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Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and His Six Wives Through the Writings of the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys
Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and His Six Wives Through the Writings of the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys
by Lauren Mackay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.60

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue, 20 May 2014
In much the same way as Chapuys' negative appraisal of Anne Boleyn helped shape her historiography for so many years, the academic swing in her favour following Eric Ives's 1986 biography saw Chapuys cast in the light of a malign intriguer who got more wrong than right when it came to Boleyn - and, by an extension of logic, everyone around her. Mackay sets out to rescue her subject from this two-dimensional view and she does so with great success. If Anne Boleyn was much more than suggested by Chapuys, he too is worth a lot more than the Anne Boleyn matter. The biography brims with the author's passion for her subject, beginning with a charming and vivid account of his home town in Annecy, where he is still commemorated in street names and local architecture. Mackay does well too where the sources are silent by sketching the broad outlines of his life before he was sent to England in 1529, freely admitting that there is much we do not know about Chapuys's life but credibly suggesting various possibilities based on what we do know. It's what all Tudor historians have to do from time to time, it's full of pitfalls and Mackay does better than most in weaving her way through it. Once Chapuys gets to England, where his legal training was intended to help the beleagured Katherine of Aragon, Mackay is able to make use of the mountains of letters that her wrote to the Emperor and the picture becomes clearer still.

Mackay's strengths are not just her zeal for the thin and rather elegant man she's writing about, but also her ability to analyse his thoughts and to make full use of his lengthy and colourful correspondence. She is right when she points out that without Chapuys's letters Tudor history, as we know it, would not exist. There were a few times when I did not agree with her conclusions and I thought there were one or two moments when she was slightly too prepared to take Chapuys at face value. However on moments when I, or any reader, might disagree with Mackay's conclusions on certain minor points they are still well-argued and well-written enough to be taken seriously and respected. There are no unreasonable assessments in Inside the Tudor Court and she presents the information clearly enough that she allows her readers to make their own conclusions. She invites them, as it were, to share her enthusiasm for Charles V's servant.

This is a wonderfully useful book that brings to life the colourful and often confusing world of the Henrician court, as seen through the eyes of one of its most gifted if controversial observers. Lauren Mackay deserves considerable praise for setting Chapuys back in his context and reminding us, regardless of whom he quarrelled with or why, what a debt we all owe him. She makes him both an esteemed intellectual but entirely human, she allows him her foibles - I particularly enjoyed the point she makes about his correspondence's relative lack of descriptions of the English court's numerous entertainments: he didn't enjoy them and thought them slightly frivolous, so he told the Emperor he wouldn't bore him with the details. There has long been a need for a biography of this brilliant and complex figure and Lauren Mackay has certainly delivered it.


The Creation of Anne Boleyn: In Search of the Tudors' Most Notorious Queen
The Creation of Anne Boleyn: In Search of the Tudors' Most Notorious Queen
by Susan Bordo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.60

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph of cultural history, 26 Dec 2013
In her new book "The Creation of Anne Boleyn", academic Susan Bordo sets out to explore how and why Anne Boleyn's reputation has been shaped. Anne's story has inspired operas, plays, novels, television dramas and movies. She is a modern day mini-industry in her own right. She is the most memorable of Henry's half-dozen wives, as Bordo notes in her descriptions of Tudor fans' attempts to impose a kind of equality of interest on all six, championing one at the expense of the other, despite the fact that all six are not equally important, at least not in terms of long-term historical impact.

It is on this interaction between Boleyn's specter and popular culture that Bordo is at her strongest. Bordo is an expert on the academic politics of feminism and she goes to town on the allegedly "feminist" presentation of Anne in "The Other Boleyn Girl". Equally interesting are her assessments of Hilary Mantel's Anne Boleyn, resurrected as a deeply unpleasant predator in the novels "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies". Bordo is similarly strident in her discussion of modern academia's interest in Anne. She critiques G.W. Bernard's recent and very controversial biography of Anne Boleyn as "a sensationalistic, poorly argued extension of an equally flimsy scholarly article from 1991". It is this strident and often humorous opinionated approach to writing that makes Bordo's work thought-provoking and interesting, even if the reader does not necessarily agree with every conclusion.

Bordo manages to deftly balance searching for the real Anne and the Anne of historical opinion with the Anne of modern pop culture. In doing so, she has managed to keep her finger on the pulse of both emerging academic papers and things like Facebook, fan pages, successful TV shows and movies. This is a book that takes pop culture seriously and in doing so produces an utterly fascinating view of how historical reputations are shaped and made. A particularly fascinating section comes from her private interviews with two actresses famous for their on-screen portrayals of Boleyn - Canadian Genevieve Bujold, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in 1969's "Anne of the Thousand Days" and Natalie Dormer, who deservedly won legions of fan for playing Anne in the Showtime television series, "The Tudors". Dormer's section on how she worked hard to give her Anne more depth and passion, and the lengths she went to as an actress to perfect her characterization, will be interesting to students of theatre and acting, as much as to those of gender and history.

