Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Women of the Third Reich: From Camp Guards to Combatants by Tim Heath

43972608Synopsis: The women of the Third Reich were a vital part in a complex and vilified system. What was their role within its administration, the concentration camps, and the Luftwaffe and militia units and how did it evolve in the way it did?

We hear from women who issued typewritten dictates from above through to those who operated telephones, radar systems, fought fires as the cities burned around them, drove concentration camp inmates to their deaths like cattle, fired Anti-Aircraft guns at Allied aircraft and entered the militias when faced with the impending destruction of what should have been a one thousand-year Reich.

Every testimony is unique, each person a victim of circumstance entwined within the thorns of an ideological obligation. Women of the Third Reich provides an intriguing, humorous, brutal, shocking and unrelenting narrative journey into the half lights of the hell of human consciousness - sometimes at its worst. 



So, whilst this era is not my usual period of study, I was fascinated by the premise. We read so much about life on the home-front in England or American during WWII, that I was curious to say the least, about what stories these women hold and would reveal. 

What author Tim Heath has done is provide a personalised, human face to a hated regime. We view this controversial period in history through the eyes of the young girls and women who lived through it, survived it, and were willing to talk about it. He states in his introduction that the answers to why these women and girls became "embroiled in the madness and horror of the Third Reich" would be found in the stories that followed - they are.

Its a compelling read. I wasn't sure what I was expecting when I picked up this tome - I guess more of a narrative from the author punctuated by examples collated from interviews - but it is the other way around for much of this work is the words and memories of the women themselves. And these words speak volumes. Take away the words "Hitler, SS, Nazi" and these girls' stories could have come from anywhere in war-torn Europe. In fact I made mention that some of the stories of the BDM (League of German Maidens) girls was very similar to what I had read in Yulia Zhukova's memoir "Girl with a Sniper Rifle" (Soviet perspective).

When Germany emerged from WWI, defeated, weakened and nationally humiliated by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which they as a nation considered an injustice, the country was ripe for the planting of the seeds of national socialism. This was the era in which many of the girls were born into and grew up in - their parents having lived through the horrors of war and the consequences of the imposed war reparations that followed. And what ultimately united them all - what they had left to cling to - was a sense of national pride - a word that today that is considered by so many in the West as politically incorrect and an unacceptable ideaology.

But for these girls this was all that they knew - and there were many hardline supporters of the regime up until the very end. However, like many who live under such a rigid, totalitarian regime (ie: Stalinist Russia, Communist China, Fascist Spain, or any other number of military dictatorships worldwide), to survive you toe the party line and keep your thoughts and feelings to the contrary to yourself - and there are many documented stories of those who did so out of fear of torture and death - for themselves and their families.

The definition of a military regime is as follows:
A military regime is a form of government wherein the political power resides with the armed forces. The military is the legitimate power-holding group that centralizes political and legal authority. Military regimes are generally held together by their egalitarian belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people. Thus, military regimes emerge most often as products of political, economic, and societal crises to replace weak executives and governments. 

Back to the girls and their stories. What an eye-opener! Some of these left me lost for words - just sitting there, staring at the pages I had just read. How many readers just assume that these girls lived idyllic lives, completely oblivious to the world around them - I am sure there were some that did. But these women looked back on their lives and many recounted stories of verbal, physical and sexual abuse (at the hands of those who were supposed to revere them as paragons of Germanic virtue); of personal hardship and of surviving against all odds (scavenging for food, salvaging the dead from bombed out cities); of fighting for their country (especially in the final defense of Berlin); and in the years that followed (for it was the women who took on the initial role of rebuilding). 

The roles of the women was varied - though collated for us in the chapters: we are introduced to office and factory workers; women of the Red Cross; the women who took on a military role; and those that incurred the hatred of so many, the camp guards. Some of the stories are chilling to say the least, others are peppered with humour; all are personal and viewed through the eyes of those who lived through it all - they are, ".. a physical connection to the history ..". Many struggled post-war and found it hard to talk about this period, especially now with all the backlash and attitudes to acknowledging events in the past.

This isn't just a glorifcation of what once was nor a voyeuristic view of cruelty perpetuated at the hands of a few; it is the stories of women - mere girls at the time - and of how they lived and survived in a time many of us today were lucky not to have. And maybe, just maybe, when you come to the end, you shed a little tear for the loss of so much innocence.

The final word goes to Adelen Muller:
" .... an English soldier once asked me if I felt it was all worth it. I told him, 'These things are only worth it if you win the fight. If you are the loser it is never worth it' ..."
and to author Tim Heath:
".... There are few of us who will depart this earth with a completely clear conscious on how we have lived our lives. Our unhappy chapters are often conveniently suppressed, becoming mercifully blurred by time and overtaken by the happier events of our lives .... " 
and the Bible - The Gospel According to John:
'...  He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her .."


My Year In Books @ Goofreads

To see my year in books via Goodreads, click on the image below!


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Religious Warfare in Europe 1400-1536 by Norman Housley

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Religious Warfare in Europe 1400-1536






Religious warfare has been a recurrent feature of European history. In this intelligent and readable study, the distinguished Crusade historian Norman Housley describes and analyses the principal expressions of holy war in the period from the Hussite wars to the first generation of the Reformation. The context was one of both challenge and expansion. The Ottoman Turks posed an unprecedented external threat to the 'Christian republic', while doctrinal dissent, constant warfare between states, and rebellion eroded it from within.

Professor Housley shows how in these circumstances the propensity to sanctify warfare took radically different forms. At times warfare between national communities was shaped by convictions of 'sacred patriotism', either in defending God-given native land or in the pursuit of messianic programmes abroad. Insurrectionary activity, especially when driven by apocalyptic expectations, was a second important type of religious war. In the 1420s and early 1430s the Hussites waged war successfully in defence of what they believed to be 'God's Law'. And some frontier communities depicted their struggle against non-believers as religious war by reference to crusading ideas and habits of thought. Professor Housley pinpoints what these conflicts had in common in the ways the combatants perceived their own role, their demonization of their opponents, and the ongoing critique of religious war in all its forms.

