Book Review: “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter” by Danna R. Messer

51351935Medieval women held many different titles that defined their roles and their connections. Mothers, daughters, and wives tended to be the most popular and the most common. Titles such as queen, political diplomat, and peace weaver tend to be rare and given to women of power. Yet, these words accurately depict a unique woman who lived during the Angevin/ Plantagenet dynasty. She was the illegitimate daughter of the notorious King John and the wife of Llywelyn the Great, a Prince of Wales. She worked tirelessly to establish peace between England and Wales, yet she has not received much attention in the past. Her name was Joan, Lady of Wales, and her story is brought to life in Danna R. Messer’s book, “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I did not know much about Joan, except what I read about her in Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest book, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth-Century England”. She sounded really interesting so when I heard about this book by Messer, I wanted to read it to learn more about Joan.

As someone who did not know a lot about Joan or medieval Wales, I found this book informative and enjoyable. Messer takes the time to explain what life was like for a royal Welsh couple, like Joan and Llywelyn, and why their marriage made such an impact in the long run. On paper, it was a princess from England marrying a prince from Wales, but what made this union so unique was the fact that Joan was the illegitimate daughter of King John and yet she was treated like a beloved legitimate child. Of course, this marriage was first and foremost, a political match, but it seemed to have developed into a strong and loving partnership, that endured 30 years of trials and tribulations.

One of the major trials that Joan had to deal with was to prevent England and Wales from going to war against each other. Truly a monumental challenge for, as Messer meticulously points out, Llywelyn and either King John or King Henry III were constantly having disagreements. I could just picture Joan getting exasperated that she had to try to calm things down between England and Wales every single time. Her diplomatic skills were truly remarkable, especially with how much influence she possessed in both countries.

Probably the most controversial event in Joan’s life is her affair with William de Braose, which led to his execution and her imprisonment. Messer does a good job explaining what we know about this situation. Unfortunately, like many events in Joan’s life, Messer has to use a bit of guesswork to try and put together the clues about Joan and figure out what happened. It can be a bit frustrating, but we have to remember that Joan lived over 800 years ago and women were not recorded as detailed as they are now or even 500 years ago. I think we can give Messer a pass on guessing where Joan was and what her role was in certain events.

Overall, I found this book enlightening. I think Messer’s writing style is engaging and she was dedicated to finding out the truth, as far as the facts would take her. I think this is a fantastic book for someone who needs an introduction to medieval Welsh royal lifestyle, the power of royal Welsh women, and of course, a meticulously detailed account of the life of Joan, Lady of Wales. If this describes you, check out “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter” by Danna R. Messer.

Book Review: “The Colour of Shadows” by Toni Mount

cover_proof crop2The year is 1479, and Richard III is still the Duke of Gloucester. Peace reigns throughout England as Edward IV continues his second reign as king, and for Sebastian Foxley and his household, life is hectic yet thrilling with new projects for his workshop and his family growing. But life has a way of changing rather quickly. When a young boy is found dead in Sebastian’s studio, and another goes missing, the investigation into both cases takes Foxley and those close to him into the nefarious underworld of Bankside and the mysterious The Mermaid Tavern. Can they shed some light into this dark world of shadows to uncover the truth in time to save a life? This is the premise of the latest Seb Foxley mystery by Toni Mount, “The Colour of Shadows.”

I would like to thank Toni Mount for sending a copy of this novel. I will be honest. This is my first Seb Foxley mystery ( I know, I am late to the party since this is the eighth book in the series), but after reading this book, I want to go back and read the series from the beginning.

Since this is my first Seb Foxley novel, I did struggle a bit, in the beginning, to figure out the relationships between these colorful characters. Mount does include elements of previous stories in the dialogue between certain characters that intrigued me. Once I did figure out who these characters were, I feel in love with each and every one of them.

The thing about the Seb Foxley mystery series is that the main characters are average English citizens in the 15th century, focusing heavily on the Wars of the Roses period. This is somewhat unusual since many novels about 15th century England tend to focus on the royal families of York, Lancaster, and Tudor. What Mount has does is simply remarkable by creating such complex and lovable characters. Seb and his wife Emily bickering back and forth in a loving matter while their young family continues to grow. Adam, Seb’s cousin and closest friend who is always there to lend a helping hand. The kind and hardworking Rose who works hard to maintain order in the Foxley household. Tom, the rebellious scamp who believes that everything in life should be given to him on a silver platter. Kate and Jack, the naive youngsters who want to grow up quickly. And of course, the lovable four-legged friend, Gawain, the dog, who is always ready for treats and adventures.

