Before we know it the days will be getting shorter, the dark nights will be setting in earlier and our British ‘summer’ will be over for another year. With this in mind, I have gathered together a list of my top ten royal-related books which will keep you going into the autumn and winter months. Keep that warm blanket, roaring fire and steaming mug of hot chocolate aside for the moment though, as most have not been published just yet…
For centuries it was believed that Alfred the Great’s remains were lost forever, buried in an unknown grave in Winchester, the old capital of Wessex. However, this all changed recently with a discovery by the University of Winchester of a fragment of a pelvis bone, found in a cardboard box, which now holds the possibility of belonging to the lost King Alfred. This remarkable discovery has sparked a new found interest in the ninth century monarch. In Search of Alfred the Great delves into the legendary world of the only English monarch who has been given the epithet ‘the Great’.
Edward III was praised by his contemporaries for being a chivalrous, yet shrewd, warrior King. However, he has not always received such high praise from historians, even though he oversaw some of the most remarkable victories in English history and even took two his contemporary Kings as prisoners. In this new, thoroughly researched study of the Plantagenet King, Professor Rogers develops a new perspective of Edward’s military strategies, including analysing at the ways in which English troops destroyed countryside in order to push forward their campaigns. Perfect for those with a love for medieval military history.
After the success of Dan Jones’s The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England (2012), this new study specifically looks at the bloodiest and longest civil wars which have ever raged in British history; the Wars of the Roses. Historian and journalist Dan Jones takes readers through how one royal dynasty were able to tear themselves apart in order to fight for the throne, leading to abdications, executions and violent deaths (both on and off the battlefield). Jones highlights the volatile battles which made up these civil wars, including the likes of Towton, Tewkesbury and Bosworth. Anyone looking to broaden their knowledge of how the longest reigning dynasty came to such a bloody end and understand how the Tudors seized the throne, then this is the book for you.
This is the first of two books that Terry Breverton will be having published within a matter of months this year. Jasper Tudor: Tudor Dynasty is by far my favourite book on this list. Why? Because it’s about time that we had a modern biography on the man who established the infamous Tudor dynasty! In recent years, scholarship has turned its head somewhat and focused more on the likes of the Plantagenets, the Wars of the Roses and Henry VII. Fantastic, yes! However, in my opinion, Henry VII’s undeniably loyal uncle, Jasper Tudor, has been forgotten about somewhat in all of this. He was the man who fought continuously in the battles of the Wars of the Roses, from the first conflict at St Albans in 1455 to the very last at Stoke in 1487. He campaigned for his name, his lineage and, most ardently, for his nephew. He rallied against the Yorkist armies, gathered Lancastrian men to his side, and spent years in exile with Henry in order to keep his nephew safe and to strategically plan taking the English throne. Once he had helped Henry to gain the throne in 1485, Jasper did not sit back and relax; he continued to work and secure the Tudor position in England and on the European scene. I urge readers to go and purchase a copy of this biography of the man who is often forgotten in history, yet was fundamental to the build-up and outcome of 1485. Without Jasper, the Tudors might never have reigned…
The Tudors are without doubt the most famous of all of the dynasties that have ruled the British Isles. Although they may have just consisted of five (or six if you count Lady Jane Grey) monarchs who ruled for just over a century, they certainly made their mark in history. From the usurping King who made ‘Tudor’ into a household name, Henry VII, to the boisterous red-headed ‘Virgin’ Queen whose reign oversaw global exploration and the flourishing of literature, music and public theatres, Elizabeth I, this somewhat dysfunctional family ruled during a time of great, unprecedented change. And yet, we all have those questions in the back of our minds about the Tudors which we’d all quite like the answers to. Did Anne Boleyn have six fingers on one hand? Was ‘Greensleeves’ really composed by Henry VIII? What is the historical significance of the nursery rhyme ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?’ Take a look at this book and Terry Breverton will tell you all of the answers…
This latest work by Tracy Borman was published in hardback last summer and since then it has gained great praise from literary reviewers and readers alike. In October it will be available in a (handbag-sized) paperback version, perfect for some reading on-the-go. Borman illustrates to readers the dramatic events that occurred during the years after 1613, when ‘witches’ were accused of causing the violent death of one of the heirs to a great English noble family at Belvoir Castle. Although ‘witch hunts’ were more commonly found in Germanic states during the seventeenth century, this English case became famous in its own right, by touching the ruling nobility and the witch-fearing King himself, James I. Borman highlights how the events at Belvoir Castle lead to a conspiracy right at the heart of the Jacobean court.
