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Arthur Plantagenet (Hardback)

Henry VIII's Illegitimate Uncle

British History P&S History Tudors & Stuarts 16th Century 15th Century Royal History

By Sarah-Beth Watkins
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399000611
Published: 27th July 2022
This Week's Best Sellers Rank: #17

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Illegitimate son to Edward IV and the uncle of Henry VIII, Arthur Plantagenet’s life is an intriguing story. Raised in his father’s court, he then became a trusted member of Henry VII’s household and after his death, was a prominent figure at the court of Henry VIII. Henry VIII treated his uncle well in the early years of his reign, making him vice-admiral and then Lord Deputy of Calais in 1533.

Arthur did the best he could in his new position in Calais over seven years, including trying to maintain a relationship with Thomas Cromwell against a background of religious change, but there were numerous complaints about him and his paranoid nephew’s suspicions over his loyalty grew – culminating in Lisle’s arrest and imprisonment for two years with no legal reason.

Arthur was released from the Tower in 1542, yet tragically died after receiving a diamond ring from his nephew. He was so excited that his heart – that ‘gentlest living heart’ – failed soon after.

We owe much of what we know about Henry VIII’s uncle to the seizure and preservation of the Lisle Letters, an impressive collection of correspondence obtained at his arrest that has miraculously survived. Not only do they give details of Arthur’s life, but they are an amazing insight into the religious, political, culture and social background of the 16th century. Placed as he was, Arthur Plantagenet’s story gives a whole new, fresh perspective on a turbulent yet vibrant period of history.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A well researched, thorough examination of everything we know, possibly know, and definitely don’t know about Henry VIII’s uncle, Arthur. I’m especially appreciative of how honest and extensive this book is. Even when it would be easier to give a simpler answer, she covers everything. History is complex, sometimes contradictory, and we rarely have straightforward answers. The information we have is carefully gleaned from receipts and brief mentions from diplomats and notables of the day. Therefore, we can speculate and sometimes come close to being certain about various facts, but it isn’t the whole picture. Watkins does a fantastic job of giving a meticulous, but not condescending, look at what we know about various stages of his life and things we can only guess. She puts the history in perspective. At times I found it necessary to write down names for reference later and the text could be a bit dry. For me this was essentially a bonus, but may not be what some readers are looking for. Personally, I cannot wait to track down and read her other works.

NetGalley, Cassandra Smith

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

"Everyone knows" that Edward IV had sex with lots of women and had lots of illegitimate children - that is, until Watkins actually drills down into the historical record and isn't able to find much proof of these known "facts". At least, nothing that would hold up in court. So was it a case of being so common knowledge no one write anything down, or was it salacious detail added to the War of the Roses legend later on by Tudor propagandists to make Henry VII look good by comparison?

Hard to say, but, given the available evidence, Watkins has to throw some doubt on Arthur "Plantagenet" (a surname, we find, he didn't start using until later in life) paternity, although she finds a few possible cases for the families he might have been connected to on his mother's side.

Its both frustrating and fascinating, chasing shadows and rumors, like trying to pin down clouds, but Watkins gives it her all as she tries to trace the origins of this peripheral figure of the Tudor court.

As he gets older, he is more in the records, and there is a TON of written records about his life once he was appointed to oversee Calais as he 1) write lots and lots of letters back to court to whine about why everything going wrong in Calais was not is fault and 2) all of his letters to court and to Cromwell were carefully stored in the State's evidence locker after first Cromwell and then Arthur were accused of treason.

So his known life sheds a lot of light on the Calais political situation in the 1530's and 1540's. We also, as he reports on this person and that, to whine about "no one wants to work anymore" basically, we get a lot about the more minor figures of the Tudor era who don't always make it to the main history books, and we see just how big a supporting cast were running around the court and country at any given moment.

A great look at the Tudor court from a more lower decks POV.

NetGalley, Kara Race-Moore

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

When we think of those who made an impact in history, we tend to think of those who have been born to a married couple and therefore were considered legitimate children, especially when it comes to royal children. However, we know that illegitimate royal children, like William the Conqueror, greatly impacted history. Illegitimate royal children may have been barred from becoming king or queen of their respective countries of birth, but that does not mean they didn’t impact how their home country was governed. One of these children who affected politics during the Tudor dynasty was Arthur Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of Edward IV. In her latest book, “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle,” she explores the life of this man who gives us extraordinary insight into the running of Calais and how Henry VIII treated other family members.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed the previous books I read by Sarah-Beth Watkins, and when I heard that she was writing a new book about Arthur Plantagenet, I was thrilled to read it. I have only heard about Arthur Plantagenet as a side character in other biographies and novels during Henry VIII’s reign, so I was looking forward to learning more about this man.

