Sunday, May 26, 2019

Troy Story Revisited | The Silence of the Girls

Image with no descriptionSynopsis: The greatest war story in literature, retold by our greatest living storyteller on war - in the voice of the forgotten woman who lived through it.


Queen Briseis has been stolen from her conquered homeland and given as a concubine to a foreign warrior. The warrior is Achilles: famed hero, loathed enemy, ruthless butcher, darkly troubled spirit. Briseis's fate is now indivisibly entwined with his.

No one knows it yet, but there are just ten weeks to go until the Fall of Troy, the end of this long and bitter war. This is the start of The Iliad: the most famous war story ever told. The next ten weeks will be a story of male power, male ego, male violence. But what of the women? The thousands of female slaves in the soldiers' camp - in the laundry, at the loom, laying out the dead? Briseis is one of their number - and she will be our witness to history.

Serena Millen's review @ Cherwell
The Silence of the Girls is a novel which, though enhanced by prior knowledge of the Iliad, could very well stand without it. Such books are important transitions for those unfamiliar with, but interested in, the Classical world, and we owe it to writers such as Barker who rejuvenate ancient texts without stripping them of their original greatness.

What is interesting about her character in the Iliad is the disparity between such a brief appearance and her narrative importance, as the unwitting cause of Agamemnon and Achilles’ fateful feud. Barker’s text uses this paradox by giving Brise├»s an active voice, while still maintaining the passivity of Homer’s original character.

The Debatable Land by Graham Robb


Graham Robb: The Debatable LandThe Debatable Land was an independent territory which used to exist between Scotland and England. It is the oldest detectable territorial division in Great Britain. At the height of its notoriety, it was the bloodiest region in the country, and preoccupied the monarchs and parliaments of England, Scotland, and France. After most of its population was slaughtered or deported, it became the last part of Great Britain to be conquered and brought under the control of a state. Today, it has vanished from the map and no one knows exactly where and what it was.

When Graham Robb moved to a lonely house on the very edge of England, he discovered that the river which almost surrounded his new home had once marked the Debatable Land's southern boundary. Under the powerful spell of curiosity, Robb began a journey - on foot, by bicycle and into the past - that would uncover lost towns and roads, shed new light on the Dark Age, reveal the truth about this maligned patch of land, and lead to more than one discovery of major historical significance.

For the first time - and with all of his customary charm, wit and literary grace - Graham Robb, prize-winning author of The Discovery of France, has written about his native country. The Debatable Land is an epic and energetic book that takes us from 2016 back to an age when neither England nor Scotland could be imagined to reveal a crucial, missing piece in the puzzle of British history.


read reviews here




The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots by Kate Williams

Image result for The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of ScotsElizabeth and Mary were cousins and queens, but eventually it became impossible for them to live together in the same world. This is the story of two women struggling for supremacy in a man’s world, when no one thought a woman could govern. They both had to negotiate with men—those who wanted their power and those who wanted their bodies—who were determined to best them. In their worlds, female friendship and alliances were unheard of, but for many years theirs was the only friendship that endured. They were as fascinated by each other as lovers; until they became enemies. Enemies so angry and broken that one of them had to die, and so Elizabeth ordered the execution of Mary. But first they were each other’s lone female friends in a violent man’s world. 

Their relationship was one of love, affection, jealousy, antipathy—and finally death. This book tells the story of Mary and Elizabeth as never before, focusing on their emotions and probing deeply into their intimate lives as women and queens. They loved each other, they hated each other—and in the end they could never escape each other.



Mary’s story has been often told, but it has been interpreted differently through the generations. While some earlier historians viewed the queen as complicit in her rape and subsequent marriage, Williams analyzes events with a modern perspective, incorporating what we now know about the trauma of sexual assault. The author also stresses how the two queens, unlike kings who governed autocratically, were consistently forced to relinquish some of their power. In framing Mary’s story as being one about “how we really think of women and their right to rule,” Williams hints at its ongoing resonance.



Thief Catcher by John Drake

It’s 1798 and in London there is political turmoil.


Thief Catcher by [Drake, John]With the reigning ‘mad’ King George III a figure of public ridicule, the Prince Regent ‘Prinny’ is living a riotous life, which touches the edges of London’s underworld. 

