Sunday, 12 June 2016

A Different View: JANE THE QUENE by Janet Wertman ~ A review by Linda Root

The author has very kindly offered a reader's choice giveaway with this book; the winner gets to choose between an e-book copy or a paperback. Simply leave a comment on this post, or on our Facebook Page, to be in with a chance of winning. Good luck!
The winner will be drawn on Thursday 29th June

From early childhood, I was committed to Elizabeth, Queen of England, not the current one, but the one who brought England it's Golden Age.  To know Elizabeth as, in my youth, I endeavored to do, required me to take a brief look at each of her serial step-mothers.  My adolescent view of research went little farther than the cinematic version Young Bess, which, as I recall, begins with Thomas Seymour crashing into teenage Elizabeth Tudor's bedchamber to announce Katherine Howard's ascension to the throne. Even Young Bess left Tom's sister Jane on the cutting room floor, along with Anne of Cleves.  As I passed into young adulthood, my obsession grew, but by then I was capable of scholarly research, and it was in that phase that I met Quene Jane. I was a feminist before there was such a thing, a mental transvestite, so to speak, the result of having grown up in a neighborhood of Roman Catholics who through prayers and incantations gave birth to only boys. The historical Jane Seymour was far too insipid for my taste.  Even Joely Richardson's portrayal of her in the Tudors did not elevate Henry Tudor's third wife to the list of someone I might have liked had I known her.  And then, comes Janet Wertman to the rescue in her captivating novel, Jane the Quene, and I took a second look.

Janet Wertman's Jane enters the Tudor drama in 1525 as an eighteen-year-old girl making her first appearance at the court of Catherine of Aragon.  The Queen extends a gracious welcome, but soon places Jane's indoctrination in the care of two others of the queen's maids-of-honor, Jane's distant cousins Mary and Anne Boleyn.  The Boleyn Girls are obviously less than impressed to assume the burden of her care. On her part, Jane finds them frivolous, intimidating, and of uncertain virtue. During Jane's girlhood, her parents often measured her against the Boleyn girls and consistently found her wanting. Even her own brothers expected her arrival at court to be overlooked by the eligible men. Left to her own faltering devices, she would not have chosen her extroverted cousins as her mentors, but she was determined to make the best of things.The alternative was the much-dreaded spinsterhood her parents had predicted.

In the nine years from the end of the prologue to the commencement of Chapter One, Jane has fulfilled her family's expectations and become a lackluster presence at a court no longer graced by Catherine of Aragon. Jane's flamboyant cousin, Anne Boleyn, has become Henry's consort. For her part, Jane failed to attract a suitable husband, and her devotion to the displaced and ailing Catherine of Aragon has hardly endeared her to King Henry's unpopular new queen. The affections of the king for his much-pursued ladylove Anne Boleyn have cooled.  Like the wife she had displaced, Anne, too, failed to deliver the anticipated son. Although Henry and Anne maintain appearances in public, King Henry's eyes were wandering, and his queen was growing shrewish.

The family threatens to remove Jane from the court and replace her with her much younger sister Dorothy, whom they considered a more promising player in the game of sexual politics commonly played at the English court. When her brother Edward announced the decision as if it were a fait accompli, Jane startles everyone present by refusing to go willingly into obscurity.  Sweet-natured, shy Jane Seymour has learned to say no to her brother Edward. However, situations arise prompting Jane to negotiate a compromise. When the Royals announce plans to include the Seymour home at Wolf Hall in their summer progress, Jane's home in the county suddenly becomes her residence of choice. Her mother lacks the talent and stamina to play hostess to a royal hunting party. Jane is suited to the task. Armed with something she can barter, she returns to the country home in exchange for her brother Edward's promise to find her a proper suitor when she returns to court in September.

From the time of his arrival at Wolf Hall for a five-day hunt, the king is a different Henry.  He is captured by the pastoral setting and the manners of the young woman who oversees it. While theirs is not a love story for the ages in the classic sense, it is indeed history with a romantic flair.  Wertman's Henry Tudor is likable, and Jane Seymour is not the insipid creature of her brothers' construct.  Try as I might, I cannot dispose of Wertman's Jane as unlikely. The author paints her as a very different woman from Anne Boleyn, but not a mouse. While she is not the flirtatious but unyielding Anne Boleyn or the devoutly religious and adoring wife, Queen Catherine, she is not a pawn.  When her brother Edward and his friend Sir Nicholas Carey trained her as Anne's replacement, she was an apt and eager pupil.

