Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance
When the tall, athletic Edward of York seized the English throne in 1461, he could have chosen any bride he wanted. With his dazzling looks and royal descent, the nineteen-year-old quickly got a reputation for womanizing, with few able to resist his charm and promises. For three years he had a succession of mistresses, mostly among the married women and widows of his court, while foreign princesses were lined up to be considered as his queen. Then he fell in love.
The woman who captured the king was a widow, five years his elder. While her contemporaries and later historians have been divided over her character, none have denied the extent of her blonde beauty. Elizabeth Wydeville had previously been married to a Lancastrian knight, who had lost his life fighting against the Yorkists. When she tried to petition the king to help restore her son’s inheritance, reputedly waiting for him under an oak tree, the young Edward was immediately spellbound. But this did not prove to be just another fling. Conscious of her honor and her future, Elizabeth repelled his advances. His answer was to make her his wife.
It was to prove an unpopular decision. Since then Edward’s queen has attracted extreme reactions, her story and connections reported by hostile chroniclers, her actions interpreted in the bleakest of lights. It is time for a reassessment of the tumultuous life of the real White Queen and her husband.
The Sister Queens: Isabella and Catherine de Valois
Isabella de Valois was 3 years old when, on a hot August day in 1392, her father suddenly went mad. Less than four years later, she was married by proxy to the English King Richard II and arrived in England with a French retinue and her doll’s house. Richard’s humiliating deposition and brutal murder by his cousin, the future Henry IV, forced Isabella’s desperate return to France where she found her country fatally divided. Isabella’s sister, Catherine de Valois, became the beautiful young bride of Henry V and is unique in history for being the daughter of a king, the wife of a king, the mother of a king and the grandmother of a king. Like her sister, Catherine was viewed as a bargaining chip in times of political turmoil, yet her passionate love affair with the young Owain Tudor established the entire Tudor dynasty and set in motion one of the most fascinating periods of British history. The Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, exile and conflict in a time when even royal women had to fight for survival.
by Peter Lake
Bad Queen Bess? analyses the back and forth between the Elizabethan regime and various Catholic critics, who, from the early 1570s to the early 1590s, sought to characterise that regime as a conspiracy of evil counsel. Through a genre novel – the libellous secret history – to English political discourse, various (usually anonymous) Catholic authors claimed to reveal to the public what was ‘really happening’ behind the curtain of official lies and disinformation with which the clique of evil counsellors at the heart of the Elizabethan state habitually cloaked their sinister manoeuvres. Elements within the regime, centred on William Cecil and his circle, replied to these assaults with their own species of plot talk and libellous secret history, specialising in conspiracy-driven accounts of the Catholic, Marian, and then, latterly, Spanish threats.
Peter Lake presents a series of (mutually constitutive) moves and counter moves, in the course of which the regime’s claims to represent a form of public political virtue, to speak for the commonweal and true religion, elicited from certain Catholic critics a simply inverted rhetoric of private political vice, persecution, and tyranny. The resulting exchanges are read not only as a species of ‘political thought’, but as a way of thinking about politics as process and of distinguishing between ‘politics’ and ‘religion’. They are also analysed as modes of political communication and pitch-making – involving print, circulating manuscripts, performance, and rumour – and thus as constitutive of an emergent mode of ‘public politics’ and perhaps of a ‘post reformation public sphere’. While the focus is primarily English, the origins and imbrication of these texts within, and their direct address to, wider European events and audiences is always present. The aim is thus to contribute simultaneously to the political, cultural, intellectual, and religious histories of the period.
