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Tudor: The Family Story by Leanda de Lisle

Posted By Claire on August 29, 2013

TudorHistorian Leanda de Lisle’s new book, Tudor: The Family Story, has just been released in the UK and I was fortunate to be sent a review copy. You could be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing more to say about the Tudors after the books by G. J. Meyer, Peter Ackroyd, Richard Rex… but you’d be mistaken. What sets this book apart from the others is that it really is a family story, a biography of these iconic monarchs, rather than a ‘text book’. Another thing that sets it apart is that de Lisle doesn’t just tell the stories of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I and Elizabeth I, she also tells the stories of other members of the Tudor family – people like Margaret Beaufort, Margaret Tudor and Margaret Douglas – and gives the background to the Tudor dynasty: the Wars of the Roses. It’s chock-a-block full of information but is also easy to read because of de Lisle’s style. Julian Fellowes describes it as an “enthralling story” and it really is, plus de Lisle has new perspectives and insights to offer on the fall of Anne Boleyn, the Princes in the Tower and Elizabeth I’s reign, amongst others. It seems strange to call a non-fiction history book “a thrilling read”, but it is!

Another thing about the book is that de Lisle has managed to tell a story which takes the reader from the funeral of Catherine of Valois in 1437 to the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 in just over 400 pages. She does not scrimp on detail so I’m left thinking that she wove some kind of magic spell on her work, either that or she has a talent for being very succinct. I also like the extras in the book. Not only is the book fully referenced (a dream book for history researchers and those who like to check sources themselves), but it also has five appendices covering interesting topics and myths, a map of English and French territories in the 15th century, family trees and illustrations – wonderful! I hope my enjoyment of the book is coming across!

I know many of you like to know what a book actually covers, so here are some brief details on chapters…

Part One – The Coming of the Tudors: A Mother’s Love

  • 1 – An Ordinary Man – Here, de Lisle tells the story of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois.
  • 2 – A Child Bride – Background on Margaret Beaufort, her marriage to Edmund Tudor and the birth of Henry Tudor (VII).
  • 3 – A Prisoner, Honourably Brought Up – More on Owen Tudor and Margaret Beaufort, and Henry VII’s upbringing.
  • 4 – The Wheel of Fortune – This chapter covers the period 1469-1472 and gives details on the involvement of Henry Tudor, his uncle Jasper Tudor and his stepfather Stafford in the battles during this period.
  • 5 – Enter Richard III – The death of Edward IV, accession of Edward V and the accession of Richard III.
  • 6 – The Princes in the Tower – Here, de Lisle explores what we know about the Princes, along with the rumours, myths and legends.
  • 7 – The Exile – Henry Tudor’s exile in Brittany and his plans for claiming the English throne.
  • 8 – Bosworth – Details on the battle that saw the end of Richard III’s short reign and the start of the Tudor era. The new evidence regarding Richard’s injuries and death is woven into the account.
  • 9 – The Rose and the Passion – The coronation of Henry VII, his marriage to Elizabeth of York and her first pregnancy.
  • 10 – Securing the Succession – The birth of Prince Arthur, Margaret Beaufort’s status and involvement in things, and Henry VII’s quashing of the challenge initiated by the Earl of Lincoln.
  • 11 – The Lost Prince – Richard, Duke of York and Perkin Warbeck
  • 12 – Punishment – The marriage of Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur, and the death of Arthur.
  • 13 – Death and Judgement – The marriage of Margaret Tudor and James IV of Scotland, negotiations regarding marriage plans for Mary Tudor, and Henry VII’s death.
  • 14 – Exit Margaret Beaufort – The accession of Henry VIII, his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and the death of Margaret Beaufort.

Part Two – Inheritance: The Legacy of Arthur

  • 15 – The Elder Sister: Margaret, Queen of Scots – The birth of James V, the death of James IV and what it meant for Margaret, and Margaret’s marriage to the Earl of Angus.
  • 16 – The Younger Sister: Mary, the French Queen – Mary’s marriage to Louis XII, Mary’s coronation, the death of Louis, and Mary’s marriage to Charles Brandon.
  • 17 – A Family Reunion and a Royal Rival – The situation in Scotland in 1515, Margaret’s flight to England and her reunion with her brother, Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon’s pregnancies, the births of Mary Tudor and Henry’s illegitimate son, and the fall of the Duke of Buckingham.
  • 18 – Enter Anne Boleyn – Henry Fitzroy’s elevation, negotiations regarding a marriage match for Princess Mary and Henry VIII’s relationship with Anne Boleyn.
  • 19 – A Marriage on Trial – Henry VIII’s quest for an annulment.
  • 20 – The Return of Margaret Douglas – Margaret Tudor’s daughter’s arrival at the English court, the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage and the coronation of Anne Boleyn.
  • 21 – The Terror Begins – The christening of Elizabeth (I), the executions of Elizabeth Barton, John Fisher, Thomas More and the Carthusian monks, the death of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn’s miscarriage.
  • 22 – The Fall of Anne Boleyn – De Lisle gives details on the fall of Anne Boleyn and her thoughts on it.
  • 23 – Love and Death – Anne Boleyn’s execution (including De Lisle’s theory regarding the sword), the succession problem, Thomas Howard and Margaret Douglas, and the Pilgrimage of Grace.
  • 24 – Three Wives – The birth of Edward VI and death of Jane Seymour, and Henry’s marriages to Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.
  • 25 – The Last Years of Henry VIII – Henry’s marriage to Katherine Parr, Henry’s will and the issue of the succession, and Henry VIII’s death.
  • 26 – Elizabeth in Danger – The accession of Edward VI, Elizabeth’s time with Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour, Seymour’s fall and the danger to Elizabeth.
  • 27 – Mary in Danger – The rise of John Dudley and Mary’s defiance of Edward VI’s religious measures.
  • 28 – The Last Tudor King – Edward VI’s illness, his plans for the succession and his death.

