The Ring and the Crown: A History of Royal Weddings 1066-2011, by Alison Weir, Kate Williams, Sarah Gristwood, and Tracy Borman

Eight stars

The idea of a royal wedding still gets the general public twitterpated. Mass spectacles and media events surround the event, with hours of coverage before the event even takes place, particularly those in the House of Windsor. But these events have not always been such a grand affair, as the authors of this book explore in detail. British Royal Weddings have come a long way over the centuries and continue to evolve with the times. Alison Weir begins the discussion, tackling the largest time period from 1066-1714. In this time, Weir explores some of the early weddings, which were affairs that helped solidify more recent land holdings the British Crown defends as its own. In her unique writing style, Weir looks at many of the unions as being political or strongly related to territorial acquisitions. Throughout, there is a theme of the ‘hesitant bride’, forced into the union by her family to secure peace and normally a chaste virgin, who may have sometimes only met her husband the day before (or morning of) the wedding. Kate Williams tackles weddings from 1714 through to the end of the Great War, an equally interesting time. She builds on Weir’s view of unions as a means of land or political stability, as well as exploring hesitant players. In one example, she tells of George, Prince of Wales, who set eyes upon his future wife (Caroline of Brunswick), but felt she was too plain to marry. He was coaxed into the union and did bring about an heir, though wanted it known that he still preferred his mistress. This was also the era of Princess Victoria, whose wedding cake was massive, weighing in at over 300 lbs. Williams adds that it was Victoria’s choosing a white dress that began the trend that is still in use today. Sarah Gristwood handles nuptials from 1918 through to 1960, which launched a new era of weddings, where the public was not only aware of events, but played a more active role. With fewer unions for political necessity, Gristwood describes these marriages as being more love-related, allowing the public to see the royals as human beings. Still, the public was also able to participate by actively listening to the ceremony on BBC (and eventually viewing it). Gristwood recounts protest to the BBC airing the wedding of the future George VI to Lady Elizabeth Bowles-Lyon over the air, as any common person could be listening to it in a public house and still wearing their hat (!!). This was also the time of the future Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding, one of the early events in televised royal pomp and circumstance. Tracy Borman writes of the last era of royal wedding (1961-2011), in which scandal and curses overshadowed many of the unions. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret began the era, followed by some of the lesser royals, until the Queen’s own children (Anne, Charles, and Andrew) all wed in the 1970s and 80s. Their marriages drew pomp, but fizzled for reasons the Borman discusses in her narrative. It was not until the latter part of this era, that royal weddings seemed to recover and find a strong foundation of love and commitment, which is where they ended when the book was published, awaiting Prince William’s union to Kate’s Middleton. There is no doubt that weddings of all sorts draw the attention of people, but it would seem those of the royal persuasion seem to pull people in and beg them to make a little something of the affair (no curse intended). Wonderfully crafted by these four female historians! Anyone with an interest in all things royal will surely enjoy this piece, if only to lose themselves for a few hours, or to find something to place atop the coffee table.

This guide through the world of royal weddings came out at the time that Prince William and Kate Middleton were engaged and awaited their big day. A wonderful collection of stories and images that helped personify the royal nuptials, as well as giving some well-known historians the chance to recount tales of the different unions. Collected in this book that I might call ‘coffee table literature’, it should not be discounted as having superficial writing. It is full of wonderful descriptions of events, just enough for the reader to have a general understanding without bogging them down. Tied to the writing, the book is full of sketches, etchings, paintings, and eventually photographs that add excitement to the stories being told. The authors have been able to accentuate their work with these colourful depictions, including some photos that take the reader back in time. Wonderfully collected, the four parts of the book read easily and the reader gets a general idea of what happened and how things progressed nicely. I can only hope that many will take the time to read this, if only for their own interest, to explore how royal weddings have progressed and some of the little-known facts that emerge. A great read that needs the printed book to give it the full impact, especially with all those photos throughout.

