As if we weren’t excited enough…Weir teases Twitter with beautiful Boleyn book artwork

At the beginning of the year, this site listed a number of books we were most looking forward to hitting our shelves.  At the top of the list was the second installment of Alison Weir’s six novels telling the stories of Henry VIII’s curious Queens.

‘Anne Boleyn: a King’s Obsession’ will debut in book stores on May 18th.  Across social media, the best-selling author and historian has been hinting that the novel will explore new and potentially controversial theories about Anne’s relationship with Henry and her attitudes toward female advancement.    Given that Weir has previously stated that writing fiction gives the historian a greater degree of freedom when exploring thoughts and theories, anticipation is high as to what remains to be revealed.

However, for those more interested in a fresh take on one of history’s greatest love epics and the downfall of the original tragic heroine, there’s just as much reason for eager excitement.  If the new artwork and endorsements from fellow writers released last week are anything to go by, absorbing the new book is going to be a beautiful experience from start to finish.

The USA cover for the second ‘Tudor Queens’ book

Anne Boleyn is one of history’s villains. So why do we love her so much?

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Maybe it was ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’’.  ‘The Tudors’ probably packed a punch.  It could just be the natural fascination we all have with tales of triumph that turn to disaster.  But whatever the reason, Anne Boleyn is loved by 21st century history geeks.

I guess her courtship with Henry had all the great ingredients of a classic love story – and her downfall the perfect tragedy.  She captures the imagination of the romantic, and as Alison Weir notes, in our 21st century mindset, she has reached the status of ‘celebrity’.

She deserves our interests – maybe even our fascination.  But should she really command our love?

Let’s recap for a minute.  This is a woman who ruthlessly forced a devout and caring woman off the throne and did her level best to ensure that she was treated as badly as possible for the remainder of her life.  As Queen she did all she could to see the Lady Mary, Catherine of Aragon’s daughter humbled and harmed.  If anyone got in her way, she destroyed them.

I’m not sure I’d want a girl like that for a friend.

Perhaps we’re reacting to centuries of Anne being treated unfairly.  The ruthless ‘qualities’ that allowed her to prosper were much admired in men.  Indeed, the equally savage Henry VIII has gone down in history as one of England’s greatest Kings.  And of course, the (almost certainly) false charges levied against her have meant that previous generations regarded her as a sexually perverse harlot.

Her intelligence, her cunning and her determination now receive much greater recognition from historians.  This is positive.  But am I the only one that thinks there’s something freakishly ironic about how the blogsphere fawns over Anne as if she’s some kind of tragic heroine.  If the character of Anne Boleyn was cast on Eastenders she would be seen as far worse than a soap bitch.  She would be hounded as an undisputable villain.

Okay Boleyn fans…are you going to let me get away this this?  Show me where I’m going wrong.

I’m not sure we needed another ‘Six wives’ series – but some of the critics can do one!

I’ll admit, I was unsure as to whether we REALLY needed another series of the sixth wives of Henry VIII.  Not only did we have one earlier this year but there’s several easy to read popular history books on the subject not to mention countless novels.  Children even study it in school.  Couldn’t we have delved into something else?

But even I was very disappointed to see such a sarcastic and bitchy review by Joel Golby in the Guardian of last night’s ‘Six Wives’ with Lucy Worsley on BBC 1, which was described as ‘awful’ and ‘tedious’.  Even after reading it several times, I wasn’t exactly clear what the criticism was.

I’m not quite sure if Golby is saying that a) the story of Catherine of Aragon just isn’t interesting so no one should try and make it so, or that b) it is interesting therefore the dramatic antics of the presenter were unnecessary.

Either way it’s a criticism that makes little sense.  How can anyone really fail to acknowledge the voyeuristic appeal of the marriage antics of England’s most powerful ruler?   Yes, ultra-geeks like me would like to see other topics explored, but I recognise the reason we hear so much about this subject is because of its widespread popularity.  And in my opinion, having Worsley pop up as a commentating cast member was a fresh and novel approach – I liked it.

So enough of the sarcasm thank you Mr Golby.

