Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lords of the White Castle

I finished this book by Elizabeth Chadwick yesterday, and it was pretty good. She also wrote one of my earlier posts as well. Her books are wonderful because they bring back to life another time. This book began in 1184 in the reign of Eleanor of Aquitaine's husband King Henry, then his son Phillip, then John. It follows the lives of Fulke FitzWarin and Maude. Fulke was sent to Court to serve Prince John, and hoping to gain favor, so the family could win back its lands of Whittington Castle. They had been fighting to keep it back for 50 years; it was inhabited by the Mitzroys. When playing chess with Prince John, Fulke wins and they have a big fight. It marks the beginning of a tug of war for many years to come.

Once King Henry dies, Phillip reigns for a time and is very popular. Just when they are about to have their lands signed over to them, he dies. Prince John is now King, and he definitely won't give the lands back to Fulke, whom he hates. When King John refuses to give him Whittington, Fulke takes back his fealty, and is declared an outlaw with his brothers. His father dies while still battling for the lands back, and his mother follows soon afterward. During this time, he meets a beautiful woman named Maude. She was married to his old charge, Sir Theobald the royal tutor. Living as an outlaw, they wreak havoc so the King will decide it's worth it to give back their lands in exchange for their fealty. He declares fealty to the Welsh king Llewlyn, since Whittington is close by. When Theobald passes away, Fulke sneaks into the monastery and secretly weds Maude. They escape unnoticed by King John, but are on the run for some time.

They have 5 children; three girls and two boys, and then an adopted daughter. During the Magna Carta, Fulke joins the side that pushes King John to sign it. He is granted his lands back in exchange for his fealty. Of course the King won't keep his promise for long as they still hate each other. One of Fulke's brothers is imprisoned for hunting some of the King's deer, and they disguise themselves to save him. There are political machinations at work, intrigue, love and outlawness. Maude is often left alone to care for the children. When King John dies, they finally feel free again. But the Welsh turn on them, and burn down Whittington. Maude dies not long after from a tree falling on her.

Fulke is a real historical character, and the author weaved a story out of what we knew about him. It was a pretty long book, but good. I liked seeing another viewpoint of the common folks, than from the inner royal court. Ratings: PG13 for love scenes, some swearing and battles.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pope Joan

I read this book because it looked interesting to me. I admit, I do judge books by their cover. I had never heard of a woman being Pope, so of course I was intrigued. Those who read my post know I love independent, strong-willed and adventurous woman. Those who pave their own path and make a story for them self.

This book delves into the Dark Ages, where Vikings were constantly attacking, where woman could not be educated, and where woman were the weaker sex and subject to their husband's whim. Joan was born the third child to a beautiful woman, a "heathen" that had been saved by her husband, a canon. They had two sons, and then Joan. She was a big disappointment to her father because she was a woman. She had her mother's white blond hair and was very smart. From a young age, she demanded her oldest brother to teach her to read and write. After his death, she was able to be taught for two years by a tutor. Her father frequently beat her for trying to read books in Latin, and for just wanting to learn. The woman's place was to cook and care for the children. Her mother tried to protect her but couldn't always. When her tutor had to leave, he promised to send her to the schola in Dorstadt. When they came for her a time later, they took her brother instead. They didn't believe that a little girl was to be educated.

Joan escaped that night, and found her brother. Together they traveled there, and were accepted. Joan was easily the smartest, and was punished by the teacher for being a girl. She lived with Gerold and his wife Richild and their two daughters. Gerold was kind to her, and encouraged her to learn. Richild, his wife, watched the two of them and became jealous. While Gerold was away, she arranged for Joan to marry a boy in the village. On the day of the wedding, a bunch of Norsemen attacked the town and killed everyone-but Joan and Gisla. They took Gisla, raped her and took her away. Joan was hidden and escaped later that day. Her brother was dead, so she decided to disguise herself as him-John Anglicus. She found her way to an abbey at Fulda, and eventually lived there for 12 years. They believed her to be a man, and she continued in her learning as well as the healing arts. One day she got very sick, and feared being discovered as a woman, so she escaped.