Kudos, Madams Weir, Williams, Gristwood, and Borman. This was the perfect compendium of royal weddings and I applaud you all for your dedication to this massive project.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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The Chateau of Briis: A Lesson in Love (Six Tudor Queens #2.6), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir’s ongoing writing venture about the six wives of Henry VIII seems to be progressing nicely. While she is writing full novels of historical fiction related to each queen, Weir has chosen to add further depth to the series by adding short stories that bridge them together, while also accentuating events and characters of subtle importance to the story arcs. This piece takes the reader to France in 1515, where a young Anne Boleyn is serving at the Royal Court. While at a celebratory evening, Anne is approached by Philippe du Moulin, who asks her to dance. From there, a connection blossoms and Anne is as smitten as they come. When they travel to the countryside, where Philippe’s aunt and uncle have property, Anne spends as much time with Philippe as possible. A somewhat timid and quite orderly Anne—yes, there was a time before she became the scandalous lady at Court—could not help but wonder what Philippe intended with her, as he would often push the boundaries of their encounters. It was only when Philippe spoke of marriage that Anne became a little more ‘open’ and free with him, which still holding only her ultimate virtue. Seeking that Philippe follow the accustomed rules before a formal betrothal, Anne soon discovers that the connection is a little strained, particularly when the talk of nuptials comes up again. A solemn admission one day sours Anne to this young man who taught her how to love, even if she can only weep over the fantasy life she had in mind, living at Chateau de Briis. However, four years later, while back in the French court, she has an inkling that her luck may soon change, as the King of England is on his way! Another wonderful short story by Alison Weir that depicts some of the lesser-known tales of a key Tudor Queen. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long enjoyed Alison Weir’s stories about the Tudors, which include so many details on which the reader can feast. Even the main characters, who receive much attention, have stories of their own that are not as well-known to the general public. Weir seeks to capitalise on this—as well as the hunger of the curious reader who wants to know more about the Tudors—to create these short stories, which tease as much as they entertain. Anne Boleyn is surely one of the more popular—some may say, infamous—wives of Henry VIII, but much of her time in print has been part of a duplicitous or scandalous nature. Here, Weir seeks to show the softer side of Anne, touched by a new and exciting love that seems to leave her pained. The reader can see the progress of this love, as well as how it became unrequited, thereby leaving Anne feeling abandoned. It is hard to tell if Weir is seeking to insinuate that this was the start of her materialistic and highly vapid side when it came to love, but Anne’s depiction as a sweet girl in the French Court is not lost on the attentive reader. The story is a little longer, but its narrative richness makes it one Tudor fans can thoroughly enjoy. Strong storytelling keeps the reader enthralled until the final page turn, which helps lay some of the groundwork for Anne’s quick rise and fall in the eyes of Henry VIII. This series remains intriguing and I cannot wait to see what else Weir has in mind to recount. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for yet another short publication that keeps the reader committed while educating them a great deal. I see you have more pieces in the works and I am ready to see what else you can show me in regards to the Tudors.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Blackened Heart (Six Tudor Queens #1.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir has set about on a new venture, a series about the six wives of Henry VIII. Weir has chosen to add further depth to the series by intersperse the novels with short stories that bridge them better together. This piece introduces the reader to Margery Orwell, an energetic young girl who was sent to work for Sir John and Lady Peche. There, Margery learns how to serve and act as a lady while honing her skills about being around those of importance. While in the employ of the Peches, she finds herself interacting with young men: dancing, carrying on, and finally in a tryst that sees her with child. After Sir Peche helps her with the predicament, Margery is sent to court with a recommendation to serve Queen Katherine. There, Margery discovers that the Tudor Court is like nothing she has ever seen, especially with the philandering Henry VIII roaming around. When Katherine learns that the King wishes to annul their marriage, she refuses to accept it, which also goes for her retinue of ladies-in-waiting. Margery stands by her Queen, even as Katherine is banished to a rural dwelling. Staying with Katherine through it all, Margery makes a shocking discovery one day in the market. As she returns to spend time with Katherine, Margery is able to stand tall, knowing that she has made the right choice when it comes to the politics of Tudor marriages, even if many at Court refuse to admit the same. Another wonderful short story by Alison Weir that depicts some of the lesser-known characters in the larger Tudor saga. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long had a passion for the writing style Alison Weir uses, especially as she pens pieces about the Tudors. While many may know of these six wives Henry VIII took, there are those characters who stood in the shadows, while still being highly important. Margery Otwell was one, with a passion to learn balanced with the inevitable curiosity of teenage womanhood. Even as Margery finds herself in a bind, she refuses to give up and is able to ascend to the Tudor Court and in a position to serve Queen Katherine. Many of the others who find themselves on the pages of this short story influence the narrative and add flavour to an already strong piece. The curious reader will find much of interest within this story, weaving together interesting bits of Tudor history, though Weir remains coy about just how much is fact over fiction. With an easy to comprehend storytelling ability, Alison Weir is a delightful author for those seeking to wade into all things Tudor. This series has begun with a strong foundation and is sure to remain riveting, based on the many other books I have read that bear the author’s name. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful story that connects two of the strongest wives of Henry VIII. I can only imagine there is a great deal more to come with future publications.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Arthur: Prince of the Roses (Six Tudor Queens #0.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