Last night, I watched the programme with an open mind.  I’m still not sure it was the right choice of topic, but I will say this for it:

  • I enjoyed it.  As I said above the approach was novel.
  • There were a few things I hadn’t considered before; the emphasis on Catherine’s first pregnancy being essentially a phantom is one that I hadn’t dwelt on before and I will be checking the history books to see how big a deal it was.
  • It got people talking.  I was involved in several conversations on Twitter last night – and during today – about the show.  People liked it and there’s clearly an audience for it.

Geeks like me are always going to want to go to the next levels, to greater depth.  But for as long as there’s an audience for the Six Wives of Henry VIII, TV producers have every right to keep pumping out the content.

I’ll be watching next week.

Book review: The Tudor Brandons by Sarah-Beth Watkins

The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles - Henry VIII's Nearest & Dearest by [Watkins, Sarah-Beth]

Ever since becoming a super-cool Tudor fan (which as you can imagine was some time ago) I’ve had quite a few questions about the King’s friend Charles Brandon and his royal bride Mary Tudor.  Where does Charles suddenly spring from?  What was Mary’s early life like?  How well did they know each other before their elicit marriage?  Why on earth was Mary called ‘Margaret’ in the TV series, ‘The Tudors’?

‘The Tudor Brandons’ by Sarah-Beth Watkins answers many of the above.  A light and readable publication, this new book charts the recent history of the Brandons and details Mary’s upbringing and time in France before allowing the reader to share in their intertwined story as the ‘nearest and dearest’ of Henry VIII.

Sticking faithfully to the extensive source material available, the author creates an opportunity to explore the character of Henry VIII’s favourite sister, with the mutual affection between the royal siblings being both evident and charming.  The contrast between her search for happiness and her husband’s quest for wealth and power – typical of a late-medieval ‘man on the make’ – sheds insight into their relationship.

And of course, the story of Mary and Charles is one that cannot end with them; this book also recounts how their descendants were to have a significant impact on the politics of the future.

Stylistically, this book is likely to divide opinion.  Purists will love that the sources are laid bare without much interference from the author’s interpretation; romantics will miss the lack of speculation around thoughts and inner feelings that are ultimately forever lost to us.

While pleasing to a true geek like me,  the frequency with which the primary sources are extensively quoted significantly slows down the pace of the story telling (perhaps an appendix featuring all of Mary’s letters might have been better).  But this is a minor criticism compared to the overall readability and accessibility of the book.

‘The Tudor Brandons’ is the first book by Sarah-Beth Watkins that I have ever read; I very much doubt it will be the last.  For any Tudor fan fascinated by these two characters, who for too long have been footnotes in the stories of others, this book is an essential read.

The Tudor Brandons, by Sarah Beth Watkins is published by Chronos Books and is available on Amazon from £9.98  

Which of his wives, was Henry VIII actually in love with?


This week we’re going to have a post about the Henry VIII era every day.  If I haven’t said it before, let me say it again – we are super cool people!

Want to kick it off with some #QuickFireThoughts on which of his wives Henry VIII was actually in love with.  It’s one of those fairly meaningless questions which can’t be proved wrong or right either way – but hopefully you’re getting the gist of this blog by now.

Of course, ‘love’ is a subjective term at the best of times.  It’s not 100% clear what it means to us today, let alone how we decipher it against the backdrop of the Tudor marriage market and different expectations about fidelity on the part of the husband.  But ultimately love is timeless.  What we’re looking for in this post, are indications of Henry’s passion and commitment to his respective spouse; feelings driven more from the heart than a logical pragmatism and a passion that was deeper than physical.

Let’s go.

