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Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources (Classics)
Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources (Classics)
by Asser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not such 'dark ages'......, 24 Feb. 2015
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This book is a valuable and fascinating resource shedding light on the life and career on King Alfred of Wessex, who became known (in my opinion deservedly so) in later centuries as ‘The Great’. In the simplest level the main body of the book is simple an account of Alfred’s reign, written by the Welsh monk, Asser.

Admittedly, his work was bound to be partisan and designed to make Alfred look good, and the cynical may claim that this renders in unreliable. Yet there may be found insights into the source of Alfred’s greatness. More than simply a warlord fighting against the Vikings, Alfred took steps to restore learning and education. The learning and application of wisdom’ seems to have been a subject close to Alfred’s heart, and though he himself did not learn to read until his later years, he seems to have established a school of sorts. Since the decline of the learning in England is lamented in the preface to the translation of Gregory’s Pastoral Care, this particular foundation may have been considered particularly important.

The ‘other contemporary sources’ mentioned in the title include extracts from some of Alfred’s own translations’ of important works, including Boethius Consolation of Philosophy. There are some profound thoughts here, on life, leadership, philosophy and religion. ‘Wisdom is the highest virtue’ says Alfred’s translation of the work ‘one is caution, the second moderation the third courage and the fourth justice’. The King did take some liberties with his ‘translations’ sometimes inserting ideas of his own (one passage in the Boethius translation hints at the idea of the ‘three estates’ for instance.

Some may challenge the notion that medieval religion was based on ‘blind faith’ with not room for rational inquiry “Therefore we must investigate God with all out might, so that we might know what He is. Although it is not within our capacity to know what He is like, we ought nevertheless to inquire with the intellectual capacity which he gives us”

Or as in a passage from Augustine ‘He rules the Kings who have the greatest dominion on this earth, who are born and die like other men. He permits then to rule as long as He wills it’. Another translation reveals perhaps something of Alfred’s concerns, priorities and interests. Pastoral Care written by the seventh century Pope Gregory contains several short ‘chapters’, entitled respectively

‘Concerning the Burden of Government, and how the ruler must despise all hardships and must recoil from all sense or security’ and ‘How the administration of Government often distracts the mind of the ruler’. The latter warns against a ruler may becoming ‘puffed up’ by his achievements and his people’s praising of them. The preface speaks of how rulers of old ‘obeyed God and his messages’ and maintained not only peace but ‘morality and authority’ and home and in the places to which they extended their power, and ‘succeeded both in warfare and in wisdom’. Perhaps these were idealistic and naive expectations, rarely met, if indeed it was possible to do so. Yet it may be tempting to think they could be relevant to any age.

Alongside translations, there are extracts from the King’s laws, in his capacity as a lawgiver, and even a mention in the main Life of his having possibly developed a more efficient way of measuring time.

The Life of Alfred and other Contemporary Sources is a great start for learning of Alfred, and perhaps even understanding him in spite of the separation of over a millennium. Those interested in more academic analysis could of course read more, not that it is entirely lacking here. The notes are quite extensive. The two editors cum translators are also Cambridge scholars, who both worked on The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo Saxon England. Thus they are not historians out of their depth in an unfamiliar period, or enthusiastic laymen, but scholars who know their stuff, yet succeed in making it accessible- at least in my opinion.


Life in a Medieval Castle
Life in a Medieval Castle
by Joseph Gies
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars An older work, but still good, 24 Feb. 2015
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This was the first book I have read by these authors- it is a fascinating exploration of socio-political history the authors help to put flesh on the `bare bones’ of the crumbling stone ruins and empty shells which are all that sadly remains of castles today. They go beyond examining only the political or military function of castles (though this is covered) to explore castles in their roles as homes, and the `headquarters’ of estates with the central focus on Chepstow on the Welsh borders, but also other castles.

In chapters under titles such as `The Lord of the Castle’ `The Lady’ and the `The Household’ the inhabitants of castles are vividly bought to life, from the highest to the lowest, and the society in which castles played such an important role is examined. Along the way there are many gems of information, useful, enlightening and entertaining. One of my personal favourites was the section on table manners and dining etiquette which belies the popular misconception that medieval people were uncouth, uncivilized and vulgar- and reveals striking parallels between the etiquette of the middle ages and today. The sections on hunting, which reveal its roles as a social activity, `The Making of a Knight’ and `The Castle as a House’ are also fascinating.