Watkins begins by exploring the possible birth dates and Arthur’s birth mother, which is a difficult challenge because Edward IV was known for having several mistresses that we know about and probably others who have remained secrets in history. While some illegitimate children were not acknowledged by their royal fathers, it looks like Edward IV accepted Arthur and allowed him to have a good education that would have followed his legitimate sons’ education regime. After the shocking death of Edward IV and the reign of Richard III, we see Arthur establishing himself in the court of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York; we have records of Elizabeth of York taking care of her illegitimate half-brother. Arthur was so close to Elizabeth of York that he attended her funeral.

Arthur’s rise during the reign of Henry VIII focuses on this title. We see how Arthur started as a Spear of Honour and worked his way up to Viscount Lisle after Charles Brandon became Duke of Suffolk. He was a Knight of the Garter, the Vice Admiral of the Tudor Navy, and finally became Lord Deputy of Calais. Arthur was married twice to Elizabeth Grey and Honor Greenville, and although Elizabeth was the one who gave Arthur his daughters, Honor was the one who we know the most about because of the Lisel Letters.

With the title of Lord Deputy of Calais came significant responsibilities for taking care of France's last remaining English city. Arthur Plantagenet had to deal with your average repairs, preparing the town for battle, civil disputes, religious quarrels, and plots against King Henry VIII. The time that Arthur and Honor were in Calais was a tumultuous time for England and Henry, and we get to see how Arthur felt about these issues, like the Pole family drama, through his Lisle letters. The connection with the Pole family led Arthur to become a prisoner in the Tower of London for two years as he was connected to the Botolfi plot to take the city of Calais for the Pope.

Watkins brings the life of Arthur Plantagenet to the forefront and gives this hidden illegitimate Plantagenet his time to shine. It was a fascinating read, especially learning about how Calais was maintained and about the Botolfi plot, which I had never heard about before reading this book. If you want an excellent book that introduces the life of Arthur Plantagenet and his role during the reign of King Henry VIII, I would highly recommend you read “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

NetGalley, Heidi Malagisi

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I would love to thank Pen & Sword Books for sending me an e-copy of this book.

Arthur Plantagenet's life is an intriguing one. Arthur Plantagenet was an illegitimate son of the English king Edward IV, a half-brother-in-law of Henry VII, and an uncle of Henry VIII, who appointed him Lord Deputy of Calais (1533–40). He raised in his father's court, he went on to become a trusted member of Henry VII's household and, after his death, a prominent figure at Henry VIII's court. In the early years of his reign, Henry VIII treated his uncle well, making him vice-admiral and then Lord Deputy of Calais in 1533.

Over the course of seven years, Arthur did his best in his new position in Calais, including attempting to maintain a relationship with Thomas Cromwell against the backdrop of religious change, but there were numerous complaints about him, and his paranoid nephew's suspicions about his loyalty grew – culminating in Lisle's arrest and imprisonment for two years for no legal reason.

Arthur was released from the Tower of London in 1542, but he died tragically shortly after receiving a diamond ring from his nephew, Henry VIII. He was so ecstatic that his heart – that 'gentlest living heart' – stopped beating soon after.

The seizure and preservation of the Lisle Letters, an impressive collection of correspondence obtained during his arrest and miraculously preserved, is responsible for much of what we know about Henry VIII's uncle. They not only provide details about Arthur's life, but they also provide fascinating insights into the religious, political, cultural, and social context of the 16th century. Arthur Plantagenet's story, as he was placed, provides a whole new, fresh perspective on a turbulent yet vibrant period of history.

The Lisle Letters, which contain a large collection of his correspondence, make his life one of the best documented of his era.

NetGalley, Ece Karadag

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


This book is very well written. It is easy to read and understand and well worth the time for anyone interested in Tudor history, or just history in general. I very much enjoyed learning about this little research man, Arthur Plantagenet, It is thoroughly researched, as far as Ms. Watkins was able. She has also included a copious bibliography and an index of her book.

NetGalley, Joyce Fox

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“Arthur Plantagenet” by Sarah-Beth Watkins is an exciting look at one of history’s lesser known figures - the illegitimate son of Edward IV and Uncle to Henry VIII, Arthur Plantagenet. The Tudor Era is one of the most interesting and intriguing periods of our history. A time of utter betrayal and a fight to survive, it was brilliant to be able to take a more detailed look at Arthur Plantagenet and his place within the structure of the Royals. Excellently written and rich in historical detail, this book is an absolute gem and will entrance fans of the Tudor period and everyone who enjoys learning about our history.

NetGalley, Carrie M Lack

About Sarah-Beth Watkins

Sarah-Beth Watkins is the best-selling author of Tudor and Stuart non-fiction books including Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII. She writes articles for The Tudor Society and various history blogs. Watkins grew up in Kew, not far from Richmond and Hampton Court Palace, and was often to be found as a child soaking up history at Ham House. She now lives in Ireland.

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