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sweed basher - historian (PEMBROKESHIRE, UK)

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Princess Nest of Wales: Seductress of the English
Princess Nest of Wales: Seductress of the English
by Kari Maund
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Maund lets supposition cloud the facts and possibilities, 15 Feb 2011
This is a very interesting survey of the period of transition from native Welsh kingship in S.W. Wales to the Norman lordship of the early twelfth century, and Nest is a useful vehicle for this study. The author specialises in eleventh century Welsh history, so the outline of the Welsh political situation and social organization is by far the best part of the book; as a biography though it is unfortunately sadly wanting. There is little information on the life of Nest, other than the account left by her grandson Gerald de Barri. As a result Maund has needed to devote most of the text to an account of her father's career, and that of the Norman conquerors of the Pembroke region, the de Montgomery family. There is nothing at all wrong with this; these individuals are some of the leading players in the drama of the Anglicisation of Pembrokeshire and of the story of Norman involvement in Wales as a whole. What I do find very problematic is the way the attempt to in-fill the significant blank areas in Nest's life has been approached. There are far too many times when a single possible outline of events is taken as the only one, without any discussion of alternative possibilities. The author seems to have come to the subject with a pre-conceived theory of Nest's life story. This in itself is not that unusual, what is concerning is that there is a lack of academic argument. As no other lines of thinking on key points in her life are given an airing, you are simply given a single scenario for the life of Nest. This is not a very scholarly way of investigating issues that are of some significance in interpreting her life.
The two most significant areas that should have been given a much greater degree of debate are the date of her marriage to Gerald de Windsor, and when she became Henry I's mistress and bore him a son. Maund is emphatic that Nest could not have married Gerald until 1102, and supposes this was done at the suggestion of Henry I. There is no evidence for this; indeed some scholars have suggested a date two years before this for the birth of her oldest son by Gerald. Gerald was Steward of Pembroke for the de Montgomerys' from 1093 to 1102, and we know that although he was a landless knight prior to his involvement in Pembrokeshire, he was no insignificant functionary for his lord. As steward he was the senior officer of Arnulf de Montgomery in Pembroke, and was entrusted with a diplomatic mission to Leinster in Ireland in 1097. Maund's argument that so important a women would not have been given in marriage to Gerald in these years by de Montgomery is tenuous. Gerald was clearly a close and trusted member of the Montgomery affinity, to whom a marriage of this type as a reward for service can well be imagined. Nest's marriage was not used to legitimise the Norman conquest of Pembroke as she implies, and it is doubtful whether Nest was viewed with the significance Maund claims, by the Normans. They after all claimed this territory solely by conquest, not through marriage. Certainly at this period, there are few other examples of Norman lords marrying Welsh aristocratic women to gain power. Gerald of Wales tells us that Gerald de Windsor married Nest to `put down roots' in Pembrokeshire, but this seems to have been a personal decision, and was certainly not a policy that Henry I practiced elsewhere in Wales. The most powerful proof that Nest's ancestry was not influential in the fortunes of the de Carew family (the descendants of Gerald and Nest) is that they never seem to have behaved or had pretensions greater than the status of mense lords of the lordship of Pembroke, a status gained solely through the position carved out by Gerald de Windsor during the early twelfth century.
The second point is tied to the first in some ways, namely the date of Nest's relationship with Henry I. Maund has opted in her interpretation for the earliest possible date in the mid-late 1090's. Her son by Henry died on military campaign on Anglesey in 1157, but we have no way of knowing if he was an old man at that time or in his prime. Certainly, by Maund's view he would have been about sixty, not an impossible age but certainly one that would be considered advanced for active warfare. Crouch in `the Normans' has suggested the date of 1109 for her relations with Henry while Lloyd says that it `befell while Nest was the wife of Gerald'. Indeed almost any period during Henry's life could be acceptable for their relationship. Gerald de Windsor died about 1120, and Nest re-married twice more after this, bearing children for each husband. It is certainly possible that her child by Henry I was conceived following the death of one of her husbands, Gerald being the most probable. We do not necessarily have to see her as a married woman seduced or wantonly unfaithful to her husband indeed that seems to my mind less likely as guaranteeing the paternity of children was important at this time (a point Maund herself makes in relation to female virginity in this book). The fact that Nest knew the paternity of her son by Henry would obviously suggest that either she was not married at the time, or was not in an active relationship with her husband. We are sadly in ignorance for the date of birth of her son by Henry, and the manner of his death prevents us making an educated guess as we could if he had died in his bed. There is nothing implausible with Maund's theory, but it relies on the dismissal of the possibility of her marriage to Gerald de Windsor in the late 1090's and her residing in court circles rather that being still in Montgomery custody, for which there is no evidence at all. She even imagines an intention on the part of Arnulf de Montgomery to marry Nest himself, as a mechanism for the king (not wanting this to occur) to bring her into his keeping, thereby allowing for the early relationship with Henry at court. The only problem is that with no evidence to back up this scenario Maund falls back constantly on saying it may have happened like this, while in a couple of paragraphs this tentative suggestion is built on as probable fact. The result is a life story that is largely a house of cards with very few factual supports holding it up. As a consequence the book is academically both dubious and frustrating.


