Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Tapestry of Treason by Anne O’Brien

When Shakespeare wrote of Macbeth’s ‘vaulting ambition,’ he could well have been describing the medieval Despenser family… a Yorkist clan steeped to their necks in treason and betrayal. 

At the heart of their scheming to steal back the throne from the Lancastrian King Henry IV was Constance, Lady Despenser, a granddaughter of Plantagenet King Edward III, and wife of the self-seeking Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester, a man who hailed from a family already tainted by scandals of treason and corruption.

The Despensers’ treachery, their battle to survive, their perilous politicking, and the daring woman willingly caught up in their power struggle, spring to vivid life from the pages of history in a dazzling new novel from the queen of medieval fiction, Anne O’Brien.

Using her impressive imaginative powers and vast historical research, O’Brien has given a voice and a leading role to some of history’s most fascinating but forgotten women, placing their struggles at the centre of riveting stories filled with political intrigue, romance and tragedy.

But in the cold and calculating Constance of York, O’Brien has given the spotlight to one of her most charismatic medieval stars yet… a complex, compelling woman far ahead of her time, a woman prepared to risk losing life, limb and her love for the only man who had ever won her heart, and all in pursuit of her family’s ambitions.

It’s a thrilling story, based on fact, filled with the kind of rich drama that should really only belong in pure fiction, and made viscerally authentic by the hand of a writer who knows how to make history a living, breathing, vibrant canvas.

read more here @ Lancashire Evening Post

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Astronomer and the Witch by Ulinka Rublack

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was one of the most admired astronomers who ever lived and a key figure in the scientific revolution. A defender of Copernicus´s sun-centred universe, he famously discovered that planets move in ellipses, and defined the three laws of planetary motion. Perhaps less well known is that in 1615, when Kepler was at the height of his career, his widowed mother Katharina was accused of witchcraft. The proceedings led to a criminal trial that lasted six years, with Kepler conducting his mother's defence. 


In The Astronomer and the Witch, Ulinka Rublack pieces together the tale of this extraordinary episode in Kepler's life, one which takes us to the heart of his changing world. First and foremost an intense family drama, the story brings to life the world of a small Lutheran community in the centre of Europe at a time of deep religious and political turmoil - a century after the Reformation, and on the threshold of the Thirty Years' War. 

Kepler's defence of his mother also offers us a fascinating glimpse into the great astronomer's world view, on the cusp between Reformation and scientific revolution. While advancing rational explanations for the phenomena which his mother's accusers attributed to witchcraft, Kepler nevertheless did not call into question the existence of magic and witches. On the contrary, he clearly believed in them. And, as the story unfolds, it appears that there were moments when even Katharina's children struggled to understand what their mother had done...


Saturday, August 24, 2019

Review: Misjudged Murderesses by Stephen Jakobi

Abridged Synopsis: Fuelled by a rumour-driven press and cases of notorious killers, death by poisoning was a great anxiety of Victorian Britain. In Misjudged Murderesses, Stephen Jakobi takes a forensic approach to examine the lives and trials of these eight women who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. Highlighting common factors in poisoning cases that led to these miscarriages of justice, Stephen Jakobi shines a light on the hypocrisy of a legal system that in practice was wholly unfit for purpose.



The author has focused on eight women from 1840s to the 1880s, who were accused and convicted of murder by poison and ultimately received the death penalty. In examining these cases, Jakobi (lawyer and advocate against capital punishment) seeks to outline a case for wrongful conviction for each. By using court testimonies and newspaper articles Jakobi attempts to show that there was some potential bias towards guilt throughout the court process, which at this period of time, was exclusively male dominated.

What should have read as a case study of each of the trials, testimonies of witnesses and forensic evidence, came across as a mish-mash of ideas that chopped and changed with each case study. Having just finished Geoffrey Pimm's "Violent Abuse Of Women", I was looking forward to this - and I really did want to like it.  However, I progressed (slowly) page by page, chapter by chapter, I was just not sure that what I was reading was relevant or not, solely background information, or just page-fillers; I found it annoying that each of the cases was not set out / presented in the same manner, thus ensuring continuity. As a result, my interest waivered and I put the book aside more times than I picked it up. I did persevere and finish it.

What I personally would have preferred and what I feel, as a reader, would have been more engaging, is a study of miscarriages of justice where poison featured, and using the examples of not only the women presented herein but also others to highlight these misnomers and inconsistencies in the court proceedings, whilst providing an analysis of guilt or innocence.

