Book Review: “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount

27109857The medieval era was one of the most turbulent times in all of English history, full of family feuds, gruesome wars, and so many twists and turns. We tend to focus on the big stories, but, it was not just about the royalty and the nobility, there were also lower classes whose lives went on in the background. What was everyday life like for both the rich and the poor? What ceremonies and recipes did they use? What were wills and court cases like? These questions and more are explored in Toni Mount’s delightful book, “A Year in the Life of Medieval England”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. This book looked really intriguing and I really wanted to read a book covering medieval England.

This book was an absolute joy to read. Mount’s book is like a diary, it documents every day of the year with new facts and events. From January 1st to December 31st, Mount dives into the lives of both the rich and the poor alike. Unlike normal diaries, Mount does not stay with one specific year. Instead, she includes events from 1066 all the way through 1500 to give a full view of what life was like in Medieval England. I normally do not like it when a book jumps around chronologically, yet it worked rather well in this book.

From William the Conqueror to King Henry VII and every king in between, Mount explores the lives of the monarchy, highs, and lows. Coronations, battles, births, and deaths, with numerous treaties in-between. Naturally, there were a lot more members of the lower classes than the royal houses, but Mount chose a handful of their colorful stories to include in this book. What is wonderful is that you truly understand what they might have been going through since Mount has transcribed letters, lawsuits and wills so that the readers can get that window into the past.

What I really loved about this book was that Mount was able to include a plethora of facts while keeping the writing style comprehensive so that even a novice can understand. Mount does site each of her sources at the end of each passage for convenience, but it also acts as a stepping stone for those who want to do their own independent research. Of course, with any dive into a new area of study, there will be terms that might be unfamiliar to new students, but Mount takes the time to define these terms.

From Plantagenets to peasants, the stories of Medieval England come back to life in this rather handy companion book for inspiring medievalists. An easy and thought-provoking read that anyone who is interested in Medieval England would be delighted to have in their own collections. If you want a book that explores what medieval people, both rich and poor, experienced in a year, I highly recommend you read, “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

Book Review: “Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance” by Stephen Spinks

34411942._SX318_ (1)When we think of medieval kings of England, we tend to think about strong warriors who did things their own way. Men like Edward I and Edward III often come to mind. Yet, there was a king in between these two legendary warriors whose name lives on in infamy, King Edward II. He is known for his numerous favorites, his relationships with men like Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, his disagreements with the barons who were trying to help him run the country, his relationship with his equally famous wife and son, Isabella of France and Edward III, and his dramatic death. But who was the man known as King Edward II? What was he really like? Stephen Spinks explores these questions in his latest biography, “Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I remember hearing briefly about Edward II’s story in different documentaries that I have watched, but I have never read a biography about him before. This book was rather enlightening.

Spinks naturally begins with the birth of Edward of Caernarfon (the future King Edward II) to his parents, King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. What is interesting is that Edward was their only son who survived long enough to become king, since his elder brothers would all pass away. His father, Edward I, was truly a warrior king, fighting against Wales and Scotland, yet he accumulated absolutely staggering debts which Edward II had to deal with when he was king. With his father’s victory in Wales, Edward of Caernarfon was made the first English Prince of Wales.

When Edward I died, Edward became King Edward II, with an inheritance filled with issues that would come to define his reign. Edward II had to deal with the crippling debt, war from numerous countries, and barons that were constantly trying to control how he ran the country. On top of all of this, Edward decided to rely heavily on men like Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, his “favorites”, which really did not sit well with the barons or his wife, Isabella of France. It is the belief of Spinks that Edward’s relationships with Gaveston and Despenser were more than platonic, that they were Edward’s lovers and that is why he always took their advice above his barons and gave them massive rewards. Personally, I am not sure how I feel about this theory since this was the first biography I read about Edward II, and I think I would need to study a bit more before I settle on a theory about this topic.

Another huge topic that Spinks addresses in his book is the split between Edward and Isabella that ultimately led to his downfall and his death. It was interesting to see how even though they did split up, Edward did indeed cared for his family, although he did have a rather unusual way of showing it. His abdication, death, and the stories of how he survived are really compelling and makes you wonder what happened to Edward II after his son became King Edward III.

Overall, I found this book extremely informative. Spinks was able to combine the complex nature of the government that was run by the barons with an easy to understand writing style. Spinks also discusses other theories written by other historians to allow readers to understand why he believes what he believes. After reading this book, I do want to learn more about King Edward II and his reign. If you want a great introductory book into the reign of King Edward II, I highly recommend you read, “Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance” by Stephen Spinks.