When an incriminating etched print is made and circulated in a book by the Lycanthropic Society, renowned thief-catcher Samuel Slym from Aldgate is put on the case to find those responsible and retrieve all existing prints before Prinny is subjected to public humiliation.

Meanwhile across the Channel and revered by the French military, General Napoleon Bonaparte is waiting for a chance to invade England, and his fleet is ready to strike and land. 

Using the latest technology, the telegraph signal, there is a new opportunity to hatch a plan to conquer England at last and he employs sinister spies, among them the charming, but cold-blooded Sukolowsky.

Bonaparte is not the only one with an eye for conquest. 

Lord Glenfeshie, survivor of the Battle of Culloden, leads the aged Highlanders and Jacobites, waiting for a chance to seize back power for the pretender, James Charles Stuart, son of Bonnie Prince Charlie. 

They plot in secret, waiting to take advantage of the weak king and political instability in London under Pitt’s government. 

Followers of the old Highlanders will stop at nothing to reinstate a Catholic as king.

As Samuel Slym follows up his leads to track down Prinny’s print he uncovers far more than he expected at the start of his commission, and his quest unwittingly leads him higher in society than he believed possible, as well as rekindling an old fiery liaison with the mysterious Lady Sarah Coignwood.

Can Slym get to the bottom of the plot to bring scandal to the Prince before it is too late? 

And will Napoleon succeed in his plan to conquer the ‘Rosbif Navy’?

Charging headlong from the murky backstreets of London to the country palaces of English aristocracy and finally the outposts of Kent, Drake’s novel spins a gripping yarn of deception and scandal, patriotism and pride, bringing to life legendary characters of the 18th century, as well as some less well known to the annals of English history…

For those who loved Sam Slym you can catch a further glimpse of him in John Drake's bestselling Fletcher's Glorious 1st June where he begins his doomed relationship with Lady Sarah Coignwood.


The Restoration of Rome by Peter Heather

Cover for 

The Restoration of Rome






In 476 AD, the last of Rome's emperors, known as "Augustulus," was deposed by a barbarian general, the son of one of Attila the Hun's henchmen. With the imperial vestments dispatched to Constantinople, the curtain fell on the Roman empire in Western Europe, its territories divided among successor kingdoms constructed around barbarian military manpower. 


But, if the Roman Empire was dead, Romans across much of the old empire still lived, holding on to their lands, their values, and their institutions. The conquering barbarians, responding to Rome's continuing psychological dominance and the practical value of many of its institutions, were ready to reignite the imperial flame and enjoy the benefits. 

As Peter Heather shows in dazzling biographical portraits, each of the three greatest immediate contenders for imperial power--Theoderic, Justinian, and Charlemagne--operated with a different power base but was astonishingly successful in his own way. Though each in turn managed to put back together enough of the old Roman West to stake a plausible claim to the Western imperial title, none of their empires long outlived their founders' deaths. Not until the reinvention of the papacy in the eleventh century would Europe's barbarians find the means to establish a new kind of Roman Empire, one that has lasted a thousand years.

A sequel to the bestselling Fall of the Roman Empire, The Restoration of Rome offers a captivating narrative of the death of an era and the birth of the Catholic Church.


Bride Ales and Penny Weddings by R. A. Houston


Cover for 

Bride Ales and Penny Weddings






Some of the poorest regions of historic Britain had some of its most vibrant festivities. Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, the peoples of northern England, Lowland Scotland, and Wales used extensive celebrations at events such as marriage, along with reciprocal exchange of gifts, to emote a sense of belonging to their locality. Bride Ales and Penny Weddings looks at regionally distinctive practices of giving and receiving wedding gifts, in order to understand social networks and community attitudes.

Examining a wide variety of sources over four centuries, the volume examines contributory weddings, where guests paid for their own entertainment and gave money to the couple, to suggest a new view of the societies of 'middle Britain', and re-interpret social and cultural change across Britain. These regions were not old fashioned, as is commonly assumed, but differently fashioned, possessing social priorities that set them apart both from the south of England and from 'the Celtic fringe'. 

