I’ve never discussed this topic with you but have been wanting to write and article about it for the longest time.
Started as a blank notebook by Mary Howard, the Devonshire Manuscript is an anthology of courtly love poems made by members of Henry VIII’s court and Anne Boleyn’s inner circle.
Mary Fitzroy’s close companions Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Margaret Tudor and niece of Henry VIII, and Mary Shelton, another cousin of Anne Boleyn, were actively involved in the manuscript’s making. Male courtiers, including Lord Thomas Howard and Henry Howard, Earl of SurreyHowar, contributed to it too.
This volume has been described as ‘the richest surviving record of early Tudor poetry and of the literary activities of 16th-century women’. It also provides a unique insight into the precarious position of Renaissance women in, or close to, power.
While searching for books to add to my Christmas list I came across The Forgotten Tudor Women by Silvia Barbara Soberton. The book intrigued me because it was about three women in Tudor history that we often don’t hear enough about – Margaret Douglas, Mary Howard and Mary Shelton.
As you probably already know I recently wrote an article about Mary Howard and really enjoyed learning more about her during my research. All I had known prior to researching her was that she was married to Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy – that’s it.
When I opened the first present from my husband on Christmas Eve I saw that it was the book I had requested, The Forgotten Tudor Women – to my surprise it was fairly thin book and when I opened it I was a little discouraged to find that it was double-spaced. It felt very primary school (like the Judy Blume books) from the get go, but I pushed forward and started reading it nonetheless because I have an insatiable appetite?for knowledge.
I soon got over the double-spacing and enjoyed the writing style of Ms. Soberton. If you’re looking to learn more about what it was like to be a ‘privileged’ woman during the Tudor reign, I’d highly suggest this book. At only 204 pages it is a very quick, and easy read.
In this book we learn more about Margaret Douglas, who (to me) seems to have a life that parallels her niece?Mary, Queen of Scots when it comes to following her heart and the tragedies that follow. While reading this book I truly felt grief for Margaret and how many times her heart was broken. She was the daughter of Henry VIII’s older sister, Margaret Tudor, who became Queen of Scots herself when she married James IV. Margaret Douglas was royalty and should have been treated as such, but as we know from the history of the Tudors, having royal blood is sometimes a curse instead of a blessing.
Mary Howard is a seldom heard about figure in Tudor history and that’s an unfortunate thing. She is a fascinating woman and there needs to be a movie made about her life. She was daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, sister to the Earl of Surrey, cousin to Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard – and not to forget, daughter-in-law to King Henry VIII himself. We follow her story through the death of her husband Henry Fitzroy and the struggles she had as an intelligent woman in a society that frowned upon women having knowledge…or opinions. She fought for everything that she wanted in her life and we learn about all the struggles she faced after Fitzroy’s death. ?Mary Howard was a fighter and this book made me like her even more than I had before reading it.
On the other hand I was a little disappointed by the story that was told about Mary Shelton. Mary Shelton was a mistress of Henry VIII and cousin to Anne Boleyn. I was hoping to learn more about her like I had with Margaret Douglas and Mary Howard. The feeling I got was that there weren’t any interesting stories to be told about Mary Shelton. Her life wasn’t as scandalous and it left me wanting more. With that being said, the one piece of evidence about her life that I wasn’t familiar with was the fact that Henry VIII had considered her for a fourth wife before he was betrothed to Anne of Cleves. In a nutshell, I probably couldn’t tell you much about Mary Shelton after reading this book – that’s not to say there wasn’t anything written about her, but that I remembered a lot more about Margaret Douglas and Mary Howard after putting the book down.
Overall it was a good book, and was interesting to see how the three ladies lives intertwined and how they lived during a period in history where being an intelligent woman and having your own ideas was frowned upon by their male counterparts.