Book Review: Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay

Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay: From the Colonial Era to the Oyster Wars:  Goodall, Jamie L H: 9781540242150: Amazon.com: Books
Available on Amazon

It’s been a while since I did a book review and I must say, this one is going to be a real humdinger! First, let’s just get it out there and acknowledge that for most of us, the concept of Pirates is either influenced by the Disney films, or the swashbuckling films of the 1940s and 1950s (or both is you like pirate films in general). And no matter how much I LOVE Muppet Treasure Island (and I do), it’s really not an accurate portrayal of Piracy (though anything with Tim Curry can be forgiven for accuracy because it’s Tim Curry).

The Spanish Main (1945)
The Spanish Main (1945) courtesy of IMBD.com
Episode 110: Muppet Treasure Island — OVERINVESTED
Tim Curry as Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island. Courtesy of Disney & Henson Studios

I never knew, though long expected, that there was a history of piracy linked to the US and not just the Caribbean/Virgin Island regions. After all, we have long been acclimated to the concept that pirates must exist in tropical climates and must be weird and wacky characters. While they can still be weird and wacky, they don’t necessarily live in tropical weather. Historically, piracy has usually been equally encouraged and equally condemned by any reigning government. Queen Elizabeth I allowed her Naval Armada to commit acts of piracy against Spain all in the name of Patriotism, but condemned any who were committing the same acts against their own countrymen. Jut remember, smuggling and piracy are very much the same thing, just different names (though I tend to think of smugglers as being the land gents while pirates did all the leg work). But this book ha very little to do with Queen Elizabeth I (though England is still involved in this narrative). This book, which I might say unabashedly is a pure delight and a work of superb genius, really opens up the Chesapeake Bay area for those of us who love history.

The Buccaneer by Howard Pyle (1905, but published in Pyle’s Book of Pirates in 1921). Courtesy of the Delaware Art Museum & Public Domain

It should come to no surprise to hose of us who love Early American History that piracy is a legacy that helped shape our nation from the rag-tag collection of colonies to the 13 States up to and after the Civil War. After all, pirates performed a variety of functions that was key to the survival of many of the early Americans. Pirates, when America was still under British Rule, helped supply luxury items and goods that were normally heavily taxed. Pirates helped supply British Goods after America declared its right to Independence. Thy also supplied French goods to American and parts of Europe during the French Revolution (particularly silk, lace, and wine/alcohol). Pirates helped win the war against the British Navy by blockades and providing a small, but strong, presence along the coastlines. Of course, we called these pirates “Patriots” and the British hailed them as Pirates, but they really ere one and the same. This particular presence was vital in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Map of the Great Lakes
The Great Lakes Courtesy of Geology.com
Choosing your Great Loop route - Atlantic to Great Lakes | Waterway Guide  News Update
The waterways leading from the Atlantic & Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes. Courtesy of Waterwayguide.com

Unless you don’t live around the Great Lakes region, most people in the US don’t understand how important the Great Lakes is to this day. Or course, most people in the US cannot locate Italy on a map nor understand that Africa is a Continent, not a country (Geography is important). The Great Lakes are the biggest source of fresh water in North America and are still used to transport items from the Atlantic to the Mid-Western US and Canada via canals and waterways. One of the main waterways leading to the Great Lakes is through the Chesapeake Bay area, so I immediately knew that any book detailing Piracy in this area would play into trade. And it does. But in a way that I never thought about. I take it for granted that goods are easily available to me, living here in close proximity to Lake Michigan. But then, most of us do as we have grown up in a time when delivery of goods has been fine tuned that we get upset if something that is promised within 30 minutes shows up 1 minute late. But I am getting a wee bit off topic. The Chesapeake Bay area straddles a wide expanse of Eastern US coastline, so it makes sense that the Colonists would want to protect this area, and the passageway to the interior, from the British.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl Review | Movie -  Empire
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, courtesy of Disney

This doesn’t mean that ALL pirates were on the good side. There was a lot of money to be made capturing ships and getting hold of goods that could be sold. And piracy existed on both sides and there are examples of American’s committing acts of piracy against other Americans (looking at you William Claiborne). And many pirate tales that I clearly remember hearing or reading about as a child are linked to this area of the US. For example, Captain Kidd is tied to this region of the US. He lived in this area, got married in this region, and was executed as well. People still roam Virginia and Maryland’s coastlines looking for Kidd’s lost treasure (which, I am sure, never really existed but it’s a great example of an early American Myth that lingers). There’s also Blackbeard, who I have to state, was a goddamn dandy. Ribbons in his beard, matches lit and arranged in his hair and hat. If this guy could enter a room with doves and glitter, he totally would. The BEST example would be David Bowie’s entrance as Jareth in Labyrinth. I fully expect any and all future appearances of Blackbeard to have the same theatrical aesthetic or why even bother. I also humbly submit that Idris Elba play Blackbeard because if anyone could look threatening, but pull this aesthetic off it would be Hemidall (I mean, Idris).

