Book Review: “Women in the Medieval Court: Consorts and Concubines” by Rebecca Holdorph

60474164._SY475_Medieval Europe was inundated with strong rulers and dominant figures who made a difference in how the policies of certain countries were formed. We tend to focus on the male figures, from kings to lords and rebels, when we study medieval European history. Still, the women in their lives significantly influenced how their countries were governed. Although many women stood by the side of their husbands and didn’t make much of an impact on European history, some women chose to stand out from the crowd and make a name for themselves. Rebecca Holdorph has chosen to highlight a handful of these dynamic women throughout medieval Europe in her book, “Women in the Medieval Court: Consorts and Concubines.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Casemate Group, for sending me a copy of this book. I have seen quite a few people read this book, and since I am always interested in learning about new figures in medieval history, I knew I wanted to read this title.

To cover so many women over several centuries, Holdorph breaks her book down into four sections; noblewomen, consorts, reigning queens, and concubines. Each section starts with a cast of characters list, so the reader has a brief synopsis of each woman featured in the chapter. She then dives into the stories of the women in each section, showing how they were similar and how they differed in the roles that society gave them in life.

Holdorph covers many European countries from the 11th to the 15th century to give her audience a broad scope of what it meant to be a woman in power in medieval Europe. We are introduced to noblewomen like Anna Komnene, the author of the Alexiad, Marie of France, Alice de Lacy, and the Rose of Raby herself, Cecily Neville. While examining the lives of these noblewomen, Holdorph looks at how their public lives differed from their private lives. Next, she explores the lives of queen consorts, those who married a prince or a king and ruled beside their husbands; some of the women included in this chapter are Eleanor of Castile, Maria de Luna, Isabeau of Bavaria, and Margaret of Anjou. In this section, Holdorph explores how these women became queens and what the job of the queen consort meant for each woman.

The third section focuses on the women who were allowed, for a time, to rule their respective countries on their own; women like Urraca of Castile and Leon, Berenguela of Castile, and Margrete of Denmark. Holdorph explores how each queen came to power and how they ruled their kingdoms for a little bit. Finally, we are introduced to the mistresses of rulers, known in this book as concubines, who made an impact that ended up costing them their lives. The women featured in this section include Maria de Padilla, Alice Perrers, Katherine Swynford, and Agnes Sorel, to show what it meant to be a good mistress versus a bad mistress.

I enjoyed learning about new powerful women from European countries other than England and France during the medieval period. My one complaint is that I wish Holdorph would have written this book in chronological order. Since many of these stories in this book were relatively new to me, the jumping back and forth between centuries and stories added to my confusion. Holdorph would have made a more significant point if she had her miniature biographies in chronological order and then summarized her points at the end of each section.

Overall, I found this a decent book. Holdorph does have a passion for this subject of medieval queens, but I think there are some elements of this book that could be improved on to make it more understandable for her audience. Suppose you want a solid introduction to medieval European women who may be unfamiliar with many casual history fans. In that case, I recommend you read “Women in the Medieval Court: Consorts and Concubines” by Rebecca Holdorph.

Book Review: “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror” by Georgios Theotokis

The Crusades have been recently examined as a whole or by individual Crusades to show the significance of these wars and why the Crusaders fought. It is only the main Crusaders, the leaders, whose names and legacies are remembered to this day. One such man was a Norman who was considered the unofficial leader of the First Crusade, Bohemond of Taranto. Bohemond was a true warrior who fought numerous enemies, including the Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos, and would become the Lord of Antioch. His deeds would earn him praise from his allies and ire from his enemies. The impact that Bohemond of Taranto left on the First Crusade cannot be underestimated, especially when it came to the military strategies that he employed to secure his numerous victories. In Georgios Theotokis’ latest biography, “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror”, he explores the life of this legendary man with a particular focus on his military prowess to better understand his legacy.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I was not familiar with Bohemond of Taranto and his story so I was keen to learn more about him and the First Crusade.