Having said that, I did enjoy reading the cases; and in fact I really enjoyed Chapter 12 - the conclusions; I just felt that whilst the premise was intriguing - it was just the execution that was lacking and detracted from what should have made for a highly readable history and study of the court system as it was applied in these examples. I just felt the book could have been set out and formatted a little better, and the cases as presented used to support the author's stance.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Emperor of Law by Kaius Tuori

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The Emperor of Law






In the days of the Roman Empire, the emperor was considered not only the ruler of the state, but also its supreme legal authority, fulfilling the multiple roles of supreme court, legislator, and administrator. The Emperor of Law explores how the emperor came to assume the mantle of a judge, beginning with Augustus, the first emperor, and spanning the years leading up to Caracalla and the Severan dynasty. 


While earlier studies have attempted to explain this change either through legislation or behaviour, this volume undertakes a novel analysis of the gradual expansion and elaboration of the emperor's adjudication and jurisdiction: by analysing the process through historical narratives, it argues that the emergence of imperial adjudication was a discourse that involved not only the emperors, but also petitioners who sought their rulings, lawyers who aided them, the senatorial elite, and the Roman historians and commentators who described it. Stories of emperors settling lawsuits and demonstrating their power through law, including those depicting 'mad' emperors engaging in violent repressions, played an important part in creating a shared conviction that the emperor was indeed the supreme judge alongside the empirical shift in the legal and political dynamic. Imperial adjudication reflected equally the growth of imperial power during the Principate and the centrality of the emperor in public life, and constitutional legitimation was thus created through the examples of previous actions - examples that historical authors did much to shape. 

Aimed at readers of classics, Roman law, and ancient history, The Emperor of Law offers a fundamental reinterpretation of the much debated problem of the advent of imperial supremacy in law that illuminates the importance of narrative studies to the field of legal history.


The Rabbi's Atheist Daughter by Bonnie S. Anderson

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The Rabbis Atheist Daughter






Early feminist Ernestine Rose, more famous in her time than Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony, has been undeservedly forgotten. During the 1850s, Rose was an outstanding orator for women's rights in the United States who became known as "the Queen of the platform." Yet despite her successes and close friendships with other activists, she would gradually be erased from history for being too much of an outlier: a foreigner, a radical, and, of most concern to her peers and later historians, an atheist. 


In The Rabbi's Atheist Daughter, the most extensively researched account of Rose's life and career to date, Bonnie S. Anderson recovers the unique legacy of one of the nineteenth century's most prominent radical activists. Born the only child of a Polish rabbi, Ernestine Rose rejected religion at an early age, legally fought a betrothal to a man she did not want to marry, and left her family, Judaism, and Poland forever. After living in Berlin and Paris, she moved to London, where she became a follower of the manufacturer-turned-socialist Robert Owen. There she met her future husband, fellow Owenite William Rose, and together they emigrated to New York City in 1836.

In the U. S., Rose was a prominent leader at every national women's rights convention. She lectured in twenty-three of the thirty-one existing states, in favor of feminism and against slavery and religion. But the rise of anti-Semitism and religious fervor during the Civil War-coupled with rifts in the women's movement when black men, but not women, got the vote-effectively left Rose without a platform. Returning to England, she continued speaking, advocating for feminism, free thought, and pacifism. Although many radicals honored her work, her contributions to women's rights had been passed over by historians by the 1920s. Nearly a century later, The Rabbi's Atheist Daughter, an engaging, well-rounded portrait of one of the mothers of the American feminist movement, returns Ernestine Rose to her rightful place.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Amberley Publishing - Interest History Titles

Amberley Publishing have some history titles out that have caught my eye - thought I would share:



La Reine Blanche by Sarah Bryson
This is the story of Mary Tudor, told through her own words via primary sources, state papers and letters, for the first time.


The Anarchy: the Darkest Days of Medieval England by Teresa Cole
The Anarchy blends contemporary, sometimes eyewitness accounts with modern analysis to describe a period of England’s history so dark and lawless that those who lived through it declared that ‘Christ and his saints slept.'


Edward the Elder: King of the Anglo-Saxons by Michael John Key
Edward the Elder succeeded his father Alfred the Great to the kingdom of Wessex ... and deserved to be recognised for his contribution to Anglo-Saxon history and a new assessment of his reign is overdue. He proved equal to the task of cementing and extending the advances made by his father, and paved the way for the eventual unification of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the nation-state of England. The course of English medieval history after his death was a direct outcome of military successes during his reign.


Plantagenet Queens & Consorts: Family, Duty & Power by Dr Steven J. Corvi
Examination of the lives and influence of ten figures, comparing their different approaches to the maintenance of political power in what is always described as a man’s world. On the contrary, there is strong evidence to suggest that these women had more political impact than those who came later – with the exception of Elizabeth I – right up to the present day. Beginning with Eleanor of Provence, loyal spouse of Henry III, the author follows the thread of queenship: Philippa of Hainault, Joan of Navarre, Katherine Valois, Elizabeth Woodville, and others, to Henry VII’s Elizabeth of York. 


