28th August – Margaret of York, the Diabolical Duchess: The Woman Who Tried to Overthrow the Tudors by Christine Weightman
‘The amazing life of Margaret of York, the woman who tried to overthrow the Tudors. Reared in a dangerous and unpredictable world Margaret of York, sister of Richard III, would become the standard bearer of the House of York and ‘the menace of the Tudors’. This alluring and resourceful woman was Henry VII’s ‘diabolical duchess’. Safe across the Channel in modern-day Belgium and supported by the Emperor she sent Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck with thousands of troops to England to avenge the destruction of her brother and of the House of York. Both rebellions shook the new Tudor dynasty to the core. As the duchess and wife of the wealthiest ruler in Western Europe, Margaret was at the centre of a glittering court and became the patron of William Caxton. It was at her command that he printed the first book in English. Her marriage to Charles, the dour, war-mad Duke of Burgundy, had been the talk of Europe. John Paston, who was among the awestruck guests, reported in the famous Paston Letters that there had been nothing like it since King Arthur’s court. Yet within a decade Charles was dead, his corpse frozen on the battlefield and within another decade her own family had been destroyed in England. Childless and in a foreign land Margaret showed the same energetic and cautious spirit as her great-grand-niece Elizabeth I, surviving riots, rebellions and plots. In spite of all her efforts, the Tudors were still on the throne but Margaret, unlike the Yorkist kings, was a great survivor.’
6th September – Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror [Paperback] by Tracy Borman
‘Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, was the first woman to be crowned Queen of England and formally recognised as such by her subjects. Beyond this, though, little is known: the chroniclers of the age left us only the faintest clues as to her life. So who was the real Matilda?
In this first major biography, Tracy Borman elegantly sifts through the shards of evidence to uncover an extraordinary story. In a dangerous, brutal world of conquest and rebellion, fragile alliances and bitter familial rivalries, Matilda possessed all the attributes required for a woman to thrive. She was born of impeccable lineage, and possessed of a loving and pious nature, she was a paragon of fidelity and motherhood. But strength, intelligence and ambition were also prerequisites to survive in such an environment. This side of her character, coupled with a fiercely independent nature, made Matilda essential to William’s rule, giving her unparalleled influence over the king. But while this would provide an inspiring template for future queens, it also led to treachery, revolt and the fracturing of a dynasty.
Matilda takes us from the courts of Flanders and Normandy to the opulence of royal life in England. Alive with intrigue, rumour and betrayal, it illuminates for the first time the life of an exceptional, brave and complex queen pivotal to the history of England.
28th September – Edward the Confessor: King of England [Paperback] by Peter Rex
‘The first major biography of Edward the Confessor for almost 40 years. Between these pages the story of Saint Edward the Confessor is masterfully told by the critically acclaimed historian Peter Rex. Born when England was besieged by blood-thirsty Vikings, the future King of England was forced into exile in Normandy to escape the Danish invasion. Often portrayed as a holy simpleton, Edward was in fact a wily and devious King. To most kings a childless marriage would have been an Achilles heel to their reign, but Edward turned this to his advantage. He cunningly played off his potential rivals and successors to his advantage using the prize of the throne as leverage. Edward’s posthumous reputation grew as stories were spread by the monks of his magnificent foundation, Westminster Abbey. The childless King was transformed through the monks’ vision into a chaste, pious and holy man. Miracles were attributed to him and he was credited with the King’s Touch – the ability to cure illnesses by touch alone. In 1161 he was canonised as Saint Edward the Confessor and is the patron saint of the Royal Family.’
1st October – William: King and Conqueror by Mike Hagger
‘1066 is the most famous date in English history. On 14 October, on Senlac Hill near Hastings, a battle was fought that would change the face of England forever. Over the next twenty years, Norman culture was imposed on England, and English politics and society were radically reshaped. But how much is really known about William ‘the Conqueror’, the Norman duke who led his men to victory on that autumn Saturday in what was to be the last successful invasion of England? In this book, Mark Hagger takes a fresh look at William’s life – from his birth at Falaise in Normandy to his chaotic funeral at Caen in 1087 – and his reign as both duke of the Normans and king of the English. He shows how William, as both duke and king, was attacked by rebellious subjects and jealous neighbours, but defeated them all through the strength of his personality, his abilities as a lord, the loyalty of his friends, and sheer good luck. His response to the English rebellions was to populate the country with castles and strongholds – a feature of the landscape which remains to this day. He was not always a popular ruler – especially not with the English earls who saw their estates and titles handed over to Norman lords – but he was a strong one, and he kept the peace and did good justice, so that history has treated him kindly. His greatest surviving monuments – the White Tower of the Tower of London and Domesday Book – attest to a powerful legacy. This book provides some new insights into William’s character – his strengths and flaws – and his rule. It also places William squarely within the context of the time in which he lived, enabling a better understanding of what life was like in medieval England.’
28th October – Catherine Howard: The Adultress Wife of Henry VIII by David Loades
‘Henry’s fifth Queen is best known to history as the stupid adolescent who got herself fatally entangled with lovers, and ended up on the block. However there was more to her than that. She was a symptom of the power struggle which was going on in the court in 1539-40 between Thomas Cromwell and his conservative rivals, among whom the Howard family figured prominently. The Howards were an ambitious clan, and Catherine’s marriage to Henry appeared to signify their triumph. However her weakness ruined them in the short term, and undermined Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk’s power permanently. Catherine’s advent has to be seen against the background of the failed Cleves marriage and the policy which that represented. Her downfall similarly should be seen in terms of the reformers fighting back against the Howards, and bringing down Jane Rochford with her. Politics and sexuality were inextricably mixed, especially when the King’s potency was called in question. It is time to have another look at her brief but important reign.’
28 October – Henry VIII by Lacey Baldwin Smith
‘The Henry VIII of popular legend and historical fiction is a bacchanalian figure of gargantuan proportions. Historical fact, however, is another matter. A deeply insecure man constantly in need of reassurance, a ritualist, a prude unsure of his prowess and easily embarrassed by sex – these are the faces which Lacey Baldwin Smith reveals hidden behind the mask of royalty. Opening with Henry on his death bed, a monstrous bloated figure ravaged by pain, disease and suspicion, the story revolves around the crucial last five years of his reign (1552-7). With old-age creeping up on him, and his sixth wife, Catherine Parr at his side, Henry’s true personality began to reveal itself. How the once cautious pedant and competent administrator turned into the neurotic and dangerous tyrant is the subject of Lacey Baldwin Smith’s biography.’