She found her way to Rome after her recovery, and was soon in the service of the Pope. She was known for her healing arts as she didn't bleed patients, but used different medicines to help cure them. She worked with Pope Serguis and also Pope Leo. The people came to know and admire her for her ability to heal people. Gerold found her 12 years later, as he was a general in the army. They worked together everyday, but she would not marry him. After being a "man" for so long she didn't want to give up her powers. Because as a woman, she would probably either be shunned or killed. After Pope Leo's death, she became Pope. She served for about two years; she made a school for woman, she had the aqueducts repaired so the poor and starving could have clean water. Many of her ideas were unorthodox and almost heretical. Anastasius, a ruthless and cunning man, prepared to take the throne by storm. During this time Joan had become pregnant, probably by Gerold. On progress one day, she miscarried the baby and died. The people of course then discovered she was a woman.

Many of the church records don't have a Pope Joan in them. The author, Donna Woolfolk Cross, argues that of course it was easy enough to erase someone from the records because it was just paper. In history there are several other woman of note that disguised themselves as men so they could have the same rights. Her arguments are persuasive that there probably was a Pope Joan, or John Anglicus. I admire her spirit, her intellect and strong will. She was kind to the poor and starving, and promoted the learning of woman. Many Popes were corrupt and believed in decorating the churches and abbeys with beautiful artifacts, than in feeding the hungry. Gerold was a fictional character, but obviously she got pregnant by someone. It is unfortunate to me that this happened, because she could probably have done much good if she had stayed Pope. You probably wonder who she got away with being a man; she was not very feminine and had strong features for a girl. They also wore big loose robes for clothing and kept their hair short. So it was relatively easy to pass off as a man.

Ratings: if it was a movie, R because of the war scenes, beatings and execution scene.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Shorter Posts

I have found that this blog has become more of a chore than a fun hobby. Whenever I read a book now, I feel like I really have to pay attention to the plot and characters so that I can write about it afterward. It is time consuming, and taking me away from enjoying books like I used to. I will still write brief summarys of the books I read, but that is all. I don't enjoy any comments, so I don't know if anyone is reading my blog anyway. Please feel free to comment or add suggestions. Thanks for those who are reading my blog, I appreciate it. I will be really condensing my reviews from now on to save time. Heather

By Royal Decree

The king may marry as he wills. For lesser mortals, the laws are not so simple.

Kate Emerson wrote this book Secrets of the Tudor Court: By Royal Decree. She has also written Between Two Queens which I wrote about in an earlier post. This book is about Elizabeth "Bess" Brooke. She is sent to court by Royal decree after King Henry VIII's marriage to Anne of Cleves; Bess is one among many other beautiful women to possibly be chosen as the next Queen. King Henry comes in and basically inspects them like cattle. When he comes nearer, Bess tries not to make a face. He has become quite obese and has mean, little hard eyes. He also has a wound on his leg that stinks. King Henry does pause at her and speaks to her for a moment, then moves on. Her aunt Dorothy Bray is also there, and seems upset that he has paid her niece attention over her.

They go to mingle and eat, and Bess sees the King coming closer so she finds a corner to go to and hide. She doesn't think she'd like being his next Queen. She bumps into her Aunt Dorothy who is kissing a gentleman. He is very handsome, and he is introduced as Will Parr. Her Aunt seems upset at her interrupting them, and escorts her back to her chambers. Bess's parents are there, and when they hear the King has paid attention to Bess, they decide to pack up and leave. If you know of King Henry's marriages, you will not be surprised at this reaction. Being Queen wasn't necessarily a coveted position anymore, especially now that the King had become so large. His wife wife was put aside and divorced, the second beheaded, the third died in her childbed, the fourth divorced, and the fifth beheaded. Not many girls wanted the 6th position as King Henry's wife.

At Cowling Castle in Kent, Bess goes back with her parents and many brothers. They are visited by Will Parr at one point, and he tells them the King has picked a new Queen, Lady Latimer. She was a widow and not necessarily young as the Queens before her. Bess now felt safe, and asked her mother to try and get her a position at Court. While Will was visiting, her Aunt Dorothy was again there. She caught her glaring at her for the attentions Will was giving her. Bess liked how he spoke and thought him attractive. She found out he was divorced, because his wife Anne Bourchier had had an affair. In those days, you were married until death. So he was not able to remarry, unless he was issued a royal decree by the King.