Sarah: You're him, aren't you? You're the Goblin King. | Labyrinth jareth,  Bowie labyrinth, David bowie labyrinth
David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth. Courtesy of Henson Company
Our Readers Point out a Crucial 'Infinity War' Toy Detail | The Mary Sue
Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor: Rangnorak. Courtesy of MCU/Disney

Plus, oysters. I never knew people fought over oysters. We had people committing acts of piracy over oysters until 1960! Personally, oysters look like small pieces of snot and from my research into them (because, AUSTEN), oysters were the food of the poor, the working class, sailors,and fishermen. And the oysters in this region were plentiful, which is great for the population who live round there. Now, today we associate oysters with wealthy and indulgence. I’ve even seen some historical films show oysters being eaten by the nobility & upper classes PRIOR to the 1820s, which is, of course, incredible wrong. Oysters were considered “common fare”, people would fed oysters to their cats and dogs. That’s right, pets prior to the 1860s ate better than most people do now. But what is interesting, is that sometime in the 1830s & 1840s, oysters started getting that reputation of being food for the upper class (possibly due to the industrial revolution and the burgeoning middle class that was exploding in the US and in the UK). Now, to be completely honest, I haven’t looked into WHEN oysters started being eaten as food for the rich, but I have done a wee bit of research and know that during the 1820s and 1830s, it was still seen as street food, so not necessarily food for the poor, but starting to migrate into the echelons of the middle class, which then leads to the rich. But by the 1860s, oysters, and those who harvested them, could make some serious money.

For a quick refresh literary wise, Darcy and his aunt would NEVER have eaten oysters (1800-1812). Mr. Rochester may have eaten them for a party (1840s). Mr. Thorne’s mother would have never eaten them as a youth, but may be obliged to serve them for her daughter’s wedding (1840s-1850s). Miss Havishim would have never eaten them, but her adopted daughter may (1820s). Lady Bracknell would definitely eat them (1895). Gatsby would be chugging them down like there was no tomorrow (1925).

The State of Oysters | Our State
Oysters as picture in Our State, a North Carolina online magazine

Professor Goodall does note that oyster ships could make $2000 a year when the average salary was $500 a year. So, yes, oysters were big business and still are. But what I mostly took away from the Oyster Wars is how over fishing, and the acts of piracy, harmed this industry and the ecological impact is something that region still deals with to this day.

What Can Be Done To Stop Bullying? A Lot – BRIDGES
Courtesy of bridgesofpbc.org

Now, this book came to my attention because Professor Goodall wrote a piece about pirates and the imagery of pirates because of the Super Bowl (also, FUCK Tom Brady). I couldn’t believe the backlash she received for writing a very well written, and well research look at the brief history of buccaneers. But, we know people are very easily bestirred and don’t like to be reminded that maybe, just maybe, the image they hold near and dear is not always a good image to be fond of. But, it led me to this wonderful book and I gladly followed Goodall on Twitter (@L_Historienne) where I recently voted to learn about a pirate called Sadie the GOAT. While she may or may not have existed, if I ever get a chance to name a Goat, it’s gotta be Sadie.

Surfing Goat Dairy - If pirate goats were real, would they say "Baa-rgh,  mateys"? 🤔🐐 | Facebook
Courtesy of Pinterest

So, this is what I think. If you like to learn more about Early American History, this is the book for you. If you are curious about the Oyster Wars, definitely read this book. If you want to read about some of the interesting pirates that called America home, then you should defiantly get this book. And if you just want to read a fun book about Pirates that is well written, can easily fit into a purse (or satchel) and makes you look devastatingly cool while waiting for your Boyfriend at the local coffee shop, the you MUST get this book. If you want to support a female historian in a filed dominated by men, then you MUST get this book. And if you cannot afford it, then please ask that your local library purchases it to add to their collection, Because this book may inspire another future historian and knowledge IS power.

Bridgerton: A Review

Well, first I must apologize for not writing as much last year as I thought I would be. An unexpected increase in workload meant I had little time for anything other than trying to sleep and survive. But I resolve to try an start this 2021 year off with a bit of fun and fluff.

Bridgerton | Netflix Official Site
Courtesy of Netflix

Bridgerton, if you haven’t heard, is a book series by Julia Quinn set in the Regency. The books are fictional, so there is very little attempt at them being historically accurate, other than the basic facts (like who is the ruler, dropping the name of well-known and famous society leaders, etc). Now, the Netflix series has gotten some criticism for casting people of color, some in prominent roles. To me, it’s refreshing because it IS historically accurate. Sorry to burst the fragile misconceptions of every Austen Adaptation ever, but there were non white people living in England during the 18th Century (and even earlier, if we’re being truthfully honest). Theatre folk (of which I will always be), know that blind casting really is the best way to cast roles. People who are good SHOULD play parts that suit them as actors, not skin color. And we should have more diverse casting. We should have disabled actors, trans actors, etc cast based on their ability, not their looks. But I digress…

Romance novels have this reputation for being the cheesy bodice rippers published by Silhouette or Avon (for example). But Romance Novels are a unique literary form that we should never sneer at. Many of us have probably read a cheesy romance novel, or two, growing up. I myself m exceptionally fond of the Gothic romance novels of the 1960s and not just because they have fun cover art (which they do).

Vintage Gothic Romance Books Classics Paperback Novels 1960's 1970's Women  running from houses, heroines in pe… | Gothic romance books, Gothic books,  Gothic romance
Courtesy of Pinterest

Romance novels are pure escapism. Austen novels have been labeled as romance, young adult, and adult fiction in libraries and in bookstores. I myself have outlined for 6 Austen style novels (one being written and edited and rewritten and you get the picture). There is nothing wrong with writing or enjoying Romance just as long as you remember not to take it too seriously (thought it can be hard).

The 'Bridgerton' Ending, Explained | 'Bridgerton' Season 1 Finale
Lady Danbury and Simon Basset, courtesy of Marie Claire

As an adaptation, I think Bridgerton is well done and has moments of being far superior than the recent ITV Austen adaptations. The costumes are rich, colorful, and sometimes a tad ridiculous (the Feathertons in particular), but they are all well made and have that silhouette we all associate with the Regency Era. They do an adequate job of visually giving us insight into the person’s social status, mood, marital status, and degree of social acceptability. As well as mixing elements of the fantastical with the historical. Visually, it is a delight.