Mount’s world building is, in a word, stunning. The only person I could compare it to is C.J. Sansom and his Shardlake series. I was left mesmerized by how Mount brought her knowledge of the medieval world into this novel to create a believable story. From the typical family life of the Foxley family to the education system, and of course, the seedy and shady underworld of Bankside and The Mermaid Tavern, Mount made medieval London feel so real. The details are impeccably written that I forgot that I was reading a novel.

I did not want this novel to end. Since this was my first Seb Foxley book, I did not know what to expect, but I fell in love with this series and these characters. Mount is a master at making characters feel like real people. I honestly cannot wait to start reading this series from the very beginning to explore Seb Foxley’s world even further. If you want a sublime book to escape into the medieval world or if you are a fan of the Seb Foxley series, I highly recommend you read, “The Colour of Shadows” by Toni Mount. A truly imaginative work of art that you will not want to leave.

Guest Post: “The Colour of Shadows” Book Tour- Children’s Early Education in Medieval and Tudor England by Toni Mount

cover_proof crop2I am pleased to welcome Toni Mount back to my blog today as a stop in her The Colour of Shadows Book Tour. The Colour of Shadows is her eighth Sebastian Foxley murder mystery. Today, Toni will be discussing Children’s Education in Medieval and Tudor England. 

In my new Sebastian Foxley murder-mystery novel The Colour of Shadows, set in medieval London, some of the action involves a young scholar, Will Thatcher, studying at St Paul’s Song School in London. Song schools trained choristers – hence the name – for the cathedral to which they were attached. Since all the anthems and responses would be in Latin, this language was taught. In fact, children weren’t permitted even to chat with each other in English and everything was conducted in Latin. The ultimate intention was that every schoolboy would eventually become a cleric, priest, monk, or lawyer; professions carried out mostly in Latin, so an early grounding was vital. 

 But a child’s education began at home. By the time a boy – and the song school’s were always boys only – went to school, aged about seven, he should already know a few basics, so how did adults regard children’s early education in the fifteenth and sixteenth century? What was considered to be the correct way of raising and training children? Thomas Tusser, the Tudor commentator who generally gave parents good and sensible advice, as would have been applicable for the fifteenth century too, had this to say [I’ve modernised the spelling]:

We find it not spoken so often for nought,

That children were better unborn than untaught,

Some cockneys with cocking are made very fools,

Fit neither for prentice, for plough, nor for schools.

Teach child to ask blessing, serve God, and to church,

Then bless as a mother, else bless him with birch.

Thou housewife thus doing, what further shall need?

But all men to call thee good mother indeed.

This fascinating passage covers all that was required in educating a young child – a task undertaken most usually by its mother or, perhaps, by its nurse, if the mother wasn’t around. 

Cockney. We all know the word and these days we often use it to describe a Londoner. It used to be a little more specific, applying only to those born within hearing distance of the bells of St-Mary-le-Bow church in the city. However, as you’ll realise from Tusser’s instructions above, a ‘cockney’ was originally something very different and nothing to do with being born in London. A cockney was a boy-child, spoilt and coddled and therefore effeminate. ‘Cocking Mams’ were over-indulgent mothers whose children would be unsuited in future to being apprenticed, working the land, or even going to school. So Rule no.1 was ‘Do not indulge the child.’

 The first thing a child had to learn was the Lord’s Prayer or Paternoster, the Creed or Credo and, until the Reformation, when England became Protestant, the Hail Mary or Ave Maria. The Creed was the litany recited at mass, beginning ‘I believe in one God…’ At a baby’s baptism, the godparents had to promise, not only to keep their godchild safe ‘from the perils of fire and water’ but to teach him these basic recitations of the Christian faith. Since medieval times, these words, originally in Latin and often together with a basic ABC and numbers, were written on horn books. These weren’t really books at all but a sheet of parchment (later paper), covered with a transparent layer of horn to protect it, put in a wooden frame, shaped like a small, square table-tennis bat, complete with a handle, so the child could hold it easily. By Tudor times, they were more often written in English but these hard-wearing teaching aids often passed down the generations and were still popular in the eighteenth century.