Bess is soon sent to Court to serve Jane Lisle, a viscountess at Court. She becomes fast friends with Harry and Jack Dudley. She doesn't have many duties, and becomes bored. She feels too shy to just venture forth around Court, so she goes on walks. Bess runs into Alys Guildford and they become friends as well; she serves the Queen Kathryn. As time goes on, Bess comes to know Will Parr more. They flirt and he tells her he is falling for her. Bess reciprocates the feelings, but until he is free to marry he has nothing to offer her. The King makes Will Earl of Essex, and then there is the threat of a French invasion.

As they court each other in secret, Bess's father can guess what is going on. He yells at her and tell her that he'll never be free to remarry and tells her to stop seeing him. She goes against his wishes. As time goes on, Queen Kathryn is in a dilemma. The King's men are searching people's books for heretical books and burning them. Queen Kathryn has many in her possession, and starts to hide some in trunks and locks them up. One day Bess is running an errand, and a man throws a sealed paper in her hand and run away. She opens it and discovers a warrant for the Queen's arrest. She runs to the Queen's chambers and shows the other ladies in waiting. They all sit the Queen down and show her. She starts to panic, because this is what happened to a few of his other wives. They advise her to confront the King and apologize.

She decides to start wailing and crying, so everyone can hear. Soon the King hears of it, and comes to visit her. She cries and tells him she never meant to hurt his feelings or pride, etc etc. After all, he was always engaging her in religious debates. He forgives her and all seems well again. The next day, a contingent of uniformed guards from The Tower of London approached. The chancellor had the warrant in one hand, and seemed prepared to arrest the Queen. When he saw the King and Queen holding hands, he stopped short. He will attempted to make the arrest, and the King ripped up the warrant and yelled abuses at the chancellor. The Queen was very lucky to escape, because her good friend Anne Askew had been tortured and burned for heresy. It was especially horrific because gentlewoman were never tortured. It was that Bishop Stephen Gardiner who did it.

Once the crises had passed, Bess and Will began to hope for a chance to ask the King to sanction a marriage between them. They had to find the perfect opportunity when he was in a good mood. Since so much time had passed, they had recited their marriage vows in secret and consummated their marriage. They believed themselves to be married, but of course the King had to approve it. They were kept apart with their duties and had to sneak out to see each other. The King suddenly departed for Nonsuch at Whitehall with just a few of his mean, including Will. No one had heard anything. Lady Hertford, wife of Edward Seymour, approached Bess and told her she suspected the King knew he was dying, and took the men with him to write his will. Kathryn Parr, the Queen, would not be made regent. Lady Hertford told her that her husband, Edward Seymour, would be named regent as he was the uncle of Prince Edward. That would make her, Lady Hertford, the reigning woman at court next to the Queen. She told Bess she would assist her in her plans to make her marriage to Will valid, if she served her.

King Henry died in the early hours of Friday, January 8th. Suddenly England had a King not even 10 years old. Edward Seymour was made lord protector, and called the Duke of Somerset. In these changes, Will was made the Marquess of Northampton. After the King's death, Kathryn left Court to go live at Chelsea Manor. The Princess Elizabeth was also to go live with her there. Bess was now the Duchess of Somerset's lady-in-waiting. Their hope was that soon they would be able to become husband and wife. Soon a scandal became know at court; the Dowager Queen Kathryn had secretly married Tom Seymour, Edward's brother. The Duchess of Somerset was upset, because she felt she was a rival to her position. She was a greedy and grasping woman. She had become nasty and hadn't fulfilled her promise to Bess.

Bess was very impatient with waiting, and decided to go live at Norfolk House, one of Will's homes. She intended to style herself as his wife, and hide there. They renewed their vows in the chapel and there was no priest, but she now wore a wedding ring. They lived happily and quietly for a while. Suddenly Bess's old friend Jack Dudley came with a roll of parchment from the Duke of Somerset. They were commanded to separate; Will to Court and Bess to the queen dowager's keeping at Chelsea. Bess learned soon that the queen dowager and Tom Seymour were on their side. Bess was furious with the Duchess of Somerset for not only not fulfilling her promise, but for depriving Will of his seat on the Privy Council and banishing him from Court.

