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Realm Divided: A Year in the Life of Plantagenet England
Realm Divided: A Year in the Life of Plantagenet England
by Dan Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.94

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Has its uses, but wider reading Highly recommended., 17 Aug. 2016
A good overview of the period and subject matter overall, that complements Mr Jones other recent title 'Magna Carta'.

There is some important information about law and legal process, as well as the society and culture of the period, and of Key figures involved.
Whist the Bibliography demonstrated that the book is clearly well researched, with extensive consultation of primary source material, I did get the impression that there seemed to be some serious over-simplifications and generalizations about certain issues (such as the dietary habits of Medieval Englishmen and the status of women), which other works or sources have caused me to doubt.

I also got the distinct impression in some places, that, although published by the London-based Head of Zeus the book was aimed towards an American audience (with the explanations of geographical features in the UK, or explaining the locations of various towns, cities and building). Perhaps this was the reason for some of the generalizations about the period. Or, I suspect, thos book could be simply be a republished and revised version of his US title 'Magna Carta: Birth of Liberty'. I have noticed some similarity in a few of the chapter headings, for example.

Perhaps the above stated about generalizations is an incorrect assumption, but even so, seeing this trend in books and documentaries made by Brits for general comsumption in the Americas annoys me.
Why should our American cousins have to have thier history 'watered down' so to speak? Its an insult to people who are quite capable of appreciating the naunces and complexity of the past.

In conclusion, I would certainly commend this as a good and useful book, as well as an interesting introduction to the social history of the period- but I would recommend further reading for those wanting to learn more. Of course, David Carpenter's Brilliant study on all things related to Magna Carta is an excellent choice, but for those daunted by this academic tome, some of the recent titles on King John would be good starting points.


The Lady who Fought the Vikings
The Lady who Fought the Vikings
by Don Stansbury
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The only full length bio of this Great Lady., 17 Aug. 2016
To date, the only full- length biography of Ethelfleada of Mercia, and sadly its out of print so not easy to get hold of. I admit, there is a fair amount of guessing and speculation, especially about the subject's character traits, but that is to be expected. Actually, I think it works, because the author's assertions do seem to match up with what the Great Lady actually did.

She does seem to have made diplomacy and alliances 'work' even with those it appeared impossible to work with. A useful resource that makes it admire the Lady of the Mercians all the more.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 16, 2017 8:29 AM BST


Silence of Stones, The: A Crispin Guest medieval noir (A Crispin Guest Medieval Noir Mystery)
Silence of Stones, The: A Crispin Guest medieval noir (A Crispin Guest Medieval Noir Mystery)
Price: £12.34

4.0 out of 5 stars A vengeful King, a missing relic, an anxious Queen and the toughest challenge of all., 29 July 2016
I’m a bit of a sucker for Medieval mysteries, and a huge fan of Cadfael and the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton series which is set only a decade or two before this series. I confess, the Crispin Guest books are not my favourites. I listened the audiobooks of the first two novels in the series recently, and whilst I enjoyed them on some level, there was some silliness and certain details and inconsistencies in the content that did not seem realistic, or did not appeal to me. Mostly the inappropriate sex references, which did not add anything, and just were not necessary).

I think I preferred The Silence of Stones to the earlier ones, probably because there was no sleazy ‘love interest’, and I liked seeing the Jack Tucker, now in his late teens, (Crispin’s teenage companion and assistant) come into his own. The exploration of Anglo-Scottish relations in the late fourteenth century provided an interesting backdrop, with some well used details about Scottish history and customs.

Some well-known historical figures also made an appearance including Katherine Sywnford and Henry, Earl of Derby, the man who would one day become King Henry IV and the father of Henry V. He has, I understand been in previous titles, but it was interesting have some events and political atmosphere of the late 1380s presented from the perspective of these characters.

Altogether, it was a satisfying mystery with lots of twists and turns. Not too predictable, but not impossible to keep up with either, and plenty of historical detail. I will read the next one, which I am interested in mainly because it contains some details about the legal system and its personnel, which I am doing some work on at the moment.

