Well, that’s another month finished in our 2018 Online Reading Challenge! How was your month? What did you read (or watch)?
I read – and enjoyed – Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen which is about Elizabeth Woodville who was married to King Edward IV. It might help you to place who she was when you realize she was the mother of the Princes in the Tower, the two young boys who disappeared from the Tower of London and were never found. Her story takes place toward the bitter end of the War of the Roses – the York family vs the Lancasters. Often called the Cousins War, it raged for more than 30 years pitting families against each other.
Elizabeth is a young widow from a Lancaster family whose lands have been confiscated by the Yorks, currently in power. She goes to the new king, Edward IV to beg for her inheritance and she and the King fall in love. She refuses to become his mistress and so he marries her in secret. Because she has no political influence, the marriage is opposed and even challenged by Edward’s advisors but Edward stands by his vows. Gregory depicts the marriage as a love match at a time when most if not all royal marriages were for political gain or to strengthen diplomatic ties. Edward and Elizabeth had ten children and their reign was prosperous and encouraged the advancement of science and the arts. Edward was a popular with the people, but he constantly had to go to battle to put down uprisings from other claimants to the crown including his best friend and former adviser and even his own brother. When Edward died suddenly after a short illness, the battle for the crown became even more intense despite his having left two male heirs.
Throughout all this bloodshed, the women wait. They keep the households running and the children educated and they grieve. But they also plot and influence and sometimes turn the tide of battle. Gregory characterizes Elizabeth and her mother as witches (both were accused and her mother arrested for being witches) who are able to whistle up a storm or commune with Melusine, a water spirit. The magic is incidental and well within the framework of historical record, but shows Elizabeth as powerful in her own right. A brilliant strategist with a spine of steel, she commands respect. The book ends before Elizabeth’s story is finished; I may read the next in the series, The White Princess, to see what happens when her daughter becomes Queen.
I like history and very much enjoyed seeing this distant time through the eyes of a woman. Of course, we can’t know exactly what was said in conversation, or understand what influenced and swayed decisions, but Gregory creates plausible scenarios and speculates on several mysteries especially what might have happened to the Princes in the Tower. All of the fighting and disloyalty does become tiresome though – people changed allegiances constantly, turncoats (sometimes in the midst of battle) and backstabbers. And the English really need to branch out with the names – so many Richards and Edwards and Henrys – it’s difficult to keep them straight!
Now it’s your turn – what did you read in October?
How is your October going, reading-wise? Have you found something to read yet? Or are you still looking? Maybe a movie will be your choice this month. Here are a few suggestions.
A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger. The rousing story of lowborn William Thatcher’s quest to change his stars, win the heart of an exceedingly fair maiden and rock his medieval world. Follow this fearless squire and his band of medieval misfits as they careen their way toward impossible glory that’s part romance, part road trip and part exuberant swashbuckling.
Kingdom of Heaven starring Orlando Bloom and Eva Green. Balian, a young Frenchman in Medieval Jerusalem during the Crusades, having lost everything, finds redemption in a heroic fight against overwhelming forces to save his people and fulfill his destiny as a knight.
The White Queen produced by the BBC and based on the novel by Phillipa Gregory. A riveting portrayal of one of the most dramatic and turbulent times in English history. A story of love and lust, seduction and deception, betrayal and murder, it is uniquely told through the perspective of three different, yet equally relentless women – Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Anne Neville. In their quest for power, they will scheme, manipulate and seduce their way onto the English throne.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail. OK, admittedly, this one is somewhat lacking in historical accuracy. But! So funny! So British! “It’s just a flesh wound”! “Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries”! The quest for the Holy Grail by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is retold in the inimitable Python fashion. Enjoy.
Hello Online Reading Challenge Readers! Welcome to October!
This month we’re going to explore the Medieval (or Middle Ages) time period which lasted roughly from 600 to 1500. In Europe, it is generally considered to end with the fall of King Richard III in 1485 when the Tudors came to power but there was no general announcement declaring the start of the Renaissance. A lot of the books from our suggestions will bleed into the Renaissance but remember, there are no Library Police! Read what interests you!
There are a couple of go-to authors for this time period that have written multiple books. If one of them especially appeals to you, you’ll be set with great reading material for a long time.
Bernard Cornwell. Best known for his Sharpe series (set during the Napoleonic Wars), Cornwell has also written series set during the Middle Ages including The Warlord Chronicles (set during Arthurian Britain), The Grail Quest (set in 14th century Europe) and The Last Kingdom series (set in Saxon times of the 9th century)
Philippa Gregory. Well loved for her series of books about the Tudor queens, Gregory has also written extensively about the Plantagenets, the family that was overthrown by the Tudors. Titles set during the Middle Ages include The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.
Sharon Kay Penman writes huge, extensive books about the Middle Ages. They are an investment in time but well worth it as you are swept into the story. Titles include The Sunne in Splendor and Lionheart. I especially recommend Here Be Dragons about the illegitimate daughter of King John of England who is forced to marry a minor Welsh lord.
Other interesting books from this time period include The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and, for the classics, The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. I also recommend Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mystery series. And it will take some tracking down but don’t miss Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. An older book, it follows a present-day police officer, laid up because of a broken leg, investigating the true story of Richard III (he might not have been the monster that Shakespeare presented). It’s intriguing and insightful and reminds us that the victors write the history books; there’s always another side to the story.
I am planning on reading Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen. I’m hoping the appeal of English historical fiction will get me back on the Challenge track! What about you? What are you reading this month?
For a fun and scandalous look into the history of royal matches, pick up Leslie Carroll’s Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny and Desire. Carroll covers a long history of royal marriages beginning with Eleanor of Aquitaine in the Middle Ages and ending with the divorce of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. A few of the gems in Notorious Royal Marriages include:
*King Henry VIII’s six marriages in which he had two wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, beheaded;
*Emperor Franz Joseph and his cousin bride Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria whose marriage started out with promise but became cold and impersonal after the tragic death of two of their children and her eating disorder;
*Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia whose love story ended when they and their five children were killed during the Russian Revolution;
*British ruler King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson’s marriage in which the ruling monarch gave up the British crown to marry the twice divorced American.
Each couple has their own chapter so it is easy to for you to skip around the book easily, too. You may think you know many of these stories, but Carroll adds new information that makes it difficult to put the book down!