This volume is about informal communities of people whose aim was maintaining and enhancing social cohesion through sociability and reciprocity. Communities relied on negotiation, compromise, and agreement, to create and re-create consensus around more-or-less shared values, expressed in traditions of hospitality and generosity. Ranging across issues of trust and neighbourliness, recreation and leisure, eating and drinking, order and authority, personal lives and public attitudes, R. A. Houston explores many areas of interest not only to social historians, but also literary scholars of the British Isles.



Royal Betrayal: The Great Baccarat Scandal of 1890 by Michael Scott

Royal Betrayal: The Great Baccarat Scandal of 1890 by [Scott, Michael]For two nights at a house party at Tranby Croft, the residence of one of the richest men in England, a card game is played, instigated by the Prince of Wales. One of the players, Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Gordon-Cumming Bt, Scots Guards, is accused of cheating. 


A classic Victorian melodrama: vast amounts of money, illegal gambling, the Royal Family, mistresses, bed-hopping, cover-up, deception and blackmail. 

The saga ranges from the wind-swept remoteness of Gordonstoun in Scotland, big game hunting in Africa and India, to life in the Guards in London and action in the Zulu Wars and Egyptian Campaign of 1882.

For the first time, the Gordon-Cumming family papers are brought to light, including many of Sir William’s diaries and letters, as well as letters from The Royal Archives at Windsor Castle that detail the anxieties amongst the Royal Family. 

Previously undiscovered, there are more than mere coincidental connections between Gordon-Cumming and the Intelligence community. What was he really up to and why didn’t the Prince, his close confidant and friend, bail him out? Views of present-day descendants of those involved are also revealed for the first time. Was Gordon-Cumming a cheat or not? Or was he the scapegoat for something which is shrouded in even more mystery? 


Beyond the harem: ways to be a woman during the Ottoman Empire


Ottoman women shopped. They didn’t just shop; they also ran businesses, owned property and, on occasion, stormed buildings to stage protest meetings. Not only did they flirt and dance – and infuriate their husbands with demands for the latest fashions – but they exerted genuine political and economic power. And they did all this much more visibly than is often assumed.

A new volume of essays looks afresh at women’s lives during the 600 years of the Ottoman empire. The book challenges the stereotypes of female lives confined to the harem and hamam – and reveals how women were surprisingly visible in public spaces.

In Ottoman Women in Public Space, a group of scholars of the Middle East and the Islamic world turn their attention to a neglected topic: what life was actually like for women at the height of an empire that lasted for 600 years (right up until the turn of the 20th century) and, at its most powerful, stretched eastwards from present-day Hungary, southwards to the religious centre of Mecca, and westwards around the southern Mediterranean to the bustling port of Algiers. 

Using a wealth of primary sources and covering the entire Ottoman period, Ottoman Women in Public Space challenges the traditional view that sees Ottoman women as a largely silent element of society, restricted to the home and not seen beyond the walls of the house or the public bath. Instead, taking women in a variety of roles, as economic and political actors, prostitutes, flirts and slaves, the book argues that women were active participants in the public space, visible, present and an essential element in the everyday, public life of the empire. 

Ottoman Women in Public Space thus offers a vibrant and dynamic understanding of Ottoman history.


read more here @ University of Cambridge

Medieval author Cate Gunn explores Colne Engaine's 800 years of history


An author has released a book about the beginnings of a village near Halstead, in celebration of its forthcoming anniversary.

Medieval author explores history of village in new bookDr Cate Gunn is a popular medievalist writer who specialises in ancient origins and religious literature.

Her latest offering centres on the history of Colne Engaine. Published by Millrind Press, Colne Engaine 1219 explores the historic village’s early lifestyle and environment, while also investigating the origins of the compact community’s name.

Cate has lived in Colne Engaine for more than 30 years, and has written the 90-page book to celebrate the village’s approaching 800th anniversary, its first rector and the establishment of its parish.

She said: “The book describes what a small village in northern Essex would have been like in the early 13th century and shows how traces of that ancient village are still apparent.

read more here @ Halstead Gazette


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Redemption by Andrew Murrison

Redemption by [Murrison, Andrew]Synopsis: January 1649

The people of London are gathering around the scaffold to witness the execution of King Charles I. The English Civil War between Roundhead and Cavalier – followers of Parliament or King – appears to have reached its bloody climax.

But who’s the executioner sweating beneath his heavy disguise? The clerk scribbling the King’s last words is in no doubt. He scratches the name that has eluded historians since and calculates the money he can make from it.

