5 of 5 stars, Special Shelf
My historical non-fiction adventures have been hit or miss, but Anna Whitelock's Mary Tudor biography is solidly in the win column.
See, I'm kind of a bad non-fiction reader. I love history and I love details, but I'm impatient and I get bored easily and long books turn me off. Also, I'm a character girl, so novels usually appeal to me much more.
Which is why Mary Tudor: England's First Queen was such a hit for me. Teeny tiny chapters (2-5 pages!) and a fluid, narrative writing style made this a super fast read, especially for non-fiction weenies like me. I didn't feel bogged down or bored. I didn't feel like I was eating a never ending bowl of pasta. I was just engaged, from start to finish. I ached and sobbed for Mary and was truly invested in her struggles.
Mary is a historical figure on my list of "Historical Figures I Like a Whole Lot" along with Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra. I know, I know, Mary has a pretty bad reputation, but I feel for her. Her childhood was awful, her adulthood tragic, and I think she often gets an unfairly bad rap because of historical propaganda (Elizabeth killed roughly 600 people in one sweep! That's about double Mary's bloody body count). Yes, Mary definitely earned her sobriquet Bloody Mary, but when you compare her to other kings and queens of her time, she's hardly the worst.
Plus, it's not like she just decided, "hey, I think I'll kill some Protestants!" and then went on a giddy murder spree while rubbing her hands together and cackling. While I of course don't condone her actions, there were a lot of political and personal reasons for what she did, and I was glad to see Anna Whitelock address these (though not as thoroughly as I would have liked, but that's more because I'm a beat a dead horse kind of reader with this stuff).
In an age obsessed with girl power, it's also a crying shame that Mary is so overlooked. She was England's first queen! She was a trail blazer who set precedent and laid a powerful example that significantly influenced the choices Elizabeth I made during her own reign. Without Mary's example (to both the good and the bad), the vaunted Virgin Queen's reign likely would have looked very different.
So, obviously I'm completely biased, and I was in good company with Anna Whitelock because I get the impression she likes Mary a whole lot too. This is a sympathetic look, but it's packed with a whole lot of facts to back it up and never feels lecturing. The facts support the bias, as opposed to the bias distorting or cherry picking the facts.
I'm a huge fan of this book, and while I wanted more, I think that's more because I was so invested in the author's writing and such a Mary fan than because of any real lack on Anna Whitelock's part. The book is pretty short and I would have gladly read double this amount, but I don't feel like the book was lacking either. Simply put, when something is good, I always want more of it, and I want more of what Anna Whitelock has to offer.
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