Get lost in the decadence, romance, and turbulence of the sixteenth century. These historical accounts are so full of drama and fascinating characters that you might just think you’re reading fiction! (And the cover art on many of these titles is fantastic Halloween costume inspiration!)
Henry VIII’s Last Love
In 1533 Katherine Willoughby married Charles Brandon, Henry VIII’s closest friend. She would go on to serve at the court of every Tudor monarch bar Henry VII and Mary Tudor. Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen, she became a powerful woman ruling over her houses at Grimsthorpe and Tattershall in Lincolnshire and wielding subtle influence through her proximity to the king.
She grew to know Henry well and in 1538, only three months after Jane Seymour’s death, it was reported that they had been ‘masking and visiting’ together. In 1543 she became a lady-in-waiting to his sixth wife Catherine Parr. Henry had a reputation for tiring of his wives once the excitement of the pursuit was over, and in February 1546, only six months after Charles Brandon’s death, it was rumoured that Henry intended to wed Katherine himself if he could end his present marriage. But Henry changed his mind at the last moment, and Katherine Willoughby never became his seventh queen.
Hers was a life of privilege mixed with tragedy and danger, losing both her sons to illness and being forced into exile in Poland beyond ‘Bloody’ Mary’s clutches. But Katherine kept her head on her shoulders when many of her contemporaries lost theirs for lesser reasons.
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The years when she brought delight, desire and disgust to Shakespeare came after the Spanish Armada of 1588 and before the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a long, unsettled period of theater, music, warfare and brutal death. Those years were dramatically rich. Shakespeare wrote plays including Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night, and King Lear. And he met the ‘Dark Lady’. She was musical, alluring, married and faithless. Shakespeare never identified her. Scholars have – but for different women. She was well-born, or a slut, or a housewife, even a phantom of Shakespeare’s poetical mind. She was an anchor and agony to him. His sonnets sang of her loveliness and cursed her for her infidelity.
The quest to discover her name began in Elizabeth I’s reign, became an obsession in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and continues today. Card-sharps challenge passers by to ‘find the lady’ from one of the three playing-cards shown, turned upside-down and shuffled. Take your pick. Aubrey Burl’s challenge also is to find her. But there is no deception. The ‘Dark Lady’ can be found in Shakespeare’s unshuffled sonnets.
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The Lucky Queen
Queen Victoria was Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, a symbol of its great age of power and imperialism. But her life could so easily have been cut short.
Just three years after she ascended to the throne, a humble ‘pot-boy’ left the house with two guns bulging from his trouser pockets and a feeling of purpose and determination. fired a brace of pistols at her from just six paces away. She escaped unharmed, but amazingly there were seven further attacks or attempts on her life over the next forty-seven years.
The perpetrators were a mixture of madmen, attention-seekers, and fiends: the unemployed carpenter who ended up transported to the hell of a labor camp in Van Dieman’s Land, the midget news vendor who eventually took his own life, the army officer who dressed as a dandy, the disaffected artist, and the Fenian terrorists.
Through it all there is Victoria; how she coped with the fear and became a symbol of resolve and determination.
Each chapter of this book captures the drama of the attack and uncovers the would-be assassin’s motives, describing their lives up to that point, their trial and sentence, and what became of them afterwards. Extensive original research in England and Australia has uncovered fascinating new detail that makes for an absorbing read.
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In 1756, Anna Amalia, the nineteen-year-old princess of the House of Brunswick was married to Constantine, the young duke of the minor duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. She bore Constantine two sons, but only three years after their marriage he died, leaving the young and inexperienced girl as regent. Anna Amalia battled against court intrigues and financial pressures, but succeeded in holding the estates together for her eldest son, Karl August. Through times of famine and distress she succeeded in building a center of culture and of excellence, encouraging men of letters and learning to her tiny court. In 1775 Wolfgang Goethe joined the circle at Weimar, brought about through his friendship with the young Karl August, Anna’s son, recently become the reigning duke. Goethe soon entered into the dowager duchess’s literary circle and through their combined efforts, Weimar became a beacon of culture and one of the leading centers of the sentimentalist movement that became renowned throughout Europe as a literary and artistic grouping that emerged in response to the crisis of Enlightenment rationalism. In Weimar it took the form of Sturm und Drang, [storm and stress] which was intimately associated Goethe and Schiller. While a student at Strasbourg, Goethe had made the acquaintance of Johann Gottfried von Herder, another of Anna Amalia’s Weimar coterie, famous for his novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774); [The Sorrows of Young Werther], which epitomized the spirit of the movement, and which made him world famous, inspiring a host of imitators. Through the crisis of wars Anna’s circle held together – even through Napoleon’s unwelcome entrance to Weimar in 1806. Anna finally bowed to the world in the following year, after reigning supreme as Germany’s cultural ambassadress for a period of more than thirty years.
