My review of ‘Henry VIII’s Children: Legitimate and Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Tudor King’ by Caroline Angus

(c) Pen and Sword History

Caroline Angus’s book is a fascinating look at the lives of the children of Henry VIII. From the longed-for Prince Henry who died at 52 days old to those that survived: Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward. Also included are Henry Fitzroy, Henry’s acknowledged illegitimate son and possible other unacknowledged children.

Through thorough use of household accounts, Angus paints a vivid picture of what everyday life was like for Mary, Elizabeth, Henry and Edward as they grew up and highlights the time the siblings spent together. Both Mary and Elizabeth’s lives changed dramatically when their mothers fell from favour and while Edward did not suffer this, their daily lives were dependent on the whims of the King or his current marital arrangements.

What was particularly interesting was the inclusion of Henry’s illegitimate son by Bessie Blount, Henry Fitzroy. Usually, Henry only gets mentioned in Tudor histories in terms of his birth, whether Henry ever really considered him a potential heir, his presence at Queen Anne Boleyn’s execution and his unexpected death shortly afterwards. Turns out that he was not the most dedicated scholar and when his tutor, Sir Richard Croke, was recalled from Fitzroy’s household and sent to Italy, Angus comments that ‘fighting for the king’s divorce in Italy probably felt like quite a relief in comparison.’

By looking at Henry’s reign through the lives of his children, we get a different perspective to well-known events.

Thank you to NetGalley and Pen and Sword for my review copy.

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Books 2023 – on sale today – Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I: The Mother and Daughter Who Changed History by Tracy Borman

(c) Hodder & Stoughton

‘One of the most extraordinary mother and daughter stories of all time – Anne Boleyn, the most famous of Henry VIII’s wives and her daughter Elizabeth, the ‘Virgin Queen’.

Anne Boleyn is a subject of enduring fascination. By far the most famous of Henry VIII’s six wives, she has inspired books, documentaries and films, and is the subject of intense debate even today, almost 500 years after her violent death. For the most part, she is considered in the context of her relationship with Tudor England’s much-married monarch. Dramatic though this story is, of even greater interest – and significance – is the relationship between Anne and her daughter, the future Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth was less than three years old when her mother was executed. Given that she could have held precious few memories of Anne, it is often assumed that her mother exerted little influence over her.

But this is both inaccurate and misleading. Elizabeth knew that she had to be discreet about Anne, but there is compelling evidence that her mother exerted a profound influence on her character, beliefs and reign. Even during Henry’s lifetime, Elizabeth dared to express her sympathy for her late mother by secretly wearing Anne’s famous ‘A’ pendant when she sat for a painting with her father and siblings.

Piecing together evidence from original documents and artefacts, this book tells the story of Anne Boleyn’s relationship with, and influence over her daughter Elizabeth. In so doing, it sheds new light on two of the most famous and influential women in history.’


Further details –

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‘Young Queens: Three Renaissance Women and the Price of Power’ Interview with Leah Redmond Chang

Leah Redmond Chang is the author of ‘Young Queens: Three Renaissance Women and the Price of Power’ which is published by Bloomsbury on 11 May.

Leah is also the author of ‘Into Print: The Production of Female Authorship in Early Modern France’ and co-author of ‘Portraits of the Queen Mother: Polemics, Panegyrics, Letters.’

Buy ‘Young Queens: Three Renaissance Women and the Price of Power’:


(c) Shaelyn Jae

Follow Leah Redmond Chang on Social Media

Leah’s website: Leah Redmond Chang – author and historian
Twitter: @leahrchang

Many thanks to Leah for answering my questions.

Bloomsbury Publishing

Why did you choose this subject for your book?

I wouldn’t say that I chose the subject, but rather that the subject found me over the course of a few years. Elisabeth de Valois was the initial inspiration for Young Queens. When I began this project, I had already written a scholarly book on Catherine de’ Medici and was curious about her eldest daughter – I had heard of Elisabeth de Valois but didn’t know anything about her. The details that survive of Elisabeth’s illness and menstrual cycle were so compelling to me that I wanted to find a way to tell her story. But as often happens with women from the period, the archive was a little patchy. In the meantime, it was clear to me that the relationship between Catherine and Elisabeth was special, so I figured that mother-daughter bond would play an important role in any book I would write about Elisabeth.

And then along came Mary, Queen of Scots. As I was researching Catherine and Elisabeth, Mary started showing up everywhere (she loved the spotlight during her life and has not relinquished it even in the archive). In my notes I started referring to “The Mary Problem,” which meant two things – both the trouble that Mary caused for Catherine and Elisabeth and the challenge she presented to me as a writer. How was I going to deal with Mary in the book? Soon enough I realized that Mary was vital to this story as a protagonist, not just as a secondary character. And that’s because the events of her life track Elisabeth’s very closely – they grow up together as sisters, they get married around the same time, give birth around the same time. Their death and downfall also take place in the same year. These historical coincidences were the stuff of story. You couldn’t make it up even if you wanted to.

