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