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Stephen Lark’s book on the Battle of Sedgemoor….

Stephen Lark - The Battle of Sedgemoor

The Battle of Sedgemoor 1685

by Stephen Lark

(Bretwalda Battles Book 19) [Kindle Edition]


Driving the M5 today, across the Somerset Levels, it is hard to imagine what the landscape used to be like, before rhynes and ditches drained much of the water. The rhynes were there in the 17th century, but they were nowhere near as efficient as they are now, and there were still wooden ‘paths’ among the reeds on the marshes. Folk used boats and skiffs a great deal, especially where the deeply channelled marshes had not surrendered to man’s attempts to drain them.

Even now, only a year or so ago, the Levels were under water for a long period. Television reporting showed film after film of the terrible scenes of prolonged flooding, and what the local people had to suffer.

So imagine having to fight a pitched battle in such surroundings. Having to not only strike down your bitter enemies, but save yourself from drowning as well.

James, 1st Duke of Monmouth, was the illegitimate (some say legitimate) son of Charles II, at whose death, the king’s brother, James II ascended the throne. James II was a Catholic in a Protestant land, and there was great resentment in a number of quarters. Monmouth—young, handsome, popular— raised a rebellion against him. After skirmishes, the two armies finally confronted each other on Sedgemoor. The conflict started in earnest on 6th July 1685. It all went wrong for Monmouth, who fled but was finally caught. He was executed on 15th July on Tower Hill, requiring a number of blows from the infamous executioner Jack Ketch to sever his head. Ketch often botched his task, so poor Monmouth suffered at his hands.

The irony of it all is that three years later, on 30th June 1688, James II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution. Perhaps, if Monmouth had waited, his claim might have been accepted. We will never know, of course, because history unfolds and there is no folding it back again and putting it in another drawer.

This book by Stephen Lark is, as always with him, exceeding interesting and well told. If you want to know the story of Monmouth and the Battle of Sedgemoor, this is an excellent place to start. Recommended.

Book Review: Henry VIII – Tudor Serial Killer: His Victims and their Stories by Gerard Batten

Lucas Horenbout - Henry VIII - WGA11740

I was interested to read this book, first of all, because it seemed to me that the title is expressing the view of many Ricardians, who find it baffling that Richard III is seen by many as the archetypal murderous tyrant when clearly Henry VIII was far more murderous and tyrannical.

The book begins by examining whether Henry could be justifiably called a psychopath, and I think the answer is pretty unequivocal. The author cites a book which ranks Henry against a psychological spectrum designed to identify psychopathic traits, in which Henry scored 174 where the starting score for a psychopath is 168. He scored particularly high for emotional detachment and ruthlessness.

Henry’s health and injuries are also considered and the author points out that, if his behaviour deteriorated after his famous jousting accident, he was already showing some of those psychopathic tendencies before that.

About seventy of Henry’s victims and the reasons for their demise are explored, grouped according to these reasons. There is some overlap, but generally I feel this is quite a sensible way of organising the book – it tends to sort them naturally in a more or less chronological order as well.

There is a ‘Verdict’ given in Chapter 19 which states his good and bad qualities, but the author does seem to admire his strength and the effects of Henry’s break with Rome, stating that his negative characteristics contributed to his being able to force through his radical changes. This praise for Henry’s ‘freeing the English nation from the influence and power of a foreign potentate’ (the Pope) serves to reinforce the author’s own political agenda, as he is opposed to England being ruled by Europe, as a UKIP MEP.

He then goes on to cite the discovery of Richard III’s remains and the information revealed by his DNA’s analysis, speculating on how much could be discovered if other monarchs’ remains could be similarly examined.

Finally, there are two Appendices – the first listing all of Henry’s victims in chronological order and the second pointing out which English monarchs’ tombs have already been disturbed.

