Tag Archives: Henry VIII

THE KING’S CURSE by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory has done it again, found a compelling, forgotten woman, in the shape of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, and woven a whole tale around this character.

Margaret of Salisbury had an impeccable pedigree. She was the elder child of George, Duke of Clarence, brother to both Edward IV and Richard the III. Her mother was Isabel Neville, daughter and co-heiress with her sister Anne, of Warwick the Kingmaker. Margaret was comfortable at court and knew most of its players. She was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. She became close friends with Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. 51feeg5HssL._AA160_So she is an excellent choice for the ending of Gregory’s series on the Cousin’s War (aka The Wars of the Roses).

Gregory is known for her unorthodox takes on history, and this novel is no exception. She found an eerie corallary between the actions of some of the characters in her previous novels (LADY OF THE RIVERS and THE WHITE QUEEN ) and modern-day science. I will let her explain it to you in the following, taken from her Author’s Note:

There has been much work on the loss of Henry VIII’s babies. Current…research from Catrina Banks Whitley and Kyra Kramer suggests that Henry may have had the rare Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths when the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. Whitley and Kramer also suggest that Henry’s later symptoms of paranoia and anger may have been caused by McLeod syndrome—a disease found only in Kell positive individuals. McLeod syndrome usually develops when sufferers are aged around forty and cause physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior.

…Whitley and Kramer trace Kell syndrome back to Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, the suspected witch and mother of Elizabeth Woodville. Sometimes, uncannily, fiction creates a metaphor for an historical truth: in a fictional scene in the novel, Elizabeth, together with her daughter Elizabeth of York, curse the murderer of her sons, swearing that they shall lose their son and their grandsons, while in real life her genes—unknown and undetectable at the time—entered the Tudor line through her daughter and may have caused the deaths of four Tudor babies to Katherine of Aragon and three to Anne Boleyn. (582)

Reading this gave me the shivers. Five stars.

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THE DARK ROSE by Cynthia Harrold-Eagles (Morland Dynasty #2)

TheDarkRoseTHE DARK ROSE is Cynthia Harrold-Eagle’s second novel in her MORLAND DYNASTY series, and it is every bit as good as the first.


I love the ambiguity of the title. Usually, a book with “rose” in the title refers to the Wars of the Roses, but the main part of this novel takes place between 1514 and 1550, too late to be in that time period. So who is the dark rose? Does it refer to Henry VIII (grandson of the White Rose of York Edward IV), the dark tyrant who beheaded two of his wives? Or does it refer to Anne Boleyn, the dark-haired beauty who so captured his heart?


Yes, you got it, this is yet another novel about Anne Boleyn. But this one is so much more successful that TO DIE FOR, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. To begin with, the fictional narrator, Nanette Morland, has such an interesting personal history that is so completely gripping and fascinating, that when they are confiding secrets in a bedchamber together one night, you almost wish that Anne Boleyn would shut up about the King of England’s infatuation with her, so that you can hear more about Nanette’s story. That is really quite a feat!


And because Nanette’s story is so fascinating, the novel doesn’t die when Anne Boleyn dies. Instead, it becomes just as gripping as we follow Nanette through the rest of her life, as she finally blooms under the love of two good men. Five stars. A book club recommendation.

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The trouble for the writer, of writing yet another book about Anne Boleyn, is that it is yet another book about Anne Boleyn and consequently the bar is set formidably high for success. I am sure Ms. Byrd believed she had hit upon the winning formula when she plucked Meg Wyatt from obscurity to become the narrator of her novel TO DIE FOR: A NOVEL OF ANNE BOLEYN.  However, I don’t think she succeeded. In what follows, I am going to articulate what I think the problems were.

The main problem for me is that the narrator Meg Wyatt is not an interesting person. Unlike Mary Boleyn, the narrator of THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, Meg Wyatt hasn’t been the mistress of both the King of France and the King of England. Not only doesn’t she have any knowledge of Anne’s life at the courts of Burgundy and France, she has no way of knowing much about Henry VIII, the man, behind the glittering facade. Philippa Gregory’s choice of Mary Boleyn as the narrator for her novel was brilliant, precisely because she is the perfect foil for Anne, leading such a similar life, but being such a different person.

The consequence of all this is that the beginning of the novel, which portrays the friendship between Meg and Anne, is far too slow. The engine of the novel didn’t start for me until page 67, when Anne embarks on her relationship with Henry VIII.

Another big problem is that Ms. Byrd has nothing fresh to say about Anne Boleyn. What made Robin Maxwell’s MADEMOISELLE BOLEYN so compelling, is that she unearthed some new evidence that suggested that Anne Boleyn was much younger than had previously been thought (born in 1507, as opposed to 1501), and that she was a very young child (six years old) when she was sent to the court of Duchess Margaret of Burgundy in 1513. Subsequently she went to the court of the King of France around the time that he married Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor in 1514, and then she stayed on in France until 1522, not coming back to England to be presented at the court of Henry VIII until she was 15 years old.

