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It has become obvious in last few decades that society has developed a bit of an obsession with historical fiction/romance novels, many of which have been turned into block buster period dramas for tv and the big screen. However, for me this particular genre has always been one of my favorites and I recently added a great book to my collection, The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown. For those who have a slight (or huge) obsession with European royalty, or have a serious love of Mary Queen of Scots, read on to find out my thoughts on this well constructed novel. 

We are introduced to Thomas Broune, who is a childhood friend of the Scotland’s estranged queen, Mary Stuart. Despite the fact that she was sent away to France and there were many miles between them, the two still kept in touch. Upon Mary’s return to Scottish soil to claim her crown, the friendship the two share grows stronger. Things do eventually get more complicated when Mary becomes queen, and Thomas’ affection for her begins to grow beyond the boundaries of friendship. 

Mary’s rule as queen of the Scots is filled with religious, political, and personal conflicts, but the one person who stays by her side is Thomas. Though Mary is a beautiful and intriguing woman, she has a tendency to let her heart get the best of her. While he is ever devoted to his friend and queen, this devotion does come at a cost, and even then, there is only so much he can do protect her from the Scottish court. 

The relationship between Mary and Thomas is one that some of the best historical fictions are made of. Excellent character development, with each exhibiting characteristics that make us adore them, and even one or two that make them more human and flawed. I love Tonya’s use of descriptive language, as it literally transports you to a different place and time. In my opinion, this novel does a great job of combining just the right amount of the historical with the fictional. 

If you want to find out more about my friend and author Tonya Ulynn Brown, check her out here.

Family dynamics are often quite complicated, and this is even more true if you happen to be part of a famous family, and especially if you’re royal. While history is full of family conflicts that resulted in everything from kidnapping to starting wars, there are a few out there with particularly epic outcomes. One of those was the Babington Plot.

Elizabeth I (Wikimedia Commons)

Elizabeth I ruled England during the 16th century, and she did so without a husband which was pretty impressive for the time. As strong of a queen as she was, she had a target on her back from the moment she took the crown. During her time as a monarch, there were multiple plots to try and remove her from power. One of the most commonly known is the Babington Plot. This particular plan to overthrow the queen was unique was that her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots was a part of it. 

Anthony Babington (Wikipedia)

Like most secret plans to commit treason, the Babington Plot involved a good amount of people and could be pretty complex if you try to go into all the details. The simple version involves a couple of guys, Anthony Babington and John Ballard. As staunch Catholics their goal was to assassinate the Protestant Elizabeth, and replace her with a true Catholic ruler. The person they wanted to replace her with was her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. Problem was that Mary was currently one of Elizabeth’s prisoners. This fact didn’t stop these two men from conspiring to get a Catholic monarch back on the throne of England.

Francis Walsingham (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately for Babington and Ballard, Elizabeth’s right hand man, Francis Walsingham was already keeping a close eye on the situations with the Catholics. The shrewd man that he was, his goal was to eliminate Mary as a potential threat to his queen. As such, he sort of entrapped Mary by installing  his own spies into this plan that was concocted by Babington and Ballard. So while letters were being exchanged between Mary and her conspirators, Walsingham was intercepting them all. He knew that Elizabeth was not going to execute her cousin without undeniable proof of treason, because he had already tried to convince her to do so before. Walsingham waited patiently for proof against Mary, when he finally got it. 

Mary, Queen of Scots (Wikipedia)

In 1586, Walsingham and his spies intercepted a letter that would eventually seal Mary’s fate. The letter from Babington outlined the plan to rescue Mary, and also asked for permission to kill Elizabeth. Mary reportedly signed off on the plan for her rescue, but didn’t fully acquiesce to the assassination of Elizabeth. However, she did not outright condemn the plan to murder the queen either. Due to this fact, on August 21st 1586, she was arrested, and in October she was tried under the Act of Association.

