Book Review: “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount

27109857The medieval era was one of the most turbulent times in all of English history, full of family feuds, gruesome wars, and so many twists and turns. We tend to focus on the big stories, but, it was not just about the royalty and the nobility, there were also lower classes whose lives went on in the background. What was everyday life like for both the rich and the poor? What ceremonies and recipes did they use? What were wills and court cases like? These questions and more are explored in Toni Mount’s delightful book, “A Year in the Life of Medieval England”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. This book looked really intriguing and I really wanted to read a book covering medieval England.

This book was an absolute joy to read. Mount’s book is like a diary, it documents every day of the year with new facts and events. From January 1st to December 31st, Mount dives into the lives of both the rich and the poor alike. Unlike normal diaries, Mount does not stay with one specific year. Instead, she includes events from 1066 all the way through 1500 to give a full view of what life was like in Medieval England. I normally do not like it when a book jumps around chronologically, yet it worked rather well in this book.

From William the Conqueror to King Henry VII and every king in between, Mount explores the lives of the monarchy, highs, and lows. Coronations, battles, births, and deaths, with numerous treaties in-between. Naturally, there were a lot more members of the lower classes than the royal houses, but Mount chose a handful of their colorful stories to include in this book. What is wonderful is that you truly understand what they might have been going through since Mount has transcribed letters, lawsuits and wills so that the readers can get that window into the past.

What I really loved about this book was that Mount was able to include a plethora of facts while keeping the writing style comprehensive so that even a novice can understand. Mount does site each of her sources at the end of each passage for convenience, but it also acts as a stepping stone for those who want to do their own independent research. Of course, with any dive into a new area of study, there will be terms that might be unfamiliar to new students, but Mount takes the time to define these terms.

From Plantagenets to peasants, the stories of Medieval England come back to life in this rather handy companion book for inspiring medievalists. An easy and thought-provoking read that anyone who is interested in Medieval England would be delighted to have in their own collections. If you want a book that explores what medieval people, both rich and poor, experienced in a year, I highly recommend you read, “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

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.

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

 

Guest Post: Puppet Shows by Toni Mount (“The Colour of Lies” Book Tour)

The_Colour_of_Lies_3DToday, I am delighted to welcome author and historian Toni Mount to my blog as part of her book tour for her latest book, “The Colours of Lies”, the seventh book in her Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery Series.

Puppet Shows

In my latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Lies, set in London in the 1470s, the adventure plays out against the background of St Bartholomew’s Fair – England’s great annual trade fair held every August – and the trouble begins with the theft of three exceptionally valuable items from a merchant’s stall: unicorn horns. The fair was also an excuse for entertainment of all kinds: acrobats, musicians, dancers, fire-eaters, and stilt-walkers among others.

Puppet shows were always a popular sideshow at the fair and Seb strikes up a brief friendship with Gerrit, a Dutch puppet-master. Although not listed at St Bartholomew’s specifically until 1600, Geoffrey Chaucer mentions ‘puppets’ and a wonderful Flemish manuscript, known as The Romance of Alexander with parts dated to both the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, has a marginal illustration of a glove-puppet show in a booth not unlike that for a Punch-and-Judy show. It has been suggested by Omar Khalaf (Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow, English Department, University of Leicester) that the later parts of the manuscript – Bodley ms 264 – may have been decorated by English artists and owned by Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, who used it for educational purposes in instructing his nephew Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Edward IV.

image2Bodley ms 264 showing a puppet show

The word ‘puppet’ comes from the Latin for doll – pupa – and they were also referred to as ‘poppets’ or ‘poopets’. Being light and easily portable, glove puppets were popular in medieval times, used by travelling minstrels and other entertainers to tell stories from the Bible or ancient myths and legends. It is thought that they began as ordinary gloves which had the tips of the thumb and little finger cut off to show the puppeteer’s flesh for hands and a wooden or earthenware ball, painted with features for a head, was inserted over the middle finger of the glove. The very first shows may have been performed by monks and priests who used puppets to tell Bible stories in church so it is not surprising that the Devil was often a leading antagonist in the plays. By the fifteenth century, glove puppets had become a little more sophisticated, being purposefully crafted and more detailed in character.