As Alison Weir tackles her latest book series about the six wives of Henry VIII, she has chosen to intersperse them with some short stories that bridge these books with some of the lesser-known characters whose actions played a role in the respective queen’s life. The first of these is a preface book to the series all about Prince Arthur, the heir to the English Throne who was betrothed to Katherine of Aragon. The birth of Arthur was highly symbolic, uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York, as well as their ‘roses’. Arthur came to represent this unity and was expected to be a strong start to a Tudor dynasty. As a young boy, he was quite precocious, asking questions and learning from those around him. When his father thought him old enough, Arthur was taken around the kingdom to learn of all its holdings, as well as being primed to hold the title of Prince of Wales. Arthur was always aware of his younger brother, Henry, who was just as curious but also mischievous. At a time when political unions were strengthened through marriage, Arthur was told of an arrangement with the Spanish, who would send Katherine, ‘the infanta’, to help in a tumultuous Europe. While he waited, Arthur fell ill, coughing and being forced to bed for a period of time. His parents worried that he might not be well enough to meet his betrothed, but Arthur was determined to do so. When the infanta was called upon, after arriving from Spain, Arthur and his father made their way to her chambers for that ever-important first meeting. What followed has long been documented in the history books and occurs as the story ends. A brilliant launch to the Six Queens series, this prequel short story whets the appetite of the curious reader. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long had a passion for Alison Weir’s writing, as well as all things Tudor. From non-fiction to fictional accounts of this English House through to television programmes that straddle both entertainment and documentary foci. Weir is able to develop a great story in short order with this piece, injecting a great focus on Prince Arthur and his early years. Arthur is shown to be a curious child who grown and becomes aware that he is truly the symbol of English calmness and perhaps the savour to all warring in the country. Paired off as a teenager, Arthur has little time to process the act before he is thrust to meet his bride, the infanta, later known in history as Katherine of Aragon. Weir keeps her narrative strong and brief, setting the scene effectively while adding some presumptive dialogue to keep the reader interested. The story paves the way for what is sure to be a wonderful opening novel in the Six Queens series which (spoiler) sees Arthur pass away and sets his younger brother Henry on a martial warpath to appease his every need. With an easy to comprehend storytelling ability, Alison Weir is a delightful author for those seeking to wade into all things Tudor. This series will surely develop into being a powerful collection of novels, based on the many other books I have read that bear the author’s name. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for a stunning piece that packs a punch in a handful of pages. I am eager to see how you develop things in all your writings within this series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Unhappiest Lady in Christendom (Six Tudor Queens #3.6), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Having long been a fan of Alison Weir’s novels, particularly those related to the Tudors, I was so pleased to hear of the Six Queens series. While Weir is a master at taking fact and fictionalising it on occasion to create novels, I was even more excited to hear that she would add some short stories to bridge the major novels in the collection. I came across this piece and devoured it in a single setting, having recently read the third book in the series, centring around Queen Jane. In this short story, Jane has just died and Princess Mary takes the narrative role. Mary explores her own sentiments about the death of her step-mother who worked so hard to calm sentiments between King Henry VIII and his eldest daughter. With the death of the queen, Mary must wonder if her return to Court will be short lived or if it might be a new and prosperous future for her. With Mary and Elizabeth comes a new child, Edward, who is heir to the throne. However, as a newborn, there is little he can do for the time being. The King has waited just long enough to mourn the death of his wife of seventeen months before realising that he needs another heir and must marry again. Questions arise as to where he might find a new wife, turning to political ties to strengthen the Protestant cause. While Mary worries about how this might dilute her Catholic background, she worries more about how her own life may be seriously harmed. Those around her remain sycophantic to the king, who seeks a wife rather than basking in the love that Jane brought him. When a potential wife is found in Germany, Mary can only hope that this Princess Anna of Cleves will prove a decent step-mother, even if she is only a year older and likely nowhere near as wise as Mary has been while remaining in England. Recommended for those who enjoy Weir’s work and have a soft spot for all things Tudor.

