Book Review: “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat” by Eric Jager

57933320On a cold December day in 1386, two knights met at the field at Saint-Martin-Des-Champs in Paris to face each other in a duel. This may seem like your average duel for entertainment to any outsider, but this was a duel to the death to determine who was telling the truth when it came to a sinister crime. A Norman knight, Jean de Carrouges, accused a squire, Jacques Le Gris, of raping his wife, Marguerite. It was a truly heinous crime, but what was it true, and why did these accusations lead to a duel to the death? Eric Jager explores this specific event and the factors that led to this clash in his nonfiction book, “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat.”

I became interested in this book when I heard that it was being turned into a movie. I talked to the Five Minute Medievalist Daniele Cybulskie on Twitter about the film, and she mentioned this book. I wanted to read this book before I watched the movie to compare the two interpretations of the tale.

During this duel, France was in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War with England. It was a time of tension when loyalty, chivalry, and honor meant a great deal to knights and members of the nobility. Teen King Charles VI ruled France with the help of his uncles and men who were as loyal, such as the wealthy Count Pierre of Alencon and his knights, including Jean de Carrourges. Jean de Carrouges’ family was known for their loyalty and landholding, which Jean IV hoped would continue during his time as head of the family. However, this was not to be. Unlike his predecessor Count Robert of Perche, Count Pierre did not favor the de Carrouges family, but instead to a squire named Jacques Le Gris.

Jacques Le Gris and Jean de Carrouges were old friends, but when Count Pierre gave property that de Carrouges believed would pass onto him as part of the inheritance to Le Gris, a feud began between the two. The feud hit a fever pitch after Jean de Carrouges married his second wife, Marguerite, the daughter of Robert de Thibouville, who betrayed the French king twice and still kept his head. Although he married a traitor’s daughter, de Carrouges stayed loyal to Count Pierre and ventured to Scotland to fight for King Charles VI, which proved disastrous.

Broke and in poor health, de Carrouges pleaded with Count Pierre for financial help, but he insulted Le Gris. This was the final straw for Le Gris, and he decided to attack de Carrouges, where it would hurt, by attacking his innocent wife. Naturally, de Carrourges was upset and took his case against Le Gris to the Parlement of Paris, where he declared that he wanted to face Le Gris in a duel, an ancient trial by combat where the victor would be declared innocent. If de Carrouges lost the fight, he would not only be risking his soul to damnation, but his wife would be burned alive.

Jager brings to life a story from the past full of drama and intrigue that will capture modern readers’ attention. The amount of details that he includes in this nonfiction book makes it feel like a historical fiction novel. Jager spent ten years researching this one story, and it shows. It was such a gripping story, especially the duel itself, that I was a little sad when it ended. If you want a gripping tale of love, revenge, and justice, you must read “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat” by Eric Jager.

Book Review: “The Red Prince: The Life of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster” by Helen Carr

55710502When one studies the history of the English monarchy, we tend to consider those who ruled and those who advised the ruler as significant characters. We rarely study the family members of the monarch who did not win the right to rule the kingdom. Yet, they are often either extremely loyal or they desire the crown with such ferocity that they rebel against their own family. It seems like a rather cruel world, but that was the life of a medieval monarch. True loyalty for one’s family was a rare feat. One man showed the depth of his loyalty to his family, even when the people despised him. He was the son of King Edward III, the brother of the famous Black Prince, the uncle of King Richard II, and the father of Henry Bolingbroke who would become King Henry IV. Gaunt’s reputation and legacy have been marred by his wealth and the role that he played with the Peasants’ Revolt, but was he such a bad person? In Helen Carr’s brilliant debut biography, “The Red Prince: The Life of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster”, she looks to uncover the truth about the man behind the throne and why he never desired the crown for himself.