Six years earlier, a heated disagreement between west-country yeoman Nathaniel Salt and his neighbour, the wealthy merchant Erasmus Carew, turns into a dangerous vendetta when Nat’s house is torched by Carew’s thugs and his children burned alive.

Carew supports the King and his cause. Nat meanwhile joins the Parliamentarians, vowing to avenge his dead children and he rises up within the ranks of Oliver Cromwell’s side against the King, and against Carew.

Marriage to his childhood sweetheart, the Squire’s daughter Euphemia – Effam - Farrington, brings Nat land, status and a new name. He becomes Captain Nathaniel Farrington and succeeds the Squire as Member of Parliament for Hinton. 

An incompetent midwife dashes the couple’s hopes of children but adopting the product of an earlier liaison gives them their son and heir. The child is named after his godfather Oliver Cromwell.

Nat’s rise is facilitated by one Foxwood, a political fixer and spin-doctor. The Westminster insider’s diary of secrets contains plenty of material to feed the news books of London and for blackmail.

As King Charles’ vengeful son is restored to his father’s throne, Foxwood prepares his final deception. With Nat taking ship for Massachusetts, the identity of the King’s executioner is finally revealed, and his true relationship with Erasmus Carew…

The Last Highlander by Sarah Fraser

The Last Highlander: Scotland├ó€™s Most Notorious Clan Chief, Rebel & Double Agent by [Fraser, Sarah]The Last Highlander: Scotland’s Most Notorious Clan Chief, Rebel & Double Agent by Sarah Fraser is a great non-fiction adventure about Scotland’s most notorious clan chief.


Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, was the last of the great Scottish chiefs – and the last nobleman executed for treason. Determined to seek his fortune with the exiled Jacobite king in France, Fraser acted as a spy for both the Stuarts and the Hanoverians; claimed to be both Protestant and Roman Catholic.

In July 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie launched his last attempt to seize back the throne, supported by Fraser and his clans. They were defeated at Culloden. Fraser was found hiding in a tree.

This swashbuckling spy story recreates an extraordinary period of history in its retelling of Fraser’s life. He is surely one of Scotland’s most notorious and romantic figures, a cunning and ambitious soldier who died a martyr for his country and an independent Scotland.


It had me at: "His execution was a public holiday"


Dangerous Talk by David Cressy


Cover for 

Dangerous Talk






Dangerous Talk examines the 'lewd, ungracious, detestable, opprobrious, and rebellious-sounding' speech of ordinary men and women who spoke scornfully of kings and queens. Eavesdropping on lost conversations, it reveals the expressions that got people into trouble, and follows the fate of some of the offenders. 

Introducing stories and characters previously unknown to history, David Cressy explores the contested zones where private words had public consequence. Though 'words were but wind', as the proverb had it, malicious tongues caused social damage, seditious words challenged political authority, and treasonous speech imperilled the crown. 

Royal regimes from the house of Plantagenet to the house of Hanover coped variously with 'crimes of the tongue' and found ways to monitor talk they deemed dangerous. Their response involved policing and surveillance, judicial intervention, political propaganda, and the crafting of new law. In early Tudor times to speak ill of the monarch could risk execution. By the end of the Stuart era similar words could be dismissed with a shrug. 

This book traces the development of free speech across five centuries of popular political culture, and shows how scandalous, seditious and treasonable talk finally gained protection as 'the birthright of an Englishman'. The lively and accessible work of a prize-winning social historian, it offers fresh insight into pre-modern society, the politics of language, and the social impact of the law.

Blood of the Provinces by Ian Haynes


Blood of the Provinces is the first fully comprehensive study of the largest part of the Roman army, the auxilia. This non-citizen force constituted more than half of Rome's celebrated armies and was often the military presence in some of its territories. Diverse in origins, character, and culture, they played an essential role in building the empire, sustaining the unequal peace celebrated as the pax Romana, and enacting the emperor's writ.