This is a major contribution to both Crusade history and the study of the Wars of Religion of the early modern period. Professor Housley explores the interaction between Crusade and religious war in the broader sense, and argues that the religious violence of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was organic, in the sense that it sprang from deeply rooted proclivities within European society.

Slavery and Empire in Central Asia by Jeff Eden

Slavery and Empire in Central AsiaThe Central Asian slave trade swept hundreds of thousands of Iranians, Russians, and others into slavery during the eighteenth–nineteenth centuries. 

Drawing on eyewitness accounts, autobiographies, and newly-uncovered interviews with slaves, this book offers an unprecedented window into slaves' lives and a penetrating examination of human trafficking. 

Slavery strained Central Asia's relations with Russia, England, and Iran, and would serve as a major justification for the Russian conquest of this region in the 1860s–70s. Challenging the consensus that the Russian Empire abolished slavery with these conquests, Eden uses these documents to reveal that it was the slaves themselves who brought about their own emancipation by fomenting the largest slave uprising in the region's history.

The Novels of Justinian - trans David J. D. Miller

The first complete English translation of the novels and associated texts based on the original Greek, with significant emendations to the standard edition.

The Novels of JustinianThe novels comprise a series of laws issued in the sixth century by the famous Emperor Justinian (r.527-65), along with a number of measures issued by his immediate successors on the throne of Constantinople. They reveal the evolution of Roman law at the end of antiquity and how imperial law was transmitted to both the Byzantine East and Latin West in the Early Middle Ages. 

Crucially, the texts cast fascinating light on how litigants of all social backgrounds sought to appropriate the law and turn it to their advantage, as well as on topics ranging from the changing status of women to the persecution of homosexuals, and from the spread of heresy to the economic impact of the first known outbreak of bubonic plague. This work represents the first English translation of the novels based on the original Greek, and comes with an extensive historical and legal commentary.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Emperor and Senators in the Reign of Constantius II by Muriel Moser

Emperor and Senators in the Reign of Constantius IIIn this book - Emperor and Senators in the Reign of Constantius II: Maintaining Imperial Rule Between Rome and Constantinople in the Fourth Century AD Muriel Moser investigates the relationship between the emperors Constantine I and his son Constantius II (AD 312–361) and the senators of Constantinople and Rome. She examines and contextualizes the integration of the social elites of Rome and the Eastern provinces into the imperial system and demonstrates their increased importance for the maintenance of imperial rule in response to political fragility and fragmentation. 

An in-depth analysis of senatorial careers and imperial legislation is combined with a detailed assessment of the political context - shared rule, the suppression of usurpations, Constantius' use of Constantine's memory. Using a wide range of literary, epigraphic, numismatic, and legal sources, some of which are as yet unpublished, this volume produces significant new readings of the history of the senates in Rome and Constantinople, of the construction of imperial rule and of historical change in Late Antiquity.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Michael Fassbender options Kevin Barry's Night Boat to Tangier | The Bookseller

43256597. sy475 Kevin Barry's Night Boat to Tangier (Canongate) will be adapted for the big screen by Hollywood actor Michael Fassbender.

Andrew Eaton of Turbine Studios and Conor McCaughan and Fassbender of DMC Films are jointly optioning the multiple-prize-winning Irish author's book for feature film adaptation.

Barry is adapting the novel for the screen himself. The deal was handled by Lesley Thorne of Aitken Alexander Associates, on behalf of Lucy Luck at C&W.

Longlisted for the Booker Prize, Night Boat to Tangier is one of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2019. Published in June 2019, the synopsis reads: "It’s late one night at the Spanish port of Algeciras, and two fading Irish gangsters are waiting on the boat from Tangier. A lover has been lost, a daughter has gone missing, their world has come asunder—can it be put together again?"

Canongate called it a "novel drenched in sex and death and narcotics, in sudden violence and old magic. But above all, it is a book obsessed with the mysteries of love".

The history of giving books as gifts at Christmas

From The Independent
Christmas is coming, and gift-giving is at the forefront of many minds. The latest tech changes from year to year, as do the latest fashions. But the gift that never seems to go out of style? A book.

The publishing world is at its busiest in the months leading up to Christmas. In Iceland, there is even a name for this: jólabókaflóð (pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot) or “Christmas book flood”. The term has also come to refer to the Icelandic custom of exchanging books on Christmas Eve. As a result, a substantial portion of annual hardback sales are during this period, and nearly 850 new titles were released in 2019’s Icelandic book flood alone.

Books provide psychological uplift and are also an expression of home decor

People were giving books as gifts even before words were ever put to paper. In one of his books of epigrams, the ancient Roman poet Martial recommended the works of famous Roman writers such as “Ovid’s Metamorphoses on parchment” (animal skin) and “Livy (the Roman historian) in a single volume” (appearing in a scroll, on papyrus, or on parchment) as presents for the December festival of Saturnalia. Martial’s recommendations also included book-related items including “a book-case” and “a wooden book-covering”.

read more here @ The Independent


The woman who gave away 1600 books for Xmas

From Newsroom in New Zealand:
Sonya Wilson hit on a Xmas good deed: donate new books to kids who don't have books.


I had the idea for #KiwiChristmasBooks at about three in the morning. I was lying awake in bed, trying to re-write a short story in my head — my university assignment that was supposed to be a work of great genius, but was languishing closer to great mediocrity — when I got to thinking about books. Good books. Those books from my childhood and the worlds they opened up for me, the experiences I had through those stories. The lessons I learned. The characters I met. The things they taught me about my fellow humans.

Books are so great, my genius creative brain thought, monosyllabically.

I’m going to buy books for my family for Christmas this year, I thought. And also, I’ll donate some books to kids who don’t have books. It would be my Christmas good deed.

And now, I thought, I shall go to sleep.

read more here @ Newsroom

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby by Joe Moshenska

A Stain in the BloodOn the 16th of August 1628, five battle-scarred English ships sailed into the harbour of the Greek island of Milos. Dropping anchor, the 25-year-old captain banqueted with the local lord before sitting down to write an account of his journey – an account that would transform him entirely.