Carr has chosen to call John of Gaunt “The Red Prince”, which makes a lot of sense for someone who understands the significance of his legacy in history. His son by his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, King Henry IV, was the first Lancastrian King of England. Obviously, they were represented by the red rose in the rather poetic sounding Wars of the Roses in the 15th century and their half-siblings, the Beauforts (who were descended from the children of John’s third wife and former mistress Katherine Swynford) would continue the legacy in their own way. There would be no Lancastrian Kings of England or Wars of the Roses or Tudor dynasty without John of Gaunt.

I am getting a little ahead of myself. After all, during John of Gaunt’s lifetime, none of this happened. He was just the son of Edward III and the brother of the Black Prince when he earned the title of the first Duke of Lancaster. He earned his reputation as a loyal soldier fighting alongside his brother and father in the conflict with France that would be known in history as the Hundred Years’ War. His loyalty to his brother and father and his bravery as a knight was legendary. He gained vast amounts of wealth from his marriages to Blanche of Lancaster and Constance of Castile. He was a patron of the arts, especially to Geoffrey Chaucer, and championed those who wanted to challenge the way religion was understood during the 14th century.

He had everything he could ever want until his world came crashing down around him. The Black Prince died of illness and his father King Edward III would soon follow, leaving the throne to his nephew King Richard II. To say things got off to a rocky start would be an understatement as John of Gaunt and other government officials were accused of raising taxes so high that it triggered what we know as the Peasants’ Revolt. On top of all of the problems in England, John of Gaunt decided to become King of Castile with his wife Constance. John of Gaunt led a life full of adventure, risks, and above all, loyalty to his family.

Carr does a magnificent job of bringing Gaunt’s life into focus. So much of his reputation has been tainted over time, but Carr did not shy away from the challenge. This is one of the best biographies that I have read this year so far. John of Gaunt deserved to have his story retold and Helen Carr was the perfect historian to tell his story for a newer generation. Carr’s writing style is engaging with meticulous attention to detail. This is a gorgeous debut biography and I cannot wait to see what Helen Carr will write next. If you want to read a biography about the founder of the Lancastrian dynasty, “The Red Prince: The Life of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster” by Helen Carr is a must-read.

Book Review: “Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe” by Melissa Julian-Jones

In 1375, the body of Sir William Cantilupe was found murdered in a field. He was stabbed multiple times, yet it looked like he was moved as his clothing had no marks on it. The initial investigation pointed to William Cantilupe’s immediate family and his household staff who appeared dissatisfied with how he ran his household. This particular case has been an area of fascination for medieval historians for centuries as it explores different aspects of life during the Hundred Years War. Some of these areas include domestic violence, social norms, law and order, and the punishment for crimes like murder. Melissa Julian-Jones explores every aspect of this case while combining contemporary sources to give readers a new approach to this murder in her book, “Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I had never heard of this case, but after reading the Shardlake series, I was looking for another historical who done it. When I heard about this book, I thought I would give it a try.

Julian-Jones introduces her readers who may not be familiar with this case to the basic facts; when the sheriff and the coroner discovered Sir William Cantilupe’s body in a ditch in a field, which was not that uncommon for a medieval murder. At first, they assumed that it was a simple case of a highway robbery, which Julian-Jones does explore for a bit, but they quickly come to the conclusion that the murder occurred inside of his own household.

To explore the motives of those who might have killed William, which included his wife Maud and his household staff, Julian-Jones explores the family history of the Cantilupes and why people might have wanted to kill William. This part of the book was a bit difficult to read because she does not mince words when it comes to some of the graphic details of their lives, which includes elements of domestic violence. Sometimes when you do study history, you will confront things in history that will make you feel uncomfortable, but it is part of the learning experience to know that things in the past were not always black and white, there were a lot of grey areas.

Julian-Jones spends the bulk of her book exploring the lives of those who were considered the suspects of the murder. Since we don’t have much information about their particular lives because of their stations in life, Julian-Jones had to rely on similar cases from the same era to show what the motive might have been and what the punishment for the crimes was for the different stations of life. This was quite fascinating as we see how a medieval historian who studied criminal accounts had to act like a detective to figure out what the truth might have been and who might have committed the murder.