While living at Chelsea Manor, Bess met the Princess Elizabeth. She was a bright and solemn girl, with eyes like her mother. She confessed to Bess that she had kissed Tom Seymour. Bess was somewhat alarmed at this news and decided to keep an eye on the situation. The time there passed slowly, and her sister Kate came to visit with her new husband. Suddenly one day, Will was in the garden and told her it was now time to go home and live with him again. Their marriage had finally been validated by the commissioners. Now Bess was not only Will's wife but the Marchioness of Northampton, one of the highest ranking ladies in the land.

Soon news came that the queen dowager had delivered a baby girl, which was a surprise since she was in her mid thirties, and had been married twice before and never gotten pregnant. She died within a week, leaving Tom a widow. After the dowager queen's death, Tom began drinking more and seemed changed. Rumors spread that Tom considered marrying the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, as well as the Lady Jane Grey. Tom was soon arrested, because he had broken into the king's privy chamber without permission, and he shot a dog. He was later beheaded for treason. Soon things became worse for Will and Bess-the Duke of Somerset treated him badly. The Duke of Somerset took the King into the Tower, pretty much kidnapping him. The people were angry with him for not rewarding them after the riots of East Anglia.

Soon the Duke of Somerset was in custody at Windsor Castle and was deprived of his offices. The Duchess of Somerset was to go with him. Warwick was to lead the Council, instead of Will. He decided he would rather not have that great responsibility. The Bishop Stephen Gardiner was put in jail, and Bess and Will moved into his manor. During this entire time, Bess had remained barren. She was also estranged from her family; her father never supported her rebellion and marriage to Will. After being released from the Tower and being pardoned, the Duke of Somerset had plotted to kill the Duke of Northumberland as well as Will. He was tried and beheaded. Years went by as Will and Bess pretty much ruled at Court; she was the highest-ranking lady now.

She decided to use her matchmaking skills, and proposed that Lord Guildford Dudley marry Lady Jane Grey. They were wed, and soon after the king's doctors said the 15 year old King Edward was dying. He didn't want either of his sisters to rule after him, and so he wanted to leave the crown to 'the Lady France's heirs male' and 'for the lack of such issues to the Lady Jane's heirs male.' The Duchess of Suffolk stepped aside for her daughter, meaning Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley would be royalty. When the King died, there was a mighty storm. Bess went to Court to serve Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford. There was a small group of them that supported their claim. They were just following the late King Edward's will.

During this time, the Princess Mary had mustered a small army to claim her throne. She was able to win the support of the people, because they didn't really know Jane Grey, and she came riding into England. Those who were in the Tower with the Lady Jane Grey were imprisoned. Bess was able to escape at the last minute. Jane Grey and Guildford were later beheaded. Will was found and imprisoned as well for his support in the cause. Many feared the Queen Mary's reign, for she was Catholic and would turn England back to the old ways. She was also strict and many feared the flames.

Bess was able to get Will's release after much work and requests. Their marriage was no longer valid until Queen Mary's rule, so they had to hide their marriage once again. Soon another plot began brewing. Thomas Wyatt was leading a huge party to overthrow the Queen and put the Princess Elizabeth in her place. Most of Bess's brothers and Will decided to join his party. Her father served Queen Mary in case they shouldn't win, so he could win pardons for his sons and family. Bess and her mother protested against this course of action, for they would all surely die if they didn't win. Bess feared for Will, for being charged with treason twice he would surely be killed.

The people were soon battling, especially hearing that Queen Mary was to marry King Phillip of Spain. They didn't want a foreigner on the throne. Wyatt's rebellion failed, and he was hanged along with a bunch of other men. Bess's brothers, father and Will were imprisoned. One of her brothers was to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Bess once again worked on gaining Will's release. She was granted an audience with Queen Mary, and requested his release. She said she would consider it, only if they agreed to live apart as their marriage was not valid. She said he was still married to Anne Bourcheir and should live with her. Bess agreed only so he would be released. And he was. Soon her brothers were as well, and her father. They lived apart for a year, so the Queen couldn't find anything against them. They also attended Mass every week to avoid suspicion. Many were burned during this time for not converting. The Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower for the Wyatt rebellion, then released into partial imprisonment in the country.