My only complaint was that some of the information the first chapter did seem a little over simplified in some parts, and the claim that the Normans beat the English and Hastings because they were `better’ than them seemed represent a rather outdated interpretation- although this may be a reflection of the fact that the book was written in the 70s. As a result of the nationality of the authors there are some Americanisms (such as Richard the Lionhearted) which may prove a slight annoyance to British readers, and some might find the numerous photographs peppered throughout a history book distracting or irksome. Personally I had to problem with these, and felt they illustrated some of the themes and points made rather well.

The writing style of the authors makes the book accessible and not too high-brow or scholarly but not at the expense of primary source material which is used and included throughout the book. This said, those looking for a more detailed and in-depth examination of some of the subject matter with and academic slant which analysis and some of the sources won’t find much of it here. Although written by Medievalist Historians, `Life in a Medieval Castle’ is very much popular history- and very good popular history too


A Knight's Own Book of Chivalry: Geoffroi De Charny (The Middle Ages Series)
A Knight's Own Book of Chivalry: Geoffroi De Charny (The Middle Ages Series)
by Geoffroi de Charny
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.00

4.0 out of 5 stars The reality of Chivalry, 24 Feb. 2015
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One of the most famous French knights of his age, Charny’s Book of Chivalry was written in an age when his country was facing political crisis and defeat. In response to these problems, King Jean II founded the Order of the Star, for which the Book was written, in the hope that by returning to the chivalric ideals of loyalty and prowess, honour and victory could be restored. The introduction is very useful illuminating the wider historical and political context of the work, the book’s short sections and chapters make it readable and accessible to the general or academic reader.

Though idealistic in its treatment of the chivalric lifestyle, Charny’s book was also informed by realism borne from practical experience of warfare- the author’s own military career having spanned nearly 20 years. Thus Charny described the privations of war and the horrors of battle with the voice of one who had seen and lived through these, while encouraging knights and men at arms to always live honourably at all times, be unflinchingly loyal to a good lord, honest, pious and morally upright. Some behaviour advised and encouraged by the author may seem surprising, such as avenging upon enemies, or treating enemies harshly. Yet such were not inconsistent with the notion of Chivalry.

Though the ideals or behaviour commended by Charny may have been unattainable for many fighting men, his book still provides some fascinating insights into world and worldview of a Medieval knight who was not afraid to criticise his fellows for their cowardice, indolence and sloth. Charny was scathing in his fellows whose fear of death, or giving up their comfortable lives causing them to become reluctant to go to war, and even the noble classes do not entirely escape criticism. A good ruler should not ‘enrich himself at the expense’ of others for instance, nor use his position as an excuse for corruption and abuse.

Such admonitions reflected the criticisms levelled against the nobility of his own age, who were accused of misusing the money intended for the war, and rebuked for their debauched and decadent conduct. Charny echoed such sentiments, censuring knights who stayed too long in bed, spent too much money on finery, or occupied their time with ‘worthless games’. Worthy knights should instead seek after opportunities to show their prowess and martial skills. Those who abused their knighthood by attacking or pillaging without good cause or warning were not only unworthy of knighthood, but also of life, for knights were supposed to protect the realm, not abuse its subjects.

Altogether A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry is an interesting and revealing work written by a man who lived and died fighting for some of the very attitudes and ideals which it promotes.


Littlest Pet Shop LPSO Online Postcard Pets #1436
Littlest Pet Shop LPSO Online Postcard Pets #1436

4.0 out of 5 stars Good little toys.., 24 Feb. 2015
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Bought it for my niece, who it still really into them. Good quality, and seem to be strong and durable- which is important when they need to survive in the ownership of a 6+ child! She loves them, I'm happy, good all round.