Julian-Jones takes her readers on a medieval murder mystery ride that affected the nobility, rather than the nobility, which is rather unusual. This book will expand your knowledge about the medieval nobility, their households, and the criminal justice system of their time. This was truly a fascinating study into a centuries-old cold case mystery. If you want a good study into a medieval mystery, you should definitely check out, “Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe” by Melissa Julian-Jones.

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.

Movie Review: “The King”

MV5BOGZhMWFhMTAtNGM3Ni00MTdhLTg3NmMtMDViYTc5ODVkZWVlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_There is a new film that has been getting a lot of hype lately and that is based on the story of King Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt. Starring Timothee Chalamet as the main protagonist King Henry V, “The King” on Netflix is the latest historical drama movie that has come out this year. From the trailers and the information that we learned about the film before it was released, I was really intrigued, so I decided to watch it this weekend. Since there were a lot of things I wanted to discuss, I have decided to write a sort of movie review for “The King”.

The film starts with trouble brewing between King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn), the usurper King who is dying, and Henry “Hotspur” Percy. We are introduced to Henry V as a young Prince of Wales who simply wants to cause havoc, drink, and have fun with his friends. When I first saw Timothee Chalamet in this role, I felt like he was a moody teenager who could care less about his country or his father, who he, for some reason, hates. Henry IV decides that Henry, also known as “Hal”, is not good enough to be king, so he is replaced by his younger brother, Thomas of Lancaster. This is so odd because from what we know of this time, Henry IV trusted Henry V to take care of England while he was ill.

The angsty prince “Hal” leaves and decides to hang out with his best friend, Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton), who would become one of his closest allies. Falstaff would be there for Hal after he killed Hotspur at the Battle of Shrewsbury, which in this film turns out to be a fistfight with a knife between the two men, which is won by Henry V naturally. It felt kind of awkward, especially when you notice that Thomas Beaufort (also known as Dorset in the film) is on the sideline supporting Hotspur instead of Henry V. Beaufort was extremely loyal to Henry V throughout his reign. It was here where Henry V got his noticeable scar from an arrow that hit him in the face, but the film really doesn’t show the scar.

After his brother Thomas dies off-screen, Henry V becomes King after his father dies. The coronation scene, albeit short, looked somewhat accurate, which is a plus. As king, Henry is unsure of his abilities and relies on men who he considers his allies. Those who do study this time period know that Henry V was known as a warrior king, yet for some reason, the director of this film wanted to make Henry rather a pacificist. He wants to get along with the French rather than go to war with them. This was the middle of the Hundred Years’ War. England hated France and vice versa. For this young king to want to make peace with the French was unheard of and so out of character for what we know about King Henry V. I really did not agree with this call.

It was not until after there were several attempts on Henry’s life by the French that Henry finally decides to attack France directly. It is here in the battles and sieges that Henry V would gain his warrior king title and I think that the film does a pretty good job showing some of the aspects of the invasion of France. The use of trebuchets for the siege scene was just fun to watch, even though this was just one siege of perhaps dozens that happened during the invasion. While we are in France, we are introduced to Robert Pattinson’s character the Dauphin of France. This might sound controversial, but I wasn’t impressed with his portrayal of the Dauphin. I felt like his accent felt fake, almost like he was mocking the French, and I didn’t see why he needed to have his hair dyed blond. Pattinson’s character was more of a buffoon than a serious adversary. Another thing that irked me was when Henry knelt in front of the Dauphin. Henry is a King. The Dauphin was a French Prince. It seemed really odd to do this since they were adversaries.

To me, the biggest highlight of this film was the actual Battle of Agincourt. The conditions of the field of battle were a muddy mess with the French at an advantage. The English marching in their suits of armor towards their enemy while the archers were in the back, raining arrows down on the French. Seeing Henry and Falstaff fighting in the mud with their men. It felt like it truly honored the battle well. The one issue I had with it was when Henry and Falstaff took off their helmets. I was literally yelling at them to put their helmets back on. It is one thing to see an actor’s face when they are doing a battle scene, but this just seemed utterly ridiculous to me.