Incidentally: a few words about godparents. From medieval times, child-birth had been a women-only affair. The mother might be in labour for days and need every encouragement from her female relatives, friends, and neighbours. These women also had to be on hand to stand as godparents at short notice, if the baby seemed unlikely to live and required immediate baptism. Godparents were also known as ‘godsibs’ or siblings in God. As you can imagine, a group of women, sitting around, waiting for days, perhaps, with not much to do, did a great deal of chatting and, as they ran out of relevant topics to discuss, probably resorted to exchanging rumours. This activity became known as ‘godsibing’ or – as we would call it – gossiping.

Children as young as three or four would be expected to attend church and to understand when to bow their heads or kneel in prayer and to reverence God. They would also join in family prayers with the household as often as the religious faith of the head of the house required. Many Protestant families took the act of reading aloud from the English Bible very seriously. It might be done daily or else, most certainly, on the Lord’s Day – Sunday. Thus, Rule no.2 was ‘Teach the child to respect God and the Church’.

Thomas Tusser’s final instruction would not be appreciated today: the use of corporal punishment. Beating children is now unlawful in most modern societies but the Tudors would have been dismayed by our idea. ‘Bless him with birch’, as Tusser said. In other words, a good thrashing never did anyone any harm and to ‘spare the rod’ was to ‘spoil the child’, as the Bible said. In the Book of Proverbs 13: 24, it states: ‘He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him’. The Tudors certainly believed this. Physical discipline was thought vital to achieving both learning and good behaviour and children were expected to take it with good grace, even welcoming it as just one aspect of the best educational methods. It would teach them to respect authority. If a child misbehaved, there was no point in trying to reason with him because children were illogical creatures, as yet incapable of rationalising what was good conduct and what was bad. So Rule no.3 was ‘Do not be lenient: a beating does far more good than harm and is vital to a child’s education.’

One last thing: a medieval or Tudor parent would never have told a child that it was naughty. In those days the word meant you were ‘as nothing’ (naught), so wicked you were less than human. It was a term applied to murders. Shakespeare’s Macbeth was naughty; unruly toddlers were not.

Further reading:

Elizabeth Norton’s ‘The Lives of Tudor Women’ Head of Zeus, 2016.  

For images of horn books see https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/172262754469747824/

The Colour of Shadows

When Seb Foxley discovers a child’s body in his workshop and another lad goes missing, our medieval sleuth is perplexed at every turn. His investigations take him across London Bridge to Bankside, where he becomes embroiled in the sinister shadows of the city’s underworld. Bankside is a labyrinth of depravity and crime where every harlot intends the downfall of respectable men and every scoundrel has a secret. In a netherworld unlike anything he’s experienced before, can Seb unravel the murky mysteries of The Mermaid Tavern, recover the stolen lad and restore him to his family? 

About the Author- Toni Mount

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I’m an author, a history teacher, an experienced speaker – and an enthusiastic life-long-learner. I’m a member of the Research Committee of the Richard III Society and a library volunteer where I lead a Creative Writing group. I regularly give talks to groups and societies and attend history events as a costumed interpreter. I write for a variety of history magazines and have created seven online courses for www.MedievalCourses.com

I earned my Masters Degree by Research from the University of Kent in 2009 through study of a medieval medical manuscript held at the Wellcome Library in London. My BA (with First-class Honours), my Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and my Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. My Cert. Ed (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich.

I have a strong online following with my various social media and web pages:

www.ToniMount.com

www.SebastianFoxley.com

www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10

www.facebook.com/medievalengland

www.facebook.com/medievalmedicine

www.facebook.com/sebfoxley

www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

My works to date include:

Self-Published

2007 The Medieval Housewife and Women of the Middle-ages

2009 (updated 2015) Richard III King of Controversy

2013 Dare they be Doctors.

Amberley Publishing

2014 (Hb) Everyday Life in Medieval London

2015 (Hb) Dragon’s Blood and Willow Bark: the mysteries of medieval medicine

2015 (Pb) The Medieval Housewife: & Other Women of the Middle Ages

2015 (Pb) Everyday Life in Medieval London 

2016 (Pb) Medieval Medicine: Its Mysteries and Science (the renamed paperback version of Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark)