Once I saw the historical parallels, I saw that there were thematic parallels too, and that the challenges Mary and Elisabeth faced echoed the ones Catherine had grappled with as a young queen. I was a good way into the research when I realized that I was writing a book about women and power – how women are used in the pursuit of power, and how power can destroy a young woman – as much as I was interlacing the stories of Catherine, Elisabeth, and Mary. I wanted to write a human portrait of these queens, but I also wanted to say something broader about power.

What does your book add to previous works covering these women?

I think of Young Queens as a historiographical project as much as biographical or historical one. By this I mean that I was really focused on how I was telling the story as much as what I was telling. I always learn history better when I hear or read it in story-form, and that’s what I wanted to deliver here. I also wanted the book to be very character-driven, to capture as much inner-life as possible, while still respecting the sources, so that readers might see these queens first and foremost as girls and young women. Capturing the complexity of their humanity seemed essential to me – there is a way in which history tends to flatten women so that they are almost reduced to a stereotype. So, Catherine de’ Medici, for instance, is portrayed as either very bad or very good. I saw her as more nuanced, somewhere in between – like any human being. Conveying the complexity of these women seemed imperative to a feminist project.

As for the history itself, I wanted to offer a fresh view of Catherine and Mary, the better-known queens, fleshing out some of the events in their early reigns while privileging their points of view. And I wanted to center the spotlight on the débutante, Elisabeth de Valois. There has been some scholarship on Elisabeth, but very little for the general reader since the 19th century. While Elisabeth was praised by all comers in her time (like every royal woman, for that matter) in some ways she embodies what must have been the experience of countless royal and aristocratic girls, almost like a royal “everywoman.” Elisabeth wasn’t an exceptional person, in part because her life was cut off when she was barely in her twenties – but that ‘averageness’ is exactly what makes her important as a historical figure.

For me, at least, intertwining the stories of Catherine, Elisabeth, and Mary – telling it as one, unified story – made me see all three women differently. I was struck by the similarity of the challenges they faced – although they made choices, and the outcomes were different, Catherine, Elisabeth, and Mary were operating in the same dynastic system that placed specific pressures on the bodies and minds of young women. There is something integral to being female, fertile, and young that spells peril for young royal women in the period. And so, I hope readers will see in Young Queens a larger story about queenship as much as an interlacing of three biographies.

Which of the ‘Young Queens’ was your favourite to write about?

I have a hard time choosing. I love writing about Catherine de’ Medici because I’ve worked on her for a long time, and there is something very familiar about her to me — like visiting an old friend. But I have a soft spot for Elisabeth de Valois because she is so unknown among today’s readers, and because she was the inspiration for Young Queens. And she died so young. There is a kind of tragedy to her story — she was beloved by both the French and Spanish and showed so much potential as a political player. One wonders what she might have accomplished had she lived, how historical events might have turned out differently. But all the promise she embodied disappeared when she died doing the very thing she was supposed to do — trying to bear an heir for the throne. There is a kind of gentleness and youth to Elisabeth that you can detect even in her letters. It was wonderful for me to work through her letters in manuscript, to see how she handled a pen when she was young, how she phrased her sentences. I really felt like I was meeting a teenager, just one who lived hundreds of years ago.

What surprised you most researching this book?

One of the biggest surprises became a through-line in the book, but I only saw it once I put the stories of Mary and Elisabeth together. I was surprised by how much the minds and bodies of young women shaped historical events in the period. The Mary whom I discovered in my research was painfully young when she returned to Scotland, and insecure — but insecure in different ways than I had imagined. She’d always been charming and easily commanded a room. But at the time of her return to Scotland, she’s undergoing a kind of identity crisis, one that could only have been traumatic for a teenager. She’s been stripped of her home, culture, family, her husband (who was also a childhood friend), and her sense of self. She’s lost one crown, and with it a role in which she had excelled and to which she had been bred — the role of Queen consort of France. She’s shipped off to Scotland and given the reins of a kingdom in turmoil, with scant preparation and support. And all she wants is to get back to that childhood feeling in which she felt so secure. So many choices Mary made after she returned to Scotland seem motivated by her desire to ‘go home’, at least emotionally if not physically.

