Monday, February 27, 2017

Protect Your Library With Horrifying Book Curses

Given the extreme effort that went into creating books, scribes and book owners had a real incentive to protect their work. They used the only power they had: words. At the beginning or the end of books, scribes and book owners would write dramatic curses threatening thieves with pain and suffering if they were to steal or damage these treasures.

Drogin’s book, published in 1983, is the most thorough compendium of book curses ever compiled. 

To those historians, the curses were curiosities, but to Drogin they were evidence of just how valuable books were to medieval scribes and scholars, at a time when even the most elite institutions might have libraries of only a few dozen books.

Read More Here @ Atlas Obscura

Friday, February 24, 2017

White Cargo - Story of Irish Slaves

Thousands of Irish people were subjected to years of abuse and cruelty after being sold as slaves during the 17th and 18th centuries. That is the claim made by London based historians and authors Don Jordan and Michael Walsh.

The two men have written a book, White Cargo, which says that one of the darkest periods in Irish history may have been swept under the carpet for centuries. The book details how thousands of Irish men, women and children were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean and America to work as labourers during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Read More Here @ Irish History

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rare Book Heist

Three thieves robbed a west London warehouse in late January by drilling holes in the building’s skylight, and then using rope to descend vertically into the space to avoid motion-detection alarms, George Sandeman at The Guardian reports. In total, the robbers made out with more than 160 books worth an estimated $2.5 million.

The rarity of the books would make them incredibly hard to unload on the open market, Cook notes, and investigators theorize that a wealthy collector known as “The Astronomer” may have hired the thieves to steal the books for him.

Read more here @ Smithsonian dot com

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Faded Page

is an archive of eBooks that are provided completely free to everyone. The books are produced by volunteers all over the world, and we believe they are amongst the highest quality eBooks anywhere. Every one has been scanned, run through OCR software, proofed, formatted and assembled extremely carefully, using hundreds of volunteer hours. These books are public domain in Canada (because we follow the Canadian copyright laws), but if you are in another country, you should satisfy yourself that you are not breaking the copyright laws of your own country by downloading them.

Access the library here @

A Lady Crowned with Fleurs-de-Lys

The story centers on Isabella, a princess from the German territory of Bavaria. The young royal is chosen to be the bride of Charles, the young king of France. Her idyllic life with her loving husband and doting children is left uninterrupted for many years until a series of unfortunate events leads to her downfall. After her death, she is no longer thought of as the princess who enchanted everyone on her wedding day. Rather, she is regarded as a corrupted woman whose name is associated with depravity and blind ambition.

Further Reading: 
  • The Life & Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria by Tracy Adams
  • The Role of Isabeau of Bavaria in the Government of France by Colleen Lily Mooney
  • The Active Queenship of Isabeau of Bavaria, 1392-1417: Voluptuary, Virago Or Villainess? by Rachel C. Gibbons

Death in Medieval Europe

The essays by Rollo-Koster and other scholars explore the cultural effects of death and how it influenced everyday life, from mourning practices to commemorations. URI chatted with her recently about her research.

“Images of death abounded in the later Middle Ages, especially in the period after the Black Death in the mid-14th century,’’ says Rollo-Koster, a renowned medieval scholar. “It was part of life, ritualized and choreographed, unlike today, where it is hidden and closeted.”

Read more here @ URI Today (University of Rhode Island)

Spinning a Historical Tale

For centuries, silk has been associated with wealth and royalty. Lesser known, though, is the fabric’s crucial role in French history — and how that reputation was cemented by women and immigrants.
In her book, “The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris: Artisanal Migration, Technological Innovation, and Gendered Experience” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), UC Santa Barbara historian Sharon Farmer races the roots of modern silk production in France back to medieval Paris, a bustling hub for luxury goods and fine textiles.
Read entire article here @ The Current (UC Santa Barbara)

Internet Sacred Text Archive

Internet Sacred Text Archive - the largest freely available archive of online books about religion, mythology, folklore and the esoteric on the Internet. The site is dedicated to religious tolerance and scholarship, and has the largest readership of any similar site on the web.