I received an electronic version of this title from the publisher for the purposes of writing a review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.


Ismere: a story of "The Lady of the Mercians"
Ismere: a story of "The Lady of the Mercians"
by Martin Wall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2.0 out of 5 stars More Stonehenge than Lady Ethelfleada.., 3 July 2016
Yes, I purchased this one one obvious reason. The clue is in the title- The Lady of the Mercians! Its about Ethelfleada, the awesome daughter of Alfred the Great- and I am looking for anything about her I can get hold of!

The disappointment is that only about half the book is actually about her. The first part is about the early life of the hero, Aneurin, and his home getting destroyed by the Danes, and afterwards his service to the Lady.
In some parts, it was an enjoyable and realistic account of life in the early tenth century, when the incursions of the Danish Vikings posed a very real threat to people. Also, the passages that did deal with 'Fleada's career were useful.

However, I didn't have much time for the type of hippy- dippy silliness that took up some considerable passages of the book. Yeah, is Aneurin's learning about Pantheism, being at one with nature and just the creepy bits about contacting the spirit world necessary? Do they further the story? No, and I found myself skimming over much of that stuff.

An adventure story with Ethelfleada as a main character. Sure, well and good, but ruined by the apparent fixation with neo-paganism, syncretic mysticism blended with an odd type of 'Christianity' and just the general weirdness of the pseudo-priest guy with special powers.


Ironclad 2: Battle For Blood
Ironclad 2: Battle For Blood
Dvd
Price: £6.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Absurd, pointless, amoral, ahistorical slash-fest......., 23 May 2016
This had to be one of the most ludicrous movies I ever did watch. I did not particularly like the first movie, but it least it had a plot, some memorable characters, courage and heroism. I believe I expected something at least remotely along those lines.

After first fight scene against a group of superlative kilt clad blue-painted barbarian savages who are meant to be 'Scots', the hero's dad gets injured, and he goes to find a long lost cousin to help him defend his castle against the leader of the blue painted folk. One can almost hear the film-makers discussing 'What did medieval Scottish people look like'? Blue plaint, mud and wore dull tartan stuff. Like Boudicca- great' that’ll do, she was Scottish too right? Oh and since they're Celts they have to have magicky powers. No I don't know what religion they were- but add a bit of magicky stuff involving fire and make sure they speak like Gerard Butler'

Anyways, after finding Cousin Guy de Lusignan (yup they gave him the name of the famous French nobleman) characters then slash, stab, behead and hack each other for just over an hour, between shagging, brooding stares, and talking in dark rooms. The character development was almost non-existent- and most of them are pretty much pointless.
Guy brings along with him a mate, a professional executioner- and some murderous cut-throat woman with hair obscuring her face like a Hungarian puli (those dogs with foot length curls) who serves no purpose except as a sex- o-gram who happens to be good at stabbing and giving people surly looks. I think she's meant to a 'spirited warrior woman’ of some kind. But she's barely human. She just seemed to crouch and skulk in dark corners, speaks in barely audible mumbles, grabs the hero for a shag, and likes to disembowel folk to prove she's 'well hard'.

Even the half-hearted attempt at a love interest is laughable. The Lord's daughter (I didn't even catch most of the names of the characters), and Guy the Mercenary on the cover insult each other for a while. He has it off with her mother/his Aunt and taunts her with it when she won't go to bed with him too- before declaring he's more than just a shallow hired sword with this brain in his leggings. Then near the end, pretty noblewoman decides she did not mean to be so cold after all, and they're happily snogging (ignoring the, er, recent incest).
The hero ends up concluding ‘There’s no honour in killing. Not for God, not for country, not for money'.
Yeah, so after an hour and half of revelling in gratuitous violence for its own sake, the movie just declares its own pointlessness in a lame attempt at inserting a 'moral message'. Then Guy yells 'This is my family' or some such, before the final fight-out.

