Category Archives: 16th Century

The Miracle at St. Bruno’s by Philippa Carr (aka Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt)

The Miracle at St. Bruno’s (Daughters of England #1) by Philippa Carr
Gothic Historical Romance of the 70’s
Book from my personal collection
Burton Book Review Rating::Enjoyed it, had minor quirks

Available on Kindle now!

“I was born in the September of 1523, nine months after the monks had discovered the child in the crib on that Christmas morning. My birth was, my father used to say, another miracle: He was not young at the time being forty years of age . . . My mother, whose great pleasure was tending her gardens, called me Damask, after the rose which Dr. Linacre, the King’s physician, had brought into England that year.”

Thus begins the story narrated by Damask Farland, daughter of a well-to-do lawyer whose considerable lands adjoin those of St. Bruno’s Abbey. It is a story of a life inextricably enmeshed with that of Bruno, the mysterious child found on the abbey altar that Christmas morning and raised by the monks to become a man at once handsome and saintly, but also brooding and ominous, tortured by the secret of his origin which looms ever more menacingly over the huge abbey he comes to dominate.

This is also the story of an engaging family, the Farlands. Of a father wise enough to understand “the happier our King is, the happier I as a true subject must be,” a wife twenty years his junior, and a daughter whose intelligence is constantly to war with the strange hold Bruno has upon her destiny. What happens to the Farlands against the background of what is happening to King Henry and his court during this robust period provides a novel in which suspense and the highlights of history are wonderfully balanced.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the read along for this first book of the gothic series that prolific author Eleanor Hibbert/Jean Plaidy wrote under her pen-name of Philippa Carr. It is the story of a family in England struggling to stay out of trouble during the tyrannical reign of Henry VIII and eventually his daughter Queen Mary.

The main characters are three .. “we three as one”: Damask, the daughter of the household, Kate, her distant cousin, and Bruno, the miracle child that was brought up next door to Damask in the Abbey. Religious turmoil permeates the land, as persecution reaches its wicked tentacles out to the innocents, and Damask and Kate attempt to live their lives after tragedies occur.

Damask is introduced to us as a young girl, and by the end of the story we pretty much see what would be the end of her life as well. She was a narrator that could easily get on your nerves though, she is supposed to be so uber smart, yet it seems she doesn’t see the reality in front of her face and that got tedious after awhile. The other characters were all well done with bad guys and good guys; the plus was that in the background  we also had Henry VIII and his wives.  The writing had small lulls – as we knew that the proverbial shoe was going to drop and we kept waiting for it. Full of tension and the gothic style of melodramatics, this was a fun read that definitely has me intrigued enough to at least see what happens with the next generation in book two. I had been suspecting what was to be the “climatic moment” when it hit by page 357, but it was still awesome.

I haven’t read a series in a very long time that features a particular family through a long period of time, though the Morland series comes to mind (Cynthia Harrod Eagles). These two series have completely different tones, as I would not hesitate to recommend this first book of the Daughters of England to the Young Adult reader who is intrigued by the tumultuous reign of the Tudors and their effects on the families of England.

This novel was part of my 2013 To-Be-Read-Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader

Checking in for April here

The next novel I’m reading for the challenge will be another by the same author (different pen-name) The Bastard King by Plaidy. You are welcome to join the group and read along with us, starting May 1.

I read along with the Goodreads Plaidy group for The Miracle at St. Bruno’s and we had great discussions there about the book, but here are some of the status updates from the book as I was reading (you may have to be my friend there in order to see since I’m pasting):

Marie Burton is on page 291 of 376

A slightly tortuous journey at this point. Kill them all already.

— Apr 11, 2013 03:14pm

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie’s Previous Updates

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is finished

It is done. The Miracle persists.

— Apr 12, 2013 11:45am

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 357 of 376


— Apr 12, 2013 11:13am

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 355 of 376

Reading the last chapter… I wonder how I’ll fell about this title when it’s done.

— Apr 12, 2013 10:28am

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 267 of 376

Enjoying this first Philippa Carr novel (pseudonym of Jean Plaidy).

— Apr 06, 2013 07:27pm

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 249 of 376

Lots of uh-oh moments!!

— Apr 06, 2013 07:01am

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 185 of 376

The story is full of twists and turns, I am enjoying its gothic feel.

— Apr 04, 2013 07:50pm

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 156 of 376


— Apr 02, 2013 01:56pm

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 123 of 376

This chapter is titled the shadow of the ax.. And the king is Henry VIII.. Makes me wanna scream “run girl, run !!!


Filed under #histnov, 16th Century, 2013 Reading Challenge, 2013 Review, Jean Plaidy, Philippa Carr, Tudor

Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
Simon & Schuster: June 11, 2013
Historical Fiction
Hardcover 464 pages
eGalley copy downloaded from Edelweiss
Burton Book Review Rating:3.5 stars= I enjoyed it despite its minor quirks

This brilliant historical fiction debut takes you into the heart of the Tudor court and the life and loves of the clever, charismatic Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife. 

Widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, Katherine Parr finds she has fallen deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of another: the ailing, egotistical and dangerously powerful monarch Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions; two enforced annulments; one death in childbirth—Katherine is obliged to wed Henry Tudor and become his sixth queen.
Committed to religious reform, Katherine must draw upon all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her including her stepdaughter Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. But with the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position in the new regime, Katherine’s survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.