Weir never disappoints, even when she has a limited time to present her work. I found myself able to devour this piece quickly, yet noticed all the information jammed into the story. Offering things up from the perspective of Mary, recently welcomed back to Court, was a genius way of bridging the Jane and Anne marriages to Henry VIII. I had not given as much thought to the change in role that Mary had under Jane’s short reign, though hindsight has provided me many new ideas on the subject. Weir shows that Mary worries about her own future marriage to a worthwhile prince, surely sullied by her father’s ongoing shelving her and giving her a ‘bastard’ moniker. The Court is also going through many transitions, such that the key players close to Henry VIII are forced to shift their mindset to yet another round of irrational thoughts. The story may have been brief, but Weir packs a punch and keeps readers hooked throughout, pining for the release of the next novel, still many months away. I must admit that I am still a little upset that those outside of the United Kingdom cannot readily access these pieces and hope there will soon be progress to offer them to all fans of Alison Weir the world over.

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful piece of writing. The Tudors come to life under your pen!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen (Six Tudor Queens #3), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir barely has time to breathe as she churns out yet another masterful novel in the Six Tudor Queens series, this time with a strong focus on Jane Seymour, wife number three. Young Jane had always wanted to join the cloister and become a nun, which seemed to be her destiny right up until her eighteenth birthday. Shipped off to the convent, Jane found herself not quite sure of her choice and decided that, perhaps, God had other plans for her. Returning to her jubilant family, Jane enjoys a quieter life with the Seymours, until, that is, a family indiscretion leaves the family surrounded by scandal and Jane utterly embarrassed. With an arrangement to send Jane to Court in hand, Jane finds herself somewhat hesitant, but agrees to serve as a lady to Queen Catherine. Making her way to the big city, Jane is able to see a different type of life, surrounded by gaiety and lavish lifestyles. While Jane becomes quite close to the Queen, another lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, begins her treachery and erodes the strong marriage between Catherine and King Henry VIII. Jane is forced to watch as the King begins to dismantle his long-standing marriage, going so far as to enter a schism with Rome and declare the creation of the Church of England. While Jane cannot voice her concerns too loudly, she sides strongly with Catherine, even as the King moves to strip his wife of her title. With Anne ascending to the throne, Jane can only watch in wonder as they ‘play house’ for a time. Jane reluctantly takes a role in the new Queen’s household, which only helps to pave the way for the King to visit her and, to no one’s shock, find fancy with her. Soon Henry VIII is seeking to woo Jane and wonders about making her his formal mistress. While young and somewhat naive, Jane knows all too well what is to come and tries her best to fend him off, though the Seymours want nothing more than to see Jane secure her role. Rumours abound about Queen Anne’s activities and soon Jane succumbs to the King’s desires and she becomes pregnant. With the potential of the next male monarch in her womb, Jane watches the downfall of Anne Boleyn and her eventual beheading. This creates an odd situation, whereby Jane is ready to become Henry’s next wife, but protocol and dignity would see her wait. As her pregnancy progresses, Jane can only hope that she will not misstep, as the previous two queens did, and that she can bring England a prince. Everyone watches and waits, as Queen Jane approaches her due date, hoping that the next King of England will soon be born. As with the past two queens, Jane suffers miscarriages, males never brought to term. However, the King seems to be more patient and Jane tries anew to bring her husband, and England, its long-awaited heir. However, no good deed comes without sacrifice and Jane must face more tragedy, something she could not have seen coming. Weir breathes new life into the Tudor dynasty with yet another novel! Series and topic fans will likely find this piece to their liking, allowing Weir to explore some of the rumours of the time in her well-presented narrative.

