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.

Richard III: The Controversial King

170px-King_Richard_IIIIn honor of the third anniversary of the reburial of King Richard III, I have decided to write down my opinions about this controversial king.

 

When one thinks of Richard III, one thinks of controversy especially about how he came to be on the throne. In a matter of months after Edward IV died, Richard became the notorious Richard III. It is the belief of his contemporaries that in order to retrieve the throne Richard had to have the most heinous act imaginable performed: he ordered the murder of his nephews.

 

In Desmond Seward’s book Richard III: The Black Legend, Seward characterizes the way this man has been viewed throughout history:

 

Richard has left two popular legends. The earlier is Shakespeare’s crookback, whose element of caricature has been heightened by a theatrical tradition stretching from Colly Cibber to Laurence Olivier (though Shakespeare was nearer the  truth than some of the king’s latter day defenders). The second, later, legend is of a folk hero manque, a gallant young ruler, the supreme victim of vilification in English history. Supporters of this ‘white’ legend have produced some very entertaining literature in portraying Richard as a martyr to Tudor propaganda.

The two legends are the black legend that Richard III willfully had his nephews murdered, and the white legend that he is innocent of all crimes and that the Tudors framed him in order to promote their own dynasty. I have always been fascinated by the time known as the Wars of the Roses, especially this incident in particular. For me, Richard III is one of those controversial characters in history who  we may never really truly understand all of his story. That being said, it is my firm belief that the black legend is the most accurate. I believe that Richard has his nephews murdered.

 

My opinion about Richard III was not made in haste, in fact I have read quite a bit about him. My senior thesis for my Bachelor’s degree was on how Richard III’s and Henry VII’s reputations have changed overtime so I read many  biographies and histories about Richard III over the last 500 years in order to come up with my opinion on Richard.

 

I would like to first say that I do not believe that Richard III was this evil hunchback of 04Richard_cnd-jumbo-v2Shakespearean lore. I used to believe this and then his skeleton was discovered under the car park in Leicester. After looking at his skeleton, one would think he would be unfit to fit, but I came across a documentary that proved otherwise. “Resurrecting Richard III” by PBS was able to find a man in England who had the exact same amount of curvature in his back as Richard III. It proved that Richard could fight and that he wasn’t as Shakespeare described him. If you haven’t seen this documentary, I highly recommend that you do. 

 

 

 

The next aspect I want to explore is his personality and his behavior. I believe that Richard was a complex man and he had to be in order to survive in the time that he lived in, the Wars of the Roses. With the examples of his father Richard duke of York and his brothers Edward IV and George Duke of Clarence, I believe that what he witnessed in his early life was what shaped him as he became king. Think about it. Richard’s father wanted to help the country by becoming the king’s Lord Protector but then decided to take the throne for himself. This did not work as well as he planned as he died at the battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460. Since Richard III was still a young man when all of this happened, this must have affected him like it did his brothers Edward and George. Edward would fight with George and Richard by his side to become Edward IV. I believe that once Edward was able to take Henry VI into custody that he had ordered Richard III to help assist in the murder of the old king because he was the one brother who he could trust.  George would become angry with Edward and would betray him not once but twice and so Edward had to order for George to be executed allegedly in “a butt of Malmsey wine” on February 18, 1478.

 

It was the death of George that I believe really was the turning point for Richard. He came from a family of men who coveted the throne so much that they would fight not only their cousins but their own brothers for the crown. George was careless and allowed himself to be caught in his betrayal. If Richard wanted the throne, he knew he had to be more careful. He couldn’t betray Edward while he was still alive or he risked his own death, like George. No, Richard would have to wait until the time was right. On April 9, 1483, King Edward IV died, leaving the throne to his young son Edward V. This was to be a happy occasion for the house of York, but it was not to be. The one man in charge of their care and well being was their uncle, Richard duke of Gloucester, their Lord Protector.

 

princes-in-the-towerJust like his father before him, Richard was granted the right to make orders for the king, not because he was well liked, but because he fought against the Woodvilles and the Rivers for the right. He was fighting his brother’s wife’s family for the right to control the country. Richard would have Lord Rivers killed because of “treason” to protect the boy king. Edward V and his younger brother Richard duke of York were led to the Tower of London “for protection” and were never to be seen again after 1483.  Since the young king was out of the picture, I believe because Richard had the boys murdered, the only one who had the right to the throne was Richard himself. Just like he planned. To seal the deal, Richard III issued the Titulus Regius in 1484 which declared the children of Edward IV and his queen Elizabeth Woodville illegitimate because Edward had promised to marry another woman before Elizabeth.