The House of Grey: Friends & Foes of Kings by Melita Thomas
The Grey family was one of medieval England’s most important dynasties, serving the kings of England as sheriffs, barons and military leaders from the reign of William the Conqueror. Family came to prominence in the period known as the Wars of the Roses and under the Tudor Monarchs.


Lovell Our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell by Michèle Schindler
Francis Lovell was not only an ally of Richard III but his closest friend, and one of the wealthiest barons in England. Author Michèle Schindler returns to primary sources to reveal the man who was not only a boyhood friend of the king-to-be as a ward of Edward IV, but also linked to him by marriage: his wife, Anne FitzHugh, was first cousin to Richard’s wife, Anne Neville.


Ranulf de Blondeville: The First English Hero Iain Soden
The study of a nobleman whose exploits became the stuff of medieval romance, once recounted in the same breath as Robin Hood. Ranulf de Blondeville was fabulously rich and powerful. He served six kings, endured difficult regime-change, fought his way across half of France and back and more than once turned wrested victory from defeat. He never forgot that his roots were Norman although his efforts were for England, where he made his home.


Lawson Lies Still in the Thames: The Extraordinary Life of Vice-Admiral John Lawson by Gill Blanchard
This biography charts the tumultuous life and times of an ordinary seaman born in Scarborough who would come to play a major role in the English Civil War, the Restoration, the Anglo-Dutch Wars and the start of the transformation of England into a global political and economic power in the seventeenth century.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Borgias by Paul Strathern

The Borgia family have become a byword for evil. Corruption, incest, ruthless megalomania, avarice and vicious cruelty―all have been associated with their name. And yet, paradoxically, this family lived when the Renaissance was coming into its full flowering in Italy. Examples of infamy flourished alongside some of the finest art produced in western history. 


This is but one of several paradoxes associated with the Borgia family. For the family which produced corrupt popes, depraved princes and poisoners, would also produce a saint. These paradoxes which so characterize the Borgias have seldom been examined in great detail. Previously history has tended to condemn, or attempt in part to exonerate, this remarkable family. Yet in order to understand the Borgias, much more is needed than evidence for and against. The Borgias must be related to their time, together with the world which enabled them to flourish. Within this context the Renaissance itself takes on a very different aspect. Was the corruption part of the creation, or vice versa? Would one have been possible without the other? 


One of the author’s great strengths has always been his ability to keep the many assorted players from confusing readers, and that holds true in his latest.  Strathern’s smooth narrative and comprehensive insight bring the Borgias to life for scholars and amateurs alike.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ptolemies of Egypt by P. G. Elgood

Alexander the Great died, and in the division of his mighty empire the land of Egypt was allotted to one Ptolemy, an officer who had followed the great commander through his wars of conquest. 


Ptolemies of Egypt by [Elgood, P. G.]Three hundred years later there died by her own hand Cleopatra, last of her line, destined for immortality at the hands of Shakespeare. 

Between Alexander’s officer and the lover of Caesar and Antony stretched an unbroken line of descent, and for three centuries the land of Egypt was ruled for better or for worse by the dynasty of the Ptolemies.

The administrative and economic conditions of Ptolemaic Egypt have been exhaustively examined, and there is an abundance of textbooks on these subjects. But the kings and queens of the period, virile if not specially virtuous rulers, have received less attention. 

This book has been written with the object of rescuing their personality from oblivion, and it gives to the general public a colourful picture of a period of world history which is normally confined to the text-books of the student.

Love, Madness, and Scandal by Johanna Luthman

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Love, Madness, and Scandal






The high society of Stuart England found Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck (1602-1645) an exasperating woman. She lived at a time when women were expected to be obedient, silent, and chaste, but Frances displayed none of these qualities. Her determination to ignore convention contributed in no small measure to a life of high drama, one which encompassed kidnappings, secret rendezvous, an illegitimate child, accusations of black magic, imprisonments, disappearances, and exile, not to mention court appearances, high-speed chases, a jail-break, deadly disease, royal fury, and - by turns - religious condemnation and conversion.


As a child, Frances became a political pawn at the court of King James I. Her wealthy parents, themselves trapped in a disastrous marriage, fought tooth and nail over whom Frances should marry, pulling both king and court into their extended battles. When Frances was fifteen, her father forced her to marry John Villiers, the elder brother of the royal favourite, the Duke of Buckingham. But as her husband succumbed to mental illness, Frances fell for another man, and soon found herself pregnant with her lover's child. 

