La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters Hardcover – 15 Feb 2018
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‘Exciting, authoritative and compelling – a book that does full justice to a much-neglected Tudor figure.’ (Dr Josephine Wilkinson)
‘This is a sympathetic insight into a frequently overlooked Tudor and her world. Sarah Bryson has created an absorbing narrative of Mary’s life and character, including a wealth of fascinating detail that will be a valuable read for anyone interested in the period.’ (Amy Licence)
About the Author
Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She has run a website dedicated to Tudor history for many years and has written for various websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and “QueenAnneBoleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade. She is the author of books on Mary Boleyn, Charles Brandon and La Reine Blanche. She lives in Australia.
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Whilst Sarah Bryson has obviously done a massive amount of research, judging by the references given in the bibliography, I became increasingly annoyed with the absence of even the most basic editing and the writing style was, in my opinion, somewhat lacking in sophistication, being rather repetitive at times.
The text was full of spelling mistakes, grammatical oddities and typographical errors; for example it seemed the author couldn't make up her mind whether she was writing about Lambert Simnel or Simnel Lambert (I was reminded of Sellar and Yeatman's "1066 And All That"); Margaret Beaufort appeared occasionally as Margaret Beautford and the list went on. The Sack of Rome in 1527 was stated as having happened on 1 June when, in fact it was 6 May which made me wonder if any other facts were mis-stated. It honestly felt as though someone had grabbed the first draft of the book and gone straight to publication without any proof-reading or editing which was unfortunate, as this could have been a really good biography,
Naturally, other sources were consulted to obtain information on Mary's life and times, particularly in her early years, but the book was based mostly on the letters by and about Mary where these had survived. Unfortunately, Ms Bryson had the habit of leading up to a particular point that she wanted to make, then presenting the text of the letter as supporting evidence, which is what would be expected, but then following this up immediately afterwards with a precis of the letter just quoted, before continuing with the narrative or argument under discussion. Certainly, where the letter was given with its original old English spelling, it might be necessary for some clarification (although with a bit of concentration, it wasn't too hard to work it out, apart from words peculiar to that era) but not when the text was given in modern English and spoke for itself. Conversely, letters that contained the original French, Latin or obsolete phrases were not always translated or commented on. Indeed, one of the main threads of the book and a point constantly stressed by Ms Bryson was that Mary, after the death of her first husband, King Louis XII of France, insisted on styling herself Mary Queen (or Dowager Queen) of France, even after her marriage to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. However, on both occasions when the Latin inscription on a painting believed to be Mary was quoted, everything was translated except the telling phrase "queen of the French" which was completely omitted. I am not sure whether this was simply an oversight or whether Ms Bryson was relying on someone else to translate any Latin. Having said that, even a rusty O level education (or, for that matter, Google!) might have supplied the deficiency.
I don't usually give such a critical review but I was very disappointed with what could have been an engrossing read.
For me, some of the most fascinating aspects of Mary's story are her decision to risk her brother's anger by marrying for love, and her reaction to Henry VIII's decision to divorce Queen Catherine. Sarah does an excellent job of uncovering the complex manoeuvring behind Mary's marriage to Charles Brandon, although I would have liked to see more on her reaction to the king's 'great matter.'
I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Tudor history and hope readers will note how Sarah Bryson dispels the many annoying myths surrounding Mary, including that she was never called Mary Rose or Mary Brandon. There is also a much-needed final chapter about the portraits of Mary, several of which are often wrongly attributed to her.
The author notes in her introduction that the Tudor age was a period dominated by men, but there were nonetheless many strong, independent and intellectually gifted women, one of which she asserts was Mary, the youngest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. As this book, a chronological biography, progresses, it is difficult to argue otherwise with Bryson’s opinion.
La Reine Blanche covers Mary’s life, and in fact pre-life in the case of the opening chapter exploring the origins of the Tudors, following her early life as part-princess, part-martial pawn, including a commendably detailed look at her childhood betrothal to Archduke Charles, before exploring her brief tenure as Queen of France after she was married at eighteen to the elderly Louis XII in October 1514. The union was part of a treaty between Mary’s brother Henry VIII and her new husband, but the French king only lived three more months. Mary, however, was proud of her rank as Queen of France, and in fact, Bryson tells us, she never stopped referring to herself as such, despite a subsequent marriage.
That remarriage was her controversial decision to wed Charles Brandon, her brother’s close friend and the parvenu Duke of Suffolk, shortly after King Louis’ death, behind the back of the English king to whom they were forced to beg for forgiveness after the fact. What does this impulsive act say about Mary Tudor, a renowned beauty? Bryson tells us it proves it was an “opportunity to show the strong, self-willed, determined woman she had always been”, and this is an understatement. It was a remarkable decision, followed by a fascinating period in which she was forced to beg her brother’s forgiveness through a series of letters.
It is these letters where Bryson’s book has particular worth. Too often narrative history books only carry the odd line or two of contemporary sources, and often even then it is a famous excerpt that is repeated across the board. Bryson has utilised scores of letters written to and from Mary, or involving matters relating to her, and more often than not has included them the source in full, which is refreshing in allowing the reader to formulate their own opinion on the topic in question. In short, we are treated not only to Mary’s story in Bryson’s words, but also Mary’s story in Mary’s words.
We also discover, through these letters, just how wise Mary was, conjuring up all her wiles to convince her brother to forgive her marriage to Brandon, flattering him until he submitted. Bryson is astute when she notes that Mary “was able to manipulate the men around her, to convince them of her loyalty and to gain her heart’s desire by playing the weak female. She wept, she feared for her life, she worried and played herb role perfectly, all the while manoeuvring the men to her purpose; a marriage of her own choosing”. Tudors more often than not got their way, and Mary was no different, even when the person she was up against was her own flesh and blood. How many others went against Henry VIII and lived to tell the tale?
In short, La Reine Blanche is a passionate and detailed account that is a welcome addition to the Tudor genre, in which Sarah Bryson does justice to the extraordinary life and times of Mary Tudor. Essential reading to gain a fresh perspective of the early years in the most famous royal court in English history
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Sarah has done an absolutely brilliant job bringing Mary Tudor back to life and it was a real treat and honor to learn about a woman I can honestly say reminds me a bit of my mum and myself from Mary's own words and from the words of people around her. Mary clearly was a woman with a brilliant mind and was not afraid to use it to survive in a world where women were considered little more than property and as a means of producing the next generation and Sarah has been able to showcase that wonderfully considering Mary was sadly vastly forgotten next to the massive presences that were her older brother, sisters-in-law and second husband.
I will definitely be keeping this book on my shelf and recommending it to anyone wanting to venture into the Tudor era and the early reign of King Henry VIII.