A must-read for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Queen’s Gambit brings to life the remarkable story of Katherine Parr as she battles with those intent on destroying her, but also with her own heart.

Readers who would rather go swim with alligators instead of reading yet another Tudor themed historical.. please don’t dive in yet…I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. It did start off with more of a bang for me, as I felt the characterizations of Katherine Parr and her step-daughter Margaret Neville were pretty awesome. I then loved the jutting around from person to person, getting a little bit from everyone from the dying Latymer to the physician Huicke, to the loyal servant of Dot. All these characters helped shape a well-rounded story (that we all think we know) yet the author has added some clever plot twists that had me sucked in from the beginning.

As fat old King Henry has his way and Katherine Parr is no longer Lady Latymer but instead Queen Katherine, we get a full sense of the religious turmoil that was taking hold of England at the time. Catholics could very well take offense at some of the remarks that were being made (I am Catholic) but I was able to forgive those slights. The tone of the book shifted a bit, as there was a focus more on the policies of England as opposed to the character driven start, and since I pretty much knew what was going to happen I felt my attention drifting.

The charm to the book was the witty prose with the details of the period that were enough to make the book not too fluffy but not too much to bore this Tudor fan out of her mind. I wouldn’t say this novel is of the epic dazzling quality that some reviewers have painted it as, since especially my interest was waning after I hit the 80% mark, but I will say that it is a piece of Tudor fan-fic that was well done and I recommend it to those who are still eager to read more of the period and the struggles concerning the sixth wife of Henry VIII.

Some of the quotes that I posted on Goodreads from my eGalley (technically not supposed to quote from the book, but I feel justified as I would like to offer a feel of the tone of the narrative in an attempt to help sell it):

By rights she should have been married long ago to some magnificent foreign prince, borne him a flock of princelings, and allied England to some great land, but she has been pushed from pillar to post, in favor, out of favor, legitimate, illegitimate. No one knows what to do with her, least of all her father.” – can you guess the poor Princess this refers to?

You can’t scratch an itch around here without everybody knowing about it one way or another, and Anne Stanhope’s bulbous eyes watch everybody constantly so she can feed her husband, Hertford, little snippers of information: who is allied to whom, or who has argued with whom, which ladies are sporting new jewels, and suchlike.” – Those bulbous eyes belonging to Edward Seymour’s wife

Elizabeth puts a spell on people, that is her way. She puts them under her magic, takes them if she wants them and gets rid of them when she is bored.” – of that princess who would be Queen.

Elizabeth Fremantle employs the use of dramatic license with several of the plot twists, and those unknown plot points were very intriguing in the beginning of this intriguing view on Katherine Parr (which started from her marriage to Lord Latymer to the King and then to Thomas Seymour). Towards the end, I was slightly disappointed that the author did take it as far as she did as far as the twists go, so those readers who do not appreciate copious amounts of re-imagining the events will not appreciate this title. It is evocative, and is a sort of a no-holds barred type of read when you consider the amount of fiction that the author inserts, and still I enjoyed it as a whole. I hate comparing things to Philippa Gregory since everyone else does it, but I can say that readers who enjoy Gregory’s works should find no fault with this impressive debut novel.

Edit to add this link to a very enjoyable piece from the author over at Waterstones.


Filed under #histnov, 16th Century, 2013 Releases, 2013 Review, Katherine Parr, Tudor

King Edward VI, Life and Times of Francophilia Giveaway: Susan Higginbotham Her Highness the Traitor

Please warmly welcome Susan Higginbotham, (since she put up with a eye roll of a topic suggestion) during her blog tour for her new release,

Her Highness, The Traitor

For a Guest Post topic suggestion, I really put Susan to the test. Here was my post suggestion:

 I would love it if Susan could explore more about the character of Edward VI and the actual what-if he lived and was able to gain his majority and rule as King as his father did. Which families would still be in power if he was healthy enough to marry? Who would he have married? And if King Edward was able to live out to at least his thirties, and have his own heirs to the throne, what does Susan see becoming of his sisters Mary and Elizabeth?

And now, the test.. You are hereby ordered to keep a straight face, not even a grin is allowed, or off with your head!!

The Novel I Didn’t Write: A Brief History of Edwardian England
Susan Higginbotham
In Her Highness, the Traitor, I told the story of the events surrounding Jane Grey’s brief reign, including the tragic death of young Edward VI. But what if Edward—not a sickly youth until the last months of his life, when he contracted an illness that likely could have been easily cured by modern antibiotics—had not died in 1553? Let us sit back and visit the Edwardian England that never was.

In 1558, Edward married a French princess, Elisabeth of Valois, thereby ushering in a new era of Francophilia in England. Englishmen complained of all of the French terms invading the English language, but all were too busy enjoying French cuisine to complain all that loudly.

Mary, Edward’s oldest sister, was grudgingly allowed to continue her Catholic practices, known affectionately at court as “Mary’s little whims.” She died unmarried in 1558, at which time Edward allowed a priest, imported from Spain just for that purpose, to bury her with full Catholic rites. John Fox the martyrologist, bereft of Protestant martyrs to write about, wrote a book of riddles instead, which were vulgarized by English schoolboys and are remembered chiefly in that form today.

