Books 2018 – 3 new books on sale now…

(c) Amberley Publishing

‘King Richard III remains one of the most controversial figures in British history. Matthew Lewis’s new biography aims to become a definitive account of his life by exploring what is known of his childhood and the impacts it had on his personality and view of the world around him. From a childhood of privilege, he would be cast into insecurity and exile only to become a royal prince, all before his tenth birthday.

As Richard spends his teenage years under the watchful gaze of his older brother, King Edward IV, he is eventually placed in the household of their cousin, the Earl of Warwick, remembered as the Kingmaker, but as the relationship between a king and his most influential magnate breaks down, Richard is compelled to make a choice that defines more than a decade of his life when the House of York fractures. After another period in exile, Richard returns to become most powerful nobleman in England, controlling the North on his brother’s behalf. The work he involves himself in during the years that follow demonstrates a drive and commitment, but also a dangerous naiveté. Richard becomes immersed in and a focal point of northern life, culminating in a campaign into Scotland that leads all the way to Edinburgh.

When crisis hits England in 1483, it is to Richard that his older brother turns on his death bed. The events of 1483 remain contentious and hotly debated, but by understanding the Richard who began that year, it will become clearer what may have driven some of his actions and decisions. As king, the obsessions that drove his work in the north move to the national stage. Having developed a close and deeply loyal group of followers as Duke of Gloucester, Richard must try to emulate that across a nation pushed to caution. This book will seek out the man behind the myths, not look to create the monster of Shakespeare that has clung to the popular imagination for centuries, nor to become lost in admiration. Returning to primary sources and considering the issues of evidence available, this new life aims to present a real man living in difficult times.’


Further details – Amberley Books

Further details – Matthew Lewis

Further details –

(c) Amberley Publishing

‘Many people know about Wessex, the ‘Last Kingdom’ of the Anglo-Saxons to fall to the Northmen, but another kingdom, Mercia, once enjoyed supremacy over not only Wessex, but all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. At its zenith Mercia controlled what is now Birmingham and London ‒ and the political, commercial paramountcy of the two today finds echoes in the past.

Those interested in the period will surely have heard of Penda, Offa, and Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians ‒ but remarkably there is no single book that tells their story in its entirety, the story of the great kingdom of the midlands.

Historically, the records are in two halves, pre- and post-Viking, in the way they have been preserved. Pre-Viking, virtually all the source material was written by the victims, or perceived victims, of Mercian aggression and expansion. Post-Viking, the surviving documents tend to hail from places which were not sacked or burned by the Northmen, particularly from Wessex, the traditional enemy of Mercia. The inclusion of those records here allows for the exploration of Mercia post-924.

Mercia ceased to be a kingdom when Alfred the Great came to power, but its history did not end there. Examining the roles of the great ealdormen in the anti-monastic reaction of the tenth century, through the treachery of Eadric Streona in the eleventh, and the last, brave young earls who made a stand against William the Conqueror, this book shows the important role the Mercians played in the forging of the English nation.’


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Further details – Annie Whitehead

Pen & Sword History

‘He became king before his first birthday, inheriting a vast empire from his military hero father; she was the daughter of a king without power, who made an unexpected marriage at the age of fifteen. Almost completely opposite in character, together they formed an unlikely but complimentary partnership. Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou have become famous as the Lancastrian king and queen who were deposed during the Wars of the Roses but there is so much more to their story. The political narrative of their years together is a tale of twists and turns, encompassing incredible highs, when they came close to fulfilling their desires, and terrible, heart-breaking lows. Personally, their story is an intriguing one that raises may questions. Henry was a complex, misunderstood man, enlightened and unsuited to his times and the pressures of kingship. In the end, overcome by fortune and the sheer determination of their enemies, their alliance collapsed. England simply wasn’t ready for a gentle king like Henry, or woman like Margaret who defied contemporary stereotypes of gender and queenship. History has been a harsh judge to this royal couple. In this discerning dual biography, Amy Licence leads the way in a long-overdue re-evaluation of their characters and contributions during a tumultuous and defining period of British history.


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Two books to look forward to in 2019…

7th March 2019 – Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

(c) Head of Zeus

‘First-born son of a warrior father who defeated the French at Agincourt, Henry VI of the House Lancaster inherited the crown not only of England but also of France, at a time when Plantagenet dominance over the Valois dynasty was at its glorious height.

