Book Review: “Women in Medieval England” by Lynda Telford

36762203As students of history, we understand that aspects of society change all of the time, and sometimes the change is rapid, and other times it is positively glacial. One of those aspects of culture that we have seen slow and gradual change pertains to women’s rights. Today, women have more rights than they did in the past, and they can have careers, but is this a novel concept? What were the lives of women like in other periods of history, like the medieval period? In Lynda Telford’s book, “Women in Medieval England,” she explores women’s lives from the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors to give us a picture of what rights and responsibilities women had during this period.

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. The title of this book is what drew me to it as I have read many books about individual women in medieval England, but never a comprehensive study. I wanted to learn more about women from every echelon of medieval society and how their lives differed from our own.

Telford begins her book by exploring the women who lived during the rule of the Anglo-Saxons. Reading about their experiences and the laws that dictated their lives is a critical aspect of Telford’s argument that medieval women did not have much more freedom than their counterparts from other eras. It may seem strange that as time moved on from the Anglo-Saxons to the medieval dynasties, the Plantagenets and the Tudors, women had less freedom to choose how they lived their lives. During the plague, women were called to work more to make up for men who died, but even that did not last long. Women were told how to live their lives from the men in their own families and even the church.

Telford has researched the topic of medieval women rigorously, and it shows. She has a passion for this subject, and it is demonstrated throughout this book with everything from letters to court cases. Every aspect of a woman’s life is taken into account to give her reader a better understanding of medieval society.

My problem with this book is that Telford focuses so heavily on the negative aspects of a woman’s life, like prostitution and domestic violence, that it is difficult to find the good parts of the life of a medieval woman. It was a bit too dark and depressing for my liking. I have read other books about strong and independent medieval women, but I do not see it here in this book. Telford is so focused on presenting her argument that Anglo-Saxon women had more freedom than medieval women that it obscures the facts that she does present. In short, she needed to show both the good elements and the harmful elements of the lives of medieval women to present a more balanced argument.

Overall, I think it was a decent book. This book is well researched, and it did present a side of medieval life that I was not expecting. I think it was a bit dark but informative. If you want a comprehensive study of women’s rights and lives during the medieval period, I recommend reading “Women in Medieval England” by Lynda Telford.

Book Review: “The Boleyns of Hever Castle” by Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway

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As history nerds, many have wondered what life might have been like during our favorite dynasties. What were castles like in their heydays? Though we might not have a time machine, we have rare chances to visit the actual castles that our favorite historical figures called home. One such place is the breathtaking home of the Boleyns, Hever Castle. Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway have combined their talents to create a beautiful book all about this magical place entitled “The Boleyns of Hever Castle.”

As someone who has never visited England before, Hever Castle is on my bucket list of Tudor places to visit. I have seen the gorgeous pictures and videos from those who have visited and get the exciting opportunity to work at Hever, like Owen Emmerson, the Assistant Curator and Castle historian at Hever. When I heard that Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway were writing this book together, I knew I had to read it.

Like any good tour guide, Emmerson and Ridgway paint a picture for their readers of what they might see when they visit the castle. As they explain, the castle has gone through a few renovations throughout the centuries, so they focus on areas that would have been familiar to the Boleyn family during their 77-year stay.

Of course, Emmerson and Ridgway take an in-depth look into the Boleyn family, how they became owners of this stately palace, and how the estate survived after the fall of the illustrious family. For those who know the story of the Boleyns, it is a delightful reminder of how important Hever was as their home when times got somewhat rocky at the court of Henry VIII. What I found most intriguing was how the castle and the legacy of the Boleyns survived because people like William Waldorf Astor and Queen Victoria had such a love for the Tudors and preserving the past.

It is not just the brilliant writing that tells the tale of Hever Castle in this clever book, and the photographs tell the other half of the story. Since Tudor fans may not have had a chance to visit, myself included, these pictures, sketches, and maps add another layer of enjoyment to this book. Full of fascinating facts, colorful photos, and rigorous research, “The Boleyns of Hever Castle” by Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway is an essential book for anyone who is a fan of the Boleyns and the Tudor dynasty.

