Mary’s birth in 1515, by Rosalind K. Marshall

Geri, The History Lady:

On this day was born Mary Queen of Scots’ mother, who had all the political finesse and sensitivity that her daughter needed!

Originally posted on Marie de Guise-Lorraine 1515-2015:

The 500th birthday of Marie of Lorraine or Mary of Guise approaches. As opening of this special event follows an extract of a book written in 1977 that has pulled Marie out of oblivion. By publishing Mary’s first biography, its author, historian and art historian Rosalind K. Marshall, has restored the life and historical importance of a woman born in November 1515 in the duchy of Bar, a little girl who was to become a courageous and intelligent woman, and a queen and queen regent of Scotland.

On 20 November 1515 in the Castle of Bar-le-Duc, perched high on its rock above the river Ornain, the young Countess of Guise gave birth to a daughter. The baby was her first, and she lay in her great bed watching her women bustling around the child, Antoinette was well content. The dangers of the last few months were now past…

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Skea’s sequel – “A House Divided” is even better than “Turn of the Tide”

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Margaret Skea’s brilliant second novel in the Munro family series.

I’ll tell the truth, shall I?  I have been a bit annoyed with some of the historical fiction I’ve read recently.  It is my fault for choosing too many books with the storyline “girl goes to court, meets [insert royal figure], chaos ensues.” This storyline seems prevalent in the Tudor/Elizabethan novels I’ve read. The cure for my malaise? Reading Scottish historical fiction.

Margaret Skea has just this month published the sequel – “A House Divided”  – to her first novel; “Turn of the Tide,” which I savored over several weeks and just finished this weekend.  I loved the first book (see review here) and this one was, I thought, even better. That makes some sense – an author learns a lot between book one and book two.  Skea has skillfully woven a gripping story set again primarily in Ayrshire about the Cunninghame-Montgomerie feud in a restless time period when superstition and witch trials were on the rise. She has done her research – knows the landscape, the history of the feud, and has given it all perfect context with the Munro’s story.

“A House Divided” continues the story of the Munro family, forced into hiding from Glencairn’s heir, the great arch-villain of the series, William Cunninghame.  In the sequel, William Cunninghame has taken possession of the Munro home at Broomelaw and is rebuilding the tower and surrounding holdings for himself. Adam Munro is in France, fighting with the Scots Garde for the French Henri IV.  Kate Munro has taken the surname Grant, and is living with her children at Braidstane – a Montgomerie stronghold.

There’s great dramatic tension from the get-go.  Kate makes a living as a “wise woman” – a cross between a herbalist and midwife.  It is a dangerous occupation in late 16th Century Scotland, where witchcraft trials have become commonplace.  The trouble begins when Kate is called to help Margaret Maxwell, the wife of a Cunninghame supporter.  It is an understatement to say that this good deed does not go unpunished, and leaves Kate and her family increasingly vulnerable to discovery.  Kate is further put at risk when her reputation spreads and she is asked to attend to Queen Anne, the wife of James VI.   Like any good healer she goes where and when she must – even with a high chance of seeing Maxwell and William Cunninghame there.

Court?! Yes, there were a few trips to Court – the Court of James VI to be exact – but the characters in the novel are not conduits who get involved in the affairs of the Court, rather the opposite – which of course saves it from my perturbation with the “girl goes to Court” theme.

I loved this book – the way the tension rose and dipped and then rose higher, dipped in brief resolution and rose again – finally to a great crescendo.  I suspected early on what was coming but that in no way diminished the grip the novel had on me.  I can’t spoil it for you. I was on tenterhooks.  I suppose I will never be sure what a novelist will do to their characters since Eddard Stark died, so I could not be sure of the ending.  I was all-in for the journey – and you will be too.

For lovers of Scotland, Scottish history, and historical fiction more broadly, this is a great read. It left me wondering what the Munro’s will do next.  That’s a good sign – ready for no. 3!

Loch Leven Castle

Geri, The History Lady:

Very enjoyable post from The Hazel Tree about Loch Leven Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned after her abdication. She escaped – in one of her more daring feats – and roused her supporters. You can’t rewrite history, but you have to wonder what would have happened had she not crossed the Solway into England.

Originally posted on The Hazel Tree:

Loch Leven Castle (Colin) 81It was May Day, 1568, and most of the guests at Loch Leven Castle had had far too much to drink.   The young Willie Douglas, disguised as the Abbot of Unreason, had made sure of that.   In fact, he had a deep and very dangerous reason for doing so, one which would land him in serious trouble if he were found out.

The Queen, although appearing to enjoy the evening’s celebrations, was on tenterhooks, aware that her chance to escape was tantalisingly close.   One of her pearl earrings, given to Willie as a secret token, had been mysteriously returned to her a few days before.  She knew that this was a signal.

