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: “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools” by Phillipa Vincent- Connolly

41975683When it comes to studies into the Tudor dynasty, many different approaches have been taken in the past. We have examined every monarch, their spouses, how they lived, what they wore, and the various political events that defined the dynasty. The list is endless to the different studies that have been done with the Tudors, yet there are still new areas of study that are being explored. One of those areas of study is how individuals with disabilities survived in the past. How did society treat those who had disabilities, and what rights did they have according to the laws of the land? In her first non-fiction book, “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools,” Philippa Vincent-Connolly explores the lives of famous fools and monarchs with disabilities to discover how they were treated by Tudor society.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this book, I was interested in learning more, and I will admit that studies on those who had disabilities in the past have never been an area of research that I considered before. I wanted to learn more and see if Vincent-Connolly could provide new information about the Tudors.

To understand disabilities during the Tudor dynasty, Vincent-Connolly defines a few terms, such as a natural fool, those with disabilities, and an artificial fool, which we consider clowns or jesters. They were either viewed as vile sinners or holy innocents, more divine than the average citizen. Like William Somers and Jayne Foole, natural fools were deemed prominent members of the Tudor court and allowed to speak freely to the monarch ruling at the time. Those who lived at court were well taken care of and were depicted in portraits as background figures. Of course, disabilities also affected royalty and the nobility, like Henry VIII, Claude of France, and Lady Mary Grey. For those who did not have the luxury of living at court, some Poor Laws and communities were dedicated to caring for natural fools. With the dissolution of the monasteries, the care for those with disabilities shifted from the church to the communities and their families.

Vincent-Connolly has a passion for this subject and is genuinely dedicated to sharing that passion with fellow Tudor nerds. The one major problem that I had with this book was its repetitive nature, and if it were organized better, this repetitive problem would not be as bad, which would be an easier read. She included one source that I disagreed with, but it was a minor issue in the grand scheme of things.

Overall, I found this book informative and fascinating. The lives of Tudors who had disabilities mattered, and it was an intriguing book that added a new aspect to Tudor research. I think this will open a discussion about those who had disabilities in the past and give us a better appreciation of their struggles and how they survived. If you want to learn something new about this dynasty, I suggest you check out “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools” by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly.

Book Review: “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times” by Juliana Cummings

56549196The period of human history that we know today as the Middle Ages spanned over a thousand years, and within that time, significant progress was made into understanding our world. Inventions and discoveries were made not just in Europe but throughout the known world during this time. One area of study that saw a lot of change was medical studies and understanding the human body. How did physicians heal the sick during the Middle Ages, and how did their experiences change their field of study? These questions and more are all explored in Juliana Cummings’ latest book, “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I like learning about aspects from the past, so when I saw this title, I was interested in reading it. I am not usually curious about medical information, but medieval medical history draws me in, so I hope to learn more.

To understand many of the theories of medieval medicine and their origins, we have to go back to the Greeks, primarily Galen and Hippocrates. Many people would be familiar with the works of Hippocrates. Still, they might not be familiar with Galen even if they know his Four Humours Theory, which was pivotal in understanding the human body. Cummings also includes the works of Arab scholars, European scholars, and physicians to help the audience understand how vast the world of medical history was during the Middle Ages.

Cummings does not stick with one medical treatment or disease during this time, and she covers everything from the Black Death, syphilis, and leprosy to pregnancy and injuries during battle. Reading about the theories and cures that physicians, apothecaries, and barber surgeons applied to heal the sick and dying was quite fascinating. Even though I did take a copious amount of notes while reading this book, I did feel like other books on this subject did a better job of focusing on the medicine part. This book introduces many theories and physicians to those unfamiliar with medical history, but it falls a bit flat with actual cures that they would have used. The ending of this book also needed a bit of work since it just ended abruptly. I think it would have been appropriate for Cummings to explain why the history of medieval medicine is important for readers to understand in the 21st century and beyond.

Overall, I think this was a decent introductory book into the vast world of medieval medical history. Cummings’s writing style is easy to follow, and she has done her research about this subject. If you want a solid introductory book into the world of medieval medical history, you should check out “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times” by Juliana Cummings.

Book Review: “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola” by Samantha Morris

57165112When we think about men who challenged the Church and are known as Reformers, we tend to think of Martin Luther, Jan Hus, and John Calvin. However, a man fought against corruption in his beloved Florence who should be included in the list of great reformers. He was a Dominican monk who was not afraid to preach against sin and took aim at the most powerful men in all of Italy, including Pope Alexander VII. His sermons were so scandalous that they would lead to his demise upon a pyre in the middle of Florence. His name was Girolamo Savonarola, and his story is told in Samantha Morris’s latest biography, “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this biography. I read Samantha Morris’s previous joint biography of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia and thoroughly enjoyed it. When I heard that she was writing a new biography about a famous figure in Italian history, I was intrigued.