Young Winston: Special Edition [1972]
Young Winston: Special Edition [1972]
Dvd ~ Simon Ward

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly great film about a peerless man, 18 Sep 2010
I first watched this film in my early teens on TV and was captivated by the life Winston led. I had always had a deep respect for him, but only thought of him as an old, though great, man. My father had read all his works and had always told me some of his daring exploits as a young officer, most notably his capture and escape during the Boar War. But it was this film that opened my eyes to the sheer greatness of the times he grew up and lived through. From the titans of late Victorian statesmanship - Salisbury, Rosebery, Joe Chamberlain, his own father; so the list of great names goes on. The magnitude and greatness of the Empire too, the scale of the achievement and glory of it. In short I fell in love with those things Churchill himself cared so deeply about.
This film acted as a catalyst to start reading his works for myself - there is no finer book for a 14 year old boy to burry himself in than My Early Life, and no more wonderful thing than love of country. These I owe to this film and the germ of curiosity and wonder it kindled in my boyish heart.

I do not know if these sentiments were the ones this film were meant to produce, and it little matters. At the very least it is a fair, and captivating story, with all the excitement of a Boys Own adventure - except that it is true.

A must watch film.


Bloody Mary's Martyrs: The Story of England's Terror
Bloody Mary's Martyrs: The Story of England's Terror
by Jasper Ridley
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of horror., 6 May 2010
This book catalogues the last gasp of the old Roman faith, and its barbarism in regaining and retaining power; together with Mary's use terror and intimidation to suppress her own subjects who clung to the reformed faith. There had been no persecution of Roman Catholics under Edward VI, yet that was not the case when the opposing forces of Rome were in power. The dreadful treatment of ordinary men and women who were denounced to the state is pitiful - from women turned in by their husbands, to new born babies thrown into the flames. The treatment of some of the reformed bishops was appalling; particularly the unyielding malice for the 60 year old Cranmer; who, even after he had recanted due to brainwashing and bullying, was to be burnt is particularly shocking - as his last moment return to his conscience is heartening. At the same time, this is not a polemic against papism, and the excesses are not blamed in a blanket way on all Catholics, but on those exponents of cruelty. Indeed Ridley is very fair to some, such as Bonner, who were later reviled by Protestants.
The book itself is written in a style that at times reads too much like a list, with too little narrative for these facts to be hung on. This is in part due to the nature of the subject - it is not a history of Marys reign, but of the people she killed for their faith - all 283 of them.
Catholic apologists have in recent years tried to bombard us with a message that Elizabeth killed far more for their faith, that this somehow excuses the state terror under Mary: but this is not so; Elizabeth imposed fines on recusants (refuser's) from the Anglican Church, not execution. It was those convicted of civil crimes, such as attempted assassins and those who were, or aided, the illegal foreign extremists, the Jesuits, that were executed. This was for treason - NEVER just because they were Catholics.
This is in marked contrast to the Catholic persecution under Mary, where ones opinion on the authority of the Bishop of Rome was enough to get one burnt.

This book should be widely read, it acts to remind us of the tyranny that we have been freed from, and that we should be eternally grateful to the Protestant settlement, that set our feet on the road to modernity and liberty. I just wish that we were taught about these martyrs now, rather than such sadists as Thomas Moor, who gets such respectful treatment in our schools.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 3, 2014 11:56 PM BST


The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580
The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580
by Eamon Duffy
Edition: Paperback

40 of 65 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Catholic Apology as History., 30 April 2010
The whole thrust of this history is to attempt to prove that Medieval Catholicism was in fine fettle prior to the Reformation, and to imply that there was no popular support for reform. The history of the Late Medieval church in England is looked at in great depth, and for that reason it is a useful and necessary text, but it is in the conclusion that Duffy reaches that he allows his own position to dominate. Duffy is a fine historian, but not an impartial one. The authors 'The Voices of Morebath' is a good example where the desire to support his views results in a propagandising of the account he gives. The main thrust is that there was no spiritual decline within the Catholic Church before the Reformation, and that the pseudo-histories/gospels that were allowed by the religious authorities filled the need for greater lay understanding of Christ and the Gospel. The problem with this is that he down plays the significance of the illegal English translations that were circulating (they are one of the commonest medieval manuscripts to survive - a sign of their popularity) and the draconian treatment of any who questioned the power of the Catholic Church. He is willing to rest on the assumption that the change in for example the style of wills was due to coercion by the non-persecuting state of Edward VI; yet he does not even consider the spiritual coercion, propaganda and shear violence used to maintain the status quo in the fifteenth century. The question is not answered as to why a supposedly popular religious leadership felt the need to see any who possessed an English Bible as an enemy and threat to them - why would such popular establishment position need to use threats to maintain itself, and fundamentally what was there to fear in a vernacular bible that made owning one a capital crime?
The decay of arguably the powerhouse of medieval religion - the monastic life - is not really dealt with, or the lack of respect that monks and others religious began to enjoy in this period (not just by Lollards, but by 'catholic' commentators such as Chaucer and Langland)
In short the whole book is shot through with a lamentation at the destruction of the superstition and papal deference that the Reformation brought to England, and a justification for the very practices that were done away with. If you can get beyond that Roman Catholic agenda then this is, as I say, a useful account of the nature of late medieval established religion; but to swallow the conclusions as 'fact' would be,I suggest, a mistake.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 3, 2014 11:33 PM BST