  • Katherine of Aragon – He was certainly enthusiastic about marrying her and treated her (in public) fairly well to start with.  But there were probably other motives.  He was keen for the alliance with Spain (of which her father was effectively King) and wanted to appear like a man rather than a boy.  A prestigious wife helped with that.  Alison Weir argues that Henry’s ‘love’ for Catherine was never really passion.  I think she is probably right.  As I’ve argued in another post, Henry was probably unfaithful to Katherine within a year of their marriage.
  • Anne Boleyn – Surely this is a no-brainer?  I guess you could argue it was infatuation rather than love but I think that’s splitting hairs.  I also don’t think the violent reversal in his feeling suggests it was never love to start with and that, in part, may have been fuelled by feelings of betrayal.  Yep, with Anne it was love; heart and soul.   Until it became hate.
  • Jane Seymour – Hmm…tricky one.  She was in the right place at the right time and being the polar opposite of Anne certainly helped.  And who knows what would have happened had she lived.  But we have to go on what we have – and remember that no love is without questionable motives.  She was the Queen that he always mourned and remembered.  As Roxette might say, “it must have been love.”
  • Anne of Cleaves – Actually I have an unusual but credible theory on this.  There is newly discovered evidence that – ah sorry, can’t keep this up!  No.  Just, no!
  • Catherine Howard – Perhaps the trickiest one of all.  But I’m going for no.  I think it was lust.  He was hurt by her betrayal but I’m not sure the feelings ran deep.  But I am prepared to be out-argued on this one…
  • Katherine Parr – He admired her.  Respected her.  Cared for her.  But it’s difficult to see that a flame was burning.  During her time, he still lauded the memory of Jane – but then she had given Henry his only son.  It’s a toss up, but I’m going to land on ‘no.’

And now…over to you geeks.  Have I underestimated his feelings for Catherine Howard?  Were his feelings for his first wife genuine love that faded with time?  Were his lasting affections for Jane entirely rooted to the fact that she had delivered a son?  I want to know what you think!

In defence of Henry VI

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Been thinking lately about good King Henry.  No not that one.  Nor that one.  Not even that one.

I speak not of Henry VIII, who transformed England perhaps more than any other ruler.  Nor do I dwell on his father, who founded the infamous Tudor dynasty.  I do not even mean the fifth Harry, who took England to its 100 year war zenith at the battle of Agincourt.

Instead, I’ve been pondering the reign of Henry VI – the man whose reign was seen as so disastrous that it led to the Wars of the Roses and ultimately, the downfall of Lancaster and the rise of York.  He was weak.  Easily led.  He had no desire for glory in war.  He lacked ruthlessness.  He was far too trusting; particularly when it came to unscrupulous advisers.

All this is accurate.  He had none of the qualities necessary for successful medieval Kingship.

But something bothers me about how history judges him.  No sympathy has emerged and few rarely speak up for his good qualities.  He was a man of genuine religious conviction.  He was compassionate.  He invested in education.  He forgave people that wronged him.  He was not promiscuous.  He took care of his maternal half-brothers.  He was a lover of peace.

None of this, I agree, would have endeared him to contemporaries.  But shouldn’t the 21st century observer be pouring praise on these virtues?  After all, the behaviour of Catherine Howard made her a totally unsuitable Tudor Queen; but the modern reader has sympathy with her, recognising that she was essentially an abused teenage girl, forced into marriage with an obese man in his 50s.  Why isn’t Henry VI given the same generosity?

It has come to my attention of late that the Wars of the Roses are still being fought – albeit by history fans on Twitter.  Great!  But it surprises me that so many side with Edward IV at the expense of poor Henry.

Don’t get me wrong – as I’ve said above, I understand why contemporaries would have seen Edward as the better King.  But shouldn’t we judge differently?  Shouldn’t we be quick to acknowledge that virtuous, faithful, peaceful Henry is a better offering than adulterous, gluttonous and war ready Edward – even if we have to sadly acknowledge that the latter probably makes you a better ruler of 15th century England?

But we don’t.  Part of me can’t shake the feeling that this has all been distorted by the fact that so many history fans have a crush on Max Irons…

Anyway, for this blogger at least, Henry VI deserves a reprieve.  He may have been one of the most unsuited heads to ever wear a crown – but he’s one of the finest characters in the annals of history.

Okay Yorkists (and other geeks) – do your worst.  Tell me where I’m going wrong!  I want to hear what you think!

