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Terry Jones' Medieval Lives Hardcover – 5 Feb 2004

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Books (5 Feb. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0563487933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0563487937
  • Product Dimensions: 18.9 x 2.2 x 24.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 478,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Terry Jones has it in for the Renaissance. It was the humanists of the Renaissance who created the standard image of the Middle Ages as a time of ignorance, misery and superstition and it is this image that Medieval Lives, the book based on Jones's BBC TV series, aims to dispel. According to Jones the men of the Renaissance could hardly have been more wrong. To him the medieval period is one of endless fascination, and its people not the benighted barbarians the humanists imagined but members of a rich and vibrant culture. Taking some of the standard stereotypes of medieval people we all have--the peasant, the outlaw, the monk, the damsel--he investigates the reality behind the image. What he reveals undermines our conventional views of the Middle Ages. Peasants were not all illiterate clods, spending their short and miserable lives in back-breaking labour on the land. Many of them could read a little--even Latin--and most worked fewer days of the year than their counterparts in the 19th century. Women in the period were not the downtrodden chattels of their lords and masters but were often more in charge of their destinies than they would be in later centuries.

All this slaying of the dragons of misrepresentation of the medieval era makes for exhilarating reading. Jones sometimes plays too much on his Python persona. Did we really need him to dress up for the camera so much in some of the book's photographs? (The picture of him in drag as a coyly smirking damsel on page 191 is particularly scary.) Yet his own enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and this is a thoroughly entertaining and eye-opening book. --Nick Rennison


"Jones laces the latest academic research with his own increasingly avuncular humour. Who says history can't be fun? In the hands of Professor Jones, how could it be anything else?" (Observer)

"Jones really knows his subject, he is also a passionate apologist for the Middle Ages.... and you also learnt things which made your view of the period a little more complex" (Independent)

"Jones is a reliable and accurate guide to his period, mercifully free from the pomposity that afflicts so many telly historians. Three cheers for Terry Jones" (London Evening Standard)

"Brimming with life, colour, and yes, facts too" (Daily Telegraph) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By F. Aetius on 9 Sept. 2008
Format: Paperback
In this book Terry Jones discusses his view of the Middle Ages, as he attempts to show that our view of the period as being one of darkness and stagnation is only half the picture. Jones explains how our view of the Middle Ages have been skewed by nearly five centuries worth of negative propaganda. From Renaissance scholars who disparaged the Middle Ages to make their own period seem greater in comparison (Jones notes that the Renaissance men were backward looking and conservative) to 19th century Romantics who created bizarre Medieval stereotypes for their own amusement. Later on 20th century filmakers would combine these sterotypes, and in doing so, they created "a period of history that never existed" - that is, the Medieval World which we often imagine to exist is actually based on biased sources from centuries past, written by people with axes to grind, or by romantic day-dreamers.

Jones attempts to tackle these stereotypes head on, and he uses first hand accounts, the most up-to-date scholarly research and modern archaeology to create a different view of the Middle Ages in Britain.
Each chapter tackles a different stereotype, examples being: The Peasant, the Minstrel, the Outlaw, the Monk, the Philosopher, Knight, Damsel, and King.
Jones gleefully deconstructs these images and shows us another side to these groups. For instance he argues that Medieval peasants often had more days off work and rights than their descendants in the Victorian industrial age, or that fourteenth century Medieval women had a sort of semi-emancipation (making them much better off than their descendants in the Renaissance) or that Knights, far from being dashing, were often the Medieval equivalent of Mercenaries and arms dealers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jamie Beckwith on 21 Sept. 2008
Format: Paperback
I hadn't seen the TV series which this accompanies but I did know of the Former Python's keen interest in History so I was sure I was in for a good book. I'm glad I wasn't dissapointed.

An extremely informative book, it debunks the whole concept of the "Middle Ages" as a Reformation construct and sets about trying to present an accurate picture of life post Norman invasion and up until the end of the War of the Roses. By taking the stereotypes of the Medieval era such as peasent, minstrel, damsel, knight and monk and devoting a chapter to each, the author is able to set the context and then show how the reality differed from the image. We learn that by todays standards peasents probably had a better lot and were far from illiterate, the church was a money spinning enterprise, women were outspoken (and horny!) and knights invented the chivalric code simply as a way to legitimise institutionalised violence.

Some reviews found Jones's use of modern allusions too jarring but I personally thought they were infrequent and when they did pop up helped us see the historical absurdities with a modern eye. Given the state of affairs in the world today I'd be very interested to read Jones's book on the Crusades.

I learnt a lot of new things such as the role minstrels played in the propoganda of war, and about King Louis the First & Last, the de facto ruler of England towards the end of King John's reign and that of his child heir Henry III. Whilst the book was very easy to read and suffused with a sense of humour there were plenty of scholarly footnotes as a useful springboard for anyone looking for a more weighty and academic read.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 9 Mar. 2004
Format: Hardcover
At last, a book -and excellent TV series- to redress the balance in the propaganda war that is history. This book is superb and very accessible for young people. They will never look at the Middle Ages in the same way again... despite what they might have learnt in school! Rule one for any historian is to have a healthy disregard for the official line!
I was especially pleased to see that Terry Jones has some sensible comments to make about Richard III and the so-called Princes in the Tower (could have done with a bit more about the later.) At least he recognises Shakespeare's image of Richard as Tudor propaganda based on commentaries from the likes of More and Rous who changed his spin with the current king! Jones does not engage in Ricardian hysteria either, so it makes the short section on Richard III very readable.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By L O'connor on 2 July 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Each chapter in this very enjoyable book deals with a different type of Medieval person, the Peasant, the Lady, the Knight, the Monk etc, and shows that the reality is often very different from the popular stereotype. For instance, in the chapter about the Peasant we learn that the lot of the common people was not as bad as we might have been led to believe, and that Medieval peasants had in gneral a higher standard of living, and far more legal rights than is generally believed. The chapter on the Lady shows how women in Medieval society also had far more autonomy than is usally thought, and we learn about women managing estates, running businesses, and being able to obtain divorce for a variety of different reasons (the bit about impotent men being examined by a jury of matrons is particularly hilarious). The chapter on the Philosopher is one of the most interesting in the book, it shows that science and medicine were far more advanced in medieval times than is generally thought. Medieval doctors were much more effective at curing diseases than they are usally given credit for, and they even understood the use of anaesthetics. I would have liked it if the book had said a little more about women in general (for istance, in the chapter on the Philosopher, there is no mention of the fact that there were women physicians in the Middle Ages). And I was a little surprised to fidn that Terry Jones apparently takes seriously the apologists for Richard III. But these are minor quibbles. Overall, this is a very amusing and interesting book, and it gorgeously illustrated throuhgout with exquisite colour pictures from Medieval art.
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