Princess Michael of Kent - Writing 'The Anjou Trilogy'

From Midnight Walks to Medieval Murders: Writing 'The Anjou Trilogy' | The Huffington Post

Princess Michael of Kent blogs about writing, research & her upcoming trilogy:

Research is rather like becoming a detective. Every clue, no matter how small, is exciting and can lead one on to the next, another piece in the jigsaw found and I continue trying to form a picture of a personality. This is the part of my journey as a writer which I enjoy the most — discovering the essence of a character through tiny little asides and titbits of no apparent significance but which can, on occasion, add something significant to their persona.
And then there are the locations. I never write about a place I have not visited, and therefore I do travel a great deal. 
I am a night-writer. It is the only time I am undisturbed and often at my laptop until three or four in the morning. 
Strangely enough, each one of my chosen subjects about whom I have written has led me to the next. 

Read complete article here @ Huffington Post
Read more about Princess Michael of Kent

Ermengarde of Narbonne - The Viscount's Daughter

In 12th century France, women were generally regarded as useful only in the home – meant to run the household and raise children. It was men's work to handle politics and warfare. There have been exceptions to this unwritten rule throughout history, and one such exception was Ermengarde, viscountess of Narbonne. Her exceptional role in France's history was what drew author Phyllis Hall Haislip to write her first novel for adults.

"The Viscount's Daughter," published in 2013, is the first volume in a planned trilogy following Ermengarde's life.

Few facts are known about Ermengarde. She inherited her title at approximately the age of five, after the death of her father. Because she was too young to lead, another nobleman, Alphonse I of Toulouse, assumed regency of Narbonne. When Ermengarde reached adolescence, he married her to add her lands to his own. Other local landowners objected to Toulouse's greed, and the conflict soon escalated to violence. Through all this, Ermengarde fought both against the dismantling of her father's legacy and the undesirable advances of her husband.

Haislip conducted extensive research for her novel, even traveling to visit the places Ermengarde and her contemporaries once lived to ensure accuracy in her descriptions.

Much of the work is based on the author's own imagination, because many details of Ermengarde's life have been lost over the centuries, but the book remains true to the culture and region of France in the mid-1100s.

Read More here @ Daily Press

From Amazon: The Viscount's Daughter, The Viscountess, The Viscountess & the Templars

Further Reading: Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours by Frederic Cheyette

Viking Society Publications

The Viking Society for Northern Research is making virtually all its publications (and some other related items) from inception in 1893 to the present freely available on this website, though recent titles may not be released until three years from the date of publication.

These digital versions are not intended to replace our printed publications, and titles currently in print will remain available to buy in book form as long as there is a demand for them (the list can be seen at ). The digital versions are intended to make the range of our publications known to a wider public, and may be used for reference purposes, to evaluate books for purchase or for university courses and for private study. The copyright belongs either to the authors or to the Viking Society, as stated at the beginning of each work, and permission must be obtained from the Society to use downloaded versions either in whole or in part for any other purpose.

See full list here @ Viking Society Publications

Kateřina Tučková and the latterday witch-hunts of Moravia

The White Carpathian Mountains, straddling the border of Moravia and Slovakia, are one of the most beautiful and rural parts of the Czech Republic. Towns are few and far between and for centuries local people would take their aches and pains to old women renowned in the region for their special healing powers. They were known as “goddesses” and passed their knowledge from generation to generation. But Czechoslovakia’s post-war communist rulers saw the world these women represented as a threat and within two generations they were wiped out. Their tragic story is the subject of the excellent novel “Žítková Goddesses” by the young Moravian writer Kateřina Tučková.

Read interview with David Vaughan Here @ Radio Prague

The Aberdeen Bestiary

The Aberdeen Bestiary (Aberdeen University Library MS 24) is considered to be one of the best examples of its type due to its lavish and costly illuminations. The manuscript, written and illuminated in England around 1200, is of added interest since it contains notes, sketches and other evidence of the way it was designed and executed. Its text and appearance are closely related to the Ashmole Bestiary, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 1511 which provides further insights into workshop practice.

