Book Review: The Lives of Tudor Women by Elizabeth Norton

Genre: History, nonfiction
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Pub date: 4 May 2017
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

The turbulent Tudor age never fails to capture the imagination. But what was it actually like to be a woman during this period? This was a time when death in infancy or during childbirth was rife; when marriage was usually a legal contract, not a matter for love, and the education of women was minimal at best. Yet the Tudor century was also dominated by powerful and characterful women in a way that no era had been before.

Elizabeth Norton explores the seven ages of the Tudor woman, from childhood to old age, through the diverging examples of women such as Elizabeth Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister who died in infancy; Cecily Burbage, Elizabeth’s wet nurse; Mary Howard, widowed but influential at court; Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of a controversial queen; and Elizabeth Barton, a peasant girl who would be lauded as a prophetess. Their stories are interwoven with studies of topics ranging from Tudor toys to contraception to witchcraft, painting a portrait of the lives of queens and serving maids, nuns and harlots, widows and chaperones.

This has been on my TBR list for a while and I’ve been very much looking forward to delving into the Lives of Tudor Women.
Norton takes us on a journey through the lives of women living during the Tudor era but not just those we all know very well such as Elizabeth I, Norton discusses the lives of common females as well as nobility giving a full picture of their lives and difficulties faced by all.

Through Shakespeare’s seven ages of life we learn the roles expected of women, their hardships and their successes.
Each chapter focuses on a couple of females including Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Tudor (not Elizabeth I), Elizabeth Barton and Anne Askew to name a few, and goes on to discuss an aspect of their life but it isn’t necessarily restricted just to those women.

Each chapter also has a small insert discussing a specific person or topic. It’s an unusual layout but one I thoroughly enjoyed. I found the inserts broke up the text keeping me interested and providing more information about specific issues such as the practice of swaddling, contraception and church courts.

A wide variety of topics are brought to the forefront and how they affected women including education, religion and persecution.
Events such as The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Reformation are given a fresh perspective from the view of the females rather than the male perspective we usually read about.

This book is clearly the result of meticulous research and is highly informative. It does not read like a text book but instead as a variety of short stories of women in the Tudor era. It is very easy and enjoyable to read. For those interested in the Tudor era I would certainly recommend this especially to those who may find some nonfiction dry as this is certainly not.

Norton provides extensive notes and bibliography from which I have added further works to my TBR list.

If you’d like to know about Elizabeth Norton you can find her on Twitter where she posts incredible photographs and history facts.

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