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4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile but Demanding of the Non-Expert, 6 May 2011
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This review is from: The Penguin History of Britain: The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066-1284 (Paperback)
The book is a testament to the knowledge and insights of its author. However, so great is the amount of information he seeks to present, that questions inevitably arise about the realism of his objectives and his choice of lay-out. He attempts to do justice to Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and much of Western France, by treating those entities as more than arenas for English involvement, but inevitably has to be selective, and the basis for selection is usually significance in the English context. He preserves a fairly rigid chronological ordering, but unfortunately this can be confusing, especially when he is contrasting different 'Henry or William's. Either some basic timelines for easy reference, or a more thematic ordering would surely have aided the non-expert to absorb more of his very worthwhile analyses.
I reached the final chapter, impressed by his even-handedness, only to be amazed by his attitude to the actions of Edward I. The ability of that man has never been in question, but the idea that his demolition of the Welsh polity, and the attempt to do the same in Scotland, which came so close to success, can be seen as the entirely reasonable actions of a man `more sinned against than sinning' is certainly a new take for me. I was also surprised to see the `state building' of Welsh and Scottish rulers in the preceding century, contrasted with pacific England which had of course had the resources to achieve `natural frontiers' two or three hundred years earlier.
In spite of these reservations I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wished to know more of the British Isles in the first part of the last millennium.
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