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VINE VOICEon 17 January 2011
This is a quantum leap away from his previous 'The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England' but quite in line with his 4 excellent biographical studies of the period and clearly outlines his theory that historical 'facts' can be challenged using an Information based approach to argue with the evidence or lack of it and actually questioning what 'evidence' really means.

It has to be admitted that this is not going to appeal to the casual reader because it assumes too much prior knowledge. The author expects that the reader will already know the background to e.g. the death/murder of Edward II to appreciate his reasons why alternative readings of events can be outlined. The first chapter outlines the Information based approach that Dr Mortimer is using and I found that once I had fully taken this in, then the individual chapters became really exciting and thought provoking.

I cannot however recommend this book to readers of his other studies of the period for the following reason. I agree with the reviewer who has pointed out that the cover is rather misleading because it does tend to obscure the serious nature of the study: one chapter actually being devoted to arguing with specific critiques of the author's view that Edward II was not murdered in Berkeley Castle. After much thought I am still concerned by its marketing and am taking a star off the review for this reason. It is fair to say that this very serious study is being marketed in a way that will attract all the readers that were entranced by Dr Mortimers' other books on the period and that is unreasonable because it is not going to appeal in such a general way - in my opinion.

It is absolutely fascinating stuff but extremely hard going because it falls into the serious history arena. This is without doubt a tour de force as a study but again, the publishers are misleading us.
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on 11 November 2010
I have to admit, when I first saw Ian Mortimer's new history book-I was a bit dumbfound. He had always written history for the general reader, but with this book he was advertising scholarship instead of general readability. His questions in this book run very deep at the heart of English and indeed, European Medieval history.

This book contains ground-breaking research. On some things, Mortimer goes back to touch on again (for example the Death of Edward II). On others, he is presenting new evidence and histories of various topics (one being the concept of the pretender. I found all of this very intersting. I won't say its all easy to comprehend-you might have to reread the first chapter to take it all in, but nonetheless you will fing many thought provoking histories in this book. Central is Mortimer's scientific theory that helps determine what can be considered fact and what can't

This book, for all its scholarship, is a great tool for historians and for history buffs. It's not an easy read-on the contrary, Mortimer himself has stated it is very hard-core history. However, that does nothing to jeperdise Mortimer's historiacl reputation. If anything, this book enriches it, for here is Ian Mortimer's answers to the scholars and academics who have questioned him for so long.
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on 31 January 2011
The conventional view is that Edward II was probably murdered in Berkeley castle in 1327, perhaps by means of a heated rod inserted into his anus; but Ian Mortimer believes that the evidence for this, and even for the fact of the King's death in 1327, is very unreliable; that Edward escaped to Corfe Castle, Ireland and then Italy, where he lived in a monastery as a hermit. He was the same man who was known as William le Galeys, was still alive when Edward III went to see him in Germany in 1338 and probably did not die until 1341[pp 178 & 212].

Mortimer has argued this case in a series of remarkable books, and he now re-states it, in the context of an explanation of his methodology. He makes large claims for his general theory: he claims that his approach constitutes a `revolution' (indeed a `double revolution') in historical technique' [p 38]; and appears to believe that his theories have something in common with those used by scientists. Yet he shares nothing of the scepticism of the scientist and, at times, openly declares a faith. One day he will be proved right, and what he has been saying for years about Edward II will be shown to be the truth [p 146].

Many would regard the writing of history as part of literature - an art, and not a science at all, in the same sense as maths, physics and chemistry. Whilst it is important to be as accurate as possible in finding and selecting the facts, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we are re-creating the past, or even that we can be certain about it, or accurate in the way that mathematics and `hard' science are capable of being. We cannot construct theorems which use exact algebraic formulae; and we cannot conduct experiments, so as to falsify or confirm our theories. Ian Mortimer is not content with this. He seems to be running scared of epistemologists, postmodernists and critical theorists [pp. 1-2; 343]; and, in an attempt to meet their criticisms, seeks to construct a scientific theory. Indeed he claims to have discovered a new key to understanding the past. The subtitle of his new book is not misleading: he claims to have discovered `the code'. So what is it?