After seven years of bloody warfare, a country torn apart by alliances and many families with lost loved ones, parliament were victorious and now left with a King as their prisoner. The question was, what to do with him? In this book, bestselling historian Charles Spencer describes to readers the ways in which parliamentarians went against the idea of the Divine Right of Kings and put their monarch to death. 135 men hastily gathered at the trial of Charles I and unanimously passed the warrant issuing his execution. On a cold day in January 1649, Charles I took to a scaffold erected outside Whitehall and came to his death. This was a unique and dark day in British history. When Charles’s son, Charles II, was restored to the Crown in 1660, he sort out retribution for those responsible for his father’s death and the emergence of the Commonwealth. Many of the men behind Charles I’s execution went into hiding, fled the country to America or Europe or simply waited for their sentences. Spencer reveals the stories behind what happened to the men who went against the monarchy and how they were effected by signing that death warrant. This will certainly be a good read for those wanting to find out more about the men behind Charles I’s death, many of whom the majority of people would never have heard of.
Just as a pre-warning, any Queen Anne or Stuart ‘fans’ must be notified that this book is over 800 pages long and weighs a considerable amount. It may be pretty big, but it is brilliantly informative. James Winn has written this biography of Queen Anne with a whole new context in mind. Winn focuses on understanding Anne’s tempestuous life through her interests and talents in cultural activities. Anne grew up reading plays and poetry in English and French, she knew how to dance, paint, sing, act and play instruments. As an adult, Anne’s interest in the arts did not diminish; she learnt the harpsichord and guitar and danced often. Anne ruled at a time when the political stage was changing and people of different ranks and professions were becoming interested and concerned about the workings of the government. Winn highlights this when describing how poets, artists and musicians used their work in order to convey political messages to their Queen. Alongside this, Winn displays how Anne was forced to deal with the devastating personal tragedies that occurred during her lifetime. Winn illuminates this biography with the work of the brilliant men that surrounded the Queen, including George Frideric Handel, Godfrey Kneller, Christopher Wren and Alexander Pope. The biographical accounts of Anne’s life are helpfully accompanied by both visual illustrations and musical examples from her lifetime.
Similarly to the previous book discussed, The Strangest Family is also a long addition to your bookcase (704 pages). However, don’t let this put you off of this poignant account of George III’s attempts to create a comfortable, harmonious household for his family. As we are currently celebrating the 300th anniversary of the accession of the Hanoverian dynasty in Britain, it seems quite fitting for this detailed account of George III’s life to be published this month. In this book, Janice Hadlow illustrates to readers the ways in which George III became determined to create a stronger, and better, monarchy when he succeeded to the throne in 1760. George had the support of the people when he first became King, but he also strove to revolutionise his family life too; he had an idea that if he could establish a strong family life (compared to his predecessors) then he too could be an even stronger monarch. Hadlow particularly analyses the way in which George and his wife Charlotte attempted to bring up their 13 children in a loving home, but their attempts were sadly ineffective when their children grew older and George’s bouts of madness set in. The Strangest Family does not simply focus on George, as many books find it all too easy to do. Hadlow understands the importance that the people around George played throughout his reign, especially that of his wife and his daughters.
10. Queen Victoria: A Life of Contradictions (Paperback) – by Matthew Dennison – Published: 5th June, William Collins Publishing
Dennison’s witty spin on our longest-reigning Queen’s life brings a whole new perspective to what we know of Queen Victoria’s life. Instead of focusing on the effects she had upon her country (or Empire for that matter), Dennison uses this biography to fully focus on Victoria as herself. Queen Victoria: A Life of Contradictions was published last summer in hardback and has been gaining positive evaluations from reviewers and readers alike since. Although Victoria ‘fans’ may not learn a huge deal that they did not know already by reading this relatively short biography (208 pages), Dennison does indeed highlight just how contradictory this Queen could be. Victoria famously disliked the idea of education for the working classes and detested women’s suffrage, and yet she embraced new technology, photography, modern art and railway expansion. She attempted to resist her mother’s influence, but became ever-dependant on her husband, Albert. Dennison writes with such ease and wit that any reader will find it hard to put their copy down until they’ve finished it altogether.
Featured photo credit: BiblioArchives/LibraryArchives via photopin cc
Yes, I was reading these histories since fourth and fifth grade. They seemed so important at the time. But now that I realize the real story of Edward VIII is so different from the official story, I don’t know whom to believe anymore. All the official biographies say the same things.
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