HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW: ‘Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders’ by Nathen Amin

On 22 August 1485, Henry Tudor emerged from the Battle of Bosworth victorious, his disparate army vanquishing the forces of Richard III. Yet, all was not well early in the Tudor reign. Despite later attempts to portray Henry VII as single-handedly uniting a war-torn England after three decades of conflict, the kingdom was anything but settled. Nor could it be after a tumultuous two-year period that had witnessed the untimely death of one king, the mysterious disappearance of another, and the brutal slaughter of a third on the battlefield. For the first time in one compelling and comprehensive account, Nathen Amin looks at the myriad of shadowy conspiracies and murky plots which sought to depose the Tudor usurper early in his reign, with particular emphasis on the three pretenders whose causes were fervently advanced by Yorkist dissidents—Lambert Simnel, Perkin Warbeck, and Edward, Earl of Warwick.

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Henry VII gets grossly overlooked in favour of his son Henry VIII, which is surprising given how dramatic his role and life truly was. Henry’s life and rise to power are largely known through the well-worn stories of the War of the Roses and the tragic reign of poor Richard III, culminating in the Battle of Bosworth. Henry Tudor became king and the wars ended, or so many tales go.

There are a few good biographies of Henry VII out there, but Amin gives a new look and refreshing enthusiasm for a king who desperately deserves the attention. The 1480s and 1490s did not give Henry a moment’s peace, punctuated by the belief he was not a true king, and several other men deserved the crown. Henry should have been able to concentrate on putting England back together – he won the crown legitimately, married the daughter of Edward IV, followed quickly birth of a son born of a dual royal line. England should have been grateful for the level of peace Henry could provide.

Instead, the Battle of Stoke and the rise of Lambert Simnel, posing as either the ‘dead’ Edward V or Edward, Earl of Warwick came in 1487, a murky battle and claim to the throne, which Amin gives in full detail. No sooner than Simnel was subdued came the murmurings of Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be Richard, the ‘dead’ Duke of York. Children and young men posing as Henry’s beloved wife’s dead brothers would have placed significant strain on Henry and Elizabeth, who were doing their best to rule England. Throughout the constant rumours of planned coups, betrayals, even relatives and close confidants changing sides, Henry had to hold his country together, and the author shows him not to be the old miser commonly portrayed, but a man of kindness, loyalty, generosity and wisdom, all while seeing off years of undermining and instability.

The final main pretender is Edward, Earl of Warwick, who had been kept alive, like all pretenders, the sad son of the Duke of Clarence, who through no fault of his own needed to be kept under guard. Henry tried for years to be merciful, but if his Tudor dynasty was ever going to thrive, Henry needed to end the claims to his throne. Even after Henry’s grand coup of bringing Katherine of Aragon to England, the wannabes did not stop, and Henry worked harder than ever to secure England for his second son. The cobwebs of the old tales of Henry being a penny-pincher, a tax-collecting tyrant and generally miserable old man can be blown away by this book, showing the true Henry VII. Without spilling details that will create spoilers, Amin has gone to great lengths to find Henry’s true nature among the endless barrage of difficulties he faced. How Henry’s wife-collecting son gets more attention, I’ve never really understood.

This book is truly wonderful, well-planned and constructed, a real labour of love and determination that is a gift to readers.

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

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The House of Beaufort’ by Nathen Amin

The Wars of the Roses were a tumultous period in English history, with family fighting family for the greatest prize in the kingdom – the throne of England. But what gave the eventual victor, Henry Tudor, the right to claim the throne? What made his mother the great heiress of medieval England? And how could an illegitimate line come to challenge the English monarchy? Whilst the Houses of York and Lancaster battled directly for the crown, other noble families of England also played integral roles in the war; grand and prestigious names like the Howards, Nevilles and Percys were intimately involved in the conflict but arguably none symbolised the volatile nature of the period quite like the House of Beaufort. The story of the Beauforts, with their rise, fall and rise again, is the story of England during the period, a dramatic century of war, intrigue and scandal. Many books have been written about individual members of the dynasty but never has the whole family been explored as one. This book will uncover the rise of the Beauforts from bastard stock of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, to respected companions of their cousin Henry V, celebrated victor of Agincourt. The Beauforts fell with the House of Lancaster during the 1460s and 1470s, and their hopes and fortunes came to rest upon the shoulders of a teenage widow named Margaret and her young son, Henry. From her would rise the House of Tudor, the most famous of all England’s royal houses and a dynasty who owed their crown to their forebears, the House of Beaufort. From bastards to princes, the Beauforts are medieval England’s most intriguing family.

cover and blurb via nathenamin.com

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One family which doesn’t get enough love are the Beauforts. Nathen Amin has done everyone a favour and produced this wonderful and descriptive book to shed more light on this remarkable line. The story of the Beauforts is one that can last forever. Many families such as the Lancasters, Yorks, Warwicks are often mentioned, when the Beauforts are most important and relevant from the late 1300’s right down to today’s noble families.

Joan Beaufort was the daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his then-mistress Katherine Swynford, remarkable people in their own right.  Joan was the only girl born to this first generation of Beauforts, named illegitimate offspring. Joan married very young and had two daughters, but by her mid-teens, her parents gained a legitimate marriage recognised by the Pope, and Joan herself was already a widow. Joan went on to marry into the Neville family, and produced 14 Beaufort-Neville babies to go with her previous two, and her husband’s eight from his first marriage. Eek!

Nathen Amin has drawn on a countless amount of resources in order to produce such an interesting level of detail, and I found I took so many notes that the whole book was in my notebook. Had the Beauforts not gone on to do so much more, the information on Joan Beaufort could be enough for a book on its own.

Joan’s children went to create the families which ruled England and fueled both sides of the War of the Roses. There was the famous Neville line, including a queen of England and multiple earldoms, including the powerful Warwick family. Joan’s blood flowed through the families of the Dukes of Westmoreland, Somerset and Exeter. Thanks to Joan’s eldest daughter they joined the Mowbray family; another daughter married into the powerful Percy lineage, another into the dynasty of the Staffords, the Dukes of Buckingham. More sons became barons, the family boasted archbishops, and the baby of the family was Cecily, married to the Duke of York, creating two kings, Edward IV and Richard III. That’s just a selection of their greatness!

But nothing destroys families like the quest for power. The 1400’s saw much wealth and success, but also death. By the time Margaret Beaufort (great niece of Joan), who married into the Tudor family, saw her son Henry defeat Richard III for the crown, the Beauforts’ power had spread out like a spiderweb of noble houses.

I am not new to the history of the Beauforts, nor their struggles to take the throne, but I found plenty to enjoy in Amin’s book. If you are new to the subject, this is the number one place to begin. The author has written a book without bias, simply presenting facts written to be entertaining, instead of heavy and academic.

Truth always beats fiction, and while I read this in ebook style, once my hardcover arrives, this book will now sit on my top shelf, where I keep all the books I go back to and reference while I work. History is filled with incredible tales, and Amin’s book brings together so many people that you too could be an expert in no time.