The Tudors fascinate me to no end. I’ve read David Starkey’s Six Wives of Henry VIII, Phillippa Gregory’s entire Tudor body of work, biographies of Edward VI; there is even a picture of a 10-year-old me reading The Prince and the Pauper. I will read anything Tudor.
This week I ended up reading two Tudor related works. One was fiction, the other was not. A few months ago, I was mining the book store for deals and came across A Brief History of the Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley. I’m not sure that anyone else was as tickled by the fact that the author of a book about the Tudors was called Jasper (the first Tudor monarch’s uncle was called Jasper)…
When I was younger I used to think that the Tudor age was incredibly romantic, filled with beautiful gowns and jewels, kings and queens and beautiful houses. Now, I can’t think of a worse time to be alive than during the Tudor age. It was cruel, plain and simple. You could be accused of treason for worshipping in the wrong church, even though the rules concerning religion were constantly changing. You might be accused of plotting against the King or Queen. Beheadings, hangings, chopping off hands or ears, burning at the stake, and drawn and quartering, were punishments meted out with alarming regularity during the reign of the Tudors.
I enjoyed Ridley’s book about the Tudor Age. But I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t expected it to be more about what it was like for the everyman, and less a rehashing of the history of the Tudor monarchs and their nobles. Like I said, I’ve read a lot about Henry VII, VIII, Arthur and Katherine of Aragon, the rest of the wives, the Duke of Northumberland, Mary I, Elizabeth I and Edward VI that I have a pretty good read on what they were up to during their lives. I was hoping to find out more about what it was like for the regular people.
But I guess, since most of the ‘regular people’ were illiterate they weren’t exactly keeping excellent records on what they were up to. There were chapters dedicated to games and pasttimes, passages on dress in the age and naturally, punishments and all in all I’d say it was an interesting read.
After finishing Ridley’s book, my appetite was whetted for more Tudors and luckily I had Three Maids For A Crown by Ella March Chase sitting on my shelf waiting for me. You may have heard of the Nine Days’ Queen, Jane Grey, England’s shortest reigning monarch. Chase’s novel introduces us to Jane and her sisters, Katherine and Mary, and their lives as princesses of the blood. They are Tudor cousins and as such are used as pawns in power games at court by their father, the Duke of Suffolk and the Duke of Northumberland, the most despised man in England at the time.
Each chapter follows one of the girls as their destinies unravel and they come face to face with the cruelty and power struggles of the Tudor court. After Edward VI dies without an heir, he names his Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his heir so that his Catholic sister Mary cannot inherit. Well the people aren’t too thrilled with this decision since Mary was treated so badly by her father and many consider her to be the only heir, born of her father’s first and only legitimate marriage. When the people go over to her side and put her on the throne instead of Jane Grey, things unravel quickly for the Grey family.
I really enjoyed this read. It’s made me want to look into the Grey sisters more. To be a woman in the Tudor age, and be completely at the mercy of the men around you could be terrifying and downright deadly and Ella March Chase handles their stories deftly, leaving me in tears in the wake of all that they suffered.
A Brief History of The Tudor Age:
Three Maids For A Crown: