Friday, April 3, 2020

Review: The King's Dogge by Nigel Green

19200848Synopsis: Set in an England beset by power wrangling and warfare at the end of the 15th century, The King’s Dogge (the first of a two book series) tells of Francis Lovell’s meteoric rise from humble squire to closest ally of King Richard III.

Having courageously fought at Barnet for the great noble the Earl of Warwick, Lovell is introduced to Richard of Gloucester. Impressed by Lovell’s military acumen, Gloucester assigns him the unenviable task of fighting the Scots in the West March. His initiative wins him a knighthood and turns him into Gloucester’s most prized asset. In time, Lovell comes to respect Gloucester and a close friendship blossoms, each aware of one another’s weaknesses but together able to advance one another’s careers – military and political respectively. Lovell’s future is further shaped by Gloucester’s scheming wife Anne Neville, whose ambition exceeds that of her husband. 

But when their Machiavellian scheming leads to the cold-blooded murder of the princes in the tower, Lovell is forced to weigh his conscience against his sense of duty and ask himself what dark acts he is prepared to carry out in Gloucester’s name. 

The King’s Dogge is a fictional account of the rule of King Richard III as seen from the perspective of his closest adviser, Francis Lovell. It weaves a story around true events and throws the actions of the king into a new perspective when viewed against the ambition of his wife, Anne Neville. 

So, let's start with Francis Lovell. As a child, he was given over to the Earl of Warwick in who's household young Richard had spent some time. Whether they were under the same roof at the same time is uncertain. Married at a very early age, Francis was linked to Warwick, and gave his support to his father-in-law in his rebellion against Edward (1470). The following year, still a minor, he was given over into the guardianship of Edward's sister. He had, by age 18, inherited a considerable fortune.

Not only was Lovell linked by marriage to the Earl of Warwick, so too was he linked to Richard as their respective wives were cousins.

His political career lasted a mere ten years. He is said to have accompanied Richard to Scotland and was knighted (1481), coming into his service a year prior. His loyalty to Richard following the latter's accession to the throne (1483) was well rewarded. There is some conjecture as to whether he was at Bosworth (1485) with Richard or stationed somewhere else. What is certain is that he escaped soon after. As this is where we are left in Green's novel.

Now to the others mentioned in the famous poem:
“The Catte, the Ratte and Lovell our dogge
Rulyth all Englande under a hogge.”

Sir William Catesby: one of Richard's closest advisors and was well rewarded when Richard became king (1483). He fought at Bosworth, was captured and executed (1485).

Sir Richard Ratcliffe: a close companion of Richard whilst he was Duke of Gloucester. He too was well rewarded when Richard came to the throne (1483). He died at Bosworth with the king (1485).

So how does Green's novel stack up with what is known about both Lovell and Richard III? Richard was well liked in the North, and this fictional account based on Lovell's first-hand views are not very balanced. Richard is portrayed as something akin to Shakepseare's Macbeth wherein he is dominated by his scheming wife, with Lovell as the loyal Banquo as depicted by Holinshed in his Chronicles (from which Shakespeare borrowed copiously). As a high-profile Yorkist, the Lovell presented here is rather wishy-washy. 

This type of fiction may have been forgiven had this been written a century ago, but with access to today's research, the reader requires some degree of authenticity. Then again, as historical fiction, it is every author's right to interpret events their own way.

The first person narrative severely limits the scope of the story as we only see things as and when Lovell does and gain no perspective of how these events sit in a wider purview. As a novel depicting the relationship between Richard and Lovell, this does not fully meet the brief. As a novel about Lovell, well, this hits slightly closer to the mark. 

further reading:
Lovell Our Dogge by Michele Schindler
Francis, Viscount Lovel "Time Reveals All Things" by Joe Ann Ricca
Last Champion of York: Francis Lovell, Richard III's Truest Friend by Stephen David
The Secret Diary of Francis Lovell by Dawn Wheeler

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Review: A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

Synopsis: England's Tower of London was the terrifying last stop for generations of English political prisoners. A Dangerous Inheritance weaves together the lives and fates of four of its youngest and most blameless: Lady Katherine Grey, Lady Jane's younger sister; Kate Plantagenet, an English princess who lived nearly a century before her; and Edward and Richard, the boy princes imprisoned by their ruthless uncle, Richard III, never to be heard from again. Across the years, these four young royals shared the same small rooms in their dark prison, as all four shared the unfortunate role of being perceived as threats to the reigning monarch.

Again I will preface this by saying that I am not a huge fan of Weir, however, I was interested to see how this would play out with three of the main characters (the Plantagenets: Kate, Edward, Richard) having lived and died long before Katherine Grey came on the scene. There are essentially three stories: Katherine Grey, Kate Plantagenet, and the Princes in the Tower.

I will start with Kate Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard III, and of whom very little by way of fact is known, especially of her childhood. Could she have known John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, with whom she was said to have had a relationship with in the novel? It is possible that she knew him if she was living in the household of her uncle as following the death of Richard's own son Edward, first Edward of Warwick then John de la Pole became his nominated heir. As both Edward and John were nephews of Richard, would he have counternounced a relationship between his own daughter (illegitimate or not) and his nephew and heir?. 

After Richard succeeded to the throne Katherine was married to William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, (1455-1491) as his second wife. On 29th February, 1484 Herbert covenanted 'to take to wife Dame Katherine Plantagenet, daughter to the King, before Michaelmas of that year'. Richard paid for the wedding and granted the couple an annuity of 400 marks from the lordships of Newport, Brecknok, and Hay on March 3, 1484. They probably lived at Raglan Castle, the Herbert family seat in Monmouthshire.

When Henry Earl of Richmond landed in south Wales in 1485, it is likely that a Herbert sent word to Richard of Henry's landing. William Herbert. however is not recorded as having fought for his father-in-law at Bosworth, though de la Pole quite possibly did. At the coronation of Elizabeth of York in November 1487, William Herbert is referred to as a widower, the marriage is not thought to have produced any children. What happened to Katherine is speculation - though it is commonly thought that she had died prior (she is last mentioned in March 1485), possibly in childbirth.

Now to Katherine Grey - one of the famous Grey sisters, the others being Jane and Mary; all granddaughters of Henry VIII"s sister, Mary. Katherine was initially wed to Henry, Lord Herbert, the son of the Earl of Pembroke (1553) - however when the plot to put Jane on the throne failed, this marriage was annulled and she was returned to her family (1554). She and her sister Mary were, at one stage, considered as potential heirs to their cousin, Elizabeth I of England. However, Katherine incurred the wrath of Elizabeth by secretly marrying (1560) Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford (it was forbidden to marry without the Queen's consent - it was considered treason to do so). Arrested (c.1561) after the Queen was informed of their clandestine marriage, Katherine was confined to a life in captivity until her death (1568), having borne two sons in the Tower of London.

The only tenuous link between the two women is that both their husbands were, at one point, Earls of Pembroke and both were in close proximity to the throne.  

So my thoughts.  Unfortunately, I found it rather average.  What appeared to me to be two potentially separate stories were merged together with the mystery of the princes binding them together in some strange manner.    The different narratives - first person for Katherine, third for Kate - does not really work and was at times unclear in its direction.  The addition of the "supernatural" element (supposedly binding both women together through history) merely creates a fog over the narrative and lends itself to confusion.  Then Weir trots out her standard anti-Richard bias.

Did either of women embark on a search for the truth behind the "princes in the tower" mystery?  Highly unlikely as I think both would have been more focused on their own survival in what were periods of great uncertainty.  Her handling of the paranormal component was not done well - she could easily have left Kate Plantagenet out of it altogether, the story may have flowed a bit better. And I question whether Katherine Grey would have even considered that Richard was innocent of the crimes landed at his doorstep, if indeed she gave any  thought to this at all.

I did like Weir's portrayal of Elizabeth's nastier side - people tend to forget that she was a jealous and vindictive woman, only seeing her as Gloriana. That was a refreshing change and the one upside.

So for me, this was average novel from Weir.  Just because she has written much on the era does not make what she writes as the gospel truth or perfect, there is always a great deal of supposition and inference in her works. This was not her best work of fiction - and is really only one for the Tudor fans. 

Review: The Drowning Guard by Linda Lafferty

The Drowning Guard: A Novel of the Ottoman Empire by [Lafferty, Linda]Synopsis: Each morning in the hour before dawn, a silent boat launches on the Bosphorous, moving swiftly into the deepest part of the waters halfway between Europe and Asia, where a man will die...

The Drowning Guard is the tale of the Ottoman princess, Esma Sultan - one of the most powerful women in Ottoman history and unlike any other woman in the Islamic world. In a gender reversal of Scheherazade in 1001 Arabian Nights, Esma seduces a different Christian lover each night, only to have him drowned in the morning. The Sultaness's true passion burns only for the Christian-born soldier charged with carrying out the brutal nightly death sentence: her drowning guard, Ivan Postivich.

The Drowning Guard explores the riddle of Esma - who is at once a murderer and a champion and liberator of women - and the man who loves her in spite of her horrifying crimes. This textured historical novel, set in the opulence and squalor of Istanbul in 1826, is woven with the complexity and consequences of love.

There are a lot of themes running through this novel, so firstly, some background which will cover off the main characters and also a little bit about the setting - Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire:

Ivan Postivih - aka Ahmed Kadir - a fictional character who was a Serb captured by the Ottomans as a child and conscripted into the elite Janissary cavalry. The Janissaries where themselves always Christian conscripts converted to Islam, trained and educated solely for military service. As an essentially non-Muslim group, they owed no allegiance except to the Sultan. In the novel, Ivan has been demoted (due to inciting envy and jealousy from the Sultan) and sent to the Sultan's sister Esma as a guard. Esma assigns to him the role of her "drowning guard" wherein he is tasked with the clandestine executions of Esma’s discarded Christian lovers.

Esma Sultan
Esma Sultan was the daughter of Sineperver Sultan and the Sultan, Abdulhamid I (d.1789). Her mother was one of nine wives/ consorts of Adbulhamid. Esma was sister to Mustafa IV ruled for one year as Sultan (1080) succeeding his cousin before being executed by Mahmud II (their half-brother). 

When she was 11 years old, her father died. Since Mustafa was only 10 years old at the time of his father’s death. Selim III ascended to the throne as the eldest male member of the Ottoman Empire. She followed her mother to the old palace. When she was 14 her cousin Selim III married her to Küçük Huseyn Pasha, Chief Admiral of the Navy. Her husband died in 1803 when she was 25 years old. She never married again. 

In 1807, the Janissaries revolted again, dethroned, imprisoned, and later murdered Selim III. They placed his cousin Mustafa, brother of Esma Sultan, on the throne. Mustafa IV reigned briefly in an era of Janissary riots. Esma Sultan played a major role in Kabakçı revolt with her mother Sineperver Sultan in bringing her half-brother Mahmud to throne, at the expense of her brother Mustafa, who was duly executed.

