Book Review: “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England” by Kathryn Warner

cover260838-medium (1)When we think about the more intimate moments in the medieval period of European history, a few misconceptions and myths come to mind, thanks to historical fiction and medieval movies. The idea that girls as young as twelve were married off to much older men was the norm, and there were such things as chastity belts. Everyone was filthy and smelled awful, so they only married in the spring when they would take their annual baths. And the brilliant idea that the wealthiest lords of the village were able to have their way with the bride on her wedding day. The latest book by Kathryn Warner, “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England,” aims to eliminate these myths to reveal the truth of the intimate lives of those who lived during the medieval period.

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed the previous book in Pen and Sword’s Sex and Sexuality series on Tudor England by Carol McGrath, so when I heard that Kathryn Warner was writing the next book on Medieval England, I jumped at the chance to read it.

Warner begins this book by exploring the cleanliness of those from the medieval period and how they dressed. Cleanliness was vital in all aspects of life; the people took baths more than once a year. She then tackles the marriage myths, exploring everything from young marriages and marriages year-round to the moments when relationships did not work out well and even abductions and forced marriages. We also encounter stories of domestic violence, the rituals of birth and baptism, prostitution, adultery, illegitimacy, and sexuality. These tales also include their methods for healthy sex, how they dealt with abortions, and how same-sex relations were viewed at every level of society.

Warner examines literature, historical documents, and archeological clues to help her audience better understand the past. What Warner does brilliantly is the fact that she incorporates stories from every rank of society, from monarchs to peasants between 1250 and 1450, to tell a sweeping tale of sex and sexuality in medieval England. I found this book extremely enlightening and a fantastic resource for understanding the medieval period. It illuminates the shady areas of the past to dispel myths that have been circulating for a while now.

Warner has yet again combined her meticulous research with well-written prose to give her audience an informative read for medievalists and medieval history nerds alike. If you want to learn more about how medieval England viewed the more intimate moments in life, I recommend you read “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England” by Kathryn Warner.

Book Review: “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People” by Kathryn Warner

60747108._SX318_The city of London has been around for over two millennia, and with each passing century, it changes ever so slightly. From the Roman Londinium to medieval London, we see the city grow from a settlement of between 30,000 to 60,000 people to a bustling town of around 80,000 to 100,000 people. With growth comes changes to the city that would become the capital of England, and one of the most significant periods of transformation for the capital was during the fourteenth century. What was life like in fourteenth-century London for the average citizen of this sprawling city? Kathryn Warner attempts to answer this question in her latest nonfiction book, “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am always fascinated by learning about how people from different centuries lived their everyday lives, so when I heard about this title, it piqued my interest.

London was an international melting pot for Europe, so Warner used many stories to show the city’s diversity. To narrow down the information used in this particular book, Warner explains to her audience that she would only use tales from the reigns of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III. This book is broken down into bite-sized chapters exploring different aspects of London life, from government and religion to medical, housing, and marriage. This may sound like your average time traveler guidebook, so those of us living in the 21st century can understand the fourteenth century, but Warner gives this genre a bit of a twist.

Instead of focusing on the different aspects and what was considered normal for citizens to eat or wear, Warner looks at unique cases that correspond with the elements that defined fourteenth-century London. They give great insights into how deadly the time was and how the average London citizens dealt with the legal restrictions of everyday life. Every aspect of fourteenth-century life had consequences for those who broke the rules, from charging too much for a loaf of bread or a mug of ale to stealing clothes or building violations. We also get great insight into how women and children were treated, the darker aspects of life, and how they were approached.

The one issue I had with this book was that it showed the cases that were the exceptions to the rules instead of showing what the standards were. Although I am glad Warner included the information she did, like her glossary, nicknames, and the introduction of surnames, I did want more facts to make this book feel complete. I wanted to know what the typical fashion was like for Londoners and what they ate during a normal day. What did a typical day look like for someone who lived in London during the fourteenth century?