Romp and circumstance: why Netflix's Bridgerton is just our cup of tea this  year | Period drama (TV) | The Guardian
Queen Charlotte, courtesy of Netflix

Now, as far as the adaptation goes for being faithful to the book, I must confess that I cannot supply any information. Now, I did try to read the first novel, The Duke and I, but had to stop due to a triggering element that, while it was not the same in the series, a similar event was depicted and I do have issues with it. That element is rape. In the novel, the “heroine” rapes the Duke (he is drunk) and denies it ever occurring up until they are married. As a victim of sexual assault, I could not finish the novel. No matter how it is framed, nor that the people involved end up being “in love”, rape is never acceptable. Ever. I found it repugnant and disturbing that any author would use the disgusting and reprehensible troupe of rape, but framing it within the confines of a romance, thus trying to make it acceptable (or palatable) to the reader.

not amused puppy - Google Search | Funny animals, Funny, Funny pictures
Puppy is NOT Amused, courtesy of Pinterest

I found the rape so triggering, that I engaged in some self harm (which I will not disclose as to the TYPE other than it doesn’t involve any knives nor blood and yes, I do see a therapist and have for years). Now, the adaptation did not include the rape scene as written, but still included a rape scene nonetheless, which was extremely disappointing. Any forward thinking person will tell you that even in the midst of engaging in a sexual activity, when one person says STOP or NO, it all stops. Period. The adaptation still had the heroine rape the Duke, but now within the confines of the marriage bed, which makes it that much better.

Reader, it does not.

Spousal rape is real and it should never be treated lightly nor be filmed as one person had the right to continue. And that was how it was framed. Daphne is seen as being in the right to force her husband to ejaculate inside her because she wants a child. This is rape. He clearly tells her to stop. Not once, but many times. And yes, we should be having this conversation because no mater how much I enjoyed this adaptation, I am utterly disgusted they would still keep Daphne’s rape of Simon in. It doesn’t matter that she did it after they were married instead of before. We do not need to see depictions of rape, including spousal rape, in any adaption that is advertised as a romance. This season is framed around the book The Duke and I. It’s touted as being a historical romance.

Bollywood angered over Hathras gang rape, demand justice for victim |  Deccan Herald
Courtesy o the Deacon Herald

Rape has no place in romance novels. It has no place in adaptations. No matter how much I enjoyed this series, I cannot fathom why the producers decided it would be perfectly acceptable to include rape. The story could have worked perfectly fine without it. Simon (the Duke), in a moment of passion couldn’t have forgotten to pull out since that was his main form of birth control. Or have him use a condom (yes, they existed) and have one tear or rip or perhaps he forgets? There are so many other ways to possibly hint at Daphne being late with her period without the rape. The pull out method is known to not be 100% effective against pregnancy and considering they devoted an entire episode to them screwing each other, you are telling me that not once he might have forgotten to pull out? Seriously? I understand that this is a work of fiction. Trust me, I know because I write fiction (though I endure the added burden of trying to be as historically accurate as possible). But once you start having some structure of reality to help us believe the world we are in, logic will come into play. According to Planned Parenthood, unless you are using a condom and/or birth control with the pull out method, 1 in 5 who only do the pull out method will get pregnant within a year. So, this means Daphne really had nothing to worry about because statistically, she would have gotten pregnant eventually.

Now, the series is enjoyable and I do recommend it because it is so rare for me to see anyone who looks even remotely like me on screen (big or small) that isn’t a terrorist or a servant that the biggest draw for the series IS the diverse cast. And if you ignore (or skip) the whole rape scene, it is an enjoyable series.

There’s still the old troupe of how the fat girl can’t possibly be anything other than the friend until she magically becomes beautiful (Yes, I’m looking at you Lady Whitstone).

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology: A Review

I have the Audible version of this as read by Neil Gaiman (which I highly recommend as it’s lovely to have it read by the author) but I decided to read the book myself. I devoured it. Norse Mythology has always intrigued me. Long before the Marvel Films came out, before it became popular and trendy, I used to read myths, legends, and faerie stories as a child in between samplings of Shakespeare, Tolkien, and Stephen King. Besides Greek & Roman (which one needs to understand works such as the Iliad and Shakespeare), Norse mythology is wonderful as it is terrible. Unlike other mythologies, there really is no happy ending, but a cycle of death, destruction, and life (more reminiscent of Hinduism and the concept of rebirth and reincarnation). While people think my fascination stems from my enjoyment of the Marvel Films (and I do enjoy them), I started getting interested in them due to JRR Tolkien’s works.

JRR Tolkien (Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate)

Most people don’t know (though they should), Tolkien’s works were inspired by the Eddas, which are heavily influenced by the Norse mythologies. Tolkien was also influenced by Arthurian legends and works such as Beowulf and other Medieval literature. Yet I live for Austen, so go figure that one out. But there is something dark, mysterious, sensual about Norse Myths that Tolkien never really touched upon and Neil Gaiman hints at: Loki.

Loki

Loki is the God if Mischief and Gaiman points out is Blood Brother to Odin. He is a dark God. He is a sensual God. He is Chaos. He brings gifts and order, but at the same time, brings destruction and death. Out of all Aesir, he is the horniest (seriously, he sleeps around a lot), and has the most interesting offspring: monsters and goddesses and gods. We equate him with the Devil now only because the Eddas were written down in the early Christian Era by monks and most of the stories have been lost. What we do have shows a very complex mythos and Loki is a key figure in almost every single one of them. He saves the Asguardians yet is punished by them. He helps divert destruction away from Asgard, causing mischief, but saves the day. Loki is a shapeshifter as well and takes on many forms. One can see why Kirby and Lee chose him as the antagonist for their comics and why this character became more popular as an antihero. Because he is neither good nor bad, but both, which makes him more like the humans who are listening to the tales than the gods whom the tales are about. Loki is also called the Silver Tongue, the Lie Smith and while Poetry and Writing are said to be gifts from the Gods (there is a tale about that Gaiman talks about), I often wonder if Loki was gifted at telling stories. So many tales are referenced and have been lost and while Silver Tongue can mean many things, I have often wondered if this meant Loki was a protector of writers since he is also associated with nets and netting (knots). Writers “knit” words together. It’s not an unusual assumption.

