HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW: ‘Educating the Tudors’ by Amy McElroy

Education during the Tudor era was a privilege and took many forms including schools, colleges and apprenticeships. Those responsible for delivering education came from a variety of backgrounds from the humble parish priest to the most famed poet-laureates of the day. Curriculums varied according to wealth, gender and geography. The wealthy could afford the very best of tutors and could study as much or as little as they chose while the poorer members of society could only grasp at opportunities in the hopes of providing themselves with a better future.

The Tudors were educated during a time when the Renaissance was sweeping across Europe and Henry VIII became known as a Renaissance Prince but what did his education consist of? Who were his tutors? How did his education differ to that of his elder brother, Prince Arthur and how did Henry’s education change upon the death of his brother? There is no doubt Henry was provided with an excellent education, particularly in comparison to his sisters, Margaret and Mary. Henry’s own education would go on to influence his decisions of tutors for his own children. Who had the privilege of teaching Henry’s children and did they dare to use corporal punishment?

Educating the Tudors seeks to answer all of these questions, delving into the education of all classes, the subjects they studied, educational establishment and those who taught them.

Purchase via Pen & Sword here


It can sometimes feel as if education has always been the way we see it now, with full classrooms of desks, 20-30 kids jammed in together to listen to a teacher sigh at the lack of interest in their students. While the Victorian system of schools designed to churn out good factory workers we are still stuck with today seems ever-lasting, the Tudors got to experience a whole different way of learning. So if you hear the title ‘Educating the Tudors’ and wonder if you have anything to learn, I can assure you that you do.

Education in the Tudor period very much depended on your social class (much like today I hear you saying). In Tudor times, the less money you had, didn’t always mean a smaller worldview. The difference here is that if you rose high even in social ranking, the less educated you needed to be, as you could ride that wave of being a member of the landed gentry and never have a job. By the time the first Tudors were taking their first steps, the printing press was well under way creating a world of new possibilites, along with the re-emergence of classic works, and with the explosion of the Reformation in 1517, the world likely felt bigger than ever for anyone able to get an education.

Theis book takes us though what is was like for a king to be educated, like the opportunities of Henry VIII, who could receive a humanist education with new ideas and secular studies alongside the traditional religious learning. Education was not settled in a clasroom either, as outdoor activities ranked just as highly as anything done in lessons. This is a pattern we see right through all Tudor monarchs.

The book doesn’t just dwell on the nobility, taking a reader through the social hierachy. The author can easily see through how class, gender and wealth changed educational needs and wants, how children were taught, and how practical subjects and apprenticeships  meant everything to a large portion of society. How someone grew up to be considered quaified in the Tudor period is vastly different to today, and the book takes us through both the steps taken by students, and how educated people were considered and recognised in their time.

Naturally with the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, this changed how people educated their children, what they learned, and what was available when King Henry took Cromwell’s reforming ideas and turned it into a chophouse of lost services. This book covers so much, from the basic first writing of a common-born child, through the trivium and quadrivium, to the books of  kings and queens, and everyone in between, showing readers a totally different world of education.

I wish I had read this book six months earlier than I did, I would have been able to use what I learned and credited the author in my next book, since this book certainly beats anything else on the topic. The book also covers great teachers of the period such as John Palsgrave, Giles Duwes, Roger Ascham, Bernard Andre, and Desiderius Erasmus. This book may be a first from the author, but I hope it is not the last. This book educates on the subject of education, without sounding like a dreaded school textbook. Fun, informative and genuinely interesting, thank you so much to Amy McElroy for such a  wonderful book.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW: ‘The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England’ by Joanne Paul

The shocking and extraordinary story of the most conniving, manipulative Tudor family you’ve never heard of—the dashing and daring House of Dudley.

Each Tudor monarch made their name with a Dudley by their side—or by crushing one beneath their feet.

The Dudleys thrived at the court of Henry VII, but were sacrificed to the popularity of Henry VIII. Rising to prominence in the reign of Edward VI, the Dudleys lost it all by advancing Jane Grey to the throne over Mary I. That was until the reign of Elizabeth I, when the family was once again at the center of power, and would do anything to remain there. . . .