Due to her husband's position at court, and the influence over and the esteem in which she was held by both her brothers, Esma became prominent herself and acquired a great deal of property, land, buildings and revenues which enabled her to enjoy her life to the fullest. She had a large retinue, traveled freely and extensively, and was an accomplished poet and musician.

At the time of the events in the novel, Esma is 48 years old and quite possibly residing at one of her waterfront palaces, such as at Kuruçeşme or Ortaköy.

MahmutII.jpgMahmud II was the half-brother of Esma Sultna, his mother Nakşidil Sultan, being one of the wives / consorts of Abdulhamid I. As we have seen above, Mahmud came to the throne aged 23 after a revolt by the Janissaries and the deposition and execution of his brother Mustafa IV (1808).

His reign was dominated by external events: the war against the Saudi state, the independence of Greece and other Balkan nations, war with Persia, conquest of Ottoman Algeria by the French, and naval defeat at the hands of a combined force of English, Russian and French navies. In addition, the Ottoman Empire's trade policies and deindustrialisation led to economic downturn - decline had set in.

There is, however, one event that concerns us the reader as it was  more or less contemporary with events in the novel, which themselves may be posited as a mitigating factor, and once again involve the Janissaries. 

Ottoman military reform efforts begin with Selim III (1789–1807) who made the first major attempts to modernize the army along European lines. These efforts, however, were hampered by reactionary movements primarily from the Janissary corps, who had become anarchic and ineffectual. Jealous of their privileges and firmly opposed to change, they created a Janissary revolt (1807). Selim's efforts cost him his throne and his life, but were resolved in spectacular and bloody fashion by his successor, the dynamic Mahmud II. Most of the 135,000 Janissaries revolted against Mahmud II, and after the rebellion was suppressed, its leaders were killed, and many of its members exiled or imprisoned. The Janissary corp was effectively eliminated on 15 June 1826. Opening events in the novel take place less than one month prior (ie: May 1926). This revolt became known as the Auspicious Incident.

I was intrigued by the premise - imperial lovers being drowned in the Bosphorus after a night of pleasure.  Whilst the author states there was no such proofs for "drowning guards" this is in fact possibly incorrect, as events nearly 200 years previous may attest.

Istanbul: The City of Water

When Sultan Ibrahim (1616- 1648) came to the throne, his mental state was rather disturbed - hence he was referred to as "the Mad".  He had been imprisoned in a cage within the Topkapi Palace known as "kafes".  This was the fate of potential male heirs and rivals - previously they had all been executed regardless of age or mental state.  To distract him, his advisors suggested Ibrahim should pleasure himself with girls from the harem. This extravagant pastime pleased him greatly and left others alone to rule his empire as they wished, in particular his mother Kosem Sultan and Grand Vizier Kemankeş Kara Mustafa Pasha. Ibrahim favoured many of his concubines but unfortunately paranoia ruled his life, and his lasting legacy was to drown 280 concubines in the Bosphorus because he suspected they were plotting against him. 

Now to my final thoughts. Having persevered through average narrative, and characters and events that should have held my attention for far longer than they did, I was left slightly dissatisfied with the ending. The subject matter at hand could have made for a much stronger storyline. Possibly those unfamiliar with this period of history may find it more to their liking. Kudos for taking on a rather lesser-known female character and period of history; however, sometimes fiction just does not do actual history any justice.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The King's Midwife : A History and Mystery of Madame du Coudray by Nina Rattner Gelbart

Front CoverThis unorthodox biography explores the life of an extraordinary Enlightenment woman who, by sheer force of character, parlayed a skill in midwifery into a national institution. In 1759, in an effort to end infant mortality, Louis XV commissioned Madame Angélique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray to travel throughout France teaching the art of childbirth to illiterate peasant women. For the next thirty years, this royal emissary taught in nearly forty cities and reached an estimated ten thousand students. She wrote a textbook and invented a life-sized obstetrical mannequin for her demonstrations. She contributed significantly to France's demographic upswing after 1760.

Who was the woman, both the private self and the pseudonymous public celebrity? Nina Rattner Gelbart reconstructs Madame du Coudray's astonishing mission through extensive research in the hundreds of letters by, to, and about her in provincial archives throughout France. Tracing her subject's footsteps around the country, Gelbart chronicles du Coudray's battles with finance ministers, village matrons, local administrators, and recalcitrant physicians, her rises in power and falls from grace, and her death at the height of the Reign of Terror. 

At a deeper level, Gelbart recaptures du Coudray's interior journey as well, by questioning and dismantling the neat paper trail that the great midwife so carefully left behind. Delightfully written, this tale of a fascinating life at the end of the French Old Regime sheds new light on the histories of medicine, gender, society, politics, and culture.

further reading:
New York Academy of Medicine - biography
New York Times: Baby Boom

Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France by Elizabeth C. Goldsmith, Dena Goodman
The Art of Midwifery: Early Modern Midwives in Europe edited by Hilary Marland

Review: The Merry Mistress by Philip Lindsay

28247981. sy475 Synopsis: England, 1483: Unloved and publicly disgraced, an adulteress walks the streets of London to Ludgate prison. Her feet are bare; in her hands she carries a penitential candle. Her name is Jane Shore.

Philip Lindsay recounts Jane’s story – from her marriage as a child of fourteen to William Shore to her life at court as one of Edward IV’s lovers – with a masterful knowledge of this troubled period in history.

Through wars and betrayal, secrecy and discovery, he weaves a compelling tale of a child thrust into the life of a woman, pulling in the reader until they are entirely submerged in her tale of woe and wonder.

