Historical Musings #58: From the TBR…

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction!

I haven’t had much time to put a post together this month, so I thought I would just take a quick look at some of the books I have waiting on my TBR. On Friday I reviewed The Brothers York by Thomas Penn, a non-fiction account of the Wars of the Roses, which is one of my favourite periods of history. I have already read a lot of books, both fiction and non-fiction, set in that period and have listed them here, but there are a few others I’ve acquired over the last few years and haven’t had a chance to read yet. Here are some of them (with descriptions taken from Goodreads):

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The Seventh Son by Reay Tannahill (2001)

Reay Tannahill’s enthralling novel is a family saga in the grand tradition, a tale of brother against brother, cousin against cousin, of love, hate and intrigue, of women inescapably entangled in the fates of their men, and of a mystery that has exercised people’s minds for more than five hundred years. At the heart of it all is the complex human being known to history as Richard III, a king whose reign is darkened by the murder of the young Princes in the Tower, but who also found a touching love with the woman he married, and possessed immense courage. Here, brought vividly to life in this most moving novel, is a man who inspired loyalty and hatred in almost equal measure, until at last the implacable enmity of one woman brought about his downfall.

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

Originally serialized in a periodical of boys’ adventure fiction, The Black Arrow is a swashbuckling portrait of a young man’s journey to discover the heroism within himself. Young Dick Shelton, caught in the midst of England’s War of the Roses, finds his loyalties torn between the guardian who will ultimately betray him and the leader of a secret fellowship, The Black Arrow. As Shelton is drawn deeper into this conspiracy, he must distinguish friend from foe and confront war, shipwreck, revenge, murder, and forbidden love, as England’s crown threatens to topple around him.

The King’s Grey Mare by Rosemary Hawley Jarman (1973)

The King’s grey mare was Elizabeth Woodville, Queen and wife of Edward IV. Beautiful beyond belief, with unique silver-grey hair, she had once known joy of a marriage based on love—only to see it snatched away on the battlefield. Hardened and changed by grief, Elizabeth became the tool of her evil ambitious mother—the witch, Jaquetta of Bedford—who was determined that her daughter should sit on the throne of England. By trickery, deception, and witchcraft, Jaquetta’s wish was fulfilled. But even a witch could not have known the tragedy which lay in store for the King’s grey mare.

Queen of Silks by Vanora Bennett (2008)

This novel brings together the silk business of fifteenth-century London and the personality of King Richard III, suspected throughout history of having murdered his two nephews, the Princes in the Tower. The story begins with silk merchant John Lambert’s decision to marry off his two beautiful daughters at the end of the Wars of the Roses. Elder daughter Jane starts a notorious liaison with King Edward IV – Richard’s older brother – while her sister, Isabel, as the new silkworker to the court, becomes privy to its most intimate secrets. Could the sisters hold the keys to power at this time of uncertainty?

The Lodestar by Pamela Belle (1987)

For Christie Heron, ruthless ambition is the lodestar of his destiny. Determined to break free from his humble origins in the border country of Northumbria, he enlists in the household of Richard of Gloucester, rising with his lord to the dangerous pinnacles of power. Tangled in Richard’s web of treason and tragedy, Christie learns the full price that his destiny demands, Meg his beloved sister and only friend, rejects him. Julian, daughter of a knight of Oxfordshire, bears him undying enmity. And the long shadow of the Welsh adventurer Henry Tudor falls dark over Bosworth Field….

The King’s Bed by Margaret Campbell Barnes (1961)

For seventeen-year-old Tansy Marsh, life centres upon her father’s inn, The White Boar, in Leicester. Richard III sits upon the throne of England, and all seems well. But the threat of the would-be usurper, Henry Tudor, looms like a gathering storm and soon the eye of that storm is uncomfortably close to Tansy, disrupting her reassuringly ordinary life. Once King Richard is defeated, that life becomes even less ordinary for Tansy has met Dickon Broome, the man who will change her existence forever. And while life goes on under the Tudors, Dickon has particular reason to bear a grudge.

Non-Fiction

Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou by Amy Licence (2018)

He became king before his first birthday, inheriting a vast empire from his military hero father; she was the daughter of a king without power, who made an unexpected marriage at the age of fifteen. Almost completely opposite in character, together they formed an unlikely but complimentary partnership. Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou have become famous as the Lancastrian king and queen who were deposed during the Wars of the Roses but there is so much more to their story. The political narrative of their years together is a tale of twists and turns, encompassing incredible highs, when they came close to fulfilling their desires, and terrible, heart-breaking lows.

