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: “The Colour of Rubies: A Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery” by Toni Mount

61035582._SY475_The year is 1480. Intrigue and murder lurk everywhere at the Palace of Westminister, where no one is safe. A mysterious letter and the men who want the letter back lead to the murder of one of the clerks from the Office of the King’s Secretary. Under the orders of powerful men at court, including King Edward IV himself, Seb Foxley must join his wayward brother Jude as one of Secretary Oliver’s clerks to uncover the truth of the conspiracy against the crown. Can the brothers work together to decode the truth and save the life of the king’s beloved heir in time? Seb Foxley’s latest adventure is told in book ten of Toni Mount’s Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery series, “The Colour of Rubies.”

I want to thank Toni Mount for sending me a copy of the latest Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mystery novel. I previously read books 8 and 9 in this series, “The Colour of Shadows” and “The Colour of Evil,” and I enjoyed both novels. When I heard that there would be a tenth novel, “The Colour of Rubies,” I was excited to read it.

We begin the new Seb Foxley adventure with Jude celebrating his birthday as he navigates his new life as a husband and a clerk at the Office of Secretary Oliver. There is trouble in paradise as Jude and Chesca disagree on how she was able to supply a bountiful feast for Jude on his birthday, which was far too extravagant for the salary of a lowly clerk. Seb decides to cheer his brother on the day after his birthday by bringing him a gift, and then Jude decides to show Seb where he works. The brothers discover the murder of one of Jude’s fellow clerks and a mysterious letter written in a foreign language.

Lord Hastings gives Seb the arduous task of finding the murderer of the clerk, who they believe is one of the clerks, by entering into the Office of Secretary Oliver and living like a clerk. Seb befriends several clerks while discovering there is more to this case than a simple murder of a clerk. It has to do with the life of King Edward IV’s heir and an international conspiracy to hurt the king. To add to the confusion, Jude and Chesca’s marriage spat and its connection to the king and work piling up at Seb’s workshop while he is away, and his feelings for dear Rose.

If you have read the other Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery books, “The Colour of Rubies” by Toni Mount is an absolute must-read. I loved every page of this novel. It was thrilling, from the new characters and interactions between Seb and his household to the danger and intrigue that Seb experiences at court. If you are a fan of this series, you will love how Mount evolves Seb’s relationships with Rose and Jude. When you think the case is solved, Mount throws in a couple of curveballs that make you wonder how Seb, Jude, and the rest of the Foxley household will survive.

Book Review: “River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads” by Cat Jarman

53242328 (1)When we think of Vikings, a few images come to mind. It is either the cartoonish image of warriors with horned helmets or blood-soaked warriors from TV shows like The Vikings. They are seen as men and women who fight Christians in England and France and sometimes into North America, but we do not see them in the east. With archaeological digs and discoveries being made recently, what can the artifacts tell us about the Viking world? In “River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads,” Dr. Cat Jarman takes her readers on a journey of discovery, following the trail of a single carnelian bead.

I have read a few books about Vikings, and of course, I have watched historical dramas about this period, but I wanted to know more. When I heard about this particular title, I was captivated by the prospect of learning something new about these warriors that have interested us for centuries.

Dr. Cat Jarman is a bioarchaeologist and field archaeologist passionate about discovering the truth about the Viking Age. She explains how each discovery was made and what scientific processes to discover the truth. We can figure out where these people might be from and what they ate during their lives through the teeth and bones of the bodies. But what is left beside the bodies gives us clues into what the Vikings were doing during their lifetimes, giving us a better understanding of these men and women from Scandanavia.

We began our journey in 2017 when Dr. Jarman possessed a single carnelian bead. The bead was discovered in Repton, along with a mass burial that included the bodies of a father and son. This single bead takes her on a journey to discover why the Vikings had this kind of bead and what other artifacts she found along the way might tell us about this group of people. From DNA analysis to silver coins that might have been used to buy enslaved people, statues of women in armor, nails from ships used to transport the warriors across the sea and rivers, and graffiti that was left behind give us hints about the Viking lifestyle.

Before I read this book, I thought Vikings and their journeys were limited to England, France, and Scandinavia because they are the most popular stories. Still, the Vikings traveled as far as the Middle East and perhaps India and the Silk Road. The way Dr. Jarman balanced scientific and archaeological research with the historical and mythological narrative into a thrilling book to read.

“River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads” by Cat Jarman is a masterpiece that anyone who loves history, Vikings, or archaeology will adore. If you think you know the history of the Viking Age, I urge you to read this brilliant book. I can’t wait to hear more about Dr. Cat Jarman’s research into this age and what else will be discovered soon.

