27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
The book 'The Hollow Crown', by Miri Rubin, is a fascinating text. It covers the mid-to-late Plantagenet time, beginning after the pivotal time of famine in the early 1300s, continuing up to the beginning of the Tudor era - this is a time that may be best known generally thanks to Shakespeare's plays, although the plays do exhibit poetic license taken by Shakespeare to heighten both the dramatic art and the political regime of the Tudors.
This is an interesting period, with the dynastic stability of Edward I giving way over the generations to inter-family strife, better known now as the Wars of the Roses. Rubin's chapter divisions follow the reigns of the major monarchs in rough outline: Edward II, Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV & V (combined into one chapter), Henry VI, and the finish (Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III, and into Henry VII's reign). As this is a fairly standard way of dividing British history, it makes things accessible to the general reader as well. Within these broad divisions, however, Rubin carries various themes across the periods as needed - economic, geopolitical, cultural and other kinds movements and shifts are reflected by more than the rise and fall of particular monarchs. Rubin also takes a fairly even-handed approach, without taking sides in particular controversies (Was Henry IV's rise to power a legitimate one? Was Richard III's reign legitimate, and did he have the princes in the Tower murdered? - Rubin references such controversies without taking a partisan stance).
As others have noted in their reviews of this book, it wants a good editor, and unfortunately modern publishers have been cutting back on their editorial services to authors under the mistaken reasoning that computer editors can do an adequate job - alas, such is not the case for scholarly writing, and Rubin's text is most assuredly scholarly writing. Despite the fact that Rubin states in her introduction that this is not intended as a book for other professional historians, the reading can be heavy-going and detail-oriented at times, but other parts have a wonderful narrative flow.
I am one who can never get enough of history, and perhaps now qualify (as a newly-hired adjunct professor of history) as one of the professional historians for which this book was not intended, but I am very glad to have read it. Rubin's scholarship is careful, and her final essay, a narrative bibliography of sorts, is in itself a pleasure to read. Rubin lists the extended bibliography on her professional webpage (Queen Mary College, University of London, search for her name among the staff), and this is a wonderful resource for further reading as well. There are useful maps, some colour plates in the centre, and a genealogical chart tracing Edward II to Henry VII. The index is well done (always a plus in scholarly writing).
Perhaps one element that sets this apart from many standard histories is the concentration on issues of daily life and work of the common folk by Rubin - many royal and official histories detail the great movements of state or the personalities of the high and mighty, with only glancing care toward the greater mass of people living during the times. Rubin gives good account of the way in which people worked, traveled, traded, and acted in religious, social and political ways. This is an element not to be missed.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2005
There's a minor misstep in Miri Rubin's The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages. Perhaps it's a problem with the entire Penguin History of Britain collection, I'm not sure, as I haven't read any other examples. The problem is a matter of audience: as in, I can't really tell what audience it's for. The preface states that it's intended not primarily for historians, but for those "historians" outside the universities. These would be people like curators of museums, history teachers in the public schools, those guarding historical sites, and those who publish amateur research, that sort of thing. It also seems to be intended as history for the general public, those who may have an interest in history but aren't really experts in it. This is all well and good, but the problem is that the book is way too dry for the layman and the information is probably already known to a great deal of amateur historians.
Thus, the book seems to miss its target and be the wrong thing to the wrong people. The Hollow Crown has a great deal of detailed information about life in Great Britain from 1307 to 1485. It covers everything from daily serf life to how churches greatly influenced the daily life of both commoners and the nobility. It covers economics, agriculture, politics, and everything in between. For the historian who is just starting out, there is a lot of good information about British daily life in this book, and it becomes a valuable informational tool for the beginner. It could also be greatly useful for any writer who wants to set a book in this time period, as there is a lot of background information that would make a setting seem realistic. That was actually the first thing that occurred to me as I was reading it.
The book is divided into chapters separated by the monarch at the time (the only chapter containing two monarchs is the one dealing with Henry IV and Henry V, but there is a reason for that. Their rules were so much the same in exploits and aims that they almost must be studied together. Thus, we get to see how life was different under each of these kings. Probably most interesting, Rubin provides us with the political fall-out (both by the nobility and the common man) when a king is deposed rather than chosen as an heir (Henry the IV was a prime example of that). Rubin is at her most interesting when she is talking about the politics of the day, and I found that the book picked up my interest level when she was talking about them.
Of course, learning about the daily life of these people can be interesting too, but here Rubin falls down a bit. These sections are very dry, and while she is imparting good information, they were a real struggle to get through. Each aspect of life gets its own section within the chapter, and she uses a lot of information she gathered from local records. These records could be on food production (what was grown and exported where) or they could be marriage records or other ecclesiastical court documents. She discusses the role of the clergy, both in religious instruction and legal matters, and about how some peasants grew tired of the constant corruption in the churches at times. Rubin tries to tie these sections together and relate them to each other, but a lot of times it just seems like Rubin's listing a bunch of things to illustrate her point and then she moves on to the next one. I can almost see her say, "Ok, I've got food production done. Now on to the clergy, and then local courts." It doesn't help that her prose style doesn't really make these sections grab your attention, though she does try.
