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Offa and the Mercian Wars: The Rise and Fall of the First Great English Kingdom Hardcover – 17 May 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword Military (17 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848844433
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848844438
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 2.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 415,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It starts well but deteriorates into a non committal discussion about the old subject of how the Roman Empire fell and its effect on Britain.
The author discusses the deployment of the small elite armies, leaving the peasants to provide the food from their farms.
We progress through Penda and Oswald/Oswiu and doubts about Mercia even existing as a kingdom during this period.
Half way through the book we get to the Sutton Hoo Treasures and the Staffordshire Hoard (which the author provides little evidence of actually having seen)and we begin to wonder where Offa and the Mercian Wars have got to.
The actual text of the book is 186 pages long. Page 88 marks Penda's successors and the rise of Offa, Page 149 Offa's successors and the Danish Invasions. Where was Offa? What of the Mercian Armies? Has this guy been to Seckington, Tamworth, Hereford or even Mercia?
Somewhere in between, Offa has got to subdue the majority of the surrounding English Kingdoms, form diplomatic and trading ties with Charlemagne and dig huge ditches around Tamworth and along the Welsh border, write a good number of charters and travel the country collecting his revenue to pay for it all.
In Mercia there ruled a mighty king who struck all around him with terror.
That alone should make him an interesting character.
The author has interestingly covered the post Offa period in more detail, especially the Danish "Great Army" campaigns, offering a few insights into the activities of he Mercians during what has largely been recorded in history, as the sole efforts of the army of Wessex.
Did the Northern Mercians (geographically close to the Nortumbrians)conspire with the Danish mercenaries, to become the central powerhouse of Britain.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a well written book, the prologue sets the scene beautifully of a band of "dust stained" warriors riding into town. The sophisticates of Kent being subdued by the hard men from Mercia. As well as being graphic, this makes an important point; the area we now think of as the leafy shires was to the people of Kent somewhere rough and dangerous. This is our first impression of the Mercians, later in the book Peers uses equally good descriptive writing to show another side (or perhaps another interpretation) of the Mercians, highlighting some of the wealth and artwork the Midlanders accrued in the latter part of the 1st millennium. It is all very beautiful and makes for an enjoyable read

My problems with this book are not with the style but rather with the content. Getting upset about inaccuracies in a book about events from over a thousand years ago makes me sound very geeky... and I have to admit I am guilty as charged. However, beyond my geeky outrage at minor mistakes and over sights, I also feel a more justified sadness that an author who should be capable of some novel insights has satisfied himself with paraphrasing other authors with little sign that he truly understands the points they were trying to make.

Early on in his book Chris Peers makes a very convincing case that the history of Mercia, in particular the history of its wars cannot be separated from its geography. It is a convincing argument and was a convincing argument the first time I read it. In particular (as Mr Peers points out) the rivers determine the direction of campaigns. You would imagine that anyone making such a point would at the very least buy a map and find out how and where the important rivers flowed.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Offa and the Mercian wars" is one of the better volumes on the Pen and Sword collection. The book is well structured, with maps and a genealogical table listing the Mercian Kings. The introduction and the three first chapters, which lay the scene and provide the context, are impressive.

The introduction presents the main sources for the period, the chronicles and a few charters, but also the archaeological findings. This presentation is short, to the point, but nevertheless quite comprehensive with the main points being made without any of the endless discussions on the reliability of the respective sources (or lack of it) that I had feared and which can be somewhat tedious for a general reader.

The other three contextual chapters deal, respectively, with the geography and the land, presenting what were the strategic issues that the Kings of Mercia had to deal with, the coming of the Angles and the Kingdoms and armies that ruled over the central part of what is now England. The author embraces the current and modern thesis that the "real" Angles - that is does that had come from overseas and their descendants - were probably a minority among the total population (some 10-15%), although they constituted the upper class. This thesis, which has become common among authors and historians working on the Dark Ages across what made up the old Provinces of the Western Roman Empire, is more likely than what we used to be taught at school about the huge hordes of Barbarians that sweep over the borders as tidal waves.

The fourth chapter examines the reigns of the first Kings of Mercia, the ones who came to progressively dominate a couple of dozen of other kingdoms and, at least to some extent, integrate them into the kingdom.
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