Book Review: Mary Boleyn by Alison Weir

When I first turned the opening pages of Alison Weir’s 2009 biography of Mary Boleyn I have to confess to feeling a little nervous.  Mary, whatever her virtues, is essentially a footnote in history.  Promoting a footnote to a main character can be troublesome.

Like most Tudor fans, I’d been more than a little appalled by ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ (only seen the film, sure the book is much better) and incredulous as to how it had warped many of my friend’s understanding of the era.  Would this biography risk doing the same?

But of course, with Alison Weir at the helm, it was a question I never should have asked.

From her early years in England to her time at the French court, Weir sheds light on the upbringing of a woman who – while perhaps never a major player – was witness to some of the most extraordinary events of her time.  As a mistress to the Kings of both France and England, Mary’s reputation has suffered much over the centuries, but the author’s ability to set the events in context and divorce fact from rumour, gives the elder Boleyn sister something of a reprieve, at least in the eyes of a modern reader.

There is of course, much about her life that we can never know and many periods where no one saw fit to chronicle her activities.  Even her date of birth remains a mystery, but with Weir’s rare ability to combine robust research with intelligent inference based on surrounding and circumstantial information, we come as close as we are ever likely to, to discovering the true character and personality of a woman condemned to history as a ‘great and infamous whore.’

While the book’s chapters are on the long side, the fascinating sense of storytelling makes it a page turner.  I am slow reader but had polished it off in just a few sessions.  Complete with a summary of the rise of the Boleyns and Henry VIII’s early extra-marital antics the book provides a different perspective of the 1520s and 30s which further illuminates our understanding of those who were at the heart of them.

I am a big fan of historical fiction and delight in the fact that my obscure interests occasionally become mainstream, but as far as I’m concerned, it should be made compulsory that anyone who has ever watched ‘The Other Bolyen Girl’ should quickly follow up the experience with a read of Weir’s biography.  It’s just as entertaining and helps unearth, rather than distort, one of the most fascinating episodes of England’s history.

Mary Boleyn: ‘The Great and Infamous Whore’ by Alison Weir is published by Vintage and available on Amazon from £9.99

Wildcard: Did Margaret Beaufort protect the virginity of a teenage Katherine?

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A #WildCard post is an opportunity to have fun by testing theories that there is no actual historical evidence for, but nonetheless are enjoyable to think about.  They should be taken with more than a pinch of salt and even the authors themselves do not necessarily agree with them.

Previously I’ve written about the likelihood of Katherine of Aragon emerging from her first marriage ‘untouched by man’.  Weighing up the evidence available, I concluded that when she wed Henry VIII, she did so with virginity intact.

As I drafted the piece a thought struck me.  A thought backed up by absolutely no evidence, but one I think worthy of a #WildCard’.

When Prince Arthur died, there was a gap of six months before his brother Henry’s creation as Prince of Wales.  Ostensibly, this was in order to be sure that Katherine was not pregnant with Arthur’s child who would have taken precedence in the succession, even if born posthumously.   However, despite this formality, the powers that be seemed relatively content that the marriage had never been consummated.  Indeed, it is said that Henry VII only agreed to the second marriage on that premise.

This got me thinking.  Why was Henry VII so confident that his son had never fully performed his marital duties?  Teenage sex was not always encouraged in Tudor times but there was a general expectation the couple would at least consummate the union.  Katherine’s senior Spanish lady-in-waiting had testified to a lack of activity – but would that really have been enough for the ever paranoid and habitually suspicious Henry?

I think not.

Henry VII was paranoid by nature and his paranoia was not without a foundation in logic.  The Tudor dynasty hung by a thread – or at least, it felt like it did.  If the King married the widowed Katherine to his second son and the marriage was later questioned, it could place his future heirs in great jeopardy.  True, there may have been Papal dispensation for the marriage regardless of the circumstances, but as later events showed, if the political climate was right, this could be done away with.

Instead it seems more likely that Henry VII would not have agreed to the marriage unless he had a cast iron guarantee that the deed was not done.

Could it be that Prince Arthur, despite his lusty brags to his friends, had never intended to consummate his marriage in his early years?  Could it be that he was actually under instruction not to?