Odin (Pinterest)

No matter how many times I read about Odin, or hear about him, he reminds me of Gandalf. Though Gandalf comes across a bit more caring and likable than Odin. Gaiman does an excellent job of picking certain stories and retelling them in a way to make them sound new, yet ancient all at the same time. Odin still sounds old and you can hear echoes of Gandalf and all other wizards in his words and deeds. And while you don’t realize it, Odin is as dark or even a darker God than Loki ever was. Odin hung himself in tribute to himself (yep, that’s a fact in Norse Mythology that Odin is the Gallows God), gave up an eye for Wisdom (tore it out!), and killed his own grandparent to make the universe. I’ve often wondered why then experts note that Odin was definitely worshiped while Loki wasn’t considering how bloody and violent Odin is from his tales. Probably why I enjoy Thor; Rangnorak (MCU Film) then because it does bring up Odin’s bloody past.

Thor (as described from the myths) via Pinterest

Thor comes across as pompous and blusters without thinking, reminding one more of an early Hulk than Thor of the comics. It’s interesting to compare the old tales with what is really the new tales-the comics. You can see parallels between the characters we recognize from the films and comics and trace their origins back to what they used to be, which I throughly enjoyed. I much prefer Lady Sif to be a badass warrior than Thor’s vain wife. And one can see why Marvel made Loki into Thor’s sibling instead of Uncle (it works much better as a comic antagonist character).

What I enjoyed most was the tales themselves, of which Gaiman has given us only a taste of all the tales that are out there. You can hear the Dwarves tinkering away at their anvils, creating the most beautiful things that you can ever imagine. Lady Sif is vain and uncaring and only Heimdall is anyone of interest (sort of). Loki creates the problems, but also offers solutions that tend to come with benefits for the Gods (while Loki gets punished). The tales are magical as they are sad. They are funny and scary. They end. Then they give hope that they will begin anew and will give rise to a new set of Gods. And Loki? While I still consider him a dark God, I’ve realized that Odin is much darker and much scarier. But Loki is Chaos, and his tales are really some of the best. I don’t think Chaos is ever really defeated. I think we need Chaos. We need the uncertainty as much as we hate it and fear it, we crave it.

Loki Odinson (courtesy of Marvel’s Wiki)

What does that say about me then? I’m not sure why I prefer the tales of Loki over the other Gods other than Loki comes across as the most Human, the most accessible. He’s not unlike the Greek Prometheus, who is punished for brining fire to Humans. Yet he is not as sacrificing as Prometheus. There are shades of other Gods in the tales of Loki, which fascinates me as a reader and as a writer. He is neither good no evil, but simply exists. Loki is dark, mysterious, and definitely a sexual dark God who also comes across as loving all his children, even if they don’t look acceptable to others, and really does his best to be accepted by the other Gods. Perhaps Loki is more like a fallen angel-not quite Lucifer but not unlike Lucifer at the same time. All I know is that I will return to Gaiman’s retellings over and over again because they are so enjoyable and when I do crave that taste of Chaos, the hint of darkness.

Book Review: War of the Roses by Dan Jones

While I really enjoyed The Plantagenets by Dan Jones, I was a bit let down by this follow up. Dan Jones still wrote exceptionally well and did his best to be engaging. And there were certain items of interest that I found fascinating. For instance, I had never known that Catherine Valois was most likely all ready sleeping with Edmund Beaufort, cousin to her dead husband Henry V and cousin to Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Apparently, according to Jones, the widowed Queen was known to be exceptionally horny. So when she married Owen Tudor, it was permitted because he was a political nobody (while of Welsh nobility, his family was stripped of their titles and lands, thus making him a non entity in the Court). So I did appreciate a little bit of this information on not only how Catherine could marry Owen Tudor, but why it was allowed. Though I did think the assumption she was just a horn dog was uncalled for. Yes, I realize it was something that the men at that time were referring to her as, but Jones could have stated that the men around her had issues with her youth instead of making it sound like she was a royal slut. Because it’s fine when a man of royal blood does it, but not a woman (Edward IV cough cough).

Funeral Effigy of Catherine Valois at Westminster Abbey

Another issue I had with this book is the lack of any information on Henry IV and Henry V. His previous book ends with Henry IV being crowned and this book is said to be the sequel and the continuation of that book. This book starts off with Henry VI’s coronation as an infant. That’s a lot of years missing between Henry IV being crowned and Henry V’s death that Jones has not covered at all. To me, it feels he’s done an incomplete story of the Plantagenets by not covering those two Kings and their successes and failures. Jones spent more time focused on the sex life of Henry V’s widow than on Henry V. And I find that troublesome. The only information most of us have out there about Henry IV and Henry V is from Shakespeare’s Hollow Crown series. While I love Shakespeare (and I do), his plays are part history and part entertainment. They were meant to be Tudor propaganda and, therefore, are not historically accurate (though I will admit that I cried at the beauty that is Hiddleston’s Henry V’s St Crispin’s Day Speech because it felt more realistic than any I have ever heard or seen as a Theatre person).

The Real Henry V (Courtesy of the National Portrait Galley); actually, he’s not bad looking.