Book Review: “Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation” by Kathryn Warner

43661739In medieval England, the queens were almost as famous, or infamous, as their husbands. In most cases, they came from royal backgrounds and their sons would become kings. That, however, was the case for Philippa of Hainault, the wife of King Edward III. She tends to be forgotten when it comes to discussing her famous husband, her infamous mother-in-law Isabella of France, and her sons whose children would go on to shape English history forever. That is until now. Kathryn Warner has decided to discover the truth about this rather remarkable woman in her latest biography, “Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this informative biography. It looked rather intriguing and this was the first time that I have read a book by Kathryn Warner. This was an absolute joy to read.

Warner begins by explaining Philippa of Hainault’s immediate family. As a queen, she had a rather unusual upbringing since she was the daughter of Willem, Count of Hainault and Holland and his wife Jeanne de Valois (whose brothers and sisters would be kings and queens throughout Europe). Philippa’s husband was Edward III, whose parents were King Edward II and Isabella of France (who did not get along at all, especially over the issue of Hugh Despenser). Philippa and Edward III came from rather different backgrounds, but they were married so that Philippa’s father could help Isabella of France with her invasion of England, which resulted in the abdication of her husband and her son becoming the new King of England. An unusual reason to get married, but it actually worked rather well.

Isabella of France and her partner in crime, Roger Mortimer, were hoping that Edward III was going to be like a puppet king, but they were wrong. Edward III did things his own way, wife his beloved wife Philippa by his side. While Edward III was taking care of domestic and foreign issues, Philippa was raising their large family. Their sons and daughters included Edward of Woodstock “The Black Prince”, Isabella of Woodstock, Lionel of Antwerp, John of Gaunt, Edmund of Langley, and Thomas of Woodstock. Although they did have a large family, none of their children would become King or Queen of England; it would be Edward of Woodstock’s son, Edward and Philippa’s grandson, Richard of Bordeaux who would become King Richard II. It was the descendants of Edward and Philippa’s sons and daughters that would go and shape the conflict that would be known as the Wars of the Roses.

Another lasting legacy of Edward III was the beginning of a conflict between England and France that would be known as the Hundred Years’ War. It started when Edward III declared war on Philippa’s maternal uncle King Philip VI of France. Talk about family drama. But family drama was nothing new for Philippa since she was connected to many kings, queens, emperors, and empresses throughout Europe through marriage and there were times where her husband would get into disagreements with her extended family. That was the nature of medieval Europe, but it never affected her relationship with Edward III. Around this time, the Black Death was beginning to leave its mark on Europe, hitting many families including Edward III and Philippa of Hainault’s children.

Kathryn Warner brought Philippa of Hainault into the spotlight that she deserved with a delightful plethora of details combined with an eloquent writing style. Warner does repeat facts in her book, but as someone who is a novice in studying this time period, it was rather useful for me to have her repeat these facts. I enjoyed this book immensely and it really helped me understand her story and the legacy that her family left behind for England and for Europe. If you want a great book about Philippa of Hainault and her family, I highly recommend you read, “Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation” by Kathryn Warner.

Book Review: “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage

34411961The 16th century was filled with extremely strong women who went on to shape European and world history forever. This was true for England and Scotland, two countries whose stories were intertwined by powerful women. The women who ruled these two countries during this time were women that those who study this time period know about; Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. There was one woman who knew all four of these women and lived for over 80 years: Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury. The story of these five women is told in Jill Armitage’s book, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I am always interested in learning how different people in the 16th century interacted with one another, plus I didn’t know a whole lot about Bess of Hardwick and I wanted to learn more about her.

Armitage begins her book by exploring Bess of Hardwick’s family and how they rose in power so that Bess could serve royalty. It was interesting to learn about her family and the four husbands that Bess married throughout her life: Robert Barlow, Sir William Cavendish, Sir William St. Loe, and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. Bess also had numerous children and grandchildren who would go to be influential in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. I really wish Armitage had included family trees of the different families that were involved in her book to make it easier for the readers to understand the connections, which are vital for the stories mentioned in this particular book.

The story of Bess of Hardwick’s life begins at the height of the reign of the Tudor when Henry VIII is on the throne and ends with the beginning of the Stuarts Dynasty so Armitage does include the lives of the women who shaped these times. Armitage begins with how Henry VII and Henry VIII came to the throne, marching swiftly through the six wives of Henry VIII until reaching the reign of Henry VIII’s son King Edward VI. It is here where the pace of the book slows down a bit and we dive into the lives of the Grey family and how Bess of Hardwick knew them and how the family’s legacy came to an abrupt end with the execution of Lady Jane Grey. Armitage then explores the reigns of Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots and how Bess of Hardwick connects all three vivacious women.