The historical inaccuracies need not even be mentioned. The whole thing is an insult to the intelligence and to history, in which any feeling, meaningful theme, virtue or admirable trait is drowned the quagmire of its own purposeless amorality in which all appealing characters are vapid, shallow, inexplicably idiotic and selfish, or quickly killed off without anybody seeming to show any emotion beyond quiet pout or shocked gaze. Yet they scream and cry when the murdering bandit woman gets hanged.

I was half expecting there to be a druid or two for good measure, and a few orcs and goblins would not have been out of place- might have made things a bit more interesting actually. Sadly no- because this is 'historical'- but the film-makers clearly have no sense of chronology. At the end, we are told, the mercenary Guy goes to the Hundred Years War- which did not begin until 110 years after the movie is meant to be set. Wow. They must have been fighting for a long time- doesn't it fly!

Seriously, it’s not often I'm so disappointed or disgusted with a movie that I end up fast forwarding through about a quarter of it- but I did here. Waste of time, effort and decent actors.


The Anglo-Saxon Age: The Birth of England
The Anglo-Saxon Age: The Birth of England
by Martin Wall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Introduction to the period, even if you don't always agree with the author's perspective., 14 April 2016
Martin Wall’s nonfiction debut is a great introduction to- well- the Anglo-Saxon age and its leading figures, events and developments. I greatly appreciated the chapter on Ethelfleada of Mercia, the daughter of Alfred. The early chapters were also interesting and useful, even if they stray from the current, fashionable notion of a gradual, small scale invasion.
Personally, I could not help agree with the author’s take on Gildas and Bede. Both appear to have been men of great learning who were eyewitnesses, or had access to first-hand accounts and good sources of their own. What reason did they have to lie, or to make up everything? Why, then, should be dismiss their accounts of the Adventus Saxonum out of hand?
As for bias, if we admit it, we all biased sometimes, but we don’t reject everything our fellows tell us on this basis.

Not that I agree with everything the author says- like the assumption that Oswald of Northumbria had the last surviving son of Edwin killed. Not much evidence seemed to be given to back up this claim, and it doesn’t fit what I know of Oswald. Nor did I appreciate the assertion that Edward the Confessor must have been homosexual or impotent because he did not have any children. It really gets on my nerves when people automatically jump to such conclusions about historical figures on this basis.
There are, sadly, biological and gynaecological reasons why some people cannot have children today- so why can be not give people in the past the benefit of the doubt? The attempts to link the Robin Hood stories to ancient paganism at the end just struck me as odd, unnecessary and rather tenuous. I understand the author is something of an expert on myth and folklore, but in the last chapter it comes across as- dare I say it- something of a fixation?

Aside from the complaints detailed above, I did enjoy the book and would recommend for it for general readers interested in the period. I would certainly be interested in Mr Wall’s next book The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts that is due for release in a few months.

I received a PDF copy of this book from Amberley Publishers for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.


Ivory Vikings
Ivory Vikings
by Marie, Nancy Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not her best....., 1 April 2016
This review is from: Ivory Vikings (Hardcover)
I listened to the audio book of a previous title by this author, and the synopsis and reviews piqued my interest in her new book.

In some ways, I was a little disappointed. There wasn't a great deal of information about the wider world and Viking relations to it. I also didn't much appreciate the fashionable revisionist approach of trying to downplay the violent aspects of Viking culture, and making them out to have been peaceful traders.
Its even implied that Charlemagne caused the Viking raids by attacking the Saxons, and the claim that they weren't so bad because everyone attacked and raided churches at that time seemed like a pretty lame excuse.

Why did the Norsemen attack England if it was all Charlemagne's fault, and why did Lindisfarne last until that time if everyone attacked churches? There were also some assumptions and historical generalisations. For instance, its claimed (with perhaps a palpable hint of wide-eyed admiration) that Viking women had more freedom than virtually all other European women, as they could inherit land, and were entitled to certain rights in marriage as well as divorce, run households and hold notable positions, and even fight.

