Books

The Queen’s Mary: In the Shadows of Power

The Queen’s Mary: In the Shadows of Power… Kindle Edition

In 1548 four little girls, all called Mary, set sail from Scotland for France. Five years old, they are already primed for the work of their lifetime – to serve another little girl called Mary. Mary, Queen of Scots.

Thirteen years later, the five return to an unwelcoming Scotland, and as Queen Mary struggles to take control of her turbulent country, her famous ‘Four Marys’ are at her side.

The queen finds herself set on the path of violence and disaster which will lead eventually to her tragic end. But what of the other four Marys, bound inexorably to their mistress’ fate?

Of the four, it is Mary Seton who serves the queen longest, and whose loyalty is most severely tested. Through a maze of shadows – of treachery and even witchcraft – how can she find her own way ahead?

Praise for The Queen’s Mary

‘Sarah Gristwood breathes new life into the deeply tragic story of Mary Queen of Scots by telling it through the perspective of the invisible woman who sacrificed her life to serve her.’ – Elizabeth Freemantle, bestselling author of The Girl in the Glass Tower


Game of Queens

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Game of Queens

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The sixteenth century saw an explosion of female rule scarcely equalled even today. Large swathes of Europe were under the firm hand of a reigning queen or a female regent – mothers and daughter, mentors and proteges. Game of Queens traces the passage of power from Isabella of Castile to her daughter Katherine of Aragon, and on to Katherine’s daughter Mary Tudor. From the French regent Anne de Beaujeu to Louise of Savoy, through Louise’s daughter Marguerite of Navarre to her own daughter Jeanne d’Albret (heroine of the Protestant Reformation), and to Marguerite’s admirer Anne Boleyn and finally to Elizabeth Tudor.

Some of these women are household names; others virtually unknown to many of us in the English-speaking countries. But this was a sisterhood which recognised both their own bonds as women, and their ability to exercise power in a specifically feminine way. Women would come to find themselves at the forefront of the great religious divides that racked the sixteenth century. In the end, after the horror of the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day, religion would drive them apart, and bring an end to the Age of Queens. But this is a book with a fresh resonance for our own day.

In the sixteenth century, as in our own, the phenomenon of the powerful woman seemed to offer both challenges and opportunities. Opportunities, as when in 1529 Margaret of Austria and Louise of Savoy negotiated the ‘Ladies’ peace’ of Cambrai. Challenges, as when both Mary Queen of Scots and her kinswoman Elizabeth I came close to being destroyed by sexual scandal. From the emphasis on the appearance of a powerful woman, to the question of her consort, these women have much in common with the female leaders of today.


The Story of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter

This highly illustrated biography looks at the iconic work and fascinating life of one of our national treasures – Beatrix Potter. Bestselling historian Sarah Gristwood follows Potter from her constricted Victorian childhood to the success and tragedy of the years 1901–13, when she published nearly all her major books yet was denied love by the death of her fiance. Finally, she traces the last 30 years of Potter’s life, when she abandoned books to become a working farmer and pioneer of the conservation movement in the early days of the National Trust. Special features throughout the book will show how Beatrix Potter developed many of her most famous characters, including Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and Jemima Puddleduck.

July 2016 is the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth. She remains one of the best-selling children’s authors today.

Beatrix Potter was strongly involved with the early days of the National Trust and left it over 4000 acres of land in the Lake District. Her home, Hill Top, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

You can order the book from NT’s page for The Story of Beatrix Potter.

Sumptuous…a fitting legacy for a pioneering conservationist who helped save thousands of acres of the Lake DistrictThe Mail on Sunday, August 2016


Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses

Blood SistersBuy from Amazon.co.uk

The true story of the White Queen and more, this is a thrilling history of the extraordinary noblewomen who lived through the Wars of the Roses.

The events of the Wars of the Roses are usually described in terms of the men involved: Richard Duke of York, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII. But these years were also packed with women’s drama and – in the tales of conflicted maternity and monstrous births – alive with female energy.

Sarah Gristwood sheds light on a neglected dimension of English history: the impact of Tudor women on the Wars of the Roses. She examines, among others, Cecily Neville, who was deprived of being queen when her husband died at the Battle of Wakefield; Elizabeth Woodville, the commoner who married Edward IV in secret; Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, whose love and ambition for her son knew no bounds.

Until now, the lives of these women have remained little known to the general public. Sarah Gristwood tells their stories in detail for the first time.