Cover for 

Blood of the Provinces






Drawing upon the latest historical and archaeological research to examine recruitment, belief, daily routine, language, tactics, and dress, this volume offers an examination of the Empire and its soldiers in a radical new way. Blood of the Provinces demonstrates how the Roman state addressed a crucial and enduring challenge both on and off the battlefield - retaining control of the miscellaneous auxiliaries upon whom its very existence depended. Crucially, this was not simply achieved by pay and punishment, but also by a very particular set of cultural attributes that characterized provincial society under the Roman Empire. Focusing on the soldiers themselves, and encompassing the disparate military communities of which they were a part, it offers a vital source of information on how individuals and communities were incorporated into provincial society under the Empire, and how the character of that society evolved as a result.



Fantasy adventures of early-modern Walter Mitty


The fictitious adventures of a 17th century con artist, who fooled London society for years with his made-up travellers’ tales, were put on public display at St John’s College, Cambridge five years previous.

The 1704 work, The History of Formosa, describes in great detail the culture, language and customs of the island nation of Formosa, modern-day Taiwan. The book was supposedly written by a native of Formosa who was brought to Europe by Jesuit missionaries, but all is not as it seems.

The catch is that the author, who called himself ‘George Psalmanazar’, was actually a white, blond-haired Frenchman who had never left Europe. Every detail of Formosan life that the book describes is completely made up. Psalmanazar was a fantasist who, like an early Walter Mitty, spent his life in a world of his own imagination. His hoax was so successful that to this day, we still don’t know his real name.

To modern readers, Psalmanazar’s stories seem far-fetched but they successfully fooled an English audience with little or no experience of other cultures and a view of the world that saw foreign people as primitive and savage. Psalmanazar’s book was an unqualified success. 

Even today, we still know very little about who Psalmanazar really was, because his posthumously-published autobiography deliberately obscures the details. 

In his final years, he wrote a frank confession with instructions in his will for it to be published after his death in 1763. This account, entitled Memoirs of XXX, Commonly known by the name of George Psalmanazar, a reputed native of Formosa.

The Language and Literature of Chastity


Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and CultureIn her book Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and Culture, Dr Bonnie Lander Johnson (Faculty of English) describes how chastity became a cult that was as much embodied by the ceremonies and performances of the court as it was espoused by the anti-court Puritan writers working in the new world of popular print. Lander Johnson writes that chastity, as an important Christian virtue, was “one of the key conceptual frameworks through which individual men and women understood their relationship to their own bodies, to their community, to the wider Christian world and to God”. But “the same virtue that could protect the body from infection and a marriage from dissolution could eventually help to topple a government and undo a King”.

Lander Johnson has written her first book in order to look in depth at chastity as a theme running through the life of the royal court, and the circles of power around it, in the first half of the 17th century – as seen through the literature of William Shakespeare, John Milton and a number of lesser known poets and playwrights, including John Ford. It is a scholarly book, aimed at an academic readership, but it touches on universal human preoccupations – how we see ourselves, how we want to be seen, how we curate our own image through private and public performance. 

read more here @ University of Cambridge


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ancient Women - Three Studies

Queen SalomeQueen Salome: Jerusalem’s Warrior Monarch of the First Century B.C.E. by Kenneth Atkinson
As the ruler of Judea from 76 to 67 B.C.E., Queen Salome Alexandra (ca. 141 B.C.E.–67 B.C.E.) appointed the kingdom’s high priest, led its men in battle, subjugated neighboring kings, and stopped the religious violence that plagued her society. Presiding over Judea’s greatest period of peace and prosperity, she shaped the Judaism of Jesus’ day as well as our own. Virtually unknown today, Queen Salome remained so unique that historians have largely ignored her rather than try to explain the perplexing circumstances that brought her to power. This volume recreates Queen Salome’s fascinating life and the time in which she lived—an age when women ruled the Middle East.



Perpetua of CarthagePerpetua of Carthage: Portrait of a Third-Century Martyr by William Farina

This is a study of the life and times of Saint Perpetua, Saint Felicity and their companions, all martyred at Carthage in A.D. 203. Unlike most early Christian saints, whose lives are often shrouded in legend and myth, Perpetua left an authentic prison diary, later completed by an anonymous eyewitness to her execution, that is now considered a classic of Christian, Latin and feminist literature. Perpetua was also unusual in that she was wealthy, educated, married, and a young mother. The book includes the first English translations of French archaeological scholarship covering the discovery of the martyrs’ tombs.