Bohemond of Taranto was the son of Robert Guiscard and his first wife Alberada of Buonalbergo, but when their marriage was annulled due to consanguinity, Bohemond was declared a bastard. Although he was viewed as illegitimate in the eyes of the church, Robert still treated Bohemond as an equal, especially when it came to military ventures. Under Robert’s tutelage, Bohemond cultivated the strategic skills that would be essential in his conquests of land in Italy, Sicily, the Balkans, and Anatolia. Along the way, Bohemond would become frenemies with the power Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos. The interactions between the two men were recorded in the Alexiad, which was written by Alexios’ daughter Anna Komnene; she was not the biggest fan of Bohemond, but Theotokis relies on her work heavily throughout this biography.

It was not just international foes that Bohemond had to deal with as there was a succession battle between him and his brother Roger Borsa for control over their father’s land. On top of all of this, Bohemond of Taranto and his uncle Roger I of Sicily were asked to lead the First Crusade that was declared by Pope Urban II to reclaim the Holy Land. Along the way, Bohemond made the difficult decision to pay homage to Alexios Komnenos, which would prove beneficial up to a point. It was during this time that Bohemond and his Norman army helped capture Antioch for the crusaders and Bohemond was declared Lord of Antioch. While Bohemond was away conquering other cities, his nephew Tancred of Hauteville was his regent in Antioch.

I think Theotokis does an excellent job of showing the military strategies that made Bohemond such a dynamic leader. I found this account extremely fascinating and eye-opening on what one leader could do in a few decades. The one problem that I had with this biography was the fact that there were so many names of leaders and places that I had never heard of that I was getting a bit confused. I wish Theotokis had included a list of important names and places with a quick blurb about their significance in the front of the book to help the First Crusade novices such as myself. Overall, I think this is was a very well written and researched biography. If you want a solid biography about one of the leaders of the First Crusade, check out, “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror” by Georgios Theotokis.

Book Review: “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands” by Dan Jones

43899574The story of the Crusades has been told in many different ways from numerous directions. The epic conflict between Christianity and Islam for the Holy Lands that went on for centuries that has lived in infamy. Many questions have arisen as historians try to separate facts from the myths surrounding this topic. How and why did it start? Why did it continue to go on for so long? Was there really a winner in this conflict? Who were the people who defined this conflict? Dan Jones has taken on the challenge of writing a comprehensive history of this conflict and the people who fought during this time in his latest book, “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands”.

I wanted to read this book since the day that it was announced. I did not know a whole lot about the Crusades and what I did know about this time was from quick overviews from history classes that I took while in school. I wanted a book that told the story of the Crusades from all sides to fully understand this struggle as a whole. This book delivered everything that I wanted and more.

Like the title suggests, Jones’s focus is more on the people, the crusaders, and how their decisions led to the numerous crusades from 1099 until 1492 when the Reconquista ended. But what separates this book from other books about the Crusades is that he doesn’t focus on one group of people, his focus is on multiple stories to paint a complex story of the time. Jones includes the tales of the dynamic and colorful people we think of when we study the crusades; Alexios I Komnenos, Anna Komnene, Pope Urban II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, Simon de Montfort, Saladin, Henry Bolingbroke, and many others. However, the story of the crusades was not limited to royalty, generals and popes. Jones includes the tales of the lowly monks who preached for fellow Christians to defend the Holy Lands, scholars and poets who told the tales of those who fought, servants and peasants who fought for their homes and their religions.

This particular subject may feel like a daunting challenge to tackle, but this book is so easy to understand. With a more human-centric approach, Jones is able to present the history of the Crusades in a rather enlightening way. It was not just a series of wars about religion, Christianity versus Islam or, in some cases, against pagan groups. In fact, it was a lot more complicated. They were wars about politics, monetary gains, and to regain lands from other groups of people.

I was blown away with how truly remarkable this book was to read. Jones’s combination of a plethora of facts with an engaging and comprehensive writing style brought the Crusades back to life. There were so many people who I was introduced to by reading this book that I really want to study more in the future. “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands” by Dan Jones was an absolute delight to read. If you want an excellent book that gives you a comprehensive look at the Crusades and the Crusaders, no matter if you are a novice or someone who has studied this period before, I highly recommend you read this book.