‘Most of the leading players of the Wars of the Roses have traditionally been thought to be men. Historian Sarah Gristwood stands this on its head . . Gristwood successfully evokes the lives of all these women, and in doing so brings a new and welcome perspective on the Wars of the Roses’Sunday Times

‘The tendency in the past has been either to demonise these women or to romanticise them . . . The real achievement of Gristwood’s book is to take what material we have and develop a more nuanced analysis . . . Their adaptability and absolute determination is an overlooked aspect of the Wars of the Roses, and Sarah Gristwood is to be congratulated for her highly readable account of their lives.’Literary Review


Arbella: England’s Lost Queen

ArbellaBuy from Amazon.co.uk

‘It is Arbella they would proclaim Queen if her mistress should happen to die’ Sir William Stanley, 1592

Niece to Mary, Queen of Scots, granddaughter to the great Tudor dynast Bess of Hardwick, Lady Arbella Stuart was brought up in the belief that she would inherit Elizabeth I’s throne. Her very conception was dramatic: the result of an unsanctioned alliance that brought down the wrath of the authorities.

Raised in restricted isolation at Hardwick, in the care – the ‘custody’ – of the forceful Bess, Arbella was twenty-seven before, in 1603, she made her own flamboyant bid for liberty. She may also have been making a bid for the throne. If so, she failed. But the accession of her cousin James thrust her into the colourful world of his court, and briefly gave her the independence she craved at the heart of Jacobean society.

Then, aged thirty-five, Arbella risked everything to make her own forbidden marriage. An escape in disguise, a wild flight abroad and capture at sea led, in the end, to an agonizing death in the Tower in 1615. Along with the rumours about her sanity, her story influenced even Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. Yet perhaps nothing in her tale is as striking as the degree to which a woman so widely discussed in her own day has been written out of history. Nothing as remarkable as the almost modern freedom with which, in a series of extraordinary letters, Arbella Stuart revealed her own passionate and curiously accessible personality.

Drawing on a wide variety of contemporary sources, Sarah Gristwood has painted a powerful and vivid portrait of a woman forced to carve a precarious path through the turbulent years when the Tudor gave way to the Stuart dynasty. But more remarkable still, the turmoils of Arbella’s life never prevented her from claiming the right to love freely, to speak her wrongs loudly – and to control her own destiny.

‘Sarah Gristwood succeeds triumphantly not only in bringing alive the dead politics of the Jacobean court, but also in making vivid bricks with very little straw. This is an enthralling account of an extraordinary life’Spectator

‘Carrying her learning lightly, Sarah Gristwood presents a powerful story of the dynastic insecurity of the Tudors and Stuarts . . . The book evocatively describes the court and aristocratic worlds in which the dynastic pageants were played, and draws vivid portraits of the leading players and plotters’Sunday Times


Bird Of Paradise: The Colourful Career of the First Mrs Robinson (paperback title)
Perdita: Royal mistress, Writer, Romantic

Bird-of-Paradise Buy from Amazon.co.uk

Few women’s lives have described such an arc as that of Mary Robinson. She began her career as an actress, became a royal mistress and possible blackmailer, and ended it just two decades later as a Romantic poet and early feminist thinker of note. She was painted by Gainsborough and Reynolds, and satirized by political cartoonists. Born in Bristol in 1758, she married at 15. But Mary had barely made her curtsey to society before discovering that Robinson was little better than a conman. She went with him to debtors’ prison, where she wrote her first book of verse. Encouraged by Sheridan and Garrick, who admired her beauty, she went on the stage, where she was seen by the 17-year-old Prince of Wales, and they embarked on a widely satirized liaison. Mary had made her mark in fashionable Georgian society and this, over the next two momentous decades, was where she contrived to stay. This vivid and accessible biography explores Georgian England during a period of extreme political, social and cultural upheaval through the life of this remarkable woman.

‘Sarah Gristwood does a fine job of making us see that Mary Robinson matters not just as a victim of the celebrity-mad period but as an important player in British literature . . . [she] has written a wonderful biography’Mail of Sunday

‘A fascinating and stimulating portrait . . . the literary equivalent of the famous Gainsborough of Robinson’Guardian


Elizabeth & Leicester

Elizabeth LeicesterBuy from Amazon.co.uk

Few relationships fire our imagination like that of Elizabeth I and her ‘bonnie sweet Robin’ – the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley.

Almost immediately after she became queen, Elizabeth’s infatuation with the married Earl became the subject of letters from scandalized ambassadors. And when Dudley’s wife, Amy, died a mere two years later under suspicious circumstances many speculated that Elizabeth and Robert would marry.

They never did, although by the time Robert died he had been Elizabeth’s councillor and commander of her army, had sat by her bed in sickness and represented her on state occasions. But she had also humiliated him, made him dance attendance on her other suitors, and tried to have him clapped in prison when he finally broke loose and married again.

Elizabeth and Leicester is a portrait – at times a startlingly intimate one – of the tie between two of the people who forced their age; of a relationship where, unusually, a woman held all the power; of an edgy yet enduring love that still speaks to us today.