Here is where I have another problem with this particular book; it is too short (less than 300 pages) when discussing all the history that Armitage has in it. Some parts felt like a review and other parts felt like facts were flying and she didn’t go into enough detail to explain it all. I feel like Armitage was a bit ambitious for the idea of this book and that if she wrote a bit more, the book would have flowed a lot better than it did.

Overall, I found this book rather interesting and relatively easy to understand. Armitage has a writing style that is readable. This is a great book for those who are being introduced to the Tudor dynasty, but for those who know about this time period, it feels like a review. If you are interested in learning about the connection between these five women, I recommend you read, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage.

Book Review: “The House of Grey: Friends and Foes of Kings” by Melita Thomas

51fOOu0p2GL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_There are many noble or royal families that truly were the backbone of the English society and that could help or hinder the monarchy. One such family was the Greys, who started as a baronial family and rose through the ranks by good marriages and staying loyal to those who were in power. Of course, when one rises high, there is also the risk of falling low spectacularly, which happens when Lady Jane Grey becomes Queen of England for a mere 9 days. The story of the house of Grey is complex, yet it has never been told in its entirety, until now. This extraordinary family saga is told in Melita Thomas’s latest book, “The House of Grey: Friends and Foes of Kings”. 

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Melita Thomas is the co-founder and editor of Tudor Times and this is her second book.  This particular book caught my eye as I did not know much about the Grey family, besides the story of Lady Jane Grey and her sisters. 

The story of the House of Grey begins with a rivalry between Owain Glyndwr and Lord Grey of Ruthyn over throwing off English dominance in Wales. Not a great start for a family who would become loyal to the crown of England. It was during the Wars of the Roses and the Battle of Northampton when Edmund Grey switched from supporting the Lancasters to supporting the Yorks, splitting the Grey family apart for a time. It was when Sir John Grey died at the Second Battle of St. Albans that the Greys truly supported the Yorkist crown since his widow, Lady Elizabeth Woodville, married King Edward IV. It is here that Thomas tracks the road to the crown through Elizabeth Woodville’s two Grey sons, Thomas and Richard.

Melita Thomas shows how the Grey boys made names for themselves; Richard Grey being executed while Richard of Gloucester was Lord Protector and Thomas Grey turning rebel and joining the Tudor cause to put Henry Tudor on the throne. Thomas Grey married Cecily Bonville and it was through their line that the Greys inherited the title of Marquis of Dorset. The title would pass onto each son until it reached Henry Grey, who’s ambitions for his daughter would prove fatal.

Thomas navigates the tumultuous times of the Greys to show how truly colorful the family was, from tiffs with fellow landowners to grand fallouts with kings and queens. The Grey family was able to restore themselves time after time to the monarchy’s good favor, no matter how low they fell. The Greys and their influence did not just reach England, but other corners of Europe as well, which is rather remarkable to read all about. Thomas gives the reader an opportunity to understand the roller coaster dynamics of the Grey family and the political atmosphere of the royal courts of different monarchs. The times that the Grey family lived in was one of great change and they were all along for the ride.

I found this book rather engaging and utterly fascinating. It is meticulously researched and you can tell that Melita Thomas had a passion for the subject she was writing about. Many people only know the story of Lady Jane Grey and her immediate family, but I think that this book paints a vivid picture of a complex family who survived the reigns of medieval and Tudor kings and queens. If you want to a delightful in-depth dive into the lives of the Greys, I highly recommend you read, “The House of Grey: Friends and Foes of Kings” by Melita Thomas.

 

“The House of Grey: Friends and Foes of Kings” by Melita Thomas will be available in the United States on January 1, 2020. If you would like to pre-order this awesome book, you can follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/House-Grey-Friends-Foes-Kings/dp/1445684977/

 

Book Review: “Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide” by Michele Schindler

9781445690537 (1)Words have a lot of power, especially when it comes to how we perceive historical figures. It can be through letters, chronicles, biographies, and this instance, through a couplet written by William Collynbourne in 1484. The couplet in question goes; “The Catte, the Ratte, and Lovell Our Dogge Rule All England Under the Hogge”. The Catte and the Ratte refer to two men; Sir William Ratcliffe and Sir William Catsby respectively, who were associated with King Richard III, whose badge was a white boar or a hog. “Lovell our Dogge” refers to Sir Francis Lovell, who was an ally and close friend of the king. Who was Sir Francis Lovell and how did he become Richard III’s closest friend? Michele Schindler dives into the life of Sir Francis Lovell to figure out who he really was in her debut biography, “Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this fascinating biography. I knew about the couplet, but I never knew about Sir Francis Lovell and his remarkable life. 

