HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW: “House of Tudor: A Grisly History” by Mickey Mayhew

Gruesome but not gratuitous, this decidedly darker take on the Tudors, from 1485 to 1603, covers some forty-five ‘events’ from the Tudor reign, taking in everything from the death of Richard III to the botched execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and a whole host of horrors in between. Particular attention is paid to the various gruesome ways in which the Tudors dispatched their various villains and lawbreakers, from simple beheadings, to burnings and of course the dreaded hanging, drawing and quartering. Other chapters cover the various diseases prevalent during Tudor times, including the dreaded ‘Sweating Sickness’ – rather topical at the moment, unfortunately – as well as the cures for these sicknesses, some of which were considered worse than the actual disease itself. The day-to-day living conditions of the general populace are also examined, as well as various social taboos and the punishments that accompanied them, i.e. the stocks, as well as punishment by exile. Tudor England was not a nice place to live by 21st century standards, but the book will also serve to explain how it was still nevertheless a familiar home to our ancestors.

via amazon

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When I first saw this book, I thought, uh-oh, is poor Queen Mary about to be slandered as Bloody Mary again? If you were also worried about that, don’t panic, Mickey Mayhew knows what he’s talking about. This book can tempt those interested in the tortuous past of punishment, without being too difficult for the more squirmish.

This book has a lot to get through, covering 45 tales of bloody wars, torture, and disease of the 118-year Tudor reign. There is no time to waste; the book jumps straight into the grotesque way King Richard III was killed and defiled long before he was found under a car park in Leicester. Sadly, we get no more time during the reign of Henry VII. We leap forward to one particular tale that has always fascinated me; the case of Katharine of Aragon overseeing an army that went north and killed King James IV of Scotland. Katharine had no hesitation in wanting to collect and share blood-soaked keepsakes of her victory.

When it comes to a blood-soaked reign, King Henry VIII knew his stuff. From beheading close advisors in the early days of his reign until the very last minute before his death, Henry oversaw the murders of peasants, ministers, friends, and even queens. The first half of Henry’s reign was keener on beheadings or simple hangings, but as the reformation took hold, burnings for heresy became much more popular.

Young King Edward VI’s reign is largely skipped in this book, despite the boy beheading two of his three Seymour uncles, and we are into Queen Mary’s reign, the woman slandered though time for burning almost 300 reformists and intellectuals. Yes, this was a vast loss to England and infinitely cruel, but with Mary on the throne for just five years, she never really had the chance to inflict pain in the manner of her father.

This short book soon jumps forward again to the reign of Queen Elizabeth and the many enemies of her reign, and the various plots undertaken by men too weak to cope with living under a queen. Queen Elizabeth had no hesitation in defeating every plan. Mary, Queen of Scots, and her court also get time in the book, not as often considered a Tudor monarch while ruling Scotland. But her subsequent execution in England bears all the hallmarks of Tudor cruelty. Catherine de’Medici also gets a chapter in her honour through her trials at the French court, as her life was constantly intertwined with Queen Elizabeth’s.

Not just executions and torture, the book also covers the various nasty rebellions, assassinations, and also illnesses that caused suffering through the Tudor period, notably the sweating sickness. One may wonder if a quick beheading would be simpler than suffering sweating sickness or plague. Despite this rather weighty catalogue of subjects, the book is surprisingly short and even has lighthearted moments and witty chapter titles to offset what could be gloomy reading. Not a book filled with heavy academic writing, Mayhew has created a book for a range of readers, regardless of Tudor knowledge.

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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

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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.

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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