Elizabeth, Edward’s other sister, reluctantly married a French prince in order to please her brother Edward, but made him promise that her second marriage would be to a man of her own choosing. In 1562, the widowed Elizabeth married the widowed Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whose wife Amy had died after a fall down the stairs at Dudley’s great castle of Kenilworth. The five hundred guests who witnessed the fall were in no doubt that it was a tragic accident. The new Countess of Leicester moved the body of her mother, Anne Boleyn, from its resting place at the Chapel of Peter ad Vincula into a fine tomb at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth spent the rest of her life urging her brother to give Anne Boleyn a posthumous pardon, but Edward, out of loyalty to his own mother, Jane Seymour, refused. Only in the next century would his grandson declare Anne Boleyn to have been innocent, after which she would be the subject only of an occasional obscure historical novel.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, died in the late 1560’s of the stomach problems that had dogged his last years. Edward VI would give his mentor and trusted advisor a grand funeral and declare a day of public mourning. Historians in the twenty-first century continue to hotly debate whether Northumberland or Edward VI was more responsible for the economic prosperity that marked the latter half of the 1550’s and the 1560’s. Jane Dudley, Northumberland’s widow, devoted the remainder of her long widowhood to commissioning statues of her late husband. Many of these “Northumberland memorials” remain in larger English towns today.

Northumberland’s son Guildford, having married Jane Grey in 1553, was made Duke of Suffolk in right of his wife in 1554 when his father-in-law, Henry Grey, died without male heirs following a hunting accident. Jane, Duchess of Suffolk, composed a number of scholarly works in Greek and Latin, but is best known for the Bible translation she produced in 1611 for the king, known as King Edward’s Bible and still used in Protestant churches today.

Guildford, Duke of Suffolk, finding himself incompatible with his intellectual wife, took a number of mistresses, including his own sister-in-law, Katherine Grey. The romance of Guildford and Katherine has been the subject of many nonfiction books, novels, plays, and films. Although in 1585, Guildford was granted a charter by King Edward to colonize the area in North America now known as the state of Henrico, named after Edward’s father, he is remembered today chiefly for his involvement with Katherine.

Frances Grey, known as the dowager Duchess of Suffolk after the Suffolk title was bestowed upon her son-in-law Guildford, married her master of horse, Adrian Stokes, after Henry Grey’s death in 1554. After being besieged for advice by mothers eager to have their learned daughters follow in Jane’s footsteps, she finally wrote a book on child-rearing. The book, which advocated combining firmness with love, was enormously popular and was followed by an equally successful book by Adrian Stokes about training horses, based on many of the same principles.

Edward VI’s reign was not entirely peaceful. In 1564, his aunt Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset, still bitter after the execution of her husband in 1552, plotted with her fellow prisoners in the Tower, Edward Courtenay and Bishop Stephen Gardiner, to murder Edward VI and his sons and put Courtenay on the throne instead. The rebellion failed when the duchess’s daughter Anne, Countess of Warwick, alerted her Dudley in-laws to her mother’s plans. The Duchess of Somerset, along with her co-conspirators, was executed in 1565 and buried beside her husband Edward Seymour in the Chapel of Peter ad Vincula. At her execution, the Duchess of Somerset broke with tradition and delivered a long harangue against King Edward, forcing the executioner to swing the axe prematurely in order to shut her up.

William Shakespeare wrote many plays during King Edward’s reign, including the famous Seymour trilogy, which chronicles the insatiable ambition of Thomas Seymour, Edward Seymour, and Anne Seymour and their attempts to remove Edward VI from the throne. For years, the test of any serious actress has been her ability to deliver Anne’s soliloquy in Act III of the play that bears her name, in which Anne from her Tower cell agonizes about whether to abandon her plan to murder Edward VI, as well as her dying speech upon the scaffold. A now-obscure play about the little-known King Richard III was once attributed to Shakespeare but is now thought to have been composed by one of his rivals in an effort to capitalize upon the popularity of the Seymour trilogy.

Elisabeth of Valois died in 1610, leaving Edward VI a grieving widower. He refused to marry again. Edward VI died in 1620 and was succeeded by his first surviving son, Henry IX. The golden Edwardian age had come to an end, but the Henrician age would be even greater. But that, my friends, is another story.

There you have it folks. Now please tell me you kept a straight face. By the time I got to the book of riddles a stupid grin was stuck on my face, but then I’ll admit to something close to cackling when I read of Amy Robsart’s death: “The five hundred guests who witnessed the fall were in no doubt that it was a tragic accident”..
And Frances Grey’s book on child-rearing forced a strange sound.. and poor Anne Seymour…

Brava, Susan! Thanks for indulging us!

Sourcebooks is offering followers of Burton Book Review, in US/Canada, a copy of Her Highness, The Traitor..

To enter please comment on this guest post and leave me your email address. Giveaway ends 06/14/12

Extra entry for commenting on the Review post for Her Highness, The Traitor


Filed under 16th Century, Lady Jane Grey, Susan Higginbotham

Her Highness, The Traitor by Susan Higginbotham

Good book. Hate this cover.