“London, A Fourteenth-Century City, and its People” by Kathryn Warner is a well-researched and captivating look into London’s past for those who love learning new facts about medieval Europe. If you like learning new factoids about medieval London, you will find this book rather entertaining.

Book Review: “John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father to Another” by Kathryn Warner

52652190Medieval princes are often viewed as men who will one day be king of their homeland or another country. They are seen as wealthy men with prestige and honor who live lavish lifestyles and go to war to earn titles and estates. One of these noble medieval princes was a man who married three times, including to his most beloved mistress. He was the son of Edward III, the uncle of Richard II, and the father of the queen of Castile and King Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. His children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would rule in different European countries, even though he never had the chance to wear the crown of England or Castile for himself. His name was John of Gaunt, and his story is told in Kathryn Warner’s latest biography, “ John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father to Another.”

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. John of Gaunt is one of my favorite Plantagenet figures to study, so when I heard about this title late last year, I was intrigued to read it. I wanted to see what new information Warner would provide in the research of John of Gaunt and his family.

Warner takes her readers on a journey from the birth of the third son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault to his death in 1399. The matter that truly defined John of Gaunt’s life was his connections not only in England but throughout Europe, which Warner explains in great detail. We go on a journey through his three marriages; first to Blanche of Lancaster to become Duke of Lancaster, then to Constanza of Castile, who allowed him to try and fight for the kingdom of Castile, and finally his mistress Katherine Swynford. Katherine Swynford was the mother of the Beauforts who would help create the Tudor dynasty. However, not only his marital connections made Gaunt so well known. As the son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, his family was connected to every corner of Europe through marriage. Even though John of Gaunt never became King of England or Castile, his family would fulfill his dream of ruling a kingdom and gaining wealth and prestige.

The will of John of Gaunt, written on the same day of his death, is included in its entirety, showing how wealthy this particular Plantagenet prince was at the time of his death. Unlike other biographies about John of Gaunt, this focuses on his family connections and financial records, Warner’s specialty. However, we tend to view John of Gaunt as a gallant prince. Those who lived in England as peasants considered him the enemy during his lifetime, especially during the Great Uprising in 1381, also known as The Peasants Revolt.

Kathryn Warner has once again illuminated the life of a famous Plantagenet figure through genealogical and financial records. Although he ended up becoming one of the most hated men in England and the enemy to his nephew Richard II, he would go down as one of the fascinating men to study from the Plantagenet dynasty. If you want to learn more about the founding of the Lancastrian dynasty and the rise of the Beauforts through John of Gaunt, I would recommend you read “John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father to Another, “ by Kathryn Warner.

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

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

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 Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers” by Kathryn Warner

55182670._SY475_In the times of medieval kings, the power of the crown was dependent on the support that they maintained with noble families. One of the most notorious noble families in England was the baronial family known as the Despensers. Between the 13th and the 15th centuries, the Despensers were at the heart of royal politics and some of the biggest power plays during the reign of the Plantagenets. We know about the few members who truly made waves during this time, especially Hugh Despenser the Elder and Hugh Despenser the Younger, but this family’s story is much more than a few members. In Kathryn Warner’s latest book, “The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers”, she takes on the challenge of explaining the entire family story of this infamous baron clan.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Kathryn Warner’s writing style in the past and when I heard about this book, I was intrigued. I will be honest and say that I only knew about Hugh the Elder and Hugh the Younger when they were mentioned in other history books that I had read in the past. I was excited to learn more about this family.

To understand this book, it should be noted that this is unlike any other modern medieval history book. It is a bit different than what Kathryn Warner has written in the past. In truth, this book feels like a modern-day chronicle of the Despenser family. Warner begins with the reign of King Henry III in 1265 with the execution of the Despenser’s patriarch, Hugh the justiciar, and concludes with Isabella Despenser, who was the grandmother of Anne Neville, the wife of King Richard III. Warner includes the more scandalous tales of love and betrayal that encapsulate the fascination that historians have had with this family for centuries.