Each chapter starts with an introduction, giving a general overview of that monarch's reign. Rubin then leaves the king for the moment, except where he (or his queen) had an impact on daily life (such as a section on Edward III and chivalry). She then ends the chapters detailing the politics of the king, various foreign adventures he had and what he did with his monarchy before dying (or being deposed, as two of them were). These sections on the king are the most interesting of the bunch, as we see how Britain related to the rest of the world (which we also do when Rubin discusses trade, but that's not as interesting). As the turbulence of the late 1400s hits, the book becomes almost fascinating, as she covers a lot of the political intrigue that took place during the Wars of the Roses (which term, interestingly, she only uses once, and this is when she says that Shakespeare christened the dynastic wars "the Wars of the Roses"). She also glosses over the Richard III controversy, pertaining to the killing of the two young princes. She says that he was blamed for it, but she doesn't come down on one side or the other.
The Hollow Crown is obviously well-researched, and Rubin works very hard to show it. While there are no footnotes or end notes, she does provide a chapter-by-chapter list "essay on further reading" for the most heavily used sources, and she provides a complete bibliography of her sources on her web site. This is actually the first time I've ever seen something like that, where the author actually tells you to go to a web site for more complete information on the book you are reading, but I guess it is a sign of the times. Seeing as the book is already quite long, I can see why enclosing a complete bibliography in the book itself would be difficult.
Overall, am glad I read The Hollow Crown, but it was a chore to get through at times.
This is a `proper' history book with a wide historical sweep, centred on the Britain of the early and middle medieval period. It has some interesting things to say beginning with Edward II, deposed by his own wife, Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, which sets the scene for a hugely turbulent period in Britain, where English kings adventured over much of France, and more than one unstable king ended up deposed. This book does not concentrate entirely on the lives of kings, however, it also ranges over a wide variety of subjects. The lives of ordinary people are given fascinating detail, including their laws, work, trades and guilds, religion, politics and parliaments, women's lives and times of war and pestilence. Because it ranges so widely it cannot give us the narrative sense of an individual king's existence and the detailed tenor and tone of his reign, but it does a very good job of widening the horizon, putting individual monarchs into context and recounting broad issues surrounding their reign.
Miri Rubin has a great depth of knowledge and manages to convey the pace of change without overloading one's brain with too much detail. In fact, this book acts as a great taster for the history of our islands. It gives colour and perspective to a period of history that has too much been shrouded in Shakespearian mystique and antique notions of how people lived and died during the Hundred Years War.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2005
The book follows the period of history from the reign of Edward II(1307) through to the death of Richard III resulting with the victory of Henry VII(1485).
It is a very accessible book for anyone with an interest in this period of history and will be interesting for both the history fan and the occasional history reader. It's written in an easy flowing style where events and elements of each period of the era are covered in a concise way, with no needless waffle. There are lots of quotes from documents and diaries of people from the time, both clergy and secular which make for interesting reading. The quotes given are only to emphasize the point of a certain subject and broaden the topic and add information within context of the period, without feeling like it's padding out the book content. Each quote is there for a reason.
The book is set out very well and keeps the attention of the reader, with main chapters covering periods of the era....such as the reign of Edward II. Within the chapters are subchapters with headings such as "Towns", or chapters relating to women and women's work, or about the state of the parish. Take for instance "Towns", I believe throughout the book this subject is covered maybe 3 times within different periods....but it's good information on how towns had progressed, whom the people were living and working in the towns, their incomes, their expectations and one or two comparisons with previous or future eras to judge how expansion affected towns or how something like the plague affected produce and workers. In this way you can get a real sense of how lives changed and developed around the times covered, relating to a lot of factors, be it war, disease or a constant change of government in the Wars of the Roses.
All the monarchs of the age, from 1307-1485 are covered with major events such as the deposition of Edward II and Richard II, the Battle Of Agincourt and of course the main factors involved in the Wars of the Roses. Although the book follows closely the reigns of the monarchs it is not solely about kings, but ultimately in this era of history the ruling king had a big influence on how the country was, in terms of wealth and security among other things; all subjects are covered.
If you love medieval and later middle ages history you will enjoy this book, and although it may not add anything groundbreaking from the era it is well written and some subjects are looked at from a different angle to how I have seen in other books of this period.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 11 February 2012
This book is a social history. Those looking for the political history of one of the most important periods in English history - covering the Hundred years War and the Wars of the Roses - will be sadly disappointed by this book. Yes, some of these events are covered, but extremely sketchily, with very little detail and often with a novel spin. Ninety percent of the book is about social history with repeated sections on religion, the law, marriage, the towns, rural life and much, much more.
The final chapter covers the period 1461 to 1485, arguably one of the most momentous periods in English history; of the 44 pages, 16 dealt with the events and the remaining 28 with social issues. The bloodiest battle on English soil, Towton, is mentioned in one word, in one sentence.