And yet, by the time he was done to death in the Tower of London in 1471, France was lost, his throne had been seized by his rival, Edward IV of the House of York, and his kingdom had descended into the violent chaos of the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VI is perhaps the most troubled of English monarchs, a pious, gentle, well-intentioned man who was plagued by bouts of mental illness. In Shadow King, Lauren Johnson tells his remarkable and sometimes shocking story in a fast-paced and colourful narrative that captures both the poignancy of Henry’s life and the tumultuous and bloody nature of the times in which he lived.’


Further details

Further details – Lauren Johnson

12th March 2019 – Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior by Catherine Hanley

(c) Yale University Press

‘Matilda was a daughter, wife, and mother. But she was also empress, heir to the English crown–the first woman ever to hold the position–and an able military general.

This new biography explores Matilda’s achievements as military and political leader, and sets her life and career in full context. Catherine Hanley provides fresh insight into Matilda’s campaign to claim the title of queen, her approach to allied kingdoms and rival rulers, and her role in the succession crisis. Hanley highlights how Matilda fought for the throne, and argues that although she never sat on it herself her reward was to see her son become king. Extraordinarily, her line has continued through every single monarch of England or Britain from that time to the present day.’


Further details – Yale University Press

Further details –

Further details – Catherine Hanley

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‘Everything You Wanted to Know About the Tudors…’ by Terry Breverton added to the website…

(c) Amberley Publishing

‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Tudors But Were Afraid to Ask’ by Terry Breverton added to the General Works section of the bibliography.

Entry added to the following:

Art – Other Representations – Stained Glass Window.

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7th September 1548 – Funeral of Queen Katherine Parr

On 7th September 1548, Lady Jane was the chief mourner at the funeral of Queen Katherine Parr at Sudeley Castle.

St Mary’s Church

Events by Place – Sudeley Castle

Sudeley Castle

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Leanda de Lisle – Lady Jane Grey Podcast

Historian Leanda de Lisle has recorded a number of podcasts uncovering the Tudors and Stuarts behind the myths.

Leanda is the author of ‘White King: Charles I – Traitor, Murderer, Martyr’, ‘Tudor: The Family Story’ and ‘The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey.’

(c) Harper Collins

England’s Forgotten Queen: The Faking of Lady Jane Grey by Leanda de Lisle

The teenage Queen, Lady Jane Grey has been mythologized, even fetishized as the innocent victim of adult ambition. The legend was encapsulated by the French romantic artist Paul Delaroche and his 1833 historical portrait of Jane dressed in white on the scaffold.

An image with all the erotic overtones of a virgin sacrifice. The legend also inspired a fraud. One that has fooled historians, art experts and biographers for over a hundred years. I am the historian, Leanda de Lisle, uncovering the Tudors and Stuarts behind the myths.

The sixteenth century merchant, gave us what was believed, until I discovered the truth, to be the only detailed contemporary description of Jane’s appearance. In a letter he wrote an eye witness account of a smiling, red haired girl being processed to the Tower as Queen on July 10th 1553. He was close enough to see that she was so small that she had to wear stacked shoes to give her height.

Jane was overthrown 9 days later and eventually executed in the Tower from where she had reigned. While the tragedy of her brutal death at only 16 is real, the letter is an invention and obscures the significance of her reign.

The faked letter first made its appearance in Richard Patrick Boyle Davey’s 1909 biography, ‘The Nine Day’s Queen: Lady Jane Grey and her Times.’

Davey’s subject was already a popular one, the Victorians had lapped up the poignant tale of a child woman forced to be Queen and despite this later executed as an usurper.

The letter, discovered supposedly by Davey in the archives in Genoa seemingly brought this tragic heroine to life but in retrospect that should had set alarm bells ringing. For the Jane the Victorians knew was already heavily fictionalised.

The historical Jane was a great-grandchild of Henry VII, highly intelligent and given a top flight Protestant education, she might have made a Queen consort to her fiercely Protestant cousin Edward VI, as her father hoped. But instead on July 6th 1553, the dying Edward bequeathed her the throne, in pace of his Catholic half-sister Mary Tudor.

Thirteen days later Mary overthrew Jane and she was duly tried for treason, found guilty and condemned. Mary indicated that she wished to pardon Jane, but Jane was executed nevertheless the following year. It was the aftermath to a rebellion in which she had played no part but her father had.