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Illustrated and Annotated (History from Primary Sources)
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Illustrated and Annotated (History from Primary Sources)

4.0 out of 5 stars Useful in addition to others..., 24 Feb. 2015
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I have a paperback edition, compiling the various manuscripts together already- but this one was useful for cross referencing and easy access. Not perhaps an Academic edition, but useful nonetheless for study and research- and for finding certain incidents or passages quickly. Reasonable and good value for money.....but I would recommend to use alongside other editions if engaged in serious study as this might not be considered authoritative by itself.


Magna Carta: The Making and Legacy of the Great Charter
Magna Carta: The Making and Legacy of the Great Charter
Price: £6.64

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction, 24 Feb. 2015
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Great little book and Introduction to the people, places and background of the Magna Carta, helping readers realize why it was created and why it was important. The last chapter explores its legacy up to the modern age, and how it influenced the reformers of the 17th century England and later America- even when they read ideas into the charter that did not actually exist, such as modern notions of democracy.

Its also a good research tool, with some useful appendices, including the text of the Magna Carta in Latin and English, a timeline of events, and Brief Biographies of the leading figures.
I for one tend to be a little skeptical of ‘popular’ history books written by people who are not trained historians, but Dan Jones’ research seems to be sound, and this has whet my appetite for his next book, 1215 due for release later this year.


The Anglo-Saxon World
The Anglo-Saxon World
by Nicholas Higham
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £30.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff, 10 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: The Anglo-Saxon World (Hardcover)
Not read to the end, but the sections I have used were useful. The most recent scholarship, so its a useful complement to James Campbell's book that is a little dated, with plenty of maps and useful illustrations, and handy sub-sections explring relevant subjects.

Worthy edition to the library of any historian, Anglo-Saxonist or anyone interested in this period.


Margaret of Anjou: Queen of England
Margaret of Anjou: Queen of England
by Philippe Erlanger
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Useful book, with some reservations., 10 Sept. 2014
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Useful Biography of the Maligned Queen Margaret, from the point of view of 'the other side'- namely a French author. For those like me, who cannot help feeling there was (and perhaps still is) an element of racism behind the vilification of Margaret, its an interesting, different spin.

In some ways, this is useful, as the author is free from the prejudice against Margaret common in England, and has the more sympathetic view of a countryman, with an honesty that is sometimes refreshing (albeit brash). Indeed, the Yorkists, who did a hatchet job on Margaret's reputation were just as guilty of acts of unspeakable cruelty and ruthlessness- and arguably more-so. Margaret after all, despite her failings, was not generally in the habit of having her cousins and siblings executed.

My only major complaint was a few errors of fact- Erlanger, like Shakespeare, placed Margaret at the Battle of Wakefield, when she was not there. As recent historian's studies have demonstrated, she was actually in Scotland at the time of the battle, so could practically have had nothing to do with the death of Richard, Duke of York. Also, readers may wish to note this was a work, which I believe was translated from the French, so the sentence structure and writing style may be a little clunky or incorrect in places.

Good, albeit dated work on one of the most controversial, yet fascinating Medieval Queen of England which is work consulting, but should be taken with a proverbial pinch of salt in places.


The Bone Thief: (Wulfgar 1)
The Bone Thief: (Wulfgar 1)
by V.M. Whitworth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 21 July 2014
This novel was recommended to me at a conference, mainly because it was set in Mercia during the reign of Ęthelflęd, daughter of Alfred the Great and ‘Lady of the Mercians’. This period is not simply one of personal interest, but of current research for me. There does seem to be a strong ‘sense’ of period, and some of the detail was very interesting. Also, as another reviewer mentioned, the Catholic religious beliefs of the Saxon characters are not treated with contempt, ridicule or vilified as seems to be the case in some novels.Mrs Whitworth is clearly familiar with the era she writes about, and can re-create it convincingly for the reader using real events as an inspiration for the story.
The glossary was useful for the unfamiliar terms, and although its over 400 pages its not a heavy or tedious read.

Also, I have to admit though he may not be according to everyone’s taste I did take a liking to Wulfgar- aside from often loose tongue and his unhealthy infatuation with the Viking woman Gunnvor resulting in part from a certain scene in which he sees her in undergarments.
Yes he is weedy, was bullied by other boys as a child so has serious confidence issues, he’s a whiner, green around the gill’s and certainly not the sharpest tool in the shed- but I think I related to him as the unappreciated underdog who makes an unlikely hero.