There are a few very minor errors in "The Creation of Anne Boleyn" - for instance, at one point Bordo refers to Anne Boleyn's sister, Mary, as "thought by many to be the prettier of the two". There are no contemporary descriptions of Mary Boleyn's appearance, whatsoever. However, Bordo is technically right in writing this, because somehow and from somewhere, the myth grew that Mary was the most beautiful of Thomas Boleyn's two daughters. Gaining validity by no surer virtue than that endowed by repetition the story of Mary Boleyn's prettiness is a reminder of the power that oft-repeated but unverifiable myths have on our perceptions of the past.

Finding errors in "The Creation of Anne Boleyn", however, is essentially nit-picking. This is an erudite and thoroughly researched examination of an enormous and very interesting topic. Tracing Anne's reputation in the sources of her own time, who said what and why, right the way through the dramas and novels of subsequent centuries, down to the biographies and silver screen adaptations, Susan Bordo has produced a witty, compelling, convincingly argued and fantastic book about one of England's most undeservedly notorious women. "The Creation of Anne Boleyn" is as fascinating as a commentary on modern culture, media and sexism as it is in discussing how a queen who died five hundred years ago has managed to remain the subject of so much fascination - producing the sublime, the intelligent, the bigoted and the ridiculous.


Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People In Western Europe From The Beginning Of The Christian Era To The Fourteenth Century: Gay ... of the Christian Era to the 14th Century
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People In Western Europe From The Beginning Of The Christian Era To The Fourteenth Century: Gay ... of the Christian Era to the 14th Century
by J Boswell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 19.50

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating history, 9 Jan 2013
This is an award-winning but hard-going book by the late, great, gender historian John Boswell, a late academic based at Yale. At times, Boswell's insistence that homophobia only arose in the Christian church well into the Middle Ages sounds a little too forced; as if he is so determined to believe the best of Christianity that he cannot quite bring himself to admit how that darkness actually arose. All that being said, however, Boswell's book is still utterly fascinating. He finds ample evidence to suggest that prior to the twelfth century, the Church in the West evinced very little hostility towards, or interest in, homosexuality and he does find several instances of it actually celebrating male-male relationships and ceremonies performed to do so. Brilliant, ground-breaking and flawlessly researched, Boswell's book deserved the awards it received and the uncomfortable questions it asks (but doesn't always fully answer) remind us all of how incredibly complex religious, cultural and sexual history can be. Reading books like this reminds me not just why I love history so much, but why it's so important and why it should always be written by men and women who take it as seriously as John Boswell did.


Farewell, My Queen
Farewell, My Queen
by Chantal Thomas
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, 9 Jan 2013
This review is from: Farewell, My Queen (Paperback)
First published in French and recently adapted into a movie, starring Diane Kruger and Lea Seydoux, "Farewell, My Queen" tells the story of the last three days in the palace of Versailles from the point-of-view of a fictional servant, whose job it is to read aloud to the Queen while she takes her morning coffee. The novel, narrated in the first person, gives free rein to the servant-girl's obsessive devotion to Marie-Antoinette and it brilliantly captures the rising tide of panic as the full impact of the storming of the Bastille reaches the court. At times, it feels like the translation into English may have diminished some of the text's drama, but it remains a very good book and its presentation of Marie-Antoinette, more sympathetic and perhaps slightly more enigmatic than in the movie adaptation, is astonishing. A beautifully-written novel from a very knowledgeable historian.


Evita, First Lady: A Biography of EVA Peron
Evita, First Lady: A Biography of EVA Peron
by John Barnes
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An easily-read biography of a very famous woman, 9 Jan 2013
This is not a sympathetic biography of Argentina's notorious first lady, although it's nowhere near as harsh as Mary Main's book "Evita: The Woman with the Whip", which provided the inspiration for the famous musical based on Evita's life and death. Barnes presents Evita as shallow, materialistic and addicted to fame - although also charismatic and emotionally-intelligent. There isn't much that's "new" in this biography of Eva Peron, but it's well-written and very enjoyable.


The Pursuit of the Heiress: Aristocratic Marriage in Ireland 1750 - 1820
The Pursuit of the Heiress: Aristocratic Marriage in Ireland 1750 - 1820
by A.P.W. Malcomson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.45

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful book, 9 Jan 2013
A.P.W. Malcomson's account of marriage between, and in to, the Irish aristocracy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is a beautiful book to look at and fascinating to read. Full of illustrations, Malcomson discusses the extent to which class, money, land and love influenced how the aristocrats of the Irish Ascendancy picked their mates. He's particularly interesting on those who married "in" to the Ascendancy, although at times his attempts to be utterly thorough can make the book a little tough-going for the casual reader. (Perhaps not necessarily a bad thing!) For anyone interested in Ireland's famous Protestant Ascendancy, and probably for someone who has already done a bit of reading on them, "The Pursuit of the Heiress" is a good recommendation and I'm glad I own a copy of it.