Will and a few gentleman began plotting again to put the Princess Elizabeth on the throne. As time passed, Bess and Will moved back together. They didn't fear the Queen's wrath now so much that a year had passed. She was said to be obsessed with the religion, and with her husband Phillip who was gone. Soon she got very sick, and died. The people rejoiced, for Princess Elizabeth brought the Protestant faith back. Will and Bess were recognized as being wed, and were reinstated with their titles and lands. They never had children, but lived happily ever after.

There was so much content, I failed to mention several battles and events. Bess's childhood friend Harry Dudley was killed in a battle-they were to be betrothed for a time. During Bess's absences from her husband Will, she never lived with her family because her father said she couldn't unless she would remarry. He never recognized her marriage to Will. I also didn't mention Bess's conversations with the Princess Elizabeth. There was a flirtation between her and Tom Seymour while he was married to the dowager queen. Some say he truly intended to marry her. Her serving lady, Mistress Ashley, as also imprisoned for a time during Tom Seymour's imprisonment. Bess's Aunt Dorothy did marry, and had several children. Bess lost her grandmother, father and mother all within a week of each other. She also almost lost Will, but he recovered just when Queen Elizabeth took the throne.

I enjoyed the book, because Kate Emerson takes obscure Tudor characters and brings them to light. I failed to mention several of Bess's close friends in this book. I find it quite amusing that the King could marry whomever he chose, but people could not. Once you were divorced, unless the person died, you couldn't remarry. That is certainly not true today. Queen Mary's reign was short but bloody-she was known as Bloody Mary. This was an interesting time if you want to read more about it. The 12 day period where Lady Jane Grey was Queen is also very sad. She only did what everyone told her to, and she was beheaded for it. Soo sad. I find it interesting how almost every King or Queen had to fight a plot to their throne. It was never safe or easy. King Henry VIII had the Duke of Buckingham killed. King Edward's protector was beheaded as well as his brother. Queen Mary had to behead Lady Jane Grey, and fight her half-sister Queen Elizabeth. I found it interesting how graspy and greedy people could be; it usually ended in their demise.

Rating: PG13 for love scenes and battle scenes.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pale Rose of England

I finished this book by Sandra Worth and really liked it. This book follows the beautiful Catherine Gordon and her tumultuous life. She was a princess of Scotland and while young she had met the Duke of York-or so he claimed to be. If you have read my post about The Boys in the Tower, you may recall that they were reported to have been murdered by their uncle King Richard III. There are those, however, that believe the younger of the boys was shipped away abroad to be raised quietly. Until the time came when he could reclaim his throne. They were to be married in agreement with her father and her cousin King James who supported York's claim. They were married and had a boy named Dickon 8 months later. They were very much in love and happy.

Catherine supported Richard Plantagenet (Duke of York) and assisted him in working towards the support he needed to claim his throne. They traveled overseas to St. Michael's Mount where they were to stay at a monastery-fortress where some of those supported them. By this time Catherine was pregnant again with their second child. While they were there, Richard was very busy meeting with his councilors. On their fifth day there, he came excitedly to find Catherine to tell her an army of ten thousand was waiting for him. It was time for him to leave. She had prepared herself for this moment, knowing they could fail. Her heart was heavy and she tried to persuade him at the last minute to stay. But he said he couldn't-he had already received the support of King James of Scotland, of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and also his Aunt Margaret from Burgundy. England needed him, its true heir.

The night he left, Catherine didn't sleep and stayed outside to watch the stars. News came in that the first few places Richard and his men had entered, had declared their support and opened their gates. It was joyous news. When they next approached Exeter, they were outnumbered by King Henry VII's men. His men were trained and ready, whereas Richard's men had pitchforks and some swords. They were left to wait, and many went hungry as the money ran out. Some even were said to be poisoned by the little food they were able to get by King Henry VII's people. When Catherine heard the news, she got very sick. Richard feared for her when he heard of it, and ordered her to be taken to St. Buryan's into sanctuary. He wanted his wife and child protected. King Henry's men were coming in the morning, and he had to decide what to do.

