The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty

Written by Sarah Gristwood
Review by Jan Middleton

How did fine amour, that social code of romantic behaviour born in 11th-century France, come to define the lives and fate of iconic figures from Tudor England?  In this compelling study, Sarah Gristwood offers a convincing explanation. We see royal relationships and marriage through the prism of courtly love; Gristwood sheds crisp, new light upon the stories we thought we knew so well, revealing how their intimacies were driven by tropes created in the Arthurian legends and ballads of the Langue d’Oc. This allows us to understand so much more about the Tudors and gain real insight into the cultural context that shaped their desires and decisions.

With surgical precision, Gristwood cuts to the very heart of what love might have meant to the Tudors, within their world of ambition, religion, power, and the constant struggle for the survival of their dynasty.  The narrative is irresistible for all lovers of this era. Gristwood begins with an overview of the history of courtly love that should be required reading for any undergraduate student of medieval history or literature.  Scholarly research and incredible detail then allow for a fresh interpretation of Anne Boleyn’s inevitable downfall, and Elizabeth Tudor’s complex reasons for engaging in quasi-romantic relationships with so many men.  Whilst this mother-and-daughter act take centre stage, others are allowed their moment in the limelight and fascinating stories emerge, from Elizabeth Woodville to Arbella Stuart.

Gristwood’s writing skills are superb. She offers such clarity in her prose, discussing events and people from the 15th and 16th centuries as though it was yesterday, effortlessly weaving snippets from primary source texts into her own sentences. Her vocabulary is a joy, and she uses figurative language with enviable deftness.  This is a book for Tudor fans thirsty for “something new”.