Schindler begins her beautiful biography with the birth of Francis and his twin sister Joan. It is very unusual to read about twins especially in medieval England so it was interesting to read how this affected how they were raised. We are also introduced to the rest of the Lovell family,  finding out the origins of the family, and learn how noble children like Francis and Joan were raised. This part is important in understanding Francis and his loyalties because it is at this time when he was introduced to the Yorkists who would change his life; Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, King Edward IV, and Richard Duke of Gloucester, the future King Richard III. It is also in these formative years that Francis marries his loyal and loving wife Anne (Fitzhugh) Lovell. It is great to have a firm foundation when understanding a historical figure and Schindler provides the reader that foundation.

The center of Schindler’s book is Francis’ relationship with his best friend, Richard Duke of Gloucester, who would become King Richard III. It is a unique relationship because if you only know about Francis through the couplet, it makes Sir Francis Lovell sound like someone who desired power. In fact, documents provided by Schindler suggests quite the opposite. He was rather quiet when it came to politics, even though he held quite prominent roles in Richard III’s government. His loyalty to Richard III never faltered, even after the king’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Francis helped with several rebellions, the most famous one was the Lambert Simnel Rebellion, even though he was not noted to have taken part. 

Sir Francis Lovell’s life was complex yet he remains an enigma for scholars of the Wars of the Roses. Schindler masterfully blends an eloquent writing style with meticulously researched details to create this illuminating biography. Before I started this book, I only knew about Sir Francis Lovell through the famous couplet, but now I want to know more about him and his family. This maybe Schindler’s debut biography, but I look forward to reading more books by her in the future. If you would like an engaging biography about a man who was central in the government of Richard III, I highly suggest you check out, “Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide” by Michele Schindler.

“Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide” by Michele Schindler will be available in the United States on October 1st. If you would like to pre-order a copy of this book, please follow the link below: https://www.amazon.com/Lovell-our-Dogge-Viscount-Regicide/dp/1445690535/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Lovell+our+Dogge%3A+The+Life+of+Viscount+Lovell%2C+Closest+Friend+of+Richard+III+and+Failed+Regicide&qid=1567661947&s=gateway&sr=8-1

 

Book Review: “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton

51qnw6zqydL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Henry VII  winning at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, is viewed as the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty. However, the story of the Tudor family goes back centuries in Wales. What we consider the story of the Tudors tends to start with a man named Owen Tudor, a servant, who fell in love and married the dowager Queen of England, Catherine of Valois. Quite a romantic tale, but how much of it is true? Were the Tudors simple folk or did they have a bigger role to play in their native Wales? What roles did Owen and his sons play in the Wars of the Roses? These questions and more are explored in Terry Breverton’s latest biography, “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this fascinating biography. Owen Tudor is someone that has always interested me, so I was quite delighted to find out that Breverton had written the first biography about this extraordinary man and his life. 

Breverton begins by exploring the origins of the Tudors and how the Welsh bards were the ones who helped preserve the history and prophecies of Wales for future generations. One such prophecy was the prophecy of Cadwaladr, which speaks of the red dragon of Cadwaladr defeating the white dragons of those who the Welsh considered barbarians. It was also the Welsh who believed that a mab darogan (“the son of prophecy”) would conquer England. Breverton must discuss these ideas because they would help the Tudors gather support that was necessary for future victories. Breverton also discusses the history of Wales and England and the Glyndwr War. He explores the Tudor family tree and how Owen Tudor’s ancestors were very influential in the decisions that Wales made in these critical years. I found this part extremely fascinating to read because casual readers of the Wars of the Roses do not read about Welsh history and the Tudor ancestors, which is vital to understand how they were able to come out victorious in the end.

Breverton also explores the family history of Catherine of Valois and how she came to marry  King Henry V and her relationship with her first son, King Henry VI. However, the center of Breverton’s book is centered around the relationship between Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. He describes it as the “strangest marriage in English history”, but unlike other scholars, Breverton believes that an actual marriage did happen between Owen and Catherine. Their sons, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, would prove extremely important men during the Wars of the Roses, and tried to bridge the gap between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Breverton was able to track down where Owen was during his service during the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses through his sons and through government records of the time, until his death shortly after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, on February 4, 1461. The one thing I wish Breverton would have included were maps of Wales, England, and France so it would be easier to understand which towns fell and where battles were fought.