Sir Kenelm Digby was one of the most remarkable Englishmen who ever lived: a trusted advisor to the King, but the sworn enemy of the all-powerful Duke of Buckingham; a pioneering philosopher and scientist, but committed to the occult arts of alchemy and astrology; a friend not only of Ben Jonson, Thomas Hobbes and van Dyck, but even Oliver Cromwell. He was also widely known as the ‘son of a traytor and husband of a whore’: a man who witnessed his father’s gruesome execution for high treason as a Gunpowder Plotter, and the lover of the most celebrated beauty of the age, Venetia Stanley.

Image result for kenelm digby"
In an attempt to clear his name, and on a quest for personal glory, Digby assembled a fleet and set sail for the Mediterranean: a world of pirate cities and ancient ruins where people, ideas and exotic goods moved freely between languages and nations. His journey – encompassing fevers, mutiny, piracy, daring rescues and heroic sea battles – is a great and terribly overlooked adventure, and a prism through which to view England, and all of Europe, during one of the most pivotal periods in its history.

A Stain in the Blood is the story of an extraordinary life, and of a journey that helped to shape a nation. It is a revelatory first work of non-fiction by one of the brightest young writers and thinkers of today.

note: I have this one myself - I love a good book based on a sort of anti-hero.


further reading and reviews:
Trinity College: Joe Moshenka on writing the life of an adventurer
University of Cambridge: The adventures of Sir Kenelm Digby
The Guardian: review of A Stain in the Blood






Special Commission by John Hall

A crime with many motives but whose stands out the most?

Special Commission by [Hall, John]The year is 1449: Merchant Master Wood and his servant Bertram are in Kyme on a business trip. They attend the annual May celebration Lordy Kyme has organised for local people at his fortified manor house. But after dinner, the celebration descends into mayhem as Master Wood is found dead in suspicious circumstances, with a knife sticking out of his body. The obvious suspect, Mr Robert Middleham, an uninvited and unwanted guest, refuses to appear before a judge and jury. The only hope of solving the crime is for the Lord Chancellor to appoint a Special Commissioner, Martin Byrd, to look into the matter. But things are not quite as simple as that.

Mr Middleham is held responsible for the murder as his knife was sticking out of Wood’s body when he was found dead outside at the stables. After delving into the details of the case, the Special Commission realise there is bad blood between the Kyme and Middleham families. Could this rivalry have sparked Mr Middleham to crash the May Day extravaganza and kill one of Kyme’s guests? The case is complicated further when it is discovered that one of the kitchen maids, Daisy, who reported the dead body to Lord Kyme, had been more than friendly to a number of men at the party. Could jealousy have inspired the murderer to strike? Will Martin Byrd be able to cast light upon the secrets hidden behind the walls of the castle and find enough evidence to solve the mysterious murder of the merchant?


The Chronicle of Morea by Teresa Shawcross

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The Chronicle of Morea
The Chronicle of Morea, one of the most important and controversial historical narratives written in the late Middle Ages, tells the story of the formation and government by the Villehardouin dynasty of a remarkably successful Crusader State following the conquest by western invaders of the capital - Constantinople - and the provinces of the Byzantine Empire. 

By examining all the Chronicle's surviving Greek, French, Spanish and Italian versions, this study, the first of its kind, explores in depth the literary and ideological contexts in which the work was composed, transmitted and re-written. The result is a fascinating analysis of cultural exchange in a rich and vibrant eastern Mediterranean world where different ethnicities were obliged to live alongside each other, and outside political interests frequently intruded in dramatic fashion. Translations into English have been provided of all the material discussed.




The Letters of Lord Burghley, William Cecil, to His Son Sir Robert Cecil, 1593–1598

The Letters of Lord Burghley, William Cecil, to His Son Sir Robert Cecil, 1593–1598The 128 letters of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, to his son Sir Robert Cecil in Cambridge University Library, Manuscript Ee.3.56, are the largest collection of papers showing the close direction and counsel he gave his son in seeking and obtaining the office of Principal Secretary, 1593–1598. 

The materials concentrate on the task of receiving and crafting a wide and large array of papers on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I and her Privy Council; finance, administration, foreign policy, and religion figure prominently, as does the shift from continental war to Ireland.

These letters presented in this tome, and edited by William Acres, also reveal the intimate relationship between the father and son; Burghley's care for his family, his thoughts of death, and a unique record of illness and old age are framed by his political and spiritual anxieties for the future of the Queen and her realms.

Jessica Fletcher and the Long Afterlife of Murder, She Wrote

From CrimeReads
So far as Murder, She Wrote is concerned, something sinister has been going on for all of thirty-five years now. A Time for Murder marks the 50th title in the iconic book series based on the fabulously successful television show.

Where does Murder, She Wrote fit into the canon of classic mystery series over the years?


Let’s start with the fact that the show can justifiably lay claim to being one of the most successful mystery series of all time. The TV producers who conceived the idea of a widowed mystery writer-turned-sleuth originally wanted Jean Stapleton, who won three Emmys for her portrayal of Edith Bunker on All in the Family, to play Jessica Fletcher. When she turned them down, they opted for Angela Lansbury instead, and the icon of Jessica Fletcher was born.

read more here @ CrimeReads

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Review: Death in Saint-Chartier by Ivo Fornesa

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Synopsis: Seeking a quiet spot to write his memoirs, Laurent de Rodergues secludes himself in Saint-Chartier, a village in the heart of France. Yet his tranquil life is soon disturbed by Carlos, an eccentric millionaire determined to give the town's medieval chateau a costly and controversial makeover. When the chateau is unveiled after months of anticipation, the whole town turns out to gaze in wonder - only to find their host lying dead in a pool of blood. 

Laurent suspects foul play, and when the gendarmes find nothing, he makes it his mission to unmask the murderer. But where to begin? From jilted lovers to jealous rivals, disgruntled employees to shadowy associates practically everyone had a reason to want Carlos dead. As Laurent quickly learns, beneath its idyllic facade, the town of Saint-Chartier is rife with resentment and secret passions.


