Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Book Review 12: Elizabeth I Red Rose of the House of Tudor

Book Title: Elizabeth 1: Red Rose of the House of Tudor
Author: Kathryn Lasky
 Genre:Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 237
Personal Rating: 7/10
Reading Difficulty: Very Easy (1/5)

 Book Summary (back cover):

November 10, 1544

I have been living with this constant fear of exile now for two days. So far I have heard nothing. Plans seem to proceed as normal for our move to Ashridge. This palace, too, is becoming quite filthy, what with all the banqueting and people and gaming between Michaelmas Feast and the feast of All Saints' Day. The roses bloom in our garden with such vigor, but the stench from the courtyard over the wall outside the kitchens is unbearable.

Kat is mumbling something about baths again. This woman is becoming a fanatic. I think we have had a dozen baths since summer....

Personal Insights:

I chanced upon the Grade School library just this week and accidentally saw this book sitting atop the 'returned books' pile. I hesitated at first because I wanted to look 'professional' since I saw this book during working hours; reading and borrowing a book for children does not coincide with the definition of being 'professional' especially to the eyes of my fellow co-workers. But you know, I took my chances and borrowed the book. I am such a big fan of the Tudor family so screw societal norms! I'll read whatever I want to read! (>.<) In the end, I am glad to say that this book was such a joy to read (and was well worth my 'professional image' bursting into flames)! It provided new insights into the real lives of royalty back then, which is what I'm looking for in every historical fiction readings that I come across with. 

This book is basically constructed as a 'diary' of the young Princess Elizabeth Tudor. Needless to say, it is not written in the conventional prose or narrative form. The flow of the plot is based on Elizabeth's diary entries so you just have to decipher the events happening behind each entry. Generally, this book covers the adolescent years of Elizabeth, from 11 to 13 years old only. This is something new for me because the past novels I've read about Elizabeth covered only the events that already involve her 'romance' with Thomas Seymour. 

I'm actually more interested in the 6 wives of Henry VIII especially Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn. The ones that I've read about Elizabeth in the past cannot be compared to Anne Boleyn's more interesting life, but this book offered a glimpse of what I missed in the past, which is also quite interesting. I love this book because it showed a more realistic sense of what the young Elizabeth was probably thinking at that point of time in her life. She was really talented, clever, intelligent and is a highly self- actualized person at such a young age! She even exhibited a witty way of handling the bullying of her older half- sister Mary, which is what I am interested to learn about seeing that I've only read about the (bitter) perspective of Mary in the past. 

What I love best about this book is that it did not merely focus on the important historical happenings as a whole, but it offered a more in-depth insight into the inner workings of the daily lives of royalty back then. The author actually noted, "I spend endless hours finding how often, or not often enough, they took baths. I loved all those little gross details about wig bugs and rats in palaces..." Are you also curious? Well, I will share with you some of my favorite (gross) learnings about their life back then!

First, I learned that having a bath two times in the span of several months is already considered a 'nuisance' or a 'privilege' unlike the norm now, which is to take a bath at least twice a day. Second, I had a glimpse of how 'stinky' and 'dirty' it could be to live in that particular era even though you are already a royal! A castle becomes stinky over time because of trash left over from the numerous revelries happening and royals are also not exempted from having a 'stinky' washroom. Imagine, hundreds, even thousands, of people defecating in toilets with no flush? Elizabeth wrote two diary entries in this book where she reiterated that flower petals had to be scattered in the washroom and that she had to have a perfumed cloth cover her nose so that she could escape the stench from the toilets. My delusion of castles being 'all grand and majestic' have been destroyed! Third, I never knew that there was an occupation called 'rat chasers.' They actually pay people just to catch rats and it is apparently a useful trade seeing that some of them catches 100 rodents or more in the castle every day! Fourth, I learned a medical term called 'glyster,' which is probably similar to enema. Last of all, the most interesting thing that I learned is how hard it was to be a royal or a noble. They study the hardest things! Elizabeth showed a sample of her self- imposed study plan and it covers a lot of things such as learning Greek and Latin and translating the philosophical thoughts of Aristotle or Cicero from Latin or Greek to English at just 11 years old! 

I guess, my most important learning from this book is that we have a wrong image of royals because it's not always about having fun and being rich for them. They actually work hard to maintain their status as learned individuals. They are also placed in such precarious positions such as Elizabeth who never knows when she is going to be exiled or not, which all depends on her father's moods. She also does not know when she is going to get married and to who because betrothals to other royals from different countries is being proposed all the time and its acceptance lies on their country's state.

All in all, I love this book because this is very entertaining and it is not boring at all! I guess this has probably something to do with the fact that this book's target audience is young kids so they really have to make it seem interesting and easy to read. In terms of the technicalities, here are my thoughts: I like it's unique prose form, which is constructed as a diary. I love the usage of language since it is quite consistent. You can imagine a girl speaking from an old era consistently unlike some authors who start a novel using high highfalutin words only to lose it somewhere in the middle of the plot.  It also makes use of the authentic old terms such as "Matins" for mass and "Michaelmass" for the Christmas season. The characterization is also quite good because it offered an accurate and more concrete sense of their personalities unlike other books, which focused more on their reactions to the different situations imposed upon them. I would recommend this book 100% to people who are interested in the historical fiction genre!

Favorite Quotes:

"I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper." -- Catherine Howard

"Tu eres rosa Tudoris veritas. are the true Tudor rose." -- Henry VIII

"Her tongue doth swear, Hal, but her heart in its honesty is true. Beware the candied tongue, Hal, that laps on royal boots and through its sugary slime conceals the black heart."-- Will Somers, Henry VIII's fool

Master Grindal says that a young student might think that he has mastered grammar, but one never masters grammar. Grammar is to language as bone is to body. Without bone there is no framework for the human body and all of its marvelous organs-- such is grammar to language." -- Elizabeth

Lady Dinsmore has had the smallpox! A pocked Venus... What else did Lady Dinsmore have aside from her beauty? It is not really a question of what she will do, for what do any of us females do? It is really a question of what will give her satisfaction. Nothing, I think. There is very little satisfaction to be gotten for a scarred beauty in the Court of my father. -- Elizabeth

There is something within me that makes me think that perhaps I could be bold. It almost feels like a seed deep in my heart, or is it my brain? Perhaps boldness is both a part of the heart and the brain. I do feel that if this seed were planted in the right soil, it  might possibly grow. -- Elizabeth

"Others, Elizabeth, may squander their minds, but yours is too fine to abuse through neglect."-- Master Grindal, Elizabeth's tutor 

Delay and not acting impulsively is often the best strategy. -- Elizabeth

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