Her trial proceeded despite the questionable legality of the whole thing.  Following her trial, Parliament found her guilty in the Babington Plot and as such ordered her execution. Elizabeth seemed to hesitate and put off signing her cousin’s death warrant but she could only delay the inevitable so long. Mary, Queen of Scots was executed on February 8, 1587. Though Elizabeth did eliminate her cousin as her rival, her throne ironically went Mary’s son, James, following her death in 1603.

Dolores Huerta-Born the daughter of migrant farmworkers in New Mexico during the 1930’s, Dolores Huerta did not allow her humble circumstances to limit her ambitions to change the world. Following her parents divorce Dolores and her siblings moved with their mother, Alicia to my hometown of Stockton, California. It was here that her mother’s compassionate heart and involvement with Stockton’s diverse community inspired Dolores to become the activist, feminist and icon that she is today. Though she has many accomplishments to her name, she is most well known for co-founding the National Farmworkers Association in 1962 alongside Cesar Chavez. Since its inception this organization has been successful in getting legislation passed to improve the wages, working conditions, bargaining abilities and lives of migrant farmworkers across the country. In addition to her work for migrant farmworkers, Dolores also has been an instrumental part of the Women’s Rights movement, fighting to ensure that women of all backgrounds get a seat at the table. Because of her hard work and dedication, she was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012. If you want to learn more about Dolores Huerta, check out the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

Octaviano Larrazolo-As a young boy, Octoviano Larrazolo left his home in Chihuahua, Mexico to pursue an education under Catholic bishop, J.B. Salpointe in 1870. He eventually became a teacher in Texas during the day, and studied law at night. After he officially became a citizen of the United States in 1884, he became a registered Democrat and began his pursuit of his law career. He sat for the Texas bar exam in 1888 and eventually moved his law practice to New Mexico to chase his political aspirations. After becoming disillusioned with the Democratic party and their stance on “equal rights” Octaviano switched political affiliations and continued to wage war in his fight for the rights of Hispanic Americans. While both major political parties at the time tried to discredit him, his eloquent words resonated well with many people.  Despite his struggles to win in the political arena, Larrazolo won the race for Governor of New Mexico in 1918. A decade later , despite continued controversy, he also managed to become the first Hispanic Senator in the United States at the age of 69. He worked tirelessly his entire career to ensure equal treatment for his Hispanic countrymen going so far as to die while still holding office in 1930. If you want to learn more about Octaviano Larrazolo, check out  the History, Arts and Archives- United States House of Representatives. 

Jovita Idar –The name of Jovita Idar is one that is often overlooked in the history books, but this woman did extraordinary things during a time when it shouldn’t have been possible. This native of Laredo, Texas became a teacher, a political and civil rights activist as well as an accomplished journalist. At the age of 25 she joined her family newspaper, La Cronica, which published articles about the discrimination and lack of civil rights for Mexican Americans, as well as demanding change.  In addition to her work on the family paper, she became a founding member of The First Mexican Congress and The League of Mexican Women. These organizations focused on the issues that faced Mexican Americans such as lack of economic resources, education and basic civil liberties. Jovita managed to shine a light on these issues and did not back down even when an article she wrote for El Progreso brought the Texas Rangers to her doorstep. She continued her fight for the rights of Hispanic Americans through continuing to write, teach, and advocate for equal rights until her death in 1946. If you want to learn more about Jovita Idar, check out American Masters by PBS.

Roberto Clemente– A natural athlete from the start, Roberto Clemente left his mark not only on the world of sport, but became legend in Hispanic culture. At the age of 17, he had already made it as a professional athlete in the Puerto Rican Baseball League, before he was picked up by the Dodgers the following year. He was subsequently traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and it was there after about 6 years of battling injury and other hardships that his career really took off. In total, he earned 4 National League batting titles, 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards, led the Pirates to the World Series in 1960, and was named National League MVP in 1966. In 1972 he joined the elite company of baseball players who have achieved 3,000 hits during their career. Though this was arguably the biggest success of his career, Clemente’s life was tragically cut short when he died in a plane crash on December 31, 1972. Described as both a humanitarian, activist for minority rights, and a complete gentleman, Roberto Clemente’s legacy still lives on today inspiring athletes of all shapes, sizes and colors. If you would like to learn more, check out the Roberto Clemente Foundation