The Viscountess paid a heavy price for her illicit love. Her outraged in-laws used their influence to bring her down. But bravely defying both social and religious convention, Frances refused to bow to the combined authority of her family, her church, or her king, and fought stubbornly to defend her honour, as well as the position of her illegitimate son. 

On one level a thrilling tale of love and sex, kidnapping and elopement, the life of Frances Coke Villiers is also the story of an exceptional woman, whose personal experiences intertwined with the court politics and religious disputes of a tumultuous and crucially formative period in English history.

read more here @ OUP Blog - Punishing Peccadilloes


The King and the Land by Stephen C. Russell

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The King and the Land






In The King and the Land, Stephen C. Russell offers a history of space and power in the biblical world by demonstrating how the monarchies in ancient Israel and Judah asserted their power over strategically important spaces such as privately-held lands, religious buildings, collectively-governed towns, and urban water systems. Case studies in the book treat Solomon's use of foreign architecture (1 Kings 5-8), David's dedication of land to Yahweh (2 Samuel 24), Jehu's decommissioning of Baal's temple (2 Kings 10), Absalom's navigation of the collective politics of Levantine towns (2 Samuel 15), and Hezekiah's reshaping of the tunnels that supplied Jerusalem with water (2 Kings 20; 2 Chronicles 32). 


Steeped in archaeological and textual evidence, this book contextualizes Israelite and Judahite royal and tribal politics within broader patterns of ancient Near Eastern spatial power. By providing a historical investigation into the nature of power and physical space in the Iron Age Levant, this book also offers fresh literary readings of the biblical texts that anchor its theses.

The Secular Clergy in England, 1066-1216 by Hugh M. Thomas

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The Secular Clergy in England, 1066-1216






The secular clergy - priests and other clerics outside of monastic orders - were among the most influential and powerful groups in European society during the central Middle Ages. The secular clergy got their title from the Latin word for world, saeculum, and secular clerics kept the Church running in the world beyond the cloister wall, with responsibility for the bulk of pastoral care and ecclesiastical administration. This gave them enormous religious influence, although they were considered too worldly by many contemporary moralists - trying, for instance, to oppose the elimination of clerical marriage and concubinage. 


Although their worldliness created many tensions, it also gave the secular clergy much worldly influence. Contemporaries treated elite secular clerics as equivalent to knights, and some were as wealthy as minor barons. Secular clerics had a huge role in the rise of royal bureaucracy, one of the key historical developments of the period. They were instrumental to the intellectual and cultural flowering of the twelfth century, the rise of the schools, the creation of the book trade, and the invention of universities. They performed music, produced literature in a variety of genres and languages, and patronized art and architecture. Indeed, this volume argues that they contributed more than any other group to the Twelfth-Century Renaissance. Yet the secular clergy as a group have received almost no attention from scholars, unlike monks, nuns, or secular nobles. In The Secular Clergy in England, 1066-1216, Hugh Thomas aims to correct this deficiency through a major study of the secular clergy below the level of bishop in England from 1066 to 1216.


Rebellion by Tim Harris

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Rebellion






A gripping new account of one of the most important and exciting periods of British and Irish history: the reign of the first two Stuart kings, from 1567 to the outbreak of civil war in 1642 - and why ultimately all three of their kingdoms were to rise in rebellion against Stuart rule.

Both James VI and I and his son Charles I were reforming monarchs, who endeavoured to bolster the authority of the crown and bring the churches in their separate kingdoms into closer harmony with one another. Many of James's initiatives proved controversial - his promotion of the plantation of Ulster, his reintroduction of bishops and ceremonies into the Scottish kirk, and his stormy relationship with his English parliaments over religion and finance - but he just about got by. Charles, despite continuing many of his father's policies in church and state, soon ran into difficulties and provoked all three of his kingdoms to rise in rebellion: first Scotland in 1638, then Ireland in 1641, and finally England in 1642. 

Was Charles's failure, then, a personal one; was he simply not up to the job? Or was the multiple-kingdom inheritance fundamentally unmanageable, so that it was only a matter of time before things fell apart? Did perhaps the way that James sought to address his problems have the effect of making things more difficult for his son? Tim Harris addresses all these questions and more in this wide-ranging and deeply researched new account, dealing with high politics and low, constitutional and religious conflict, propaganda and public opinion across the three kingdoms - while also paying due attention to the broader European and Atlantic contexts.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Review: The Life & Legend of Sultan Saladin by Jonathan Phillips

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Synopsis: When Saladin recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, returning the Holy City to Islamic rule for the first time in almost ninety years, he sent shockwaves throughout Christian Europe and the Muslim Near East that reverberate today.