So once again I feel cheated by not having a complete history of the Plantagents written by historians and it’s infuriating. In America, we are not given a good background in History. At the grade school level, we are repeatedly given lessons on the Pilgrims (who are always good, kind Christian folks who never did anything so reprehensible as give Native American’s blankets laced with smallpox), the Revolutionary War (and told it was because the British were taxing us to death when the truth is we were asking for representation and the ability to self-rule and make laws without having to wait for permission which is what Canada and Australia do), and good old Christopher Columbus, who discovered America (even though it’s named after America Vespucci, the Vikings were here before either of them and Columbus couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag).

Vikings: these bad-asses were here before Columbus, didn’t kill the Native People, some stayed, others went back. These guys deserve a holiday.

Also, Dan Jones basically told the same story I’ve read in countless other books. Practically every book on the War of the Roses focuses on the men. Henry VI is an idiot, his wife has a son that Jones states is Henry VI’s (though many historians don’t believe it since Henry VI was a known celibate and cringed at the mere suggestion of seeing a woman’s breast). Henry VI was also known to have stated that his wife must have gotten impregnated by God himself, which tells you that he never slept with his wife and died a virgin. Also, Jones basically repeats what everyone believes thanks to Tudor propaganda-Richard III is evil.

Reconstruction of Richard III based on his skull (courtesy of the Richard III Society)

Portrait of Richard III (most likely as Duke of Gloucester); Courtesy of Richard III Society

This is where Mr. Jones and I have a big disagreement. He will state prior to becoming King, Richard, Duke of Gloucester was known to his contemporaries as a kind man, big hearted (contemporary court historian John Rous), pious, generous, friend to the poor and downtrodden (contemporary Dominic Mancini), loyal to the Crown (contemporary Robert Fabyan), loyal to his family, and a man who always did what was best for the people, not the titled (Mancini again, writing to an Archbishop). He gives evidence of how Richard set up laws so poor people could petition the courts even when they didn’t have money due to a defense fund created for the duration of the life of one man (a clerk) so the poor would always have the means to seek redress. Jones points out how Richard refused money from towns when he visited and always asked that the funds be returned to those who gave it. Richard spent his own money fixing churches in poor areas, donating to ensure the poor could be buried properly, and always making sure his own bastard children were well looked after and loved. Contrast this with his two elder brothers, Edward IV and Clarence, Earl of Warwick.

Edward IV courtesy of the Richard III Society & Royal.Co.UK

No where in this book do I have any sympathy for Edward IV. He decides to take the crown from Henry VI because his father, Richard of York failed to. He was known to promise well-born ladies marriage in order to sleep with them, which was legal and considered a binding contract in those days. He was known to have promised something to Eleanor Butler (also known as Eleanor Talbot after the death of her husband), Elizabeth Lucy (also known as Elizabeth Wyte, who did bear him a son) and Elizabeth Grey (also known as Elizabeth Woodville). It is documented that he promised Elizabeth Woodville marriage IF he could sleep with her. So is it beyond the realm of possibilities that he did so with two other women? Does it make his children with Elizabeth Woodville illegitimate? Yes and no. If he promised Eleanor Butler first, then after the woman’s death in 1468, all he had to do was remarry Elizabeth Woodville. That’s it. But he was arrogant and cheated on her numerous times and had a favorite mistress, Jane Shore, that he paraded in court AFTER his marriage. His brother, Clarence was no better. Clarence married Isobel Neville to spite Edward. When she died unexpectedly due to childbirth, he murdered one of her servants (a woman) for no reason. Clarence himself wanted the Crown and hated Edward’s children. Edward retaliated by having Clarence put to death and drowned in a tub of wine (not kidding, Edward killed his own brother). No wonder their mother, Cecily, didn’t like either of them.

Death of Clarence (illustration from the 1900s) [Public Domain Image]

This then brings us to the two princes in the tower. Except there was another boy in the tower. Clarence’s son was also in the tower and had been since his dad’s death. As for the princes, Dan Jones fails to recognize that there was one person who really wanted those boys dead-Margaret Beaufort. She decided when her son Henry was six, he would be King one day. She was descendant from John of Gaunt through illegitimacy and married Edward Tudor. He died and she gave birth at the age of thirteen. Henry was her only child. She quickly married another husband as her son was basically put on house arrest and shuffled around. And when that husband died, she married another less than six months later. But she wanted him to be King.

Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond & Derry, Psedo Queen (Courtesy of Royal.Co.UK)

Having Edward IV’s sons declared illegitimate was one thing, but I don’t think Richard III would have his own nephews killed. If they died, it’s possible they died of the flu, which recently came to the shores of england around that time (1480s) . His own son died from the flu or pneumonia. Children died of illnesses all the time. Vaccines really weren’t available. Margaret Beaufort was petitioning Elizabeth Woodville in secret at this time to marry off Elizabeth of York to Henry WITH the promise he would be KING. Sounds like a good plan except by making Elizabeth of York legitimate, you are making those two boys legitimate as well, and Henry can’t be king. But Henry MUST be king. It was something Jones never discusses because like most male historians, he refuses to think women are capable of murder or of plotting to murder. But it’s much easier to buy into the Tudor propaganda that Richard III is just evil, even though he posts all these contradictory statements from historians at the time telling us Richard was actually a pretty decent guy and a better king than his brother.

Henry VIII (Royal .CO.UK)

At least Jones goes on to state how after the death of Elizabeth York, Henry VII then goes about killing anyone with the remote linkage to the York or Plantagenets, because nothing says be a good role model for your son and heir, Henry VIII, than a good old fashioned murdering spree. Henry VII killed Margaret Poole, daughter of Clarence (remember Clarence). She was old and in her 60s. And Henry VII had her beheaded because her blood was a threat to him. At least know we know where Henry VIII got his paranoia from.