Richard and a few of his men left Taunton in the middle of the night, and fled to Beaulieu Abbey for sanctuary. It was reputed to be a permanent sanctuary, not just its buildings but the grounds as well. They signed in with fake names and paid their dues. Within a few days, the King's men found them. They gave him a deal, that if he left with his men he would be allowed to live, and his men would be pardoned of their crimes. He had to agree, otherwise he was sure the King would take him by force if necessary. You will remember that King Henry VII took the throne by the Battle of Bosworth where Richard III was killed. The Tudors was a new line, a bastard line, and this is what Richard was up against. He was trying to take back his family's throne, but the people didn't want another war.

Meanwhile, Catherine was in sanctuary and the King's men also visited her there. They told her that her husband had fled in the middle of the night and abandoned his men. She didn't believe him, and fell ill. They took her son Dickon away from her, and she fell into a trance. She lost her unborn child, and could only recover a few weeks before the King ordered her to make for England. She was now without her husband and two children, alone. Her future was uncertain and bleak. She didn't know if the King would allow Richard to live. Most pretenders were murdered instantly.

In England, Catherine was made to come before the King barefoot, with her hair down (only maidens were allowed that), and in chains. He then ordered her to serve the Queen Elizabeth as a lady in waiting. Catherine at least had her 2 attendants from Scotland with which to comfort her. She had 2 ladies that followed her as well, they were spies for the King. She was never alone and always watched. Many at Court felt sad for her, but could do nothing. Soon her husband Richard was there, and she was able to see him. He also had 2 men who spied on him and followed him everywhere. They could meet in public, but never privately again. The King made Richard read aloud a speech to everyone that he was a boatman's son, Perkin Warbeck. That he was not the King etc etc. Along with that, the King allowed people to spit on him and would lock him up in a cage for people to sneer at him.

The King constantly found ways to torment and tease Richard and Catherine, and bring them lower in spirits. He denied them their son saying he was too dangerous to be around. The King kept Richard alive at this point for a bargaining chip. Maximillian of Spain and the Duchess of Burgundy were both giving much up to bargain for his life. During this time as well, the King had an attraction towards Catherine. She was reputed to be very beautiful-with dark hair, rosy cheeks and lips, and pale skin. Many of the men at Court admired her. The King often requested that Catherine divorce her husband, but she would not.

During this time of exile of sorts, Richard tried to find a way to escape. He slept in the King's closet, and started a fire to distract people. It did not work, and he was punished by being put in a cage proclaiming that he was not truly the Duke of York for a few days. Then he was again reunited with Catherine. As time went on, the King tired of keeping him alive. They moved the Court to the Tower in the hopes of setting him up to escape so that they could catch him. It worked. Richard told Catherine he was going to try to escape one final time. He was able to get quite far and the King's men didn't find him. He found an abbey to stay in for a while. He admitted who he was, and the abbess felt he had to tell the King. He went to tell the King who he had, but demanded he keep him alive for his immortal soul's being. It was regicide to kill another king or royalty.

The King agreed, and so Richard was brought back to The Tower. Catherine never saw him again. The King kept him alive, but barely. He wanted no one to ever claim he looked like the Duke of York, because many secretly believed he was. The Queen Elizabeth was kept away from him, her brother, so she wouldn't recognize him. The King had him castrated so he couldn't have more children to threaten his throne. Then he had him beat with a bat so he was indistinguishable. De Puebla from Spain came to ask for his release, and he couldn't even recognize him. The Duchess of Burgundy was still fighting for his release. King Henry finally decided what to do when he received a letter from King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. He was trying to betroth his son Arthur to their daughter Caterina. They said they could not send her until all pretenders to the throne were killed.

