The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: Mary, Katherine, and Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Tragedy [NOOK Book]



Mary, Katherine, and Jane Grey?sisters whose mere existence nearly toppled a kingdom and altered a nation?s destiny?are the captivating subjects of Leanda de Lisle?s new book. The Sisters Who Would Be Queen breathes fresh life into these three young women, who were victimized in the notoriously vicious Tudor power struggle and whose heirs would ...
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The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: Mary, Katherine, and Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Tragedy

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Mary, Katherine, and Jane Grey–sisters whose mere existence nearly toppled a kingdom and altered a nation’s destiny–are the captivating subjects of Leanda de Lisle’s new book. The Sisters Who Would Be Queen breathes fresh life into these three young women, who were victimized in the notoriously vicious Tudor power struggle and whose heirs would otherwise probably be ruling England today.

Born into aristocracy, the Grey sisters were the great-granddaughters of Henry VII, grandnieces to Henry VIII, legitimate successors to the English throne, and rivals to Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Lady Jane, the eldest, was thrust center stage by greedy men and uncompromising religious politics when she briefly succeeded Henry’s son, the young Edward I. Dubbed “the Nine Days Queen” after her short, tragic reign from the Tower of London, Jane has over the centuries earned a special place in the affections of the English people as a “queen with a public heart.” But as de Lisle reveals, Jane was actually more rebel than victim, more leader than pawn, and Mary and Katherine Grey found that they would have to tread carefully in order to avoid sharing their elder sister’s violent fate.

Navigating the politics of the Tudor court after Jane’ s death was a precarious challenge. Katherine Grey, who sought to live a stable life, earned the trust of Mary I, only to risk her future with a love marriage that threatened Queen Elizabeth’s throne. Mary Grey, considered too petite and plain to be significant, looked for her own escape from the burden of her royal blood–an impossible task after she followed her heart and also incurred the queen’s envy, fear, and wrath.

Exploding the many myths of Lady Jane Grey’s life, unearthing the details of Katherine’s and Mary’s dramatic stories, and casting new light on Elizabeth’s reign, Leanda de Lisle gives voice and resonance to the lives of the Greys and offers perspective on their place in history and on a time when a royal marriage could gain a woman a kingdom or cost her everything.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Although the Tudor era has inspired a flood of literature, de Lisle (After Elizabeth), in her second book, illuminates three remarkable characters of the time, the Grey sisters, who were named by both Henry VIII and his son, Edward, as heirs to the throne. But, says de Lisle, "Dynastic politics, religious propaganda, and sexual prejudice have since buried [the sisters] in legend and obscurity." ' De Lisle demonstrates that while Jane, long viewed as helpless, was indeed young and pressed to accept the crown, she was exceptionally intelligent, educated and confident as England's first queen regnant and a passionate Protestant evangelical leader. Under Elizabeth I, Jane's sister Katherine married secretly without the queen's consent and was imprisoned because her pregnancy threatened Elizabeth with the possibility of a legitimate royal heir; after seven years in prison, Katherine died, likely of self-starvation. Mary also married without Elizabeth's consent and was imprisoned for seven years, but was eventually rehabilitated at court only to die of plague at age 33. De Lisle has produced an excellent, assiduously researched account of dynastic politics at its worst, focusing on three fascinating and often overlooked women. Photos.(Oct. 1)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Tudor England continues to ensnare the interest of a multitude of readers, even those with only a passing interest in historical study. From the famed six wives of Henry VIII to the glories of Elizabeth I, the era is bursting with compelling personalities and plotlines Shakespeare himself could hardly have dreamed up. Following closely on the heels of David Loades's The Tudor Queens of England comes an in-depth and well-researched treatment of a group of sisters all of whom could have been queen. De Lisle (After Elizabeth) attempts to strip away much of the prevailing myth surrounding the Grey sisters. She combines a meticulous examination of personal letters, diaries, and state papers and her ability to tell a story in an effort to present the sisters as no mere tools of powerful men, but standing at the center of the turbulent world of Tudor England. Readers are taken behind the scenes and into the "Golden Age of Gossip" where the elites betray friends and family alike to maintain their always tenuous hold on power. VERDICT While the narrative tends to become mired at points, enthusiasts and historians of the period alike will find much of value in de Lisle's tale. Recommended for all fans and students of British history.—Brian Odom, Pelham P.L., AL
Kirkus Reviews
The Grey sisters receive a compelling treatment from De Lisle (After Elizabeth: The Rise of James of Scotland and the Struggle for the Throne of England, 2006). In this sympathetic biography of the three grand-nieces of Henry VIII who had a real shot at reigning in England, the author stresses the theme that women were deeply scorned and feared as rulers. However, during the generation after Henry died, de Lisle notes, "the entire political system, the stability of England" would be borne out by the actions of females, "beings to be used and manipulated." In 1544, Henry had established his line of succession, which moved from his young son Edward down to his two "illegitimate" daughters Mary and Elizabeth, to the descendants of his youngest sister, Frances Brandon (the Grey branch). Lady Jane Grey, the eldest sister and most promising in terms of intellectual accomplishment and resolve, was apparently an even better pupil than her cousin Elizabeth. But she was prey to all manner of schemes by relatives and guardians to marry her off, and de Lisle suggests that her true hope was to marry King Edward. However, because Edward had named the Grey branch as his rightful successors, Jane was finagled into marrying Lord Guildford Dudley to produce a quick son and heir. With Edward's death, Lady Jane ruled for a fortnight, before the people of England rose up to demand that Mary Tudor be rightfully installed. Jane's two sisters, warily watched and imprisoned under Elizabeth, would escape the chopping block but endure bleak fates of their own. De Lisle is to be commended for skillfully drawing out the stories of these undervalued personages, especially the one who stood in line to inherit thethrone before the Grey sisters-their poor overlooked mother, Frances. A slow-smoldering, steadily argued work of historical significance.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345516688
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 102,218
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Leanda de Lisle is the author of After Elizabeth. She was educated at Somerville College, Oxford, where she earned a master of arts degree in modern history. A successful journalist and broadcaster, she has been a columnist for The Spectator, The Guardian, Country Life, and the Daily Express, as well as writing for The Times, the Daily Mail, the New Statesman, and The Sunday Telegraph. She lives in Leicestershire with her husband and three children.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Chapter One