So, do I recommend this book? I think it’s fine. It’s not badly written and Jones does a good job of weaving together the different strands of history together. I do wish he had actually given us Henry IV and Henry V since he references them so much in this book and his previous book. It’s really hard to appreciate both of those men when one has very little knowledge of them. And I liked the book written about the women during this time period much more than this one. This one just seemed more of the standard, run of the mill kind of book. this doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t purchase it. It IS the other half to the previous book and if I get that one, I feel obligated to purchase this one. I just wouldn’t rank this one high on being personally enjoyable for me.

Book Review: Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell

Image result for waterloo by bernard cornwell

While I am a student of late 18th & 19th Century History, Waterloo is a subject I know very little about. Actually, a lot of the battles that occurred in Europe a still a mystery to me as American schools do a very poor job of educating people in world history. American schools, for the most part, spend much time on the discovery of America in Grade School, a little on the American Revolution in Middle School (and I’m lucky to have had to study the Constitution at this time, which used to be a requirement in all 50 states, but exists in only a handful at this time), then a quick glossing over the Civil War, WWI and WWII in High School. No mention is ever made of the War of 1812, the Peruvian War of Independence, the French Revolution, The Crimea War, the Chilean Civil War, the Battle of Kalinga, etc. Basically, you get the point. America is well known for being an isolated country in part due to Teddy Roosevelt. He didn’t like to involved the US in world issues and in turn, fostered the insular need for us to remain separate from the world around us. I believe this has been a detriment to my education and to the education of many. So, I have decided, since I mainly stick to the years 1750-1830 (though I do have knowledge of of 1830-1910) to educate myself further. I feel this will not only help me understand the years that I tend to focus on better, and the life of Jane Austen with more understanding, but will also manifest itself in my writing (at least in one novel certainly) since the odd thought which occurred at 2AM a week ago and most assuredly lodged itself in my brain and this is the result.

I have looked at a few books dealing with Waterloo over the past 2 weeks and have rejected at least 5 in favor of this book by Bernard Cornwell. Once of the main reasons I chose this one over the others was based primarily on the fact Cornwell used basic English to describe the battles and didn’t relay too heavily on military lingo. While I do commend the writers who are writing and publishing books for the military aficionado, a person such as myself doesn’t understand such terms easily and didn’t relish needing a thesaurus or dictionary in order read every other sentence. In other words, his book is meant as an overview of the battle, but it also provides an in-depth view as to how the events unfolded and why certain decisions were made. He writes not expecting the reader to have any prior knowledge of the event, which works to his advantage. He proves that writing history doesn’t have to be boring and dull, but can be exciting and engaging when it is written well and with great passion.

Cornwell starts off each chapter with a map of the battle or layout of the area the chapter is focusing on, which is very helpful. They armies are color coded (Blue for French, Red for British & Prusssian) so you can understand the various positions he is describing and the movements. I wish every battle in history class had maps such as these because it does make a difference. Most people, I believe, are visual learners and having maps for each chapter did help me understand the battles and how they shaped up. He also ended each chapter with pictures (some portraits of the men he was talking about and some artistic renditions of the battle he was just discussing). The maps plus the pictures told me that the author made the effort to bring this tale to life in such a way as to make it feel relevant and easy to understand. I do think he succeeded with me.

Blucher

You do, over the course of the book, have your favorite historical persons. One of mine became Blucher, aka Marshal Forward, a 74 yr old Prussian who sometimes believed himself to be pregnant with an elephant (the father was always French it seems). But for all that, he was well loved by his men, it seems well loved by his wife, and when he found a woman in his army (who was awarded a few medals of honor), allowed her to remain in the fight. Truly, this man deserves a biopic at the very least. He was loyal to Wellington, even though they could not speak to each other without an interpretor, and Blucher just seems like an eccentric but brilliant military man whom no one really talks about anymore.

Grouchy

Another figure that I came to have a great amount of pity for was Marshall Grouchy. He is generally blamed for Napoleon’s losses at Waterloo, but to be fair, he received the strangest orders from the Emperor. He would get orders telling him to go to one town (which would be on his right), but to make sure to keep the Emperor on his left, but to also keep the enemy on his left as well. He couldn’t win either way.

Ney

Ney is another French Marshall that I ended up feeling sorry for. Unlike the other high ranking officers who fled France only to be forgiven after Napoleon’s death in 1821, Ney was tried and shot as a traitor to the Crown. He deserved better.

Wellington

Of course, you do tend to like Wellington as well. He comes off as charismatic, forthright, and a bit of a ladies man. He preferred ladies who were smart, well-read, and witty. He had many lovers, was not faithful to his wife (pity), maybe he wasn’t the perfect man but he could be calm in the midst of bloodshed, which is what the men needed in order to fight. He acknowledged the battle was won because of the help of the Prussians in all early correspondence (and for years afterwards). Alas! It seems his ego (and possibly hatred towards a Prussian who hated him-I forget his name but he worked with Blucher) may have made Wellington decide he was the sole reason the battle was won and not because he had help.

There are many, many books on Wellington as there are books on Waterloo. I even spotted a book on Grouchy in my search for a decent book on Waterloo. So, do I understand this significant battle better? I believe I understand it a bit better having read this book. I would not state I am an expert nor would I offer myself up as one. I will only state that Cornwell’s book is one I would definitely wish to purchase because it was so easy for me to understand and I do believe it would be an excellent reference book for myself.