So the King had Richard hanged, as well as another in the Tower that had been there for many years. He was finally dead. Catherine was now a widow, and in grave danger. The King started to treat her somewhat better, but still kept a lecherous eye on her. She told the King she would divorce Richard if he gave her son back. He said no. In the meantime, the Prince Arthur died shortly after his wedding. Then the Queen Elizabeth died while giving birth to a daughter. The King began to lose his senses after all of these situations. He spent more time with Catherine, trying to woo her to be his Queen. She denied him while keeping her head. He was a miserly old man, he pinched his pennies and was very thrifty. On his deathbed he told Catherine her son was somewhere in Wales-then he died.

After the King's death she was free to go. He had provided a manor in Fyfield for her and a yearly income for. She moved away and started to put a new life together. While at Court she had become friends with Cecily, one of the Queen's sisters. She often visited her, before she suddenly died. Catherine stayed with the husband and his daughter for a year to take care of them. Then she went back to her manor. She received a visitor quite often, a Master Strangeaways. He had been her friend at Court for many years. After being a widow for about 13 years, she married him. Later she found out he was a gambler and heavily in debt. He also drank a lot; he had used her for her wealth. He died within a few years from the flux as well as other issues. He apologized to her for treating her ill on his deathbed.

During the time before her 2nd husband's death, she had befriended a Master Cradock. He was assisting the Duke of Somerset in finding her son Dickon. They were wed on May Day and moved to Gower by Glamorgan. They were very happy and enjoyed many years together. Before his death, he found Dickon. He was 25 years old when they reunited and it was joyous. He was still single, and loved to be on the sea. Matthew Cradock, her husband, provided him with his own ship so that he could be provided for. On his death, Catherine was left with the home and everything else. But Matthew's miserly and mean daughter fought her for it. So she ended up back at Court at the age of around 50 or so. By this time her brothers and father had been killed in a battle in Scotland. It doesn't say about her mother.

The Court seemed very different to her-this new King Harry was lively and full of music and entertainments. He spent money lavishly, unlike his father. He also was trying to marry a new wife, Anne Boleyn. While there, she met a man much younger than her named Christopher Ashton. The book ends there.

I found the book entertaining, but on the most part really sad. Catherine's life was so tragic and mostly full of sadness. She followed a husband she believed to be the Duke of York (who really knows) and lived through his torture and death. She lived separated from her son for 24 years. She had 4 husbands, 1 that was not very good to her. Not much is known or written about her in records, other than that she evaded King Henry VII's quest for her hand in marriage. She was called the Pale Rose of England because of how beautiful she was. I hope she was one day able to return to Scotland, her home country. She was so strong for such a long, sad life. I am glad she had some good husbands though. And that she found her son again.

Ratings: PG13 for love scenes. No swearing. Some torture scenes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

To Defy A King

I just finished reading To Defy A King by Elizabeth Chadwick, originally published as The Secret Lion. She has been nominated by the Historical Novel Society as one of the top ten historical writers of the decade; that was in 2003. This book was about Mahelt Marshal, the daughter of England's greatest knight William Marshal. They live in the 1200s under King John. Mahelt is doted on by her father and brothers; she is the only daughter for some time. She is willfull, strong, beautiful and feisty. (my favorite kind of character). These are real people in their time. She grew up very loved, and didn't seem to be reprimanded much. She was betrothed to Hugh Bigod, the son of the Earl of Norfolk. They were betrothed at 14 but could not consummate the marriage until she was 15. She went to live with her in laws at Framlingham Castle.

Her in laws were Ida, a very nice woman who knew her place and loved to sew, and her father in law Ralph who was stern and strict. As Mahelt learned the ways of her new family, she was kept in separate chambers from her future husband. As they spent time together, they fell in love. During this time, the King John took her two oldest brothers ransom. Her brother William wrote her to come to him, and she snuck away in the night. Her maid tattled on her, and in the morning she received a very stern reprimand from her father in law. He kept a close eye on her, her future husband as well. She felt trapped and was unhappy. She feared for her family and was unable to visit them. Her mother in law taught her how to sew and manage a household. At 15 years of age, I'm sure Hugh and Mahelt finally became husband and wife. They had a boy named Ralph a year later.