With three generations of felled favorites, what was it that caused this family to keep rising so high and falling so low?

Here, for the first time, is the story of England’s Borgias, a noble house competing in a murderous game for the English throne. Witness cunning, adultery, and sheer audacity from history’s most brilliant, bold, and deceitful family.

Welcome to the House of Dudley.


Do you love reading about the Tudors, but sometimes feel like every book is much the same (because you have read five hundred of them), even though they all promised a ‘fresh look?’ Here is a book that actually provides a new angle on the Tudors, without having to resort to flimsy claims or controversial ideas.

The Dudley family is known to all who enjoy the Tudor era, but rarely play a starring role, which is unusual given their immense depth and adventure. The names Howard, Seymour, Boleyn, or Grey always get a mention, but the Dudleys were always right there, in plain sight, and would one day make their move for ultimate power in England. Their tale is one of highs and catastrophic lows, and Dr Joanne Paul has wrapped this dramatic family into one precious book. From an author who has already created excellent academic works, this book was guaranteed to succeed from the outset.

The book starts with the funeral of Anne Windsor, Sir Edmund Dudley’s first wife, circa. 1503 after the birth of a daughter, Elizabeth. Edmund Dudley instantly remarried well to Elizabeth Grey, only to become a head shorter one year after King Henry VII died in 1509 when Henry VIII needed someone to blame for his father’s unpopular tax policies. Edmund Dudley left behind his wife Elizabeth and their three sons, John, Jerome, and Andrew. But the loss of Edmund Dudley did not hinder the family for long; John Dudley was reinstated as heir, and his mother Elizabeth married Arthur Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of King Henry IV.

While Jerome Dudley suffered a form of disability, and Andrew Dudley was destined for a life between the navy and financial admin, the eldest John Dudley was destined for a remarkable life, living close to the circles of power. The son of a traitor, Dudley had to be careful, forged quiet friendships and worked in respectful but not extraordinary roles under King Henry VIII, and was still alive to see the great king die in 1547, unlike so many other councillors. By the time young Edward VI took the throne, Dudley was to be the Duke of Warwick, close to the boy king on his regency council. As the Seymour brothers and their associated allies died or fell away, it was Dudley left close to the throne, later made the Duke of Northumberland and the head councillor beside the boy king.

John Dudley’s story could have ended there, until the dying Edward VI named Lady Jane Grey his heir. John had married one of his many sons, Guildford, to Lady Jane. Jane’s father, Henry Grey was John Dudley’s third cousin, and together, through their children, they could control the throne of England and repel Henry VIII’s Catholic daughter, Mary,

The realities of Queen Jane and the volatile aftermath are well-known, though not as often viewed through the lens of the Dudley family. This book takes you through the decades of turmoil of the Dudley family in a way that makes it feel more like a story than a set of historical facts and then goes past John Dudley to his son Robert, and the dramatic life he led with Amy Robsart and Queen Elizabeth I.

This book takes well-worn stories and shows them from an unfamiliar perspective you won’t get elsewhere. I personally have always preferred the people close to power rather than the rulers themselves, making the Dudleys (and Greys) a fantastic subject. Toss in the fact the hardback edition is absolutely gorgeous, and you have a book you will refer back to again and again. Perfect.


This review was not given in return for a free book – buy books (or visit libraries) and make sure authors are fairly paid

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW: “Do Let’s Have Another Drink: The Singular Wit and Double Measures of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother” by Gareth Russell

During her lifetime, the Queen Mother was as famous for her clever quips, pointed observations, and dry-as-a-martini delivery style as she was for being a beloved royal. Now, Do Let’s Have Another Drink recounts 101 (one for each year of her remarkable life) amusing and astonishing vignettes from across her long life, including her coming of age during World War I, the abdication of her brother-in-law and her unexpected ascendance to the throne, and her half-century of widowhood as her daughter reigned over the United Kingdom. Featuring new revelations and colorful anecdotes about the woman Cecil Beaton, the high society photographer, once summarised as “a marshmallow made on a welding machine,” Do Let’s Have Another Drink is a delightful celebration of one of the most consistently popular members of the royal family.

