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r l f a d h i s t o r y publication of Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Duns is at his novelistic best when he puts his imagination to work on the question of who tipped off the Soviet authorities that Penkovsky might be passing top-secret messages to the West and when this happened. The double agent George Blake, of course, is one suspect, but there is another. It would be unfair to reveal his or her name – readers of this book should make their own minds up after buying it. Perhaps the question should be considered alongside the possibility, however remote, that from the very beginning Penkovsky was acting on behalf of a secret anti-Khrushchev faction within the Soviet leadership that he hoped might save him from the harshest punishment were he to be caught.

As to whether Penkovsky really did ‘save the world’ from nuclear war in 1962, Duns seems to be justifiably ambivalent.

Penkovsky’s warnings certainly gave Washington more time to consider their options and to decide on the best course, but it ’s plausible that Khrushchev would have stepped back from the brink anyway. What was needed then was exactly the same as what is needed today: to stop appeasing the Kremlin and to speak to those in power in Moscow so that they know what the reaction will be if they go too far. On 22 October 1962, the very day that Penkovsky was arrested in Moscow, President Kennedy phoned Harold Macmillan (the CIA and MI6 had been running Penkovsky as a joint operation) to discuss the Cuban crisis ‘and stated his belief – which echoed Penkovsky’s – that “firmness offered the best chance of avoiding the outbreak of a third world war”’. This excellent book contains lessons that are still valid in the 21st century. To order this book for £11.99, see the Literary Review Bookshop on page 40

l i n da p ort e r

The Queen and the Welshman

Tudor: The Family Story

By Leanda de Lisle (Chatto & Windus 538pp £20)

The marriage of Catherine of Valois, the attractive young widow of Henry V, and Owen Tudor, a lowly Welsh squire, is a perennial favourite of historical fiction. Indeed, it lends itself well to the genre precisely because there is no reliable information about how and when the couple met. Romantic stories abound. Regardless of whether the queen first spotted Owen swimming or came into much closer contact when he overbalanced and fell into her lap while dancing, at some point between 1428 and 1432 they were married. Although their union was not officially acknowledged until Catherine’s death in 1437, it was clearly known to – and tolerated by – the advisers of young Henry VI, men who had earlier sought to contain what one contemporary characterised as the queen’s ‘carnal passions’ by bringing in a statute forbidding marriage to a widowed queen without royal consent, on pain of forfeiture of lands for life. However, the target of this restrictive piece of legislation, which aimed to consign the lively French queen to years of celibacy and boredom, was not Owen Tudor but Edmund Beaufort, the younger brother of the Duke of Somerset, with whom Catherine was rumoured to have had an affair. It has even been suggested that the first son of her subsequent marriage to Owen Tudor was actually Edmund Beaufort’s child, and that the marriage to Tudor may have been intended to protect a high-born lover. The truth will never be known and we should probably not read too much into the fact that the child was himself called Edmund, a common enough name at the time. But the uncertainties over the date of the Tudor marriage and young Edmund’s birth certainly add spice to the story of the Tudors, for perhaps they were never Tudors at all.

This dynasty, which ruled England

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