A few more side notes that I wanted to include. I think the soundtrack of this film was wonderful and really captured the mood of the film. They used a lot of daggers and battle-axes instead of swords when it came to fighting one on one. The costumes felt appropriate, but the colors of the outfits felt rather mute with greys, blacks, blues, and shades of white. There were points where I thought that Chalamet was wearing a pair of jean like pants and a hoodie under his chain mail, but it might have just been me. I wanted a touch more color. The scenery was fantastic and really gave a medieval feel to the film. Finally, I wanted more Catherine of Valois (Lily-Rose Depp). We see her at the very end of the film, but I wanted more interaction between Catherine and Henry.

Overall, I actually really enjoyed “The King”. It kind of shocked me because I thought that I was going to sit through the movie and nitpick so much that I wouldn’t enjoy the film. Yet I did. It is definitely not historically accurate, but it blends the Shakespearean plays and historical information into something new. If you want a completely accurate film about Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt, this might not be the film for you. However, if you want a different interpretation of Henry V and Agincourt just for fun, “The King” on Netflix is a film that you should check out.

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: “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

 

Book Review: “World Without End” by Ken Follett

Europe during the 14th century was full of danger, the start of a conflict that would be91zMJG7u8vL known as the Hundred Years’ War, and the massively destructive illness that we know today as either “the Black Death” or “the Black Plague”. This was a time of despair, but it was also a time where we see a shift from old traditions of the church and the state. It is also two centuries after the events of Ken Follett’s massively popular book, “The Pillars of the Earth”. Follett explores how the people of Kingsbridge survived during this tumultuous time in his second book of the Kingsbridge series, “World Without End”.

Follett begins his book with his main characters as children in the church that he wrote about in the first book, Kingsbridge Cathedral. They are the descendants of the protagonists of “The Pillars of the Earth”, but they all come from different backgrounds. Their names are Merthin, Caris, Gwenda, and Ralph. These children decide one day to play in the forest near Kingsbridge, where they come across a man named Thomas and they witness a killing. They promise to keep the secret until Thomas dies, but this one act will intertwine the lives of the friends forever.

Like “The Pillars of the Earth”, “World Without End” focuses on the growth of these characters over decades and how their lives and their hard work change the town of Kingsbridge. Merthin takes on the role of the builder, just like his ancestor Jack Builder, who believes in his radical new ideas to help the town, even though his elders think his ideas are too far out there. Ralph is Merthin’s brother who strives to be the best soldier he can be in order to bring honor to himself and to impress those around him. Ralph does whatever it takes to make sure his ambitions are realized, even if it means stepping over his family and friends. Caris is an independent woman who has a love of helping others, learning how to dye and sell wool, and learning medical practices. She has a complicated relationship with the church and with Merthin. Finally, Gwenda is a woman in love with the handsome  Wulfric and would do anything to make sure his dreams come true.

At the center of their world is the Kingsbridge cathedral and the struggle between the guild, the monks and the nuns. All three groups are fighting against each other for the power to control the town. It is the struggle between the monks and the nuns that adds a layer of depth to this story as we see that although both groups are focused on bringing glory to God, they have different means of achieving that goal and they often get in each other’s way. The nuns want to help heal the people of Kingsbridge, especially during the time of the plague, but the monks don’t believe the nuns know what they are doing.

To top it all off, this was the time of King Edward II’s murder, Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer, and King Edward III. It was a complex time for English politics and to add a cherry on top, Edward III declared war on France because he believed he was the rightful King of France, thus starting the Hundred Years’ War. We see elements of the repercussions of the start of this conflict as we see some characters in France, fighting at the Battle of Crecy, which was a victory for the English. If I do have one thing to criticize about this novel, it would be that I wish Follett included more with King Edward III in the story. The actual historical figures feel sprinkled in and I wish they were more incorporated into the story.