It was a time of turmoil for both families, who were sworn to serve and protect King John. He demanded their time and money for his troops and wars. They were often gone most of the summer on campaigns while the women stayed home. Mahelt's father William was in Ireland and had a dispute with a FitzHenry. He plundered William's ports and household, and took his two sons as hostages. They were powerless to help, as King John could do as he pleased. Mahelt learned early on to hate her sovereign King and for what he did to families. As time passed, she had another son named Hugo for his dad. She threw herself into being a wife and mother and kept company with her mother in law, and sister in law Ela. Mahelt's mother in law as a young woman at court, had had a liaison with the King and had a baby boy named Longespee. He was the King's half brother and lived at Court. His wife was Ela and also lived at Framlingham Castle with her small children.

There were several tense relationships in the book. Mahelt struggled with how stern her father in law was, and how he didn't seem to pay much attention to her mother in law his wife. Hugh often struggled getting along with his half brother Longespee, because he was often cocky since he was half brother to the King. Mahelt, along with others, were discontented with their King as well. He soon demanded a tax on everyone's goods, and so the Bigods sent away a lot of their treasure and goods to be divided up and hidden in different monasteries. Apparently many people did this to avoid the tax. The King came for a visit at the Castle, and Mahelt presided as her mother in law was sick. He tried making a pass at her, and she attacked him. The King was known to take many men's wives by force; he was a cruel and lecherous man.

The King knew Mahelt had it out for him, so this didn't pose well for the Bigods or Marshals. Mahelt soon had a baby girl, Isabelle named for her mother. On one of their campaigns into France, Longespee was taken hostage along with Ralph, Mahelt's brother. It was a big loss for England, thousands died. Discontent started to fester after the King's hasty behavior, and many started to talk about who could replace the King. He acted too quickly, demanded too much of his men and people, took advantage of women, and even hanged children when they were supposedly attainted with treason. It took over a year to get Ralph back. It took 9 months for Longespee to be ransomed, and his half brother the King made a pass at his wife while he was gone. When he heard about it on his return, he vowed to bring him down as well.

The Bigods were in collusion with other families abroad, about getting rid of King John. They were in contact with Louis of France to be their new King. While the negotiations were under way, the King made taxes higher so that people continued to hide their treasures. He also sent his men to loot and burn, even rape women of houses. Mahelt and Hugh came upon a family of 3 that had been murdered for their home and goods. After seeing this, Hugh decided he needed to leave with the last of their goods and stow them away. Mahelt pleaded for him not to go, but he did with his father. While they were gone, King John and his men came to Framlingham Castle to take it. They had to surrender, and her oldest son Ralph was taken into custody.

Hugh found them, but Mahelt was so mad at him for leaving that they fought for a while. During this sad time, Ida passed away. The country was in turmoil, and lootings and burnings were everywhere. Louis of France had his supporters and was prepared to take over. Her son Ralph was able to come home within the year, and she was so relieved. Her brothers were also finally free. Suddenly, there was news that King John had died of the flux. They were free! His son Henry was named as the King, with William Marshal as regent; Mahelt's father. Now the dilemma was do the men keep their honor and uphold Louis as they had sworn fealty to him, or do they uphold their new King and Mahelt's father as regent? Im sure this wasn't an easy time for their marriage. Mahelt wanted to support her father, and Hugh wanted to uphold Louis as he'd promised. There were several times in the book where Mahelt was torn between loyalty for her in law family, and her real family.

They were able to negotiate and give money to Louis to go back to France. England didn't want a foreigner for a king now, they wanted Henri. Mahelt and Hugh made up, and moved back to Framlingham Castle. Hugh had now taken over most of the earldom as his father was quite sick and old. They had another son and lived well. The book ends there, but the author tells us that in the next while Mahelt's mother dies, then her father, then a few years later her husband Hugh. She remarries an older man and has 2 more children. Mahelt was a weighty matriarch; her children went on to forge heavy links in the thirteenth century and beyond. It is down in Mahelt's geneological line that the Stuart kings of Scotland claim part of their descent.

I liked this book because it was a new character Id never heard of, and she was my favorite kind; feisty, strong and powerful. I also love period pieces and getting to learn more about history and the people that lived and how they made a name for them self.

Rating: PG13 for some love scenes. No swearing. Some scenes of war and bloodshed.