Book Review: “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings” by Dan Jones

57841287As the weather gets colder, the leaves turn brilliant colors and fall from their trees, marking the perfect time of the year to snuggle with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a good spooky tale. Many would reach for a modern supernatural story, but ghost tales have been hiding in archives for centuries. One such story comes from the time of King Richard II. It was first found and transcribed from Latin in 1922 by medievalist M.R. James. Dan Jones has taken on the challenge to retell this story for a modern audience. Initially written by an unknown monk of Byland Abbey, this medieval ghost story is called “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings.”

I want to thank Head of Zeus Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am a big fan of Dan Jones and his historical nonfiction books, so I was thrilled when I heard about this title.

Our tale begins with the tailor named Snowball and his horse Borin traveling home from Gilling to Ampleforth one November night. All of a sudden, Snowball is attacked by a raven that transforms into a grotesque dog. The dog gives Snowball a mission that only he can complete, to find a specific priest to ask for absolution for a criminal with no name and whose crime we do not know. If he does not return to the same spot where he has met the dog, there will be consequences.

To give readers even more information, Jones includes the story of how M.R.James came to find the tale and why he chose to bring this story into the 21st century. He also tells the story of Byland Abbey and includes the original Latin text for those who feel ambitious to translate it themselves.

I am not usually a fan of creepy ghost stories, but I found this tale entirely enthralling, and it sent chills down my back in a matter of pages. Even though Jones does not include that many physical descriptions for characters like Snowball and Borin, I can picture this tale playing out. For his first venture into the world of fiction, I think Jones does a brilliant job, and I hope one day he will make an anthology of medieval ghost stories. If you want a delightfully ghoulish ghost story that is perfect for fall, I highly recommend you read “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings” by Dan Jones.

Book Review: “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times” by Juliana Cummings

56549196The period of human history that we know today as the Middle Ages spanned over a thousand years, and within that time, significant progress was made into understanding our world. Inventions and discoveries were made not just in Europe but throughout the known world during this time. One area of study that saw a lot of change was medical studies and understanding the human body. How did physicians heal the sick during the Middle Ages, and how did their experiences change their field of study? These questions and more are all explored in Juliana Cummings’ latest book, “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I like learning about aspects from the past, so when I saw this title, I was interested in reading it. I am not usually curious about medical information, but medieval medical history draws me in, so I hope to learn more.

To understand many of the theories of medieval medicine and their origins, we have to go back to the Greeks, primarily Galen and Hippocrates. Many people would be familiar with the works of Hippocrates. Still, they might not be familiar with Galen even if they know his Four Humours Theory, which was pivotal in understanding the human body. Cummings also includes the works of Arab scholars, European scholars, and physicians to help the audience understand how vast the world of medical history was during the Middle Ages.

Cummings does not stick with one medical treatment or disease during this time, and she covers everything from the Black Death, syphilis, and leprosy to pregnancy and injuries during battle. Reading about the theories and cures that physicians, apothecaries, and barber surgeons applied to heal the sick and dying was quite fascinating. Even though I did take a copious amount of notes while reading this book, I did feel like other books on this subject did a better job of focusing on the medicine part. This book introduces many theories and physicians to those unfamiliar with medical history, but it falls a bit flat with actual cures that they would have used. The ending of this book also needed a bit of work since it just ended abruptly. I think it would have been appropriate for Cummings to explain why the history of medieval medicine is important for readers to understand in the 21st century and beyond.

Overall, I think this was a decent introductory book into the vast world of medieval medical history. Cummings’s writing style is easy to follow, and she has done her research about this subject. If you want a solid introductory book into the world of medieval medical history, you should check out “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times” by Juliana Cummings.

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: “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: “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.

Book Review: “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner

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The future King of England married a Spanish princess to create an alliance between the two countries through their children. This may sound like the marriage of Henry VIII and his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon. However, this story is much older and the happy couple was Edward I and Leonor of Castile. Unlike the Tudor match, Edward and Leonor have numerous children, including Edward’s heir who would one day become Edward II, whose story has been told in various ways. The stories that Kathryn Warner has chosen to focus upon in her latest book, “Daughters of Edward I”, are the princesses who tend to be hidden behind their brother’s legacy.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have read a few books by Kathryn Warner in the past and I have enjoyed them in the past for their complex nature. I enjoy a challenge and when I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to give it a shot. I, unfortunately, was not familiar with these princesses before partaking in this new adventure, so I was excited to hear their stories for the first time.

Edward I and Leonor of Castile had around fourteen children, but only six lived into adulthood; their heir Edward II and his five sisters. The names of the sisters were Eleanor of Windsor, Joan of Acre, Margaret of Brabant, Mary of Woodstock, and Elizabeth of Rhuddlan. Their marriages and children, except for Mary of Woodstock who would become a reluctant nun, would connect the Plantagenet bloodline to some of the most important families in England and beyond. When it comes to the marriages of the sisters, they tend to follow the counsel of the crown, except for Joan of Acre who chose to follow her heart and marry a man who she loved for her second marriage.