‘A vivid, entertaining and accessible study of the seething Tudor court, and above all a fascinating portrait of power, love and royalty in dangerous times’Simon Sebag Montefiore

‘Vivacious and absorbing . . . full of intriguing suggestions, stimulating analogies and shrewd connections. Gristwood is a mistress of the trivial detail that enthrals’Sunday Times


Girl in the Mirror

The Girl in the MirrorBuy from Amazon.co.uk

Jeanne, a young French exile orphaned by the wars of religion on the continent, is brought to London as a young girl disguised as a boy. Growing up, the disguise has not been shed and she finds a living as a clerk, ending up in the household of Robert Cecil. As she witnesses the intrigues and plots swirling round the court of Elizabeth I in the last days of Gloriana’s reign, she finds herself sucked into the orbit of the dashing and ambitious young favourite, the Earl of Essex. The queen draws near to the end of her life, with no heir to follow, and the stakes are high.

As Essex hurtles towards self-destruction, Jeanne finds her loyalties, her disguise and her emotions under threat – in a political climate where the least mistake can attract dire penalties.

This is a beautifully written and evocative novel, rich with the details of life and politics of Elizabeth I’s court. Jeanne’s struggle for survival and love is interwoven with her passionate pull towards the gardens she documents, a lovely and seductive backdrop to the novel.

‘Entrancing, compelling, and beautifully written…This is the historical novel as literary fiction – and damned good literary fiction at that.’Alison Weir


Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at Tiffany'sBuy from Amazon.co.uk

Holly Golightly was undoubtedly the role that made Audrey Hepburn a movie icon. Dressed by Hubert de Givenchy and holding the infamous cigarette holder, she played her most memorable part in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Adapted from the Truman Capote novella of the same name, the inspired cast took the screenplay and fashioned it into the touching comedy of a young woman finding her way in the world. 2011 is the 50th anniversary of the release of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and this lavish book pays tribute to its ongoing popularity.

The only official companion to be published in association with Paramount Pictures and the Audrey Hepburn estate, it includes favourite images from the film as well as unpublished behind the scenes footage from the Paramount archives, stories from the set, and a history of the screenplay since the hugely popular film. A celebration of a timeless classic, this is the perfect book for any fan of Hepburn or 1960s filmmaking.


The Ring and the Crown

The Ring and the CrownBuy from Amazon.co.uk

The excitement surrounding the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton has prompted four of Britain’s top historical biographers to look closely at Royal Weddings from 1066 to the present day.

Professionally, Sarah Gristwood, Alison Weir, Kate Williams, and Tracy Borman do events and television together, and are known affectionately, as the ‘History Girls’. They bring an elan, and a passion for detail and dramatic narrative to all their subjects.

Each writer focuses on different areas of interest. Alison Weir deals with the medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods. Kate Williams scrutinises the Georgians and Victorians. Sarah Gristwood takes up the story in 1919, when Princess Patricia of Connaught revived the tradition of royal brides marrying in Westminster Abbey, and goes on to examine the weddings of the Queen Mother (1923), the Queen (1947), and Princess Margaret in 1960. Lastly, Tracy Borman brings the book right up to date, with accounts of the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer through to the fanfare that will celebrate the nuptials of Kate and William.

Every kind of wedding features – from those attended by great public celebrations, to the many that took place in private chapels, parish churches and even in secret.

Fascinating anecdotal details are revealed in the course of this most informative and entertaining overview of royal weddings through history, some amusing, some poignant, some bawdy. The Ring and the Crown places the royal wedding of the heir to the throne in historical perspective, and it does so with carefully selected illustrations that help make the authors’ insights come even more vividly alive.


Fabulous Frocks (with Jane Eastoe)

Fabulous FrocksBuy from Amazon.co.uk

No item of clothing has endured for longer than the dress. Yet the last century alone has seen the most radical changes of style – hemlines swinging from ankle to thigh; outlines alternating between the body-hugging and the bell – and our fascination with the ‘frock’ has not gone away. From Gres’ draping to Dior’s New Look, from Mary Quant’s mini to Hussein Chalayan’s mechanical marvels, this book looks at the dress in twentieth century fashion.

Thematic chapters – Changes, Feminine, Sex, Must-haves, Fantasy, Classical and Art – set out the inspirations and implications for each new change alongside the stunning photography. It is more than eighty years since Coco Chanel invented the little black dress, but every woman still has one in her wardrobe today. It’s decades since women discovered trousers and separates, but every woman dreams of wearing a glorious, glamorous gown at least once, whether it’s on a Hollywood red carpet, or just on her wedding day. ‘Fabulous Frocks’ is a book to fire a fashionista’s imagination.


Also: Recording Angels: The Secret World of Women’s Diaries; contributor to British Comedy Greats, the Ultimate Book Guide, the Oxford Good Fiction Guide, the Oxford Guide to Literary Britain and Ireland.