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4.5 out of 5 stars
The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation
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on 2 October 2017
I've read this biography a number of times as it is a rare blend of being informative and highly readable. A lot of negative reviews seem to be due to the author's proposal that Edward II (the protagonist's father) did not die at Berkeley Castle with a red-hot poker in his "fundament", but actually lived on for many years on the continent in secret, It is widely accepted that Edward II did survive after news of his death was spread, but the legitimacy of the Fieschi letter that the author relies on heavily to suggest that he in fact lived on for many years after this still, is debated. This doesn't detract from the biography at all. The author is entitled to put forward his theory and it is backed up with evidence. Other reviewers have described this evidence as scant or simple hear-say, but this is the beauty of studying history, very little can be 100% proven or at least can be interpreted in varying ways. To paraphrase the author (as I can't remember the quote word-for-word!) sometimes "[we are left] looking for where a needle once was in a long vanished haystack".

The book is fast-paced and informative; Edward III and his contemporary nobles are brought to life magnificently. The title "The Perfect King" has been criticised, with Edwards huge taxes and expenditure being mentioned as an argument against his perfection, however, when you look at what Edward allowed to evolve through his reign, such as the emergence of the middle class, greater rights for the poor, a sense of Englishness, the move away from hand-to-hand combat, a greater role for parliament, keeping war on foreign soil, etc. etc. etc. he certainly came close in many ways. It has been mentioned by many that if Edward were not to have lived so long and were his reign therefore not to have declined with the decline of his health and authority, we may remember him now as Edward The Great. He won more battles on the continent than the redoubtable Henry V, cowed Scotland more fully than his ferocious grandfather Edward I and displayed chivalry (an important aspect of kingship at the time) more flamboyantly than his fondly-remembered, crusader ancestor, lion-hearted Richard I..

overall, almost every time i choose to spend a few months reading up on the medieval world, this book is inevitably one I pick up first to ease me back into the subject. I've read it probably around 6 times and have enjoyed it every time. Recommended.
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on 2 August 2017
Ian Mortimer writes in a style of that was most engaging and compelling which made this 400+ page tome on Edward III enjoyable and not intimidating at all.

I especially enjoyed his narrative of the 1346 invasion of France leading up to that most famous of English victories at Crecy.

One thing to note though is that the author asserts that Edward's father was in fact still alive after the date he was supposedly killed by Roger Mortimer and that the young Edward III knew about it, and indeed actively searched for him once he'd rested power back from Mortimer & his own mother in 1330. He makes a good case, using it to explain some of the things Edward did after 1330. HOWEVER he writes his narrative as if this is an undisputed fact - which it isn't - many historians disagree and the historical orthodoxy up until now has been that he DID die when he was supposed to have in 1327 in captivity. So it's worth reading around this to get other points of view.
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on 29 April 2014
Ian Mortimer has here produced a thoroughly researched, credible, accurate and compelling account of the life of Edward III. It would be extremely hard to find any way to criticise it and I would recommend it to anyone from someone just looking for something interesting, to the scholar working on Edward III. Ian Mortimer highlights here the incredible achievements of a king few know anything about. And yes, as other reviews point out, history lessons are totally inadequate. Here we have someone never mentioned on the syllabus at any point in secondary school (up to GCSE), who is without doubt the greatest monarch we ever had and in an era of incredible change, where many things, from art to mechanics, music to poetry, warfare to medicine and many many more things, are in a period of fundamental change. Changes that lay the foundations of the later era. Which school-child in the UK knows of the industrial revolution of the medieval age? Or of the way Edward III basically invented the system of democracy that shaped not only modern Britain, but through its empire, governance across the world. He tore up the rule book on warfare and conquered the greatest nation in Europe through innovative battle techniques which were superior in intelligence, planning, supply, strategy and execution even to those 600 years later in world war I. Edward was a great builder; a visionary; a man who patronised important works like Chaucer's poetry, to the invention of the clock. He also define who the English/British were. He gave England its patron saint and designed a nationalism we could not recreate in this era. He brought in the famous order of the garter and made the chivalric ideal, a code for people to live their lives by. People were devoted to him, had confidence in him and would even die for him. So much so, that he and his men achieved several miraculous and numerous remarkable victories in France against considerable odds, always outnumbered and always with this brilliant king on the front line, with his men. Mortimer sets out many reasons why Edward should be regarded as a 'perfect king' and backs it up soundly, reasonably, accurately, with the real facts, not the twisted views put forward by Victorians who were unable to be anything but utterly anachronistic and unpatriotic. Whilst Ormrod's works on this king are also top of the list for places to look for those who want to learn more about Edward III, Mortimer's work is thoroughly readable and does Edward credit, where Ormrod seems to translate/contort Edward's work through a negative lens sometimes. Ormrod's books Edward III and The Reign of Edward III are a must for the student working on Edward III. But Mortimer's I feel, whilst not quite so extensive as Edward III by Ormrod, is more realistic about the quality of this king's achievements. I'm not sure that his argument on Edward II is as conclusive as he makes it sound, but generally speaking, I think Mortimer's work here, should be the 'go-to' text for anyone studying this fourteenth century patriarch. And one more point of interest to finish on: I was intrigued by his figures that show that 99% of us born to white, indigenous, British parentage (both parents) are related to Edward! Edward is an amazing king and Ian Mortimer an amazing writer. Not only that, but this is among his best works. I could hardly commend it to you more thoroughly. Brilliant
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on 18 July 2011
I bought this book for summer holidays, and was not disappointed: English royalty supply a lot of action, crime, violence, but also good ruling, wise government, adventure, inspiration, prudence, and above all, very, very good luck in all the fields. This makes this book (good 700 pgs) so much fun and so entertaining. It is a well documented, informed, book about a king that was admired in his times and later centuries, but was downgraded and even despised when Victorian historians took a look at his life and times. It seems that the time has come for his revival.