Frances, Marchioness of Dorset, prepared carefully for the birth of her child. It was an anxious time, but following the traditions of the lying-in helped allay fears of the perils of labor. The room in which she was to have her baby had windows covered and keyholes blocked. Ordinances for a royal birth decreed that only one window should be left undraped, and Frances would depend almost entirely on candles for light. The room was to be as warm, soft, and dark as possible. She bought or borrowed expensive carpets and hangings, a bed of estate, fine sheets, and a rich counterpane. Her friend the late Lady Sussex had one of ermine bordered with cloth of gold for her lying-in, and, as the King's niece, Frances would have wanted nothing less.  

The nineteen-year-old mother-to-be was the daughter of Henry's younger sister, Mary, Duchess of Suffolk, the widow of Louis XII and known commonly as the French Queen. Frances was, therefore, a granddaughter of Henry VII and referred to as the Lady Frances to indicate her status as such. The child of famously handsome parents, she was, unsurprisingly, attractive. The effigy that lies on her tomb at Westminster Abbey has a slender, elegant figure and under the gilded crown she wears, her features are regular and strong. Frances, however, was a conventional Tudor woman, as submissive to her father's choice of husband for her as she would later be to her husband's decisions.  

Henry-or "Harry"-Grey, Marquess of Dorset, described as "young," "lusty," "well learned and a great wit," was only six months older than his wife. But the couple had been married for almost four years already. The contractual arrangements had been made on 24 March 1533, when Frances was fifteen and Dorset sixteen. Among commoners a woman was expected to be at least twenty before she married, and a man older, but of course these were no commoners. They came from a hereditary elite and were part of a ruthless political culture. The children of the nobility were political and financial assets to their families, and Frances's marriage to Dorset reflected this. Dorset came from an ancient line with titles including the baronies of Ferrers, Grey of Groby, Astley, Boneville, and Harrington. He also had royal connections. His grandfather, the 1st Marquess, was the son of Elizabeth Woodville, and therefore the half-brother of Henry VIII's royal mother, Elizabeth of York. This marked Dorset as a suitable match for Frances in terms of rank and wealth, but there were also good political reasons for Suffolk to want him as a son-in-law.  

The period immediately before the arrangement of Frances's marriage had been a difficult one for her parents. The dislike with which Mary, Duchess of Suffolk, viewed her brother's then "beloved," Anne Boleyn, was well-known. It was said that women argued more bitterly about matters of rank than anything else, and certainly Frances's royal mother had deeply resented being required to give precedence to a commoner like Anne. For years the duke and duchess had done their best to destroy the King's affection for his mistress, but in the end without success. The King, convinced that Anne would give him the son that Catherine of Aragon had failed to produce, had married her that January and she was due to be crowned in May/June. It seemed that the days when the Suffolks had basked in the King's favor could be over, but a marriage of Frances to Harry Dorset offered a possible lifeline, a way into the Boleyn camp. Harry Dorset's father, Thomas Grey of Dorset, had been a witness for the King in his efforts to achieve an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He had won his famous diamond-and-ruby badge of the Tudor rose at the jousting tournaments that had celebrated Catherine's betrothal to the King's late brother, Arthur, in 1501. In 1529, the year before Thomas Grey of Dorset died, he had offered evidence that this betrothal was consummated. It had helped support Henry's arguments that Catherine had been legally married to his brother and his own marriage to her was therefore incestuous. Anne Boleyn remained grateful to the family, and Harry Dorset was made a Knight of the Bath at her coronation.  

