Book Review: “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

To survive during the reigns of the Norman and Plantagenet Kings of England, one must understand where their loyalty and trust lied. Did they follow the crown or did they take a risk and follow those who opposed the person who wore the crown? For one family, there was no question who they were loyal to, which was the crown. The Warenne Earls of Surrey served the Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Edward III, gaining titles, prestige, and marriages that would cement their names in history books. They survived some of the most turbulent times in English history even if they did have a few scandals in their illustrious history. In Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest non-fiction adventure, “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey ”, she explores this family’s history that spanned over three centuries.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s books for a while now, so when I heard about this title, I knew I wanted to read it. I was going in a bit blind since I have never heard of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, but that is part of the fun of studying a new aspect of history.

The first Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne began this family’s tradition of royal loyalty as he joined William the Conqueror on his journey to England and fought alongside him to establish Norman rule at the Battle of Hastings. William’s descendants would be involved in some of the most important events of the time, from the crusades to the 1st and 2nd Baron’s Wars and the sealing of the Magna Carta. At some points, the earls would briefly switch sides if they thought the king was not in the best interest of the country, but they remained at the heart of English politics and worked hard to help guide the king and the country to become stronger.

What made the Warennes a tour de force when it came to noble families was their ability to marry well, except for the final earl and his scandalous relationships. The second earl desired to marry into the royal family, which did not happen, but his daughter, Ada de Warenne would marry William the Lion, King of Scotland. One of the daughters of Hamlin and Isabel de Warenne would be the mistress of King John and would give birth to his illegitimate son Richard of Chilham. The only woman of the family who inherited the earldom of Surrey, Isabel de Warenne, was married twice and so both of her husbands, William of Blois and Hamelin of Anjou, are considered the 4th earl of Surrey.

Connolly does a wonderful job explaining each story in de Warenne’s long history, including the minor branches of the family. I was able to understand the difference between family members who shared the same first name, (like William, John, and Isabel) but I know that others might have struggled with this aspect. I think it would have been helpful if Connolly had included either a family tree or a list of family members of the de Warennes at the beginning of this book to help readers who did struggle.

I found this particular title fascinating. The de Warennes were a family that proved loyalty to the crown and good marriages went a long way to cement one’s legacy in medieval England. Connolly proved that she has a passion for bringing obscure noble families to the spotlight through her impeccable research. If you want a nonfiction book of a noble family full of loyalty, love, and action, you should check out “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Review: “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest” by Arthur C. Wright

51352100 (1)The Norman Conquest of 1066 was one of the most important dates in English and world history. It signaled the start of the Norman influence in England with Duke William, also known as William the Conqueror, becoming King of England. But does William I deserve the reputation that is attributed to him in history, or should we be careful with how we view him because his story is told by the avaricious Church? How much help did William and the Normans receive from their English counterparts? Can we call this event a “conquest”? Who was to blame for the “Harrowing of the North”? These questions and more are discussed in Arthur C. Wright’s latest book, “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When it comes to studying the Norman Conquest, I am a bit of a novice, so I was excited to read another book about this time.

I found this book rather difficult to understand. Wright writes in a style where he is having a conversation to experts, while at the same time saying that every historian has it wrong and he knows exactly what happened. This rubbed me the wrong way. If he had proved his point, I might have found his argument compelling, but he just came off as an angry rambler in the first half of this book. I really wanted to understand what he was trying to say, but I did not see his evidence for English collusion. Instead, he spent a lot of time arguing that feudalism is a myth, which was quite bizarre.

I think the second part of his book was stronger than the first half. It explored the life, commerce, and education of the average citizen. I think if Wright had reorganized his chapters, this book might have been a bit easier to comprehend. Wright tends to focus on after the conquest, without specifying dates, but it is hard to see where the English collusion comes into play. Another problem that I did have is when he tried to insert more modern sayings, ideas, and characters into the conversation. It felt out of place and rather distracting.

I do believe that Wright is knowledgeable when it comes to the subject of the Norman Conquest and England in the years that followed. Unfortunately, his writing style makes it difficult to understand what message he is trying to get across with this particular book. It was readable, but the focus was a bit off and it was hard to figure out his target audience. If you are familiar with the Norman Conquest and would like a challenge, check out “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest” by Arthur C. Wright. It was not my cup of tea, but that does not mean it is a bad book. Someone else might enjoy it.

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

47135242In history, we tend to look at people based on their class. There are the upper class (royalty and nobility), the middle class, and the underclasses (peasants). Most of the focus tends to be on the deeds of the upper and middle classes, yet the underclasses had there own struggles, some of which resulted in them committing crimes. What was life like for the criminals of the underclasses? What type of crimes did they commit and what sort of punishments did they suffer once they were caught? Terry Deary decided to explore the crimes of the British peasants throughout history, in his own humorous way, in his latest book, “The Peasants’ Revolting….Crimes”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The description sounded really intriguing and I had never read a book by Terry Deary, so I decided to give it a try.

For those who are not familiar with Terry Deary, he is the author of a popular UK book series for kids about history called, “Horrible Histories”, a funny look at the past to get kids interested in historical figures. I will admit that I had heard people mention “Horrible Histories” and the video series, but I was not sure what to expect when it came to Deary’s writing style. I don’t normally read humourous history books because I love diving large biographies that contain minute details of the lives of historical figures, but I found myself enjoying this entertaining, yet rather unusual, history book.

This book was a delight to dive into. Deary breaks down his book by exploring the underclasses, from the nefarious Normans and the terrible Tudors to the vivacious Victorians and everyone in between. He included tales of arsonists, murderers, pirates, hooligans, beggars, rioters, and more to give readers a full view of crimes committed by those who were part of the underclasses. The topics that Deary discusses in this book can be rather dark and macabre, but it doesn’t have a dark tone to it. Instead, Deary infuses his own sense of humor that makes reading about these horrific crimes enjoyable. There were points while I was reading that I actually laughed out loud, but other points the humor did fall flat for me because it dealt with elements of living in the UK that I didn’t understand.

Deary does jump around a lot when it comes to the chronological order of this book, which did bother me a tad bit because I do prefer reading a historical book in chronological order. Yet Deary does get away with this since it is a book that acts like a comedy sketch instead of a serious study in the crimes of the underclasses. What I did wish Deary would have included in his book is a list of resources on the crimes that he mentioned so that those who were curious could look into the trials themselves, to help promote independent historical studies of the subjects.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Deary combined the study of history with humor to create a light-hearted and fun experience for anyone interested in history. Every once in awhile, it is good to take a break from serious historical studies and read something for fun. If you want a nice, casual read that explores the lives and crimes of peasants, I highly recommend you read, “The Peasants’ Revolting…Crimes” by Terry Deary.