Her Highness, The Traitor by Susan Higginbotham
Sourcebooks Landmark; June 1, 2012
Historical fiction
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:

Frances Grey harbored no dream of her children taking the throne. Cousin of the king, she knew the pitfalls of royalty and privilege. Better to marry them off, marry them well, perhaps to a clan like the Dudleys. Jane Dudley knew her husband was creeping closer to the throne, but someone had to take charge, for the good of the country. She couldn’t see the twisted path they all would follow. The never–before–told story of the women behind the crowning of Jane Grey, this novel is a captivating peek at ambition gone awry, and the damage left in its wake.

In Her Highness, The Traitor Susan Higginbotham writes of the famous Tudor era during Edward VI’s short reign, and the struggle for the crown that followed King Edward’s death in 1553. Although the story is not a new one for Tudor fans, the author chose two intriguing figures of the time to narrate the story: Frances Grey, a niece of the old King Henry VIII, and Jane (Guildford) Dudley, who was married to John Dudley, father of the now famous Elizabethan courtier, Robert Dudley. The Tudor era is fraught with similar names (Robert, Henry, Edward) and nobles who’s titles can come and go on a king’s whim, which makes for confusing reading in any Tudor novel.

Higginbotham attempts to stay true to the story of the women she features, without too many detailed accounts that were going on behind the scenes. Frances Grey is popularly known as the witchy mother of the nine-day queen Lady Jane Grey and is rarely shown in a sympathetic light. If the author strove to right that wrong opinion of Frances, she succeeded. I loved the character of Frances from the beginning: she was stubborn, realistic, and not too fanciful as one may expect born with royal blood.

Jane Dudley’s story is similar to Frances’ as they each have children caught in the tangled web their husbands created. Frances’ daughter was put on the throne of England, attempting to bypass the Lady Mary. Bloody Mary did not get the moniker for nothing, as the novel will demonstrate. Frances and Jane each become Duchesses due to the political prowess of their husbands, but the titles end up having a high price.

The story is told in alternating first person point of views by the two duchesses, which caused me to think twice each time a new chapter began. I felt it may flowed better had the two narratives been told in third person, but eventually I took it all in stride. The author’s own witty sense of humor starts off quickly with the novel, with small joking statements being made which at times seemed out of place, knowing the subject matter to be would include a few deaths of family members, but the serious situations when they occurred were handled with due decorum and were quite emotive at times.

I enjoyed reading about the behind the scenes dynamics of the families of the two women, but felt there may have been a bit left out, but at 336 pages this was not meant to be a hefty historical. The reason for putting Lady Jane Grey on the throne seemed vague, the people who supported this decision were few, and a lot of the goings-on and would-be-drama simply seemed glazed over considering the myriads of upheaval that the women experienced during the reign of Edward VI, Jane Grey, and then Bloody Mary. The men in the main protagonists’ lives seemed to be represented well enough as characters in a novel and not much else, but I did get entrenched in the storyline enough that I wound up wishing for a happier outcome for the families despite what the history books tell us.

Yet, Higginbotham has a firm grip on her details and tells the story as close to fact as she can, adding in the personal details of the courtiers in such a way that they would be proud of. The traits of each of them could be imagined to the fullest, and Higginbotham presents a plausible and pleasurable historical account that all Tudor fiction fans would enjoy. Susan Higginbotham is one of the best accessible historical fiction authors out there and will soon be well known for very enjoyable and well-researched novels.

My cover review where I rant about this book cover to get it out of my system (& not into this review).
My other Susan Higginbotham posts, includes reviews such as Queen of Last Hopes which was a Best of 2011 for Burton Book Review.
Stay tuned for an alternative history (you heard me) guest post from Susan Higginbotham for her blog tour tomorrow, and a chance to win your own copy.


Filed under 16th Century, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Robert Dudley, Susan Higginbotham

Cover Review! Her Highness, The Traitor

Hate this cover.

Her Highness, The Traitor by Susan Higginbotham,  cover from Sourcebooks Landmark

This post was originally supposed to be where I posted my review of Her Highness, The Traitor, but instead I have decided to separate it from the review of the actual writing. I do this in an effort to not fault the author because of this cover that I dislike so much that it made me not want to read the book half the time.

The cover is just …blah…. and this cover 50% influenced my reading experience. I was put off originally because of the back of the lady’s head. The two main protagonists are two married women, and it is my impression that married Tudor women were supposed to keep their hair hidden under headdress. And the model chosen definitely has striped highlights in her hair. If only they had that back of her head covered in a headdress I probably would have been able to move past my dislike for the cover, but instead I found myself picking apart everything and hating it.

 For the ARC, it pretty much matches the one above, minus the tagline. Then I saw the tag line (The Tudor Story You Don’t Know) for the finished version and quite frankly it is just cheesy. Who are they to assume we don’t know the story of the Dudley and the Greys?

Final brighter version?

 When I looked at Barnes & Noble for the final cover it seemed even worse with the brighter coloring they switched to. The one thing that was acceptable with the cover above was the earthy darker tones, but they even took that away with the lavender colored box around the title.

And the cover found on B&N (and Sourcebooks) doesn’t even put the comma in after Her Highness. Is there a comma or not?