From Harry's perspective, however, the marriage to Frances-concluded sometime between 28 July 1533 and 4 February 1534-also carried political and material advantages to his family. His grandfather, the 1st Marquess, may have been Henry VII's brother-in-law, but by marrying a princess of the blood he would be doing even better; and the fact that he had only the previous year refused the daughter of the Earl of Arundel may be an early mark of his ambition. Through Frances, any children they had would be linked by blood to all the power and spiritual mystery of the crown. It was an asset of incalculable worth-though it would carry a terrible price.  

Nearly four years later, sometime before the end of May, 1537, Frances's child was to be born. Harry Grey of Dorset was in London that spring, and Frances would surely have been with him then at Dorset House, on the Strand. It was one of a number of large properties built by the nobility close to the new royal palace of Whitehall. There was a paved street behind and, in front-where the house had its grandest aspect-there was a garden down to the river with a water gate onto the Thames. Traveling by boat in London was easier than navigating the narrow streets, and foreigners often commented on the beauty of the river. Swans swam among the great barges while pennants flew from the pretty gilded cupolas of the Tower. But there were also many grim sights on the river that spring. London Bridge was festooned with the decapitated heads of the leaders of the recent rebellion in the north, the Pilgrimage of Grace: men who had fought for the faith of their ancestors and the right of the Princess Mary to inherit her father's crown. For all Henry's concerns about the decorum of female rule, the majority of his ordinary subjects had little objection to the concept. That women were inferior as a sex was regarded as indisputable, but it was possible for some to be regarded as exceptional. The English were famous in Europe for their devotion to the Virgin Mary, the second Eve, who alone among humanity was born without the taint of the first sin, and who reigned under God as Queen of Heaven. It did not seem, to them, a huge leap to accept a Queen on Earth. Just as the Princess Mary's rights were under attack, however, so were their religious beliefs and traditions.  

When the Pope had refused to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the King had broken with Rome, and the Pope's right of intervention on spiritual affairs in England had been abolished by an act of Parliament on 7 April 1533. With the benefit of hindsight we understand that this was a definitive moment in the history of the English-speaking world, but at the time, most people had seen these events as no more than moves in a political game. Matters of jurisdiction between King and Pope were not things with which ordinary people concerned themselves, and the aspects of traditional belief that first came under attack were often controversial ones. Long before Henry's reformation in religion there had been debate for reform within the Catholic Church, inspired in particular by the so-called Humanists. They were fascinated by the rediscovered ancient texts of Greece and Rome, and in recent decades Western academics had, for the first time, learnt Greek as well as Latin. This allowed them to read earlier versions of the Bible than the medieval Latin translations, and to make new translations. As a change in meaning to a few words could question centuries of religious teaching, so a new importance came to be placed on historical accuracy and authenticity. Questions were raised about such traditions as the cult of relics, and the shrines to local saints whose origins may have lain with the pagan gods. It was only in 1535, when two leading Humanists, Henry's former Lord Chancellor, Thomas More, and the Bishop of Rochester, John Fisher, went to the block rather than accept the King's claimed "royal supremacy" over religious affairs, that people began to realize there was more to Henry's reformation than political argument and an attempt to reform religious abuses. And even then many did not waver in their Catholic faith. These "Henrician" Catholics included among their number the chief ideologue of the "royal supremacy," the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner. For the bishop, as for the King, papal jurisdiction, the abolished shrines, pilgrimages, and monasteries, were not intrinsic to Catholic beliefs, but the Holy Sacraments, such as the Mass, remained inviolate. Bishop and King argued that although the English Church was in schism in the sense that it had separated from Rome, it was not heretical and in opposition to it.  