It was the culmination of a supremely exciting life, fraught with challenges and contradictions but blessed occasionally with marvellous good fortune. Born into a significant Kurdish family in northern Iraq, Saladin shot to power in faraway Egypt thanks to the tutelage of his uncle. Over two decades, this warrior and diplomat fought under the banner of jihad, but at the same time worked tirelessly to build an immense dynastic empire that stretched from North Africa to Western Iraq. Gathering together a turbulent and diverse coalition he was able to capture Jerusalem, only to trigger the Third Crusade and face his greatest adversary, King Richard the Lionheart.

Drawing on a rich blend of Arabic and European sources, this is a comprehensive account of both the man and the legend to which he gave birth, describing vividly the relentless action of his life and then tracing its aftermath through culture and politics all the way to the present day. It reveals the personal qualities that explain his enduring reputation as a man of faith, generosity, mercy and justice, even while showing him to be capable of mistakes, self-interest and cruelty. After Saladin’s death, it goes on to explain how in the West this Sunni Muslim became famed for his charm and chivalric virtue, while across much of the Islamic world he stands as one of history’s greatest heroes, an inspiration to be admired and emulated.


To be perfectly blunt, I could not have cared less whether the chapters on how Saladin's image has been used now were included or not. It is pretty obvious that it is used for the sole purpose of furthering the political agenda of the day of whatever political group has hijacked it. In short, his image is defined by the needs of the multitudes, and bears no resemblance to historical records.  As professor Nicholas Saunders remarked (on an unrelated issue): "The dead can always be weaponized politically ...."


I actually enjoyed the book more for being a detailed biography on the man himself. Medieval politics is a bit of a minefield to negotiate for the uninitiated - and Phillips does a sound job in explaining the political landscape that Saladin was born into and operated within.

Phillips' book is quite lengthy - it covers all the aspects of Saladin's personal life; his military career, especially that in Egypt; court life under both Zengi and Nur al-Din; political and religious histories of the then Muslim world. It is not solely focused on the Crusades, thought this period did indeed dominate his political and military career. Then, of course, are the chapters on his legacy, and the depictions of Saladin in both the West and the East.

A lot of research has gone into this book, with a plethora of sources worthy of exploring further. In fact, there were quite a few instances where little snippets of information piqued my interest which will result in my own further research.


Review: Final Witness by Wang Hongji

46213590. sy475 Final Witness: The Story of China’s First Crime Scene Investigator - the title drew me in - I was intrigued from the get-go. Who was this Chinese CSI, Song Ci? And why had I never heard of him?

I love crime - fiction and non-fiction. I have an entire bookcase dedicated to it - that is, what I personally own. What have I read would take up many, many more. Even more recently, courtesy of Netflix and SBS (in Australia), I have taken a liking to movies depicting historical China, including the highly entertaining "Judge Dee" series. Needless to say, I was eager to get my hands on this book.

The life of Song Ci of Jianyang, is told against the backdrop of historical events shaping the Chinese empire in the 13th century. Song Ci himself, due to his father's illness, was prevented from taking up an official government post; instead finds himself back home, seeking answers in the hopes of healing his father. A series of local murders, disappearances, violence, government corruption and inaction, sees local seeking our Song Ci for assistance. A lack of knowledge of the law is evident, so he goes in search of such knowledge.

Image result for Song Ci of JianyangAs Song Ci is presented a series of "cases" to solve, he make mistakes along the way, goes in search of more knowledge, develops his skills in assessing crime scenes, and ultimately gets there in the end. And as he does, his reputation increases, and he eventually becomes judicial commission aged 53yo.

This is a very different style of writing which also encompasses quite a bit of history - political, social and legal - as well interspersing the cases studies with an ongoing biography of Song Ci. Chinese society was very structured and protocol must be adhered to which sometimes made the process of solving the crimes rather lengthy.

Once you get used to the flow of the story, it becomes quite an easy read. The stories themselves are fascinating as are the methods of investigation - a far cry from our more modern scientific methodologies. This is well worth taking the time out to read.

further reading:
The First Monographic Works on Forensic Medicine






Review: Emperor: A New Life of Charles V by Geoffrey Parker


45455839. sy475 I haven't read any single biographies on Charles V - this was my first. Much of what I had read was contained within other books - more of a secondary character or part of the supporting cast. So whether it stacks up against other known biographies, I cannot comment.

For me, this was an eye-opener into the intricacies of Charles' life and reign. I knew the basics and many of the names that cropped up but not at all in such depth as presented here. Many familiar events were tied together and put into perspective. Each of the "parts" of the book consisted of a series of manageable chapters highlighting his life, his reign, including an assessment of both the man and his political achievements. I was particularly intrigued by the view that Charles' later actions closely reflected the goals and values of his grandfather, Maximillian, ".. whom he imitated and saw as a role model, for better or worse.." - not really knowing much about Maximillian, it left me wondering how true this assessment was - and now leads me down another path of exploration. Other issues have been relegated to the appendices for addressing, allowing the author to explore and elaborate on views and theories, whilst still presenting a fairly unbiased biography.