2016 (Hb) A Year in the Life of Medieval England

2019 (Pb) A Year in the Life of Medieval England

2020 (Hb) The World of Isaac Newton

Pen & Sword

2021 (Pb) How to survive in Medieval England

2021 (Pb) An affectionate look at sex in medieval England

MadeGlobal Publishing

The Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mysteries series:

2016 The Colour of Poison

2016 The Colour of Gold

2017 The Colour of Cold Blood

2017 The Colour of Betrayal

2018 The Colour of Murder

2018 The Colour of Death

2019 The Colour of Lies

2020 The Colour of Shadows

2018 The Death Collector (A Victorian Melodrama)

MedievalCourses.com

2015 Everyday Life of Medieval Folk

2015 Heroes and Villains

2016 Richard III and the Wars of the Roses

2016 Warrior Kings of England: The Story of the Plantagenet Dynasty

2017 Crime and Punishment

2017 The English Reformation: A Religious Revolution

2018 The Roles of Medieval and Tudor Women

Book Review: “The Peasants’ Revolting Lives” by Terry Deary

51351965When we study history, we tend to focus on the lives of the elite and the royalty because their lives are well documented. However, there was a large majority of the population who tends to be forgotten in the annals of the past. They are the lower classes who were the backbone of society for centuries, the people who we would call peasants. Now, if we know so much about the higher echelons of society, we must ask ourselves what was life like for those who had almost nothing in life. How did they work? When they did speak out about injustices through revolutions, how were they received? How did they worship? How were they educated? How did they relax after long days of back-breaking labor? Where did they live? These questions and more are answered in Terry Deary’s latest book, “The Peasants’ Revolting Lives”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I had read the first book in this series, “The Peasants’ Revolting Crimes” and I thoroughly enjoyed it. When I heard that he had a sequel book coming out, I knew that I had to read it.

Like his previous book, Deary chooses to highlight the often unbelievable tales of the peasants, emphasizing that they are the true heroes of history. He explores numerous stories from several centuries; the malevolent medieval times, the tumultuous Tudors, and the greedy Georgians tend to be heavily focused upon, especially the evils of the Industrial Revolution. To explore so many different centuries shows Deary’s advanced knowledge of the past, which is quite extraordinary, especially when he combines his casual writing style with his wonderful wit to make this book so engaging.

Most of these tales are rather dark as they often tell the numerous ways peasants died while doing everyday activities. While dying is part of the story, I think it was valuable that Deary balanced it out with how they tried to make the best of a bad situation. His chapter on different revolts that peasants led and their causes was quite fascinating as it shows the peasants in a quasi- leadership role. Deary also lightened the mood a bit when he did a history of football (or what we Americans call soccer) and cricket. I didn’t know much about this version of football so sadly some of his jokes about the subject fell a bit flat for me.

Since I do know a bit about the medieval and Tudor times, the stories about peasants during those times was a tad repetitive for me. However, I did learn a copious amount about the Georgians and those who survived the Industrial Revolution. We tend to think about the Industrial Revolution as a glorious improvement in society, but for those who worked, it was full of hazards to one’s health around every corner.

Overall, I thought this book was good but not as good as the first one. There were some spelling errors, repetitions of facts that I already knew, and some of the humor felt a bit flat for me. However, this is just my opinion. I think that Deary’s writing style is for a younger audience, so if you are searching for a hard-hitting history book, this is not the book for you. However, if you want a casual read where the peasants and their many escapades from the past are highlighted, I would suggest you read, “The Peasants’ Revolting Lives” by Terry Deary.

Book Review: “The Legitimacy of Bastards: The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England” by Helen Matthews

43972540In the medieval world, a person’s lineage was everything. It determined who you could marry, what job you could have, and where you could live. To be considered a legitimate child meant that the world was your oyster, for the most part. It was a bit difficult if you were considered an illegitimate child. We often look at lineage when it comes to royal families, but what about the nobility and the gentry. If you were considered an illegitimate child in the late medieval time period to a family who is part of the nobility or the gentry, what kind of opportunities would be available to you? This question and others are explored in Helen Matthews’ book, “The Legitimacy of Bastards: The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I thought that the title sounded rather intriguing, since illegitimate children are rarely mentioned in history books, so I thought it would be interesting to learn more about them and their role in society during the late medieval period in England, which is classified as being from the 13th to the end of the 15th century.