Book Review: “Cecily” by Annie Garthwaite

55818511._SY475_The Wars of the Roses was a time filled with dynamic figures who fought for the right to restore order to England. We often think about the strong warrior men who marched into battle, facing their inevitable doom just for the chance to wear the crown and rule the land. The women who stood by their husbands’ and sons’ sides were just as strong as their male counterparts, even if they did not wear armor. They were on the sidelines, ensuring that they could create alliances that would prove helpful in future conflicts. The most famous examples of strong women during the Wars of the Roses are Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort, and Elizabeth Woodville. Yet, there was another woman who stood firmly on the side of the Yorkist cause. She was known as the Rose of Raby and the wife of Richard, Duke of York. Her name was Cecily Neville, and she is the protagonist of Annie Garthwaite’s brilliant debut novel, “Cecily.”

I have been a fan of Wars of the Roses historical fiction for a while now, and so when I heard about this novel, I knew I wanted to read it. I usually don’t comment about the covers of books, but this particular cover was simply gorgeous, which added to my desire to read it. Cecily Neville is one of those characters that is rarely given a chance to shine, so this book was a treat to see how Garthwaite would portray her.

Garthwaite’s novel begins with the execution of Joan of Arc, which was an event that Cecily Neville witnessed with her husband Richard Duke of York. It marked a turning point for the English campaign in France as the young King Henry VI was crowned King of France. Richard Duke of York is a cousin of the young king and is considered next in line to the throne until Henry VI has a son. Richard is given command of the French campaign, with his beloved wife by his side. Cecily and Richard have known the sorrow of losing children, but eventually, their family begins to grow with the birth of their eldest son Edward. More children will follow, including Edmund, George, and little Richard often referred to as Dickon.

The campaign in France does not end well, so Cecily, Richard, and their growing family go back to England. Along the way, Henry VI decides to take Marguerite of Anjou as his bride; Marguerite and Cecily start as friends and allies, but their relationship will eventually sour and turn into rivals. Richard and Cecily will travel to Ireland to help their king to show their loyalty. Still, when Henry VI falls ill, Richard believes that he must protect his king and country from men like Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who is a favorite of Queen Marguerite.

It was during this conflict that Cecily’s true strength shines through. She not only has to be a mother to her growing family, but she has to act as a political advisor and confidant to her husband while staying loyal to her king and undermining the queen’s authority. It was not a rebellion that Richard and Cecily wanted, but they felt that it was a necessary evil to protect their family and their kingdom. To see Cecily protecting her young children from the Lancastrian as her husband and oldest sons flee to fight another day. When Richard and their son Edmund tragically died at the battle of Wakefield, to see Cecily go through her grief while fighting to give Edward a chance to defend her family’s honor was inspiring.

This novel was a delightful read. Garthwaite portrayed Cecily as a strong, independent wife and mother who would stop at nothing to protect her dear ones. For a debut novel, this is a smash hit. It is unique and tells an engaging story that every fan of the Wars of the Roses will love. I cannot wait for Garthwaite’s next novel. If you want a new book with a heroine that you will adore, check out “Cecily” by Annie Garthwaite.

Book Review: “The Man in the Iron Mask: The True Story of Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner” by Josephine Wilkinson

55781068A man hidden from the world languishes for decades in a prison cell. He is not allowed to speak to anyone, or he will face severe consequences. Often in literature, his head is covered in a mask made of iron. His identity and why he angered King Louis XIV so much have remained a mystery for centuries. The prisoner was known as the man in the iron mask throughout history, but who was this enigmatic figure? In her latest book, “The Man in the Iron Mask: The True Story of Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner,” Josephine Wilkinson dives deep into the archives to construct his story and the stories of the men behind the mystery.

I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this book. I usually do not read books about 17th century France; however, I had heard high praise about this particular title. I wanted to learn more about different great mysteries in history, so I decided to try this narrative.

Wilkinson’s narrative follows Eustache Danger, who many believe to be the infamous prisoner. He spent nearly 30 years in the prison system of France during the reign of King Louis XIV and was constantly under the watchful eye of his jailer, Benigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars. Saint-Mars followed the direct orders of the minister of war, Francois Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois. Eustache was not the only prisoner who was kept under Saint-Mars’ surveillance. Wilkinson also tracks the movements of prominent prisoners like Nicholas Foucquet and Antonin Nompar de Caumont, Comte de Lauzun to show how drastically different Eustache’s punishment is compared to the higher echelons of society.