via amazon


Amidst the glut of royal biographies recently released or republished, “Do Let’s Have Another Drink: The Singular Wit and Double Measures of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother” by Gareth Russell has managed to create a book that could spawn a thousand copycats about other famous characters. You don’t need to be a royalist or a monarchist to enjoy this book, it is the perfect story for anyone interested in the history, culture, and traditions of the House of Windsor. I found it to be incredibly insightful, with relevant information on all that has happened within the family throughout The Queen Mother’s life. Anyone who reads it will not only feel like they know her better but will also have a renewed interest in this iconic family.

The format, a life told through 101 anecdotes in chronological order, it’s possible to learn so much about Queen Elizabeth. From a historical perspective, the book is full of great facts about her life and offers insight into her personality. This book shows all the wit, wisdom, and charm I would expect from a royal like the Queen Mother. Rather than being a standard biography heavy on detail, this book offers flashes of the queen’s remarkable life, those she cared for, those she loathed (notably Wallis Simpson, and in later years, Princess Diana), and how she treated those around her. The Queen Mother was not afraid of a drink, and that is immediately obvious throughout the book, and she would think nothing of overruling her guests when they didn’t want a refill.

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s life is well-known; her devotion to her husband, her angst at being thrust into the queenship she never expected, her love for her daughters, and her despair at the loss of her husband. This book is fast-paced, and many of the things we know of Elizabeth are quickly left behind, instead given a book showing her life in a more lighthearted way, flashes of her life around people who were treated to time in her company. While Elizabeth endured much in her impressive 101 years, Russell has (mostly) given us Elizabeth’s brighter moments.

Russell is an extraordinary author, and I would read anything he created, and this book is another to add to an essential collection. This book is a little walk through the past, showing a woman born during the rule of Queen Victoria, and living until after the turn of the millennium. An old-world woman living in a new world was always bound to create an interesting lifetime.


NB: This book is released as “Do Let’s Have Another Drink!: The Dry Wit and Fizzy Life of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother” in the United States.

This review was not given in return for a free book – buy books (or visit libraries) and make sure authors are fairly paid

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW: ‘Defenders of the Norman Crown – Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey’ by Sharon Bennett Connolly

In the reign of Edward I, when asked Quo Warranto – by what warrant he held his lands – John de Warenne, the 6th earl of Surrey, is said to have drawn a rusty sword, claiming “My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them”

John’s ancestor, William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was rewarded with enough land to make him one of the richest men of all time. In his search for a royal bride, the 2nd earl kidnapped the wife of a fellow baron. The 3rd earl died on crusade, fighting for his royal cousin, Louis VII of France…

For three centuries, the Warennes were at the heart of English politics at the highest level, until one unhappy marriage brought an end to the dynasty. The family moved in the highest circles, married into royalty and were not immune to scandal.

Defenders of the Norman Crown tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Purchase on Amazon here

It isn’t often I purchase books outside my main areas of interest (I just don’t have the time), but Sharon Bennett Connolly is an author worthy of an exception. After writing several other books focussing on women in the medieval era, all books I found really interesting, here was another opportunity to delve into a new period without feeling confused.

I knew absolutely nothing about the de Warenne family, had never bothered to glance past their names until this book was released, so I chose it solely based on the author’s previous books. The story of the de Warennes covers 300 years, spreads over England, Scotland and Normandy. It starts with William I de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, the fourth-wealthiest man under William the Conquerer, a title won by fighting in the 1066 Battle of Hastings to conquer England. William survived the battle and took a huge swathe of southern England for himself, founding Lewes Priory, only to die in battle soon after. While the story of William and his noble Flemish wife Gundrada could be a story on its own, the book spreads out its tentacles to show the lives and reach of the de Warenne family across several centuries.