Then they decided to go a bit more juvenile with the tag line and not capitalize the words as first suggested in prior pic uploads.

Take a look at some of the Sourcebooks published books by Higginbotham previously:
Aren’t these gorgeous? I love seeing the old artwork used as covers for historical fiction. And yes, some of these leaned towards the dreaded ‘headless’ covers that we were getting sick of, but I think these were very well done. Definitely inspiring enough to make me want to pick up the books and read on.
Thanks for letting me rant. Review of what is between the covers will be up next.


Filed under 16th Century, 2012 Releases, Susan Higginbotham

The Sumerton Women by D.L. Bogdan

The Sumerton Women by D.L. Bogdan
Kensington, April 24, 2012
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:Enjoyed very much!

Orphaned at age eight, Lady Cecily Burkhart becomes the ward of Harold Pierce, Earl of Sumerton. Lord Hal and his wife, Lady Grace, welcome sweet-natured Cecily as one of their own. With Brey, their young son, Cecily develops an easy friendship. But their daughter, Mirabella, is consumed by her religious vocation—and by her devotion to Father Alec Cahill, the family priest…

Set at a fictional estate of Sumerton, Bogdan reenters the Tudor courts in a different fashion with this new novel. Fresh new characters breeze through the tyranny of King Henry VIII’s reforms, but not everyone comes away unscathed. The root of this story is as the title suggests, with women who love the Earl of Sumerton. The Earl is a sweet man, with little faults, except for his inability to break through to his alcoholic wife, Lady Grace.

And herein lies the problem with the rest of the review. If I say much about his children, and his ward Lady Cecily, I would give away intriguingly spicy plot points which would otherwise ruin the story for the potential reader. I was warned ahead of time that the synopsis alone gave away a piece of the story, and I kept my promise to myself to not read the synopsis, and I have shortened the one above.

This is a story where the Church and one’s own faith collides with that of the Kings’ and their own family; this is a story where family ties are put to the test; this is a story that offers an intriguing slice of life set against a very tumultuous time in England. The political games are the backdrop, with the religious upheaval and the reforms more at the forefront, and they effect and inspire the Sumerton women differently. I loved the characters, their flaws, and their traits, and most especially enjoyed the family drama that was the focus as opposed to simply focusing on yet another Tudor figure. There are appearances by the King, and the Queens, and Cranmer, who are there to set the historical tone. There are births, deaths, and marriages.. where betrayal, trust and loyalty are all intertwined in a fast-paced saga that I would recommend to readers who appreciate the Tudor era. I enjoy Bogdan’s writing style and always look forward to her work, (all of her Tudor books have been a delight) but I was thrilled how Bogdan channeled some V.C. Andrews for The Sumerton Women!

Read my previous reviews of Bodgan’s Tudor novels
Read another review of The Sumerton Women at
The author’s blog can be found at


Filed under 16th Century, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, D.L. Bogdan, Tudor

Review: Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox
Random House, January 31, 2012
Hardcover 432 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:

The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.

When they were young, Juana’s and Katherine’s futures appeared promising. They had secured politically advantageous marriages, but their dreams of love and power quickly dissolved, and the unions for which they’d spent their whole lives preparing were fraught with duplicity and betrayal. Juana, the elder sister, unexpectedly became Spain’s sovereign, but her authority was continually usurped, first by her husband and later by her son. Katherine, a young widow after the death of Prince Arthur of Wales, soon remarried his doting brother Henry and later became a key figure in a drama that altered England’s religious landscape.

Ousted from the positions of power and influence they had been groomed for and separated from their children, Katherine and Juana each turned to their rich and abiding faith and deep personal belief in their family’s dynastic legacy to cope with their enduring hardships. Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—a remarkable reflection on the conflict between ambition and loyalty during an age when the greatest sin, it seems, was to have been born a woman.

We know of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand through their legacy of Christopher Columbus and the Inquisition. Yet, they also brought forth the legacy of their predecessors, and two of them are daughters Katherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile. Juana of Castile is the tragic figure we recognize as the mad woman scorned and betrayed, and her sister Katherine of Aragon is the pious yet strong willed first wife of Henry VIII whom he famously cast aside for Anne Boleyn. The men created the events around their lives, and helped shape their legends. But exactly who these women were five hundred years ago is the subject of Julia Fox’s newest non-fiction work, Sister Queens.

When reading about historical figures in the biographical context, I am used to the terms would-be, could-be, may have.. but I did not find an abundance of those phrases here – a refreshing change of pace that is unlike Alison Weir’s writing. (Refreshingly absent is Weir’s over-used eye-rolling phrase “we’ll never know”). Leaving no stone unturned, Julia Fox seemingly examines and discusses all the details that she unearthed from her research from the Spanish Archives and the chronicles of the times, as apparently there are many letters and accounts which still survive. Katherine of Aragon’s plight of being a widow is discussed thoroughly as she awaits the approval of her marriage to the future Henry VIII, while Juana’s supposed madness is slowly wrapping its web around her reality as she finds herself in extreme isolation which began with her husband’s ways and continued with her own father and ultimately her own son, Charles the Holy Roman Emperor.