Eustache’s story is broken down by who he was associated with and the actual prisons he would call home for 30 years. The story of the man in the iron mask is often associated with Bastille, but that was his final destination. Starting in Pignerol, Eustache would follow Saint-Mars to the Chateau d’Exilles and the Ile Sainte-Marguerite, until finally ending up at the Bastille; each prison had its unique accommodations and transportation issues for the silent prisoner. No one was aware of what crime he committed and why silence was his punishment. Yet, people have speculated throughout the centuries, from Voltaire to Alexander Dumas, with Wilkinson providing her theory about who he was and the crime he might have committed to enduring the wrath of the king for so long. These theories would take an obscurely silent prisoner to a man whose face was hidden from the world in a mask made of iron.

There is a reason that the story of Eustache Danger’s imprisonment has captured the imagination of historians for generations, and that is because it is so mysterious. Wilkinson’s narrative and her meticulous research into the archives have brought his story back into the spotlight. The descriptions of prison life are so vivid, with details of Eustache’s life interwoven beautifully. He may not have had a chance to speak while he was alive, but Wilkinson has given the prisoner a voice that will capture anyone’s attention. If you want a thrilling read full of intrigue, drama, and myths galore, you should check out “The Man in the Iron Mask: The True Story of Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner” by Josephine Wilkinson.

Book Review: “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

In medieval Europe, to be considered a strong king, you must keep a firm grasp on your crown, or those who see you as weak will take advantage. These men were known as usurpers throughout history who steal the throne through combat or by illegal means. Some of the most well-known kings in English history have been categorized as usurpers, but is this a fair assessment of their mark in history, or is it a case of propaganda changing their legacy? In her debut nonfiction book, “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings,” Michele Morrical explores the lives of six English kings who bear that title to see if it makes sense with the facts of how they came into power.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard this book was published, I wanted to see how Morrical described a usurper and which king she considered usurpers. I have never heard of a book that focused solely on those who stole thrones in England, so I was excited to see how well it read.

Morrical breaks her book into six sections, with each part focusing on one specific king and his rise to power. She focuses on William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII as examples of rulers in English history known to be usurpers. Morrical writes biography vignettes to give her readers an understanding of how they came to power and who they had to remove from the throne to become the next monarch. In some cases, it meant starting a new dynasty, and in others, it was just a continuation of the family’s lineage, but it was a different branch of the family tree. The biographies tend to get repetitive, especially with the sections dedicated to the Wars of the Roses. If you are new to these kings and the events of their lifetimes, the repetitive nature will help you understand how everything is connected.

I think Morrical can improve if she writes another nonfiction book by using quotes from primary sources and other historians to strengthen her arguments. I wish she had included discussions from chronicles or other primary sources from around the times that these men became rulers to see the consensus of the time towards the new king. It would have added an extra layer to the stories, and readers could see how our definition of a usurper king would have compared or contrasted to the views of the past. I would have also liked Morrical to have discussed whether being a usurper king had a positive or negative connotation. Many kings on this list were considered game-changers when ruling England and transformed how England was viewed in the grander scheme of European politics.

I think for her first book, Morrical does a decent job of presenting her viewpoints about certain kings and presenting the facts about their lives. One can tell that Morrical is passionate about usurpers and understanding why they took the English throne from their predecessors. Overall, I think it is not bad for a book that combines the lives of six kings of England into one text. If you want a good introductory book into the lives of usurper kings, you should give “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical a try.

Guest Post: “Why I Write Dual Timeline Novels and Why I Choose Present Day” by Clare Marchant

The Queen's Spy Tour BannerToday, I am pleased to welcome Clare Marchant to my blog to discuss her latest novel, “The Queen’s Spy,” and her use of dual timelines. I would like to thank The Coffee Pot Book Club and Clare Marchant for stopping by on this tour. 

I have always loved reading dual timeline novels. I love history (of course!), and although I also read many historical books, both fiction and non-fiction, I love that connection between the past and the present, waiting to find out when the two worlds will meet.