Those who disagreed, and opposed Henry's reformation, felt his tyranny to full effect, as the heads displayed at London Bridge and other public sites bore silent witness. One hundred and forty-four rebels from the Pilgrimage of Grace were dismembered and their body parts put on show in the north and around the capital. Even if Londoners avoided the terrible spectacle of these remains, they would not miss the other physical evidence of the King's reformation. Everywhere the great religious buildings that had played a central role in London life were being destroyed or adapted to secular use. Only that May, the monks from the London Charterhouse who had refused to sign an oath to the royal supremacy were taken to Newgate Prison, where they would starve to death in chains.   Inside Frances's specially prepared chamber at Dorset House, however, the sights, sounds, and horrors of the outside world were all shut out. She was surrounded only with the women who would help deliver her baby. When the first intense ache of labor came it was a familiar one. Frances had already lost at least one child, a son who died in infancy, as so many Tudor children did. Nothing is recorded of his short life save his name: Henry, Lord Harington. Contemporary sources focus instead on the children born to Anne Boleyn: her daughter, Elizabeth, born on 7 September 1533 (at whose christening Dorset had borne the gilded saltcellar),* and the miscarriages that had followed-the little deaths that had marked the way to Boleyn's own, executed on trumped-up charges of adultery on 19 May 1536. The King's second marriage was annulled and an act of Parliament had since declared both the King's daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, illegitimate and incapable of succession. This raised in importance the heirs of the King's sisters in the line of succession, and both King and kingdom had already shown sensitivity to the implications. The rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace had expressed their fear that on Henry's death England would pass to the foreigner James V of Scots, the son of his elder sister, Margaret. Meanwhile, her daughter by a second marriage, to the Earl of Angus, Lady Margaret Douglas, a favorite of the English court, was currently in prison for having become betrothed without the King's permission. Her lover, Anne Boleyn's uncle Thomas Howard, would die in the Tower that October. But while Frances's child would, inevitably, hold an important place within the royal family, the King remained determined that his own line would succeed him. The pressure on her to produce a male heir was therefore of a different order to that placed on Henry's wives. Dorset wanted a son, as all noblemen did, but he and Frances were still young and, when a girl was born, their relief that she was strong and healthy would have outweighed any disappointment in her sex.   A servant carried the newborn child immediately to a nearby room and handed her to a nurse. It was usual for fathers to be at hand when their children were born and Dorset would have been one of the first to visit the dimly lit nursery where his daughter was being fed and bound in swaddling, to keep her limbs straight and prevent her from scratching her face. Her spiritual welfare was of still greater concern to her parents and her christening was arranged as soon as possible, though this meant Frances could not attend. New mothers were expected to remain in bed for up to a month, and some did not even sit up for a fortnight. Frances played a role, however, in helping choose as her daughter's godmother the King's new wife, Jane Seymour, after whom the little girl was named.   With her pursed lips and sandy eyelashes, Jane Seymour seems a poor replacement for Anne Boleyn, whose black eyes, it was said, "could read the secrets of a man's heart," but like her predecessor, Jane Seymour was a ruthless seductress. Her betrothal to Henry was announced only the day after Anne was executed. Having gotten her king it was her performance as a broodmare that was now important. In this too, however, she was showing marked success. A pregnancy had been evident for weeks, and on 27 May the rumors were confirmed with a Te Deum sung at St. Paul's Cathedral "for joy of the Queen's quickening with child." It remained to be seen whether Jane Seymour would give the King the son he wanted, but in choosing her as godmother to their new daughter, Frances and Harry Dorset had offered a vote of confidence, and although they could not know it, the Seymour family would remain closely linked to their own, one way or another, thereafter.  

About a fortnight after the christening, Frances had her first day out of bed and dressed in one of her finest nightgowns for a celebratory party. The royal tailor advised damask or satin, worn with an ermine-trimmed bonnet and waistcoat, allowing the wearer to keep warm as well as look good, for visiting female friends and relations. Frances had a younger sister, Eleanor, married to Lord Clifford, and an equally young stepmother. Frances's mother had died on Midsummer's Day in 1533, and her father had wasted little time before remarrying. The bride he had chosen was his fourteen-year-old ward, an heiress, Katherine Willoughby. He was then forty-nine, and the muscles of the champion jouster, like those of his friend the King, had begun to turn to fat. Frances would doubtless have wished her father had waited longer and made a different choice: the new Duchess of Suffolk had been raised alongside her like a sister since the age of seven. But Frances had accepted what she could not change and remained close to her childhood friend, who was now pregnant with the second of Frances's half brothers, Charles Brandon. After the party was over, Frances could venture beyond her chambers to the nursery and other rooms in the house, until the lying-in concluded at last when Jane was about a month old with the "churching"-a religious service of thanksgiving and purification that ended with Frances being sprinkled with holy water. "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean," she prayed, "wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." 

