QAB Book Review: Tudor The Family Story by Leanda de Lisle
Somehow publishers think they have all the answers, so when Leanda de Lisle’s outstanding book about the iconic Tudors of medieval England, Tudor The Family Story, was printed and released to American audiences, someone had the bright idea to rename it. After all, publishers evidently believe Americans need more “juicy” inferences on their covers to sell books. Why would audiences in the United States purchase a book about a “family story” when they could scoop up the retelling of medieval “passion, manipulation, and murder from the most notorious of royal families”? The British title is far more appropriate, as Leanda de Lisle brilliantly teaches readers the fascinating medieval family history of the Tudors, and in doing so, illustrates convincingly the influence the early generation of Tudors and women throughout played in shaping the dynastic dynamics of the Royal House of Tudor. Readers are taken on a journey rich in detail, where myths and common misconceptions are continually dispelled in a highly engaging and understandable writing style.
Most books about the Tudor Dynasty begin with King Henry VII and end with his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth I, beginning with the death of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. Leanda de Lisle, however, begins the story much earlier, and readers are treated to learning about Owen Tudor, his wife Queen Catherine of Valois, and their two sons Edmund and Jasper. How did a Welsh commoner catch a Dowager Queen? How did their son become betrothed to the daughter of the Duke of Somerset, a Lady of bastard royal blood at that? How did the Duke’s daughter, Margaret Beaufort, build a life and raise her son after losing her husband at age 12 and giving birth at age 13? Leanda de Lisle tells their fascinating life stories, answering these questions and so much more, and in doing so gives readers a glimpse of the glory to come. For most of us, we parent in a way that we hope leaves our children to live in higher stead than we do. The Tudors are no different, and the earliest generations’ efforts, though they could not possibly have been foretold, laid the foundation for the future glory of the Kings, Queens, Queen Consorts, Dukes, Duchesses and assorted other nobility of their bloodline. This is the legacy of the common Welshman Owen Tudor and his “trophy bride”, and this is the legacy many readers will be introduced to as the Tudor family story begins. It’s about time. Cymru Am Byth!
Obviously, a book about the Tudor Dynasty is incomplete without detailing the reigns of the monarchs so ingrained in the memories of all English history enthusiasts, and Leanda de Lisle does not disappoint. Each monarch in turn is highlighted, their challenges, successes and historical contributions clearly detailing how the incremental development of the pigmy nation King Henry VII reigned transformed into the World Empire Queen Elizabeth bequeathed to the Stuarts. Interestingly, de Lisle accomplishes this without focusing comprehensive attention to the typical battles, religious arguments and transformations, politics, and technological advances found in most historical accountings. Instead, she assumes the intelligence of the reader of commonly detailed historical fact and instead focuses upon the actual lives of the monarchs, richly treating the reader to how their life experiences influenced their decision making in how they shaped and ruled their subjects and realm. Also fascinating, de Lisle very convincingly illustrates how women of the Tudor family influenced these monarchs through their parenting, marriage partnerships or sibling relationships. In doing so, readers learn how family dynamics impact the powerful, just as they do the rest of us.
Just what do readers learn about the remarkable women of the Tudor Dynasty? In just a few selected examples, they learn of a Queen Consort acting as Regent who organized a battle against a rival neighboring nation, killing a reigning monarch and much of that nation’s nobility; a brave sister who marries for love in opposition of her brother’s plans for her, that man the King of England; an intellectually brilliant teenager who bravely chooses martyrdom over freedom to hold true to her religious beliefs and moral values; a courageous and strong woman who remarkably leads a successful coup d’état, resulting in her coronation as England’s first female reigning monarch; mothers who deftly insure the safety and success of their “at risk” children living in exile or foreign lands; and Duchesses who deftly survive the changing tides of the dangerous discord inherent in the state sponsored religions so common of the era. Also striking to this book is de Lisle’s convincing ability to dispel common misconceptions of several of the Tudor family women, most notably Margaret Beaufort, Duchess of Richmond; Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk; and Queen Mary, Regina.
Tudor The Family Story is non-fiction history story telling at it’s finest. Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers strongly recommends this best practice biography to anyone, whether scholar or history enthusiast, with an interest in learning more of England’s most fascinating and famous royal family. Bravo!
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