Breverton does a superb job shedding light on Owen Tudor’s fascinating life and legacy. It was an absolute joy to read, I didn’t want it to end. This was my first time reading a book by Terry Breverton and now I want to read more of his books. Breverton blends an easy to understand writing style while maintaining scrupulous attention to details. You can tell that Breverton meticulously researched Owen Tudor and the events that shaped him. This may be the first biography about Owen Tudor, but I don’t think it will be the last. If you want to read a fabulous biography about Owen Tudor and the origins of the Tudor Dynasty, I highly encourage you to read “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton. 

“Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton will be published in the US on November 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order a copy of this book, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Owen-Tudor-Founding-Father-Dynasty/dp/1445694379/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Owen+Tudor+Founding+Father+of+the+Tudor+Dynasty&qid=1566589023&s=books&sr=1-1

Book Review: “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley

51+Uk6sMNqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)In history, many people tend to focus on the big names. The kings and queens, the rebels, and those who really made an impact. The political advisors and men of the church tend to get left behind in the dust since they are not seen as “important”. However, it is these men who were the backbone of the monarchy, who helped make the king’s vision come to fruition. They tend to come and go, so that is why John Morton’s story is so extraordinary. John Morton helped three separate kings of England, was the enemy to a fourth king, tried to reform the church, and had numerous building projects. His life tends to be overshadowed by the kings that he served, but his life is brought into the light in this biography by Stuart Bradley, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Morton’s life and his service to the kings he served was rather fascinating to read about and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Like any good biography, Bradley begins by exploring John Morton’s life before he moved up the ranks to work with kings through his collegiate career, which was rather impressive. It is imperative to understand Morton’s education and background to show what type of skills he brought to the political and ecclesiastical positions that he would have later on in his life. Morton caught the eye of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourgchier, who helped Morton get into his position as Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall, which put him in direct contact with Prince Edward of Westminster, Queen Margaret of Anjou, and King Henry VI. He served King Henry VI until his death in 1471. 

Morton could have decided to live as an exile during the reign of Edward IV, but instead, he accepted a royal pardon and decided to work with the Yorkist king. This may seem like an unusual step for a man who was once loyal to the Lancasterian cause, but Morton was loyal to his country first and foremost. During this time, he helped establish peace with France and became the Bishop of Ely. When Edward IV died and his sons disappeared from records, Morton could have retired, since he was in his mid-sixties at this point, but instead, he leads a rebellion against King Richard III, with young Henry Tudor as his choice for the next king. Morton helped arrange for Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York to be married, as well as help Henry VII stop the pretenders from taking the English throne. Under King Henry VII, Morton worked non-stop as both Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, to guide the king and to ensure the survival of the dynasty, until his death in 1500.

It is remarkable to see how much Morton did during his lifetime in politics, for the church, and the building projects. Morton was one of those figures that I honestly did not know a lot about before I read this book, but now I want to know more about him. Bradley obviously thoroughly researched Morton’s life and times and is able to articulate this research in this engaging biography. If you want a fantastic biography about a rather remarkable man who helped England navigate through the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, I highly recommend you read, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley.

Book Review: “Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

51uoBkbUhLL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_There are quite a few events that one can name that radically shaped the course of British history. None more so than the events of 1066, the year that saw Norman, Breton, Flemish, and French forces, led by the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, invaded England in what we know today as the Norman Conquest. Most history books tend to focus on the men who lived before, during, and after the Norman Conquest: Aethelred the Unready, Edward the Confessor, Cnut, Harold II, Harald Hardrada, and of course William the Conqueror just to name a few. What the history books tend to gloss over is the strong women who stood by their husbands, brothers, and sons during this conflict. Who were these women? What were their stories? How did they help their families before, during and after 1066? These questions are answered in Sharon Bennett Connolly’s delightful book, “Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing and Sharon Bennett Connolly for sending me a copy of this book. It has been a long time since I personally studied the Norman Conquest, so I found it rather enjoyable to read about a subject that I really don’t know a lot about.