One can always expect something masterful when Alison Weir is writing, though it may be difficult to parse what is fact from fiction, which may be why reading the Author’s Note at the end of the novel is more important than ever. Those familiar with Weir’s work will known that she is a masterful biographer of many English monarchs, some of whom become central characters in her works of historical fiction. I would venture to say that most of the ‘fiction’ found herein relates more to the added dialogue than fanciful creations of historical happenings, but that is for the reader and well-versed historian to dispute. Turning the focus of this series towards Jane Seymour might have been a gamble, as she was Henry VIII’s wife for so short a period, but Weir offers up a wonderful collection of stories and advances the narrative throughout to show what impact she had on the Tudor Court. From her childhood wanting to be a nun through to her demise while bringing forth England an heir, Seymour saw much growth with the reader and her soft-spoken nature was only slightly tipped askew when trying to bring home a point. She acted as strong mediator between Henry’s first child, Mary, and sought to dilute some of the King’s fanciful antics for which he has become so well known. There is no shortage of characters that surround Jane, both at and away from Court, all of whom influence the story greatly, none more than Henry VIII himself. While it is no shock to anyone, the King could be seen to fly off the handle and become somewhat irrational, be it for his own plans or the push to have an heir. Whatever that might be, it proved to be a threat throughout this novel, which saw much intensity grow with each passing day that a male was not forthcoming. Weir’s attention to the story is, as always, first rate and the reader can bask in such detail without drowning in minutiae. Those who are fans of Tudor writing will surely find this entertaining and engaging, while those not as well-versed may learn a thing or two. The ease with which the chapters flow, the information is presented, and the dialogue balanced will keep the reader wanting more, as I do. However, as I am not living in the United Kingdom, I do not (yet) have access to the short stories that Weir has crafted within this series, and so must wait for Anna of Kleve in 2019.

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful novel. I thoroughly enjoy this series and cannot wait to see how you will tackle the second half of the wives of Henry VIII.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens (Book 1), by Alison Weir

Seven stars

Alison Weir is back with another well-researched biography of English monarchy, but takes a new and exciting approach. Rather than a single biography of a past English monarch, Weir turns her focus onto a collection of medieval queens, many of whom followed one another onto the throne. In this first volume, Weir turns her attention to the Norman queens, who shaped what would eventually become the Plantagenets, a ruling dynasty all their own. Remembering the time period—beginning in the mid-11th century—the reader must remember that these were not entirely independent rulers, but also not the ‘wet behind the ears’ women who nodded and curtsied towards their husbands. Rather, they were women who lived during the modern creation of the England that became a key part of the European realm. Weir explores five key queens who sought not only to support their husbands, but vie for the English throne at a time when it was still unheard of for a woman to rise to power. While there was always a strong political and monarchical struggle—especially in pushing for the true role of primogeniture (eldest child, rather than solely eldest son)—within the realm, the idea that queens could be compassionate to their subjects begins to emerge. From those who sought to build connections with the common folk to the queens who would establish themselves as compassionate to the sick and dying, Weir exemplifies these women as those who knew how to curry favour with the entire English populace and not solely those at court. With additional focus on the genealogical connections between them, the reader can see how some of these issues persist from one generation to the next and how bloodlines fuel battlegrounds for the true right to ascend the English Throne. England fought a Civil War over the question of succession to the throne and lost a potential Queen Regnant who was not strong enough to vie for her blood right. Fans of Weir’s non-fiction work may enjoy this piece, rich in history and social commentary of the time, as well as those with a curiosity in England’s medieval monarchs. I did enjoy it, but find that this period in English history may precede the time period that fascinates me most.