What was compelling to me about this book is the stories of those who were in the background of the more sensationalized figures. The tales of triumph and sorrow that the family had to endure are remarkable. For the family to survive, they needed to make waves in the medieval marriage market, which they did spectacularly. It is these marriages and their impacts that Warner focuses heavily on to show that even in disgrace, the Despensers continued to rise from the ashes.

If I did have a problem with this book, there were points where it was a tad dry to read. This book is very academic and is directed towards those who know the history of the Despensers. Warner takes her readers on a deeper dive into this infamous family. You can tell from Warner’s dedication to this task that she truly enjoyed studying about the Despensers. As someone who was not familiar with this family and its numerous family members named “Hugh”, I found myself going back to try and figure out who was who.

If you want to tackle this book, my advice would be to take your time to truly understand this complex family. This book is exceptionally well researched and a true chronological treat for those who love to dive into the intricacies of medieval families. If this sounds like you, check out, “The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers” by Kathryn Warner.

Book Review: “Edward II’s Nieces The Clare Sisters: Powerful Pawns of the Crown” by Kathryn Warner

50021431Being part of a royal family has its perks, like power and prestige. However, especially in medieval Europe, it meant that you could not marry the person you loved. Marriage was used as a tool to create strong alliances and the women from royal families were used as extremely powerful pawns to strengthen these connections. During the reigns of King Edward II and Edward III, three sisters proved to be very valuable pawns in the marriage market. They were the Clare sisters, Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth. Their stories of their numerous marriages and abductions help to tell the tale of English politics during the reigns of their uncle King Edward II and his son Edward III. Kathryn Warner’s latest book, “Edward II’s Nieces The Clare Sisters: Powerful Pawns of the Crown” explores how these sisters and their families helped transform England during this transformative time in history.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I was not familiar with these three sisters before I read this book and I wanted to learn about them. This is the second book that I have read by Kathryn Warner and it was just as enjoyable and informative as the first one.

To understand why these three sisters were important pawns in the marriage market, Warner explains who their parents were. Their mother, Joan of Acre, was the daughter of King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. Joan of Acre married one of the most powerful noblemen in England, Gilbert “the Red” de Clare, earl of Gloucester. The couple had four children; Gilbert, Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth. The massive de Clare estate would have gone to Gilbert (since he was the only son and women could not inherit under normal circumstances), however, he died at a young age, which meant that the estate was divided amongst his sisters, making them extremely valuable as wives to whoever the king wished.

Between the three sisters, there were seven husbands. Some of the marriages were relatively traditional and others were abductions in which the sisters had no choice but to marry their kidnappers. Some of the husbands, Hugh Despenser the Younger, Piers Gaveston, and Hugh Audley, were favorites (and, in the cases of Hugh and Piers, lovers) of King Edward II, allowing for their wives to have rather a unique position in history. All three of the sisters enjoyed times when they were in good favor of King Edward II and Isabella of France, but they all would experience times when they were placed under arrest in the 1320s. Each sister left a lasting legacy, especially Elizabeth who founded Clare College at the University of Cambridge.

Warner could have easily written three short biographies about each sister, but by combining their stories into one biography, the readers can understand the complex story of the Clare inheritance and how marriage, money, and power truly played a role in the reign of King Edward II. My only concern with this book is that I wish Warner included some sort of family tree/ trees to show how everyone was connected. Warner did include lists of the sisters’ husbands and children in the back, but when I was reading, I was getting slightly confused about how they related to one another and I think that family trees might have helped clear up the confusion that I had.

Overall, I found this book intriguing and complex. By telling the story of Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth de Clare as three biographies in one book, Warner presents a new perspective into the life and reign of Edward II. The Plantagenet family during this time was a closely knit web of power that had to rely on each other to survive or to fall. If you want a great book to introduce you to three fascinating sisters whose marriages during the reign of the infamous Edward II transformed England then, “Edward II’s Nieces The Clare Sisters: Powerful Pawns of the Crown” by Kathryn Warner is a wonderful place to start.

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.