As Willie plied the revellers with more alcohol, she muttered something about feeling unwell and slipped upstairs to her room at the top of the tower.  There, aided by her maid, she quickly changed into…

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Saint defeated by Tudor despot in Philippa Gregory’s “King’s Curse”

Great novel, 6th in the Philippa Gregory's Cousin's War series.

The King’s Curse, the 6th novel in Philippa Gregory’s Cousin’s War series. Very well done. Recommended.

You can tell Philippa Gregory enjoyed writing Margaret of Warwick’s story in The King’s Curse – her 6th novel in the Cousin’s War series.  The novel is one of her best, bringing to life one of the great Plantagenet women — one lucky, or canny, enough to survive the Tudor period into old age.  And Margaret is a survivor, adept at hiding her true feelings of grief at the loss of family and fortune and shielding her remaining Plantagenet family.  She was adept at managing courtly intrigue — and keeping secrets.  Secrets like the truth about the marriage of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon, and  the truth about the curse cast by her cousin Elizabeth — a curse that affects the Tudor succession.

Margaret of Warwick was the daughter of Isabelle Neville (one of the Earl of Warwick (aka Kingmaker’s daughters) George, Duke of Clarence — the brother of Edward IV and Richard III.   Even listing Margaret’s famous kin should give you an idea of the tragedies she experienced:  her grandfather the Earl of Warwick was beheaded by Edward IV, her father was drowned in a barrel of Malmsey; and her uncle Richard III was slain on Bosworth field by a victorious Henry VII who eventually executed her brother Edward of Warwick, several cousins, and her eldest son.  The book has several telling family trees that show the Plantagenet’s at the start of Henry VII’s reign and those surviving at the end of Henry VIII.Screenshot 2014-09-25 19.20.42

This was definitely one of my favorite novels in the Cousins’s War.  The first-person narration brings into Margaret’s thoughts, fears and hopes, triumphs and tragedies.  Through Margaret, you understand what it was like to be a Plantagenet in the aftermath of the Tudor victory, on the losing end the War of the Roses and at the mercy of Henry VII and Henry VIII.   Margaret herself was favored by Henry VII — enough that she and her husband attended Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon at Ludlow.  But her fortunes — and those of her family—fall afterwards while Henry VII reigns.  Margaret thinks and hopes that Henry VIII — the son of her good friend and cousin Elizabeth of York — will be a good, merciful King in the style of the Plantagenets.  Her fortune rises again as she waits upon Queen Katherine,  eventually becoming governess to Princess Mary, is named a Countess in her own right and becomes one of the richest people in England.  But Henry is not the King she hoped for and as any student of history knows, so many of those close to Henry VIII found themselves in the Tower awaiting execution.  Margaret’s execution is one of the low points of Henry’s reign, still shocking ~450 years later.

Henry VIII character arc is one of the novels strengths, for me.  I loved the way Gregory portrayed his descent from the good-looking, most-favored ruler in Christendom to the obese, distrusting, vengeful tyrant he became.  His failures as a monarch lead Margaret to  act on the hope for a new rule — Princess Mary — and in that lies her doom.  Gregory does an excellent job of showing the impact of the Dissolution of the Monasteries on the people of England, who lost their long-held traditions as Reformation swept the nobility.

I appreciated that this novel was consistent with others — “The Constant Princess” “The Boleyn Inheritance” and the others in the series in terms of character histories.

Here are links to my reviews of other Gregory novels — I did not review all of them, but read them all and think for the most part they were well done (“The Red Queen” being my least favorite and “The White Princess” one of my favorites).

Serving QEI …Intimate Details from Whitelock’s “The Queen’s Bed”

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THE last Tudor bed in existence, made to mark Henry VII’s accession to the throne. This 527-year-old Paradise State Bed of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York was rediscovered in 2010. Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field to take the English throne and found the Tudor dynasty. The Paradise State Bed is an unrivalled masterpiece of 15th Century oak carving which was commissioned almost immediately after Henry VII was crowned to celebrate his marriage to Elizabeth of York and the end of the War of the Roses.

Once she finally ascended to the English throne in 1558, Elizabeth I’s opulent lifestyle was in stark contrast to most of her early life.  “The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court” by Anna Whitelock details what it really took to be “Queen Elizabeth” on a material, and perhaps on an emotional level.  Elizabeth was never alone, even asleep there was always someone in her room, even sharing those fantastic beds described in the book:

“... At Richmond Palace, Elizabeth might sleep in an elaborate boat-shaped bed with curtains of ‘sea-water green’ and quilted with light brown tinsel.  At Whitehall her bed was made from an intricate blend of different colored woods and hung with Indian-painted silk.  Her best bed, which was taken with her when the court moved from place to place, had a carved wooden frame which was elaborately painted and gilded, a valance of silver and velvet, tapestry curtains trimmed with precious buttons and gold and silver lace, and a crimson satin headboard topped with ostrich feathers.”