Weir’s work is surely an acquired taste, as I have said to many people over the years. She is one of the few authors I read who is able to write in both the non- and fiction realms at an equally high calibre. Her attention to detail and passion for the subject at hand appears in every book, though some of her non-fiction work can become quite detailed and therefore a little dry. For me, the subject matter usually plays a key role in what will draw me to the book and I fully admit that medieval history can be a little too far back in time to fully enthral me. That being said, Weir makes not only a valiant effort to show how older history can be exciting, but also that there are strong ties to modern themes found in these early queens. The role of women in the English monarchy is a theme that Weir explores, discussing the three types of queens—regnant, consort, and dowager—and how history interpreted this when it came to certain members of the royal family. As always, primogeniture played a strong role in the understanding of who could ascend to the English Throne. Her research is strong and helps propel the narrative of the piece in such a way to offer the reader something they must consider before blindly accepting what happened in history. Weir does enjoy the minutiae, which may not appeal to many, but these fragments of information that may not have been seen or effectively pulled together before help to shape her strong arguments throughout. While I remain baffled as to how Weir can effectively juggle two multi-volume series simultaneously, unrelated to one another, I am eager to see where else she will go with this series. I may return for another volume, though my reticence is only the subject matter and not the quality of her writing.

Kudos, Madam Weir for such a wonderful introduction into this historical exploration of the early Norman queens. I can see there is much to say about them and you are the best person to be handed the reins.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens (Book 1), by Alison Weir

Seven stars

Alison Weir is back with another well-researched biography of English monarchy, but takes a new and exciting approach. Rather than a single biography of a past English monarch, Weir turns her focus onto a collection of medieval queens, many of whom followed one another onto the throne. In this first volume, Weir turns her attention to the Norman queens, who shaped what would eventually become the Plantagenets, a ruling dynasty all their own. Remembering the time period—beginning in the mid-11th century—the reader must remember that these were not entirely independent rulers, but also not the ‘wet behind the ears’ women who nodded and curtsied towards their husbands. Rather, they were women who lived during the modern creation of the England that became a key part of the European realm. Weir explores five key queens who sought not only to support their husbands, but vie for the English throne at a time when it was still unheard of for a woman to rise to power. While there was always a strong political and monarchical struggle—especially in pushing for the true role of primogeniture (eldest child, rather than solely eldest son)—within the realm, the idea that queens could be compassionate to their subjects begins to emerge. From those who sought to build connections with the common folk to the queens who would establish themselves as compassionate to the sick and dying, Weir exemplifies these women as those who knew how to curry favour with the entire English populace and not solely those at court. With additional focus on the genealogical connections between them, the reader can see how some of these issues persist from one generation to the next and how bloodlines fuel battlegrounds for the true right to ascend the English Throne. England fought a Civil War over the question of succession to the throne and lost a potential Queen Regnant who was not strong enough to vie for her blood right. Fans of Weir’s non-fiction work may enjoy this piece, rich in history and social commentary of the time, as well as those with a curiosity in England’s medieval monarchs. I did enjoy it, but find that this period in English history may precede the time period that fascinates me most.

Weir’s work is surely an acquired taste, as I have said to many people over the years. She is one of the few authors I read who is able to write in both the non- and fiction realms at an equally high calibre. Her attention to detail and passion for the subject at hand appears in every book, though some of her non-fiction work can become quite detailed and therefore a little dry. For me, the subject matter usually plays a key role in what will draw me to the book and I fully admit that medieval history can be a little too far back in time to fully enthral me. That being said, Weir makes not only a valiant effort to show how older history can be exciting, but also that there are strong ties to modern themes found in these early queens. The role of women in the English monarchy is a theme that Weir explores, discussing the three types of queens—regnant, consort, and dowager—and how history interpreted this when it came to certain members of the royal family. As always, primogeniture played a strong role in the understanding of who could ascend to the English Throne. Her research is strong and helps propel the narrative of the piece in such a way to offer the reader something they must consider before blindly accepting what happened in history. Weir does enjoy the minutiae, which may not appeal to many, but these fragments of information that may not have been seen or effectively pulled together before help to shape her strong arguments throughout. While I remain baffled as to how Weir can effectively juggle two multi-volume series simultaneously, unrelated to one another, I am eager to see where else she will go with this series. I may return for another volume, though my reticence is only the subject matter and not the quality of her writing.