The prospective Quene Jane, who emerges in Part Two: Schemer, is not a courtesan. She has no aspiration to play the part of a Mary Boleyn. It did not take Jane to dispose of Anne Boleyn. That honor goes to Cromwell and the English people. But Jane is not the innocent, although she assumes the role.At one point, she reflects upon her part in Anne's demise. At first, her objective was to unseat the queen the way Anne had unseated Catherine. But what was planned for Anne Boleyn was not banishment to a continental nunnery. For  Anne  Boleyn, there is a talk of a burning or beheading. I prayed for this, but not like this, Jane lamented. She had anticipated a more humane end for her cousin and suffers bouts of guilt. But by the time Anne climbs the scaffold, Jane has learned to rationalize.

Other members of the Seymour family grace the pages of the book. Edward is a perfect image of the historical Hertford , who so ruthlessly pursued the Scots.  Thomas is the likable opportunist who lost his head to an axe man for the crime of overreaching. Wertman's portrayal of  Edward 's wife Anne Stanhope is almost empathetic, a refreshing change from the way she is usually hammered by historical novelists, myself included. Wertman's Cromwell is versatile and compelling. Her judicious selection of a limited number of minor characters avoids over-populating the story.  Some verbal exchanges have a forgivable but apparent contemporary flavor, but the settings and time frame are well researched. The result is a well-paced page turner likely to appeal to a divers readership, including young adults. Janet Wertman meets the challenge of writing a story with a pre-determined end, yet maintaining a hold on her audience until the last page is turned.

 I am also saving space on my bookshelf for the remaining books in the Seymour trilogy.
                                                             Linda Root

About the Author:

By day,  Janet Wertman is a freelance grant writer for great non-profits. By night, she writes historical fiction.  She has harbored a passion for the Tudor era since she was eight years old and her parents let her stay up late to watch The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and Elizabeth R. Janet lives in Pacific Palisades, California with one husband, two dogs, and three children. Jane the Quene can be found on Amazon. Her website can be found here.
Janet has generously offered those who leave a comment below or on the Facebook page a chance to win either an ebook of a paperback of Jane the Quene, winner's choice.

Linda Root is the author of six novels set in Mary Stuart's Scotland and early in the reign of James I of England, as well as a Scottish Fantasy, the Green Woman, written under the pseudonym J.D.Root. Root is a former prosecutor who lives in the hi desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her books are available from Amazon.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The stone circles of Cumbria, a blog post by Richard Abbott

Great Britain is full of ancient stone circles, and Cumbria is especially rich in them - over fifty of varying sizes and degrees of preservation. Some go back to the Neolithic Age - starting a little over 5,000 years ago - and others to the Bronze Age - starting about 3,500 years ago. Most of them are older than the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt.

Avebury - The Cove - oriented to midsummer sunrise
Avebury - The Cove - oriented to midsummer sunrise
Each of the Cumbrian circles has its own unique features and qualities. Perhaps the best known of them, and certainly the one closest to regular tourist destinations, is Castlerigg, just outside Keswick. It is one of the oldest stone structures in Europe. Together these monuments should be providing a rich source of cultural wealth. However, except for Stonehenge and Avebury, way down south, little attention is drawn to our English stone circles, and this is especially true of Cumbria. Many are overgrown: most are not marked with any kind of sign or description for the curious traveller. It is as though we don't really care about this aspect of our own history. Eire does a much better job of interpreting her own ancient relics for modern visitors.

Castlerigg, looking towards Skiddaw
Castlerigg, looking towards Skiddaw
Part of the problem is that we have no certain idea what their purpose was. Some have astronomical significance - the solar patterns at Stonehenge are well known - but for most, the arrangement is not so apparent. But even where we are reasonably sure of deliberate alignment with the sun or moon, it is hard to know what significance this alignment had. Were the astronomical alignments there for the purpose of predicting future events like eclipses? Or were they for celebrating ongoing events - perhaps a midsummer feast? We might imaginatively reconstruct what happened around or on the stones, but we lack solid information.