As a whole, I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the story. Like in “The Pillars of the Earth”, there were moments in this sequel which did bother me a bit because of the graphic detail, but the actual story was very engaging. I would spend hours at a time binge reading this book. The characters and their individual stories were well written. Sequels, especially for extremely popular books, can fall flat. Not this book. It is the perfect sequel for “The Pillars of the Earth” as it continues the legacy left behind by Prior Philip and Jack Builder. If you enjoyed the first book in the Kingsbridge series, “The Pillars of the Earth”, I highly recommend you read Ken Follett’s book, “World Without End”.  

Guest Post: Was Henry IV A Usurper? By Michele Morrical

170px-king_henry_iv_from_npg_(2)Some medieval English kings have unfairly gotten a bad rap. Others are deservedly vilified (Richard III, I’m talking to you).

Our modern-day perception of English kings is largely constructed from only a few sources. Of course, we have the writings of Shakespeare which were generally based on the real events of English monarchs but had lots of extra drama added in to spice things up. We also have the writings of chroniclers who actually lived in the middle ages, but they aren’t always reliable. Just imagine if you were hired by Henry VIII to write the history of his reign. You would definitely write it in a way that reflected very well on the king. And we have modern-day historians who try to bring the past to life with new interpretations of English monarchs and their new explanations of their controversial actions.

One of the English kings who has received very little attention over the years is Henry IV, also known as Henry of Bolingbroke and Henry of Derby. The common perception is that Henry was a usurper, but was he really? Did he seize the throne from Richard II illegally or was he the rightful heir?

What was Henry IV’s claim to the throne?

To answer this question, we must go back a couple of reigns to Henry’s grandfather, King Edward III, a Plantagenet king that ruled England from 1327 to 1377. King Edward was also the nephew of King Charles IV of France through his mother Isabella. When Charles IV died childless, Edward asserted his right to the French crown as Charles’ nearest male relative. The French overruled him citing Salic Law which said inheritance could not be passed through a female line. So the throne went instead to Philip of Valois, Charles’ cousin through a completely male line. As if losing his claim to the kingdom of France wasn’t enough of a blow to Edward, Philip also confiscated Edward’s land in France. Edward was not one to take things lying down so he took military action against France and initiated the Hundred Years War.

One of King Edward’s best military commanders was his eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince. The king’s son was raised and educated in preparation to be the next king and he was perfectly suited to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, there was a major problem. His repeated military expeditions around Europe caused him to become quite ill, including a raging case of dysentery. He died in 1376 at the age of 45. He had not outlived his father, therefore he never got the chance to fulfill his destiny as King of England.

After the death of the Black Prince, King Edward wrote his will and “Act of Entail” in which he named his heir. Rather than naming his eldest living son (John of Gaunt) to be the next king, he did something unusual. He instead named his grandson, Richard of Bordeaux, eldest living son of the Black Prince, to be next in the order of succession using a device called “Right of Substitution”. Essentially since the Black Prince died prematurely, his son Richard was accepted as a substitute.

After Richard, he named the next in line for succession to be John of Gaunt and the male heirs of his body, followed by his other living sons, Edmund, Duke of York, and Thomas, Duke of Gloucester. Interestingly enough, the “Act of Entail” document was kept secret from the public. The only people who knew about it were those named in the entail and the king’s closest confidants. It was never introduced to Parliament to put into law. Many rulers were hesitant to publicly name their heir because that gave any discontented subjects someone to rally around and overthrow the king.

If King Edward had followed traditional Salic Law rules, his eldest living son, John of Gaunt, would have been named his heir followed by Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, which would have left Richard completely out of the succession. Imagine how different the course of English history would have been if Edward had not made this decision to use the uncommon right of substitution. The inheritance would have been strictly through the house of Lancaster, cutting out the house of York. The Wars of the Roses may have never even happened.