Kudos, Madam Weir for such a wonderful introduction into this historical exploration of the early Norman queens. I can see there is much to say about them and you are the best person to be handed the reins.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today (Six Tudor Queens #2.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

In this short story that bridges two of the larger novels in Weir’s Six Tudor Queens, the reader is able to focus a little more attention on Anne Boleyn. Jo Maddox is tour guide around the Tower of London whose groups are always complimentary of her knowledge. As a historian, Jo is happy to have found a special guide to provide some of the history of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Leading her group towards the Tower, they encounter their guest, whose resemblance and attire parallel Boleyn quite strikingly. As the group follows and learns much of the history of this woman’s final days, Jo continues to see another woman whose dark hair and eyes are also quite like Boleyn. It is said that the Tower holds many ghosts of those slain, but could Anne Boleyn truly be appearing amongst many other tour groups? This is only the first surprise that befalls Jo Maddox. The rest is for the reader to discover herein. Weir does a wonderful job with this extremely short piece, which complements the Six Queens series and keeps fans waiting for the next full-length novel.

When I say that this is a short story, I literally mean ‘short’. A mere seven electronic pages, Weir teases the reader with a narrative that dispels many of the myths attributed to the young queen. Fans of Weir will know that her attention to detail and renowned status as one of the United Kingdom’s preeminent historians has not been offered up lightly. The piece proves entertaining and insightful, weaving fact and fiction onto the printed page. One can only hope that Weir’s full-length novels will captivate the reader as much (teaser chapters for all three full novels find their way as a sort of afterward). While I cannot find any fault with this story, I wanted to take a moment to chastise Amazon (Canada and US) for not getting in synchronicity with their UK counterpart and providing access to these lovely ‘between’ stories. It has taken me a period of real literary gymnastics to get my hands on this one and I cannot see why Weir fans across the Pond are not able to bask in the greatness of these short pieces as easily. Please remedy this soon!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for providing a lovely reprieve from the hectic aspects of life with this piece. Perfect for that morning coffee or evening tea, this story left me wanting more.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2), by Alison Weir

Nine stars

I have long been a fan of things Tudor and the work of Alison Weir. That she can create such masterful biographies and historical pieces is one thing, but to transform all that research into a piece deemed fictional (likely because of the dialogue) and allow a larger reader base to enjoy and discuss her work adds to the awe surrounding her. In this, the second book in her newest series, Weir takes the reader into the life of Anne Boleyn, whose short life offered much to Tudor and English history. Anne appears to have lived much of her life in the shadow of others, as Weir exemplifies throughout. In the early chapters, the reader seems Anne casting her gaze towards her older sister, Mary, who held her parents’ favour and made a name for herself at court. While following in her sister’s footsteps, Anne served in two continental courts before she was called home to spend time as a lady-in waiting to Queen Katherine. While Weir purports that Anne paled in comparison to her sister’s beauty, there were a few men who sought the younger Boleyn sister’s affections, including Sir Henry Norris and the King of England, Henry VIII. Dismissing the affectionate advances of both while serving at court, Anne tried to serve her queen as effectively as possible. The latter Henry would not desist in his approaches, as history has helped us see seemed to be his modus operandi throughout his reign. While Anne stood firm, she was counselled not to rebuff the king for too long and eventually entered into an agreement with him, serving as his mistress but would not engage carnally until there was a dissolution of his marriage to Katherine. Weir spends much time weaving together the narrative of the multi-year journey, during which time Henry VIII tried to divorce the pious Katherine, finding roadblocks to success within both Canon Law and the Catholic Church. However, Anne never seems to have that passionate magnetism to Henry VIII that history presented (and television purported fuelled her desire to betray Queen Katherine), which might be one of the largest surprises to me in the entire novel. Weir portrays Anne as living in the shadow of Queen Katherine during this time, as Henry VIII could be seen to cower when it came to confronting his first wife. The eventual ruling by the Vatican led Henry VIII to create the Great Schism and birth of the Church of England (known as the Anglican or Episcopal Church). This break offers a natural divide in Anne’s life, when she transformed from a simple woman into a dynastic member of history. Some may argue that it was less Anne than Henry’s decision to part ways with Rome, but it came about because of her and for this reason, I feel Weir’s elongated narrative about the lead-up is indicative to a great importance in the Anne Boleyn story.