From the Hardcover edition.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Family Trees


Pt. 1 Educating Jane

I Beginning 3

II First Lessons 13

III Jane's Wardship 23

IV The Example of Catherine Parr 33

V The Execution of Sudeley 45

VI Northumberland's 'Crew' 56

VII Bridling Jane 67

VIII Jane and Mary 76

Pt. 2 Queen and Martyr

IX No Poor Child 89

X A Married Woman 102

XI Jane the Queen 112

XII A Prisoner in the Tower 125

XIII A Fatal Revolt 138

Pt. 3 Heirs to Elizabeth

XIV Aftermath 155

XV Growing Up 169

XVI The Spanish Plot 180

XVII Betrothal 193

XVIII A Knot of Secret Might 205

XIX First Son 217

XX Parliament and Katherine's Claim 230

XXI Hales's Tempest 239

Pt. 4 Lost Love

XXII The Lady Mary and Mr. Keyes 249

XXIII The Clear Choice 257

XXIV While I Lived, Yours 268

XXV The Last Sister 273

XXVI A Return to Elizabeth's Court 283

XXVII Katherine's Sons and the Death of Elizabeth 292

XXVIII The Story's End 301

Epilogue 307

Author's Note 313

Notes 317

Bibliography 351

Index 365\

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2013

    A fascinating true story about three sisters who were heirs to t

    A fascinating true story about three sisters who were heirs to the Tudor crown

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    An interesting period in English history

    Not knowing much about Lady Jane Grey or her family, I found this book quite interesting. It was sad that she only reigned as Queen for a few days, but that is history. I enjoyed learning about her other two sisters in the Grey family.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2014

    As can be said of all her books, Leanda de Lisle delivers nonfic

    As can be said of all her books, Leanda de Lisle delivers nonfiction at its very best. She most certainly has dedicated countless hours of research in preparation of bringing this story in history alive. There is literally ZERO dry reading found in The Sisters Who Would Be Queen. The story of Jane Grey is fairly well known but that of her sisters, Mary and Katherine seems to have been pushed in to the dusty cob webbed corners of the history shelves.Thanks to Leanda de Lisle, these young women and the fascinating events of their lives are brought right into your home, library or school. Well done, Ms. DeLisle, and THANK YOU!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    The Sisters Who Would Be Queen is fairly interesting, particular

    The Sisters Who Would Be Queen is fairly interesting, particularly if you are into the history of England and its politics. Four Stars.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2014

    well -- I don't agree with the reviewers who found this book dul

    well -- I don't agree with the reviewers who found this book dull or repetitive. I suppose one has to love reading about historical subjects, to enjoy this book. I found it exceedingly well-written and it held my interest over several OTHER books that I was reading at the same time. But then --I enjoy reading history!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2014

    question...does this read as historical fiction...or just histor

    question...does this read as historical fiction...or just history? I loved The Boleyn Sisters ( I couldn't give it a fair review because of the question being asked I haven't rread it yet)

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2015

    Leanda de Lisle is a great biographer

    I really enjoyed this book. She dispelled myths about the Grey sisters and other Tudor courtiers including the Seymours and Dudleys. Jane is seen as a victim, and her mother as a monster and father as a dullard or the same as Frances. And Katherine as an idiot and Mary Grey is not given much thought too but Leanda deconstructs these pop stereotypes to give us the real Greys. What comes out is an active, staunch Protestant reformer as her cousin Edward VI who was encouraging rebellion in her last days before she and her husband Guildford were beheaded. Frances is tno the monster of Tudor myth but a strict and caring mother who pleaded to the last minute to save her husband and daughter's life. The same goes for the two younger Grey sisters who were the victim of the Tudor sisters' ambition and their fear of the claim they had. Katherine died, near mad, in 1568 and her sister Mary ent years later, also punished for marrying without the Queen's knowledge and for wanting to be happy. She was forgiven after a while and allowed to lice comfortably but she was never allowed to see her husband, and was criticized, ridiculed by the Spanish ambassador.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2014


    Very interesting and easy to read; a great look at life during such a historic time!

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  • Posted July 27, 2014

    The writing was good, however there is no need to denigrate othe

    The writing was good, however there is no need to denigrate other authors to prove the points you're trying to make.  I found this insulting to other historians/authors as well as myself.  Interesting subject matter, however this could have been better without the finger pointing and detailing of other's mistakes or lack thereof.

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  • Posted July 9, 2014

    Dreadful. An exciting family and subject rendered dull by repeti

    Dreadful. An exciting family and subject rendered dull by repetition and rote facts - deleted early with extreme prejudice - don't waste your time or money. Unless you are an insomniac.

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    Posted June 21, 2014



    0 out of 44 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 6, 2014



    0 out of 49 people found this review helpful.

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