Getting to the heart of the characters of the two sisters is a complex feat, but is accomplished as realistically as possible through the author’s eyes. The leadership traits of their mother, Queen Isabella, are easily seen in both Juana and Katherine, and one wonders how far they would have gone if it were not for the chains of male prejudice holding them back. The author clearly wants this realization to come to light as she shows time and again how the men in their lives continued to wreak certain havoc with no regard for the thoughts of Katherine or Juana. And their father Ferdinand really seems like the type of man one would love to hate.

There is more evidence available for Katherine’s life, as she was not as secluded and pushed aside as much as Juana was. Juana’s husband began the rumors of her madness, and sadly enough her father King Ferdinand perpetuated these rumors which led to Juana’s imprisonment. When Juana was given a rare chance to come out of her seclusion for the sake of Castile, she dissembled and lost the opportunity. Thus, Juana’s story is one of rumor and innuendo, with no one on her side to plead her case, and when certain red flags were waved, they were ignored. Essentially shut up, Juana was easily forgotten. Bred to be a Queen, she had the foresight to be a great one, yet she chose to not display her mother’s traits to those who mattered. She was reduced to tantrums at times, which provided enough fodder for those who liked to denounce her abilities. Juana’s disappointing trait (downfall?) was her stalwart defense of her family. In contrast, Katherine was busy being the Queen of England, and epitomizing it in every sense of the phrase due to her extreme faith in the fact that Queen of England was what God had wanted for her. This faith, and the upbringing of Katherine, propelled Katherine into a woman to be reckoned with, someone who would even oppose her King of a husband in order to protect her soul and her constant belief in what was God’s will.

Readers interested in the details of Katherine and Juana could not be disappointed with this telling of facts. It is well researched, well written and brings forth the hearts and souls of the sisters where we once only felt shadows. The author explains the traits we know these woman had and helps to flesh them out using many details and events of their lives. To get to the pathos of these women, we are obliged to touch on the details from the politics of England, Spain, to France and the Netherlands and onwards even to Burgundy, and throw in the many pregnancies and the many advisers and everyone in between and there is a complete a picture of these two sisters and their family dynamics. Katherine’s great-nephew Philip marries Katherine’s daughter, Mary, in what should have been a triumphant final stamp of Spain on England, yet we know that it is this same Philip who unsuccessfully wages war on England. Sister Queens is an exhaustive and detailed work surrounding these sisters, as I look forward to the next Julia Fox work with more anticipation than I would one by Alison Weir.


Filed under 16th Century, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Arthur Tudor, Catherine of Aragon, Juana of Castile, Julia Fox, Tudor

Review: At The King’s Pleasure (Secrets of the Tudor Court Book 4) by Kate Emerson


The cover that would match the rest of the series, but not the cover that they stayed with 😦

At The King’s Pleasure (Secrets of the Tudor Court Book 4) by Kate Emerson
Gallery Books, January 3, 2012
Paperback 384 pages
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:4 stars

Having read all of the author’s previous Secrets of the Tudor Court books, I had anticipated this installment since day one. I was disappointed with the publisher’s choice to change the publication date from August to January (and disappointed with the cover change), but good things come to those who wait. Emerson writes of the Tudor period with ease and eloquence, including many historical details but without over burdening the novel with facts. Although this Tudor series is focused during the popular reign of Henry VIII or his father, Emerson writes of the lesser known characters, and includes some fictional characters as well. This fourth installment, which can be read as a stand-alone, focuses on Lady Anne Stafford, daughter of Henry Stafford and Katherine Woodville, during the earlier days of Henry VIII’s reign. The story was less focused on the courts and the politics and read much more like Anne’s personal story which was a refreshing change of pace for a Tudor novel. Making it even more enjoyable was the clarity the author gives to these lesser known figures of the Tudor era, which always sparks off even more of an obsessive interest in the Tudor courts.

We are introduced to Anne as a young widow at her haughty brother Edward’s disposal. Her other brother is temporarily in the Tower, so it is Edward who always pulls the strings of the Stafford family. Soon enough Lady Anne marries George Hastings, an amiable and likable young man. He isn’t Will Compton, though, and Lady Anne has caught his eye as well as the young King Henry’s. When Edward sees Compton with Anne, Edward hastily sends Anne away to a nunnery (telling her husband to bring her there) and Anne vows revenge: “And if she ever had the opportunity to pay him back in kind and soil his reputation as he’d soiled hers, she would seize upon it without hesitation.”

Anne has a time of it to attempt to rebuild her reputation, as behind the scenes the Cardinal enjoys taunting her with his power over the king and the court. Above all, she wishes for her husband George to realize the truth of the matter, yet she lets things spiral out of control. She does get a bit of revenge on her meddlesome brother, although she didn’t expect it the way it played out. The character development of Lady Anne is well portrayed while Anne copes with the turmoils of her heart. The relationship with her brother Edward Stafford is much at the forefront, and his own realtionships with his mistress and wife play a part as well. Edward starts to believe he is destined to rule England someday, but it is because of a prophecy that he holds on to this dream. Those well-versed in history will know what becomes of Edward Stafford and his dreams..