Yet this was not so unique. Women in England even under primogeniture could and did I inherit land- and they were alsdo entitled to one third of their husband's property when he died. In England and many other states, women ran businesses and their households. There are even illustrations apparently showing female stonemasons etc. Furthermore, Alfred the Great's daughter led armies and defended her kingdom against the Danes, and she was admired. So what was so special about Viking women?

There were some good points. For instance the book made some fascinating points about the sagas which make me want to dig into them, and the parts covering Norwegian history in the 11 th to 13th centuries.
Worth a read, but one to take with a pinch of salt.

I received an eBook edition of this title from Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one, and all opinions expressed are my own.


Pope Joan - Uncut! [DVD] [2009]
Pope Joan - Uncut! [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Johanna Wokalek
Offered by SuperStarShop COM
Price: £8.73

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More absurdity, myth and PC proselytising masquerading as historical fact., 21 Mar. 2016
I saw one movie about the legendary figure of Pope Joan a few years ago, that was made in the 1980s- and decided to watch the more recent remake from 2009. I refer to her as Legendary in the sense that we are not certain if she ever even existed- the first references to her are not until the 13th century- four centuries after she is meant to have lived.

Like many modern movies, the 2009 offering suffers from a surfeit of Politically Correct liberal ideology and modern sentiments, and perpetuates some of the most pernicious and persistent myths about the Middle Ages. Many of the Christian and especially the clerical characters are depicted as narrow-minded, superstitious and rabidly intolerant of anything that smacks of ‘pagan learning’- which includes the works of classical Greek and Roman authors. Yes, the myths perpetuated by the writers of the 18th and 19th century are still alive and well.

Others, more knowledgeable than I on this subject have discussed it in more detail elsewhere, but, the ridiculousness of the myths and distortions in the movie can be demonstrated by simply taking a rudimentary look at medieval writings and Literature.
We have Boethius ‘Consolation of Philosophy’ from the sixth century- 300 years before Joan, and a number of other works from before the 11th century peppered with references to the Classical writers. We have treatises and guides to the medicinal use of herbs written by clerics- so much for the idea that intolerant Christians thought herbalism was ‘pagan magic’.
In fact, one of the most savage ironies of the movie could be that Joan’s father, who represents the worst excesses of intolerance and irrationality is supposed to have been an Englishman- and so a compatriot of Alcuin of York- a prominent figure at Charlemagne’s court- and today regarded as one of the greatest European scholars of his age.
In one particularly contradictory scene, the ignorant superstitious men of the Papal Court are seen bleeding the bedridden Pope- and then object to Joan mentioning the methods of Hippocrates as he was a pagan. Yet the very practice of bleeding has its origins in the ideas of such men as the second century pagan Greek physician, Galen. In another Joan uses her knowledge of the classics, to recreate a machine designed by Archimedes. One almost expected the film-makers to have her going all the way, and developing the geocentric model 800 years before Galileo

Yet the medical ignorance and fear of supposed ‘pagan’ learning are not the only myths to afflict the film. The other, and by the far the most prominent, is the pernicious idea that the church was opposed to education for women. Hence, because of discrimination and prejudice at the Cathedral School, Joan impersonates a man, to become a monk and gain access to the scholarly works there. This detail in particular did not ring true. If a women of the ninth century wanted to be educated she could have done so by going to a nunnery, or Abbey for women. Plenty of these existed across Europe, and could offer women and education at least comparable to that of any monastery. As a further boon, their female students would not have needed to dress as men and disguise their sex.

Why the movie makes absolutely no mention of the female-run religious institutions of Early Medieval Europe, and the opportunities they afforded women is anyone’s guess. My guess that all mention is omitted to uphold the myth of Christian misogyny, and present Joan as some proto-feminist model of a woman struggling against a patriarchal system that opposes her efforts at every turn. At the end of the movie, there is another disguised female cleric- who wonders how many others there are like her.

