Apparently, after a sculptor's death, French law permits the creation of no more than 12 casts of a piece. You can visit one of these casts of Rodin's The Burghers of Calais next to the Houses of Parliament, in Victoria Tower Gardens. Its emotional power - the courage, pride and selflessness of the burghers, the ultimately controllable aggression of the victor implied by the context - is immediate, but much stronger if you understand its story. In 1347, two kings fought for their right to France. Edward III was 35 and had been King of England for 10 years. Philip VI was 53 and had been King of France for 19 years. As the only male grandson of Philip IV, when his uncle Charles IV died in 1328 with no male heirs, Edward's claim to the French throne was stronger than Philip's. But Philip VI, son of Philip IV's little brother, was sponsored by the French magnates, who invalidated Edward's claim by saying it came through a female forbear, Isabella of Acquitaine, and was therefore against Salic Law. Philip IV gets you to the heart of so much European history - his campaigns were financed by Jews and the Knights Templar, neither of whom he could repay, so he banished both in 1306 and 1307. Conflict with the Papacy also resulted in an "all out" Avignon home for French popes from 1309 to 1376, an impasse only resolved by the Council of Constance in 1414 -18, which helped to usher in the Renaissance (since so many scribes came together with their religious masters to show off their Greco-Roman scripts) and the Reformation (with the burning of Jan Hus, one of Martin Luther's heroes, in 1415).
The Crusades, the Moors in Spain, the Guelph conflict with Ghibelline and the influence of Byzantium - how do you piece together the jigsaw of history? With big pieces, given that one lifetime is not long enough to corral all the information. This book provides a score of big pieces, each painted by a masterful educator, who explains terms (like Welf/Guelph, or shires and shire reeve) concisely as we travel with him. Beautifully published and generously illustrated, the book has the look and feel of a Dorling Kindersley, but the playful, unselfconscious substance and narrative momentum of, say, Bamber Gascoigne or C.V. Wedgwood. Most school English history begins with the Tudors, but Henry VIII's father closes a 1066 - 1485 era in which English and French kingship was inextricably entwined, primarily because the Normans claimed Normandy from France before they invaded England and subsequently built on their French land-grab by claiming, first, Anjou ((*) south of Normandy), and then, further south, Aquitaine. The French tolerated the Anjouvin (Angevin) empire, as long as it paid lip service, or homage, to a French kingdom based in Paris (Capet until 1328; Valois until 1589, when Henri IV of Navarre kicked their Medici asses out). When English kings didn't, wars resulted, bringing forth many romantic greats, especially Eleanor of Aquitaine, or her son, Richard the Lionheart, or, after them, the French king, (Saint) Louis IX, whose statue stands outside Missouri's St. Louis Art Museum.
200 pages is a very small price to pay to bring today's statues alive, in London or Missouri, which makes this excellent 20 piece jigsaw excellent value.
[(*) in England, the heir to the throne is the Prince of Wales and the next in line is the Duke of York. When both titles are occupied, as they currently are by Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, the Duke of Cambridge is used (William) and then Sussex will be, when Harry marries. These are all places a distance from London, which requires loyal dukes to run them. Similarly, the Duc d'Anjou has (I think) generally been applied to the heir's little brother. Nobody tells you these things, until you come across books like this, which explain or intimate so much.]