The book would be, or should be, completely acceptable as a social history if that was what it was advertised as being. For myself, I see nothing on the cover, in the title (which I was mystified by until the final chapter that seeks to explain it - unconvincingly in my view), in the blurbs and endorsements, in the contents or anywhere else that make this plain. This was the paperback edition; possibly the dust cover of the original hardback offers more. The book was part of the Penguin History of Britain Series; perhaps these are all similar in style and perhaps I should have known this. I cannot say.
Even the social history would not suit all. I found the style difficult, heavy and vague in places, even woolly, full of anecdote, but very little fact. I thought to myself, suppose I was writing a novel about an ordinary family set in, say, 1450; how much does this book tell me about life in those times? The answer, I realised, was not very much. The social history was written on a rather fuzzy macro level, with lots of examples admittedly, but mostly these were isolated, very often disjointed, and always anecdotal and, as a consequence, my understanding of life on the micro level was not enhanced.
The excessively verbose technique left me continually re-reading sentences to make sense of them; this is always a major turn off for me - those situations, a bit like reading Nietzsche, when you can understand the meaning of each word taken separately but can derive no meaningful intelligence out of the whole. Of course I should perhaps have been warned of this as the front cover includes a tribute from none other than Peter Ackroyd whose biography of Thomas More was probably the most challenging read, not counting Nietzsche, I have ever encountered.
For me personally I can give this one star only. If I had known it was a social history I might have given it two stars, but the wordy, awkward and disjointed style could persuade me to nothing more.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2005
If you are interested in the period of history often best-known through Shakespeare's plays then this is an excellent run through the years 1300-1500. As it's title suggests, it covers the monarchy in detail with the central theme of the uncertainty of succession in this period. But it also covers in a very structured way, all the different aspects of late medieval life. She has a support ability to reference specific examples of facts and trends without losing the narrative or analysis. It does touch on Welsh and Irish aspects but essentially this is English history and done in a very fresh, readable but intelligent style - perhaps helped by the fact that she has a Jewish/American background. Quality popular history.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 8 February 2012
Overall, this book is a disappointment. I shall start with its good features which include a stream of interesting facts, and an easy flowing style. Unfortunately, the book came over as more a potpourri, than a historical narrative, and preserves a studied neutrality about significance. The cumulative effects of the famines followed by the plagues of the 14th century were the greatest demographic setback across the world since antiquity, if not ever; a point the author acknowledges. Yet, it is treated in the same low key way as, and at similar length to, minor changes in trading, or religious or cultural practices. I felt similarly about the great wars of the period; the Hundred Years War kept vanishing then reappearing, chapter by chapter, but there was no sense of its wider significance, until perhaps the section on its ending. I understand the author's aim to avoid writing `old-fashioned history' about kings, and queens and battles, but some context is needed. I think the book also lacked any real sense of temporal change. I reacted with shock when the impact of artillery on the Hundred Years War was mentioned, since this conveyed an idea of military evolution, a concept absent in other fields. My last criticism concerns the fact that the book is simply not what it purports to be. It is not by any reasonable definition, a history of Britain, since it deals almost exclusively with the English state, and where it strays from that, its point of view is of that state. The author describes her definition as being meaningful in some way, and she is right to the extent that she reflects the Anglo-centric view that saddens any in Britain who hope for a wider perspective. This is particularly disappointing because I think that both Scottish and English historians, writing about her period, (I am ignorant of the Irish and Welsh equivalents), tend to pay far too little attention to what was happening in the other nation, and her remit should have allowed her to address this.
on 10 March 2015
Dull as ditchwater, pedestrian. Probably well researched but repeats long descriptions of social poverty in almost every chapter. We only need to be told once how floods and plague affect a peasant population. This is one of the most fascinating periods of our history rendered mind numbing by this writer. Sorry, gave up after the introduction and further four chapters.
on 14 August 2014
This is not a history of Britain. There is hardly any mention of Scotland in it. There are maps of Wales, Ireland and of course England, but nothing from north of Northumberland. None of the 26 illustrations are of any Scottish subject. Furthermore, I don't think the author realises that that is a problem! It's a flop, if you want a history of Britain ...
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2009
Miri Rubin's The Hollow Crown is a good book to turn to for a research project or a informatinal read. It laid out the period from 1307-1485 as a great cycle of events that made England, that disgraced England, and that terrized England.
Edward II and Edward III's reigns are at the start of the book. Edward II, the first English king deposed, and Edward III, the spectuclar warrior-king who won the famous battles of Sluys, Crecy, and Calais. Their reigns presented us how a father can destroy a reputation, but a son can build it back. Richard II and his tyrannical reign is next. It is heartfelt to read how Richard nearly destroyed his subject's pride. Rubin does not say that Richard might have been affected as a child and that made him what he is. No, she says that Richard was a destestible king who deserved his deposition.
The Lancastrian dynasty comes on next-the hard pressed Henry IV, the heroic yet ruthless Henry V, and the pitiful Henry VI. Rubin gives new light into these fantastic events. The Wars of the Rose are also, and they privide us with an account of how bloody England could be.
Some parts of this book were a little tedious. Repitition was constant, but overall this was a good book. I liked it