As a whole, it is quite lengthy at 570 pages- containing biography; chronology; appendices; notes and sources, and bibliography; attesting to that fact that an extensive amount of research went into this tome. This is something I would definitely come back to re-read, and most likely find a place for on the shelves of my own personal library.

"History can never be reduced to a single entry in a ledger .." - and this book certainly proves that.

further reading:
  • The Reign of Charles V by William S. Maltby (2002)
  • The History of Charles V by William Robertson (1828)
  • The Emperor Charles V by Martyn Rady (2014)
  • Correspondence of the Emperor Charles V. and His Ambassadors at the Courts of England and France edited by William Bradford (1850)
  • The Golden Age: The Spanish Empire of Charles V by Hugh Thomas (2011)
  • Emperor Charles V by Willem Pieter Blockmans (2002)
  • Charles V: Duty and Dynasty: The Emperor and His Changing World 1500-1558 by Richard Heath (2018)
  • Charles V: The World Emperor by Harald Kleinshcmidt (2011)

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Alice Kyteler: The Kilkenny 'witch' condemned for sorcery

From The Journal

Her KindThe search for witches wasn’t confined to Salem – here in Ireland we had our own witch trial, when Kilkenny’s Dame Alice Kyteler was accused of sorcery. Now a book by Irish author Niamh Boyce takes a fictionalised look at Kyteler’s trial, through the experiences of the woman who died instead of her.

In 1324, Petronella de Meath, Kyteler’s maid, was flogged and burned at the stake. It was Dame Alice Kyteler who was the person who had been condemned for witchcraft (the first person in Ireland to be condemned for this), but Petronella died in her stead.

The story of Alice Kyteler and Petronella has been turned into a novel, written by Boyce, author of the novel The Herbalist. Called Her Kind, it took four years to write, and was a real labour of love for Boyce, as she told The Journal.

read more here @ The Journal

New Owen Archer Mystery by Candace Robb

The Conspiracy of Wolves,” the newest book in the Owen Archer series, official release date Aug. 1, 2019, is available now!
  1. When a prominent citizen is found dead in the woods, rumors spread like wildfire that wolves are running loose throughout the city. Persuaded out of retirement to investigate, Owen Archer is convinced that a human killer is responsible. Teaming up with Geoffrey Chaucer, Owen’s enquiries will draw him headlong into a deadly conspiracy.
Candace Robb has read and researched medieval history for many years, having studied for a Ph.D. in Medieval & Anglo-Saxon Literature. She divides her time between Seattle and the UK, frequently visiting York to research the series. She is the author of ten previous Owen Archer mysteries and three Kate Clifford medieval mysteries.

Meath author’s historical fantasy imagines Black Death aftermath

From Irish Examiner
Meath author’s historical fantasy imagines Black Death aftermathFor his debut novel, Meath author Oisín Fagan stepped back in time to imagine the aftermath of the Black Death in Ireland. It could be the next Game of Thrones, writes Ed Power.

Life is full of surprises, as author Oisín Fagan discovered upon submitting his first novel for publication. “I honestly never thought they’d let the book be called Nobber,” he says with a low-key chuckle. “The name came first. It’s such a fantastic name.”

Nobber is set in the aftermath of the Black Death, which in the 14th century hacked a trail of devastation through Ireland. It’s an uproarious mash-up that may variously remind you of Game of Thrones, Ridley Scott’s Alien, Quentin Tarantino, John B Keane, and Horrible Histories.

read more here @ Irish Examiner and also @ Irish Times

Friday, August 9, 2019

Lovell our Dogge by Michèle Schindler


In July 1484 Tudor agent William Collingbourne - executed for treason in 1484 - tacked up a lampoon to the walls of St Paul’s Cathedral:

‘The Catte, the Ratte and Lovell our dogge rulyth all Englande under a hogge.’

That cat was Sir William Catesby, one of Richard III’s principal councillors and Chancellor of the Exchequer, executed after the Battle of Bosworth. The rat was Sir Richard Ratcliffe, who fought with Richard during the Scottish campaigns.

And the dog was Francis Lovell, not only an ally of Richard III but his closest friend, and one of the wealthiest barons in England. Author Michèle Schindler returns to primary sources to reveal the man who was not only a boyhood friend of the king-to-be as a ward of Edward IV, but also linked to him by marriage: his wife, Anne FitzHugh, was first cousin to Richard’s wife, Anne Neville.

