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.

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

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

Puppet Shows

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

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

image2Bodley ms 264 showing a puppet show

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

image1

A reconstruction of a Devil puppet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Toni typingAbout the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her websites include:

www.ToniMount.com

www.SebastianFoxley.com

www.ToniTalks.co.uk

You can follow Toni on social media at:

www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10

www.facebook.com/sebfoxley/

www.facebook.com/medievalengland/

www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

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

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