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: “How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life” by Daniele Cybulskie

57035252When we read about those who lived in past centuries, there is often a disconnect. We know that they were also human beings like we are, but we see how different their ways of life are compared to ours, and it feels incredibly bizarre. We can find wisdom from the past for our more modern lives. One of the most unlikely sources of knowledge for our daily lives comes from the lives of men and women who choose to take a religious path. In her latest book, “How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom For Modern Life,” Daniele Cybulskie shows her readers how medieval monks can help us live our best lives here in the present.

I heard this book from Daniele Cybulskie, and just from the description, I wanted to read it. I enjoyed the previous book that I have read by Cybulskie, which was “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction,” and I wanted to read more by her. I knew a bit of monastic life from other books that I have read, but I wanted to learn more.

Cybulskie took the idea of a book that explores daily life to another by using the monks’ routines to act as a self-help book for the modern age. It may seem strange for an academic book to work as a self-help book, but if you think about how much we can use the past to help us understand the present, this concept makes perfect sense.

The lifestyle of a medieval monk is not for everyone, but there are aspects that we can respect and apply to our own lives. This book is broken into sections that focus on different aspects of monastic living, such as looking inward, looking outward, gardening, moderation, and minimalism. Cybulskie explains why someone would choose to become a monk and what monasteries would have generally looked like before the dissolution. She then explains the different parts of monks’ daily routines that we could apply to our modern daily lives. These aspects include gardening, helping others, focusing on our mental health, eating healthy, meditation, setting boundaries, and my personal favorite, finding time to read. The illustrations and the quotes that Cybulskie includes in this book add another layer of enjoyment and depth into a charming historical self-help book.

Cybulskie has written another book that makes learning about medieval Europe fun for any history fan. Although I am not usually someone who reads self-help books, I found this particular title an enjoyable mix of advice and history. After reading this book, you may not want to become a monk, but I think readers can learn something new from this book. If you wish to a delightful book about medieval life and how we can apply lessons from the past to our modern lives, I highly recommend you read “How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life” by Daniele Cybulskie.

Book Review: “Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages” by Dan Jones

57347786When we study human history, in general, we tend to pick a country and a period to focus on and research. Books on the subject material tend to focus on one land with interactions between other nations. It is infrequent for authors to take on multiple countries unless concentrated on one event that affected numerous locations. Those books often read like textbooks and can be a bit dry. Finding the perfect balance between these elements and engaging with the reader is a monumental task for any author, but Dan Jones has taken on the challenge. His latest behemoth tome, “Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages,” takes on the gigantic task of telling the story of the Middle Ages from diverse perspectives.

To take on such a massive undertaking is no easy feat, but Jones seems to do it seamlessly. He breaks this book into four segments to not overwhelm his readers, each dealing with a different element that made the Middle Ages unique. Every story has a foundation, and the story of the Middle Ages begins with the fall of the Roman Empire. With the empire’s fall, we see the rise of Barbarian groups, the Byzantines, and the Arab states that would define this era with the Crusades. Jones takes his readers on a journey through climate change and pandemics that forced humanity to move from place to place to survive.

We encounter revolutions of all kinds; religious, political, artistic, architectural, and technological. Humankind was not as stagnant as many people believed during the Middle Ages. This was an age full of life and colorful figures that shaped the world around them, from philosophers and artists to kings and conquerors. Men and women like St. Aquitaine, Attila the Hun, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Leonardo da Vinci, Martin Luther, and Christopher Columbus defined this era. Although Jones does focus on more European figures, he takes the time to show people groups like the Mongols, the Franks, the Arabs, and the Byzantines to show how diversity ruled this period in history. Those who study the Middle Ages know the stories of the Black Death, the Crusades, and the Sack of Rome, but there are so many more stories that give life to this period in human history.

I felt nostalgic for my high school and college classes when I read this book. These were the classes that made me fall in love with studying history. Other stories in this book were brand new to me, which thrilled me to read. If there were an element that I wished he would have included, I think I would have liked to have seen more stories of medieval Asia and Africa. I think it would have added a new element to the story of the Middle Ages.

Out of all of the books that I have read by Dan Jones, I think this one is my favorite. I could tell how much passion and the amount of research Jones poured into this book, and it shows. Combining over a thousand years of history into one book is an impressive feat that Jones has mastered. “Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages” by Dan Jones is a triumphant tome that any fan of medieval history will appreciate.