Laurent de Rodrigues returns to the village of his youth looking for peace and quite. Laurent plans on writing his memoirs, however procrastination and writers' block see the budding author exploring his local village. Dominating the small village is the Chateau de Saint-Chartier. And here elements of real-life intrude into our fictional story.

From 1974 to 2008, the castle had hosted the festival of Saint-Chartier, called the International Meeting of Luthiers and Master-Ringers. This festival, hosted in the park of the castle as well as in the whole village, featured concerts, balls and various activities. It took place every year for 4 days around Bastille Day. 


Following the change of ownership, the festival moved to the Castle of Ars and the restoration of the Chateau began in 2009, a fire in the mid 19th century destroyed part of it. Much of the reconstruction work in the novel is based upon these past works. 

The village of Saint-Chartier itself is quite isolated, the nearest railway station is indeed that of Chateauroux, some 30km away, and its population managed to barely creep above 500 in 2016. The are is noted for both milk production and the production of cheese.

As Laurent settles back into village life, we meet not only the locals, but the one man who has raised a number of hackles - millionaire Carlos Shennan. Carlos himself is a rather shady character whose background and business dealings raise more questions than are answered. His renovations have caused a bit of a stir in the village - though Laurent himself views both these and Carlos as rather refreshing. In a show of communal conviviality, Carlos opens the doors to the recently renovated Chateau and treats the locals to wine, music, and a feast.

When the death of the current own of the Chateau, Carlos Shennan is ruled as suicide, this leaves a bad taste in the mouth of our amateur detective. Laurent de Rodrigues, who, though still regarded as somewhat of a newcomer, decides that there is more to this death and begins his own investigation some many months later. "... nothing gives you a new perspective on things like a bit of distance .."

As Laurent investigates, there is more to each of his list of suspects than meets the eye; and as he reaches his conclusions, self-doubt enters. The final build up to the denouement is palpable - and we are left with a perplexing solution (no spoiler alert here).

The chapters are short yet richly detailed. I really enjoyed this mystery which loses nothing in the translation (originally published in Spanish). I loved how the author's own life is as every bit exciting as the one he has given his protagonist, and the added authenticity of real location and events makes it all the more intriguing. I am looking forward to more from this author.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Making Sense of the Molly Maguires by Kevin Kenny

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Making Sense of the Molly Maguires






Twenty Irish immigrants, suspected of comprising a secret terrorist organization called the Molly Maguires, were executed in Pennsylvania in the 1870s for the murder of sixteen men. Ever since, there has been enormous disagreement over who the Molly Maguires were, what they did, and why they did it, as virtually everything we now know about the Molly Maguires is based on hostile descriptions of their contemporaries.

Arguing that such sources are inadequate to serve as the basis for a factual narrative, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires examines the ideology behind contemporary evidence to explain how and why a particular meaning came to be associated with the Molly Maguires in Ireland and Pennsylvania. At the same time, this work examines new archival evidence from Ireland that establishes that the American Molly Maguires were a rare transatlantic strand of the violent protest endemic in the Irish countryside.

Combining social and cultural history, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires offers a new explanation of who the Molly Maguires were, as well as why people wrote and believed such curious things about them. In the process, it vividly retells one of the classic stories of American labour and immigration.

Moderate Radical by Rosamund Oates

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Moderate Radical






Moderate Radical explores an exciting period of English, and British, history: Elizabethan and Early Stuart religious politics. Tobie Matthew (c. 1544-1628) started Elizabeth's reign as a religious radical, yet ended up running the English Church during the tumultuous years leading up to the British Civil Wars. Moderate Radical provides a new perspective on this period, and an insight into the power of conforming puritanism as a political and cultural force. Matthew's vision of conformity and godly magistracy brought many puritans into the Church, but also furnished them with a justification for rebellion when the puritanism was seriously threatened. Through exciting new sources - Matthew's annotations of his extensive library and newly discovered sermons - Rosamund Oates explores the guiding principles of puritanism in the period and explains why the godly promoted the national church, even when it seemed corrupt. She demonstrates how Matthew protected puritans, but his protection meant that there was a rich seam of dissent at the heart of the Church that emerged when the godly found themselves under attack in the 1620s and 1630s.

This is a story about accommodations, conformity and government, as well as a biography of a leading figure in the Church, who struggled to come to terms with his own son's Catholicism and the disappointments of his family. Moderate Radical makes an important contribution to the emerging field of sermon studies, exploring the rich cultures derived from sermons as well as re-creating some of the drama of Matthew's preaching. It offers a new insight into tensions of the pre-Civil War Church.


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Bryan Dobson to launch new book on the history of Leitrim

Bryan Dobson to launch new book on the history of Leitrim
From Leitrim Observer
A wonderful new book on the history of Leitrim will be launched by Bryan Dobson, of the Dobson family, Mohill and of course one of RTE’s best known and most popular broadcasters on Friday, December 6 at 6.30pm, in Áras an Chontae, the County Council Offices in Carrick-on-Shannon.

The book is the first such book on the history of Leitrim. It contains thirty-five chapters covering much of the hidden history of Leitrim from the earliest times right up to this decade. The book is edited by local editors, Monsignor Liam Kelly and historian Dr Brendan Scott who lives in Ballinaglera.

The Book called, ‘Leitrim: History and Society’, is the most recent county history of twenty-seven county histories published over the years since 1985, which started with Tipperary. This wonderful project of county histories is the brainchild of the general editor of the series, Professor William Nolan of UCD.

read more here @ Leitrim Observer

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Review: Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen by Samantha Wilcoxson

26086754. sy475 Synopsis: She was the mother of Henry VIII and wife of Henry VII, but who was Elizabeth of York? Raised as the precious eldest child of Edward IV, Elizabeth had every reason to expect a bright future until Edward died, and her life fell apart.

When Elizabeth's uncle became Richard III, she was forced to choose sides. Should she trust her father's brother and most loyal supporter or honor the betrothal that her mother has made for her to her family's enemy, Henry Tudor?

The choice was made for her on the field at Bosworth, and Elizabeth the Plantagenet princess became the first Tudor queen. Did Elizabeth find happiness with Henry? And did she ever discover the truth about her missing brothers, who became better known as the Princes in the Tower? Lose yourself in Elizabeth's world in Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen.