A Brief Life of the Queen
A Brief Life of the Queen
by Robert Lacey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 7.58

4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction, 9 Jan 2013
A short but succinct life of the current Sovereign, Robert Lacey's book is beautifully illustrated and a sympathetic approach to the life of Elizabeth II. A few members of the Royal Family, namely the current Prince of Wales, do not emerge too well from Lacey's narrative and he doesn't gloss over the Queen's rage at her courtiers' advice during the weeks after Princess Diana's death in 1997, but overall this is a fast-moving and convincing biography of one of the most successful leaders of the modern age.


Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown
Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown
by Maureen Waller
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A compelling story, 9 Jan 2013
"Ungrateful Daughters" the ugly side of the Glorious Revolution, the event still celebrated to the skies today by Ireland's Orange Order. By examining the events from the point-of-view of each major member of the Royal Family in 1688-1690, Maureen Waller delivers a devastatingly unpleasant story of filial betrayal and deceit. The one truly likable character to emerge from the entire sordid narrative is Maria-Beatrice of Modena, the Italian princess who was destined to become the last Catholic queen of Britain, when she married the future James II. In 1688, she was horribly traduced by her two stepdaughters, when they unfairly accused her of smuggling an impostor-baby into her rooms, to pass it off as the long-awaited Catholic heir. Armed with this smear campaign, Maria-Beatrice's son-in-law, William of Orange, invaded England, whipped up into anti-Catholic terror, and seized the throne, completing his victorious transformation into William III two years later at the Battle of the Boyne. Passionate, well-argued and moving, "Ungrateful Daughters" was a very good read.


Shiverton Hall
Shiverton Hall
by Emerald Fennell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.24

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A glorious return to proper ghost stories!, 7 Jan 2013
This review is from: Shiverton Hall (Paperback)
"Shiverton Hall" is Emerald Fennell's debut novel and it's a fantastically ghoulish horror story set in an English boarding school, which the novel's lead character, Arthur Bannister, wins a free pass to attend, in a moment of good luck that seems to answer all of his life's many problems. (Needless to say, it does not.) School being school, however, and there is a clique at Shiverton out to make Arthur's first term there a living hell; in the hope of distracting him, his best friend begins to regale Arthur with tales of the Hall's spooky past and the legend of a curse lying on the school.

Flipping between the past and the present, "Shiverton Hall" is a compulsively page-turning ghost story in the grand old tradition of genuine supernatural twists, turns, mysteries and ghouls. It's as far removed from the slasher movies of present day and there's more than a whiff of glorious Victoriana about the novel's setting and its story-line. "Shiverton Hall" reminded me why horror can be so fantastic when it's done right. A shiver-inducing ride through the most atmospheric boarding school since Hogwarts and a stunning debut novel, "Shiverton Hall" is ghost stories like they should be. Fantastic characters, beautiful writing and good old fashioned thrills.


The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family
The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family
by Mary S. Lovell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.09

5.0 out of 5 stars The surprising lives of it-girls, 6 Nov 2012
As their parents lamented, the lives of the six Mitford sisters - Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Decca and Deborah - seemed to be the stuff of dreams for the tabloids. Nancy became a bestselling novelist and a muse of Christian Dior; Pamela, like all the girls, mixed in the highest levels of British society; Diana left a millionaire to marry the leader of the British Union of Fascists; Unity made friends with Hitler; Decca ran off to fight for the Communists, and Deborah married a duke.

In itself, the story of the Mitfords would make for a fascinating biography. However, what makes Mary Lovell's book stand out is its ability to take its subjects' lives seriously. Most of the Mitfords had a wickedly wry sense of humour, they were very attractive, fashionable and they mixed with a veritable who's-who of mid-twentieth century politicos, authors, socialites and royals. Given all that, it would be possible to write a book that was essentially nothing more than page-turning froth. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, of course, but Lovell reminds us that in many ways the Mitford family's story is a story of the twentieth century. Growing up in an age of political and economic chaos, the sisters all reacted in very different (and often appalling) ways. Along with being a tale of love, loss, sibling rivalry, sibling closeness and high society, "The Mitford Girls" is also a story about the clash of communism and fascism, the crisis of mid-century democracy, the social changes of the century and the decline of the British Empire and aristocracy.

A compulsively readable and movingly written story - and an excellent example of a biographer's craft.


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