History is full of things we don’t know, but for a moment, let’s stand back and look at some of the things that we do.

Sex in this time was seen as potentially dangerous for young people.  We know that Henry was paranoid about losing his heir.  We also know that in domestic matters, the King listened and acted on the advice of his mother.

Lady Margaret Beaufort is famous in history for her status as a child bride.  Married at 12 to a man twice her age, she gave birth to her only child when she was only just a teenager.  A lack of later issue despite two further marriages suggests that this scared her physically; other evidence leads us to believe that it scared her emotionally.

When her granddaughter and namesake was pledged to be married to the Scottish King, her heart went out to her.  Not naïve to the importance of political manoeuvrings and dynastic alliances, Margaret would have supported the match, but she pleaded with her son not to dispatch her north of the boarder too early, reminding him that the Scots King ‘would not wait and harm her.’

Is it possible that she intervened again?  Had this woman of great compassion and maternal instinct taken pity on her future granddaughter-in-law even before she met her?

The circumstances were not the same.  The marriage of both Margarets had been to much older men.  Katherine and Arthur were similar in age, but nonetheless it deserves thinking about.

Margaret, I am confident, would not have broached the subject directly with Arthur.  I don’t know much about their relationship, but it would have hardly been a conversation that would dignify the King’s Mother.  Instead, it is more logical to suspect a conversation took place between the great matriarch, her son and Elizabeth of York.  Perhaps the King himself then broached the subject with his heir-apparent and it was this conversation, and subsequent ones, that gave the King confidence that the marriage was one of legal union alone.

Let me reiterate, there is no evidence for this – but that’s part of the fun of the #WildCard posts.

Who would win ‘Tudor Big Brother?’

Image result for Tudor roseImage result for big brother

As I was watching the Celebrity Big Brother Final on Friday, a strange thought occurred to me.  In a house full of contestants from the Tudor era who would emerge victorious?  Would Thomas Cromwell calculate a winning game plan?  Would Anne Boleyn see off Katherine of Aragon, even though she didn’t have seven years in which to do so?  Who would Catherine Howard hook up with, and how many minutes would it take her to do so?  In other words ‘who would win Tudor Big Brother’?

For a #BitofFun I decided to bash out a blog post with #NoHistoricalValue to explore this very question.  Here we go…


Up for eviction: Catherine Howard, Henry VII, Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleaves
Evicted: Anne Boleyn

It is perhaps no great surprise that the Lady Anne becomes the first housemate to leave the Tudor Big Brother House.  Having made no secret of her brazen game plan to win at any cost, she quickly earnt the disdain of her female housemates, every one of whom nominated her for eviction.  While she held a ‘fascination’ for some male members of the house, her brittle manner clearly grated with the English public who have sent her to the block at their first opportunity.  For many, the final straw was her guns-a-blazing row with fellow housemate Jane Seymour, which earned her a reprimand from Big Brother for ripping a locket off the ‘little wench’s’ neck.

“No one minds a girl on the make,” comments TV Vicar Rev.Thomas Cramner, “but it’s the 16th century people – we expect some subtlety!”

Up for eviction: Catherine Howard, Henry VII, Mary Tudor (The French Queen), Thomas Wolsey
Evicted: Henry VII

After two weeks and two evictions in the Tudor Big Brother House, there have still been no surprises.  Despite Catherine of Aragon’s spectacular fall out with Thomas Wolsey (which saw the former punished by Big Brother for orchestrating a nominations campaign against the latter) there was never any real doubt that it was Henry VII that would incur the wrath of housemates and the public alike.  While a few boundaries here and there might be helpful, the contestant’s obsessive need to impose fines on fellow housemates for the slightest misdemeanour was never likely to ingratiate him with others and once you’ve charged Charles Brandon £100 for not doing the dishes seven times, it quickly ceases to be gripping viewing.

“He spent his early years in France,” his mother, Margaret Beaufort told sister show ‘Big Brother’s Wench on the Side’, “and it’s possible he picked up one or two bad autocratic habits over there.  But at the end of the day I just wish everyone saw him like I do – after all, he is my dear King and all my worldly joy!”