I shelved this as "to read" in 2015 on Goodreads and got the opportunity to read it this year.

I'm not a fan - sorry. I don't think I was the target audience - I am thinking this was aimed at a younger reading audience, then again I might be wrong, but that's how it comes off to me. A little to much "fluff" (romance) for me - I like my historical fiction with a bit more edge to it - warts and all. Here, I am presented with - a the start - with a young woman who appears much older than she is - a 4yo (1470) with an adult's perception of events around her - not a good start. The story whisks along - years pass over mere pages; characters walk on and off as if on cue. There was no real attachment to any of them for me. The usual mythologies are given a new light, and whilst some authors take liberties with plot-lines and characters, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. 

I will applaud the author for taking on the person of Elizabeth. Very little is really known about this woman who lived through so much yet remained in the background for a greater part of her life. She was the peace-weaver between the Lancastrians and Yorkists; she was the sister and mother of kings; but she had no political role in her husband's reign - except for that of wife and mother.

I have no interest in pursuing the rest of the books in this series. Just doesn't fit in with what I am looking for in my historical fiction - I will probably tackle something a little more in the realm of non-fiction. 


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Map of Scottish Witches

logoMap of places of residence for accused Witches from the University of Edinburgh

The Data and Visualisation internship project at the University of Edinburgh had as its core aim to geographically locate and visualise the different locations recorded within the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database.

You can read an excellent summary of the project to date on Anne-Marie Scott's blog here: Some witchy history and a very smart woman in data science




Monday, November 25, 2019

Tausret by Richard H. Wilkinson

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Tausret






One of only a few women who ruled ancient Egypt as a king during its thousands of years of history, Tausret was the last pharaoh of the 19th dynasty (c. 1200 BCE), the last ruling descendent of Ramesses the Great, and one of only two female monarchs buried in Egypt's renowned Valley of the Kings. Though mentioned even in Homer as the pharaoh of Egypt who interacted with Helen at the time of the Trojan War, she has long remained a figure shrouded in mystery, hardly known even by many Egyptologists. Nevertheless, recent archaeological discoveries have illuminated Tausret's importance, her accomplishments, and the extent of her influence. 

Tausret: Forgotten Queen & Pharaoh of Egypt combines distinguished scholars whose research and excavations have increased our understanding of the life and reign of this great woman. This lavishly illustrated book utilizes recent discoveries to correctly position Tausret alongside famous ruling queens such as Hatshepsut and Cleopatra, figures who have long dominated our view of the female monarchs of ancient Egypt. Tausret brings together archaeological, historical, women's studies, and other approaches to provide a scholarly yet accessible volume that will be an important contribution to the literature of Egyptology — and one with appeal to both scholars and anyone with an interest in ancient Egypt culture.

A Byzantine Government in Exile by Michael Angold

Front CoverA Byzantine Government in Exile Government and Society under the Laskarids of Nicaea (1204-1261)

The Empire of Nicaea was a successor state to the Byzantine Empire, or rather a Byzantine Empire in exile lasting from 1204 to 1261 CE. The Empire of Nicaea was founded in the aftermath of the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and the establishment there of the crusader-run Latin Empire in 1204 CE and was ruled by the Laskarid Dynasty. When the forces of Michael VIII Palaiologos recaptured Constantinople in 1261 CE, the Empire of Nicaea, an empire in exile no more, effectively became the Byzantine Empire once again, until it ultimately fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 CE.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Review: Far Away Bird by Douglas A Burton

48381373Synopsis: Inspired by true events, Far Away Bird delves into the complex mind of Byzantine Empress Theodora. This intimate account deftly follows her rise from actress-prostitute in Constantinople's red-light district to the throne of the Byzantine Empire. Her salacious past has left historians blushing and uncomfortable. Tales of her shamelessness have survived for centuries, and yet her accomplishments as an empress are unparalleled. Before there was a legendary empress, there was a conflicted young woman from the lower classes. And her name was Theodora


Burton seduces the reader as Theodora seduces all around her. This is a powerful, evocative narrative, that draws you into the human rather than mythical aspect of the "notorious" Theodora from her early childhood to her return to Constantinople. It is as though Burton is channeling his subject as her life dances across the pages before you, the reader. You are drawn into her life as if walking side by side, her contemporary, her ethereal other self - her far away bird.


More on Theodora

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Traitor and the She Wolf by David Adkins

The Traitor and the She Wolf by [Adkins, David]
Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France, marries the new English king, Edward II, at the tender age of thirteen. Although it was an arranged marriage, young Isabella has high hopes of nurturing a loving relationship with her handsome new husband. But these dreams are gradually eroded, as Edward reveals his narcissistic traits and preference for sharing his bed with his favourite, Piers Gaveston. Instead, he ignores and humiliates her.


Roger Mortimer is a young lord, a landowner of the Welsh Marches. At Isabella’s coronation, he is instantly taken with her beauty and intelligence, and makes an instant connection with her, eventually leading to love.

It is not long before the barons of the land become dissatisfied with the weak and unfair administration of Edward, and the country falls into a protracted period of unrest. Roger himself struggles with his allegiance to the king alongside his growing sense of protection towards Isabella. When Edward’s new favourite, Hugh Despenser, has Mortimer imprisoned and seizes control of the royal children, Isabella can take no more, and all the love she tried to give to Edward is replaced with a burning desire for revenge.

The Traitor and the She Wolf is a fictionalised account of real historical events and reveals how loyal and loving people can be driven to do things they never imagined.


see also The Tudor Saga


The Hero of Italy - Paperback byGregory Hanlon

The Hero of Italy - Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, his Soldiers, and his Subjects in the Thirty Years' War examines a salient episode in Italy's Thirty Years' War with Spain and France, whereby the young duke Odoardo Farnese of Parma embraced the French alliance, only to experience defeat and occupation after two tumultuous years (1635-1637).  Gregory Hanlon stresses the narrative of events unfolding in northern Italy, examining the participation of the little state in these epic European events.