Henry of Bolingbroke would have known about King Edward III’s act of entail and that he had been named third in line for the throne (after Richard and John of Gaunt) rather than second in line after Gaunt. Even so, being third in line to the throne wasn’t so bad for Henry. He lived a relatively comfortable life as a royal heir and spent his youth preparing to be a successful ruler like his grandfather. Henry became one of the most respected knights in Europe, he traveled abroad on crusades, and he learned it was better to work with the nobles and forge alliances rather than trying to control them. There was only one problem…Richard absolutely hated Henry. Richard was none of the things that Henry was. Richard was not strong and athletic, he did not joust, and he was not an experienced military leader. He was basically the antithesis of Edward III. Richard was terribly jealous of Henry and felt threatened that Henry or his father might one day try to wrestle the crown from his head.

Richard’s Revenge

For the first 10 years of Richard’s reign, it was assumed that Edward’s entail would be upheld by Richard but in the Parliament of 1386, Richard did something shocking. He threw out his grandfather’s entail and instead declared that his heir would be the twelve-year-old earl of March, Roger Mortimer, great-grandson of King Edward III. Roger’s mother Phillipa was the daughter and only child of King Edward’s second-born (yet deceased) son Lionel of Antwerp. Even though Lionel was deceased, Richard used the right of substitution in selecting Roger, just as Edward III had done in selecting Richard as the Black Prince’s substitute. However, it was highly unusual to name an heir through a female line, especially when there were plenty of other male heirs to choose from. Richard selected the Mortimers so that John of Gaunt, Henry of Bolingbroke, and the entire Lancastrian line would be excluded from the succession. He was putting them on notice that they better work for him instead of against him.

Richard’s declaration was met with great resistance from the lords of his realm who were already disgruntled from enduring years of his tyrannical treatment. They had been terribly unhappy about Richard’s style of kingship, lack of military experience, misguided attempts to negotiate with France, reckless financial spending, attempts to degrade the power of Parliament, and general misrule resulting from Richard’s circle of favorites. Threatening civil war and deposition, the Lords were successful in pressing Richard to exclude the minor Roger Mortimer from succession and to reinstate King Edward III’s entail naming John of Gaunt and his son Henry as the next in line to the throne.

Richard was a very spiteful and vengeful man. He would agree to a deal when he was face-to-face with the nobles, but behind their backs, he would plot to punish them for any sign of disloyalty. Over the next 10 years, he continually threatened the lords and nobles with arrest, confiscation of lands, titles, goods, and even exile if they didn’t bend to his every whim. Richard again changed the order of succession, throwing out John of Gaunt, Henry, and the Mortimers. He decided that the person who would be the least threatening to his reign would be Edward III’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, who was an arthritic invalid.

Henry of Bolingbroke was always at the top of Richard’s hit list but since he was such a close royal relative, Richard couldn’t afford to take him out. His reputation would have been destroyed if he used force to get the likable, respected knight out of the picture. So instead of using force, he used a 1397 civil dispute between Henry and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, as the mechanism to remove him. Richard ruled both men guilty and sentenced them both to exile: Henry for 10 years and Norfolk for life.

As if exile wasn’t punishment enough, just one year later when John of Gaunt died, Richard delivered the knock-out punch. Despite his promise to Gaunt, Richard revoked Henry’s entire Lancastrian inheritance and confiscated all of his lands and assets. Furthermore, Henry was to be considered a traitor to England. Henry of Bolingbroke had nothing left. To fall so far from being the heir to the throne down to a penniless vagabond was untenable for Henry. And there was only one person at fault: his cousin, King Richard II.

Henry’s Return to England

As Henry lived in exile, he thought about his situation and strategies for getting back what was rightly his. There weren’t many options. There was certainly no chance now at reconciliation with Richard, things had simply gone too far. The only way he would be allowed to return to England and be restored to his rightful inheritance would be if Richard was no longer the king of England.