Warner’s specialty is unraveling the convoluted nature of certain family trees to uncover members who tend to slip into the shadows of the past. She explores the sisters’ relationships with their father Edward I, their brother Edward II, their nephew who would become Edward III, as well as the families that were essential to understanding England during the 13th and 14th centuries. I will admit that I did find myself using the lists in the back that gave brief descriptions of the daughters and their children as I was getting a tad confused on who was who and their relationship to others. However, I am really glad that Warner included that resource as it added something to this book.

Warner has taken on the difficult task of trying to uncover the stories of the daughters of Edward I and Leonor of Castile and has given readers a resource that can prove valuable in understanding this complex family dynamic. There were parts where the writing was a touch dry for my taste, but overall I found it a stimulating reading and that is because of the laborious research that Warner partook to tell their tales and the tales of their descendants. If you want a meticulously researched resource that tells the stories of women who knew Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III well, “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner is the perfect book for you to add to your collection.

Book Review: “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream” by Charles Spencer

53604802._SY475_In the middle of the night on November 25, 1120, screams could be heard from the English Channel. A ship known as The White Ship hit a rock and began to sink. Those on board were the glamorous English elite, including the legitimate son of King Henry I, William Aetheling. In an era where people feared the sea and could not swim, those on board sank to their watery death on that cold winter night that began with such frivolity. No one knew that night that this one disaster at sea would cause a dynastic struggle that would lead to the founding of the infamous Plantagenet dynasty. In his latest book, “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream”, Charles Spencer takes his readers on a journey to fully understand the impact that this tragedy had on the English royal family.

Charles Spencer has written many nonfiction books in the past, but they have all been out of the time periods that I enjoy reading about. I might go back and read them in my own time, but when I saw that this particular title was going to be published and how much praise it had received from prominent historians, I decided to give it a try.

Spencer’s tale into this tragedy begins with a vivid account of the night of November 25th and then it jumps to the first part of the tale. To understand why this event was so horrific for Henry I, we have to understand what it took for Henry I to become King of England. Henry, I was one of three sons of William the Conqueror. After his father died in 1087, the third son, William Rufus became King William II, much to the chagrin of the eldest son, Robert Curthose, who remained Duke of Normandy, but he continued to be a thorn at his brother’s side. When William II died after a hunting accident, Henry knew that it was his chance to beat Robert to the throne, which he did, becoming Henry I, who fought hard to restore order to England.

His two legitimate children, William Aetheling and Matilda, allowed Henry I to breathe a sigh of relief, although he had numerous illegitimate children. This is why this tragedy hit me so hard. With William’s death, it meant that anyone could take the throne after Henry I’s death, which is exactly what happened. The period we know as The Anarchy was a battle between Matilda, who was Henry’s heir, and her cousin Stephen of Blois for the throne of England.

Spencer has painted a dramatically dark portrait of the fall of the Norman dynasty. The Normans were notorious for their cruelty towards those who opposed them, even their own family. What I thoroughly enjoyed with this book was Spencer’s tone. It is as if you are having a casual conversation with Spencer about Henry I’s reign and his family’s drama for the throne. I was impressed with how well researched this book was and the new information that Spencer provided to present the bigger picture of this catastrophe.

I found this book to be a thrilling read full of information and vivid descriptions. This may be Charles Spencer’s first dive into the world of medieval nonfiction, but I hope it is not the last. If you want a brilliant read about the aftermath of the Conquest, the rise and fall of Henry I, and the Anarchy, I highly recommend you read, “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream” by Charles Spencer.

Book Review: “How to Survive in Medieval England” by Toni Mount

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were able to travel back in time to the medieval ages and had to start your life all over again? Could you make the transition from the 21st century to the medieval period with no electronic technology and different customs? What would you wear? How would you get around with no cars and horses being very expensive? Where would you live? What job would you have? These questions and quandaries are answered in the latest nonfiction book by Toni Mount aptly entitled, “How to Survive in Medieval England”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have found time travel books really interesting in the past few years, so I was intrigued when I heard about this title.

Mount has created a fun and creative guide for those who have a passion for medieval England. For clarification, Mount defines medieval from 1154 to the death of King Richard III in 1485. It’s quite a range, but it gives the reader a chance to see how England transformed during the medieval time. In this book, Mount gives her readers the everyday details that they would want if they traveled to the past or if they just wanted to better understand the past. The information that Mount includes is practical and easy to follow so that anyone who is jumping into the past can understand.

The true highlight of this title and what separates Mount’s book from other time-traveling books are the interviews. No, she does not have her own Tardis, but it feels like she might with these passages. Mount has taken historical figures, both well known and those who her audience might not be familiar with, and has decided to write discussions with them to better understand the past and the motivation for their actions. It is a brilliant way for an author who writes both historical fiction and nonfiction to express their craft in a unique and engaging way.

I have read a few time travel books and I have to say, this one is special. It is one that is engaging for history experts and novices alike. There are warnings, but Mount has also included a bit of humor to make sure that her audience realizes that the past was not always dark.