A Duo of Book Reviews: Jane Austen’s Letters and A Curse so Dark & Lonely

Jane Austen’s Letters is the third edition of the original 1884 publication first compiled by Lord Edward Brabourne. What makes this edition superior to the others is the simple fact Deidre Le Faye put the letters in chronological order and had detailed notations on each letter (in the back-I wish they used footnotes!) along with a complete alphabetical listing of all the people mentioned or who received the letters. There is a fourth edition with a new preface by Deidre Le Faye, but no new letters no I am not certain is the newest edition is any better than this one. I found it fascinating to read the letters from one of my favorite authors. Jane Austen comes across as witty, much more sassy at times, and you can sometimes sense her frustrations at the limitations Society had imposed upon her. I know there is always much debate over the loss of a majority of the letters that were destroyed by Cassandra, but I think I understand why they may have been destroyed. Reading these letters, along with Le Faye’s other book, Jane Austen’s Country Life, I feel I understand why some were possibly destroyed. It seems there was little to no love between Jane and her brother James’ wife, who most likely convinced Jane’s father to give up his home to his son and move the family unexpectedly to Bath. Plus with Cassandra losing her fiancé, there were possibly many letters dealing with the grief and loss which Cassandra felt to be very private and personal. And I don’t begrudge the loss of some of these personal insights. There is enough in the existing letters to help paint the portrait of this author without knowing every personal detail of her life. We know more about Jane Austen than we do about William Shakespeare. So, for that, we should rejoice we even have this information. I do plan on purchasing this edition (or the fourth, depending on which one I can afford and which one is slightly cheaper). I think it would be an invaluable tool to anyone interested in Jane Austen or just in the daily lives of anyone living in the late 18th to early 19th Century.

Now, I feel I should first write a little bit about the nature of Young Adult Literature. Generally speaking, YA literature is written specifically for the 12-18 range group, yet many adults read these pieces as well. Not all YA fiction is going to have that broad appeal, but I’d say a little over half probably does. Now, I know people who think less of adults who read YA literature and I will happily point out to them that many of the best loved books of fiction are classified as YA in libraries and in bookstores (or on-line if that’s the way you prefer to shop). One example I love to give is The Hobbit. I first read it when I was seven, but I know people who didn’t read it until they were in their early twenties. Does this make it wrong? Absolutely not!

Another example is Sense & Sensibility. Yes, Jane Austen has some of her novels classified as YA fiction in most libraries. But many adults read Austen. I know I do. I tend to think of YA Literature as writing that is appropriate for teens (as in, they can relate to it, understand it), but this shouldn’t exclude any adults. I applaud anyone who can write a novel that has that major appeal. My own novel is more for adults and I am perfectly fine with this! Moving on…

I am a sucker for Faerie Tales. I love the originals like the Brother’s Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. I still love reading them because they are very dark, very Gothic (before it was a thing), very cruel morality tales. good and evil are not always so cut and dried in the originals and I have read some re-tellings that simply seem to be more Disneyfied  than dark. This novel is nothing at all like the Disneyfied versions that are available out there. It’s so much better.

Beauty & the Beast is a very popular tale and has been retold countless times. I myself have written a take on it (3/4 finished when I was 23 and now I think i should go back and finish it). What’s fascinating is no one really writes it the same way (expect Robin McKinely, who’s rewritten the tale two or three times). We all have out own ideas of what a Beast is and what Beauty should be. In most stories, I don’t connect with Beauty. It’s hard to connect with a character that’s generally written to be practically perfect in terms of looks, manners, speech, hair, etc. She’s sometimes gifted with some extra ordinary talent like making any garden flourish, or being able to talk to animals. Beauty is always so superhuman she kind of makes me sick. This time, someone made Beauty HUMAN. With flaws, an attitude, and a disability. It was so refreshing to see someone with a physical limitation depicted in a good way. I have asthma and diabetes along with depression and anxiety. Asthma and diabetes can be physically limiting at times, so a heroine that can go prancing in the forest doesn’t connect with me. A heroine that acknowledges she has a limitation but refuses to be defined by it? Astonishing.

I read this novel in about three hours. I am a fast reader, but also the tale was so engaging, so well written, I didn’t want to put it down. I actually wished it was longer because the pleasure I had reading it was so short lived. I gave it five stars on Goodreads (but would gladly give it six if that were an option). Basically, if you like great storytelling that’s engaging, witty and well written, plus you like strong heroines and faerie tales, then A Curse so Dark & Lonely is a must read.

Book Review: The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

I have all ready reviewed this book on Goodreads but they only give you so much space and this book really does deserve a much more indepth review. First, I must state that people think I only read history books that relate to Jane Austen and the 19th Century. That is wholly unfair and untrue. I have read Antonio Fraser’s biographies of Marie Antoinette and Louis XV (both I highly recommend), a good biography on Washington Irving that I may re-read and review on this blog at some point, as well as other non-fiction things that relate to Science (especially to Dinosaurs and Geology). Why I chose this particular book was it was recommended to me by my local librarian as being a good overall look at the Plantagenet Kings & Queens of England and I am interested in this era of history as it relates to my own family on my mother’s side. Let me explain.

Wild Edric (seriously. The man has not one, but two flowers named after him!)

