Deeper into the Dynasty with Tony Riches
Few authors out there have the sort of commitment Tony Riches has demonstrated towards the Tudor dynasty. A subject of immense interest to him, he has taken it upon himself to explore in great detail the fates of the many people who came and went from the Tudor stage, especially the ones who have been relegated to the shadows. In some cases, their manoeuvres were quite instrumental and even critical in cementing the family’s legacy and ensuring its survival. History books prefer to remember the more explicit and easily chronicled events, and sadly so, because as we are about to see in Mary – Tudor Princess , sometimes even the smaller players in history can have a long-standing impact.
While all the books of the Tudor trilogy by Tony Riches focused on men, (Henry, Jasper and Owen), this is the first one to focus on a woman, the titular Mary Tudor, a princess born to King Henry VII. As her brother King Henry VIII ascends to the throne he begins weaving a marriage scheme for his sister, designed to create a powerful alliance for the family that it might safely defend against its enemies. Of indescribable beauty and profound intelligence, Mary has no shortage of suitors, but unfortunately her brother’s plan is not one that will lead her to happiness. Thus, she finds herself faced with an incredibly dangerous choice, one that might end up dictating the downfall or survival of the dynasty: does she marry for power like her brother insists, or does she risk his rage and the potential alliance to marry the one she loves?
Henry’s Forgotten Sister
The first thing which attracted me to this book above others dealing with Tudor history is that it legitimately explores a figure that isn’t well-known in the slightest sense of the word… meaning she is one of the few people from the dynasty who didn’t get studied inside out yet. In other words, her life was a complete mystery to me going on in, one I am satisfied to say was explored in stupefying detail.
The story opens as Mary is only thirteen years of age and betrothed to Charles, nine years of age and future Emperor, on the whole not the worst of arrangements. While we get acquainted with her life as a child in the court, we are also treated to some captivating and equally troubling excursions into the dynamics of 16th century European aristocracy. As her brother decides to marry her off to the much older and infirm King Louis of France, Mary accepts her situation with courage and dignity, already planning her future and subsequent marriage. We follow her through those painful teenage years, and I can only commend the wisdom, courage and perseverance she displayed in the face of a perverted world intent on controlling her and using her as a stepping stone to other means.
Tony Riches knows how to make a narration captivating, carefully choosing his words to make palpable the tension in the air and the potential doom looming over people. He never dwells on anything unimportant and understands the need to progress Mary’s story and keeping her in the centre of the spotlight.
A Noble Lady’s Life
As we live with her throughout the years, Mary provides us with some invaluable insights into the expectations people had of noble ladies back in those days. There is a vast array of details revolving around everyday life you’d be hard-pressed to find in any history book, at least written in such an eloquent and entertaining manner. We witness the many duties Mary had to undertake throughout her life, the sacrifices she had to make for the sake of medieval laws and traditions, and of course the many pitfalls of the Court she had to avoid. As a matter of fact, this ends up being an even wider window into the lives of 16th century women in general; a simultaneously fascinating and disturbing examination of very different days which I am quite happy are in the distant past now.
Apart from that Tony Riches also branches out into warfare, economy, diplomacy and the like, seeking to paint as complete a picture as possible of the context Mary was living in. We get to see the forgettable beginning to King Henry VIII’s reign, how the statesmen plot behind ceaselessly behind his back, machinators who will stop at nothing to further their own position in society at the expense of as many people as needed. As we get deeper and deeper into this exploration of 16th century European life, it becomes apparent that it was an incredibly complex system layered with rules and morals which today seem incomprehensible, probably a subject meriting a few tomes at the very least. I feel like the author deserves praise for fitting in as much knowledge as he did in a concise and absorbing way few others could hope to match.
The Final Verdict
With all being said and done, Mary – Tudor Princess is another solid entry into Tony Riches’ series on the Tudors, at least as captivating and aptly-written as the ones that came before it. The narration is engaging from start to finish, gifting us an impressive amount of information about Mary herself as well as the world surrounding her. If the Tudor dynasty is a topic of interest to you, then I highly recommend you check this book out and learn a bit about one of the more overshadowed figures in this family’s history.