The de Warenne family accomplished much and held power from one generation to the next. Apart from Lewes, the family built Castle Acre in Norfolk and Conisbrough in Yorkshire (a place the author is an expert on, as the book shows) and within a generation of the first Earl of Surrey, the family had power in England and Normandy. Isabel Warenne, 4th Countess Surrey and sole heir to the title married a son of King Stephen, and then Hamelin de Anjou (a Plantagenet and half-brother of King Henry II), who took the title of Earl of Warenne, and together they continued this powerful family line. This made Isabel aunt to two further English kings, among many aristocratic connections. The family also stretched their reach into Scotland, with Isabella’s aunt Ada de Warrenne giving birth to two Scottish kings, Malcolm IV and William the Lion, while her other children married powerfully into Scotland (as in such as the notorious Bruce family), Wales and Holland. The stories of these family members stretch out across countries, time and tales of legendary people and battles.

The de Warennes power in the period is so intertwined with power and royalty, it is interesting there are not many more works on these people. William de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey was a supporter of Edward II, only to switch to Simon Montfort’s camp, and then back again, (a story all on its own) that saw him given control of Scotland where he saw off William Wallace’s rebellion. By this time, the de Warennes were totally linked with so many of the highest noble houses across England and Scotland, right up in the royal lines of both countries.

I won’t add spoilers, but the details of William de Warenne, the would-be 7th Earl of Surrey are discussed, both the long-held assumptions and new theories of his death. The more dubious John de Warenne, the eventual 7th Earl of Surrey, married King Edward I’s granddaughter, his own cousin who was only ten at the time of the wedding. But John, after a colourful personal and professional life (like divorce, mistresses and battles against the Mortimers and Piers Gaveston), left only illegitimate children, giving the Surrey title his sister’s Arundel son (who himself married a le Despenser and then Eleanor of Lancaster!). The de Warenne name may have died after 300 years, but had spread into all the high nobility, represented in every single noble house (such as de Vere, FitzAlan, Holland, Percy, Howard, Mowbray, Beauchamp, Beaumont, Lancaster, later also spreading into the Nevilles, Parrs, Hungerfords, St Johns – have I missed any? probably), and while the Earl of Surrey title eventually settled into a role within the Duke of Norfolk’s rank, the de Warennes had already embedded themselves into every level of the noble rank right up into the royal line. The name of de Warenne spread so far and wide over 300 years, I drew a little tree for myself to keep up. While not called de Warenne today, their ancestors are still going strong.

Honestly, how the author managed to fit so much into one book is a true feat. None of those discussed is worthy of dismissal; every single person brought something to this extraordinary family. To hold power for 300 years over such a time shows how remarkable the de Warennes were, male and female. We need fewer shows about the same few characters over and over, especially when we have authors like Sharon Bennett Connolly preparing such dramatic and exciting stories like the de Warenne dynasty, who are just waiting for their moment in the sun once more.

Being an author who tends to work on the period of 1450 onwards, I knew precious little details about many of the non-royals mentioned in this book, and I feel truly better for reading Defenders of the Norman Crown. This book is one of insight, enthusiasm and careful diligence to the subject, and a true credit to its author.

no free book or money changed hands in return for this review

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty’ by Sarah Gristwood

Why did Henry VIII marry six times? Why did Anne Boleyn have to die? Why did Elizabeth I’s courtiers hail her as a goddess come to earth?

The dramas of courtly love have captivated centuries of readers and dreamers. Yet too often they’re dismissed as something existing only in books and song – those old legends of King Arthur and chivalric fantasy.

Not so. In this ground-breaking history, Sarah Gristwood reveals the way courtly love made and marred the Tudor dynasty. From Henry VIII declaring himself as the ‘loyal and most assured servant’ of Anne Boleyn to the poems lavished on Elizabeth I by her suitors, the Tudors re-enacted the roles of the devoted lovers and capricious mistresses first laid out in the romances of medieval literature. The Tudors in Love dissects the codes of love, desire and power, unveiling romantic obsessions that have shaped the history of this nation.

Purchase on Amazon here


When I saw this book advertised, I thought three things – 1. ooh, a new book from Sarah! 2. It’s so pretty! 3. Can any book really live up to the hyped early reviews they receive? I had to roll up my grumpy covid-outbreak words and bake them into a humble pie, because, yes, The Tudors in Love really is a wonderful book.