Girolamo Savonarola was a scholar, like his father and grandfather before him, destined to be a doctor like his grandfather. His plan for his life took a drastic turn when the girl he was fell for rejected his advances, so he decided to join the Dominican order as a friar. Talk about not taking a break-up well. Savonarola studied the Humanist teachings and incorporated them into the way he understood his faith. Of course, as a friar, he couldn’t keep his opinions to himself, so he began preaching against corruption and the vices that he saw during his travel.

Savonarola’s preaching was appealing to the people of Florence, yet it did not sit well with the leader of Florence, Lorenzo de ’Medici. Lorenzo tried to silence the troublesome friar, but his son Piero de Medici took on the challenge when he passed away. Piero was nothing like his father and was overthrown as ruler of Florence by Savonarola. Of course, Savonarola was not satisfied with reforming Florence, and he decided to take on the Catholic Church itself and attack another powerful family.

Charles VII of France wanted to conquer Italy, which to the Dominican friar was a good idea, so Savonarola helped the king. This incident drew the ire of Rodrigo Borgia, also known as Pope Alexander VI, and Ludovico “Il Moro” Sforza of Milan, who just wanted the friar to shut up. Even with numerous ex-communications, Savonarola kept preaching against corruption and vices, leading to the Bonfires of the Vanities in 1497. He took artwork and writings deemed inappropriate and burned them in a humongous bonfire. A year later, on May 22, 1498, Girolamo Savonarola lost his life because of his heretic teachings.

This book has so many scandals and dynamic characters that you will forget you are reading a biography. Morris has done it yet again, and this was a brilliantly engaging and extremely well-researched biography. The way she can capture the thrilling world of 15th and 16th century Italy is astounding, and I hope she will write more about Italian history in the future. If you want a fun biography about a man who fought to reform the Catholic Church, I highly recommend you read “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola” by Samantha Morris.

Book Review: “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical

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In medieval Europe, to be considered a strong king, you must keep a firm grasp on your crown, or those who see you as weak will take advantage. These men were known as usurpers throughout history who steal the throne through combat or by illegal means. Some of the most well-known kings in English history have been categorized as usurpers, but is this a fair assessment of their mark in history, or is it a case of propaganda changing their legacy? In her debut nonfiction book, “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings,” Michele Morrical explores the lives of six English kings who bear that title to see if it makes sense with the facts of how they came into power.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard this book was published, I wanted to see how Morrical described a usurper and which king she considered usurpers. I have never heard of a book that focused solely on those who stole thrones in England, so I was excited to see how well it read.

Morrical breaks her book into six sections, with each part focusing on one specific king and his rise to power. She focuses on William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII as examples of rulers in English history known to be usurpers. Morrical writes biography vignettes to give her readers an understanding of how they came to power and who they had to remove from the throne to become the next monarch. In some cases, it meant starting a new dynasty, and in others, it was just a continuation of the family’s lineage, but it was a different branch of the family tree. The biographies tend to get repetitive, especially with the sections dedicated to the Wars of the Roses. If you are new to these kings and the events of their lifetimes, the repetitive nature will help you understand how everything is connected.

I think Morrical can improve if she writes another nonfiction book by using quotes from primary sources and other historians to strengthen her arguments. I wish she had included discussions from chronicles or other primary sources from around the times that these men became rulers to see the consensus of the time towards the new king. It would have added an extra layer to the stories, and readers could see how our definition of a usurper king would have compared or contrasted to the views of the past. I would have also liked Morrical to have discussed whether being a usurper king had a positive or negative connotation. Many kings on this list were considered game-changers when ruling England and transformed how England was viewed in the grander scheme of European politics.

I think for her first book, Morrical does a decent job of presenting her viewpoints about certain kings and presenting the facts about their lives. One can tell that Morrical is passionate about usurpers and understanding why they took the English throne from their predecessors. Overall, I think it is not bad for a book that combines the lives of six kings of England into one text. If you want a good introductory book into the lives of usurper kings, you should give “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical a try.

