Thursday, 5 January 2012

Not quite the best books of 2011………

I’ve been meaning to post my top ten books of 2011, but after much searching of my book cases, I have to say I don’t have a ‘best 10 books’, so what follows is a mixture of the best, adequate, interesting and ‘how did this get written’ review of books I’ve read in 2011.

1.        Best book of 2011 was undoubtedly ‘Fatal Colours’  by George Goodwin.  There were several books released about the battle of Towton in 2011, but Goodwin’s book gripped me.  It set the scene for the so-called ‘Wars of the Roses’ origins, which is open to debate.   The chapter on the possible schizophrenia of Henry VI was revealing and sympathetic.   The analysis of the battle is first rate.  A definite read for anyone interested in this topic.

2.       Best fiction book has to be Susan Higginbotham’s ‘The Queen of Last Hopes’.  As in her previous novels, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.  It gives a very sympathetic portrayal of a much maligned Queen, Margaret of Anjou.  Her struggle to support her husband and her son is at times heart-breaking, and there is a very charismatic portrayal of Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.   To say Margaret lead an eventful life is an understatement, and Susan Higginbotham covers all stages of her life.  I’m amazed she lived as long as she did.

3.       After all the books on Henry VIII and the other Tudors , most notably Anne Boleyn, Giles Tremlett’s ‘Catherine of Aragon’ attempts to remind us of Catherine’s life.  Tremlett  is undoubtedly on ‘Catherine’s side’, and examines documents in Spain dating from the time of ‘the great matter’, the divorce.  Tremlett makes the claim this information has rarely been seen, and while it is interesting to read these documents, they are unsurprisingly pro-Catherine and not real ‘proof’ that she was telling the truth about her wedding night to Prince Arthur.  It is from these documents that the image of the ‘sickly prince’ emerges. Tremlett also irks me by referring to Anne Boleyn’s sharp tongue, nagging ways etc. He also constantly calls her Boleyn – but never refers to Catherine as ‘Aragon’.  Just lay your cards on the table and say you are pro-Catherine and anti-Anne Boleyn, and make no claim to be impartial is my advice.  Pro-Catherine fans will obviously love it.

4.       I am unashamedly pro-Anne Boleyn, and after the glut of books that came out in 2010, 2011 was a leaner year.  I will buy any book relating to Anne Boleyn and her family.   I was delighted that Paul Friedman’s Anne Boleyn, first published in 1884, was re-issued.  It was once THE book to read on Anne Boleyn and I was so happy to finally have my own copy.

5.       Another Anne Boleyn book was ‘Anne Boleyn in her own words etc’ edited by Elizabeth Norton.  It contains written accounts of contemporaries on Anne Boleyn plus any documents pertaining to her.  A worthy addition to my collection.

6.       I have Robert Hutchinson’s previous books on Thomas Cromwell, the House of Treason (The Howard family) and ‘Henry VIII’s last days’.  These books are interesting and I tend to dip into them every so often rather than read them from cover to cover.  ‘The Young Henry VIII’ follows closely on the heels of David Starkey’s ‘Young Henry’, and both books reveal very little that I didn’t already know about Henry.  One book on the young Henry VIII was quite enough, and in my opinion, no-one can better Starkey.  I would never have bought it had I not seen it in the ‘bargain basement’.

7.       ‘The Boleyns’ by David Loades is a definite must to find out about Anne Boleyn’s early family and what happened to them after her fall, particularly those who survived and flourished in her daughter Elizabeth’s reign.

8.       While Loades dealt with the Boleyn family, Alison Weir centred on Mary Boleyn – and it must be said, there is very little to be said on Mary Boleyn.  There is very little evidence that survives on Mary, certainly not enough to fill a biography, so we are left with a lot of supposition – what if?  maybe,  this could be…. etc.  For some strange reason there is a picture of Francis 1st’s queen, Claude on the cover – very bizarre.  The title ‘Mary Boleyn, the infamous whore’ is obviously meant to grab attention.  In all honesty, does Mary warrant a biography?   In my opinion, no – that she was Anne’s sister and the mistress of Henry VIII is all the important information that one needs to know about her.   Even if Henry VIII had fathered any of her children, they played no part in the Tudor dynasty.   I have not yet bought ‘Bessie Blount’, a biography on Henry VIII’s mistress and mother of his bastard son Henry Fitzroy, and to be honest, can’t see myself doing so as I suspect there is even less information on her than Mary Boleyn.

9.       ‘The Winter King’ by Thomas Penn is a welcome biography on Henry VII, who is so often over-looked.  I first thought it was a novel – it certainly looks like one and the blurb at times read like one.  I’ve only just started it but am enjoying it.

10.   Erm, there isn’t a number 10!  There’s been a real lack of Medieval  books for me this year.  The Tudors continue to dominate, and even the books out this year are among some of the weakest.  Even novelwise, there was nothing that caught my eye.  Please someone write a half-decent novel on Piers Gaveston.