Why then did Mary sign Jane’s death warrant? The reason was indicated the day before Jane’s beheading. The Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, reminded Mary that it was leading Protestants who had opposed her rule in July 1553 and in the recent rebellion.

Jane who had condemned Catholicism as Queen, had continued to do so as a prisoner in the Tower. As such she posed a threat. It was for her religious stance that Jane would die, not solely for her father’s actions, or for reign has usurper.

Aware that the Protestant cause would be damaged by its link to treason, Jane reminded people from the scaffold, that while in law she was a traitor, she had merely accepted the throne she was offered and was innocent of having sought it.

From this kernel of truth, the later image of Jane was spun. Protestant propagandists developed her claims to innocence, prescribing the events of 1553 to the personal ambitions of Jane’s father and father-in-law, rather than to religion.

Later, under Queen Elizabeth, treason came to be associated with Catholics, not Protestants and the earlier history was forgotten.

The religious issue of 1553 concluded only in 1701 when it was made illegal for any Catholic to inherit the throne, a law that still stands. But Jane’s story continued to develop.

Her innocence was associated increasingly with the passivity deemed appropriate to a young girl. The sexual dimension to this is evident in Edward Young’s 1714 poem, ‘The Force of Religion’ which invited men to gaze as voyeurs on the pure Jane in her private closet.

Jane’s mother Frances meanwhile, was reinvented as powerful, lustful and bullying. A wicked queen to Jane’s Snow White. By the nineteenth century, Jane’s fictionalised life was enormously popular but there was something still missing from her story, a face.

With no contemporary images or descriptions, the public had to be content with Jane as imagined by artists. The most striking work remains Paul Delaroche’s portrait, ‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey.’

Jane, blindfolded and feeling for the block represents an apotheosis of female helplessness. Richard Davey seems to have spotted a need for an account of Jane’s appearance which matches its power. He claimed to have found it in the letter in Genoa, composed by the merchant, Sir Baptist Spinola.

The letter has been quoted in biographies ever since and used to argue the merits of lost portraits of Jane. I was concerned that Davey was the sole source for this letter. Researching my triple biography, ‘The Sisters Who Would Be Queen’, I had discovered that Davey had invented evidence that Jane had a nanny and dresser with her in the Tower, characters inspired by earlier novels.

I began a long search for this Spinola letter but never found in Genoa or in any history predating 1909 and it became clear that the letter is a fake, which mixes details from contemporary sources with fiction.

There was a contemporary merchant called Benedict Spinola and a soldier called Baptista Spinola. The description of Jane has echoes of the red lipped girl in the Delaroche portrait. It resembles also a contemporary description of Mary Tudor who was ‘of low stature, very thin and her hair reddish.’

Jane’s mother carries her train in the letter as was observed in 1553. Platform shoes were taken from the Victorian historian Agnes Strickland, quoting Isaac D’Israeli. I can find no earlier source but they are suggestive of Jane’s physical vulnerability, an element in the appeal of the abused child woman that remains so popular. Indeed, we even find Jane being raped in recent novels.

The rest of Jane’s dress, described by Spinola as a gown of green velvet worn with a white headdress, were the colours traditionally worn by a monarch on the eve of their coronation but they were also the colours of the illustration of ‘Lady Jane Grey in royal robes’ published in Arden Holt’s 1882 ‘Fancy Dresses Described.’

Significantly in Davey’s ‘The Tower of London’, published in 1910, he described Jane’s dress as edged in ermine as it was in Holt’s illustration, a detail overlooked by Sir Baptist Spinola.

Davey’s lies and the repetition of old myths are damaging.

Because Jane’s reign was treated for so long as the product of the ambitions of a few men or of Edward VI’s naïve hopes, it is regarded as a brief hiatus of no consequence.

But in fact her reign is key to understanding the development of our constitutional history, and we have overlooked something else, the Tudor unease with women who hold power has never really gone away. In legend Jane is the ‘good girl’, weak and feminine, Frances, (her mother) is a ‘bad woman’, powerful and mannish.

This is the lesson of the myths, one that historians have too willingly accepted.

You can listen to the podcasts at: Leanda de Lisle Podcasts

Leanda’s website: Leanda de Lisle
Twitter: @Leanda de Lisle
Facebook: Leanda de Lisle

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