For Jane Shore was a woman like no other, unafraid of danger and cunning enough to work herself from the position of a simple mercer’s wife to one of the Queen’s most trusted ladies in waiting – and even into the heart of the King.

This re-telling of Jane Shore's story dates from the 1950s, and opens with Jane as she performs her "walk of shame" in her kirtle through the streets with a taper in her hand, and attracting a lot of male attention along the way. Following her penance, Jane is confined to Ludgate Prison where she reflects on her life and takes us back to where it all began. 

Jane Shore NPG D24096 Jane Shore Portrait National Portrait Gallery
From humble beginnings as Elizabeth Lambert, daughter of a prosperous merchant, her early association with William Hastings, her marriage to William Shore (often referred to as a goldsmith), and through to the annulment of her marriage, Jane narrates her own story.

Jane was one of the many mistresses of King Edward IV of England, and one of three whom he described as "the merriest, the wiliest, and the holiest harlots" in his realm. He was said devoted to her and did not discard her as he had done with so many others; however, she was also said not "showered with gifts" as other were. Jane, far from being solely devoted to Edward,was also the mistress of other noblemen, including Edward's stepson, Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset, and William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings, his close friend and adviser.

Jane Shore: The 15th Century Royal Mistress Forced to Walk ...
Following the death of Edward IV, Jane was said to have brokered an alliance between Hastings and the Woodvilles. However, upon the accession of Richard as King, she is accused conspiracy, required to do public penance and imprisoned. Whilst in prison, her gaoler John Russell become so enamoured, that he petitioned the King to marry her. She lived the rest of her life in comfortable anonymity.

Lindsay's novel contains much detail, focuses more on her relationships, is slightly dated by today's standards, though is still quite a readable tome on a woman at the periphery of the Wars of the Roses.

further reading:
A Merry Mistress by Judith Saxton
The Tragedy of Jane Shore by Nicholas Rowe
The Unfortunate Concubine, Or, History of Jane Shore, Mistress to Edward IV. King of England by S. King
The Witchery of Jane Shore, the Rose of London: the romance of a royal mistress by Charles John Samuel Thompson
The Life and Character of Jane shore by George Sewell
Re-Presenting 'Jane' Shore: Harlot and Heroine by Maria M Scott
The Intrigues of Jane Shore: A Tragedy, Or, the Fate of Unlawful Love by J. Read
The Mysterious Mistress: The Life and Legend of Jane Shore by Margaret Crosland
Royal Mistress: A Novel by Anne Easter Smith
The Fair Penitent and Jane Shore by Nicholas Rowe
The Life and Death of Jane Shore by E. Petch
Mistress to the Crown by Isolde Martyn
The Goldsmith's Wife by Jean Plaidy
Figures in Silk by Vanorra Bennett

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Review: In the Company of Fools by Tania Bayard

52070479. sx318 sy475 Synopsis: Paris 1396: Scribe Christine de Pizan is shocked when the Duke of Orleans' fools find a baby, wrapped in rags and covered in sores, abandoned in the palace gardens. Was there really a wicked plan to substitute the child for the queen's own baby daughter and blame the Duchess of Orleans, Valentina Visconti? Who would commit such an evil act, and why? 

Accused of being a sorceress, Valentina is the victim of much slander and has powerful enemies at the palace, where rumours of witchcraft and superstition run riot. Convinced of the duchess's innocence, Christine is determined to uncover the truth, and soon makes a number of disturbing discoveries. Could the palace fools be the key to unlocking the mystery?

This is the third in the series featuring Christine de Pisan, and I would suggest starting from the beginning with In the Presence of Evil and In the Shadow of the Enemy and many of the characters and themes in this instalment have their origins in the first two books, as does the historical background.

Valentina Visconti (1366 - 1408) - Genealogy
Valentina Visconti
It is three years since the events in the previous books; the French court is still a hot bed of political intrigue, the King is still battling bouts of insanity, and witchcraft and sorcery are being touted as the causes for all that has befallen France. Due to her proximity to the King, someone is out to blacken the name of Valentina Visconti, Duchess of Orleans, and it is the Fools of the Duke, her husband, that provide both the impetus and clues that Christine will need to solve this mystery.

Some Historical Background:
Valentina was born in Milan as the second of the four children of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, first Duke of Milan, and his first wife Isabelle, a daughter of King John II the Good of France. She was therefore she was the cousin of the current King of France, Charles VI and niece of Philip, Duke of Burgundy. Isabeau of Bavaria was the granddaughter of Bernabò Visconti, whom Gian Galeazzo treacherously displaced in Milan, and thus a bitter rival of both Valentina and her father.

Louis I, Duke of Orléans - Wikipedia
Louis I of Orleans
With Charles VI incapable of ruling, Isabeau presided over a regency counsel, on which sat the nobles of the kingdom. Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (the king's uncle), who acted as regent during the king's minority (from 1380 to 1388), was a great influence on the queen (he had organized the royal marriage during his regency). However, influence progressively shifted to Louis I, Duke of Orléans, the king's brother and another contender for power, and it was suspected, the queen's lover. Proximity to the king at crucial moments rather than simple access to him was regarded as vital for advancing oneself and one's interests. There ensued a generation in which court politics was subsumed in wider political factions which sought to control the court from outside.

As a result of the ongoing power struggles for control of the King coupled with the intrigues of the courtiers and nobles - each with their own agendas - and the enmity of the queen, salacious gossip abounded. Pre-eminant among those rumours were that Valentina, who was very close to the King, had bewitched him (causing his madness); and that Isabeau was having an affair with Louis, Valentina's husband and brother of the King. 