Yet my response to all of the PC proselytising was to think of Hild of Whitby, the prominent seventh century Royal Lady and Abbess of Whitby. A ‘Dark Age’ churchwoman who became so influential and respected, that Kings came to her for advice, and she presided over the famous Synod of Whitby. Incidentally, she also established a school, in which prominent Bishops of the period studied in their youth. Or another woman- Dhouda, the wife of the Carolingian Duke Bernard of Septemania who wrote the Liber Manualis. Or indeed the daughter of Alfred the Great, who in the late ninth century is said to have been given the same education as her brothers in her father’s court.

In other words, there were plenty of educated and influential women in church and state at the time of the probably fictional Joan, and before. I for one don’t know of any inherent fear or objection to education for women in the medieval church. The arguments made against it are absurd (probably on purpose) and easily refuted. Yet in typical movie style that which is not representative of the time is made out to have been ‘common knowledge’. Another less than satisfactory movie, offering a Pedestrian view of the medieval era, and advancing the age-old ‘conflict thesis’ – alongside a Dan Brown like conspiracy theory asserting that she was deliberately airbrushed from history. Rather than the more likely explanation that she was a mythical figure in the first place.

In truth, if Joan ever existed, her struggle depicted in the movie was almost entirely unnecessary. It was already possible for a woman to gain High Office in the church, get a decent education- and even hold Political office as a Regent for an underage heir. Indeed, less than 70 years after her supposed death, a women in the country of her father’s birth was leading armies against the Vikings- and nobody complained because she was a woman.


In the Land of Giants
In the Land of Giants
by Max Adams
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.37

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So did the Giants live only in the North?, 15 Mar. 2016
This review is from: In the Land of Giants (Hardcover)
I knew that this was part travelogue part history book when I requested it, and was exited as the theme and subject seemed to relate to that of The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria.
It is certainly a fascinating and lively account, in which the two genres mixed together mostly very well. Almost like Bill Bryson ‘going history’. It certainly gives the reader and appreciation for the heritage and priceless relics from the past that survive to this day- many of right under our proverbial noses- and yet largely ignored.

It certainly made this historian want to visit more of the sites in question and helped me to understand and appreciate some of the social and economic circumstances of the pre-conquest era. (How people might have responded to strangers, social and diplomatic etiquette and acceptable conduct etc- which might help explain certain events).
The purpose of bringing the past to life, and exploring the legacy of the period dubbed the ‘Dark Ages’ (often with unfortunately and unjustly derogatory overtones) was met well with this book. For the general reader, the tone and style was suitably engaging and uncomplicated. Yes, there were some details on archaeological digs- but little of the minute discussion of minor details that might put people off a more academic tone.

My complaints were few. Firstly, the book did seem to be largely focused on the North Country and Scotland. I don’t know if that was because the Kingdoms and tribal divisions of that region were more politically significant at certain times- but I would really have liked to see more on the South. A bit on London and Essex, some Dorset and West Country and Sutton Hoo, and that was about it. Whereas the former Kingdom of Northumbria seemed to get chapter after chapter. Seriously, do places like the ‘Home counties’ or places like Sussex, and Midlands not have any Dark Age history or remains to speak of? I’m sure they do! What about the heartlands of what was once the Kingdom of Mercia. Tamworth etc?

Also, the asides into modern politics (or fairly modern politics) and current affairs might not have been entirely necessary. Nor indeed the designations applied to some persons and groups both historical and modern. Judging the past by the standards of the present is not generally considered good practice, and I suppose some passages just came across as obsessive and judgemental in some parts. Was this a, perhaps slightly self-conscious attempt to be ‘relevant’- or part of the over-arching narrative to make a point about the world not having changed greatly and there being many parallels between ‘then and now’? I suppose the latter, but I don’t think it always worked well.

I received an e-book edition of this title free from Netgalley for the purposes of reviewing. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.


King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons
King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons
Dvd
Price: £4.49

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great series, 10 Mar. 2016
Wonderful series. Okay, I admit, I love Michael Wood's books and shows, but this was just much looked forward to by me, and brilliant when it came. Of course, having one of my former Lecturers in it helped too- and the fact that it inspired me to study one of the figures involved.


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