As for Elisabeth de Valois — I was astounded at how much ink was spilled between France and Spain about her health and menstrual cycle. Elisabeth’s ladies-in-waiting watched her period like hawks, down to the tiniest details. Of course, they reported everything to Catherine de’ Medici. Those ladies at the Spanish court must have been keeping something like a calendar tracking her cycle, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, back in France, Catherine kept her own calendar. Everyone wanted Elisabeth to conceive and bear a child as soon as possible — after all, that was the chief duty of a queen consort. But when you consider the political ramifications — that peace between the realms, even peace between warring religious factions — depended on whether Elisabeth got her period, you begin to see how much turned on the workings of this one teenager’s body. It’s one of those amazing moments when you realize how history turns around small details, a little like the butterfly effect. In this case, it’s clear that history is made not only on the battlefield or in the council chamber — places that are dominated by men, of course — but also by the ovaries and uterus of a 15-year-old girl.

What do you think Elizabeth of Valois learned from her mother and sister-in-law??

The French sixteenth-century writer Brantôme implied that Elisabeth was really her mother’s daughter. He wrote decades after Elisabeth’s death, and he was a fan of both Catherine and Elisabeth, so his writing often reads like propaganda. But I think he was spot on in his descriptions of the affection that Catherine and Elisabeth felt for each other. That love was the basis for Elisabeth’s political education. Catherine taught Elisabeth that blood is thicker than water, that political alliances are built through family networks, that family should always come first. She really instilled that lesson in Elisabeth. The Medici, Catherine’s family, were very clannish in their loyalties, and family bonds were likely especially important to Catherine because she grew up an orphan. She learned early that family was valuable – during dangerous moments in her childhood, it was her family connection to France that saved her. She never let Elisabeth, or any of her children, forget the importance of family bonds.

But Elisabeth might have learned this same lesson from observing Mary Stuart. Mary is a Stuart and the Queen of Scots thanks to her father, but on her mother’s side, she’s a Guise, and there was no family more devoted to each other than the Guises. That family was extremely close, and the young Mary, Queen of Scots showed as much or more attachment to her Guise identity than to her royal, Scottish one. The family feeling among the Guises was palpable and very powerful – the Guises exerted real influence at court in part because they knew how to mobilize their family connections so well.

Elisabeth must have observed all this as a young teen in France; even after she left for Spain, her mother’s lessons continued through letters. But it all got more complicated once Elisabeth was Queen of Spain. What, after all, constitutes family for a bride? Catherine herself showed unfailing loyalty to the House of Valois after she married into it. Once Elisabeth married Philip II of Spain, she became duty-bound to respect Philip as her husband and king, and to respect the custom, culture, and laws of her Spanish subjects. During her lifetime she remained loyal to Catherine because she loved her mother. But Elisabeth didn’t always agree with Catherine, and it’s unclear if they might have grown apart. Had Elisabeth lived longer, she might have grown to fully endorse her husband’s policies, perhaps at her mother’s expense. This was the tricky position in which royal and aristocratic brides often found themselves.

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Books 2023 – on sale today – ‘Young Queens: Three Renaissance Women and the Price of Power’ by Leah Redmond Chang

Bloomsbury Publishing

‘Sixteenth-century Europe: Renaissance masters paint the ceilings of Florentine churches, kings battle for control of the Continent, and the Reformation forever changes the religious organisation of society. Amidst it all, three young women come of age and into power in an era of empires and revolutions.

Catherine de’ Medici’s story begins in a convent stormed by soldiers intent on seizing the key to power in Florence – Catherine herself, a girl barely 11 years old. It ends with her as the controversial queen mother of France, a woman both revered and reviled.

Mary, Queen of Scots’ story begins in Scotland and ends in England. A queen turned traitor, from the confines of her English prison she longs for the idyll of her childhood in France.

Elisabeth de Valois’ story begins in France, where she is born the beloved daughter of a king. It ends tragically in Spain as a cherished queen consort and mother – one who must make the ultimate sacrifice for her kingdom.

Catherine, Mary and Elisabeth lived at the French court together for many years before scattering to different kingdoms. These years bound them to one another through blood and marriage, alliance and friendship, love and filial piety; bonds that were tested when the women were forced to part and take on new roles. To rule, they would learn, was to wage a constant war against the deeply entrenched misogyny of their time. A crown could exalt a young woman. Equally, it could destroy her.

Drawing on new archival research, Young Queens masterfully weaves the personal stories of these three queens into one, revealing their hopes, dreams, desires and regrets in a time when even the most powerful women lived at the mercy of the state.’

From –

Further details – Bloomsbury Publishing

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To celebrate the publication of the paperback of ‘The House of Dudley’ by Joanne Paul…

The paperback of ‘The House of Dudley’ by Joanne Paul is published today.

(c) Penguin

Here is my 2022 interview with Joanne.

(c) Penguin

The House of Dudley.

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