On my mother’s side, I am a direct descendant of the Weld Family of England. They trace their roots back to Edric the Wild, an Anglo-Saxon lord who lived in Shropshire at the time of William of Normandy. He did not fight at the Battle of Hastings (1100 CE) as he was at sea (apparently he was a really good sailor). He is an interesting figure of history as he is said to have married either an Elven Maiden or Faerie Maiden, leaving behind a mortal line of heirs with the “magical” bloodline, and he is said to lead the Faerie raids to this day. He still appears before major battles (including the Crimean War and some say before WWII). So I though it would be interesting to learn about this time in history. Plus, his son left money to a Church and one of his descendants by 1300 CE was Sheriff of London, which is a major title. By 1600, they purchased the castle at Lulworth and were allowed to remain Catholic under QEI. The current Welds in England are cousins of the original line, still Catholic and friends to the Royal family still. The Welds in America are the direct descendants of the original line. So, this is why I am interested. Plus the whole Elvish blood is supposed to be the reason why the Welds favor education (they have always donated to the Jesuits and to libraries), they have been painters, writers, poets, scholars, and priests. One writers, Agnes Weld, is niece to Alfred, Lord Tennyson (her mother’s sister married the esteemed poet, so I am related to the poet by marriage!). Tuesday Weld is a relation (but isn’t very nice). Basically, the Welds are tied up with history and I am fascinated by it. So I try to learn more about the world in which they grew from being Anglo-Saxon lords to prominent leaders.

Lulworth Castle in Dorset. Now owned by the National Trust.

Anyways, back to the book. The author had put in a few maps of the UK at various times (and of France) to highlight the changing power structure. It would show the political landscape at the time of William of Normandy, then another at the time of the fighting between King Stephen and Emperor Matilda. I believe another showed it towards the time of Edward I or Edward II (I don’t have the book on me, so I cannot verify this). Regardless, it was a nice way of showing how the powers shifted and the the control of certain areas (especially territories in France) shifted from English to French control. He also wisely included a few very simple genealogical charts, which where helpful. However, I do wish he had included the same for the French royal monarchs instead of just a list of names and the family line. Only because there was so much intermarrying between the French, English, and other royal families it would have been much easier for me (and probably for others) to see charts for the French monarchs as well since he does talk about them quiet a lot.

This is not quite what his looked like, but you get the general idea. This one is actually more detailed.

One issue I had was he did spend time discussing Henry II and his loss of an heir, and setting up his daughter as heir with her =marriage to Geoffrey Plantagenet. I don’t mind as this is important, but he spends a few chapters setting up the background to the family and then ends the book by stating that the family line ended with Richard II being replaced by Henry IV. This is inaccurate. Henry IV, or as he was known before becoming king, Henry Boingbrooke, is the son and heir to John of Gaunt. Gaunt is son to Edward II and after the death of the Heir, the Black Prince, John had every right to be King (or even Regent) as his nephew was too young to be crowned. He didn’t take the throne, even though it was his right. He and his son supported Richard II. Richard, on the other hand, stripped Henry of his inheritance the moment his father died, having been exiled by Richard on a BS pretext (the author explains it and it was complete BS). Richard was, quite frankly, a madman and highly unsuitable to be King. For the author to state that once Richard was removed, that was the end of the Plantagents is blatantly false.

Oh look, more Plantagent family tree, which was missing from the book.

Because if the family had ended, as the author claimed, then his assertion that Henry VII then killed off any potential Plantagenet heirs to his throne is then a contradictory statement. I wonder why his editor didn’t catch that. I certainly did and it should have been caught. So, the book ends with Richard II being removed from the throne, Henry IV being crowned and nothing else. No mention of Henry IV, Henry V nor Henry VI. All Plantangent Kings. All who should have been mentioned in this book. The War of the Roses (which deal with Richard III and the fight for succession and the rise of the Tudors after the death of Henry VI) should be done in a separate book. That is a wholly complex and fascinating subject on it’s own. And the author is said to be working on such a book. Oddly enough, he calls Richard III a Plantagenet king on his website. Somehow, Gaunt’s line (Lancaster) is not Plantagenet, but the York line is? Both are direct decedents of Edward II, so I am very confused as to what he considers part of the line or not.

Plantagentets

Henry IV-Not Plantagenet (?)

Henry V-Not Plantagenet (?)

Henry VI- Not Plantagenet (?)

Richard III-Plantagenent

Yeah, I had to use the images for Henry VI, Henry V, and Henry VI from the Hollow Crown series. It was too good to pass up! But it does make you wonder why many historians do consider the Lancaster line to not be part of the Plantagenet legacy, but then do state the York line is. Could it be part of Tudor propaganda that has trickled down all these years? After all, Henry V’s widow and mother of Henry VI married Owen Tudor and had a son, Edmund. His son, Henry Tudor then became Henry VII who married into the Plantagenet line by marrying Elizabeth of York. Did the Tudors, since they did try to wipe out any potential direct Plantagenet heirs after this, try to think more highly of the Lancasters because of that connection through the marriage of Catherine Valois to Owen Tudor? Sort of like greatness by proxy? I can understand this as I do feel tickled knowing a relation had Lord Tennyson as an uncle (thinking that would be really cool), but she was also a writer and how unworthy that must have made her feel as well, to be compared to such greatness (poor Agnes!). Shakespeare seemed to help with this propaganda, after all, considering Richard III is portrayed as a villian in the play, when in real life he was a decent King, loved his wife and people, and tried to do his best. His brother was married twice to two different women, making his children illegitimate. His brother was an idiot. then when you look at Henry IV and Henry V (the Shakespeare plays), the Lancasters are portrayed with such depth, such dignity; they are no villains. So, yes, propaganda seems to still be at play here.

Henry VII, First Tudor King

So, what does this mean? This means I should try and see if there are other similar books that may have a broader and better overview of this time period. Not that this is a bad book. It was very well written and very engaging. I can see myself finding it used on-line and purchasing it sometime in the future because it did have some very good, well researched chapters. I just think the author was too quick to state they were no Plantagenets after Richard II, then state Henry VII killed off other claimants to the throne and mention Richard III being a Plantagenet King (especially since he was king AFTER Henry IV).  I do recommend this book, but read it with caution knowing the author has played into Tudor propaganda, which is sad considering this was published int he 21st Century and we should be over Tudor propaganda at this point in time.

Agnes Grace Weld (1849-1915)