I often wax lyrical about how I am fascinated with the connections that bind us all together, whether family ties, our links to places, objects, or indeed each other. We are all woven together by the way that we are threaded together with everything that we touch. We all have special items, be it family heirlooms or gifts, jewelry, or a book; perhaps that means something special to us. Something that will eventually belong to someone else. When it comes to history, these associations take on a whole new persona as they link over the years or centuries, and I love investigating this through my writing by tying the two stories together through a shared theme, a shared connection.

In Saffron Hall, that relationship, the object that tied the two stories together, was the book of hours. I have a fascination for old illuminated manuscripts, so I wanted to use one of these exquisite small prayer books as the object that united together my two protagonists, showing how the theme, ‘while I breathe, I hope’ touched the lives of them both. They both learn that they must live with the hurt they have endured and to keep taking each day at a time until things get better – they keep breathing and keep hoping. That eventually, time will help them to move on.

In The Queen’s Spy, the object is the triptych that Tom paints, showing his journey, which mirrors in some respects the one in the present day that Mathilde is taking. They are both connected by their shared background of being shunned by society for separate reasons. By being ‘different’ and having to face prejudice and leaving them to lead a peripatetic lifestyle never accepted by those around them. They are always searching for somewhere they will be recognized for who they are and loved for it. By investigating the painting, Mathilde begins to learn more about herself and her place in this world.  And she learns the book’s theme, that she cannot change the past, but she can change the future.

The reason why I choose present-day as my alternative timeline to the Tudor one is that despite the apparent differences to our daily lives between the way we now live compared to how they did in the sixteenth century, I think it shows just how much these morals that guide us affect us all whenever we lived. We are just the same in our hearts, with similar fears, hopes, desires, and despair. People love, they grieve, they laugh, and they cry. In every life, there are shared experiences, precious objects…and precious people.

The Queen's Spy Cover(Blurb)

1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.

There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…

2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.

Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?

Buy Links:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queens-Spy-gripping-historical-fiction-ebook/dp/B08R6Q4CC9

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Queens-Spy-gripping-historical-fiction-ebook/dp/B08R6Q4CC9

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Queens-Spy-gripping-historical-fiction-ebook/dp/B08R6Q4CC9

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/Queens-Spy-gripping-historical-fiction-ebook/dp/B08R6Q4CC9

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-queens-spy-clare-marchant/1139196760

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-queens-spy/clare-marchant/9780008454357

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/the-queen-s-spy-2

iBooks: https://books.apple.com/gb/book/the-queens-spy/id1554626619

Audio: https://amzn.to/2QRzT2K

Clare MarchantAuthor Bio:

Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweler.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins or visiting the nearby coast.

Social Media Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClareMarchant1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/claremarchantauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/claremarchant1/?hl=en

Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/3fkuf2r

Book Review: “The Sunne in Splendour” by Sharon Kay Penman

1321064._SY475_A banner decorated with three suns flaps in the wind on the field of battle. The young man behind this emblem is Edward, Earl of March, whose father Richard Duke of York and brother Edmund Earl of Rutland were tragically slain at the Battle of Wakefield. His younger brothers, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, will help Edward carry their father’s cause for the family of York to rule England. When loyalty is questioned even among family members, only one man would truly stand behind Edward until the bitter end. That man would be Richard Duke of Gloucester, or as we know him today, the much-maligned King Richard III. He is often viewed as a treacherous child-killer who coveted the throne after Edward IV’s death, but is that accurately portraying the last Plantagenet king? Who was the real King Richard III? In her magnum opus, “The Sunne in Splendour,” Sharon Kay Penman presents her case for Richard III as a man betrayed, both in life and after his death.

I want to thank everyone who has recommended this book to me in the past. I know that Sharon Kay Penman recently passed away, and I felt that the only way to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field this year was to read this novel. I knew that it was well beloved in the Ricardian and the Wars of the Roses communities, so I wanted to see what made this novel so memorable.

Penman chooses to tell this story through multiple points of view, which, contrary to popular belief, works cohesively and allows each character to have their voice. We are introduced to Richard as a young boy before his father and Edmund die in battle. He is a timid child who witnesses death and destruction all around him and is trying to process everything. We see him grow from a scared child to a warrior duke and later into a king who had to deal with betrayal and heartache around every corner.