Part Three – Setting Sun: The Tudor Queens

  • 29 – Nine Days – The short reign of Lady Jane Grey and the accession of Mary I.
  • 30 – Revolt – Wyatt’s Revolt and the execution of Lady Jane Grey.
  • 31 – Marriage and Sons – The marriage of Mary I and Philip of Spain, the Restoration and Mary’s Counter-Reformation, and Mary’s false pregnancy.
  • 32 – A Flickering Light – Mary I’s death and the accession of Elizabeth I.
  • 33 – A Married Man – Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley.
  • 34 – Dangerous Cousins – The death of Amy Dudley, Elizabeth’s problems with her cousins: Margaret Douglas and Katherine Grey, and the problem of Mary, Queen of Scots and her claim to the throne.
  • 35 – Royal Prisoners – More on Margaret Douglas and Katherine Grey.
  • 36 – Murder in the Family – The assassination of Lord Darnley, the death of Katherine Grey and the Northern Rebellion.
  • 37 – Exit Margaret Douglas – The fall of the Duke of Norfolk, the marriage of Charles Stuart (son of Margaret Douglas) and Elizabeth Cavendish (daughter of Bess of Hardwick), the birth of Arbella Stuart, the deaths of Charles Stuart and Margaret Douglas.
  • 38 – The Virgin Queen – The coining of the phrase the “Virgin Queen” and the cost of Elizabeth’s spinsterhood.
  • 39 – The Daughter of Debate – The trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots
  • 40 – The Armada – Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada.
  • 41 – Setting Sun – The death of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s “malaise” and the issue of the succession.
  • 42 – The Hollow Crown – Elizabeth’s deterioration, Arbella Stuart’s marriage plans, and the death of Elizabeth I.
  • Epilogue


  • What happened to the body of James IV
  • The Mysterious Quarrel between Henry VIII and Margaret Douglas
  • Guildford and Jane Dudley
  • The Myth of Frances Brandon the Child Abuser
  • The Obscure Margaret Clifford, Heir to the Throne 1578-96

Amazon Blurb

The Tudors are a national obsession; they are our most notorious family in history. But, as Leanda de Lisle shows in this gripping new history, beyond the well-worn headlines is a family still more extraordinary than the one we thought we knew.

The Tudor canon typically starts with the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, before speeding on to Henry VIII and the Reformation. But this leaves out the family’s obscure Welsh origins, the ordinary man known as Owen Tudor who would fall (literally) into a Queen’s lap, and later her bed. It passes by the courage of Margaret Beaufort, the pregnant thirteen-year-old girl who would help found the Tudor dynasty; and the childhood and painful exile of her son, the future Henry VII. It ignores the fact that the Tudors were shaped by their past – those parts they wished to remember and those they wished to forget.

By creating a full family portrait set against the background of this past, Leanda de Lisle enables us to see the Tudors in their own terms, rather than ours; and presents new perspectives and revelations on key figures and events. We see a family dominated by remarkable women doing everything possible to secure its future; understand why the Princes in the Tower were disappeared; look again at the bloodiness of Mary’s reign; at Elizabeth’s relationships with her cousins; and re-discover the true significance of previously overlooked figures. We see the supreme importance of achieving peace and stability in a violent and uncertain world, and of protecting and securing the bloodline.

Tudor tells a family story like no other, and brings it once more to vivid life.

Book Details

Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Chatto & Windus (29 Aug 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0701185880
ISBN-13: 978-0701185886
It is available right now at Amazon UK and British bookshops, and the US version (Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family) is available to pre-order at

US cover

US cover


5 Responses to “Tudor: The Family Story by Leanda de Lisle”

  1. Tudorholic says:

    Seriously. I. Want. This. Book. Now!!!!!!!! It sounds so good… Very good review, Claire! I really love how you review these books.
    I’d like to know… Does De Lisle talk about Mary and Jane Boleyn and their stories and myths in this new book? And about Mary Stuart’s childhood in France with Catherine De Medici?
    I was thinking about buying it with De Lisle’s other book about the Grey sisters. Do you think it’s a good idea or could be something repetitive to read both books one after the other?

