Thursday, 2 January 2014

The best reads of 2013

There were no new non-fiction books on Edward II in 2013.  And the discovery of Richard III’s remains meant that for once the huge influx of books on the Tudors was seriously challenged by the White Rose.  As usual, my best books list includes very little historical fiction.  Despite there being a few novels featuring Isabella, wife of Edward II, I wouldn’t recommend any of them.  The only fictional book to make my list is – 

1.     Towards Auramala: The mystery of King Edward II's fate by Ivan Fowler.  I won’t give too much to away, suffice to say it gives an interesting account of the possible survival of Edward II in Italy.

2.     ‘In the footsteps of Anne Boleyn’ by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger is a must for anyone interested in Anne Boleyn but especially for those to whom she is a serious interest.  The book plots all the known places visited by Anne Boleyn throughout her life, from the obvious, such as Hever castle, and the less well-known Thornbury Castle.  It’s a fascinating read and has some superb pictures, some of them taken personally by the authors. 

3.     ‘Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors’ by Chris Skidmore.  I bought this book at the BBC Talk Tudor day, an event at which Chris Skidmore spoke.  It gives an insightful build-up to the battle of Bosworth and the early life of Henry VII.  Once again, the use of personal photos by the author is a welcome addition. 

4.     The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England's Most Infamous Family, by Susan Higginbotham.  I was really looking forward to reading Susan’s non-fiction book on the Woodvilles and she didn’t disappoint!  As well as examining some of the off-repeated stories about the Woodvilles – for example, plundering the royal treasure – I particularly enjoyed Susan’s research into Anthony Woodville – his character and patronage. 

5.     The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen by Susan Bordo.  Not the usual run of the mill biography of Anne Boleyn.  Instead, Bordo takes a look at the original primary sources and the motives of those who wrote them, and how these sources shaped the perception of the roles allotted to Anne Boleyn throughout history.  The book then looks at the portrayal of Anne in fiction and media such as the cinema and TV.  I particularly enjoyed the interview with Natalie Dormer, who played Anne in the recent TV series ‘The Tudors’. 

6.     Tudor: The Family Story by Leanda  De Lisle.  Very well-written and researched.  I particularly enjoyed reading about Margaret Beaufort.   

7.     OK, this is a book that should be split in half.  The King's Grave: The Search for Richard III by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones.  Undoubtedly the discovery of the burial place and remains of Richard III has to be the history story of the year.  The part of the book which focuses on the search for Richard’s grave is very interesting and readable – the research of John Ashdown Hill, raising the funds for the project, the explanation of the dig itself, the matching of the DNA.  Alas, the part which deals with the history of Richard III himself is woeful, and once again it is a defence of anything Richard was accused of and demonising that horrid Henry – Tudor, that is.  So we get the tale of poor Richard having to endure the killing of his father and elder brother Edmund, who just might have been killed after the battle of Wakefield, whilst the death of the Lancastrian Prince of Wales, Edward, son of Henry VI, is given during the battle of Tewkesbury – despite there being more than one source that says he was killed afterwards.  The brutal slaying of Hastings is smoothed over with continuous referrals to how Richard honoured him (yes, really), by allowing him to be buried in Windsor as he requested.   Richard is traumatised by the possible rape of his mother Cecily by Lancastrian supports, but Henry Tudor is a coward at 12 years old for fleeing the battle in which Lord Herbert, his guardian, is captured and killed.  At the battle of Bosworth, Henry Tudor is the luckiest man ever to enter the battlefield – the word is used repeatedly – and Henry is again accused as a coward for hiding behind his pike-men – who luckily are using the best in pikes!  Richard isn’t reckless in his charge towards Henry – he’s so chivalrous he believes in fighting Henry hand to hand.  I have to wonder where he learnt this chivalry – from his brothers, Edward IV and George, Duke of Clarence?  I hardly think so.  Excellent role models in ruthless ambition. Even admitting that Richard more than likely killed ‘the princes in the Tower’, does not alter the extreme bias of this part of the book.  It’s such a shame.  Richard III was a man of his times – and those times were violent.  He was not the monster of Shakespeare – although I am amazed that anyone would think Shakespeare a historian rather than a play-write.  A far more balanced book should have been produced.  Richard doesn't need another saintly defence of his character.  Rather, he needs a more balanced approach and his life needs to be looked at in the context of his times.


Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Happy New Year, Anerje! Thank you for the book recommendations. I would love to read Edward II novel. I do believe he did not die in 1327.

Kathryn Warner said...

Great list. The Richard III one sounds annoyingly biased - I definitely won't be reading it! Hope we see more Edward II books in 2014, as long as they're good ones, of course! The last thing we need is yet another cookie-cutter 'tragic victim Isabella' piece of rubbish!

Anerje said...

Kathryn, I'm steering clear of any Isabella books! The Richard III book - well, it's such a shame - they should have left the 'history' alone - it's so biased it's embarrassing - I really was laughing out loud. The story of the dig was much more interesting.

With Bannockburn looming, we may well get some sort of Edward II book. let's hope for a balanced one, eh? Oh, and we'll hopefully get some decent documentaries;)

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Yorksist or not, I'm pretty tired of the "much ado about Richard", too (sigh). I'm sure the king himself would be tired as well ("Let me rest in peace!" :-))

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Oh, and I'm too looking forward to a certain documentary (just a little bit worried whether I will be able to see it in Poland).