The Mendez Family-Getting an education in America has not always been easy. This is especially true if you were a woman or a person of color. Segregation in the educational system was not officially banned until the 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, but it turns out there was a case that laid the groundwork nearly a decade before . In California, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez filed a case against the Santa Ana County school districts ( Mendez v. Westminster)  for denying their children access to an education simply because they were Mexican- Americans. Other ethnic groups were also subjected to the same type of treatment, so this case was important for multiple groups of people. In 1946 Judge Paul McCormick ruled that segregation of Mexican American students was both unenforceable under California law, and violated the 14th Amendment. While there were multiple lawsuits attempting to overturn his decision, ultimately the ruling stood. In 2011, the daughter of Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, Sylvia who is an activist in her own right, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her and her parents’ contributions to civil rights. If you would like to learn more, check out

Mary Ellen Pleasant- Entrepreneur and Abolitionist

Mary Ellen Pleasant started in this world as a bond servant to a family of Quakers ( The Husseys)  who also were abolitionists. Once she worked her way to freedom, she leveraged her relationship with the Husseys to work as an abolitionist and ‘slave stealer’ on the Underground Railroad. Upon moving to California with her second husband, J.J. Pleasant, in 1848, Mary Ellen continued her abolitionist work there. As she worked to assist the slaves she helped escape, Mary Ellen also managed to become a wealthy woman in her own right through investments and establishment of restaurants. 

Mary Ellen’s most infamous claim to fame is her connection to John Brown and Harpers Ferry. The two were friends and even supposedly lovers at one point before John attempted to start a slave revolt by taking over the armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. When he was captured a note was found in his pocket believed to be from some wealthy donor who helped fund the coup. The identity of the writer of the note remained a secret until Mary Ellen confessed before her death that it was her. Turns out she had donated about 30,000 dollars to John Brown’s mission, the equivalent of 900,000 dollars today. 

Find out more about Mary Ellen Pleasant HERE

Matthew Henson – Arctic Explorer

Born the son of sharecroppers, Matthew probably did not imagine that one day he would stand one top of the word—literally. But that is exactly what happened when at the age of 22 his chance meeting with well known explorer Robert Perry led him to be a part of multiple expeditions, most famously in the Arctic. 

While working on over 20 of these expeditions, Henson’s skills like dog sledding and communication with the native Inuit people improved and became an invaluable asset. In 1909, Perry’s expedition attempted to reach the North Pole for the eighth time and were apparently successful. There was debate surrounding his claims for various reasons but one big reason was that Henson claimed to have been there first.

Following the expedition, Perry largely took credit for its success and Henson’s contributions were largely ignored. It is clear that at the very least the expedition probably would have failed again without Henson’s skill set. Though his accomplishments went largely unnoticed during his life-time, he has received more recognition following his death in 1955. Ronald Reagan even had his remains interred at Arlington National Cemetery in 1987

Find out more about Matthew Henson HERE

Alice Coachman- Olympic Athlete

Being born a black girl in Georgia in the early 20th century, there were not many advantages afforded to Alice Coachman.She was denied access to proper training facilities and the ability to participate in organized sports because of the color of her skin. Alice overcame these obstacles with the help of her aunt and teachers and as a teenager she excelled at track and field. 

Alice competed in the AAU National Championships and dominated the high jump event, winning 10 consecutive national titles. In addition to the high jump she competed in both the 50m and 100m dash and the 400m relay. She would have qualified for the Olympics in both 1940 and 1944, but both were canceled due to World War II. 

She did eventually qualify for the XVIII Olympiad in 1948 which took place in London. Alice won the high jump event with a jump of 5ft. 6 and a half inches, earning herself a gold medal. She was the only woman from the United States to win a gold medal that year. Simultaneously, she also became the first black woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic games for the US. She was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and is credited with breaking the barrier for black women in the sport of track and field. 