On Display: Henrietta Maria and the Materials of Magnificence at the Stuart Court (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
In the early modern period, rulers demonstrated their power and influence through carefully curated ‘display’ – their presence in court ceremonies, their palaces and their contents, and their portraits. Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669), queen consort of King Charles I of England, embraced these opportunities for display with particular flair. This richly illustrated book follows Henrietta Maria through and beyond the Bourbon and Stuart courts to chart her patronage and engagement with the visual arts, building works, and the luxury trade. It develops a powerful picture not just of the images, fashions, interiors, and buildings shaped by the queen’s directorial influence but also of the political and religious factors that governed her choices and policies of court display. Her cultural patronage in particular emphasized her family honor, dynastic clout, Catholic piety, feminine virtue, and discerning taste.Erin Griffey analyzes the full spectacle of the queen’s represented image, not only through the well-known portraits by Sir Anthony van Dyck but also through her rich bed ensembles, tapestries, jewelry, clothing, and devotional goods-the objects that embodied and conveyed her royal power.
The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas
From New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir comes the first biography of Margaret Douglas, the beautiful, cunning niece of Henry VIII of England who used her sharp intelligence and covert power to influence the succession after the death of Elizabeth I.
Royal Tudor blood ran in her veins. Her mother was a queen, her father an earl, and she herself was the granddaughter, niece, cousin, and grandmother of monarchs. Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, was an important figure in Tudor England, yet today, while her contemporaries—Anne Boleyn, Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I—have achieved celebrity status, she is largely forgotten.
Margaret’s life was steeped in intrigue, drama, and tragedy—from her auspicious birth in 1530 to her parents’ bitter divorce, from her ill-fated love affairs to her appointment as lady-in-waiting for four of Henry’s six wives. In an age when women were expected to stay out of the political arena, alluring and tempestuous Margaret helped orchestrate one of the most notorious marriages of the sixteenth century: that of her son Lord Darnley to Mary, Queen of Scots. Margaret defiantly warred with two queens—Mary, and Elizabeth of England—and was instrumental in securing the Stuart ascension to the throne of England for her grandson, James VI.
The life of Margaret Douglas spans five reigns and provides many missing links between the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. Drawing on decades of research and myriad original sources—including many of Margaret’s surviving letters—Alison Weir brings this captivating character out of the shadows and presents a strong, capable woman who operated effectively and fearlessly at the very highest levels of power.
The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen
England, late 1547. Henry VIII is dead. His 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth is living with the old king’s widow Catherine Parr and her new husband Thomas Seymour. Ambitious, charming and dangerous, Seymour begins an overt flirtation with Elizabeth that ends in her being sent away by Catherine.
When Catherine dies in autumn 1548 and Seymour is arrested for treason soon after, the scandal explodes into the open. Alone and in dreadful danger, Elizabeth is closely questioned by the king’s regency council: Was she still a virgin? Was there a child? Had she promised to marry Seymour? In her replies, she shows the shrewdness and spirit she would later be famous for. She survives the scandal. Thomas Seymour is not so lucky.
The Seymour Scandal led to the creation of the Virgin Queen. On hearing of Seymour’s beheading, Elizabeth observed ‘This day died a man of much wit, and very little judgement’. His fate remained with her. She would never allow her heart to rule her head again.
The Romanovs: 1613-1918
The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?
This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, and peopled by a cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy, from Queen Victoria to Lenin.
To rule Russia was both imperial-sacred mission and poisoned chalice: six tsars were murdered and all the Romanovs lived under constant threat to their lives. Peter the Great tortured his own son to death while making Russia an empire, and dominated his court with a dining club notable for compulsory drunkenness, naked dwarfs and fancy dress. Catherine the Great overthrew her own husband – who was murdered soon afterwards – loved her young male favourites, conquered Ukraine and fascinated Europe. Paul was strangled by courtiers backed by his own son, Alexander I, who faced Napoleon’s invasion and the burning of Moscow, then went on to take Paris. Alexander II liberated the serfs, survived five assassination attempts, and wrote perhaps the most explicit love letters ever written by a ruler. THE ROMANOVS climaxes with a fresh, unforgettable portrayal of Nicholas and Alexandra, the rise and murder of Rasputin, war and revolution – and the harrowing massacre of the entire family.
Written with dazzling literary flair, drawing on new archival research, THE ROMANOVS is at once an enthralling story of triumph and tragedy, love and death, a universal study of power, and an essential portrait of the empire that still defines Russia today.