Blood and Roses by Helen Castor (2004)

The Wars of the Roses turned England upside down. Between 1455 and 1485 four kings, including Richard III, lost their thrones, more than forty noblemen lost their lives on the battlefield or their heads on the block, and thousands of the men who followed them met violent deaths. As they made their way in a disintegrating world, the Paston family in Norfolk family were writing letters – about politics, about business, about shopping, about love and about each other, including the first valentine. Using these letters – the oldest surviving family correspondence in English – Helen Castor traces the extraordinary history of the Paston family across three generations. Blood & Roses tells the dramatic, moving and intensely human story of how one family survived one of the most tempestuous periods in English history.

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If you’ve read any of these books, let me know what you thought. Which ones do you think are worth reading and which aren’t? What are your favourite books set in this period?

20 thoughts on “Historical Musings #58: From the TBR…

  1. setinthepast says:

    I generally recommend anything by Reay Tannahill or Pamela Belle 🙂 . I don’t think either of these are their best books, but they’re pretty good … apart from being too pro-Yorkist. I don’t like Richard III! The King’s Grey Mare felt quite old-fashioned, but the one about Jane Shore, (or Elizabeth Shore or whatever her proper name was!) was good. I must read that one by Amy Licence. Margaret of Anjou gets such a bad press, and she doesn’t deserve it!

    • Helen says:

      Well, I’m more of a Yorkist than a Lancastrian so that shouldn’t be a problem for me 😉 I haven’t read anything by Reay Tannahill yet, although I also have A Dark and Distant Shore on the TBR, but I have read and enjoyed most of Pamela Belle’s other books. I’m looking forward to reading the Amy Licence book. I do have a lot of sympathy for Margaret as it can’t have been easy being married to Henry VI.

  2. jessicabookworm says:

    Helen, I have to admit that they all sound rather good, however I particularly like the sound of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow – You know how much I love a swashbuckling adventure! 🤗

    • Helen says:

      I’ve sometimes thought about reading a collection of the original Paston Letters but thought they might be a bit heavy going, so I’m hoping the Helen Castor book will make them more accessible.

  3. elainethomp says:

    I haven’t read that one by Tannahill, but loved another, The WORLD, FLESH & THE DEVIL, and still remember scenes from it years after my last read. I look forward to your report.

    The Jarman I remember reading, and it not leaving much impact, except a memory of fed-upness with the witchcraft. BTW, I’ve always assumed Liz W. was a platinum blond (like jean Harlow), not ‘silver grey.’ Jarman just never quite hit the right notes for me to love her work.

    Loved Margaret Campbell Barnes in my teens when she was in all the public libraries I used, but I don’t remember that particular volume. Also loved THE BLACK ARROW when I read it as a teen, but have not revisited.

    • Helen says:

      I obviously need to start reading Reay Tannahill’s books as soon as possible! If I enjoy the two I already have on my shelf I’ll look for the one you’ve recommended too. As for the Jarman book, I think I downloaded it for my Kindle when it was on special offer, so at least I won’t have wasted too much money if I’m not impressed.

  4. Pam Thomas says:

    Purely selfishly, it would be nice if you read The Lodestar (though the blurb makes me cringe – I had no input there)! I read ‘The King’s Bed’ when I was in my teens, I don’t think I’d enjoy it now, my tastes are a bit more mature these days. Of all of the list, I’ve been meaning to read ‘Blood and Roses’ for a while – I love original letters and the Pastons were quite a family! I haven’t read The Seventh Son – I’d had enough of Richard III by the time it came out – but I did read Reay Tannahill’s last two books, Having the Builders In and Having the Decorators In, and thoroughly enjoyed them, they’re set in mediaeval times and are very entertaining.

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t think you would have had anything to do with that blurb, Pam! I’m definitely planning to read The Lodestar, but still have your final Wintercombe book to read as well. I’m looking forward to Blood and Roses too, although I still haven’t read the original letters.

  5. buriedinprint says:

    Do you find that listing and summarizing the books on your TBR makes them more or less appealing to actually read: I can see it working either way, maybe depending on mood, as the stack unfolds, it/they might suddenly seem more like a chore, but then again, sometimes just picking a book off the shelf reignites my interest after a long period of having left it sit.

    • Helen says:

      That’s an interesting question. I think as these particular books have been, in most cases, on my TBR for quite a long time, listing them has made me more excited about reading them and has reminded me of why I added them to my shelves in the first place.

    • Helen says:

      The Sunne in Splendour was one of the first books I read set in this period and I loved it, so I’m glad you enjoyed it too. It certainly made me think differently about Richard III.

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