What Penman does brilliantly is how she writes her characters to make them so realistic that you forget that you are reading a novel. She fleshes out the conflicts exceptionally well, like the struggle between the brother Richard, George Duke of Clarence, and Edward IV. The love between Richard and his bride Anne Neville is pure and wholesome. The loyalty between Richard and Edward IV and towards Edward’s children, especially the princes in the tower is undeniable. Then there is the tension between the brothers and their cousin Richard Earl of Warwick trying to establish this new York dynasty. And what would a series of wars be without those fighting to keep their rule, which was the Lancastrians led by the ferocious Margaret of Anjou. It felt like I was being introduced to a new side of the Yorkist cause when I read this novel.

The action scenes are intense, and the betrayals hit harder than what you usually read in nonfiction books about the Wars of the Roses. This novel is truly a love letter to this period and a brilliant work of literature. I am not sure why I waited so long to read this masterpiece, but I am glad I finally read it. If you want an exceptional novel about the Wars of the Roses and Richard III, “The Sunne in Splendour” by Sharon Kay Penman is a must-read.

Book Review: “Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Founding an Empire” by Matthew Lewis

50419849If you go to Fontevrault Abbey in France, you will find two rather extraordinary tombs. These tombs belong to King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first King, Queen of the Plantagenet Dynasty, and the Angevin Empire. Their effigies tell us a lot about the couple that was buried side by side. The husband was restless; his model shows him ready to take action at any moment, with his crown upon his head and a scepter in his hand. His queen lays beside him, reading an unknown book. They seem to be prepared to watch over their kingdom and their family even beyond the grave. Those who know English history recognize their names and understand the family drama behind the scenes. We think we know the truth about Henry and Eleanor, but is there more to their story and their feuding family? In Matthew Lewis’s latest dual biography, “Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Founding an Empire,” he explores the relationship between this dynamic king and queen and how it shaped European and English history forever.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Matthew Lewis’s previous books, and when I heard about this one, I was pleasantly surprised. There is just something so intriguing about the lives of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and I could not wait to see how he would approach this famous couple.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was a grand heiress of France who attracted the young French King Louis VII; they would eventually marry and take on the monumental task of protecting French territories and embark on the 2nd Crusade. Eleanor showed her strength and resilience during the Crusade as rumors tried hard to tarnish her good name. Unfortunately, her marriage did not last long as the couple realized that they would never have a male heir.

As soon as they divorced, Eleanor fell in love with a young noble who was the son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey Duke of Anjou, Henry Plantagenet. Empress Matilda fought hard against her cousin King Stephen for Henry to become Stephen’s heir during The Anarchy. Henry and Matilda would prevail, allowing Henry and Eleanor to become King and Queen of England after Stephen’s death.

It was when Henry became a father when troubles began to arise. His sons, Henry the Younger, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, Richard, and John, would be a thorn at his side as they fought against each other and Henry for power. Eleanor was woefully caught in the middle as she strived to do what was best for her sons, even if it pitted her against her beloved husband. To top it all off, Henry had to deal with a man who he felt was right to help him reign in the power of the Church; Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. The disastrous end to their friendship would be the lowest point in Henry’s reign.

Lewis gives his readers a brand new perspective on the relationship between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although I knew this story rather well before reading this biography, I still found myself entranced by Lewis’s narrative with scrupulous attention to detail. I thought I knew the nature of their relationship, but I was wrong. If you want a biography that is elegant while it challenges your views on the first Plantaganet couple, I highly suggest you read “Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Founding an Empire” by Matthew Lewis.

Book Review: “A Wider World” by Karen Heenan

56860771._SY475_The year is 1558, and Queen Mary I is dying. England is engaged in a war between the Reformation and Catholicism. Caught in the middle is an older man named Robin Lewis, who is being taken to London to face his death as a heretic. Fearful that his story may never be told, Robin Lewis tells his captor his tale through the reigns of three Tudor rulers, Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I. Can his story save his life from certain destruction, or is Robin doomed for all eternity? This is the premise of Karen Heenan’s second book in The Tudor Court series, “A Wider World.”

I want to thank Karen Heenan for sending me a copy of this book. I really enjoyed her first novel, “Songbird,” so I was looking forward to seeing where Heenan would take the series.