From the late 1390s, Orléans - ever in need of greater funds in view of the smallness of his appanage - was exercising much more pressure on the financial officialdom in order to sustain his policies and incurring the unpopularity for which he was to pay dearly. It was here that the clash with Burgundy really became truly venomous. The costs of political stability in the period were enormous. Payments, pensions and one-off presents to courtiers, great officers of the crown and great nobles were a substantial drain on yearly revenues. Hence the competition for control of the revenues.  This rivalry between Louis of Orleans and Philip of Burgundy was such that the end result was outright civil war.

Into this meltingpot of rumour and innuendo, throw in some talk of witchcraft and sorcery. The medieval court was the centre of political life during the Middle Ages, where officials of all ranks attended to governmental affairs. As a place of wealth, influence and power, intrigues were an ordinary suspicion and the court was the ideal environment for popular magical practices to cultivate as the employment of magical practitioners provided great political advantages.

Astrologers delivered a calendar of ideal times for rulers to make political decisions and alchemists, the possibility of riches and prolonged life. A knowledge of chemicals and herbs would have proved useful in intrigues where poisons and love spells were in demand. As fear and usage of magic was ever present, courtiers engaged in the practice of possessing precious stones whose properties protected them from such inflictions. Within the court there were also those who, whilst brandishing significant amounts of influence, held no formal office. As such, those driven by these ambitions employed magic to assist in their plots to beat rivals and gain their desired position. However, in this turbulent political climate fear and suspicion of magical practitioners and accusations of harmful magic increased. Even the Duke of Orelans was not immune when he too was accused of using sorcery (specifically a waxen image said baptized by a monk) against Charles VI (1392).

Finally both ‘factions’ sought to appeal to public opinion by distributing political programs in the form of letters, pamphlets, songs and pasquils  (lampoons) for street distribution which stressed the good of the kingdom, the control of abuses and “reform”, and were a much used weapon in turning public opinion against a potential rival through scandal and innuendo.

1868 The Duchess of Orleans Valentina Visconti Quitting Paris | Etsy
With public and court opinion against her, rumours of sorcery and witchcraft, Valentina was ultimately exiled from the court and forced to leave Paris. She remained at Blois till her death in 1408.

Gian Galeazzo reacted to gossip about Valentina at the French Court by threatening to declare war on France and to send knights to defend his daughter's honor. There is no record of him doing so. However, after the disaster of Nicopolis (1396), he was strongly suspected of having betrayed the Crusaders as vengeance for his daughter being accused of being behind the illness of King Charles VI of France, as well as for France's increasing control over the city of Genoa that he had attempted to hamper, and for which he had been rebuked by Enguerrand VII de Coucy before the battle.

Now to those other characters - the Fools. Court dwarfs - not to be confused with jesters who were employed for entertainment and amusement - were owned and traded amongst the people of the court, and delivered as gifts to fellow kings and queens. Dwarfs usually had a permanent function and were registered in the personnel rolls as "court dwarf", "personal dwarf" or "chamber dwarf". This enabled them to play an important role in ceremonial culture and gave them close access to the ruler. This close relationship led to multiple roles beyond the foolish task as a natural clown. Court dwarfs served as a substitute for children, companion for royal children, or even diplomats. At the end of their career, these privileged dwarfs would usually receive a pension and other benefits.

Bayard touches upon many of the above background topics - the fools, magic, alchemy, sorcery - to provide us with an insider's view of the French Court. We are reunited with Christine's old foe, Henri le Picout, and allies Marion, the prostitute and Brother Michel of the Abbey of Saint Denis. Whilst not particularly action driven, the reader will find themselves so swept up in the storytelling that they will not realise just how far they have been drawn along. I am looking forward to the next in the series. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Books Medieval Italy & Sicily

The Latin Church in Norman Italy by G. A. Loud
The Latin Church in Norman Italy
First published in 2007, this was the first significant study of the incorporation of the Church in southern Italy into the mainstream of Latin Christianity during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Professor G. A. Loud examines the relationship between Norman rulers, south Italian churchmen and the external influence of the new 'papal monarchy'. He discusses the impact of the creation of the new kingdom of Sicily in 1130; the tensions that arose from the papal schism of that era; and the religious policy and patronage of the new monarchs. He also explores the internal structures of the Church, both secular and monastic, and the extent and process of Latinisation within the Graecophone areas of the mainland and on the island of Sicily, where at the time of the Norman conquest the majority of the population was Muslim. This is a major contribution to the political, religious and cultural history of the Central Middle Ages.

Sanctity and Pilgrimage in Medieval Southern Italy, 1000–1200 by Paul Oldfield
Sanctity and Pilgrimage in Medieval Southern Italy, 1000–1200Southern Italy's strategic location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean gave it a unique position as a frontier for the major religious faiths of the medieval world, where Latin Christian, Greek Christian and Muslim communities coexisted. In this study, the first to offer a comprehensive analysis of sanctity and pilgrimage in southern Italy between 1000 and 1200, Paul Oldfield presents a fascinating picture of a politically and culturally fragmented land which, as well as hosting its own important relics as important pilgrimage centres, was a transit point for pilgrims and commercial traffic. Drawing on a diverse range of sources from hagiographical material to calendars, martyrologies, charters and pilgrim travel guides, the book examines how sanctity functioned at this key cultural crossroads and, by integrating the analysis of sanctity with that of pilgrimage, offers important new insights into society, cross-cultural interaction and faith in the region and across the medieval world.