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

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The future King of England married a Spanish princess to create an alliance between the two countries through their children. This may sound like the marriage of Henry VIII and his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon. However, this story is much older and the happy couple was Edward I and Leonor of Castile. Unlike the Tudor match, Edward and Leonor have numerous children, including Edward’s heir who would one day become Edward II, whose story has been told in various ways. The stories that Kathryn Warner has chosen to focus upon in her latest book, “Daughters of Edward I”, are the princesses who tend to be hidden behind their brother’s legacy.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have read a few books by Kathryn Warner in the past and I have enjoyed them in the past for their complex nature. I enjoy a challenge and when I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to give it a shot. I, unfortunately, was not familiar with these princesses before partaking in this new adventure, so I was excited to hear their stories for the first time.

Edward I and Leonor of Castile had around fourteen children, but only six lived into adulthood; their heir Edward II and his five sisters. The names of the sisters were Eleanor of Windsor, Joan of Acre, Margaret of Brabant, Mary of Woodstock, and Elizabeth of Rhuddlan. Their marriages and children, except for Mary of Woodstock who would become a reluctant nun, would connect the Plantagenet bloodline to some of the most important families in England and beyond. When it comes to the marriages of the sisters, they tend to follow the counsel of the crown, except for Joan of Acre who chose to follow her heart and marry a man who she loved for her second marriage.

Warner’s specialty is unraveling the convoluted nature of certain family trees to uncover members who tend to slip into the shadows of the past. She explores the sisters’ relationships with their father Edward I, their brother Edward II, their nephew who would become Edward III, as well as the families that were essential to understanding England during the 13th and 14th centuries. I will admit that I did find myself using the lists in the back that gave brief descriptions of the daughters and their children as I was getting a tad confused on who was who and their relationship to others. However, I am really glad that Warner included that resource as it added something to this book.

Warner has taken on the difficult task of trying to uncover the stories of the daughters of Edward I and Leonor of Castile and has given readers a resource that can prove valuable in understanding this complex family dynamic. There were parts where the writing was a touch dry for my taste, but overall I found it a stimulating reading and that is because of the laborious research that Warner partook to tell their tales and the tales of their descendants. If you want a meticulously researched resource that tells the stories of women who knew Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III well, “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner is the perfect book for you to add to your collection.

Book Review: “How to Survive in Medieval England” by Toni Mount

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were able to travel back in time to the medieval ages and had to start your life all over again? Could you make the transition from the 21st century to the medieval period with no electronic technology and different customs? What would you wear? How would you get around with no cars and horses being very expensive? Where would you live? What job would you have? These questions and quandaries are answered in the latest nonfiction book by Toni Mount aptly entitled, “How to Survive in Medieval England”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have found time travel books really interesting in the past few years, so I was intrigued when I heard about this title.

Mount has created a fun and creative guide for those who have a passion for medieval England. For clarification, Mount defines medieval from 1154 to the death of King Richard III in 1485. It’s quite a range, but it gives the reader a chance to see how England transformed during the medieval time. In this book, Mount gives her readers the everyday details that they would want if they traveled to the past or if they just wanted to better understand the past. The information that Mount includes is practical and easy to follow so that anyone who is jumping into the past can understand.

The true highlight of this title and what separates Mount’s book from other time-traveling books are the interviews. No, she does not have her own Tardis, but it feels like she might with these passages. Mount has taken historical figures, both well known and those who her audience might not be familiar with, and has decided to write discussions with them to better understand the past and the motivation for their actions. It is a brilliant way for an author who writes both historical fiction and nonfiction to express their craft in a unique and engaging way.

I have read a few time travel books and I have to say, this one is special. It is one that is engaging for history experts and novices alike. There are warnings, but Mount has also included a bit of humor to make sure that her audience realizes that the past was not always dark.

Medieval England may look drastically different than our 21st century, but if you break it down, the people of the past are just trying to survive the best that they can just like we are. If you want a handy guide to take on your journeys to the past or you just want a book to better understand the past, I highly suggest you read this book, “How to Survive in Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

Book Review: “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia

57165143A man ahead of his time who never finished the tasks that he was given as his mind was constantly racing, thinking of new ideas. This is what we consider a genius or a Renaissance Man today, but during Leonardo da Vinci’s time, it was just considered odd. Leonardo da Vinci was an enigma. He could make the impossible possible. His art seemed to leap off the canvas with its realism. However, there are still so many mysteries surrounding his life and his works. What made this one artist/inventor so fascinating for centuries? In her book, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” Rose Sgueglia opens the curtain to reveal Leonardo da Vinci’s truth and inner circle.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am one of those people who is familiar with da Vinci’s works, but not so much with his actual life and what made him tick. I have always wanted to read biographies about the great artists of the Renaissance, but I didn’t know where to start. This was the perfect book to start my journey into art history.