I have always enjoyed Emerson’s style of writing for its quickness of plot while still inserting many historical details into the storyline. The secondary characters of the Tudor court are always made much more intriguing with Emerson’s pen, and I would recommend this novel of Anne Stafford to anyone interested in the Duke of Buckingham and his family. I was pleasantly surprised that the King himself wasn’t more featured here, as the story really did revolve around Lady Anne and her relationships. As with most Tudor fiction, the author felt obligated to insert facts and names/titles into conversations which seemed out of place at times, but was done in order to better acclimate the reader to the many courtiers involved during the storyline. Aside from a few of these awkward moments, I enjoyed yet another of Emerson’s Secrets of The Tudor Court novels. Emerson has also compiled a long list of notables of the Tudor times with her Who’s Who of Tudor Women database which can be found online or as a download from
Kate Emerson will visit HF-Connection on her release day of At The King’s Pleasure on 1/3/2012, be sure to check for that.. and if you want to peruse my recent posts and reviews of the author’s work, visit this link at the Burton Book Review.


Filed under 16th Century, 2011 Reviews, 2012 Releases, Bess Blount, Kate Emerson, Tudor

Book Review: Rivals in the Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan

Rivals in the Tudor Court (Tudor Court 2) by D.L. Bogdan
Kensington Paperback April 26, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0758242006
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating: 4

The death toll in Henry VIII’s England can be counted in the thousands. No one was more aware of this than Thomas Howard, third duke of Norfolk. Relying on his indomitable force of will, cleverness, and sheer good fortune, Thomas Howard manages to be one of the king’s only intimates to survive an unforgettable reign of terror. This impeccably researched companion piece to “Secrets of the Tudor Court” chronicles the ambitious duke’s life, loves, and remarkable capacity to endure. Before he was the king’s uncle, before he was his nieces’ ultimate betrayer, Thomas Howard was a hostage at the court of Henry VII while his father was imprisoned in the dreaded Tower of London. There he would marry the queen’s sister, his forever princess Anne Plantagenet. While he founded a dynasty, his career as soldier and sailor brought him acclaim and the trust of the Tudors. But when unspeakable tragedy robs him of family and fortune, Thomas must begin again. Abandoning notions of love, Thomas seeks out an advantageous match with the fiery Elizabeth Stafford, daughter of the duke of Buckingham. Clever, willful, and uncompromising in principle, the young duchess falls victim to a love she cannot deny. When Thomas takes on a mistress, the vulnerable Bess Holland, Duchess Elizabeth prepares to fight for all she holds dear. Only then does she learn she faces a force darker than anything she could ever have imagined, an obsessive love that neither she nor Bess can rival.

Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, was a key player both behind the scenes and not-so-behind the scenes during Henry VIII’s reign. Tudor fans recognize his name as the one responsible for putting his two nieces under the King’s nose, ripe for the plucking. After Henry tired of mistresses Mary Boleyn and Bessie Blount, Thomas saw that Henry had eyes for Mary Boleyn’s sister, Anne. And of course the rest is history.. Anne becomes queen, fails to give Henry the male heir and is summarily executed on trumped up charges of adultery. Another niece becomes available, Kitty Howard, who moves on become another Queen Catherine to King Henry.

But who was this man, the formidable Thomas Norfolk? Behind the political movements and shrewd judgement, he is one powerful noble who managed to escape the axe, although he came close and was saved by Henry’s death alone. In D.L. Bogdan’s previous book, Secrets of the Tudor Court, Thomas’s daughter Mary Howard was the focus of the story but the story held frightening glimpses of Thomas himself, who is better known simply as Norfolk.

Why did he seem to be so cruel to his family? He beat his wife, his children, and paid his servants to do it some more. Not a very likable creature indeed, and D.L. Bogdan take us back to Thomas’s beginning as a child struggling to make up for his short stature. His desire to be the best soldier earns him recognition, and Queen Catherine of Aragon favors him as well as King Henry does. He always wants more though, and he brings his family down whomever stands in his way.

Bogdan brings us the story of Thomas as he becomes more and more powerful, while also looking at the women in his life. We are treated to a never before seen look at Thomas Howard as he is undeniably happy with his first wife Anne Plantagenet until tragedy strikes again and again. The hardened man takes another wife with Elizabeth Stafford and we hope that perhaps he can come full circle, but he becomes more and more hateful, especially as he takes on a mistress, Bess Holland. We get the point of views of Thomas, his wife Elizabeth, and his mistress Bess, as they all struggle to maintain their wicked triangle of love and hate in Thomas’s cruel world. With the intermingling of their lives, Bogdan presents a page turning story of loyalty, treachery and ambition giving us the Tudor flair that fans love.


Filed under 16th Century, 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, D.L. Bogdan, Thomas Howard: Norfolk, Tudor

Book Review: Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George

Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George
Hardcover: 688 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (April 5, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0670022533
Review copy provided by the publisher, with many thanks!!
The Burton Review Rating:Five Gorgeous Stars!

Margaret George is one of those iconic historical fiction authors that even if you have not read her books, you have heard of her. I have been collecting her books but have not been able to read them as they look so daunting in size. This year, fans are treated to another tome by Margaret George as she brings us a novel on Elizabeth I. This is not your ordinary Elizabeth I novel for two reasons: 1. It is written by Margaret George. 2. It begins in 1588, when Elizabeth is fifty-five and about to face the Spanish Armada.