Matthews’ book is all about exploring the theory of illegitimate children under both canon and common laws to understand why families treated them differently. What is interesting is that although they are both forms of law, canon and common laws diverge on certain definitions of illegitimacy (which there are numerous definitions). I found this part fascinating to read, albeit a bit dense since it is written in legal jargon. If you do read this book, I would suggest taking your time to digest every definition because it is the foundation of this book. To put these theories into practice, Matthews shares the story of the Warenne family and how they dealt with numerous family members who were illegitimate.

The next three chapters explore how society dealt with those who were illegitimate and the parents of illegitimate children. To ensure that the reader can understand the social implications for illegitimate children, Matthews includes tales from medieval families, nobles and gentry alike. It was a bit difficult to keep the families straight, but Matthews does include a list of Dramatis Personae in the Annex to help those who do get confused. Finally, Matthews explores how the change in religious attitudes and the concern about legitimacy changed how illegitimate children were viewed from the 16th century and beyond.

Although there were some grammatical mistakes, my big concern with this book was that it felt a bit dry to me. Matthews is very knowledgeable on this particular subject, but by including so much legal jargon and so many stories in such a small book, in my opinion, it did not flow as well as it could have. It is a book that I would have to read a second time to grasp everything that Matthews included. Overall, I found this book informative and well researched. I think it will make a great resource for those who want to learn more about the late medieval period and illegitimate children. If learning about illegitimacy and late medieval England, you should check out, “The Legitimacy of Bastards: The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England” by Helen Matthews.

Book Review: “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were” by J.F. Andrews

52645565._SX318_SY475_In history, we tend to focus on those who were crowned kings and queens of different nations. Their strengths and their weaknesses. Their accessions and the legacies that they left behind. With every story of someone who triumphed in gaining the throne, there are tales of those who were close to the throne but were never able to achieve the ultimate goal of ruling a nation. These “lost heirs” fall into two categories; either their names live on in infamy or they are thrown into the dust of the past. Who were these men and women and why did they lose their chances to sit on the throne? These questions are explored in J.F. Andrews’ book, “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The title was what drew me into reading it, since these figures rarely get attention, let alone have an entire book dedicated to their lives. I have never read a book by J.F. Andrews, which is not surprising since it is a pseudonym for a historian who has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies. I want to know who the historian really is since, in the historical field, it is a rarity to use a pseudonym, but that may just be my own personal curiosity.

Andrews’ book begins with the death of William the Conqueror and extends through the reign of Henry VII. With over 500 years of Medieval English history (with the main focus being on the Plantagenet family), it can get a bit confusing to figure out how everyone is connected, but Andrews provides a simplified family tree at the beginning of each chapter to help the reader out. It is a brilliant move and it also shows how vast Andrews’ knowledge of Medieval England’s royal families truly is.

When we tend to think about those would inherit the throne, we tend to think about the firstborn sons, like Robert Curthose, Henry the Young King, Edward the Black Prince, and Edward V. However, as the reader will learn, they were not the only ones who had a chance at the throne. Men, like Richard duke of York, believed that their claim to the throne was stronger than the person who was king. There were also those who were seen as a threat to the king who sat on the throne because of their lineage. They were all legitimate, as Andrews chose not to include those who were illegitimate.

Another factor that united all of these stories was that they all ended in tragedy. Some died from medical conditions at a young age. Others were either imprisoned, never to be heard from again. Yet the majority died in battle, either fighting for or against the king who sat on the throne at the time. Most of them, except for Richard duke of York, died relatively young, which makes us as readers wonder what their reigns might have been like if they were able to be crowned king or queen respectfully.

Overall, I found this book rather informative. Andrews’ writing is enjoyable and is easy to follow. This book really makes you wonder what if these lost heirs became kings and queens, how different history would have been. If you want to read an intriguing book about some mysterious men and women in history, I highly recommend you read, “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were” by J.F. Andrews.

Book Review: “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction” by Daniele Cybulskie

43972589Have you ever read a book, either historical fiction or nonfiction, about medieval Europe and wondered if what the author was writing about was true? What about historical movies or dramas? You know that they probably have the facts about the important people and events correct, or at least you hope, but you wonder about the small details. What did they eat? How did they keep themselves clean and healthy? How did religion and the criminal justice system work in medieval Europe? What was medieval warfare like? These questions and more are explored in Daniele Cybulskie’s enchanting book, “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have spoken with Daniele Cybulskie on social media in the past about quite a few medieval topics, including when she spoke at the Tudor Summit, so when I heard about this book, I wanted to read it.

