Paperback: 110 pages
Publisher: Eyewear Publishing (July 1, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1908998458
ISBN-13: 978-1908998453
Available from, Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.

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Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle

Posted By Claire on June 15, 2015

Watch the Lady USI loved Elizabeth Fremantle’s previous Tudor novels, Queen’s Gambit and Sisters of Treason, so was over the moon when a review copy of Watch the Lady landed on my doorstep, particularly as it was about a woman who isn’t usually a heroine of historical fiction: Penelope Devereux.

If you don’t know, Penelope Devereux was the daughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, and his wife Lettice. Lettice was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s sister, and was also the woman known as “the she-wolf” by Elizabeth I due to the fact that she went on to secretly marry Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley. Penelope was also the sister of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (who also became a favourite of Elizabeth I but then came to a sticky end), and she has gone down in history as a legendary beauty and for being the muse of poet Philip Sidney.

One of the signs of a good historical novel for me is that it piques my interest to find out more about the real person behind the fiction. After I read Watch the Lady I just couldn’t help myself from researching Penelope Devereux. I don’t want to spoil the story, if you don’t know about her, but she’s a fascinating lady in that she didn’t let an unhappy marriage get in the way of what she wanted out of life. Unusually for a woman of that time, while she was still married she took a lover and had a long-term love affair, including having children by her lover. She lived on her own terms and must have been an incredibly strong character.

Elizabeth Fremantle’s novel takes the reader through Penelope’s life, from 1581 when she is first sent to court to serve Elizabeth I, to the summer of 1603 after the death of Elizabeth I and the accession of James I. Fremantle explains in the “Author’s Note” that she has “adhered closely to historical fact” in telling Penelope’s story, and drew on primary sources where she could, but then explains where she has filled in the blanks or used “pure speculation”. For example, there is no way of knowing why Penelope’s husband did nothing about her love affair and so Fremantle imagines a reason for his acquiescence, something that works brilliantly in the story but which is pure fiction.

I often find narration using the present tense with third person point of view grating in fiction, but I actually only noticed it towards the end of this novel. The novel just seemed to flow and I think the present tense worked in giving a sense of immediacy, in transporting us to Penelope’s time and location. The third person POV also allowed us to see events from other characters’ perspectives and I particularly enjoyed scenes narrated from Robert Cecil’s perspective, especially when he became rattled by Penelope! I also loved the characterization of Robert Devereux, which gave the reader insight into why he did what he did in 1601 and what led him to the block. Fiction allows a writer to explore the possible “why”s behind someone’s actions and Fremantle’s depiction of Devereux seemed spot on.

Once again (I’ve been lucky recently!), reading this book put me in a quandary – I was desperate to finish it but I also didn’t want my journey with Penelope to end. I do hope that Elizabeth Fremantle is busy on her next book!

Book Details


From “a brilliant new player in the court of royal fiction” (People), comes the mesmerizing story of Lady Penelope Devereux—the daring young beauty in the Tudor court, who inspired Sir Philip Sidney’s famous sonnets even while she plotted against Queen Elizabeth.

Penelope Devereux arrives at Queen Elizabeth’s court where she and her brother, the Earl of Essex, are drawn into the aging Queen’s favor. Young and naïve, Penelope, though promised elsewhere, falls in love with Philip Sidney who pours his heartbreak into the now classic sonnet series Astrophil and Stella. But Penelope is soon married off to a man who loathes her. Never fainthearted, she chooses her moment and strikes a deal with her husband: after she gives birth to two sons, she will be free to live as she chooses, with whom she chooses. But she is to discover that the course of true love is never smooth.

Meanwhile Robert Cecil, ever loyal to Elizabeth, has his eye on Penelope and her brother. Although it seems the Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen, as his influence grows, so his enemies gather. Penelope must draw on all her political savvy to save her brother from his own ballooning ambition and Cecil’s trap, while daring to plan for an event it is treason even to think about.