With the dust still settling and the ink not yet dry on the new Royal Decrees, Anne agreed to marry Henry VIII with this impediment removed and soon bore him an heir, though it was not the son that had been sought. Still, Princess Elizabeth would be the apple of her father’s eye, at least until a son was forthcoming. Like Katherine, Anne’s attempts to have a son were troublesome, as each subsequent birth was either a stillborn or miscarriage. Fraught with concern, Anne was forced to battle with the others who held some confusing sway over Henry VIII, including his counsellors and Princess Mary, his daughter from Katherine. Anne was yet again forced to remain in the shadows, with the princess acting as pious as her mother in regards to the ‘true’ Queen of England. Add to this, the strain of the ongoing attempts to turn away from Rome and Henry VIII’s temper was much shorter, which left Anne to face his wrath over minute concerns at court. After numerous failed attempts to bring forth a son, Anne’s allure lessened in the eyes of King Henry and he sought pleasure elsewhere. With rumours swirling, Anne was forced to live in the shadow of these others, the new mistresses of Henry VIII. It was only when Anne pushed back and refused to allow other women to share Henry’s affections that she found herself on the wrong side of a charge of treason. Weir supports this latter part of the narrative well, as Anne struggles to understand why she has been subjected to this charge and the apparent false accusations of her unions with the likes of the aforementioned Sir Henry Norris and her own brother, George, surface. Anne struggles to pronounce her innocence and lives in the shadow of the Tower of London, her eventual home as she awaits a verdict of beheading. Struggling throughout, Anne was forced to accept her fate, which came about through a set of purported lies and scandalous behaviour. All this because she upset a man that she likely did not love passionately. A powerful second book in the series, Weir does a masterful job at bringing Anne Boleyn to life, as well as adding depth to some of the struggles that are peppered throughout the history books. A must-read or Tudor fans who enjoy the intricacies of that time period, but would also be of interest to those who love history and all things royal. 

I will admit that I have been significantly influenced in my views on Anne Boleyn by Natalie Dormer’s portrayal of her during the television programme, THE TUDORS. Her beauty, her air, and even the general conniving nature of the young lady-in-waiting lweft me with a strong sentiment of a less than lovely Anne. Reading this book has given me a new outlook on Anne and has helped me piece together a better understanding of things at court during that time. It is impossible to understand the true story of Anne Boleyn without an understanding of numerous other actors who played various roles. Weir develops these characters so well and tied them together wonderfully, allowing the reader to bask in a richer and more complete narrative. While there are surely historical inaccuracies (that I know my buddy read companion will be able to recite), the story flows so seamlessly as Anne ages and changes from a naive girl into a woman who seeks to hold her own. Weir offers up a slow, but consistent, transformation of Anne throughout the piece, which is further exemplified by chapters whose focus is a particular period in time. As I mentioned above, I feel that the only thing pushing this novel into the realm of fiction would be its use of dialogue, which could not have been substantiated with complete accuracy. Still, the reader can get the sense that they are right in the middle of these historical events and conversations, which is surely a positive aspect of Weir’s writing. The story is so rich and Anne has so much to offer, the reader will surely want to pace themselves, or at least pay special attention to the story, so as not to miss anything. Then, the eager reader (of which, I admit, I will not be one) can cross-reference things from the first novel and even into the third (when it is released) to see how Anne is portrayed as a minor figure there. The only major downside to the novel, in my humble opinion, is that the reader rides such a high when in the middle of it, that the crash thereafter and knowing that there is a waiting period stings even more. And don’t get me started on trying to get the two short stories that accompany this series to date. UK fans should rejoice that they can easily be acquired.

Kudos, Madam Weir for bringing a key Tudor character to light in this novel. I am eager to see what else you have in store for us in the coming years.