Mr Batten does not say much about Richard and, in the scant remarks he does make, he states that Richard ‘murdered his rivals’ to obtain the throne. However, when analysing the execution of Edward, Earl of Warwick (George’s son), he does point out that he was well treated by Richard. This pleased me until I read the end of the paragraph: ‘had Richard been quite the monster of Shakespeare’s play then we might have expected him to have done away with young Edward in 1483 along with the Princes in the Tower, (my italics) but he did not.’ His source for this view is Alison Weir.

All in all, the tragedies of Henry’s victims are brought home to the reader by becoming more personalised and I think this makes it worth a look.

Pavia, a battle that changed Europe

The Battle of Pavia, 1525 (Bretwalda Battles)

Kindle ebook


Author: Stephen Lark

Published by Bretwalda Books, April 2014


For me, this little book’s initial attraction was that it features the rise—and eventual fall—of the noble de la Pole family of England, centring specifically on the sons of John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk and Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister of both Edward IV and Richard III. It is the youngest son, Richard de la Pole, known to history by the sobriquet White Rose, who is of consequence here. Well, he is if the reader is, like me, deeply immersed in the Ricardian aspects of these events. But from the White Rose I have been lured into the broader, more intricate political wheeler-dealering in Europe that culminated in the famous battle at Pavia in Italy. A long way from home for poor Richard de la Pole, the last Yorkist claimant to the throne of England.

The de la Poles owed their political importance to a believed decision made by Richard III in 1485. Widowed and without a legitimate child, the king is said to have chosen his eldest nephew, Lincoln, as his heir. This changed everything for the de la Pole brothers. From the moment of King Richard’s bloody demise at Bosworth Field, the Earl of Lincoln became the rightful king, with a claim far greater in blood and legitimacy than that of the usurper, Henry VII, who set about ridding himself of the de la Poles, one by one.

On seeing the fates of his elder brothers, Richard de la Pole wisely skipped to France and stayed there. He fell in with the French King, Francis I, and became widely regarded as the true King of England. Francis saw in him a very useful weapon with which to prod and threaten the Tudors, who always feared a Yorkist challenge. Francis intended to aid the White Rose in an invasion of England, but first had other things to attend to.

France had designs upon parts of Italy which she believed were her property. Richard de la Pole joined Francis in this, and the scene was set for what was to come, including the swift and inexorable advance of the Renaissance. Everything, from religion and printing, to art and science, and much more, seemed to coalesce in a short period. Add this to the Italian wars, and the powder keg is primed.

The Spanish Habsburgs were powerful across Europe, and their army, joined by the garrison of Pavia, confronted the French outside the city on a February morning in 1525. The French were decimated, and Richard de la Pole, the White Rose, was left dead on the field. With him died the de la Pole claim to the English throne. There is no doubt that had he lived, he would have endeavoured to return to England in the hope of applying a Yorkist crowbar between the throne and the tenacious Tudors. But it was not to be. Pavia put paid to everything.

All this is related precisely in this book, and yet in full detail. I was impressed by the depth of the author’s knowledge. Not only does he write compellingly, but commands a wealth of invaluable research about the lead up to, and outcome of, the Battle of Pavia, which conflict is the undoubted star of the show.

And being Stephen Lark, he starts his book with a tantalising ‘hook’ concerning the marriage of a mysterious lady, Marguerite de la Pole-Suffolk. Then he leaves us wondering . . . until, at the very end, he explains a little more about her, offering the fascinating and exciting information that not only was she— Ah, but I think to tell more would be a spoiler. All I will say is that I venture to hope the author might delve a little more into Marguerite’s story

I am not a historian, but enjoy history, especially when it concerns events that touch in some way upon King Richard III. This book comes with my recommendation. I hope other readers enjoy it as I did . . . and that afterwards they realize how very much more they know than before they started. As I do.



Book Review: The Battle Of Bosworth 1485 And The Burial Of King Richard Iii

by Wednesday McKenna (writing as Merlyn MacLeod)

I just finished reading Stephen Lark’s The Battle of Bosworth & the Burial of King Richard III and found it a good read for anyone looking for a solid summary. Lark first summarizes the whole of Richard’s life, and then outlines the specific events leading up to his taking the throne in place of his nephew, Edward of York.