So much has been written about the life and times, love affairs and political maneuvers of Elizabeth I. Yet only a few books have approached Gloriana’s life from the behind the façade she presented to the world. Anna Whitelock succeeds in giving us Elizabeth with her best friends and confidantes. These women surrounded her and applied the make-up, gowns, and jewels each day to take her from mere mortal to dazzling queen. They served her well, kept her secrets, and did what good friends do: work on our behalf. There were even a few, like Kat Ashley and Dorothy Bradbelt, who politicked to help marry the queen. And others, who loaned Elizabeth their maid’s clothing or had private dinners so she could be with Lord Robert Dudley.  Whitelock reveals an Elizabeth who is in turns vulnerable, loving, inconstant, and even quite spiteful.

Elizabeth did a better job than anyone before her, and arguably after her, in creating a brand that even in her day became iconic and magical – which was of course the point. Against the backdrop of assassination attempts, marriage suitors, court scandals, favorites and power politics, Whitelock’s details of Elizabeth’s life do not get lost in the larger themes of Elizabeth’s reign but rather enhance our understanding this great queen and her Court.

A quick visit to the author’s website tells me that the BBC has optioned this book for a possible TV series, which would if done well would be terrific.  And let’s agree that the BBC does this type of program really well.  Bring it!

History Lady Review of Margaret George’s Elizabeth I 

Of Scotland, Selkies, and Survival: The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

I enjoyed this novel very much.  It’s Elisabeth Gifford’s first and she is a fine storyteller.  This one will sweep away the cobwebs and give you a look into the Scottish Island of Harris – wild, incredibly beautiful and high up on my bucket list.

If I could live anywhere, I’d live in a house with the sea at my door (maybe back just a little to allow for global warming). I’m never happier than when I’m by the sea or in the sea – no matter how cold the water. Yesterday, I even put ocean waves on my Spotify while I was working – because I live in the middle of America where there’s not much surf to be found.  If I could, I would live in Elisabeth Gifford’s Sea House on Harris in the Hebridean Islands.

I wonder if Gifford found an old run-down house on an island and used it as the catalyst for The Sea House? For me, it was a story about family, loss, and the struggle to survive.  Set both in 1976 and in 1860 it is really two stories, knit together by Selkie legends and a beautiful house.  What’s a Selkie? It’s the Scottish word for a mythical creature that resembles a seal in the water but assumes human form on land. (For a great movie on the similar subject, see “The Secret of Roan Inish”)

In 1976 Ruth and her husband Michael are renovating the dilapidated Sea House on Harris.  For Ruth, the house and the island are a return to her mother’s birthplace, something of a homecoming to a home she never had.  While working on the house they find a body of baby with what looks like a fin, buried under the floorboards.  A Selkie child?  The dead infant haunts Ruth and adds to the dis-ease that Ruth experiences on the cusp of becoming a mother.  She carries a child, but she also carries the weight of a rootless existence as an orphan raised in the urban welfare system, the pain of the loss of her mother, and the abandonment by her unknown father.  Ruth clings to family lore that she is descended from the Selkies.  This belief leads her to learn more about the home’s previous inhabitants.  She finds story of Alexander Ferguson and Moira, his servant in his journals, church papers and historical accounts.

In 1860 Moira works in the Sea House – then the manse for the island’s Reverend Alexander Ferguson, who has saved her life after the loss of her family in the Clearances.  [Highland Clearances of the 19th century destroyed communities throughout the Highlands and Islands as the human populations were evicted and replaced with sheep farms.]  Moira is quietly devoted to the Reverend in a way that reminded me of a Dickens novel.  Alexander is a bit of a scientist – he is fascinated by the possibility of a missing race of people – Selkies – from whom he believes he is descended.  As much as Moira loves the Reverend from afar, she hates Lord Marstone – whose clearance of land led to the loss of her family.  She plots revenge on Marstone even as his daughter gets uncomfortably friendly with the Alexander.   And the baby?  I can’t spoil it for you.  But it is good.

How the author got her inspiration for the story, and more about Selkies

Fiction books set in the Hebrides 

Goodreads list of books about Selkies

Find out more about the Scottish Islands

Episode 4 The Gathering

Geri, The History Lady:

I believe Diana Gabaladon herself shared this post she found it so entertaining, and it is: A guy’s guide to “Outlander” — he is really funny and entirely on point!

Originally posted on The KiltLander's Blog:

WARNING: This blog uses adult language. You have been warned.

Finally got to watch the show after a couple of days, this time with my son. The reason it takes a few days to watch is because I have to wait for another person to view it, either my son or my girlfriend or my sister, because I watched the first episode by myself and everybody had a hissy fit because they wanted to watch with me. The only problem being everybody I watch the show with is a talker! And I hate that! Ugh! Stop asking me questions, and just watch it dammit. I’m going to clue everyone who does this in about something, and please hear me out.


Okay, you’ve been warned. That goes for husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, sons, daughters, mothers, or anyone else…

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