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: “Queens of the Crusades: England’s Medieval Queens Book Two” by Alison Weir

52355570 (1)One of the most prominent royal families of English history was the Plantagenets, who reigned for over three hundred years. In the first one hundred years of this family’s infamous history, five kings ruled (the first two are considered kings of the Angevin dynasty): Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, and Edward I. These five kings saw England change drastically, but they also participated in the international political landscape of the day, which involved the series of wars that today we simply refer to as the Crusades. The early Plantagenet kings saw much bloodshed and war, but they were not alone in their struggle to keep the dynasty going. These men would not have gotten as far as they did without their wives who stood by their sides. In Alison Weir’s latest installment of England’s Medieval Queens series, “Queens of the Crusades”, she takes a deep dive into the lives of the first five Plantagenet queens to show how remarkable these women truly were to stand beside their husbands during the times of the Crusades in Europe.

I would like to thank Ballantine Books, Random House, and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a massive fan of Alison Weir’s nonfiction books for years now. To have an opportunity to read this title and review it is simply astounding. As soon as Weir announced this new installment of England’s Medieval Queens series, I knew I wanted to read it because I had enjoyed Queens of the Conquest immensely.

The five queens that Weir covers in this particular book are Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria of Navarre, Isabella of Angouleme, Alienor of Provence, and Eleanor of Castile. Many are familiar with the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II and how it soured as their sons fought against their father, but it is worth noting that every queen in this book led a rather remarkable life. Eleanor of Aquitaine may have been alive during the time of Thomas Becket’s murder and Isabella of Angouleme witnessed her husband King John seal the Magna Carta, but some of these queens witnessed battles of the Crusades being fought as they traveled with their husbands to distant lands. There was also the matter of ruling two kingdoms, England and parts of France plus keeping the peace with Wales and Scotland, all while raising their children. There was never a dull moment for the lives of the early Plantagenet queens.

I found each queen in this book fascinating to read about, even though I did not know much about their lives. I obviously knew about Eleanor of Aquitaine, but the other queens have been briefly mentioned in other books that it felt like I was discovering their stories for the first time. The way they governed England and the way that they showed their love for their husbands and their children were different, but they each made a significant impact on the story of the Plantagenet dynasty. If I did have a problem with this book it would be that I found myself confused on which Eleanor was which, especially when Alienor of Provence and Eleanor of Castile were alive during the same time.

Overall, I found this book extremely informative and meticulously researched. Alison Weir has yet again made the lives of these queens that time seemed to have forgotten come to life. I believe that this is an excellent introductory book for anyone who wants to learn about the early queens of the Plantagenet dynasty. It is engaging, thought-provoking, and masterfully written. If this sounds like you, check out the second book in the England’s Medieval Queens series by Alison Weir, “Queens of the Crusades”.

Book Review: “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction” by Daniele Cybulskie

43972589Have you ever read a book, either historical fiction or nonfiction, about medieval Europe and wondered if what the author was writing about was true? What about historical movies or dramas? You know that they probably have the facts about the important people and events correct, or at least you hope, but you wonder about the small details. What did they eat? How did they keep themselves clean and healthy? How did religion and the criminal justice system work in medieval Europe? What was medieval warfare like? These questions and more are explored in Daniele Cybulskie’s enchanting book, “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have spoken with Daniele Cybulskie on social media in the past about quite a few medieval topics, including when she spoke at the Tudor Summit, so when I heard about this book, I wanted to read it.

Cybulskie’s book is divided into chapters that explore numerous topics about average medieval life. As a reader, one would think that this book would begin with the birth and childhood of those who lived during this time. However, Cybulskie chooses to begin with how medieval people kept themselves and their cities clean. It may seem a bit strange compared to other books about medieval life, but the way she structures this book works in Cybulskie’s favor. Although this book is informative, it feels like you are having a casual conversation with the author about these topics.

By dividing the chapters into topic-based chapters, Cybulskie can explore numerous questions that fit into each topic. From cleanliness to religious life, warfare to pastimes, love to death, she can give her readers an experience that covers the thousand years of history that make up the medieval time period. Along the way, she includes little boxes that contain fun little factoids to provide even more trivia.

What is great about Cybulskie is that as a medievalist, she understands that there was a lot of diversity in the medieval world. It was not just fit European Christians. There were also Jews, Muslims, people with disabilities, rich and poor, and those who generally did not fit well into society. By including every type of person who lived in the medieval world, we can get a better understanding of how vast and colorful it truly was. Cybulskie also includes a simplistic overview of events like the Black Death and the crusades to show the dramatic and damaging effects that they had on medieval society as a whole.

To say that this book was fun to read would be an understatement. Cybulskie’s knowledge radiates in every page of this short book. I honestly did not want to stop reading this book, I wanted to learn more. It was educational and entertaining all at the same time. Simply a wonderful resource for novice medievalists and writers of historical fiction and nonfiction alike. If you want to learn the truth about different aspects of medieval life, I highly suggest you include, “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction” by Daniele Cybulskie, to your book collection.

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.