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Tag Archives: history

Review: Ungrateful Daughters

Review: Ungrateful Daughters

Title: Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father’s Crown
Author: Maureen Waller
Published: 2002
Length: 455 pages (includes image plates, notes, bibliography, and index)

My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

In the summer of 1688, the queen of England finally bears her husband James II a healthy, legitimate son and heir. The newborn Prince of Wales is named James Francis Edward, but instead of being cause for celebration, his birth arouses suspicion, conspiracy theories–and treason. James II and his wife, Mary Beatrice, are unapologetic Catholics, something that inspires fear and loathing among many of his subjects. While ugly rumors of about the baby prince’s legitimacy and  identity swirl, fueled in part by James’ own adult daughter Anne, a small group of noblemen come together to do the unthinkable: offer the already-occupied throne to James’ other daughter Mary and her husband, William Prince of Orange, as a means of chasing Catholicism out of England once and for all.

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Review: First Family

Review: First Family

Title: First Family: Abigail and John Adams
Author: Joseph Ellis
Published: 2010
Length: 299 pages (includes notes and index)

My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ¾

When John Adams began courting Abigail Smith in the early 1760s, her mother opposed the match, believing her daughter was too good for a country lawyer who had yet to make a name for himself. Yet by the time of her death, Abigail was poised to become arguably the only founder’s wife to go down in history alongside him. In First Family, Joseph Ellis attempts to deliver a dual biography and paint the portrait of what was a deep friendship, a loving marriage, and a political partnership that shaped the future of a fledgling country. In some ways he falls short, but the story of these “dearest friends” is far too touching, and the subjects themselves too interesting, for the book to be a failure.

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Review: Good Wives

Review: Good Wives

Title: Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Nothern New England, 1650-1750
Author: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Published: 1982
Length: 296 pages  (includes image plates, notes, bibliography, and index)

My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

In Good Wives (a play on the title “Goodwife,” or “Goody,” commonly used by many Puritans in New England to refer to a married woman), Laurel Thatcher Ulrich explores the expectations and conventions of colonial women in Maine, New Hampshire, and northern Massachusetts over the course of a century and how they intersected with the realities of their day-to-day lives. She separates her study between the economic, sexual and parental, and religious roles of these women, and along the way reveals that they often had far more influence and agency than is commonly believed, though the means by which they expressed it reflected the attitudes of their society at large.

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Review: Rebels

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Review: Rebels

Title: Rebels: The Irish Rising of 1916
Author: Peter de Rosa
Published: 1990
Length: 536 pages (includes image plates, notes, bibliography, and index)

My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

Ireland’s history is something the English should remember and the Irish should forget.

A monumental undertaking, Rebels attempts to tell the story of nearly every major player (and some minor ones) involved in the Easter Rising of 1916, in which a few thousand men took up arms in Dublin and declared Ireland to be a republic independent of the British Empire. It begins at the end–readers know going in that the rebel leaders’ ultimate fate is a tragic one–and circles back around, starting two years before the Rising when it was little more than a pipe dream and following the planning process to its dramatic and disastrous conclusion.

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Review: The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

Review: The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

Title: The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
Author: Eric Ives
Published: 2004
Length: 458 pages (includes image plates, notes, bibliography, and index)

My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Frequently referred to as the “Anne Boleyn bible,” Dr. Ives’ book is the most extensive biographical work dealing with the second wife of King Henry VIII to date. He argues that Anne is “the most influential and important queen consort [England] has ever had” and makes a compelling case, though even his dedicated scholarship has difficulty resurrecting Anne’s personality.  As a result, this biography–while fascinating, enlightening, and very often moving–differs from those of more modern historical figures in that readers won’t come away feeling as though they know Anne very well. But one thing of which they will be certain: Anne Boleyn was “a remarkable woman,” deeply flawed and deeply wronged (by husband and history both) who did indeed “set [the] whole country [of England] in a roar.”

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Review: Such Good Girls

Review: Such Good Girls

Title: Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors
Author: R.D. Rosen
Published: 2014
Length: 257 pages

My star rating: ★ ★ ★

Sophie’s mother smuggled her out of a Polish ghetto and made her pretend to be a Catholic girl until she forgot that she wasn’t. Flora hid with other Jewish orphans at a French convent across the street from suspicious Nazi officers. Carla spent three years avoiding the windows in a small Dutch apartment. Ed worked as a transient farmhand while fighting with the Dutch Resistance. Theirs are only some of the thousands of stories of the Jewish who survived the Holocaust by being “hidden.” R.D. Rosen follows the four of them into the present day and examines how these and other hidden children have coped with their experiences and their losses.

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Review: Royal Blood

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Review: Royal Blood

Title: Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes
Author: Bertram Fields
Published: 1998
Length: 312 pages with a bibliography and index

My star rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Royal Blood is a thorough examination of the mystery surrounding the sons of King Edward IV of England, the so-called “Princes in the Tower,” through the eyes of a modern attorney.  Not long after being declared illegitimate and placed in the Tower in their uncle’s custody in 1483, the boys vanished.  Their uncle became Richard III, and rumors quickly spread that they had been killed.  Yet within a year, their mother left sanctuary and entrusted her five remaining daughters to the king. Henry Tudor invaded in 1485. He and Richard met at Bosworth Field that August and, betrayed by some of his most powerful magnates, Richard was killed.

The newly-crowned Henry VII quickly legitimized Edward’s children and married his eldest daughter, Elizabeth.  He accused Richard of treason and of shedding “Infants blood.” Strangely, however, he remained vague on the princes’ true fate. Neither bodies nor evidence were ever produced. Between 1487 and 1500, two pretenders came forward claiming to be the younger prince. Both rebellions failed.  Almost two centuries later, a trunk containing two small skeletons was unearthed beneath a Tower staircase.  Charles II had them interred in Westminster as the remains of the princes. They were long considered conclusive proof of Richard’s crime.

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