Lovell served with the Duke of Gloucester, as Richard then was, in Scotland in 1481. At Richard’s coronation, Lovell bore the third sword of state. In June 1485 he was tasked with guarding the south coast against the landing of Henry Tudor. His loyalty never wavered - even after Bosworth. He organised a revolt in Yorkshire and was behind an attempt to assassinate Henry VII. Having fled to Flanders, he played a prominent role in the Lambert Simnel enterprise. He fought at the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487 and was seen escaping, destination unknown. His final demise provides an intriguing puzzle that the author teases out.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Ties That Bind by Bernard Capp

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The Ties That Bind






The family is a major area of scholarly research and public debate. Many studies have explored the English family in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, focusing on husbands and wives, parents and children. The Ties that Bind: Siblings, Family, and Society in Early Modern England by Bernard Capp explores in depth the other key dimension: the place of brothers and sisters in family life, and in society.

Moralists urged mutual love and support between siblings, but recognized that sibling rivalry was a common and potent force. The widespread practice of primogeniture made England distinctive. The eldest son inherited most of the estate and with it, a moral obligation to advance the welfare of his brothers and sisters. The Ties that Bind explores how this operated in practice, and shows how the resentment of younger brothers and sisters made sibling relationships a heated issue in this period, in family life, in print, and also on the stage.

First Ladies by Betty Boyd Caroli

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First Ladies






Betty Boyd Caroli's engrossing and informative First Ladies: The Ever Changing Role, from Martha Washington to Melania Trump is both a captivating read and an essential resource for anyone interested in the role of America's First Ladies. Caroli observes the role as it has shifted and evolved from ceremonial backdrop to substantive world figure. This expanded and updated fifth edition presents Caroli's keen political analysis and astute observations of recent developments in First Lady history, including Melania Trump's reluctance to take on the mantle and former First Lady Hilary Clinton's recent run for president. Caroli here contributes a new preface and updated chapters.

Covering all forty-five women from Martha Washington to Melania and Ivanka Trump and including the daughters, daughters-in-law, and sisters of presidents who served as First Ladies, Caroli explores each woman's background, marriage, and accomplishments and failures in office. This remarkable lot included Abigail Adams, whose "remember the ladies" became a twentieth-century feminist refrain; Jane Pierce, who prayed her husband would lose the election; Helen Taft, who insisted on living in the White House, although her husband would have preferred a judgeship; Eleanor Roosevelt, who epitomized the politically involved First Lady; and Pat Nixon, who perfected what some have called "the robot image." They ranged in age from early 20s to late 60s; some received superb educations for their time, while others had little or no schooling. Including the courageous and adventurous, the ambitious, and the reserved, these women often did not fit the traditional expectations of a presidential helpmate. 

First Ladies is an engaging portrait of how each First Lady changed the role and how the role changed in response to American culture. These women left remarkably complete records, and their stories offer us a window through which to view not only this particular sorority of women, but also the role of American woman in general.

American Jezebel by Eve LaPlante

American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by [LaPlante, Eve]
In 1637, Anne Hutchinson, a forty-six-year-old midwife who was pregnant with her sixteenth child, stood before forty male judges of the Massachusetts General Court, charged with heresy and sedition. In a time when women could not vote, hold public office, or teach outside the home, the charismatic Hutchinson wielded remarkable political power. Her unconventional ideas had attracted a following of prominent citizens eager for social reform. Hutchinson defended herself brilliantly, but the judges, faced with a perceived threat to public order, banished her for behaving in a manner "not comely for [her] sex."

Written by one of Hutchinson's direct descendants, American Jezebel brings both balance and perspective to Hutchinson's story. It captures this American heroine's life in all its complexity, presenting her not as a religious fanatic, a cardboard feminist, or a raging crank—as some have portrayed her—but as a flesh-and-blood wife, mother, theologian, and political leader. The book narrates her dramatic expulsion from Massachusetts, after which her judges, still threatened by her challenges, promptly built Harvard College to enforce religious and social orthodoxies—making her the mid-wife to the nation's first college. In exile, she settled Rhode Island, becoming the only woman ever to co-found an American colony.

The seeds of the American struggle for women's and human rights can be found in the story of this one woman's courageous life. American Jezebel illuminates the origins of our modern concepts of religious freedom, equal rights, and free speech, and showcases an extraordinary woman whose achievements are astonishing by the standards of any era.

Panos Akritas Mysteries by John X Cooper

Cooper has created a central character whose personality keeps the reader turning the pages as much as the mystery itself and the setting in one of Europe’s most fascinating locations.