The recorded history of the manuscript begins in 1542 when it was listed as No.518 Liber de bestiarum natura in the inventory of the Old Royal Library, at Westminster Palace. The press mark is on f.1r. This library was assembled by Henry VIII, with professional assistance from the antiquary John Leland, to house manuscripts and documents rescued from the dissolution of the monasteries.

View the manuscript here @ University of Aberdeen

Monday, February 20, 2017

Encyclopedia of Pivotal Events in Religious History

The three-volume ‘Great Events in Religion: An Encyclopedia of Pivotal Events in Religious History’ has been recently published in English by ABC-CLIO, a publishing company headquartered in California.

In 1,047 pages, the encyclopedia presents readers with information about the key events in religious developments that help better understand world history and seek to promote greater respect for culturally diverse religious traditions.
Editors of the encyclopedia are Florin Curta, professor of medieval history and archaeology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and Andrew Holt, associate professor of history at Florida State College at Jacksonville, ISNA reported.
Read More Here @ Financial Tribune

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Review: The Last Duel

"The gripping, atmospheric true story of the “duel to end all duels” in medieval France: a trial by combat pitting a knight against a squire accused of violating the knight’s beautiful young wife.

Based on extensive research in Normandy and Paris, The Last Duel brings to life a colorful, turbulent age and three unforgettable characters caught in a fatal triangle of crime, scandal, and revenge. It is at once a moving human drama, a captivating detective story, and an engrossing work of historical intrigue."

My review of "The Last Duel" by Eric Jager can be found here:

This is one that I highly recommend - Jager is a favourite of mine - he presents a spell-binding tale.

Reviews: Alison Weir

Alison Weir is not my favourite author - though the subject matter on which she puts pen to paper is of interest - hence I do make an attempt to remain objective and I do read her works.

Below is a list of links to my reviews of some of the works of Weir that I have read.

The following I did not post a review but will list in order of "star" status:
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII
  • Mary Queen of Scots & the Murder of Lord Darnely
  • Britain's Royal Families
  • The Wars of the Roses
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life
  • The Children of Henry VIII
  • Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England
  • Katherine Swynford
  • A Dangerous Inheritance: A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower

So as you can see, I have been quite open in my reading of Weir - I have been more than willing to tackle her works rather than just dismiss any works out of hand.

So, why do I dislike her books (or more a case of her writing style)?? There are a number of reasons, but the following are the ones that stand out the most:

  • waffling on - I often comment about the amount of incidental information being provided to the reader to "fill in the gaps" when there is nothing to write about.  Yes, many of her subject matters have very little written about them so it does make it hard to provide a detailed biography.  Having said that, quality over quantity is my go-to phrase - I would rather have a tome of 100 pages of substance rather than 500 plus pages of rubbish. Note: Weir is not alone in this respect.
  • accuracy - as a student of history, I have come across occasional errors in her works.  Yes, to err is human - sometimes dates and facts can be challenging (and often conflicting in even when comparing contemporary sources).  However, some of the errors are glaringly so.  Add to this the common theme of substituting "fiction" as fact - taking the most obvious myths (or scandalous hearsay) and presenting it as fact with no basis to support said claims (her work on Eleanor of Aquitaine stands out here).
  • personal opinion - Weir often imposing her own opinions as fact where no facts are in evidence.  Whilst personal bias by any author (including those historical sources) can never be totally removed from a study, this author's personal bias is rather in your face.  An objective presentation is a rarity - which leads me to my next point:
  • pet theories - whilst a number of the subjects being tackled have some mystery about them (Edward II, Princes in the Tower), Weir at times take one path to the exclusion of all others.  I found this especially so with "Queen Isabella" - wherein Weir presents one theory as fact above all others. I suggested that the facts of the case should have been presented objectively and then an appendix added outlining the case for all the different theories (it would have made much better reading and would have gained a star or two as a result).
What I did like about Weir was one of her fictional works - "Innocent Traitor" - I thought this was rather good reading and I enjoyed the way the story was presented.

In the meantime, I will keep reading and posting my thoughts on Weir and her works.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Review: Blood Royal


Love it!

Once again Jager takes us back into French history with the murder of Louis Duke of Orleans in 1407.