For the Lion: History of the Scottish Wars of Independence
For the Lion: History of the Scottish Wars of Independence
by R.C. Paterson
Edition: Paperback

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Reasonable History Spoilt by Personal Politics, 19 May 2009
This book is a reasonable short history of the `Wars of Independence' although it is lacking footnotes and proper references. It is unfortunately marred by the author's own prejudice. Call me old fashioned but I do believe that it is necessary to keep some distance when dealing with historical issues that evoke nationalist sentiment today, else any trust the reader can have in the objectivity of the assessment of facts is lost. Sadly that is so with this book. Although the author is not openly abusive about all the English leaders, he does seem to have the need to denigrate their abilities, a slant that was particularly marked when dealing with Edward III. Widely viewed as one of the greatest of medieval kings in Europe, he is depicted as a political and military `butterfly', who loses interest in prosecuting the Scots war due to a shallow opportunism. The reality would seem to be that Scotland was viewed as a side show in comparison to the French conflict, and that to a degree the House of Bruce gained a reprieve by the outbreak of the Hundred Years War. The author over-emphasises the minor battle of Culblean, while skimming over the great Scots reverses of Halidon Hill and Neville's Cross as swiftly as possible.
This can be overlooked as the partial interpretation of a Scotsman with a natural sympathy for his own heroes (that is fair enough, nearly all historians have an affection for some of the people they write about), but there is no excuse for the last few paragraphs which are an explicit attack on the current Union, and a call for that union to be broken. He is entitled to his opinion, but I sugest that they have no bearing on a book about early fourteenth century Scotland. Indeed it is interesting that there are few small minded English historians writing about this period who puff England's achievements and denigrate those of the Scots. I have never read an English history that crows over Flodden, or Neville's Cross for that matter. Let historians write the books and the petty nationalists go and join the SNP, and may never the twain meet.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2011 4:10 PM GMT


Tales From The Green Valley [DVD]
Tales From The Green Valley [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peter Sommer
Price: 10.27

31 of 73 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars AND THEY CALL THIS FARMING, 8 Oct 2007
I am an eleventh generation farmer (plus historian). When I first saw this on TV with my father we were both interested to see how the programme would go, especially as some of the people professed to have prior knowledge of the land. We spent large parts of each episode variously laughing, shouting at the TV and often turning over in frustration. It was awful. My father was brought up when horses were still used on the land, before herbicides and when you carried two hundredweight bags of corn on your back. And even when I grew up - and today for that matter - many of the skills used then are still known even if not practiced. They didn't know what they were doing at all, and didn't know one end of a horse from another! The older feller, the `expert' in farming methods made constant remarks that he was following some Tudor or Stuart description, completely ignoring the fact that many of these accounts were written by people who were armchair experts with no practical knowledge - farmers at the time would have been as wise to follow their descriptions as one would be to listen too much to some of the theorists that can be found in agricultural colleges today. The result: that the obvious way of doing a given chore was ignored in the desire to slavishly go `by the book'. He showed himself to be `book smart' but to have no real understanding of what he was doing. For instance, when harrowing they drag some branches of thorn and gorse behind their horse, anyone with the slightest knowledge would know that the branches were woven into a rectangular timber harrow frame which provides weight. This was still being done in the fifties and such harrows are found in illustrations from the fourteen century, so they were certainly known. I know that the reply to my criticisms will be that things were done differently then than now; not so, farmers wanted to get the best return from their land and stock then as now, the methods of cultivation were the same, the only difference being the scale, and a cow was always a cow in any century - though the girl would need considerably more practice to get a job milking then or now (and yes cows are still sometimes stripped down by hand today). A farmer from the seventeenth century would recognise their clothes and what they were trying to do but would dismiss them as a bunch of pathetic town dwellers - much as we would such well meaning armatures today. It is more like the Good Life in costume than an insight into normal agricultural life in the past. If you have any connection with the land avoid this, or at least take a tranquilizer before watching it, your nerves won't stand it otherwise!
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 12, 2010 3:25 PM BST


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