Removing King Richard II from the throne is not something Henry could do by himself. Luckily, he had friends in high places who had also been unfairly treated by Richard. Together with several dukes and earls, Henry planned an uprising against Richard to protest his tyrannical rule. Henry landed in England on July 4, 1399, at Ravenspur in Yorkshire with only 300 men. As he traveled towards the safety of the Lancastrian stronghold, Pontefract Castle, his army grew into the thousands. Henry had become the leader of the revolution. He swore to his followers that his only intent was to defend England from Richard’s tyranny and to reclaim his Lancastrian inheritance. He promised that he would not take the throne for himself by force.

King Richard was with the royal army in Ireland at the time of Henry’s invasion. The Keeper of the Realm during his absence was his 58-year-old heir, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. Edmund knew that his nephew was a cruel despotic ruler and he instead threw in his lot with Henry. Edmund agreed to support his uprising and would not take measures to suppress his army. Edmund also believed that Henry had been treated unfairly and was perfectly within his rights to reclaim his inheritance.

So Henry’s army moved across the country unchallenged until he came to Conway Castle where King Richard was hiding. Rather than fighting, they negotiated. Henry demanded that he be allowed to return to England and that his lands be restored to him. Richard agreed but then shortly thereafter declared he had no intent to keep his promise. In fact, he was more determined than ever to see Henry dead. Henry’s army arrested Richard and took him into their possession.

While Richard was kept under lock and key in a variety of royal castles, Henry was working with English lawyers to legally reinstate his claim to the Lancastrian inheritance. They determined that the best course of action would be for Richard to sign a written resignation which would then be ratified by Parliament. After much resistance, the king finally relented and signed the document. In doing so, he stepped down from the throne and agreed to Henry’s accession, just as King Edward III’s act of entail had outlined nearly twenty-five years earlier.

The Rule of Succession in England

Was Henry right to overthrow Richard II in an attempt to restore justice to the kingdom of England? Or did he take advantage of the circumstances by claiming the throne for himself?

It all comes down to this. Were any laws broken when Edward named his grandson Richard as his heir instead of his eldest living son John of Gaunt? Likewise, did Richard break any laws when he bypassed Edward’s entail and named Edward of Langley as his heir? Did Henry break any laws when he accepted the crown for himself and deposed his cousin Richard? Should kings have to uphold entails from their predecessors or was it legal for them to change it to their own personal liking?

We cannot judge these decisions as morally right or wrong, rather we can only judge them in terms of the law or the absence of law. In England during the Middle Ages, there was no law that strictly defined the order of succession. Other European kingdoms, such as France, observed Salic Law which prohibited women from being crowned as well as their sons. Germanic kingdoms followed the semi-Salic rule which allowed a woman to inherit but only if all the men in the royal bloodline were dead.

England was a kingdom heavily influenced by their different European neighbors so England’s laws and customs were a mish-mash of the various customs immigrants had brought with them to England. Since England had never put the order of succession into a legal act, it was basically up to the current ruler to choose the next heir to the throne.

Is it any wonder England had so many disputes over control of the kingdom during the Middle Ages? With no legal rules governing the order of succession, it became open to interpretation and that’s when the royal heirs and nobility used it to their advantage. It made it much more possible to maneuver their own royal relatives into positions where they might someday have a shot at the throne themselves.

Was Henry IV a Usurper?

It is my judgment that Henry IV was not a usurper. To be a usurper, one has to either seize authority illegally or by force.

Although Henry did amass a sizable army, they did not resort to violence to solve the conflict. The army was merely a show of force so that Richard would take them seriously and understand the gravity of the situation.

Henry was careful to use lawyers to find a legal way to depose King Richard II and thus overturn his previous statute naming Edmund of Langley as his heir. With Richard deposed and all of his previous acts of Parliament voided, the order of succession had to revert back to the previous king. That would make King Edward III’s act of entail valid again and Henry of Bolingbroke next in line to the throne.

 About the Author

Michele Morrical is a writer, blogger, and amateur historian on all things Tudor and Wars of the Roses. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with her husband, son, daughter, and many pets. You can find her writings at michelemorrical.com.

