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 Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth” by Matthew Lewis

35888548One of the greatest mysteries of all time is what happened to the young princes, the sons of Edward IV, who were held in the Tower of London. Many people believed that they were killed. There are some who believe that Richard III had them murdered and there are some who say that Henry VII ordered the deed to be done. But what if they were never killed? What if they survived? That is the premise of Matthew Lewis’s book “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth”.

I have always been one of those people who believed that the princes were indeed murdered and that the one who ordered their murders was Richard III. I have read the “sources” and I came to my own conclusions. A few months ago, I attended the Tudor Summit (for those of you who do not know what this, look it up it is a fantastic two- day summit with fellow Tudor nerds) and one of the speakers was Matthew Lewis. Normally I don’t pay attention to the Ricardian side of this debate, but his talk made me interested, so I decided to read his book.

I am really glad I decided to read this book. It gave me something new to think about when it comes to this mystery and it did it in such a constructive way that made sense. Lewis starts his book by exploring the facts and the different sources that made the case that the princes were murdered, and then he looks at why these sources have been misinterpreted and don’t tell the whole story. For example, the fact that More said that Edward IV died in his fifties when in fact he died when he was in his forties, which is a big age gap.  Lewis asks rather obvious questions about the anti- Ricardian argument like why did Elizabeth Woodville turn over to her sons if she believed that Richard III was truly evil. It was by going through these sources and these obvious questions that started to create a lot of doubt in my mind whether or not the side I was on in this debate was accurate.

Lewis then dives into the lives of those we call the “pretenders”, Lambert Simnel and image015Perkin Warbeck. These were the most famous pretenders and the ones who challenged Henry VII’s right to the throne. If they were really the princes in the tower, why were they defeated? Why were they considered pretenders? Lewis explores other people who could possibly be the princes, including a theory by amateur art historian Jack Leslau on “The Family of Sir Thomas More” by Hans Holbein the Younger.

The theory that Matthew Lewis presents in this book is very unique. In order to understand what he is trying to do, you have to be open to a different perspective on this quagmire of a topic: the princes in the tower. There are certain books that come along and totally shake what you believe in, but you should not be afraid to read these kinds of books. I did not know what to expect when I started this book, but Lewis presented an argument that made sense and made me question everything I thought I knew about this mystery. Now I want to reread the sources and try to understand them better. I would recommend this book for anyone who thinks Richard III is innocent, guilty, or you are unsure of your position in this debate. “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth” by Matthew Lewis breathes new life into this debate and begs the question: what if the princes in the tower lived?