Unfortunately, the code is obscured by complicated names: it is either an `information-based approach' or `the fourth hermeneutic stance.' [p. 28]. This appears to mean that we should first take a critical look at all the sources relating to what we are investigating, asking in particular who the author is, why he wrote it, and whether it was written `in good faith'. If there is a `fog' surrounding the source, we disregard it, at least for the moment. Secondly, we compare the sources we have left - those whose provenance and good faith we can be sure of - deciding which is the most reliable, which depends (in part) on whether it is corroborated. Then, we base our narrative on the best source. I may have oversimplified, but Mortimer provides a diagram to prove his theory - see Fig 1.2 [p. 26]; and he belittles the very large number of historians who have not taken this approach in the past, by displaying their approach in figure Fig 1.1 [p 25] - as if every historian were guilty of using the same defective methodology.

Mortimer thinks that his approach will produce greater certainty; but if Fig 1.2 is meant to be something like algebra or a chemical formula, it is at the least misleading. The terms used do not signify the same thing to everyone - even to speakers of the same language. One almost hesitates to take it seriously - this is surely pseudo-science rather than science - but here goes. At the first stage, historians have surely advocated a critical approach to sources since at least the nineteenth century; but it only takes the investigator so far. He still has to decide the key questions according to individual skill and experience. The question of whether something was or was not written in good faith will not always be easy to decide, nor will the question of when and where there is a `fog'. At the first and second stages, we still have to employ `conventional techniques' to decide which source we are going to rely on, and corroboration does not always make a source into `the truth'. Probability will always remain important, since medieval chroniclers may relate the most fantastic of stories as if they are gospel, and even administrative records can be mistaken. The question of probability is something Mortimer repeatedly ducks, both in general and when it comes to the paradigm case of Edward II.

Mortimer's version of what happened to Edward II represents the triumph of methodology over common sense. He finds that there is only one source which says that the King died at Berkeley Castle in 1327, and the author wrote in bad faith. There is therefore a `fog' and he disregards this source, looking for another, created in good faith, for the idea that Edward survived. He finds it in the Fieschi letter (first discovered in 1877, though widely regarded as a forgery [pp 182-3]). This was not only written in good faith, it was also corroborated, at least in part. He therefore regards this version of the facts as preferable.

This is a highly improbable conclusion, indeed it is almost absurd, which explains why there is no other historian that I know of who accepts it. It simply beggars belief that Edward II survived in Italy throughout the 1330s, even as a hermit. If he really had survived, someone would surely have `blown the gaffe' in England; and the French would surely have sought to exploited the situation, once the Hundred Years War broke out in 1337. The failure to deal with the issue of the credibility of the contents of the Fieschi letter, rather than simply with the creditworthiness of the author, is fatal to Mr Mortimer's specific case; and the failure to deal with the crucial importance of inherent probability is fatal to his general theory.

I almost fear for the consequences of writing this review, since Mr Mortimer seems to be no stranger to vituperation - see the chapter on `Twelve Angry Scholars' - and of course I may have misunderstood him. He could be right about Edward II of course; and I would be willing to admit that I could be wrong. Is he? And is his `code' really of much use in deciding who is right?
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on 25 August 2012
The first warning about 'Medieval Intrigue' is for those approaching the book after having read Ian Mortimer's Traveller's Guides to Medieval and Elizabethan England. While these books are accessible and lighter in tone, 'Medieval Intrigue' is a very dense and academic text. Indeed, a couple of chapters are revised reprints from peer reviewed journals.

The book focusses predominantly on the death of Edward II, challenging the commonly held view of his murder at Berkeley Castle. Whilst the historical evidence set out is persuasive, the overall argument is undermined by a somewhat pompous narrative style. Chapter One (Objectivity and Information), for example, reads like a who's who in 20th century philosophy of science. Stephen Hawking, Karl Popper, Heisenberg, Saussure are trotted out alongside postmodernism, paradigm shifts and the uncertainty principle. However, the motivation for citing these thinkers seems more about dazzling and impressing the reader than demonstrating a real understanding of the theories they put forward or the ability to integrate these into a convincing argument. Furthermore, I would challenge the novelty of Ian Mortimer's 'Information-Based Approach'. Mortimer writes as if his approach will usher in a new age of historical research, a 'fourth hermeneutic stance'. I personally see this as part of good research practice and nothing particularly revolutionary.