The Sting of the Wasp
The Sting of the Wasp: A fast-paced mystery that brings the past to life in modern Athens (A Panos Akritas Mystery)Athens is without doubt an ancient wonder, but the twenty-first century is not treating it well, as Panos Akritas can testify…
In a nation besieged by economic collapse, corruption and uncertainty, even at the highest levels of society, Panos is among the few good cops left to manage the fallout. And when a serial killer, apparently fixed on murdering elderly men, takes to the streets, it seems that Panos and his police force colleagues have yet another type of disaster to deal with. 

Panos, however, soon realises that this particular crime spree is far from straightforward, and the ensuing investigation shows him the dark underbelly of Greek society, revealing a hidden underworld with its roots buried deep in the history of modern Greece. 

As its crimes come ever closer to Panos Akritas himself, and touch upon those he loves, it seems that he must fight or be overwhelmed — but this time, has he come up against an enemy too powerful to beat?


Dead Letter
Dead Letter (A Panos Akritas Mystery Book 2)The body of a scholar is found in an Athens library, housing priceless books and manuscripts spanning thousands of years of civilisation. More murders follow as it becomes clear that the motive is the acquisition of a lost letter – a letter that could threaten the power of the Church and change the face of history.

The investigating officer, Captain Panos Akritas, soon finds himself drawn into a case more sinister and dangerous than anything he’s ever faced before. With an Albanian assassin on the loose, can Akritas and detective Valia take on the might of the Church – both Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic – and survive? 



Three Sisters
>> pending

Edmund Spenser - A Life by Andrew Hadfield

Edmund Spenser's innovative poetic works have a central place in the canon of English literature. Yet he is remembered as a morally flawed, self-interested sycophant; complicit in England's ruthless colonisation of Ireland; in Karl Marx's words, 'Elizabeth's arse-kissing poet'— a man on the make who aspired to be at court and who was prepared to exploit the Irish to get what he wanted.

Cover for 

Edmund Spenser






In his vibrant and vivid book, the first biography of the poet for 60 years, Andrew Hadfield finds a more complex and subtle Spenser. How did a man who seemed destined to become a priest or a don become embroiled in politics? If he was intent on social climbing, why was he so astonishingly rude to the good and the great - Lord Burghley, the earl of Leicester, Sir Walter Ralegh, Elizabeth I and James VI? Why was he more at home with 'the middling sort' — writers, publishers and printers, bureaucrats, soldiers, academics, secretaries, and clergymen — than with the mighty and the powerful? How did the appalling slaughter he witnessed in Ireland impact on his imaginative powers? How did his marriage and family life shape his work? 

Spenser's brilliant writing has always challenged our preconceptions. So too, Hadfield shows, does the contradictory relationship between his between life and his art.


read more @ OUP Blog

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Review: The Legitimacy of Bastards by Helen Matthews

43972540"The Legitimacy of Bastards" is the first book to consider the individuals who had illegitimate children, the ways in which they provided for them and attitudes towards both the parents and the bastard children. It also highlights important differences between the views of illegitimacy taken by the Church and by the English law.


Heads up - this work does not deal with royal bastards if that is what you are looking for - the main focus is on the legalities of bastards among the aristocratic and gentry, with a heavy focus on inheritance and social standing.

Matthews' book is broken down into manageable chapters dealing with the legal complexities defining what constitutes (or not) marriage under both canon and common law, which in itself then sets up the definition and status of those born out of wedlock.

After providing a case study of the de Warenne family to put things into context, we proceed to what is defined as sexual misconduct - adultery, adulterers, society's view of them and their offspring, but more importantly, how the child was viewed within the context of the family. The next chapters cover inheritance, social status and opportunity. Finally, we are told, the shift in attitude towards bastards developed in the fifteenth century as pedigree and genealogy became more and more important, and sometimes these by-blows were simply written out of the family tree. And with the heralding of religious change and the rise of puritanism in the sixteenth century, attitudes again changed.

Matthews cites many examples in her book - but don't worry if you start to lose track of them all as she provides the readers with a concise list at the end, neatly cross-referenced with the chapter in which they are discussed. Having extensively read myself, a fair number of names were familiar - but it never occurred to me to delve deeper into both the social and legal complexities of bastardy in the medieval period. Most of what we know of bastards in this period tends to be attached to our reading and study of royalty, whose attitudes to bastards was very different to those on society's lower rungs.

This is a well researched tome - the mind boggles at the number of resources consulted, and this reader in particular is glad that the leg-work has already been done. I can see this as a valuable resource in itself for those interested in medieval family and law; but also for those who dabbled in historical fiction, you may also want to add this to your reference shelf, as it will certainly aid in adding a touch of realism and authenticity to some storylines.  I still have this book sitting on my desk as I type as I am not quite ready to consign it to the book shelves just yet.