image1

A reconstruction of a Devil puppet

In 1561, the Duchess of Suffolk recorded in her accounts that she had paid two men who played upon the puppets. Shakespeare also referred to puppets and Italian puppeteers introduced marionettes or string puppets to this country in the seventeenth century, playing at fairs and markets much as before. According to a poem of the period by Samuel Butler, fireworks were used with puppet plays involving the Devil to show the perils of hellfire – not to mention the danger to the audience at the time:

Nor devil in the puppet-play be allowed
To roar and spit fire, but to fright the crowd.

Other puppet shows were versions of popular stage plays, historical stories and contemporary events, including Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot after the incident in 1605. When Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan regime closed the theatres in the 1650s and stage plays were forbidden, puppet plays were not included in the ban and continued as a popular entertainment – one of very few permitted at the time – as did St Bartholomew’s Fair, its commercial value being of far greater importance to Parliament than its Roman Catholic religious heritage.

In my novel, The Colour of Lies, the Dutch puppet-master takes centre stage, briefly, in the action and readers can enjoy all the fun and trouble at medieval London’s St Bartholomew’s Fair.

Sources:
‘The Romance of Alexander, the Great Lord Rivers and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms Bodley 264: A Speculum for the Prince of Wales?’ by Omar Khalaf in The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2011.

http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/detail/ODLodl~1~1~33362~105860:Romance-of-Alexander-

Walter Wilkinson. Museum no. S.261-1998 at the V&A Museum, London.

 

Toni typingAbout the Author:

Toni is a history teacher, a writer, and an experienced public speaker – and describes herself as an enthusiastic life-long-learner; she is a member of the Richard III Society Research Committee and a library volunteer, where she leads the creative writing group.

Toni attended Gravesend Grammar School and originally studied chemistry at college. She worked as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry before stopping work to have her family. Inspired by Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour Toni decided she too wanted to write a Richard III novel, which she did, but back in the 1980s was told there was no market for more historic novels and it remains unpublished.

Having enjoyed history as a child she joined an adult history class and ultimately started teaching classes herself. Her BA (with First-class Honours), her Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. Toni’s Certificate in Education (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich. She earned her Masters degree from the University of Kent in 2009 by the study of a medieval medical manuscript at the Wellcome Library.

After submitting an idea for her first book, about the lives of ordinary people in the middle-ages, Everyday Life in Medieval London was published in 2014 by Amberley Publishing – the first print run sold out quickly and it was voted ‘Best history book of the year’ at Christmas 2014 on Goodreads.com. The Medieval Housewife was published in November 2014 and Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark, the mysteries of medieval medicine (later renamed in paperback as Medieval Medicine it mysteries and science) was first released in May 2015. A Year in The life of Medieval England, a diary of everyday incidents through an entire year, was published in 2016.

Having taught history to adults madeglobal.com recruited her to create a range of online history courses for medievalcourses.com, but she still wanted to write a medieval novel: The Colour of Poison the first Sebastian Foxley murder mystery was the result, published by madeglobal in 2016. Shortly before publication Tim at madeglobal asked if this was going to be a series – although nothing else was planned, Toni said “yes” and now The Colour of Lies (published in April 2019) is the seventh book in that series.

Toni is married with two grown-up children and lives with her husband in Kent, England. When she is not writing, teaching or speaking to history groups – or volunteering – she reads endlessly, with several books on the go at any one time. She is currently working on The Colour of Shadows the next Sebastian Foxley murder mystery and The World of Isaac Newton, her next non-fiction.

Her websites include:

www.ToniMount.com

www.SebastianFoxley.com

www.ToniTalks.co.uk

You can follow Toni on social media at:

www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10

www.facebook.com/sebfoxley/

www.facebook.com/medievalengland/

www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

If you would like to purchase “The Colour of Lies”, you can buy it here: http://getbook.at/colour_of_lies/

Toni also has a free ebook for her followers, that you can download here: https://madeglobal.com/authors/toni-mount/download/