Lark’s analysis of the Battle of Bosworth is clear and precise. The book contains two illustrations to help the reader visualize the scene: the placement of the armies before engagement and at its climax. Since no reliable, detailed record of Bosworth exists, every author analyzing the battle is forced to decide what they believe happened and in what sequence it happened. Today, we’re more certain of where the battle took place than how. No one knows exactly how Richard drew up his three “battles”; we do know one was led by Richard himself; another by John Howard, Duke of Norfolk; and the third by Henry Percy, Duke of Northumberland. The author has consulted current archaeological data to frame his analysis, but that data is incomplete since archaeology on the newly discovered battlefield is able to continue only in fits and starts.

Lark’s book is most valuable for any student of history who wants or needs a quick overview of Richard’s life, the battle in which he died, and the events that followed, right up to the discovery of his grave and re-interment of his bones as matters stood in July 2013. But be warned: rather than offering an in-depth analysis, publisher Bretwalda Books specializes in short books that summarize the historical events under discussion. So engaging is Lark’s style, however, that I found myself wishing the author had gone his own way to write a much more detailed biography of King Richard III.

Since the author has been forced to leave out much of the tangled details behind the events of Richard’s life, what Lark doesn’t cover almost speaks more loudly than what he does cover. Definitive statements made by him led to my asking endless questions, such as:

“Before [Edward V] could be crowned it emerged that the marriage of his parents had been invalid under Church law, so he was illegitimate and unable to inherit the crown.” How could Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage have been invalid? And how did that bombshell emerge?

“That left the boy’s uncle, Richard, the only surviving male heir. He became king as King Richard III. However, some of Edward IV’s most loyal supporter suspected that Richard had fabricated the evidence against the marriage and, in due course, though he might have murdered Edward’s two sons. Unrest began to fester against the new king, especially among those nobles who found him to be just a bit too honest and diligent at rooting out corruption for their tastes.” Who suspected Richard had invented the evidence, and why? Did he murder his two nephews? If so, why? If not, why not? The Princes in the Tower disappeared; where did they go? How was Richard a bit too honest and diligent? And how could someone with a reputation for honesty and diligence be suspected of murdering his nephews?

“As yet Tudor had no chance of becoming king. But as unrest against Richard grew, Tudor decided his time had come.” How much unrest, and what sort? Who was involved and how did the unrest manifest itself?

I had many more questions as the book went on. This is not a shortcoming of the book; it’s due to the events being discussed and the page limitations set down by the publisher. And so, Lark was unable to explore anything in depth. But the answers underlying each question are part of the long journey that led to Bosworth, so I suspect that any serious readers of The Battle of Bosworth 1485 and the Burial of King Richard III will be inspired — or driven — to ferret out the answers for themselves, to understand who the players were in the battle and exactly why they were there.

The events of Richard III’s life create an intricate puzzle. When you learn one or two details of an event, you fit them into the puzzle and then find yourself chasing additional details because every detail interlocks with details in the lives of a score of other people. Even something that should have been simple, such as his burial after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, interlocks with matters in 2014 regarding his collateral descendants, a judicial review regarding where he is to be re-interred, ongoing DNA analysis after he’s been re-interred — and that’s only to name a few of the puzzle pieces up for discussion.

Stephen Lark has touched so briefly on the details of Richard’s life and death that the outcome for even the most casual reader is to realize that there is much more to Richard III’s story than the neat, clean legend of, “He killed the Princes in the Tower, usurped his nephew’s throne, died at Bosworth, and deserved what he got.” So after reading The Battle of Bosworth 1485 and the Burial of King Richard III, readers may find themselves pulled into in-depth research to find out what Lark didn’t have room to discuss.

Please be advised that the book contains no list of contemporary or modern historical sources; readers will need to seek their own sources if they want to know more about the events discussed. The book is available on Amazon in paperback (48 pages) and Kindle (58 pages).

Obligatory disclosure: Stephen Lark provided me with a reviewer’s copy of The Battle of Bosworth 1485 and the Burial of King Richard III. The opinions herein, however, are all mine.


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