We have met Robin Lewis in “Songbird” as the rival of Bess and the stuck-up kid in Music. We don’t see much of his story in the first novel. Heenan has decided to take this side character that is a bit polarizing and write a novel about his life, which I love.

It is a bold choice to start a novel with the protagonist being sentenced to death for being a heretic, but the way Heenan structures this story is brilliant. Heenan begins her novel with Robin’s arrest and his captor, William Hawkins, taking him from the countryside to London to be locked in the Tower. Robin acts like a Tudor Scheherazade to delay the inevitable, telling his story through flashbacks to Hawkins.

What makes this story so unique are those flashbacks that are so vivid and filled with men and women that shaped Robin into the man that he became. Robin is a bookworm who prefers the company of texts to other people, so to see him interact with others is just a delight. They include brothers of a monastery, a servant named Seb, and a beautiful Italian woman named Bianca, who shared Robin’s love of learning. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tudor novel without famous figures such as Wolsey, Cromwell, and Holbein. Heenan uses these figures as secondary characters to enhance Robin’s story.

At the heart of this novel is the dissolution of the monasteries and Robin’s travels abroad, especially his stops in Italy. Although Cromwell forces Robin to help dissolve the monasteries, his past with monks makes him question the assignment he has been given. Robin’s faith and his relationships with the church in England and Italy are very distinct and shape how he views the charges brought against him at the beginning of this novel.

Heenan has once again made a delightful tale of struggles inside the Tudor court by someone on the sidelines. The blending of English history with elements from other cultures was inspiring. Weave current events with a character’s past is extremely difficult, yet Heenan does it seamlessly. This enchanting novel is the perfect sequel to “Songbird.” If you are a fan of Tudor historical fiction, “A Wider World” is a must-read.

Book Review: “Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom” by Annie Whitehead

38243840._SY475_England’s history is full of daring moves and colorful characters, but it is also very ancient compared to other countries. We often considered the “start” of English history in school as the Norman Conquest in 1066. Nevertheless, this was just a stage in the massive story of the island. We have to consider those who called England their home; those who knew England, not as a unified country, but seven kingdoms known as the heptarchy. The most famous of these seven kingdoms was Wessex, the last kingdom, but their mortal enemy had a rich history of their own. Mercia was a thriving kingdom for hundreds of years, with colorful characters that many people are not familiar with. Annie Whitehead has taken the tales of this forgotten kingdom to the forefront with her book, “Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom.” 

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I was looking forward to learning about the Mercians and why their stories are significant in Anglo-Saxon England. My knowledge about this kingdom is minutiae, although I know some famous figures, including Lady Godiva, Penda, and Aethelflaed, from other books written by Whitehead. 

Whitehead begins her journey into this kingdom’s rich history with the story of the 7th-century ruler Penda, the Pagan King of Mercia. His tale of surviving savage battles and making Mercia into a powerhouse set the standard for Mercian kings that would follow. His son and successor, Peada, would bring Christianity to Mercia, and the diocese of Lichfield, which still exists today, would be formed shortly afterward. Mercia was a kingdom that fought for survival against the remaining six realms of the heptarchy, especially against Wessex. Of course, it was not just other Anglo-Saxons that the Mercians were pitted against, as we see the rise of the Vikings with their Great Heathen Army and  Welsh princes fight for control of the isle. 

Mercia’s kings would fall into obscurity as Mercia turned from a kingdom to an earldom with the uniting of the heptarchy into one nation under one king. We know about Mercia’s history through scant details included in annuls and accounts written by men like Henry of Huntingdon and Bede and chronicles like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Whitehead has combed every source to give her readers the most comprehensive history of a realm that has been forgotten over time. The very nature is academic, yet Whitehead tries to engage those armchair historians who might be familiar with characters like Godiva, Aethelbad, and Offa with tales of murder and intrigue. My advice for future readers of this title is to take notes as there is a plethora of information, especially royal genealogy. 

Mercia is a bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to my knowledge of its history, but that just made reading this title even more thrilling. If you want a story of one of the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England, you should check out, “Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom” by Annie Whitehead. Whitehead has brought the tales of Mercia to a modern audience in the best way possible.