City and Community in Norman Italy by Paul Oldfield
City and Community in Norman ItalyThis study of urban society in twelfth-century mainland Norman Italy examines the self-governing role of urban communities and explores their social ordering, identities and communal activities. Drawing on charters, chronicles, annals and other sources, Paul Oldfield uncovers notable continuities in a range of cities across southern Italy throughout a period of regime change and disruption. Unlike traditional interpretations which suggest that the Normans, and the creation of a monarchy in 1130, stifled urban development, this book suggests that south Italian urban communities were still able to enjoy a level of autonomy under the Norman monarchy. By emphasising the fluidity of the social structures and groups found in these cities, alongside the influential role of both the Church and civic consciousness, the author sheds light on the multi-layered complexity of the urban communities of Norman Italy and provides a more balanced comparison with the cities of northern Italy.

Crime and Justice in Late Medieval Italy by Trevor Dean
Crime and Justice in Late Medieval ItalyIn this important study, Trevor Dean examines the history of crime and criminal justice in Italy from the mid-thirteenth to the end of the fifteenth century. The book contains studies of the most frequent types of prosecuted crime such as violence, theft and insult, along with the rarely prosecuted sorcery and sex crimes. Drawing on a diverse and innovative range of sources, including legislation, legal opinions, prosecutions, chronicles and works of fiction, Dean demonstrates how knowledge of the history of criminal justice can illuminate our wider understanding of the Middle Ages. Issues and instruments of criminal justice reflected the structure and operation of state power; they were an essential element in the evolution of cities and they provided raw material for fictions. Furthermore, the study of judicial records provides insight into a wide range of social situations, from domestic violence to the oppression of ethnic minorities.

The Decline and Fall of Medieval Sicily: Politics, Religion, and Economy in the Reign of Frederick III, 1296–1337 by Clifford R. Backman
The Decline and Fall of Medieval SicilyThis 1995 book is a detailed study of Sicilian life in the reign of Frederick III (1296–1337), a period which saw Sicily reduced from a bustling and prosperous Mediterranean emporium to a poor backwater torn apart by violence. The relative economic and social backwardness of Sicily within modern Italy has attracted considerable scholarly attention. Attempts to explain its ingrained poverty and civil strife usually blame either the legacy of two thousand years of colonisation by rapacious foreigners or the inherent weaknesses in the island itself and its people. More recently a model of 'economic dualism' has pointed to basic structural flaws in the economic relations that were established between the island and its continental trading partners from the twelfth century onwards. This book, by focusing on Frederick III's crucial reign, argues that there were many more things 'wrong' with Sicilian life than just the shape of its overseas trade relations.

An Island for Itself: Economic Development and Social Change in Late Medieval Sicily by Stephan R. Epstein
An Island for ItselfThis study of late medieval Sicily develops a critique of theories of dependence through trade, and a new interpretation of the late medieval economy. It thus addresses current debates on the origins of modern Italian economic dualism, and on the transition from feudalism to capitalism in early modern Europe. Dr Epstein argues that economic development during this period was shaped largely by regional political and institutional structures which regulated access to markets. Following the Black Death, many institutional and social constraints on commercialization were relaxed throughout western Europe as a result of social conflict and demographic change. Peasants became more commercialized; economic growth occurred through regional integration and specialization. The Sicilian economy also expanded and became increasingly export-oriented. although only a small proportion of its output was shipped abroad before 1500. Late medieval Sicily is thus shown to have been neither underdeveloped nor dependent on foreign manufactures and trade.

Land and Power in Late Medieval Ferrara: The Rule of the Este, 1350-1450 by Trevor Dean
Land and Power in Late Medieval FerraraAmong the many states of late medieval Italy, one stands out for its unfamiliarity to an English audience and for its neglect in historical research: that of the Este family, lords (later Dukes) of the cities of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio in northern Italy. This book is the first modern attempt to provide a detailed analysis of the political structure of this state based on archive sources. Much of the book is concerned with the ways by which the Este used their vast landed resources in and around Ferrara to build up and reinforce their personal political authority both within and outside their dominions. Among the major themes examined are the continuing presence of political feudalism in the relations between the Este and their supporters, the place of the court in Ferrarese noble society, and the violent imposition of Este authority over the powerful nobles of the Apennine hills.

The New World in Early Modern Italy, 1492–1750 eds: Elizabeth Horodowich and Lia Markey
The New World in Early Modern Italy, 1492–1750Italians became fascinated by the New World in the early modern period. While Atlantic World scholarship has traditionally tended to focus on the acts of conquest and the politics of colonialism, these essays consider the reception of ideas, images and goods from the Americas in the non-colonial states of Italy. Italians began to venerate images of the Peruvian Virgin of Copacabana, plant tomatoes, potatoes, and maize, and publish costume books showcasing the clothing of the kings and queens of Florida, revealing the powerful hold that the Americas had on the Italian imagination. By considering a variety of cases illuminating the presence of the Americas in Italy, this volume demonstrates how early modern Italian culture developed as much from multicultural contact - with Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and the Caribbean - as it did from the rediscovery of classical antiquity.