Finally, I did take exception to Chapter 4, 'Twelve Angry Scholars', in which Ian Mortimer responds to previous critiques of his work, many through formal independent peer review. To dedicate a whole chapter to respond to each reviewer in a non-peer reviewed book and to do so to demonstrate Kuhn's principle of paradigm shift and the ultimate truth of his own argument is astonishing. Ironically, it situates Mortimer's work beyond healthy critique and debate and moves it to precisely the inflexible and immutable mode of thought that Kuhn highlighted in his 'Structure of Scientific Revolutions'.

In short - I would recommend this to those interested in Edward II and to those who enjoy academic debate. Read it with a critical mind, however, particularly the methodology set out in the book.
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on 5 January 2011
Having read and enjoyed Mortimer's earlier book " A Time Traveller's Guide to the Medieval England" i was thrilled to find Santa had brought me more of the same. Unfortunatley this new book is very much an accademic history and hard going for the general reader, at least for this one anyway!
I feel that the title " Medieval Intrigue" and colourful cover are some what deceptive, suggesting (at least to me) a light and entertaining look at the Medieval period which unfortunatley it's not.
To be fair this is unlikely to be the author's fault but rather that of the publisher, Motimer writes extremley well and is clearly an expert in his field. I would recomend this book to any student of the Middle Ages, infact i might even give it to one!
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on 6 October 2014
Not an easy read but an interesting one with a postmodern view of using historical sources. The subject-matter is as interesting as the accounts offered. A book for someone with a serious interest in History and how historians work. Five stars for a book that has a confident approach to the task but four stars for the complexity of some argument and the tendenct to obscurity through what used to be called 'jargon'. I have a good history degree, I struggled a little sometimes but I finished the book feeling that the efforts were well worth the cvhallenge
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on 24 June 2014
Ian Mortimer, whilst poor on tv, is a most interesting and talented writer. Possibly one of our very best non-fiction, historical writers at the moment. Ian takes her, the time to unpack the evidence around the events of those intrigues he is looking at. I found the one about the secret death of Edward II very compelling. His work is academically rigorous and yet also, quite readable.
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on 8 March 2013
Ideas arising from Ian Mortimer's "Medieval Intrigue", 2010
-did Edward II die in Berkeley Castle on September 21st 1327?

There are two alternative possibilities:
1) The conventional view that Edward II did die there, on that date.
Initially there was no mention of murder.
2) On the contrary, Mortimer's thesis that Edward II did not die on that date and remained captive under conditions of secrecy for several, and perhaps many years thereafter.

The following facts seem undisputed:
1. Edward II was deposed by parliament in January 1327, abdicating on 25th January in favour of his 14 year old son, Edward III.

2. Real power at this time was wielded by Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella. Isabella had effectively separated from Edward II in 1322 and a few years after that had become Mortimer's lover.

3. Edward II was held in custody and from April 3rd 1327 was transferred to Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. In the context of later rescue attempts, it is worth noting that in the June he was rescued but was back in custody in the August. His guardians who alternated in the role were Lord Berkeley and Sir John Maltravers.

4. On 21st September, Lord Berkeley sent a letter to Edward III at Lincoln informing him of Edward II's death. This letter arrived in the night following September 23rd.

5. The messenger returned with orders from Mortimer that news of the death should be kept secret locally until All Saints (ie November 1st) although the body was handed over to the church for burial on October 21st.

6. Very few people saw the body at close quarters before burial.

7. There were rumours that Edward II was still alive during 1328 and 1329.

8. On March 13th 1330, the Earl of Kent, a half-brother of Edward II, was arrested and tried for treason, one of the grounds being that he was plotting to deliver Edward II from his imprisonment. Mortimer controlled the trial and the Earl was executed on March 16th.

9. On November 26th 1330 Lord Berkeley was accused of murdering Edward II. In his defence he either denied hearing that the King was dead before this occasion, or denied knowing that it was murder -both interpretations of the record have been advanced.

10. Roger Mortimer was executed on November 29th 1330. He had been arrested in October and accused of assuming royal powers but was executed without a trial.

11. After Mortimer's execution, Edward III reversed a number of actions. Firstly, after Kent's plot, arrest warrants had been issued for a number of those also implicated. These were no longer pursued -indeed this had started once Mortimer lost power - and some of the accused were restored to favour. Secondly the trial of Berkeley was dropped.

12. There are accounts from after 1330 of Edward II living in Europe. One of these accounts is in the Fieschi letter. On this occasion,i shall only consider the flow of events up to 1330.