Nominated for eviction: Charles Brandon, Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, Thomas Wolsey
Evicted: Charles Brandon, Catherine Howard

It had all started so well for the dashing Brandon.  Charming to the ladies, eloquent in the diary room and part of a bromance with fellow housemate Henry VIII which captured the imagination of the public.  But then he broke the brother code.  What seemed like a harmless flirtation with Mary Tudor stepped up a notch this week, earning him the jealous disinterest of female housemates  and the rage of his new flame’s brother.  The arguments that followed were too much for the Tudor Big Brother House and from the pile of nominations Brandon received, it’s clear the housemates sided with Henry.  Tonight’s eviction shows that no traitor can ever keep the affections of the English people, however much he might be able to steal the heart of their Princess.

Catherine Howard on the other hand, has done well to survive as long as she has, having faced the public vote every week of the contest.  Her girlish antics including hours at the make-up station and constantly trying to start pillow fights may have amused her male housemates, but quickly earned her the chagrin of their female counterparts.

“It’s pretty obvious why she survived the first two weeks though,” says celebrity commentator Thomas Culpepper.  “She’s petite, plump and pretty – every bloke in the country’s been voting for her!  With tonight’s eviction the eye-candy quota is seriously on the slide.”


**SHOCK TWIST – Public vote to evict two contestants WITHOUT nominations from the house**

Evicted: Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Wosley

Has Big Brother ever seen a bigger pair of game players?  By deploying every tactic under the sun and cosying up to whoever holds the balance of power in the house, as well as keeping everyone on side by taking most of the boring chores off their hands, these two strategists had largely avoided nomination.  However the public had seen what housemates had not.  The secret strategy sessions,  the willingness to throw others (including each other) under the bus and the sinister comments in the diary room.  This week, voters finally got chance to cast their own judgement and it was ‘off with their head’ for both of them.



Nominated for eviction: Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleaves
Evicted: Henry VIII, Mary Tudor

Just weeks ago, the stunning, learned and cultivated Henry VIII had been the bookies favourite to win but as the days went by his star slowly diminished as he faced problem after problem.  First of course, was the slight irritation of other housemates when he kept stringing along Katherine of Aragon.  Then there was the bust up with Brandon, but the moment the public really began to lose sympathy with the auburn haired Tudor, was his decision last week to nominate Anne of Cleaves, purely on the basis that she ‘looked like a horse.’  It wasn’t that he was saying anything that people weren’t thinking – but this is England, and there are some things you don’t say,

“The public have no idea how hard it is to keep a trim waistline inside that house,” says Edward III, winner of ‘Plantagenet Big Brother’, “but the way Henry piled on the pounds in there was something else altogether.  At the end of the day, this is the Tudor era and image is everything.”

There is however, far less to say about Mary “the French Queen” Tudor’s eviction.  And that’s definitely not because the author of this post has yet to read a really good biography on her and has only limited knowledge, making it difficult to think of something funny to say.  Oh no.  It’s not that at all.


Finalists: Anne of Cleaves, Katherine of Aragon, Katherine Parr, Elizabeth of York.

It’s an all-girl final on ‘Tudor Big Brother’ – the lines are closed and the results are in.

Fourth place – Anne of Cleaves – In the first couple of weeks, no one expected the shy and reserved Lady Anna to last all the way to the final.  Struggling with the language and keeping herself to herself, she wouldn’t even remove her veil for the first few days.  Most worryingly, fellow housemates kept complaining about ‘offensive odours’ emanating from her direction, but suddenly things got better.  Some impressive country dancing, an emerging sense of dignity and a thirst for survival managed to endear her to housemates, saving her from facing the public vote until last week.  Loving nothing more than the rushing to the rescue of a wronged woman, the public chose instead to eject Henry VIII who had, quite frankly, been rather mean about poor Anna ever since week 1.

Third place – Elizabeth of York – Didn’t she do well?  By instantly adopting the position of house Mum, ‘our Liz’ (as she is commonly known) was adored by the housemates who in diary room visit after diary room visit just couldn’t find a bad word to say against her.  Although her constant bragging that she was ‘young enough to have more children’ started to grate with some of the other girls, her redeeming qualities saved her from being nominated even once, handing her a place in the final without even having to face the public vote.