The Duke's Assassin: Exile and Death of Lorenzino de' Medici by Stefano Dall'Aglio and Donald Weinstein
"The Duke's Assassin" by Stefano Dall'AglioStefano Dall’Aglio sheds new light on the notorious Florentine Lorenzino de’ Medici (also known as Lorenzaccio) and on two of the most infamous assassinations of Italian Renaissance history. In 1537 Lorenzino changed the course of history by murdering Alessandro de’ Medici, first duke of Florence, and paving the way for the accession of the new duke, Cosimo I. In 1548 Lorenzino was killed in Venice in revenge for the assassination he had committed. Basing his work on extensive research in the historical archives of Florence and Simancas, Dall’Aglio reconstructs the events surrounding these murders and involving the Medici, their loyalists, the Florentine republican exiles, and some of the most powerful sovereigns of the time. The first publication in a century, and the first work in English, to examine the life of Lorenzino de’ Medici, this fascinating revisionist history is as gripping as a detective novel, as Dall’Aglio unravels a 500-year-old mystery, revealing that behind the bloody death of the duke’s assassin there was the Emperor Charles V.

Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy, c. 1100 to c. 1440 by Dennis Romano
"Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy, c. 1100 to c. 1440" by Dennis RomanoCathedrals and civic palaces stand to this day as symbols of the dynamism and creativity of the city-states that flourished in Italy during the Middle Ages. Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy argues that the bustling yet impermanent sites of markets played an equally significant role, not only in the economic life of the Italian communes, but in their political, social, and cultural life as well. Drawing on a range of evidence from cities and towns across northern and central Italy, Dennis Romano explores the significance of the marketplace as the symbolic embodiment of the common good; its regulation and organization; the ethics of economic exchange; and how governments and guilds sought to promote market values. With a special focus on the spatial, architectural, and artistic elements of the marketplace, Romano adds new dimensions to our understanding of the evolution of the market economy and the origins of commercial capitalism and Renaissance individualism.

Books: Hundred Years War

Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War: Ransom Culture in the Late Middle Ages by Rémy Ambühl
Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years WarThe status of prisoners of war was firmly rooted in the practice of ransoming in the Middle Ages. By the opening stages of the Hundred Years War, ransoming had become widespread among the knightly community, and the crown had already begun to exercise tighter control over the practice of war. This led to tensions between public and private interests over ransoms and prisoners of war. Historians have long emphasised the significance of the French and English crowns' interference in the issue of prisoners of war, but this original and stimulating study questions whether they have been too influenced by the state-centred nature of most surviving sources. Based on extensive archival research, this book tests customs, laws and theory against the individual experiences of captors and prisoners during the Hundred Years War, to evoke their world in all its complexity.

The Hundred Years War: England and France at War c.1300–c.1450 by Christopher Allmand
The Hundred Years WarThis is a comparative study of how the societies of late-medieval England and France reacted to the long period of conflict between them commonly known as the Hundred Years War. Beginning with an analysis of contemporary views regarding the war. Two chapters follow which describe the military aim of the protagonists, military and naval organisation, recruitment, and the raising of taxes. 

The remainder of the book describes and analyses some of the main social and economic effects of war upon society, the growth of a sense of national consciousness in time of conflict, and the social criticism which came from those who reacted to changes and development brought about by war. Although intended primarily as a textbook for students, Dr Allmand's study is much more than that. It makes an important general contribution to the history of war in medieval times, and opens up new and original perspectives on a familiar topic.

The Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337-1453 by Desmond Seward
Front CoverFrom 1337 to 1453 England repeatedly invaded France on the pretext that her kings had a right to the French throne. Though it was a small, poor country, England for most of those "hundred years" won the battles, sacked the towns and castles, and dominated the war. The protagonists of the Hundred Years War are among the most colorful in European history: Edward III, the Black Prince; Henry V, who was later immortalized by Shakespeare; the splendid but inept John II, who died a prisoner in London; Charles V, who very nearly overcame England; and the enigmatic Charles VII, who at last drove the English out. Desmond Seward's critically-acclaimed account of the Hundred Years War brings to life all of the intrigue, beauty, and royal to-the-death-fighting of that legendary century-long conflict.

The Hundred Years War by Anne Curry
Front CoverAlthough the term 'Hundred Years War' was not coined until the 1860s, the Anglo-French conflicts of the later Middle Ages have long been of interest to historians. A fundamental question remains - was this a feudal war fought over ancient English rights in Gascony, or was it a dynastic war in which English kings battled for the crown of France itself?

This book, now fully revised and updated to take account of the latest scholarship, examines the origins and phases of the war and explores the trends in historical opinion from the fourteenth century to the present day. Anne Curry provides a straightforward narrative of English involvement in France, placing the well known military events in their diplomatic context. By focusing on the treaties of 1259, 1360 and 1420, Curry argues that there was not one 'hundred year war' but rather three separate yet linked conflicts, all with significant implications for the European scene as a whole, and for Anglo-French relations in the centuries to come.

The Age of the Hundred Years War by Clifford J. Rogers, Kelly DeVries, John France
Front CoverThis seventh volume of the Journal of Medieval Military History has a particular focus on western Europe in the late middle ages, and specifically the Hundred Years War; however, the breadth and diversity of approaches found in the modern study of medieval military history remains evident. Some essays focus on specific texts and documents, including Jean de Bueil's famous military treatise-cum-novel, Le Jouvencel; other studies in the volume deal with particular campaigns, from naval operations to chevauchées of the mid-fourteenth century. There are also examinations of English military leaders of the Hundred Years War, approaching them from prosopographical and biographical angles. The volume also includes a seminal piece, newly translated from the Dutch, by J.F. Verbruggen, in which he employs the financial records of Ghent and Bruges to illuminate the arms of urban militiamen at the end of the middle ages, and analyzes their significance for the art of war.