Cybulskie’s book is divided into chapters that explore numerous topics about average medieval life. As a reader, one would think that this book would begin with the birth and childhood of those who lived during this time. However, Cybulskie chooses to begin with how medieval people kept themselves and their cities clean. It may seem a bit strange compared to other books about medieval life, but the way she structures this book works in Cybulskie’s favor. Although this book is informative, it feels like you are having a casual conversation with the author about these topics.

By dividing the chapters into topic-based chapters, Cybulskie can explore numerous questions that fit into each topic. From cleanliness to religious life, warfare to pastimes, love to death, she can give her readers an experience that covers the thousand years of history that make up the medieval time period. Along the way, she includes little boxes that contain fun little factoids to provide even more trivia.

What is great about Cybulskie is that as a medievalist, she understands that there was a lot of diversity in the medieval world. It was not just fit European Christians. There were also Jews, Muslims, people with disabilities, rich and poor, and those who generally did not fit well into society. By including every type of person who lived in the medieval world, we can get a better understanding of how vast and colorful it truly was. Cybulskie also includes a simplistic overview of events like the Black Death and the crusades to show the dramatic and damaging effects that they had on medieval society as a whole.

To say that this book was fun to read would be an understatement. Cybulskie’s knowledge radiates in every page of this short book. I honestly did not want to stop reading this book, I wanted to learn more. It was educational and entertaining all at the same time. Simply a wonderful resource for novice medievalists and writers of historical fiction and nonfiction alike. If you want to learn the truth about different aspects of medieval life, I highly suggest you include, “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction” by Daniele Cybulskie, to your book collection.

Book Review: “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor De Montfort” by Darren Baker

52044884._SX318_SY475_Two women who shared a name, related by marriage but divided by political and monetary motives. In Medieval Europe, this statement could refer to any number of women, but the two women who are the center of this particular story revolve around medieval England and the reign of King Henry III. One was Henry’s sister whose marriages and money problems were a thorn in her brother’s side. The other was Henry III’s wife who stood by his side and protected their children even when the nation despised her. Their names were Eleanor de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence respectfully; their stories are filled with disasters and triumphs that would shape how England was ruled in medieval times. Darren Baker explores their lives and the lives of their families in his latest biography, “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor De Montfort”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I wanted to read more books about Medieval Europe and this one caught my eye. I have never read a book by Darren Baker or about either Eleanors, so I did not know what to expect. I am glad I decided to take a chance on this book.

Baker’s book begins with the story of King John’s children, King Henry III and his sister Eleanor Plantagenet. As Henry III was figuring out how his new rule would work under the newly formed Magna Carta, Eleanor Plantagenet was married to William Marshal. In all likelihood, their union would have been successful, except that he died in 1231; they were only married for seven years, but this marriage would leave a massive inheritance problem in the form of the Marshal estate. Instead of marrying again, Eleanor decided to become a bride of Christ.

In the meantime, Henry III found his wife in France, Eleanor of Provence, making an alliance with the French that would prove to be beneficial in the long run. As Henry and Eleanor were settling down into married life, Eleanor Plantagenet left the religious life to marry Simon de Montfort, a friend and rising star in Henry III’s court. These two couples were thick as thieves until money and politics drove a wedge between them that could never be repaired. This conflict between the couples would help establish a parliamentary democracy in England, that caused a civil war to break out between the Montfortians/ Lusignans and the King/Savoyards. The war would end at the Battle of Evesham.

Since this is a double biography, Baker takes the time to show both sides of the conflict, through Eleanor de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence’s stories. It is really interesting to see how each woman handled the conflict and how chroniclers either praised or criticized them for their actions and who they were. My only concern with Baker’s approach is that he will sometimes put words into the mouths or in the minds of the historical figures. You could understand what Baker’s opinions were on certain issues. I don’t think I would have minded if it was every once in a while, but it was quite frequent and it started to bother me.

Overall, I did enjoy Baker’s writing style in this book. It may be a double biography, but it reads like a historical fiction novel. Although it is sometimes difficult to tell the two Eleanors apart, Baker does his best and presents a fascinating tale of a family in turmoil over finances and power. “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort” by Darren Baker is an enjoyable introduction into this fascinating, tumultuous time in Medieval English history.

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.