is the first comprehensive biography about Margaret Beaufort – mother of Henry VII and the Tudor dynasty – in 30 years. It would be an understatement to say I was more than a little excited when I found out this remarkable lady was to have her story retold for a whole new generation.
Why? Well, there was two reasons.
Firstly, I’ve got a soft spot for Margaret B. Being a proud Cymraes I’ve always been a bit biased towards the Tudors and their Welsh roots. I also feel that the early Tudors are overshadowed by the massive historic characters of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. This needs addressing.
I was also lucky to spend a year working as a custodian at the historic Lamphey Bishop’s Palace in Pembrokeshire. For those of you who don’t know, Lamphey was where Margaret lived after her marriage to Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and half-brother to Henry V. It is likely that Lamphey was the place where their son, the future Henry VII, was conceived in the summer of 1456. It was quite something working in a place where the mother of the Tudor dynasty had once walked.
Secondly, the new biography was by Dr Nicola Tallis, one of my favourite popular historians. I’m a BIG fan of Nicola’s work. I’ve loved her previous books, especially Elizabeth’s Rival which is all about Lettice Knollys. Nicola did a fantastic job of shedding light on the life of Lettice, an English noblewoman who ended up marrying her cousin Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley. As you can imagine, that match didn’t go down too well!
Given Nicola’s past form and the brilliant choice of subject for her next book, I had no qualms in immediately placing my pre-order for Uncrowned Queen. And it was well worth the wait.
My review of Uncrowned Queen
The main reason I think this book is so good is because it truly challenges and unpicks the long-held myths and narratives surrounding Margaret Beaufort. And its done in a solid way, fully based on evidence. Nicola uses her very extensive research to slowly unpick the things you thought you knew about Margaret Beaufort in a meticulous manner. Put it this way, if you were on trial, you would not want Nicola Tallis as your prosecuting lawyer!
The widely held belief that Margaret Beaufort was unable to have children after Henry due to complications in childbirth arising from her young age? Quashed. The image of her as a pious-to-the-point-of-being-a-killjoy bore? A lie – Maggie B wasn’t averse to a bit of a party or a spending spree on some new gowns. The myth of her as the original mother-in-law from hell to Katherine of York? Just that – a myth.
And don’t get me started on the absurd belief that Margaret Beaufort had a hand in the death of the princes in the tower…
If I’m being 100% honest I found Uncrowned Queen a slightly harder read in places compared to Elizabeth’s Rival. However, this isn’t due to Nicola’s writing. She does a more than commendable job of placing the life of a complex figure against the equally complex backdrop of the chaos of the War of the Roses. Its a testament to her skill as a writer that the reader is able to follow Margaret’s life story.
As I’ve said before, Nicola’s writing style is clear and engaging. No flowery language or unnecessary tangents – just a good, solid historical story. This, combined with Nicola’s emphasis on evidence, makes Uncrowned Queen the best historical biography I have read this year.
What else I liked about Uncrowned Queen
Of course the historical content of Uncrowned Queen is the most important thing, but I am really impressed by the extra thought that has obviously gone into the book.
Nicola has thought a lot about what information the reader needs to get the most out of her book. As well as the usual family tree charts, you get a list of dramatis personae and a timeline of key events. Margaret lived through one of the most turbulent and rapidly changing times in English history. These extra features really help the reader to follow this complex backdrop.
There is also a note on the sources available for the book and how they were used by Nicola. I think its great the reader gets an upfront and honest appraisal on what we can realistically determine about Margaret’s life. Other historical writers – please take note!
And then at the back of the book there’s more. There’s a list of places associated with Margaret Beaufort that you can visit. Other writers rarely go to this level of effort to get the reader fully immersed in the subject of their book.
And lets talk about the cover! If I didn’t know about this book, I could still tell it was by Nicola Tallis by the design.
The design of the cover is similar to that used for her previous book Elizabeth’s Rival. Its only what I can describe as historical graphic design – complete with gorgeous gold detail. I really hope she continues using the same sort of design for her future work. I really haven’t seen anything else like it design-wise.
Uncrowned Queen – My Verdict
All in all, I would highly recommend Uncrowned Queen. I do love my Tudor history, but at the same time it is such a popular subject with many books written about it – its rare that a new book comes along that challenges the well-established narrative and shakes things up a bit.
But Uncrowned Queen does just that, and it does it in engaging way that is firmly rooted in historical sources and evidence. There are a lot of other historical writers who should be taking a leaf out of Nicola’s book!
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