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The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII
For a king renowned for his love life, Henry VIII has traditionally been depicted as something of a prude, but the story may have been different for the women who shared his bed. How did they take the leap from courtier to lover, to wife? What was Henry really like as a lover?
Henry’s women were uniquely placed to experience the tension between his chivalric ideals and the lusts of the handsome, tall, athletic king; his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, was, on one level, a fairy-tale romance but his affairs with Anne Stafford, Elizabeth Carew and Jane Popincourt undermined it early on. Later, his more established mistresses, Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, risked their good names by bearing him illegitimate children. Typical of his time, Henry did not feel that casual liaisons could threaten his marriage, until he met the one woman who held him at arm’s length. The arrival of Anne Boleyn changed everything. Her seductive eyes helped rewrite history. After their passionate marriage turned sour, the king rapidly remarried to Jane Seymour. Her death in childbirth left him alone, without wife or lover, for the first time in decades. In the quest for a new queen, he scoured the courts of Europe, obsessed with the beautiful Christina of Milan, whose rejection of him spurred him into the arms of Anne of Cleves and soon after the lively teenager Catherine Howard. Henry’s final years were spent with the elegant and accomplished widow Catherine Parr, who sacrificed personal pleasure for duty by marrying him while her heart was bestowed elsewhere.
What was it like for these women to share Henry’s bed, bear his children or sit on the English throne? He was a man of great appetites, ready to move heaven and earth for a woman he desired; their experiences need to be readdressed in a frank, modern take on the affairs of his heart. What was it really like to be Mrs Henry VIII?
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Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon was a central figure in one of the most dramatic and formative events of Tudor history – England’s breach with Rome after a thousand years of fidelity. She lived through traumatic and revolutionary times and her personal drama was played out against dramas of global significance. The heroic and dignified first wife of Henry VIII who was cast aside for reasons of dynastic ambition, but who resolutely and unbendingly stuck to her principles and her dignity at enormous cost to herself.
Catherine’s story tells so much about the exercise of power, and about being married to a lover who became – slowly but perceptibly – a tyrant in public life and a monster in his private affairs.
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Ever since she first appeared in the Tudor court, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second queen, has been a mystery and a source of controversy. Even her birth is shrouded in obscurity; both year and place are the subject of debate. Was she beautiful, as those who fell under her spell believed, or was she a rather plain girl blessed with striking eyes and a wealth of black hair?
More mysterious still is the nature of her role in one of the most turbulent times in British history. Henry, who wrote her impassioned love letters and composed songs in her praise, honored her as no woman was ever honored before, and finally defied the Pope in order to marry her. Her enemies at the time believed she owed her success to witchcraft, and indeed she bore two ‘devil’s marks’. But was she, in fact, only a hapless pawn, subject to the passions of a notoriously mercurial autocrat? Why was her fall from favor so sudden and complete? Henry’s love changed to a hatred so vicious that he conspired with his chief minister to have her accused of adultery with five men – one her own brother. Four of them went to the block protesting her innocence – and their own.
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Born in the midst of the Wars of the Roses, Margaret Beaufort became the greatest heiress of her time. She survived a turbulent life, marrying four times and enduring imprisonment before passing her claim to the crown of England to her son, Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs.
Margaret’s royal blood placed her on the fringes of the Lancastrian royal dynasty. After divorcing her first husband at the age of ten, she married the king’s half-brother, Edmund Tudor, becoming a widow and bearing her only child, the future Henry VII, before her fourteenth birthday. Margaret was always passionately devoted to the interests of her son who claimed the throne through her. She embroiled herself in both treason and conspiracy as she sought to promote his claims, allying herself with the Yorkist Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, in an attempt to depose Richard III. She was imprisoned by Richard and her lands confiscated, but she continued to work on her son’s behalf, ultimately persuading her fourth husband, the powerful Lord Stanley, to abandon the king in favor of Henry on the eve of the decisive Battle of Bosworth. It was Lord Stanley himself who placed the crown on Henry’s head on the battlefield.
Henry VII gave his mother unparalleled prominence during his reign. She established herself as an independent woman and ended her life as regent of England, ruling on behalf of her seventeen-year-old grandson, Henry VIII.
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