Connolly explains in her introduction why she wrote this particular book about these extraordinary women:

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II, to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, we will trace the fortunes of the women who had a role to play before, during and after the momentous year of 1066. Throughout these tumultuous times, women played a prominent part, in support of their husbands, their sons and of their people, be they English, Norman, Danish or Norwegian. Their contributions were so much more than a supporting role, and it is time that their stories were told, and the influence they had on events, was examined in detail. …My intention is to tell the story of the Norman Conquest, while providing the women with a platform for their stories, from the dawn of the eleventh century to its close. (Connolly, 13-14).

The story of the Norman Conquest does not start or end in 1066; 1066 is the climax of the story, which is why Connolly explores women from before, during and after 1066. Women like Lady Godiva, whose story many people think they know, but the story of her infamous ride is more fictitious than fact. Emma of Normandy, the wife of both Aethelred the Unready and King Cnut,  who used her political influence to protect her sons. Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, who helped her husband as regent of Normandy while he was in England. St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, who helped reform Scotland and bring it into the Roman Catholic faith. Edith, Gytha and the wives of Harald Hardrada who followed their husbands into the battlefield. 

These are just a handful of the stories Connolly explores in this wonderful book. Connolly has meticulously researched the men and women who were all part of the events that led to and after the Norman Conquest. I took ample amounts of notes on this particular book, which to me was rather enjoyable. Connolly makes the rather daunting subject of the Norman Conquest and makes it so even a novice on the subject can understand it. If you are interested in the Norman Conquest, especially about the women during this time, I highly recommend you read, “Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Review: “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy

43211731 (1)Strong medieval women who helped lead armies were unusual phenomena. Women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and  Margaret of Anjou, have been seen as “she-wolves” and their stories have lived on for centuries. They were all queens, but strong women from the past could be of any rank, even though their stories are not celebrated as much. Take, for example, the story of Joanna of Flanders, Countess of Montfort and Richmond, Duchess of Brittany. She was a wife and mother who protected Hennebont Castle in Brittany from the French in 1342 while her husband was held captive. She then leaves her beloved Brittany for the court of Edward III of England and all but disappears from the historical record until her death in 1374. What happened to this extraordinary woman and why did she disappear from the historical records? Julie Sarpy answers these questions and more in her book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Before I read this book, I knew absolutely nothing about Joanna of Flanders or the part she played in protecting Brittany from France.

In the past, historians, especially Arthur Le Moyne de La Borderie,  have claimed that Joanna was held in confinement by Edward III because she went “mad”. However, Sarpy does not agree with this assessment of her life and she hopes to change that view with this book, as she explains in her introduction:

This book strives to set the record straight about Joanna of Flanders through a fresh reading of legal and administrative records, narrative accounts and comparative studies. It seeks to reveal the pretense behind her guardianship and the means by which Edward III of England perpetrated a hoax. I have tried to separate the facts from fiction and reconcile the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life after October 1343 when she retired to Yorkshire with the known record. Centrally, it is an attempt to demonstrate that her captivity at the hands of Edward III was purposeful and politically motivated. Unfortunately, since then, some authors have been complicit in the sullying of her reputation by claiming she was incarcerated due to mental defect and I seek to correct that. (Sarpy, 10). 

Sarpy introduces her readers to the complex relationship between Brittany, France, and England, as well as the de Montforts and the Blois- Penthievre faction that all played a part in the First Breton Civil War. It is these relationships that are crucial to understanding the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life. The siege of Hennebont showed Joanna as a threat to Edward III’s plans for Brittany, so he had to do something about her. Joanna takes her children to England and Edward III will eventually send her to Tickhill Castle. Sarpy explores mental illness, the medieval laws towards protecting them and about the confinement of the nobility. What Sarpy does very well is that she shows examples of legal cases as well as those who were mad and compared their stories to Joanna’s own story. 

Sarpy’s book contains a ton of information, both historical and legal, but it is relatively easy to understand. As I stated earlier, I didn’t know anything about Joanna of Flanders before I read this book and I did take copious amounts of notes. This book tells the story of Joanna of Flanders in such a way that those who are not familiar with her legacy can understand, yet it also sheds new light for those who knew her story beforehand. Julie Sarpy’s book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” was an enlightening read and I recommend it to those who are interested in learning about Joanna of Flanders, Edward III, the early years of the Hundred Years’ War, and mental illness and confinement in medieval Europe. 

“Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy will be released in the US on October 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order this book, you can find more information here: https://www.amazon.com/Joanna-Flanders-Heroine-Julie-Sarpy/dp/1445688549/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Joanna+of+Flanders%3A+Heroine+and+Exile&qid=1562077490&s=digital-text&sr=1-1-catcorr