Second place – Katherine of Aragon – At first, things didn’t look good for the house’s only Spanish contestant.  Fawning over Henry VIII – who fluctuated between leading her on and callously rejecting her – and being bullied by Anne Boleyn, housemates, the public and commentators alike were wondering when this woman was going to grow a backbone and that’s exactly what she did.  From her vengeful gloating at the eviction of Anne Boleyn to her fierce rowing with Wolsey, the Infanta showed us all that she was nobody’s victim and has taken the fight all the way to the final.

WINNER – Katherine Parr – Surely from now on to be known as ‘the great survivor’ this lowly knight’s daughter has delivered entertainment, enrichment and excellent game-play over an entire series.  Helpful and chirpy around the house, this year’s winner was no wall flower, arguing about religion and squaring up to opponents.  She knew how to survive, even when it meant backing down.

TV psychologist Katherine Willoughby says, “Any woman who can stay up most of the night reading illegal protestant books with a torch under her covers, but is also first up for morning mass the next day is going to be complex psychologically as well as pretty hard headed.  I certainly wouldn’t want to take her on.”


Editor’s note: Unfortunately Jane Seymour was removed from the house in week three due to ill health.


Anyway, just some thoughts from me.  But the question is geeks – who would you want to see in the Tudor Big Brother House and what do you think would happen?

Book review – Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen – by Alison Weir

Image result for Book review – Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen – by Alison Weir

When I first held my copy of ‘Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen’ in my hands, I knew it was going to be special.  Not only was it my first history book to be personally signed by author Alison Weir, but it was also the beginning of a series of historical novels about the six Queens of Henry VIII – a topic any Royal History Geek could lose themselves in for hours.

But despite my anticipation of enjoyment, I was not expecting this book to teach me an awful lot.  After all, the stories of Henry VIII’s wives are amongst history’s most recounted and the factual writings of Weir, Starkey and others had already taught me much.  Surely there was little more I could learn?

I was wrong.

History is of course about so much more than the digestion of facts.  It involves travelling back to an era unfamiliar to us and reimagining what actually happened.  In this, fiction provides a greater degree of freedom, especially when the writer possesses Weir’s rare ability to combine robust research with sensible empathy.  For me, the new insights into Katherine’s relationships with Henry, her household and the ‘powers that be’ back in Spain, has shed new light on my understanding of the tempestuous and often traumatic episodes of her life.

The story begins as the young Spanish Infanta makes her bold trek to England. As a born and bred Janner, I was ecstatic to see the opening pages give a thorough description of the city (then town) of Plymouth, the first piece of English soil that Katherine descended upon.  We then follow the Princess as she progresses from teenage wife to penniless widow before being redeemed by a young Henry VIII; at first her knight in shining armour before gradually growing into her tratious tormentor.

Through Weir’s vivid storytelling, Katherine’s varied circumstances and emotional reaction to them become tangible and accessible.  The reader is struck by the profound paradox of a series of strong and powerful women who, despite their many qualities, are entirely dependent on the actions and decisions of men.  Throughout her long life in England, Katherine’s virtuous character rarely waivers, but the actions of her father, father-in-law, husband and nephew are the real factors that shape her ever changing and often unhappy destiny.

As with all fiction from this author, the book is well researched and sticks closely to the historical facts available.  However, as Weir herself has stated, fiction allows the author a degree of experimentation with thought-through theories that would be quite out of place in a history book but nonetheless can make a valid contribution to historical debate.  This freedom is used credibly and effectively to explore what really happened on the night of Catherine’s controversial first marriage and at other parts in the narrative.

If book one is anything to go by, Tudor lovers have much to look forward to from the remaining five in the series.  Perhaps the only thing that will frustrate fans is that there are many months to wait until book two – Anne Boleyn, a King’s Obsession – is released next May.

‘Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen’ by Alison Weir is published by Headline Review and is available on Amazon from £6.99