Find out more about Alice Coachman HERE

James Armistead Lafayette- Revolutionary War Double Agent 

When we think of spies, usually people like James Bond or Jason Bourne come to mind. But before there was Bond, there was James Armistead Lafayette, who was a double agent during the American Revolution. 

Born a slave in 1760’s Virginia, when war broke out he received permission from his master, WIlliam Armistead to enlist with Marquis de Lafayette’s French forces who were aiding the Americans. The French decided to then use James as a spy. Posing as an escaped slave, the British welcomed him with open arms. That turned out to be a huge mistake. 

James managed to provide important information to the Americans and French while at the same time misleading the British and they were none the wiser. One of his greatest achievements was during the Battle of Yorktown, where he was able to warn the French and the Americans of the impending attack by the British. This single act ultimately led to the British surrender in October of 1781. 

Despite winning the war, Armistead was then returned to his master and enslaved for another 6 years. He spent that time fighting for his freedom when word reached General Lafayette that Armistead was still a slave. He wrote a letter to Congress which finally resulted in James Armistead’s freedom. 

Find out more about James Armistead Lafayette HERE

Lewis Latimer- Inventor

Lewis Latimer should be a household name but his work is often overshadowed by the big name inventors we know today. Funny thing is, they probably would not have been nearly as successful or famous without him. 

The son of escaped slaves and with no formal education, Lewis still managed to become arguably one of the most brilliant inventors of all time. After serving his time in the Union Army, Lewis taught himself mechanical drawing and drafting by watching the other men at the law firm where he worked. When it became obvious that Lewis had some real talent, he was promoted within the firm and that is when his inventing abilities became abundantly clear. 

Latimer later worked with the likes of Alexander Graham Bell, Hiram Maxim, and Thomas Alva Edison. He was also responsible for working on and helping to patent the telephone and improving the incandescent filament inside light bulbs. He also worked on helping to patent the lightbulb as well. His other inventions included bathrooms in railway cars, lamp fixtures, and air conditioning. 

Learn more about Lewis Latimer HERE

Susie King Taylor-  Army Nurse, Teacher, Writer

Susie King Taylor has a few different accomplishments attached to her name. The most notable of these are that she became America’s first black Army nurse, became a teacher to former slaves, and published her own memoir.  

Though she was born into slavery in 1848, Susie was fortunate enough to be sent to live with her grandmother at the age of 7. While in grandmother’s care she received a secret education as schooling for African- Americans was not allowed. Susie eventually escaped to freedom with her uncle. It was here that she was offered a job teaching newly freed slave children and adults. 

After marrying her first husband she served alongside him in the Union Army during the Civil War. She worked as both a nurse and teacher, caring for and educating wounded black soldiers of the Army’s 33rd Regiment of Colored Troops. Following her time with the military she published her memoir Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S. C. Volunteers.

Find out more about Susie King Taylor HERE

Oscar Micheaux- Writer, Producer, Director, Film Maker 

Oscar Micheaux was a pioneer in the world of black film making. With his skills as an extremely talented writer, he used that talent to create such films as Easy Street, The Exile, and Black Magic. 

During this time Micheaux had to face many obstacles as a black man in the film industry. Especially since there really weren’t any other African- Americans in movie making at the time. Instead of waiting, Oscar started his own movie production company and put out the first film by an African- American, entitled The Homesteader. 

In addition to writing and producing his own films, Mucheaux was also a prolific writer who published 7 novels. Along with his novels Micheaux produced and directed at least 44 feature length films. With his success in writing, directing and producing his own films and books, the Producers Guild of America referred to him as “the most prolific black – if not most prolific independent – filmmaker in American cinema.”

Find out more about Oscar Micheaux HERE

Cathay Williams- American Soldier 

As a country that was born because of war, it makes sense that the military is an important part of our heritage. However, like many institutions in our country’s history, official enlistment in the military for the longest time was mainly for straight, white, men. While there were regiments, spies, cooks, and handymen that were of different races, the military certainly was not for women. Especially women of color. That is what makes the story of Cathay Williams all the more incredible. 