Edward III is depicted as a man bent upon being a glorious medieval king, and nothing will prevent him from achieving his destiny. He would surround himself with wise, clever, valiant men who did all their best for him, not because he was king, but because he was a great leader of men. Quite a contrast with the stupid kings other people had to endure, like Spain or France. As the author points out, once you read about him and his time it is difficult to go on thinking about a blunt, coarse, dirty medieval earl, because we discover a refined, intense, sensual man, coupled with a court where learning was not scarce. He respected Parliament more than other kings, and made a new link with his people. Of course, those times were dirty, hungry, violent, particularly for the poor, but we cannot charge Edward on creating them, he made his own effort to improve his time, if you -of course - pick out unnending war with Scots and French.

The author also puts great strength on the theory that Edward II was not killed but made renounce forcibly and hidden out of England, with the acquintance of Edward III when he knew about this. For me (obviously not a historian), his case is not so strong, and nevertheless it seems not so important as to condition Edward III's behaviour in later years.

The only drawback -maybe unavoidable - is that the author sometines simpatizes too much with his object, and he falls on revisionism. For me, one thing is to try to make a likeable history book, and not to write all the time about the fluctuations of corn prices and wool supplies and class conflicts, but the other thing is not to take seriously the greed, the selfishness, the arrogance of those nobles who only sought their own profit and made so many people suffer without cause. I cannot stand the reasoning that "those were other times". My foot.

All in all, a good book, a very well told story, a good brick for reading. And a great eye opener on medieval history.
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on 20 February 2018
I’m reading this book now as I have always loved Ian Mortimers history on medieval times. This is a fascinating and captivating read. I can’t put the book down.. I first read Ian Mortimers book on Roger Mortimer and followed on with this book and love how it’s portrayed in place with the times bringing King Edward III to life. Enjoyable read.
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on 24 July 2013
An excellent read which is ideal for the layman who has an interest in medieval times. I think this is very much on a par with Marc Morris 'Edward I - A Great & Terrible King' which was also an excellent book. Easy to follow and understand Mortimer makes history accessible to all. I was especially intrigued with his views on the (alleged) murder of Edward II as I have always followed the norm believing he was horribly dispatched at Berkely Castle. Great to have a different synopsis and gives food for thought and has encouraged me to read further on the subject. Was sad to have finished it !
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on 21 October 2015
A very readable history book. If only I had access to such good interesting writing when i was at school. As well as giving an excellent understanding of Edward the man it also bursts a few myths. Ian Mortimer has an ability to tell the many stories that make up the varied challenges he faced as a king over a largely un-unified kingdom in a way that makes you want to read on. It really does shed new and engaging light on a medieval monarch who achieved so much in his relatively long lifetime. Highly recommended, even if you have a modest interest in our national history
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on 31 August 2012
As a student of History I have very much appreciated this book as an essential addition to my knowledge. Mr Mortimer had done a great job of bringing Edward III and his contemporaries alive with colour and vigour. The tone is commanding, but friendly and the passages flow very nicely indeed. The Author makes his claims authoritively and professionally (I am however quite undecided on the 'Death of Edward II'). In purchasing this book you can not fail to be interested or intrigued by this very readable, yet intelligent assessment of one of our greatest Kings. I could not give sufficient justice without paragraphs of praise. Well Done Mr Mortimer.

Marc Morris' Assessment of the grandfather (Edward I, Longshanks or Hammer of the Scots) would be a great addition to this particular work and is certainly worth a look...A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain
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on 11 June 2015
Perfect. Not much more needed to be honest. Ian Mortimer is a spectacular writer and historian and having read this I wish I could go back to university and do it all over again. I have learned so much from this book and it is my go-to tome for all things Edward III. He brings Edward back to life and celebrates a very much over-looked king and tackles difficult questions with calmness and authority. Both writer and subject deserve more recognition.
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on 21 March 2014
This excellent book completely revolutionises our perception of this important king. It also reveals stunning research that his father was not murdered! (I won't spoil the story by revealing what's in the book.) The whole work is remarkable and the writer deserves the highest praise for a sensitive, well researched and remarkably valuable book.
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