The first chapter describes the constitution of Cardinal Richelieu's anti-Habsburg alliance and Odoardo's eagerness to be part of it. A chapter on the Parman professional army, based on an extraordinary collection of company roster-books, sheds light on the identity of over 13,000 individuals, soldier by soldier, the origin and background of their officers, the conditions of their lodgings, and the good state of their equipment. Chapter three follows the first campaign of 1635 alongside French and Savoyard contingents at the failed siege of Valenza, and the logistical difficulties of organizing such large-scale operations. Another chapter examines the financial expedients the duchy adopted to fend off incursions on all its borders in 1636, and how militia contingents on both sides were drawn into the fighting. A final chapter relates the Spanish invasion and occupation which forced duke Odoardo to make a separate peace. 

The volume includes a detailed assessment of the impact of war on civilians based on parish registers for city and country. The application of the laws of war was largely nullified by widespread starvation, disease and routine sex-selective infanticide. These quantitative analyses, supported by maps and tables, are among the most detailed anywhere in Europe in the era of the Thirty Years' War.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Denmark, Iceland at odds over priceless medieval manuscripts

They recount tales of Viking raids, Norse history, kings and gods: a priceless collection of medieval manuscripts, bequeathed by an Icelandic scholar to the University of Copenhagen in the 18th century, that Iceland now wants back.

UNESCO, the U.N. cultural organization, has called them “the single most important collection of early Scandinavian manuscripts in existence,” with the earliest one dating from the 12th century.

Some of the texts — known as the Arnamagnaean Collection — have already been returned to Reykjavik, but 1,400 documents are still locked away in Copenhagen.

The jewel of the collection is an almost complete early 15th century copy of “Heimskringla” — the best known of the Old Norse kings’ sagas, originally written in the 13th century by Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson.

Unlike many Icelandic medieval manuscripts, which have few decorative flourishes, this version of the Heimskringla is richly illustrated with intricate red lettering on each page.

read more here @ The Japan Times

Book review of King and Emperor: A New Life of Charlemagne by Janet L. Nelson

 (University of California Press)Michael Taube reviews Janet Nelson's "King and Emperor" for The Washington Post

The tale of Charles I, more commonly known as Charlemagne, has been recounted by historians for centuries. Between 768 and 814, he ruled as king of the Franks, king of the Lombards and, most impressively, Holy Roman emperor. An enlightened reformer with a warrior-like ferocity, he united most of Western Europe and spearheaded the Carolingian Renaissance that enhanced arts and culture in medieval society.

It’s an incredible and almost unbelievable story. That’s why some historians now wonder if it really happened or if it’s a tall tale that would make Baron Munchausen laugh with sheer delight.

Janet L. Nelson, a professor emerita of medieval history at King’s College in London, is determined to resolve this issue in her intriguing new book, “King and Emperor: A New Life of Charlemagne.” With a small tip of the detective cap to Sherlock Holmes, she gathers the pertinent details (and there are many) in an attempt to unravel the mystery of who this king, emperor and man really was.

While most of us aren’t medieval scholars, the challenge of trying to figure out which Charlemagne is the real Charlemagne is enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. Whether Nelson has actually solved the centuries-old mystery isn’t, shall we say, elementary.


read full review here @ The Washington Post

Stolen Women in Medieval England by Caroline Dunn

Stolen Women in Medieval EnglandStolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction, and Adultery, 1100–1500 offers a comprehensive overview of female ravishment, from forced rape to consensual elopement, in medieval England whilst presenting a scholarly treatment of an emotive subject, dealing with rape victims with sensitivity, but acknowledging that some women feigned ravishment to elope.

This study of illicit sexuality in medieval England explores links between marriage and sex, law and disorder, and property and power. Some medieval Englishwomen endured rape or were kidnapped for forced marriages, yet most ravished women were married and many 'wife-thefts' were not forced kidnappings but cases of adultery fictitiously framed as abduction by abandoned husbands. In pursuing the themes of illicit sexuality and non-normative marital practices, this work analyses the nuances of the key Latin term raptus and the three overlapping offences that it could denote: rape, abduction and adultery. 

This investigation broadens our understanding of the role of women in the legal system; provides a means for analysing male control over female bodies, sexuality and access to the courts; and reveals ways in which female agency could, on occasion, manoeuvre around such controls.

Learning in a Crusader City by Jonathan Rubin

Learning in a Crusader CityLearning in a Crusader City: Intellectual Activity and Intercultural Exchanges in Acre, 1191–1291 provides a unique picture of a 'new' Latin-dominated centre of intellectual activity

Did the Crusades trigger significant intellectual activity? To what extent and in what ways did the Latin residents of the Crusader States acquire knowledge from Muslims and Eastern Christians? And how were the Crusader states influenced by the intellectual developments which characterized the West in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? 

This book is the first to examine these questions systematically using the complete body of evidence from one major urban centre: Acre. This reveals that Acre contained a significant number of people who engaged in learned activities, as well as the existence of study centres housed within the city. 

This volume also seeks to reconstruct the discourse that flowed across four major fields of learning: language and translation, jurisprudence, the study of Islam, and theological exchanges with Eastern Christians. 

The result is an unprecedentedly rich portrait of a hitherto neglected intellectual centre on the Eastern shores of the medieval Mediterranean.

Review: The Ismaili Assassins by James Waterson

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Synopsis: The Ismaili Assassins were an underground group of political killers who were ready to kill Christians and Muslims alike with complete disregard for their own lives. These devoted murderers were under the powerful control of a grand master who used assassination as part of a grand strategic vision that embraced Egypt, the Levant and Persia and even reached the court of the Mongol Khans in far away Qaraqorum. The Assassins often slayed their victims in public, cultivating their terrifying reputation. They assumed disguises and their weapon of choice was a dagger. The dagger was blessed by the grand master and killing with it was a holy and sanctified act poison or other methods of murder were forbidden to the followers of the sect.



The Ismailis have had a long and eventful history, stretching over more than 12 centuries, during which they subdivided into a number of major branches and minor groupings. They came into existence as a separate Shi‘i community around the middle of the eighth century; and, in medieval times, they twice founded states of their own, the Fatimid caliphate and the Nizari state. 