Medieval England may look drastically different than our 21st century, but if you break it down, the people of the past are just trying to survive the best that they can just like we are. If you want a handy guide to take on your journeys to the past or you just want a book to better understand the past, I highly suggest you read this book, “How to Survive in Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

Book Review: “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” by Ian Mortimer

Have you ever read a history book and wondered what life was really like for those who lived in the past? To understand a time period and the motives of the people of the past, we have to understand the structure of their society. How they understood things like class, sex, violence, government, and religion is essential for us to understand what separates us from our ancestors. What they ate, what they wore, and where they slept also give a unique insight into the time period. It can be a difficult undertaking to figure out all of the different aspects of the past connect and to present it cohesively, yet acclaimed historian Ian Mortimer has embraced this challenge head-on to tackle one of the most complex periods of the past; the Elizabethan era. His love letter to the Elizabethan age entitled, “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” is a delightfully imaginative guide to the past.

There have been numerous books about the lifestyles of past eras, but what separates those books from the one that Ian Mortimer has written is his writing style and the imaginative descriptions that he included. Many writers give you the facts without the fluff. Mortimer has written this book as if you have stepped back in time and you are seeing the Elizabethan age with your own eyes. It is a treat for all of the senses. To engage the reader in such a way is not an easy feat, but Mortimer does it seamlessly.

I think we all have a vague idea of what the reign of Elizabeth I might have been like. After all, it was known as the “Golden Age”, so it must have been a time of opportunity and great providence for the people, no matter their social standing. Or maybe not. As Mortimer explains, this “Golden Age” was a varnish for a reign that was filled with its own set of trials and tribulations, very similar to what we experience today. Sure, the problems are different, but we can relate to the people of the past because they are human problems. We all deal with things like diseases, where we live, what we eat, what to wear, religion, entertainment, and education. Yet what makes each era unique is how we address these issues.

To see the Elizabethan era, which was on the precipice of the early modern age, in the midst of great progress was a joy. Obviously, this would not have been a time that modern readers would like to have stayed for an extended visit, but it was simply a fantastic guide for those who dream of the past.

I don’t usually share quotes from books in my reviews, but there was something that Mortimer said at the very end of this book that was too poignant not to share.

“History is not really about the past; it is about understanding mankind over time. Within that simple, linear story of change and survival, there are a thousand contrasts, and within each of those contrasts there is a range of experiences, and if we put our minds to it, we can relate to each one. “(pg. 325)

I picked up this particular book on a whim and I am truly glad I did. It gave me a deeper understanding of the Elizabethan age and what it meant to be Elizabethan. Although we are separated from these people by centuries, their experiences and ours are similar. We are all humans trying to get by each day the best we can. If you have ever wanted to know what the past was really like for those in the Elizabethan era, either for your own personal enjoyment or for research, I highly recommend you add, “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” by Ian Mortimer to your own personal collection.

Book Review: “A Princely Lodging: A History of Sheriff Hutton Castle” by Alexander Hill

Numerous castles with remarkable stories dot the landscapes of many European countries, especially England. Few are in good condition whereas others are in a rather ruinous stage. In the village of Sheriff Hutton, there is a shell of a once illustrious castle that protected England and its monarchs for centuries, aptly named Sheriff Hutton Castle. For those who are familiar with the family York and the Nevilles of the Wars of the Roses, you might be familiar with the name of this castle, but do you know the entire story of the castle? Why was this castle so significant to the history of northern England and why did it fall into disarray? These questions and more are explored in Alexander Hill’s debut book, “A Princely Lodging: A History of Sheriff Hutton Castle”.

I would like to thank Alexander Hill for sending me a copy of his book. I always like learning about new aspects of history that I never considered. Obviously, I have heard of Sheriff Hutton Castle, but I never considered its history, so I was excited to learn more about this castle.

In order to understand the significance of Sheriff Hutton Castle and why it was built in Sheriff Hutton, Hill takes his readers to the reign of William the Conqueror. William’s castle-building campaign was significant since the castles acted as defensive structures to protect the country. Later, they would transition to more palatial buildings, but they were still used by the military from time to time as headquarters for councils.

Knowing this information, Hill dives deep into the archives to explore the truth about Sheriff Hutton Castle. Hill tells the tale of Sheriff Hutton Castle in chronological order; from who built it, who owned it when, and why it is left in its current dilapidated state. The amount of care and meticulous research that went into writing this book is nothing short of astounding. Hill includes details about the landscape, the structure itself, how much it took to repair such a structure, and who acted as guests and caretakers of the castle.

What I found extremely fascinating is how much time Hill took on the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors period in the castle’s history. To see how the York dynasty used it as a strategic point for their Council of the North and how it was used as a nursery for some of the most famous royal children was interesting. One of my favorite parts of this book was the portion about Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, and his time at Sheriff Hutton Castle. To see how he was raised and the education that he received was a breath of fresh air, especially for those who are fans of studying the Tudor dynasty.

Overall, I found this book rather enjoyable. There were a few grammatical mistakes, but the actual content of this book was engrossing and very original. This may be Alexander Hill’s debut, but I hope it is not his last book. I would love for him to explore even more castles in the near future. If you want to learn more about Sheriff Hutton Castle and its impact, I recommend you read, “A Princely Lodging: A History of Sheriff Hutton Castle” by Alexander Hill.