The Queen of ShebaThe Queen of Sheba: Legend, Literature and Lore by Deborah M. Coulter-Harris

Part I of this book begins with a scriptural study of all Sheba references, particularly the origins and genealogy of the name and its connections with Hebrew patriarchs such as Abraham and kings Saul and David; it later explores the literature and legends surrounding king Solomon and his trade negotiations with Sheba. The text analyzes theories and links between the Queen of Sheba and Pharaoh Hatshepsut, and concludes that Sheba may well be the Pharaoh based upon linguistic associations and the related stories from a multitude of regions and countries. Part II travels into ancient Arabian, Yemeni, Ethiopian, and Eritrean tales of the Queen of Sheba, and examines the mention of Sheba in an array of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim texts. It scrutinizes associations between ancient gods and pharaohs, particularly the similarity of their iconographic representations, the meaning of their symbols and signs that connect with Sheba legends and Hatshepsut’s history, the real extent and location of her vast empire.

Medieval History Titles

Below is a summary of some of the latest releases in medieval history that have sparked my interest:

The Westford Kight by David Goudswar
The Westford Knight and Henry SinclairThe Westford Knight is a mysterious, controversial stone carving in Massachusetts. Some believe it is an effigy of a 14th century knight, evidence of an early European visit to the New World by Henry Sinclair, the Earl of Orkney and Lord of Roslin. In 1954, an archaeologist encountered the carving, long known to locals and ascribed a variety of origin stories, and proposed it to be a remnant of the Sinclair expedition. The story of the Westford Knight is a mix of history, archaeology, sociology, and Knights Templar lore. This work unravels the threads of the Knight’s history, separating fact from fantasy.

The Two Walter Raleighs by Fred Tromly
Sir Walter Raleigh’s biographers have given little attention to his tragic relationship with his son Wat (Walter). They began in proud identification, each seeing himself in the other. But after the father’s political downfall and imprisonment for treason, he lost his authority in the family, and the son began to reject paternal advice and his studies and to engage in violent quarrels and duels. Often the father used his influence to rescue his son from his rash acts. Things came to a head after Wat was sued by a young woman for violent assault, and imprisoned. The aged Raleigh had been freed from the Tower to lead an expedition to Guiana, and—as recently discovered documents reveal—he delivered his son from the law by commissioning him as a captain on his flagship, ominously named the Destiny. In a shared tragedy, Wat was killed in a skirmish, and the grieving Raleigh returned to England, broken in spirit and ready for the execution that awaited him.

The Other British Isles by David Moore
The Other British IslesTheir names bespeak a rich past. From the Norse Hjaltland comes the modern Shetland: islands nominally Scottish, steeped in Nordic culture, closer to the Arctic Circle than to London. Important Neolithic sites are at Skara Brae and Maes Howe in the Orkneys. Holy Iona, island center of Celtic Christianity, the Isle of Man, former seat of rule over the Irish Sea, and Anglesey and Islay, homes of medieval courts at Aberffraw and Loch Finlaggan, are just a few of the more than 6,000 islands that form the archipelago known as the British Isles. The offshore isles are home to half a million people. Focusing on the eight islands or chains that have long supported substantial populations, this history tells the stories of Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides, Anglesey, the Channel Islands, the Scilly Isles, and the Isles of Man and Wight, from their Neolithic settlement, to Roman, Norse and Norman occupation, to the struggle to maintain their uniqueness in today’s world.

Sworn Bond In Tudor England by Thea Cervone
The swearing of oaths is a cultural phenomenon that pervades English history and was remarkably important during the sixteenth century. This multi-disciplinary work explores how writers of the Tudor era addressed the subject in response to the profound changes of the Reformation and the creative explosion of the Elizabethan period. Topics include how the art of rhetoric was deployed in polemic, the way in which oaths formed bonds between Church and State, and how oaths functioned in literature, as ceremony and as a language England used to describe itself during times of radical change.

Rulers & Realms In Medieval Iberia 711 - 1492 by Timothy Flood
The Muslim conquest of Iberia in 711 began nearly eight centuries of struggle for control of the peninsula. The invaders quickly achieved military supremacy, but political dominance was less complete. Within a few years, a small band of Christian rebels defied Muslim authority, establishing their own ruling class in the northern mountains of Asturias. The opposing forces competed for control until the Catholic Monarchs Fernando and Isabel established absolute rule in 1492. Drawing on the latest scholarship, this comprehensive study traces the succession of Iberian sovereigns during a complicated period in early European history.