UK cover

UK cover

Unfolding over the course of two decades and told from the perspectives of Penelope and her greatest enemy, the devious politician Cecil, Watch the Lady chronicles the last gasps of Elizabeth’s reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty.

Paperback: 560 pages (also available as a kindle book)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 9, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1476703124
ISBN-13: 978-1476703121
Available from or your usual bookstore.

Hardcover: 496 pages (also available as a kindle book)
Publisher: Michael Joseph (18 Jun. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 071817710X
ISBN-13: 978-0718177102
Available from Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.

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The Tutor by Andrea Chapin

Posted By Claire on June 7, 2015

tutor USI’ve been having a bit of a historical fiction fest recently and I have to say that there some magical novels coming out at the moment. You’d think that there was nothing new to write, but the Tudor period is still providing plenty of inspiration for novelists.

Andrea Chapin’s novel The Tutor is set in the 1590s and the protagonist is Katharine, a young widow who is living with her relatives, the De L’Isle family, at Lufanwal Hall in Lancashire. The novel opens with the discovery of the body of the family’s priest, Father Daulton. These are dangerous times for Catholics like the De L’Isles and their priest has had to pose as a schoolmaster. Harbouring a priest can cost people their lives. This opening may lead you to believe that the book is a murder mystery or thriller, but it’s actually not at all. The novel is more about Katharine and her relationship with the new tutor, a certain Will Shakespeare.

Katharine becomes Will’s muse and the person he trusts to give him feedback on his work. But, of course, their relationship grows. He is far from home, his wife and children, and Katharine is an attractive, intelligent woman who also has a literary gift. They understand each other and they are drawn to each other. Will is a fascinating character and I couldn’t help falling for him too! I loved Katharine’s character too. Being a widow, she has more control of her life and she lives it on her terms. She is strong but real. I won’t ruin the story by telling you what becomes of her and Will, but I loved the ending Chapin gave Katharine.

Now I’ve made it sound more like a romance, but it’s not that either and it would be doing it a real injustice to describe it as such. The blurb on the back of my advance review copy calls it “a vivid tale of desire and deception, loyalty and betrayal, and the seductive power of language” and that sums it up so well. It’s a riveting read and although Katharine is the main character, the reader comes to care about a number of characters who are battling their own demons and trying to survive in a troubled and dangerous time. There are so many threads/themes running through the story and I loved how they were woven together.

So, if you’re looking for a summer historical read to get lost in, then do grab a copy of this novel.

Book Details

UK cover

UK cover


The year is 1590, and Queen Elizabeth’s Spanish Armada victory has done nothing to quell her brutal persecution of the English Catholics. Katharine de L’Isle is living at Lufanwal Hall, the manor of her uncle, Sir Edward. Taught by her cherished uncle to read when a child, Katharine is now a thirty-one-year-old widow. She has resigned herself to a life of reading and keeping company with her cousins and their children. But all that changes when the family’s priest, who had been performing Catholic services in secret, is found murdered. Faced with threats of imprisonment and death, Sir Edward is forced to flee the country, leaving Katharine adrift in a household rife with turmoil.

At this time of unrest, a new schoolmaster arrives from Stratford, a man named William Shakespeare. Coarse, quick-witted, and brazenly flirtatious, Shakespeare swiftly disrupts what fragile peace there is left at Lufanwal. Katharine is at first appalled by the boldness of this new tutor, but when she learns he is a poet, and one of talent, things between them begin to shift, and soon Katharine finds herself drawn into Shakespeare’s verse, and his life, in ways that will change her forever.

Inventive and absorbing, The Tutor is a masterful work of historical fiction, casting Shakespeare in a light we’ve never seen.

