I’ve again been on a bit of a historical fiction kick recently, and finally got round to reading two books I’ve been intending to read since they were released: Philippa Gregory’s latest book The Last Tudor, and the latest of Alison Weir’s Six Tudor Queens books, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession.
Check out my reviews below!
The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory
‘You don’t get to be a favorite at a tyrant’s court without beheading your principles every day.’
Following the death of Henry VIII’s only son, King Edward VI, England is thrown into turmoil as the succession is unclear. With both his daughters vying for the throne, another option is offered up: the protestant granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Lady Jane Grey. Thrust unwillingly onto the throne, Jane rules only nine days before her supporters abandon her for the court of Mary Tudor, dooming her to death. This book tells the story of her short rule, and the fate of her sisters Katherine and Mary, who are forever blighted by their sister’s sins in the eyes of their unforgiving royal relatives, Mary and Elizabeth.
I’m always excited to read a Philippa Gregory book, as she’s definitely the author who kickstarted my love of historical fiction, but this one particularly interested me. I had known of Lady Jane Grey – the woman who was queen for 9 days – but I had known little about her, and nothing at all about her sisters. So I was interested to find out!
Oddly, I found Jane to be the least interesting sister though. The book was split into three sections, one for each sister, and Jane’s as the first section didn’t draw me in that much. However much sympathy I felt for her being unwillingly forced into marriage, then onto the throne, she was irritatingly petulant and cold, which didn’t endear her. I think this was done on purpose, but it did seem a shame to have a character who is remembered throughout the rest of the book (and history) for dying a martyr be quite so irritating.
Her sisters Katherine and Mary however were much more likeable, despite their flaws, and I really enjoyed their sections. I also really liked seeing Queen Elizabeth I at such close quarters in this novel, and seeing her from the perspective of her rivals. In this book she is every bit as much of a tyrant and as changeable as her father, and I thought it was an interesting take on her (oddly I seem to have read very few books where she’s a main character!).
Overall I really enjoyed this book, as it explored three historical figures I knew little about in an interesting way. I liked the structure of each sister’s story picking up where the other left off, and I liked getting an insight into the court of Elizabeth I. This is definitely one of the better Philippa Gregory books I’ve read (which is saying something!) and is a must-read for fans of historical fiction.
Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession
‘The first streaks of a May dawn were lightening the sky when she rose and returned to her bedchamber. She sat down on the bed and waited. God had been merciful. She was calm and composed, her courage high. She was ready.’
When Anne Boleyn arrives back in England, fresh from the courts of France and Burgundy, she draws much attention with her French fashion, great learning and modern ideas. Before long she has the eye of the King…but she’s determined not to end up like her sister and Bessie Blount, and numerous other of the King’s cast offs. She intends to use his obsession to become Queen, and will stop at nothing to achieve her will.
I loved what Alison Weir did with Katherine of Aragon’s story in Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, so I was interested to see how she told the story of Anne Boleyn, the most infamous and well-known of Henry’s wives. As I had hoped, her portrait of one of history’s most interesting women was suitably complex and many-layered, and I loved seeing how her character developed throughout the novel.
I particularly liked how the story starts much earlier than most Anne Boleyn books. I knew little of her early life, so I enjoyed learning about her formative years at the foreign courts, and how she was inspired by female rulers like Margaret of Austria. It also shows her youthful innocence and desire for love, which makes it all the sadder at the end when she is transformed into a completely different person, who never truly found love and is condemned to die.
In fact, that was one of the most interesting aspects of the book for me: Anne never loves the King. Whilst it seems obvious historically that Anne Boleyn married the King for something other than love (ahem…a crown!), most other Anne Boleyn books I’ve read have had her love the King, probably just to make sure the book has some romance in it. However in A King’s Obsession Anne actively dislikes the King at first for his treatment of Mary, and only really comes to tolerate him throughout the book, which I thought was an interesting take.
I enjoyed this book ever bit as much as the first Six Tudor Queens book, and am now anxiously awaiting the third! I just love how Alison Weir manages to write such well researched books, whilst telling such intensely human stories. However flawed they are as characters, I found myself really feeling for both Katherine and Anne throughout their respective books, as Weir does such an incredible job of painting them as complex, fully-rounded characters. This really was an incredible book, with an ending, which despite my knowledge of what was going to happen, packed quite an emotional punch. I really can’t wait to read Jane Seymour’s story in the next instalment!
So have you read either of these books? What did you think? Or are you thinking of reading them?