Seats of Power in Europe During the Hundred Years War: An Architectural Study from 1330 to 1480 by Anthony Emery
The Hundred Years' War between England and France is a story of an epic conflict between two nations whose destinies became inextricably entwined throughout the later Middle Ages. During that time the balance of architectural power moved from religious to secular domination, the Gothic form continued to grow and the palace-fortress was in the ascendancy. Seats of Power in Europe is a major new study of the residences of the crowned heads and the royal ducal families of the countries involved in the Hundred Years' War. Though they were the leading protagonists and therefore responsible for the course of the war, do their residences reflect an entirely defensive purpose, a social function, or the personality of their builders? As well as the castles of England and France it also looks at rulers residences in other European countries who supported one of the protagonists. They include Scotland, Castile, Aragon, Navarre, Portugal, the Low Countries, the imperial territories of Bohemia, and the papacy in Avignon and then Rome.

The study concentrates on sixty properties extending from the castles at Windsor and Denilworth to those at Saumur and Rambures, and from the palaces at Avignon and Seville to the manor-houses at Germolles and Launay. A number of subsidiary or associated properties are also considered in more broad-based sections. Each region and its residences are prefaced by supporting historical and architectural surveys to help position the properties against the contemporary military, financial, and aesthetic backgrounds.

Knights and Peasants: The Hundred Years War in the French Countryside by Nicholas Wright
This study of the soldier-peasant relationship in the context of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) aims to bring out the realities of the situation. It seeks an understanding of different attitudes: how aristocratic soldiers reconciled the ideals of chivalry with exploitation of non-combatants, and how French peasants reacted to the soldiery, drawing on the late-medieval literature of chivalry and political commentary in England and (especially) in France. Employing additional documentary material, including the largely unpublished records of the French royal chancery, the book also describes the ways in which individual peasants and village communities were exploited by soldiers, and how, in order to survive, they adjusted to and reacted against their treatment.

Siege Warfare During the Hundred Years War by Peter Hoskins
Histories of the Hundred Years War have been written, and accounts of the famous battles, but until now no book has concentrated on the sieges that played a decisive role in the protracted struggle between England and France. Edward III's capture of Calais in 1347 was of crucial importance for the English, and the failure of the English siege of Orléans in 1429 was a turning point for the French after the disaster of Agincourt. Throughout the war, sieges were a major weapon in the strategic armories of both sides, and Peter Hoskins's perceptive and graphic study is a fascinating analysis of them.

He describes the difficulties faced by besieger and besieged, examines the logistics and resource implications of sieges, and provides a comparative assessment of siege warfare alongside set-piece battles and the English strategy of chevauchées. Key sieges are reconstructed in vivid detail, other sieges are summarized, and the book is fully illustrated with photographs and plans.

Books: Medieval Books

Prince of the Press: How One Collector Built History’s Most Enduring and Remarkable Jewish Library by Joshua Teplitsky
"Prince of the Press" by Joshua TeplitskyThe story of one of the largest collections of Jewish books, and the man who used his collection to cultivate power, prestige, and political influence

David Oppenheim (1664–1736), chief rabbi of Prague in the early eighteenth century, built an unparalleled collection of Jewish books and manuscripts, all of which have survived and are housed in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. His remarkable collection testifies to the myriad connections Jews maintained with each other across political borders, and the contacts between Christians and Jews that books facilitated. From contact with the great courts of European nobility to the poor of Jerusalem, his family ties brought him into networks of power, prestige, and opportunity that extended across Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Containing works of law and literature alongside prayer and poetry, his library served rabbinic scholars and communal leaders, introduced old books to new readers, and functioned as a unique source of personal authority that gained him fame throughout Jewish society and beyond. The story of his life and library brings together culture, commerce, and politics, all filtered through this extraordinary collection. Based on the careful reconstruction of an archive that is still visited by scholars today, Joshua Teplitsky’s book offers a window into the social life of Jewish books in early modern Europe.

The Book in the Renaissance by Andrew Pettegree
"The Book in the Renaissance" by Andrew PettegreeThe dawn of print was a major turning point in the early modern world. It rescued ancient learning from obscurity, transformed knowledge of the natural and physical world, and brought the thrill of book ownership to the masses. But, as Andrew Pettegree reveals in this work of great historical merit, the story of the post-Gutenberg world was rather more complicated than we have often come to believe.

The Book in the Renaissance reconstructs the first 150 years of the world of print, exploring the complex web of religious, economic and cultural concerns surrounding the printed word. From its very beginnings, the printed book had to straddle financial and religious imperatives, as well as the very different requirements and constraints of the many countries who embraced it, and, as Pettegree argues, the process was far from a runaway success. More than ideas, the success or failure of books depended upon patrons and markets, precarious strategies and the thwarting of piracy, and the ebb and flow of popular demand. Owing to his expert and highly detailed research, Pettegree crafts an authoritative, lucid, and truly pioneering work of cultural history about a major development in the evolution of European society.

The Bookshop of the WorldMaking and Trading Books in the Dutch Golden Age by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen
40887372The untold story of how the Dutch conquered the European book market and became the world's greatest bibliophiles

The Dutch Golden Age has long been seen as the age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, whose paintings captured the public imagination and came to represent the marvel that was the Dutch Republic. Yet there is another, largely overlooked marvel in the Dutch world of the seventeenth century: books.

In this fascinating account, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen show how the Dutch produced many more books than pictures and bought and owned more books per capita than any other part of Europe. Key innovations in marketing, book auctions, and newspaper advertising brought stability to a market where elsewhere publishers faced bankruptcy, and created a population uniquely well-informed and politically engaged. This book tells for the first time the remarkable story of the Dutch conquest of the European book world and shows the true extent to which these pious, prosperous, quarrelsome, and generous people were shaped by what they read.