Gothic Kings of Britain by Phillip Potter
Gothic Kings of BritainThis biographical history tells the story of 31 Gothic monarchs (Cnut to Richard II of England, Malcolme III to David II of Scotland) who fought in the crusades, enforced their feudal rights throughout the kingdom, sponsored the growth of representative government through a parliament, and ultimately created a military power that would dominate European affairs. In the process, the narrative recaptures the dramatic and chaotic span of the years between 1000 and 1400, when the great European monarchies were still in their formative stages. The book discusses the lives of English and Scottish kings in the context of their eras, discussing their achievements and failures, their relations with the Church and foreign powers, and their overall influence on the suppression of the nobility and the development of the monarchy as the primary governing institution of both Scotland and England.

A medieval “Chronicle of Emperors” for the twenty-first century


Cover for 

The Kaiserchronik






Originally written in about 1150, the Kaiserchronik is a huge, 17,000-line verse chronicle, which recounts the exploits of German kings and rulers. It was the first document of its kind in a language other than Latin. Complete revisions appeared in about 1200 and 1250, and the work continued to be copied in manuscripts down to the end of the sixteenth century. 

The document itself did for the German-speaking peoples of medieval Europe what Geoffrey of Monmouth, who lived at roughly the same time, did for the people of the British Isles. Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain placed “the British” in the context of a foundation myth linked to Troy, Rome and Arthurian legend. Similarly, the Kaiserchronik attempted to present the German peoples as natural successors to Rome itself, shoe-horning them into a history which takes in the foundation of Rome and the achievements of Julius Caesar.

see also 
@ OUP - The Kaiserchronik
@ ACLS - The Book of the Emperors: A Translation of the Middle High German Kaiserchronik

Supporting London's Bastard Children

Cambridge historian uncovers new evidence of 18th and 19th century London's 'Child Support Agency'.

Image result for Unmarried Motherhood in the Metropolis: 1700-1850A new book, Unmarried Motherhood in the Metropolis: 1700-1850, by Cambridge historian Dr Samantha Williams, reveals, using London’s few surviving ‘bastardy books’, how the parishes of Lambeth, Southwark and Chelsea pursued the fathers of illegitimate babies, and the lengths some errant fathers went to in order to escape not only their moral and financial obligations, but the clutches of parish constables and the feared houses of correction. 

"Bastardy books must have existed in many parishes, but very few now survive from the hundreds of parishes in and around London – at a time when illegitimacy was very high. "The numbers of illegitimate children goes up and up after the Restoration from 1650-1850. Of all first births, half were pregnant brides and a quarter were illegitimate.

"Unwed women and their children were the casualties of a metropolitan sexual culture and a frequently unsympathetic welfare system. 

"They faced very significant difficulties in their pregnancies, during childbirth and in raising their children, not least in the difficulties many women encountered in terms of gaining financial support from the fathers of their children."


read more here @ University of Cambridge

Seeking Sanctuary by Shannon McSheffrey


Seeking Sanctuary explores a curious aspect of premodern English law: the right of felons to shelter in a church or ecclesiastical precinct, remaining safe from arrest and trial in the king's courts. This is the first volume in more than a century to examine sanctuary in England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Looking anew at this subject challenges the prevailing assumptions in the scholarship that this 'medieval' practice had become outmoded and little-used by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Although for decades after 1400 sanctuary-seeking was indeed fairly rare, the evidence in the legal records shows the numbers of felons seeing refuge in churches began to climb again in the late fifteenth century and reached its peak in the period between 1525 and 1535. Sanctuary was not so much a medieval practice accidentally surviving into the early modern era, as it was an organism that had continued to evolve and adapt to new environments and indeed flourished in its adapted state. Sanctuary suited the early Tudor regime: it intersected with rapidly developing ideas about jurisdiction and provided a means of mitigating the harsh capital penalties of the English law of felony that was useful not only to felons but also to the crown and the political elite. Sanctuary's resurgence after 1480 means we need to rethink how sanctuary worked, and to reconsider more broadly the intersections of culture, law, politics, and religion in the years between 1400 and 1550.