We follow the investigation of Guillaume de Tigonville, as Jager uses witness depositions to the set the scene preceeding the murder. We then follow the murder investigation itself which takes de Tigonville down a dangerous political path, the results of which affect the future of France.

With clever and concise storytelling and the use of medieval documents, Jager outlines the repercussions of the investigation on both the main characters and of France itself.

See Also:
Review in France Today: A Detective In Medieval Paris
Review in Dallas News: Blood Royal
Review in Seattle Times: A Mystifying Murder In Medieval Paris
Review in Washington Post: Blood Royal
Review in Washington Post: Blood Royal

Serialised Blog Post by Eric Jager in Washington Post:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Random Reviews

Please enjoy this selection of reviews from various sources:

"Identity Unknown" by Donna Seaman
Female creators rise in all their splendor and defiance in Donna Seaman’s wonderful new book that chronicles the lives of seven American artists. These women, one of whom died only in 2007, have already been mostly forgotten by the art world, which Seaman sees as inexcusable and here does her best to correct. 

"Dracula's Wars: Vlad The Impaler and His Rivals" by James Waterson
..... a history of the Balkans from about the mid-thirteenth century through the late fifteenth, setting the stage for Vlad’s life and career as Prince of Wallachia, a post he attained three times, being twice ousted, as well as the fallout from his reign.
Source: Strategy Page

"Once We Were Sisters" by Sheila Kohler
This many-layered memoir, rich in texture and suggestion, executed with a novelist’s eye for oblique human suffering, is her devastating reckoning with the past. A powerful memoir from an acclaimed novelist reveals a past of privilege, violence and possibly murder.
Source: The Guardian

"The Spy" by Paul Coelho
Paulo Coelho's latest bestseller 'The Spy' is different from his characteristic genre of spiritual quests and journeys. In a sense, 'The Spy' is the story of a woman's journey, but more than that, it is the story of legendary Mata Hari retold as "history told from below", by a woman with a feminist voice. 

"Hame" by Annalena McAfee
The novel tells the story of Mhairi McPhail, a historian whose domestic set-up in New York has fallen apart and who takes up an offer to write a new biography of recently deceased Scots poet Grigor McWatt, and to curate a new museum dedicated to his life and work. The museum, naturally enough, is to be sited on the Scottish island which was the celebrated McWatt’s home, Fascaray. 

"Edith Craig and the Theatres of Art" by Katharine Cockin
Edith (Edy) Craig (1869-1947) was an inspirational and important Modernist theatre-maker, but it is only in the past 30 years that her significance as a director, costumier, pageant-maker, feminist, lesbian and suffrage activist has been appreciated. Her “laughing self-effacement” was probably one reason she came close to being written out of mainstream theatre history, except as a footnote to the career of her celebrated mother, Ellen Terry, one of the leading performers of her age.

"Life in the Lower Manning Valley: the first 30 years of settlement" by Katherine Bell 
The book covers of number of themes of colonial history, including the lives of convicts, settlers, emancipists, immigrants, and Aboriginal people.

"Eat Me" by Bill Schutt
.... the history of cannibalism: it’s an irresistible story, all the more horrific because eating human flesh is something any of us might, in extremis, be forced to do, or could, in theory, do without even realising; but the stories have long been more compelling than the actual evidence.
Source: The Guardian

New Alison Weir series on England’s Queens

New Alison Weir series on England’s queens | The Bookseller
Historian Alison Weir is launching an "ambitious" new series this autumn exploring the lives of England’s queens over four centuries "long neglected by historians", from the Norman Conquest to the end of the Wars of the Roses.

The new series, entitled England's Medieval Queens, will comprise four titles, beginning with Queens of the Conquest, coming out in hardback, trade paperback and e-book on 28th September. It will reveal the extraordinarily dramatic lives of the five queens of England in the century after the Norman Conquest, from Matilda of Flanders, who supported William the Conqueror in his invasion of England in 1066, to the life of the Empress Maud, who fought a bitter war to become queen of England in her own right.
The next three books in the series will cover the interconnected lives of England’s queens in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.