In 1861 when the plantation where Cathay was enslaved was taken over by Union forces during the Civil War. Due to the law considering Cathay and others like her to be “property, she was then forced into serving the military as a washerwoman and cook. Despite how life introduced her to the military lifestyle,she decided to enlist voluntarily at the age of 17. All she had to do was hide the fact that she was a woman. 

After the Civil War, Cathay enlisted in the US Regular Army under the name William Cathay, disguising herself as a man. Because the Army did not insist on a full medical exam during this time, they assumed she was in fact a man and assigned her to the 38th US Infantry Regiment. 

Though she served well and honorably, her body began to break down after she had a bout with smallpox. It was only after this that her true identity was discovered and she was honorably discharged from service. Following her discharge, it was discovered that Cathay is the only known woman to be a part of the 38th US Infantry Regiment. This is the military unit that would eventually become known as the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.  

Find out more about Cathay Williams HERE

Catherine of Aragon – Henry’s True Wife 

Catherine of Aragon is the first wife of the infamous Henry VIII, which theoretically should have been a good thing. I mean, if you’re married to the king, you should be set for life right? As long as you avoid committing treason and all that stuff. Unfortunately for Catherine of Aragon, marriage to a king was not enough for her to have a happily ever after. In fact, being married to 2 royals  in her lifetime didn’t even do it. (She was previously married to Henry’s brother, Arthur.) Despite the majority of her marriage to Henry running pretty smoothly, Henry eventually tired of her, largely due to her inability to give him a son. It is a slight misconception that Catherine couldn’t bare Henry a son. She actually gave him at least two male heirs, but neither made it past infancy. Unfortunately as she went longer and longer without giving him a viable male heir to the throne, Henry’s eyes wandered elsewhere.(Ahem, Anne Boleyn)

 In order to get rid of Catherine, Henry put her through the ringer, folks. Paraded his new mistress in front of her, questioned her chastity, and kept her separated from her daughter. But through all of this, Catherine remained loyal to Henry and refused to give up her title as Queen of England. Though her horrible hubby created his own church to declare their marriage null and void, the Catholic church never conceded to this annulment. Therefore in the eyes of many in the kingdom, Henry was simply a bigamist and technically Catherine was the king’s only “true” wife.

Anne Boleyn-The One Who “Bewitched” The King

Likely without meaning to, Anne Boelyn has become one of the most famous people in English royal history, despite only being married to Henry for 3 years. Many words have been used to describe Queen Anne. From a loving mother to a bewitched harlot, Anne brought out strong reactions in many people and that is no secret. Her relationship with Henry went pretty well until of course she only gave him a daughter, despite promises that she could give him a son. Nevermind that her daughter would grow up to be one of the greatest monarchs in the history of England. The fact that she hadn’t had a boy perturbed Henry greatly. Eventually Henry became so annoyed that the only way to be rid of her for good was to charge her with treason and cut off her head. Completely normal response right? 

The numerous allegations against Anne, included adultery, incest, treason and good old fashioned witchcraft. Come to find out 500 years later, there really was not much to support these allegations. Basically Henry wanted what he wanted when he wanted it and demanded that his advisors on the Privy Council find a way to get it for him. They did so and Anne lost her head as a result. In looking deeper into Anne’s life before she was queen, it becomes evident that Anne may have been more of a victim in all of this nonsense than is normally portrayed. At the time that she caught the king’s eye, Anne was in fact secretly engaged and head over heels with another Henry. Henry Percy. But for the interference of Henry’s chief advisor at the time, Anne would have been off and married to her first love. And she probably would have managed to keep her head too. 

Jane Seymour -Henry’s True Love

The lovely Jane Seymour is the one wife of Henry that seemed to largely avoid Henry’s wrath due to his love for her. During her tenure as Henry’s wife, she used her more tranquil and quiet personality to calm the beast that was the current king of England. She is also one of Henry’s more conservative spouses which is a little shocking considering his very recent break up with the Catholic Church. Despite the insanity surrounding Anne’s execution and the two became officially betrothed the day after her death. A year after their marriage Jane conceived the couple’s son, Edward, who was born on October 12, 1537. Tragically for Jane, the joy of being a mother would be short lived as she died 9 days later or puerperal fever. 