His companion Ednoth seemed to be a typical hard-man, a useful balance with Wulfgar’s lack of fighting ability- and subtlety.
The other clerical character, Father Ronan had a grittier and more realistic outlook on life and his outlook and experiences seemed quite realistic for people for the Christians living in the Danelaw in which the established hierarchy of the church had broken down, and in which there might be nobody to perform ancient rites like baptism or confession. That said, I didn’t find him entirely likeable, perhaps because I thought him to be rather sycophantic and willing to compromise what he was supposed to stand for.

Gunnvor, the aformentioned Viking woman I found hard to warm to. She seemed little more than eye candy or and a potential Romantic interest for Wulfgar. Her strength of character, independence and having rescue the men from potentially dangerous situations seemed something of a stereotype perhaps intended to appeal to modern notions of girl-power.

Historically, I couldn’t find many problems, though I am not an archaeologist and so I’m not familiar with material culture and probably wouldn’t spot any errors in this regard. The main issue I had was the language, which often seemed rather too modern with characters using many contemporary terms and phrases. Perhaps this was necessary to allow for better understanding, but language which is too jarringly modern in historical fiction is an issue for me generally. Perhaps it’s just a matter of taste.

My only gripes with the story were that it could perhaps have been resolved more quickly and seemed to drag a little and some of the characters’ actions didn’t seem wholly consistent or plausible.
Without wanting to give away the story, it just seemed incredibly unwise for the other characters to expect Wulfgar go off on his own after all that had happened to them- and I’m really not sure that the Lady of the Mercians would have risked openly allying herself with Ęthelwold, the rival claimant to the West Saxon throne.

Overall, this was a good story with some memorable and lovable characters (in spite of their failings) which might appeal to those who aren’t so keen on novels full of battle or bedroom scenes. I’m certainly interested being re-united with Wulfgar the next book, The Traitor’s Pit and only hope his heroism doesn’t involve abandoning his convictions.


The Revolt of the Eaglets: (Plantagenet Saga)
The Revolt of the Eaglets: (Plantagenet Saga)
Price: £3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not, perhaps Plaidy's best...., 14 July 2014
I may be in the minority for having given this, my fourth Plaidy novel less than four stars, but I just don’t feel a higher rating was deserved. For one thing, the writing style seemed very repetitive, and, as other reviewers have said, Plaidy seemed to have been very much in the habit of telling rather than showing what was happening. I don’t really hold that against her, as that may have been a style common to the ‘70s when this book was first published.

It was good in places, showing the breakdown of the relationships between Henry and his sons, and illustrating how his apparent desire to keep power for himself seems to have contributed to it. The strong personalities of both King Henry and Eleanor also came though, with the friction between them quite well written. However, perhaps due to the constraints of space it did seem as though things were a little rushed, and events covered very quickly and not in great detail. To me, the novel seemed to read a little like ‘A Brief History of’ book in some places.
Perhaps I’m just not so used to the older style, though I have read other works by this author, and found 'The Queen from Provence' more compelling.

My only other gripe was that I was not sure of the accuracy of the incidents presented. Now I know no novel is going to be entirely accurate, and authors need to use artistic licence, but it seems that the alleged homosexual relationship between Richard and King Phillip II of France is little more than a myth, albeit one that seems to have been common at the time (in light of a similar insinuation in ‘The Lion in Winter’). I believe modern writers and historians are starting to question to whole idea that King Richard was ‘gay’.
I don’t know of any contemporary evidence the he was, and it’s now known that he did have at least one illegitimate son. Personally I think that just because the two men had a close relationship it does automatically follow they were romantically attracted to each other- and even for two men to share a bed did not necessarily carry sexual connotations at this time.

What with this and the mention of King Henry seducing Richard’s betrothed at the age of 11, which was cringe-inducing (which also may not have happened) I believe this may have been a case of artistic licence carried too far.

So in overall summary, Revolt of the Eaglets is worth reading, but may be prove frustrating for people who are more familiar than me with the details of the life and reign of Henry II, and those more used to recent writing styles.


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