Back to possibility 1):

If Edward II died on 21st September 1327, then the following points at least need to be explained (or at the least are worth discussing):
1) The rumours in 1328/1329 that Edward II was still alive
-well, maybe they were just baseless, but (next point) they did lead one high personage to act on them.
2) Kent's plot.
-maybe Kent was deluded or stupid, (at least on this occasion) but then several others must have been taken in as well. And it does seem odd, to modern eyes at least that he should be executed for such a futile exercise, if Edward II was indeed dead. But maybe Mortimer had other reasons for wanting Kent dead and the plot provided a pretext.
3) Berkeley's statement at his trial.
- if his words meant (in modern form)"If Edward II was murdered, this is the first I've heard of it", then there seems little more to be said.
- if the words meant "If Edward II is dead, this is the first I've heard of it", this would be a direct contradiction of his message in 1327.

In either event, the trial soon fizzled out which also seems worthy of comment.

Back to possibility 2):

The key objections are:

1) Why was there the pretence of Edward II's death. What was to be gained by this?
2) Who knew what was going on and when did they know it?
There would seem to be two possible advantages. If Edward II was believed to be dead then why would anybody mount a rescue attempt -as had already occurred before he reached Berkeley Castle. Secondly, it might have had political advantages as now discussed.
In 1327, Edward III was only fifteen years old and much of the power in the kingdom lay with Mortimer and Queen Isabella. Mortimer had been the key figure in deposing Edward II and was in control of his imprisonment. Would Mortimer have also seen advantage in retaining control of Edward II whilst having Edward III believe that his father was dead? If this was the case, the narrative (in brief) would presumably be: Berkeley being ordered to send his letter; Edward III believing it; funeral arrangements going ahead and Edward II being hidden away.
However, word then got out in 1328 and 1329 leading to Kent's rescue attempt and subsequent execution in 1330. At around this time it seems probable from his actions that an increasingly mature Edward III came to learn the truth. Mortimer was disposed of, not only as a too-powerful rival , but also perhaps for his machinations concerning Edward II. Further pursuit of Kent's supporters was stopped as pointless, as was the murder trial of Berkeley. As for Edward II, his son could see no gain from widely acknowledging his continued existence, so maintained the pretence of his death. Whatever arrangements were then made for Edward II, he seems to have faded from sight.
A variation on this idea would have Edward III as well as Mortimer knowing from the outset that Berkeley's letter was false. This would make little difference to the sequence of events suggested.

On the balance of the evidence, it seems to me that Ian Mortimer's case that Edward II did live for at least a few years beyond 1327 is at least as strong as the conventional view.
One final point. If (pace Ian Mortimer) the survival of Edward II beyond September 1327 is considered as a "counterfactual", then with the exception of creating a different view of some happenings in 1327-1330, the actual flow of history as we know it thereafter is totally unchanged!
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on 2 January 2013
I like Ian Mortimer - he's a no nonsense historian who isn't afraid to draw his own conclusions from the things we do know about this fascinating period in our history. Particularly like the chapters about Edward the second - very interesting to read the back ground behind the myth.
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on 14 January 2013
While I see that some reviewers of this book seem disappointed that Mortimer does not follow his typical pattern, this is a fantastic book! I have never read a Mortimer book prior to this one, but I cannot see where there is room for complaint. I would think that Mortimer has brought his current base of readers (based on reviews of his other books) and historians a text that offers not only unique narritive into court intrigue of England's 14th century, but an impressive, well-reasoned and accessible methodology dutifully explained in the Introduction and first chapter.

I am an avid reader of all kinds of history-- from a fun read to book of scholarship. In fact, I will be honest --I bought this book for a fun read based on the title. And it was a fun read, but it is also a work of scholarship. Although this book seems more devoted to explaining the methodology of unraveling Medieval royal conspiracies rather than narrative (that perhaps his readers have become accustomed), the "intellectual map" that Mortimer provides is a fantastic read in and of itself. Readers of history, for leisure or otherwise, will benefit from his explaination as to how historians assess archival material and consider cause-and-effect scenarios where there are gaps of information. But fear not readers who purchase this book for the spice! Mediedval times never fail to disappoint in that regard and Mortimer's comprehensive behind-the-scenes investigation of the events surrounding the leadership of Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II is more than entertaining.
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