The story you usually hear is the one surrounding her death and how much Henry supposedly loved her. One thing that is often overlooked is that though Jane was Henry’s wife, she was never officially crowned queen. Some speculate this was purposeful as he wanted to make sure she could give him a male heir but no one really knows. Despite never being crowned, she was the only one of Henry’s spouses to be entombed with him following his death. 

Anne of Cleves-The “Ugly”Wife 

I have previously done a full article on Anne of Cleves that you can check out HERE, but I have to tell ya she is a pretty fascinating figure. Her marriage to Henry was purely for political reasons. His advisers believed an alliance with Anne’s brother, William Duke of Cleves would be advantageous for the English crown.The fact that they hadn’t met, and she was marrying a man twice her age who had a terrible marriage streak didn’t matter at the time they made the deal. Upon her arrival to meet Henry, he reportedly was extremely disappointed with Anne’s physical appearance among other things. Though the king was not happy with her, he married her anyway, which of course turned out to be an absolute disaster. Henry put her reputation through the ringer, especially once he decided he wanted yet another divorce. The couple’s marriage was annulled 6 months after they wed. 

Though Anne has a reputation for being “ugly”, that doesn’t really seem to be the case.Legend says that the king reportedly claimed she looked like a “flander’s mare” because she looked so different from her picture. Scholars have discussed over the years that it appears that Anne actually was not ridiculously unattractive. The real reasons Henry wanted to get rid of his fourth queen really didn’t seem to have much to do with Anne herself. Her annulment ironically probably ended up working out for the best. Anne essentially got paid to go away and had a pretty nice life after that, especially when you consider the fate of her predecessors.  

Catherine Howard -Henry’s Teenage Wife 

After his most recent marriage fell apart, Henry was determined to choose his next bride himself. Lady Catherine Howard caught Henry’s eye while she was a lady in waiting for Queen Anne of Cleves. Once he was free of Anne, Henry didn’t waste any time and promptly married teenage Catherine. The king reportedly adored her vivacious personality in addition to her beauty. Once married he spoiled Catherine and the first part of their marriage went well. That was until some information from Catherine’s past came back to haunt her in the worst way. It was soon revealed that she had sexual relations with at least two other men prior to marrying the king. She was also accused of having an affair with one of the king’s men, Thomas Culpeper. With these and other multiple offenses coming to light, dear Catherine was sentenced to death less than 2 years after marrying the king. 

There is a lot of drama in Catherine’s short life to be sure and there is one fact that makes all of this crazy a bit more sinister. Catherine was the first cousin of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife and first spouse that he executed. Turns out all of his wives were somewhat distantly related in some way. I happen to think marrying your dead wife’s cousin, who also is 7 years younger than your oldest daughter is definitely crossing a line. Ew.

Catherine Parr-The One Who Escaped Henry’s Wrath

Henry’s final wife was Catherine Parr. She is arguably the only one of Henry’s wives to survive her marriage to him and exert a positive influence over him at the same time. By the time she and Henry wed, he was in his 50’s and starting to decline health wise. It did not really appear that she had the same pressure as her predecessors to produce an heir as the king already had one son. She was an intelligent and compassionate woman who took care of her 3 step-children and helped encourage their relationship with their father. Catherine did come under fire from members of the king’s cabinet for her relationships with Protestants, but managed to keep in the king’s good graces. She even managed to avoid a plot to replace her as the king’s wife in 1546. Catherine remained married to Henry until his death in 1547 at the age of 55. 

When one discusses Henry VIII, its usually all about his multiple marriages. Come to find out that Henry isn’t the only one to have many spouses. Catherine Parr ended up being married a total of 4 times before her death in 1548. She was married twice prior to marrying Henry, and she married one more time following his death. Catherine married Thomas Seymour who was supposedly her true love and became pregnant within a year. Sadly she died shortly after giving birth to their daughter in 1548.

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