Now, I am not an expert on Anne Boleyn, so I don’t know if she was born in 1501 and spent her youth in England as Sandra Byrd would have it, or was born in 1507 and spent her youth on the continent as Robin Maxwell says. However, I have to say that I found Ms. Maxwell’s novel far more interesting, because it provided a fresh new take on Anne Boleyn’s life that explained so many things.

Take the question of age. It is not known when Anne Boleyn was born, but I think it more likely that she was born in 1507 rather than in 1501. After all, why would a King of England, desperate for a son and heir, move heaven and earth for a woman of 24 or 25, when she would be considered on the shelf by the standards of the day? Doesn’t it seem more likely that he’d turn the world upside down for an 18 or 19-year-old, who would have her best child-bearing years in front of her?

Then there is the question of where Anne Boleyn actually was before she caught King Henry’s eye. Again, I have to say that I find it much more plausible that she’d been brought up on the continent, and blew into Henry’s court as an exotic breath of fresh air from France, rather than a young woman who’d been reared in England, and would be just another English beauty.

The last problem I’m going to talk about is the most puzzling one. This is not the first time I’ve wondered why Simon & Schuster doesn’t provide better editorial help for its authors. Why does it allow such obvious anachronisms to stand? Why does it allow Ms. Byrd to get away with stating that Anne’s father was visiting Belgium, when in Anne’s day, Belgium didn’t exist and was referred to either as Flanders or Burgundy (depending on exactly where you were)?  Why does Simon & Schuster allow this novel to open with a minor character stitching muslin? Surely muslin wasn’t known until the 17th century at the earliest, when the British started connecting with people from the Indian subcontinent. Why on earth do we have Meg Wyatt remarking that Anne habitually wore cotton stockings, when cotton wasn’t common until North America became established as a British colony in the 17th century?

Am I missing something? If so, I wish that Ms. Byrd had addressed the new research she’d unearthed that would prove me wrong, when she wrote her Author’s Note.

I see, from glancing at other Amazon reviews, that many readers enjoyed this novel, and I’m glad they did. I’m sorry that it didn’t work for me. Two stars.

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I have never read any of C. J. Sansom’s novels before, and might not of heard of him had a friend not told me of this book.

Set in the late fall of 1537, after the death of Queen Jane Seymour in October, Matthew Shardlake is given a commission by Thomas Cromwell, one of King Henry VIII’s henchman, to investigate a mysterious murder in a monastery on the Sussex coast. At that moment in history, Cromwell is in charge of “reforming” the monasteries, which basically means seizing their land, tearing them down and throwing the monks and their servants out on the street. England was never the same again, and if you have ever visited England and wondered why so many monasteries lie in ruins, this novel will answer your questions.

Rich in period detail, this novel has believable characters and clever plot twists. I enjoyed reading it, but readers should be warned that there is a fair amount of violence, in keeping with the time period, with some rather stomach-churning details. You definitely don’t want to read this before eating! Five stars.

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Book Review: THE ARROW CHEST by Robert Parry

Robert Parry’s THE ARROW CHEST is set in Victorian London, and concerns a struggling artist called Amos Roselli (based on Dante Gabriel Rossetti?), his muse Daphne, Daphne’s boorish husband and the young maid Beth who “does” for Amos.


When Amos is called to the Tower of London to sketch some bones found in an arrow chest that are believed to belong to Queen Anne Boleyn, mysterious things start to happen that he can’t explain. Before long, Lord Bowlend (Daphne’s husband) asks Amos to come to his estate to do a portrait of him. For those of you familiar with the tragic story of Anne Boleyn, it soon becomes apparent that a similar tragedy is unravelling in the lives of Lord and Lady Bowlend, who are 19th-century stand-ins for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.


I loved this novel and thought it was beautifully written, especially the descriptions of the Isle of Wight. Although some overwriting was apparent, it was clear that this was a better novel from a technical point of view, than the VIRGIN AND THE CRAB. But what a pity to turn Lord Bowlend/Henry VIII and his friend Tommy Newman/Thomas Cromwell into caricatured monsters. Granted, the historical figures have a great deal to answer for. But the novel would have been much more satisfying had the bad guys not been so obviously obnoxious. Four stars.

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Book Review: Philippa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance

516o-ognatl_sl160_pisitb-sticker-arrow-dptopright12-18_sh30_ou01_aa115_This is the story is told from the point of view of the three women who share the Boleyn Inheritance:  Jane Boleyn, the sister-in-law of Queen Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, a cousin to Queen Anne who ultimately becomes the fifth wife of King Henry VIII, and Queen Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of King Henry.

Jane Boleyn is the ambitious woman who maneuvers herself into the favor of successive Queens with a view to feathering her own nest – for English Queens had considerable powers of patronage.

Anne of Cleves is the German princess sent to marry King Henry in the autumn of 1539, after the tragic death of his third wife Jane Seymour.  Anne of Cleves and King Henry are strangers when they meet and their first meeting does not go well.  Things rapidly deteriorate.

Katherine Howard is the swan-necked beauty who lights up the aging King, and is ruthlessly used – and sacrificed – as a political pawn.

If you enjoyed reading The Other Boleyn Girl, you will enjoy this sequel, which brilliantly conveys the ruthless politics of sixteenth century England.
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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