Book Review: “Rebellion in the Middle Ages: Fight Against the Crown” by Matthew Lewis

58661950In human history, when citizens have disagreed with a new law or those in charge, they often stage a protest to show their frustration. When their voices are not heard, people often turn to rebellions and revolts to make sure their opinions matter. We might think that revolution and rebellion as a form of protest are modern ideas, but they go back for centuries. Revolutions and rebellions shaped history, no more so than in the middle ages. In his latest book, “Rebellion in the Middle Ages: Fight Against the Crown,” Matthew Lewis examines the origins of the most famous rebellions in medieval England and how they transformed the course of history.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Matthew Lewis’ books for years now, and I wanted to read his latest book. The topic appealed to me, and I wanted to see something new about these rebellions.

Lewis begins with the Norman invasion and those who resisted William the Conqueror as king to understand the vast history of rebellions in middle ages England. The most famous of these rebels was a man named Hereward the Wake. We then move to the Anarchy, a battle between cousins, Empress Matilda, the rightful heir, and Stephen of Blois, her cousin and the one who would inevitably be King of England. Empress Matilda’s son Henry II would become King Stephen’s heir, but the first Plantagenet king had to endure numerous rebellions from his friend Thomas Becket and his sons.

Moving into the halfway point of the middle ages, Lewis explores how the first and second Barons’ Wars were fought over the rights of the average citizen kings like John were put in their place with the Magna Carta. Some rebellions had other goals, like the deposition of Edward II in favor of his son Edward III and Henry of Bolingbroke’s revolt against his cousin Richard II, and of course, the Wars of the Roses with the deposition of Henry VI. It was not just the nobility that decided to rebel against the monarchy, as we see with the Peasants’ Revolt, led by Wat Tyler, and the Jack Cade Rebellion. The cost for rebellions could be extremely high, as men like Simon de Montfort, Hugh Despenser the Younger, and Richard Duke of York would find out.

Individually, every one of these rebellions would have numerous books dedicated to deciphering the intricacies of why the rebels did what they did. However, Lewis has taken on the mammoth task of combining these tales into one comprehensive nonfiction book easy to read for novices and experts alike. This book is another triumph for Matthew Lewis. If you want an excellent book that examines the origins of medieval rebellions and how they impacted English history, “Rebellion in the Middle Ages: Fight Against the Crown” by Matthew Lewis is the ideal book for your collection.

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 Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty” by Sarah Gristwood

58218928._SY475_When we think about love, we have ideas about how people fall in love through dating and wooing one another. Sweet words and gestures. Flowers and chocolate. Dates at fun venues and romantic dinners. This is a more modern interpretation of romance and love, which was vastly different than the concept of courtly love that was common in royal circles in medieval Europe. What exactly was courtly love, and how did it play a role in the Tudor dynasty? Sarah Gristwood explores this topic in her latest nonfiction book, “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty.”

Before we dive head deep into Tudor history, Gristwood gives us a history lesson into the origins of courtly love and how it evolved. We begin with the 12th century and the stories of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot that Chretien de Troyes wrote. Troyes’ romantic tales were known to Eleanor of Aquitaine and the troubadours that would spread them to every royal court in Europe. This game of romance between royals and the ideas of knights protecting their fair maidens from danger would change over time. Still, the basic idea that emotions and feelings were central to courtly love would remain prevalent. We see different authors, like Chaucer and Dante, approach the concept of courtly love from different directions and specific rules of this love game set in stone for future generations.

Gristwood traverses the complex family drama known as the Wars of the Roses to show how both Lancaster and York played the courtly game of love. The ways that the sides played the game were different with the various couples involved, but the ideas culminated with the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The imagery of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were passed down to their sons, Prince Arthur and King Henry VIII. Henry VIII would play the game of courtly love with each of his six wives, with varying degrees of success. He would find out that courtly love and politics would be a complex combination to maintain, and this lesson would pass onto his children as they tried to play the game.

Edward VI and Mary I tried to play the game, but they soon realized they were destined to be more involved with politics than love. It was their half-sister Elizabeth who brought back courtly love to its former glory with her numerous favorites. Although the actions of the Tudors can tell us a lot about their intentions, their letters and poetry gave a better understanding of how this courtly love game was played.

I found the new information that Gristwood provided in this book was fascinating. It gave a new dimension to the Tudor dynasty and the relationships between the monarchy and their courtiers or mistresses. An innovative nonfiction book about love, chivalric stories, and the desire for power that any Tudor fan will adore. If you love books by Sarah Gristwood and learning new aspects about Tudor court life, you must have “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty” in your collection.

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

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

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

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

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

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