read more by Shannon McSheffrey @ OUP Blog

The Capetian Century, 1214 to 1314 ed by William Chester Jordan & Jenna Rebecca Phillips

From Amazon UK

This volume provides a fresh look at the Capetian century (1214-1314), a period that changed the cultural and political fabric and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medieval West. The period from the birth of Louis IX to the death of Philip the Fair is remarkable for a series of developments and accomplishments associated with the Capetian kings of France. Innovations in architecture, manuscript illumination, and music all helped shape the cultural fabric of French and European life. Administrative historians emphasize the development of political institutions that have been said to lay foundations of the modern State. 'Moral reform', partly in support of the crusading movement, led to various changes in policies toward Jews, prostitutes, heretics, and many other social groups. This volume brings together essays presented at the Capetian Century Conference held at Princeton University, commemorating two seminal anniversaries bracketing the 'Capetian Century'--the Battle of Bouvines (1214), and the death of Philip the Fair (1314).

I think this will make a nice addition to my French History shelf in my personal library, sitting alongside a tome by Hallam & Everard on Capetian France

The Historians of Angevin England - Michael Staunton


The Historians of Angevin England is a study of the explosion of creativity in historical writing in England in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, and what this tells us about the writing of history in the middle ages. 

Many of those who wrote history under the Angevin kings of England chose as their subject the events of their own time, and explained that they did so simply because their own times were so interesting and eventful. This was the age of Henry II and Thomas Becket, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionheart, the invasion of Ireland and the Third Crusade, and our knowledge and impression of the period is to a great extent based on these contemporary histories. 

The writers in question - Roger of Howden, Ralph of Diceto, William of Newburgh, Gerald of Wales, and Gervase of Canterbury, to name a few - wrote history that is not quite like anything written in England before. Remarkable for its variety, its historical and literary quality, its use of evidence and its narrative power, this has been called a 'golden age' of historical writing in England. 

The Historians of Angevin England, the first volume to address the subject, sets out to illustrate the historiographical achievements of this period, and to provide a sense of how these writers wrote, and their idea of history. But it is also about how medieval intellectuals thought and wrote about a range of topics: the rise and fall of kings, victory and defeat in battle, church and government, and attitudes to women, heretics, and foreigners.

read also blog by Michael Staunton @ OUP


One Of The Greatest Cover-Ups Of The 20th Century

Author John Heminway discusses his latest book on History News Network: In Full Flight raises questions that, for me, will linger forever. The first of many is “what would I have done?”

In Full Flight is a story of two lives in one body. They belonged to Dr. Anne Spoerry, a good friend of mine who kept her two selves separated by a vertiginous wall of silence. At one level, In Full Flight pays tribute to Africa for its gift of secrecy—faithfully providing cover for those on the run. At another, it illuminates the burden a person of substance must shoulder even in the far reaches of a wild land.
Heminway discusses that he decided to write a biography on Anne Spoerry based upon his knowledge of her in Africa and her humanitarian work in Kenya. It was his search for what he calls her "European history" that lead to a shocking secret.
Like so many others, I believed she was a verifiable heroine. But something did niggle – the memory of Spoerry’s total embargo on the subject of the second world war, any mention of which made her quick to anger. 

read more here





Saturday, May 18, 2019

Academic Claims He's Decoded The 'World's Most Mysterious Book' in Just 2 Weeks

From Science Alert

In our world, there exists an ancient and cryptic book that reads beyond human understanding. Known as the Voynich manuscript, this artefact, dating from the 15th century, has practically turned into modern legend.

Image result for voynich manuscript
After looking at the strange book for just two weeks, an academic in England now thinks he's got it.

"I experienced a series of 'eureka' moments whilst deciphering the code," linguist Gerard Cheshire recalls, "followed by a sense of disbelief and excitement when I realised the magnitude of the achievement, both in terms of its linguistic importance and the revelations about the origin and content of the manuscript."

Last year, a peer-reviewed computer algorithm found that the language in the 200-page text most resembled Hebrew and not Romance languages.

In 2017, a history researcher and television writer named Nicholas Gibbs made headlines when he claimed the text was a women's health manual with a bunch of Latin abbreviations.


Then the next day, from ARS Technica:

The University of Bristol released a statement today retracting its press release claiming one of their researchers had successfully cracked the code of the Voynich manuscript.