The first group of assassins to be found in the historical record is that of the Hashshashin who operated in Persia, Syria, and Turkey, eventually spreading throughout the Middle East. Being much weaker than their main adversaries in conventional military terms, the Nizaris relied on guerrilla warfare that included espionage, infiltration of enemy territory, and targeted killings of enemy leaders. 

When the fortress of the Assassins was conquered in 1256, their library was destroyed so there are no written historical accounts from the sect itself available to us. Those accounts that have survived into our times have come down to us in the form of the recollections from two openly hostile sources - Sunni Muslims and Crusaders.  The more outlandish aspects of the legends, such as the use of drugs, are not supported by Ismaili sources. Even the name Assassin, from the Arabic hashashi, was a pejorative term and was never used by the Nizaris themselves. Nor were the Nizaris unique in their use of political murder. Sunnis and Crusaders in the Middle East also practiced assassination. And, of course, Europeans were perfectly adept at killing off their political rivals long before the Nizaris came along.

The distorted image of the Ismailis in general and the Nizari Ismailis in particular was maintained in orientalist circles until the opening decades of the twentieth century, although this fanciful impressions of the Orient had long persisted since the Middle Ages. Like the proverbial Chinese whisper, these idea evolved over time until legend was regarded as fact. A truly scholarly assessment of the Ismailis had to await the recovery and study of a large number of Ismaili texts, a process that did not start until later in the 20th century when progress in Islamic studies, and a remarkable modern breakthrough in the study of the history and doctrines of the Ismailis, have finally made it possible to dispel once and for all some of the seminal legends of the ‘Assassins’.

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As per the synopsis, "The Ismaili Assassins explores the origins, actions and legacy of this notorious sect. Enriched with eyewitness accounts from Islamic and Western sources, this important book unlocks the history of the Crusades and the early Islamic period, giving the reader entry into a historical epoch that is thrilling and pertinent."

I came into this wanting to know more about the sect that I had come across in my own studies of the Crusades - those allegedly responsible for the murders of Raymond II of Tripoli and Conrad of Montferrat. I was not disappointed. Waterson presents us with a historically accurate and detailed account of the Ismaili Asaassins, from their earliest inception to their devastation at the hands of the Mongols, and all the complicated political and dynastic maneuvering in between. definitely one for the history shelf of my Library.


further reading
The Templars and the Assassins: The Militia of Heaven by James Wasserman
Eagle's Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria by Peter Willey
The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma'ilis by Farhad Daftary, Antoine Isaac Baron & Silvestre de Sacy
The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam by Bernard Lewis
The Assassins of Alamut by Anthony Campbell
Ismaili History and Intellectual Traditions by Farhad Daftary
Hasan-I-Sabbah: His Life and Thought by Dr Ali Mohammad Rajput
The Secret Order of Assassins: The Struggle of the Early Nizârî Ismâʻîlîs Against the Islamic World by Marshall G. S. Hodgson
The Isma'ilis: Their History and Doctrines by Farhad Daftary


further reading online
National Geographic Magazine
History Net



Saturday, November 16, 2019

Review: Stephen and Matilda's Civil War - Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis

Synopsis: The Anarchy was the first civil war in post-Conquest England, enduring throughout the reign of King Stephen between 1135 and 1154. It ultimately brought about the end of the Norman dynasty and the birth of the mighty Plantagenet kings. When Henry I died having lost his only legitimate son in a shipwreck, he had caused all of his barons to swear to recognize his daughter Matilda, widow of the Holy Roman Emperor, as his heir and remarried her to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. When she was slow to move to England on her father’s death, Henry’s favorite nephew Stephen of Blois rushed to have himself crowned, much as Henry himself had done on the death of his brother William Rufus. By following both sides of the dispute and seeking to understand their actions and motivations, Matthew Lewis aims to reach a more rounded understanding of this crucial period of English history and asks to what extent there really was anarchy.

Again, this is not a period that I have come into blindly - I have a number of books on the subject matter on my own books shelves. What I found in Lewis' book, with his alternating chapters between Stephen and Matilda, was a more balanced history of this turbulent period.

For most, the most common definition of this period is summarised as follows:
The Anarchy was a civil war in England and Normandy between 1135 and 1153, which resulted in a widespread breakdown in law and order. The conflict was a succession crisis precipitated by the accidental death by drowning of William Adelin, the only legitimate son of Henry I, in the sinking of the White Ship in 1120
However, what Lewis questions is that whilst this period was called The Anarchy, did this period between the death of Henry I (1153) and the accession of Henry II (1154) - see a complete and total breakdown and absence of government during Stephen's reign. For the very definition of the word anarchy is ".. a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems ..." and ".. absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal. ..."  For this was not the case - a king was in situ and recognised by both the Church and the Anglo-Norman Magnates, including Robert of Gloucester.

The Anarchy was quite simply a civil war in which there were four potential claimants - with only two interested enough to battle it out for a period of 19 years - Stephen and Matilda. I am taken back to the events of the Norman Conquest, when the death of a King left the playing field wide open - in this instance, we are not only left with a male relative who was favoured by the late King but with a female, whilst of unquestionable royal blood, at a time when such acceptance of a sole female monarch was just not on the cards. There was only one crown ... and for as long as one wanted it and the other refused to give it up, there were be no coming to terms.

The actual violence and destruction was not as widespread as is documented by the three main contemporary writers of the times, all of whose accounts are riddled with their own forms of bias. These chronicles were in essence, written by churchmen, recounting localised events and their direct effects whilst providing an opportunistic moral lesson at the same time.

England was hardly the peaceful realm when Stephen took the throne (for succession was still not hereditary at this point) - Normandy was in rebellion, Scotland and Wales were simmering with tension, and the selection of a king was more preferable to ".. the enforcement of lineal descent ...'' and the oaths made under duress in favour of the late king's nominated heir. Matilda was absent and in no hurry; Stephen, like his uncle before him, was on the spot, and once anointed, few with loathe to remove him  "... for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed ....".