Love is not a subject of which I am especially fond or enjoy reading, and while I understand the concept of courtly love in the time of the Tudors, I have always found it to be, well, a bit dumb. I mean, look what happened to Anne Boleyn as an example. But here is a book that can make even a cynical asexual like myself appreciate its place at court.

I have always found the concept of courtly love misogynistic; a man wants to woo his object of desire, and if she gave in to his affections, she was a whore. If she did not, she was frigid and cruel. Gristwood writes about this particular issue in medieval literature and points out even they could see the flaws in the imagined game of romance. The games of love and romance then leaked into a concept that one should love the person they marry. Edward IV’s foolish marriage to Elizabeth Woodville is a classic example of how quickly romantic love can cause disaster, while their daughter Elizabeth married Henry Tudor and had an honest, loving relationship born out of more than foolish love/lust at first sight. Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth may have had something of a perfect marriage with dynastic ties and genuine affection but would prove a hard, nigh impossible, act to follow.

Perhaps Henry and Elizabeth wished the same for their children, Margaret was given in marriage to gain an alliance, only to then be free to make love matches later, Margaret a classic example of seeing love burned to ashes by the realities of marriage. Mary fared better; she was sold in a disgusting political marriage, only to have her old husband drop dead and the man of her dreams come to her rescue immediately after. Mary’s stolen chance to marry for romance and having things work out was a rare case indeed.

Their brother Henry VIII cannot for a moment take a back seat in the tales of courtly love in the 16th century. He loved his wife, Katherine, nicknaming himself Sir loyal Heart and waxing lyrical of his admiration for his wife. It should have been perfect; Henry and Katherine were an excellent political match and could have been as in love and happy on the throne as his parents before them, had the constant loss of their children not hardened Henry’s heart and broken Katherine’s.

While Katherine was openly loved, Anne Boleyn suffered from the pain of courtly love from Henry. Free of the burden of politics and marriage, Henry could chase Anne, declare love, write love letters, he Anne’s servant and she Henry’s sovereign. Henry could not tell the difference between courtly and marital love and married Anne, sucking the fun and thrill of the chase from the game. Anne, now a married birthing machine, still had to play the foolish games of courtly love with other admirers, only to have her words twisted against her when Henry confused his game of courtly love with Jane Seymour for a desire for marriage yet again.

While Henry’s three final marriages were a mixture of manchild tantrums, impulsive mistakes and wavering affections, and his son Edward too young to ever play the game  before his demise, Queen Mary came next. The game of courtly love was not one really played by Mary, with her marriage a political choice with no winners. Perhaps if Mary and Philip had indulged in some courtly love, at least some mild affection could have blossomed.

But it was Queen Elizabeth who had watched the games of court long enough by the time she took the throne. No one could play the game like Elizabeth. Fluttering lashes, poetry, majestic parties, smouldering glances, all the detailed images of courtly love were prepared for the beautiful queen, who had her hands full with constant favourites and men trapped in a web of their own making. Elizabeth’s ability to play men off one another and string them along without making the mistake of marriage made for many interesting scenarios, only for the misogyny of the whole concept to again rear its ugly head when Elizabeth became too old to beguile anyone. But even as Elizabeth’s games of courtly love started to lose their appeal, even to her favourites, she had already solidified her real power enough that the games no longer mattered, and she could defeat any man who dared threaten her crown. Only Elizabeth, the one to understand courtly love and the strings which made men her puppets, and who never confused the game with marriage and duty, could ever call herself the winner.

The Tudors in Love is an excellent book because it does what many fail to do; find a new angle on the subject of the Tudors, and carve out a new story without wandering off-topic. The concept of courtly love, its origins, its meanings and the implications, are all clearly laid out and explained in context. It is so easy to get lost in the webs of Tudor history and sources, and yet Gristwood has kept the theme throughout the book, leaving anything unnecessary on the editing room floor. If only all authors could be as singular minded when delivering a unique narrative.

no free book or money changed hands in return for this review