I was ecstatic when I realized this was not another rehash of Elizabeth’s life from Thomas Seymour’s pats on her butt to her struggles during her sister’s Mary’s reign, though it does cover the rise and fall of the Earl of Essex in detail. I was then overly ecstatic when I realized that this novel also features Lettice Knollys, whom Elizabeth liked to call the she-wolf. My Enemy The Queen by Victoria Holt was one of my favorite Tudor reads and I loved Lettice as she tried to out-maneuver Elizabeth every chance she got. The rivalry was heightened when Lettice married Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester.

Elizabeth I: A Novel read very much like the Dickens’ favorite A Christmas Carol. We see through the aged Elizabeth’s eyes the ghosts of the past from her parents to her favorites who flit in and out of her consciousness; the present with the younger courtiers who no longer have anything of value to Elizabeth except their looks; the future of England because of course this Virgin Queen left no heir for England. The decisions of the past and the present and how they affect the future of England are also an underlying theme for Elizabeth as she struggles to maintain her hold on the country that she married for richer or for poorer. The Spanish Armada was always a threat, and even though she was able to defeat it in 1589, by the time Spain had rebuilt its forces to strike again, Elizabeth’s most trusted advisors and the strongest fighters and nobles had withered away.

Elizabeth hated most of all Lettice Knollys, who had secretly married Elizabeth’s perhaps one true love Robert Dudley. Lettice was like Elizabeth in many ways as far as stubbornness and force of will, but promiscuous Lettice lacked the self-control of the Virgin Queen. Lettice was also the mother of Elizabeth’s next favorite after Robert Dudley, the Earl of Essex Robert Devereux. In and out of this story of Elizabeth we are treated to chapters devoted to Lettice, as she struggles in vain to regain all that she has lost since Robert Dudley’s death. Her one shining hope remains with her son the Earl of Essex, as he hopes for favors from Elizabeth I to help sustain his family. Robert Devereux is headstrong and unruly, and both Lettice and Elizabeth had difficulty with restraining Robert’s self-destruction, and this spiral of love and hate between the Queen and Essex became interwoven into the novel as a major theme.

There were many names and titles, and a few Roberts as Robert Cecil is also featured here. There were even surprising occurrences behind closed doors, including the famous Will Shakespeare. The cousins descended from the Boleyn family are a strong part as the old loyal favorites of Elizabeth who always stayed loyal. And yet there were always some who were tired of Elizabeth’s Protestant ways as more religious strife occurred with both Catholics and Puritans. The crisis in Ireland and the years of crop failure are another focus as Elizabethans struggled to maintain the Golden Age. The wax and wane of Elizabeth’s reign is well known to Tudor fans, but I have not read any novels that actually spotlight their entire work on the wane of Elizabeth’s life such as Margaret George’s does here. Names of courtiers are weaved in and out of the story like our own old friends, so that those readers familiar with the Tudor era will feel right at home without getting another monologue of the backstory of each person. It is only for that reason that newbies to the Elizabethan era may find themselves lost in the vague comings and goings of the important people of Elizabeth’s time, but as a lover of Tudor fiction I appreciated it as the minute details are lightly touched upon as a refresher.

The first person point of view of Elizabeth (and intermittently Lettice) seemed spot on.. the face on the outside to her subjects being different than the thoughts swirling in her head; slightly sarcastic and witty in her aging years even though she seemed a bit shocked that she was as old as she was. The magnificence of this tome is the way that George encompasses the era, without leaving out the other minor and major players of the court. This novel is by far the most human look at Elizabeth that I’ve ever read as the author brings Elizabeth to grips with her legacy that includes her executed mother and her tyrant father. I especially loved the secret garden scene at Hever Castle.

 This is a very detailed book and even though it is fiction I felt like I was being educated during the read. I loved this look at the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign, and admired the amount of facts and the imagery that were blended throughout the story. This is the epitome of a well-researched book, and since it was enjoyed on so many levels it would be remiss if you did not include this latest Elizabeth I novel on your Tudor bookshelf. Elizabeth I: A Novel is an absolute must read for Elizabeth I fans, as this novel is a fitting tribute to the woman and Virgin Queen that seemed to outwit many of her enemies and always made sure she was above reproach. This one is certainly going on my Favorites of 2011 post.

Other pieces that I recommend that deal with the fall of Essex and his relationship with Elizabeth are Elizabeth & Essex: A Tragic History by Lytton Strachey and  The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, a 1939 movie featuring Bette Davis. Also, I have yet to read The Walsingham Woman, by Jan Westcott, about Frances Walsingham married to Phillip Sidney first then the Earl of Essex. Frances is mentioned a lot in George’s novel which is why I include Westcott’s here. And as mentioned before, there is Victoria Holt’s My Enemy the Queen which I loved. 

I was also beyond excited to be able to see Margaret George speak for the Arts & Letters Lectures held at the Dallas Museum as part of her book tour for Elizabeth I. Yoy can visit this link to see if she will be coming to a town near you!

Read all about my fabulous experience of meeting Margaret George in Dallas here.


Filed under 16th Century, 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Best of 2011, Elizabeth I, Lettice, Margaret George, Robert Dudley, Spanish Armada, Tudor