My journey into Tudor history began about 10 years ago with the TV show “The Tudors” from Showtime. As I watched the show, I wondered how much of it was really true because the storylines were more dramatic and shocking than any soap opera I had ever seen. I picked up Margaret George’s autobiography of Henry VIII and I was hooked. I’ve since read over 100 books on the Tudor period and I’m currently writing my own book about the Wars of the Roses

Book Review: “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown” by Nathen Amin

51ygXgS66nL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The houses of York, Lancaster, the  Nevilles, the Howards, the Mowbrays, the Percys, and the Tudors are often recognized as the families involved in the Wars of the Roses. However, there was one more house that was just as important as the others; the Beauforts. The Beauforts were the sons and daughters of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and his mistress Katherine Swynford. They were considered bastards since they were born out of wedlock, yet they were connected to the house of Lancaster and rose to power by their own right. They would help change not only English history but the history of Europe forever. The Beauforts made a huge impact during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, yet many people only recognize Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Beaufort 2nd Duke of Somerset. The Beauforts don’t get much attention. Nathen Amin, the founder of The Henry Tudor Society, wanted to tell the story of this remarkable family.  It is in his book “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown”, that the Beauforts are given the attention that they rightfully deserve.

Nathen Amin explains why he chose to focus on the Beauforts:

The Beauforts are a family often encountered when reading or studying the fifteenth century and the Wars of the Roses, although commonly relegated to supporting roles in the life and times of more prominent figures like Richard, duke of York, Edward IV, and Henry IV, V, and VI. They were always in the background, serving a king, counselling a king, and even fighting for or against a king. …Yet, there were few family units more influential in the governance of England during the period, and none more devoted to defending the Lancasterian dynasty, whether against France in the last vestiges of the Hundred Years War, or against the House of York in a new war of a very different kind. Born as bastards to a mighty prince, the Beauforts were the right-hand men of their royal kinsmen, amassing considerable authority on the national and continental stage. From uncertain beginnings, the Beauforts became earls, dukes and cardinals, and in time kings themselves, their blood seeping into every corner of the English artistocracy within a few generations of their birth. (Amin, 7).

So how exactly were the Beauforts able to accomplish all of this, going from bastards to kings? It starts with John of Gaunt marrying his mistress Katherine Swynford, making his four children with Katherine legitimate and they were given the name “Beaufort”, after his second marriage did not work out. After their half-brother King Henry IV( also known as Henry of Bolingbroke) became king, he allowed his half-siblings to obtain royal status, however, they could not be in line for the English throne.

John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford’s four children found a way to live successful lives without pursuing the English throne and they continued to support their Lancasterian family. John Beaufort became the 1st Earl of Somerset and his children became earls, counts, dukes and his daughter Joan became Queen of Scotland. John Beaufort’s granddaughter was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the future King Henry VII. Henry Beaufort was able to become a very wealthy man and was promoted all the way to Cardinal of England, quite a feat for an English man at that time. Thomas Beaufort became the  1st Duke of Exeter and his sister Joan Beaufort Countess of Westmoreland was the matriarch of the powerful Neville family.

The Beauforts went through numereous highs and lows as they worked hard to protect England and the honor of their Lancastrian relations. Nathen Amin is able to navigate the complex world of the English court during both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses to give us the intricate story of the Beaufort family. As someone who is acquianted with parts of the Beaufort family story, I found this book rather fascinating and very informative. This was my first time reading a book by Nathen Amin and I cannot wait to read more of his books. In a complex time, it would be easy to forget one person, but Amin spends the time to write about each Beaufort child and how they made a difference.

The only real issue I had with the book was the family tree. I wished that there were birth and death dates included because I found myself getting a tad bit confused about who was who, especially when some of the Beauforts shared the same name and a similar title.

Overall, I found this book extremely fascinating and informative. Amin’s writing style is easy to understand and he brings the Beauforts from the background and onto center stage. They may have started as illegitimate children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, but they rose to be dukes and kings. If you want to learn more about this remarkable family and their influence in both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, I absolutely recommend that you read “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown” by Nathen Amin.