To understand da Vinci’s lifestyle later in life, we have to understand his origins. His mother was an absent figure in his life as Leonardo was her illegitimate son, but his father seemed to have taken care of him. Leonardo was trained under Verrocchio where he would learn the skills that would be vital for his art career, however, it was his insatiable appetite for exploring new subjects that would make him a polymath to many.

Sgueglia dives into the intricacies of da Vinci’s life, including his love life which has been debated for centuries. As an illegitimate son, he was not tied down to one location so he frequently traveled and would be employed by some of the greatest families in Italy, including the Borgias, the Medicis, and Ludovico Sforza. Along the way, he would create his own following of artists that were loyal to him until the bitter end. Da Vinci would also encounter fellow masters Donatello and Michelangelo as he competed for commissions.

I think Sgueglia does a decent job introducing the Leonardo da Vinci that she has gotten to know through her research. She also included interviews between her and a researcher of the Mona Lisa as well as the director of a movie about Leonardo da Vinci within this book, which I found fascinating. I think it is these interviews and including the transcripts as part of the book that sets it apart from other biographies about Leonardo da Vinci.

There were a few things about this book that I found a bit off or lacking. My big concern was the lack of illustrations of his lesser-known pieces of art and the artwork of other artists that Sgueglia references. If this is a biography about a well-known artist and inventor, then let’s celebrate the masterpieces and the inventions. I had to find the obscure artworks online while I was reading to act as a companion to get the full impact of what she was writing about. I also think it was a tad repetitive and I would have personally liked to have seen more books in the bibliography for research purposes.

Overall, I found this book was an adequate biography about Leonardo da Vinci. It is easy to read with intriguing facts that will captivate those who are new to da Vinci’s story. There is something intriguing about looking at the man behind these masterpieces and I think Sgueglia does an excellent job of showing a unique side of this artist’s life. If you want a great book that will introduce you to this polymath’s life and times, I recommend you read, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia.

Book Review: “Charles II and His Escape into Exile: Capture the King” by Martyn R. Beardsley

53073376._SX318_SY475_On January 30, 1649, the Stuart monarchy took a major hit when Charles I was tried and executed by the Rump Parliament, making way for the Commonwealth of England to take control. His eldest son, Charles II, fled England leaving the control of the country in the hands of Oliver Cromwell. Two years later, in 1651, Charles tried to make his triumphant return to restore the monarchy. However, it failed miserably at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651; Charles II was able to escape with the help of those loyal to the crown. The story of his escape from Cromwell’s men and his exile in Europe are told in Martyn R. Beardsley’s book, “Charles II and His Escape into Exile: Capture the King.”

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I know that this book is not in the particular timeline that I normally read, but it looked intriguing to me for some reason. It is one of those subjects that I knew absolutely nothing about, so I was looking forward to learning something new.

Charles II was known as the “Merry Monarch” who restored the monarchy, his very extravagant lifestyle, and his numerous mistresses who produced quite a few illegitimate children. His wife, Catherine of Braganza, was unable to provide him with the desired heir that would be able to continue his legacy. He would also endure plots that would try to remove him from the throne and the quagmire of religious struggles between Catholics and Protestants, plus a small event known as the Great Fire of London of 1666. This legacy would come after he became king, but his struggle to achieve his father’s crown was just as dramatic as his actual reign.

Charles II had been in exile ever since his father, Charles I, was executed and replaced by the Commonwealth led by Oliver Cromwell. He returned to his native England with the support of the Scottish soldiers and decided to engage Cromwell’s men in battle at Worcester on September 3, 1651, which ended in a horrific defeat for the royalists. Charles II was able to miraculously escape the carnage with the help of those loyal to the crown, like the Penderel brothers and Jane Lane, Lady Fisher. His rescuers did everything they could to smuggle the young king out of the country, from hiding the king in a tree to disguising him as a Shropshire countryman.

Beardsley does an excellent job to take his readers along the same route that Charles II took to freedom. He uses the writings of Samuel Pepys to start each chapter, goes into depth about each stop, and includes a few fun notes at the end.

It is a relatively easy book to follow, but the problem for me is the fact that I did not the background behind the conflict between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists. Beardsley tries to explain the concepts behind the conflict, but it a bit too brief for my liking.

Overall, I think this was a very well written book about a king on the run for his life. It makes me wonder if other kings escaping their countries had a similar experience. It takes guts to return to a country that you called home after your own countrymen kick you out time after time to become king. The adventures of Charles II and the stories of those who helped him escape to fight another day are thrilling. If you are like me and want to read a daring story from a different dynasty full of action and danger, check out “Charles II and His Escape into Exile: Capture the King” by Martyn R. Beardsley.

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

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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.