 

These kinds of moves were cold and calculated. Richard had time to plan all of this out, from 1478 to 1483, 5 years to be exact. If Richard was really concerned about the kingdom, he would have raised Edward V and his brother as his own sons, allowing them to rule the country as their own. He does not and his name will be tarnished forever because of it.

 

However, Richard’s reign does not last as long as he hoped because on August 22, 1485, Richard is killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field. We all know that it is at Bosworth Field where Henry Tudor becomes Henry VII and the Tudor dynasty begins. Richard is hacked to death, carried on horseback like a boar (his symbol was a white boar so they were mocking him) and was buried at the Church of the Greyfriars. His death marked the end of the Plantagenets dynasty.  This was not a proper death for a king but a hated villain. I do not believe that the amount of brutality was necessary for Richard to die. He was still an ordained king, even if his methods on obtaining the throne were questionable.

 

Richard III is one of those kings who will continue to fascinate those who study the Plantagenets dynasty, the Tudor dynasty and the Wars of the Roses. This one man is still being hotly debated even to this day.

 

What are your opinions on this controversial king?

Book Review: “Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth and the Dark Scandal that Rocked the Throne” by Chris Skidmore

41sbrm3axHL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_On September 8, 1560, a young woman’s body is discovered at Cumnor Place alone at the bottom of the stairs with her neck broken with no other marks on her body. This would have been declared an accidental death by normal people, however the woman was anything but a normal woman; this was the wife of Robert Dudley, Amy Robsart. It was because of who she was and who her husband was that people speculated that foul play was afoot.

 

For centuries, the death of Amy Robsart has caught the imagination of many people, including Chris Skidmore. In his book “Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth and the Dark Scandal that Rocked the Throne”, Skidmore takes a deeper look into this mysterious death of Amy Robsart. If you have read Alison Weir’s “Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley”, you will enjoy the way that Skidmore writes this book because it is very similar. The quote that really summed up his researching approach towards this mystery is as follows: “ For the historian, the truth is neither impossible nor improbable: it can only be, quite simply, whatever remains.”

 

Skidmore starts off by explaining the relationship between Amy and Robert before Elizabeth became Queen. These were two people who were in love, but once Robert Amyrobsartbecame the Master of the Horse for Elizabeth, Robert changed. He was at home less and Amy had to take over the household affairs. It is through letters that Amy wrote that Skidmore is able to paint a picture for us about how their household worked. The day that Amy died was very peculiar in the fact that she wanted to be left alone; her husband was with the Queen miles away. The original jury found that this was a case of accidental death, however Skidmore decided to take a deeper look into the case. He decided to explore the possibility of accidental death by stairs, the possibility of a medical explanation on why Amy could have fallen down the stairs,  and he found the original coroner’s report, which portrays a different story. The amount of research Skidmore pours into this one accidental death is admirable. The one issue I have with the book is the fact that he describes the type of staircases and the details of the coroner’s report but he doesn’t show pictures of these things so it’s a bit hard to visualize what he is talking about.

 

The story about Amy’s death, however does not end with her death, in fact it only starts the rumor mill around Robert Dudley’s involvement. As Dudley gets closer to Elizabeth and has his affairs with Douglas Howard and Lettice Knollys (who would become his second wife), rumors fly and comparisons are made to Amy. People did not like the fact that Robert was so close to the Queen and was thinking about marrying Elizabeth. People started to believe that Robert killed his wife in order to marry the Queen and so slanderous writings about Dudley were being passed around, including the Leicester’s Commonwealth.

 

In this book, Chris Skidmore channels his inner history detective in order to discover the truth about the death of Amy Robsart. There is something so fascinating about the mystery of her death that has kept the interest in it alive for so long. Skidmore’s book is a fantastic introduction to the death of Amy and the effects that her death on those who she cared about, especially her husband Robert Dudley. If you enjoy Tudor mysteries, the relationship between Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth, or Amy Robsart, this is the book for you.