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books (February 5, 2015) in the US, Penguin (26 Mar. 2015) in the UK.
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1594632545, UK 024196816X
ISBN-13: 978-1594632549, UK 978-0241968161
Available from Amazon US, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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A Queen of a New Invention: Portraits of Lady Jane Grey Dudley, England’s Nine Days Queen by J. Stephan Edwards

Posted By Claire on June 3, 2015

queen of a new inventionThere are twenty-nine surviving portraits which have, at one time or another, been said to depict the ill-fated “Nine Days Queen” Lady Jane Grey, but the authenticity of many of them is, at best, dubious. In his book A Queen of a New Invention: Portraits of Lady Jane Grey Dudley, England’s Nine Days Queen, Lady Jane Grey expert J. Stephan Edwards, examines the provenance of each portrait in an attempt to find the ‘real’ Lady Jane Grey.

I’d first like to mention what a beautiful book A Queen of a New Invention: Portraits of Lady Jane Grey Dudley, England’s Nine Days Queen is. It’s hardback, is full-colour and has that matte, cloth-like feel that you just want to stroke. Many of the portraits are given a full page so the reader can appreciate the beauty of them, even if they’re not of Lady Jane Grey, and there are various other smaller images, like miniatures. It is the perfect ‘coffee table’ book, it’s gorgeous, and guests to your home won’t be able to help themselves flicking through it.

But, it doesn’t just look good, the information in it is first rate, well-written and presented in a readable way. Each portrait has its own section with its name, the artist (if known), the date and provenance. Edwards then goes on to explain how the image links to Lady Jane Grey and then examines evidence, such as the jewellery the sitter is wearing compared to historical inventories, to come to a conclusion regarding whether the portrait really is Jane.

In the introduction, Edwards also considers Jane’s story and her afterlife, i.e. the popular mythology that has grown up around her.

A Queen of a New Invention: Portraits of Lady Jane Grey Dudley, England’s Nine Days Queen is obviously the result of many years of research, and meticulous research at that, and is a fascinating read. Although two portraits of Jane were documented as existing in the 16th century, and were owned by Bess of Hardwick and John Lumley, these portraits have disappeared and we’re left with twenty-nine surviving paintings which don’t appear to be Jane. It is frustrating and heart-breaking that Jane’s image is lost to history, although I was glad to read that one image, the Syon Portrait, “may well be the closest we shall ever come to an authentic likeness of the Nine Days Queen.”

The book is fully-referenced, with chapter endnotes and a bibliography. In the appendices, Edwards has included the Spinola Letter, which historians have, in the past, relied on as a physical description of Jane, and then a section on the lost portraits and Edwards’ search for them. Whether you’re an art history buff or a Tudor history buff, you’ll find this book a fascinating and very worthwhile read. Wonderful.

Book Details


Lady Jane Grey Dudley was proclaimed Queen of England on 10 July 1553 following the untimely death of Henry VIII’s only son and successor, King Edward VI. But sixteen-year- old Jane did not have the support of the majority of her would-be subjects. They rallied instead to Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, Mary Tudor. Jane was deposed just nine days after her reign began, earning for her the sobriquet ‘The Nine Days Queen.’ She was imprisoned in the Tower for six months before finally being executed on 12 February 1554. Queen Jane remains the only English monarch of the past five centuries for whom no genuine portrait is known to have survived. Dozens of images have been put forward over those five centuries, but none has yet been conclusively authenticated. Neither has any comprehensive academic study of the iconography of Jane Grey Dudley ever been previously undertaken or published. Now, through almost a decade of research leading up to this volume, twenty-nine surviving portrait-images said to depict Jane have been carefully and systematically sought out, analyzed, and contextualized in an effort to determine whether any of them may be a reliable likeness. A handful of additional paintings all now lost are also discussed in detail. Finally, the single written account of Jane’s physical appearance, an account upon which historians have relied over the past century, is analyzed for its own authenticity.

Hardcover: 224 pages (also available as a paperback)
Publisher: Old John Publishing (February 12, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0986387304
ISBN-13: 978-0986387302
Available from, Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.

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