Again, a fair number of the Cumbrian rings appear to mirror the peaks and dips of the surrounding hills. It is hard not to believe this was deliberate. But why? Were they seen as a kind of miniature echo of the land around, invoking some sympathetic magic? Or was it for visual artistry? Or is it simply that a ring of stones will always look a bit like a ring of hills?

Castlerigg, looking down towards Helvellyn
Castlerigg, looking down towards Helvellyn
We struggle even more when we try to decide on their purpose, and there is a bewildering variety of explanations proposed. Sacred rituals, processions, magical acts, trade negotiations, regular marketplaces, animal slaughter or exchange, treaty affirmations, collective marriage sites - all of these have been suggested, along with many others. We simply don't know for sure, and the artefacts found alongside them do not help us to decide.

So that is one reason why here in England we don't make much of our stone circles - we can't fathom their purpose, and without a story to tell, it is hard to put up compelling interpretive boards and visitor centre displays! They do not yield their secrets with a quick visit, but invite longer interaction. People often become fascinated by the enigmatic face they show. Perhaps a longer span of contemplative time is called for than most of us make room for in our days.

Castlerigg, looking towards Clough Head
Castlerigg, looking towards Clough Head
Another reason is the relative inaccessibility of some circles. Up in Cumbria, climate change over the last few millennia has meant that the green and pleasant upland areas where people used to live are now boggy and uninviting moorland. Hardly a pleasant family ramble. Most are well removed from today's preferred routes. Castlerigg, and Long Meg and her Daughters (near Penrith) are both easily reached, but many others are not. I have been going to the Lake District for over 40 years, and yet have rarely walked anywhere near some of the more remote places, despite my steadily growing interest in the ancient things of this country. Ironically, however, some are within a stone's throw of the entirely modern creations of the M6 motorway and Sellafield nuclear facility.

Long Meg and (some of) her daughters
Long Meg and (some of) her daughters
So, what do we know about them? Well, they mostly use locally available stone, often making creative use of contrasting pieces of moraine brought there by Ice Age glaciers. They would have required extraordinary efforts by local communities, probably over many years. Maybury Henge, near Penrith, consists of millions of stones taken from the river and piled into a circular bank up to 5 metres high. Even today, moving so much stone would be a serious proposition. For an ancient culture to invest so much time and effort tells us that extraordinarily powerful motives were at work here.

Many of the standing stones have geometric or abstract patterns cut into them, a practice typical of northern England and southern Scotland, though less common in the south or the extreme north of the country. Most are located on ancient trackways - though this naturally raises a chicken-and-egg question. The Romans usurped this idea when they arrived, so Roman roads often lead you straight to one of the circles. Many of these structures were over 3,000 years old when the Romans first saw them, and you have to wonder if they were as mystified as we are by their origins and purpose.
Location map -
Location map -

Finally, the geographical distribution is far from even, which perhaps tells us something about the priorities of the people who built and used these monuments. There are a lot down the Eden Valley corridor, between the Cumbrian fells and the Pennines. Presumably this was a major transit route then, just as it is now. There is another cluster in the southern Lakes, apparently arranged with the Old Man of Coniston as their focal point. This hill is certainly not the tallest of the Lakeland fells, but it stands in a commanding position, with long views down towards Morecambe Bay and the Lancashire coast. Perhaps it held an equally prominent place in the symbolic or spiritual life of the communities of the time.

So, Cumbria's many stone circles have thus far kept their secrets. I'll certainly be exploring them for a long time to come. If you're up in that area sometime, drop in on one or other of these atmospheric places and choose your own response to their enigmatic faces!

We'll finish with some of William Wordsworth's lines about Long Meg...

Speak Thou, whose massy strength and stature scorn
The power of years--pre-eminent, and placed
Apart, to overlook the circle vast--
Speak, Giant-mother! tell it to the Morn
While she dispels the cumbrous shades of Night;

About the author:
Richard Abbott is one of the reviewers at The Review, and lives in London, England. He writes science fiction about our solar system in the fairly near future, and also historical fiction set in the ancient Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Canaan and Israel.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed LandScenes From a LifeThe Flame Before Us - and most recently Far from the Spaceports. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+GoodreadsFacebook and Twitter.