  2. BanditQueen says:

    Can’t wait for the book to arrive from Amazon; just annoyed they are so slow. Lady Margaret Douglas is a very interesting person in her own right. She is also a bit of a rebel and I like her because of this. I have one biography of her which is excellent; but wish there was more. She took some risks as well; mating and making illegal marriages with two Howard brothers just to annoy the King. She is seperated from one of them and they are both in the Tower. Then the poor lady is forced to denounce her marriage and her lover died in the Tower. She was also a victim from the start of her life; although of course she is raised in luxery; as her mother Margaret Tudor’ Henry’s elder sister is forced to leave her behind in England. Unlike the cousins in Scotland Margaret was not excluded by Henry VIII from the succession. She was English and so she was allowed a right to the crown.

    Margaret Douglas of course did eventrually make a sound and good match and one that appeared to make her happy. Margaret was married to the Earl of Lennox who is then set to spy on James V, her young cousin. He was an agent for KIng Henry for a number of years and allowed to return to Scotland as a result. But because of the ambitions of her sons this time Margaret of course faces a show down with her other cousin Elizabeth I. When her son Charles makes a very handsome marriage, poor Margaret is put again in the Tower; then released when she is ill. But her other son, Henry Lord Darnley married Mary Queen of Scots and is in direct line for both the thrones of Scotland and England. Elizabeth was not amuzed and poor Margaret goes back to the Tower of London.

    Another marriage with Charles, Earl of Lennox brings him a troublesome daughter Arbella Stewart who then marries her cousin William Seymour, son of Katherine Grey and looks to the new King James I of England and VI of Scotland that they are going to take his throne. Both are imprisoned, escape; and poor Arbella ends up back in jail where she dies. Margaret of course gets into trouble about this as well.

    Poor Margaret; she only finds some peace near the end of her long and rebellious life when she is released from the Tower after the death of Henry Lord Darnley and Mary Queen of Scots. She spent her last few years in the country; out of the way. A remarkable lady and one that I would have loved to have met. Well, actually did meet sort off as we had her as our charactor guide around Hampton Court. I was well impressed!

  3. Marilyn R says:

    Great review. It looks as though by managing to do this in 400 pages the author is sticking to ‘what it says on the tin’ rather than padding out with superfluous detail, which can be very irritating. Look forward to reading this.

  4. Bullen93 says:

    Thanks for this wonderful review. I wanted to read this book since I heard about it but after reading this I need it now! Your reviews are very useful while I’m looking for Tudor readings.
    I was thinking about buying this book along with De Lisle’s previous one on Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey, whose reviews on the Internet are excellent… I suppose Jane and her sisters have a part in this book also…
    I’d like to know… Does De Lisle talk about the paternity of Mary Boleyn’s children and the role (either accidental or deliberate) of Lady Jane Rochford on the falls of Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves and Kathryn Howard?

  5. BanditQueen says:

    Just a P.S to say that I now have been reading the book for 2 days and could not put it down either. I did not start at the start but dipped in reading different chapters as it took my fancy. They were all very good, well researched and very interesting, the details are of a lot of interest, some obscure but more interesting for all that. I loved the picture of the little prayer book; meant to belong to Lady Margaret, it was exquisit. The writing in such a small book and the paintings in it must of been a real challenge. The book is lovely and I may have seen it before at a special exhibit. The special articles on the missing body of James V and other mysteries are also excellent. I do not agree with the author’s view that Anne was executed with a sword was because he was the new KIng Author and the sword represented the masculine and hereldaic King. He was not thinking in that vein I am sure when he was still in shock over the conviction of Anne Boleyn and his friends in the privy chamber of adultery and treason. I just think that he wanted to despatch her quickly and without pain as he had loved her once and she had shared her bed. I think he was still a bit sentimental about her and that she was the mother of his beloved Elizabeth so he wanted to be kind to her in the end and give her a quick and gentle death. I do not feel that Anne asked for the French form of beheading although she may have; I do believe it was Henry’s idea, or at least it was partly his idea. A man in turmoil would not be thinking about Camolot and King Author and he was also distressed at her conviction and his mind was elsewhere at the time. It is unlikely he would think I am connected to King Arthur: I like the stories of Knights of the Round table and so on and Anne is like Gwenevaire, the adultress in the story, the sword is my sign of power and justice and Camelot, so I will use this to execute my wife. He was not able to think as logical as that; he was able to plan the details but he did not take care of everything in any event. Henry forgot to provide a coffin to bury her in.

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