As I mentioned, Lewis portrays both Stephen and Matilda evenly.  Stephen is lauded for his careful balancing act in governing and maintaining unity of the realm whilst not upsetting the powerful magnates around him and on both sides of the Channel; and Matilda, who had " ... achieved more than many of her sex in her period .." and like so many women both before and after her, is only remembered for the men in her life. This is a fascinating period of history filled with powerful personalities that is worth exploring, and this book will provide a good introduction into the period.



further reading:
The Anarchy of King Stephen's Reign edited by Edmund King
Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior by Catherine Hanley
King Stephen and the Anarchy by Chris Peers
Stephen and Matilda: The Civil War of 1139-53 by Jim Bradbury
The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English by Marjorie Chibnall
The Reign of Stephen: Kingship, Warfare and Government in Twelfth-Century England by Keith J. Stringer
King Stephen's Reign (1135-1154) edited by Paul Dalton & Graeme J. White
King Stephen by Donald Matthew
Henry I by C. Warren Hollister
Henry I: King of England and Duke of Normandy by Judith A. Green
The Government of England Under Henry I by Judith A. Green

Review: The Brothers York by Thomas Penn

Synopsis: Thomas Penn's brilliant new telling of the wars of the roses takes us inside a conflict that fractured the nation for more than three decades. During this time, the house of York came to dominate England. At its heart were three charismatic brothers - Edward, George and Richard - who became the figureheads of a spectacular ruling dynasty. Together, they looked invincible. But with Edward's ascendancy the brothers began to turn on one another, unleashing a catastrophic chain of rebellion, vendetta, fratricide, usurpation and regicide. The brutal end came at Bosworth Field in 1485, with the death of the youngest, then Richard III, at the hands of a new usurper, Henry Tudor. The story of a warring family unable to sustain its influence and power, The Brothers York brings to life a dynasty that could have been as magnificent as the Tudors. Its tragedy was that, in the space of one generation, it destroyed itself.


The Wars of the Roses were a series of English civil wars for control of the throne of England fought between supporters of two rival cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Eventually, the wars eliminated the male lines of both families. Although the conflict lasted through many sporadic episodes between 1455 and 1487, there was related fighting before and after this period between the parties. 

Penn's narrative begins with the rise and Edward IV and his ascendancy over Henry VI in claiming the throne of England (1461), first sought by Edward's father Richard, Duke of York (1460). For those who are unfamiliar with this period, Penn's book provides a springboard from which to launch your own journey. All the major players and events are covered off in a detailed history that is neither dry nor sleep inducing. 

So as I read, I was being tempted with interesting passages describing the wars as "... a destructive chain of rebellion, deposition, vendetta, fratricide, usurpation and regicide ..... they dynasty's end was brutal .." and of the character of the brother York who ".. burned fiercely and died young .." as being ".. shaped [by] the way the saw the world and their place in it ..". Penn further tempts us with ".. the tragedy of the brother York was that they destroyed themselves ..." and Penn was going to enlighten us as to how and why.

What is abundantly clear is that Edward himself was the architect of the demise of the House of York. His blantant favouritism, initially of his brother George and then of his collective in-laws (the Rivers and Woodville clans) at the expense of his own family and loyal supporters, created an atmosphere of bitter and petty rivalry and jealousies, punctuated by backstabbing, paranoia, treachery and ultimately, betrayal and rebellion.

Prior to his brother's marriage, George Plantagenet found himself in the enviable and complicated position of heir presumptive. As the brother of the newly crowned Edward IV, whose succession was not hereditary, George's own position needed some serious elevation. Edward began to groom George as his successor - he was endowed with lands and titles whilst still a teen, creating a strong sense of entitlement in a young man ill-strained and ill-suited for such a role. For when Edward announced his marriage to Elizabeth Woodwville, George is more or less side-lined in favour of Elizabeth's extensive family, upon whom honours and lands are loaded, and advantageous marriages are arranged. George's position as heir presumptive is now uncertain, and as he is finding himself more and more on the outer, falling ever more under the sway of the Earl of Warwick (his uncle) who sees George as the perfect foil against Edward and possibly a new tool for his kingmaking pursuits. Warwick and George collaborate and make a plan to take the crown from Edward but after their attempts fail, they are declared traitors and driven out of England.

Richard figures very little in this story as he really doesn't come into his own until late into the second part of Edward's reign. He is not the heir presumptive and spends much of his time away from Court. He is the doting and loyal younger brother of the King, not involved in the machinations of brother George and the Earl of Warwick. His character is very different from that of his brothers - he had never really known a time when war was not prevalent and was said to have been unbending in his beliefs. However, as he reaches his teens and in the wake of George's rebellion, Richard is given more responsibility in the northern part of England - afterall, Edward is far too busy satiating is carnal pursuits, preferring to leave the government to others. 

I am in two minds with this book. On the one hand, it is a very well researched and engaging history of the Wars of the Roses, that was fascinating and dramatic. However, to me, it was more of a chronicle of the rise and fall of a prominent family, with a heavy focus of Edward, his court and courtiers, contemporary politics, peppered with quite a few side journeys into other areas which I found to be both distracting, unnecessary, and of no real interest to me. 

I came into this with an already sound knowledge of the Wars of the Roses, so what I was hoping for was more of an analytical approach to the three brothers and their inter-personal relationships; I felt that there should have been more focus on this aspect to explain why the dynasty imploded ".. within a generation.." I guess I wanted a more psycho-analytical approach to explain the family dynamic - Edward (the sunne in splendour), George (the petulant middle child), Richard (the broody dark horse) - these explorations were few and far between.  Edward's nepotism on a grand scale was hardly a secret and that this would have created bitterness and tension amongst his brothers and his supporters is not surprising but this is hardly unique as history is, quite frankly, full of similar stories.



I hugely enjoyed Penn's Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England (bio on Henry Tudor) so was looking forward to this - but left feeling just a little disappointed in that it was not structured how I thought it would have been and really, for me personally, there was nothing that I had not already read in various other tomes.  

As I mentioned, nothing should be taken away from this book as it is a quite good re-telling of the Wars of the Roses.