Category Archives: Medieval History

Book Review of Late Medieval France (European History in Perspective) by Graeme Small

Graeme Small
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 15th 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN
0333642430 (ISBN13: 9780333642436)

Let me say first that I am not a full-time academic – just someone who studied Medieval history a long time ago at University and who is now interested in an amateur way in the period. I give that caveat as this is the kind of book, I think, written for the academic reader in mind – i.e. an undergraduate or postgraduate student. Whereas my brief review here will be more from the point of view of a general reader. I read this book to give me some more background for my own writing – specifically my Stonehearted series.

The book covers the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – ending its timeline in 1461 with the death of Charles VII. That in itself I found interesting as a general reader – does the Middle Ages for France end in 1461? Whereas in England we think of it ending in 1485 with the Battle of Bosworth? That distinction wasn’t explained in the book, but I guess it might be obvious to students of French history.

The structure of the book is a bit unusual – I thought as it was an academic work it would probably be more thematic – i.e. perhaps looking at different sections of society or different themes affecting the period – the rise of the bourgeoisie maybe? It did contain some of that – for instance looking at urban France and rural France, but also quite a bit of the book did also contain narrative history of the reigns of the French king. This was probably the part of the book that I found most interesting. There were some interesting insights for me in why John II was a bad king for instance – down to him not building up his noble allies in Normandy for instance. So that section was definitely very valuable. Other parts of the book were good – interesting to hear about trade networks or the lack of for instance, and also how Paris at this time wasn’t terribly significant – regional cities were quite important instead. So I would say if you are interested in the period and the Hundred Years War then this is worth a read – you get a good perspective from the French side of things.

However, what let it down for me was that academic dryness of the text – I struggled to get through it at times. I think part of this was the insistence on a specific thesis being put across – the idea of a split between East and West parts of France. The West (i.e. Normandy, Brittany, Aquitaine) being the rebellious part of the kingdom, whereas the East was the more loyal settled area. The tension of Burgundy looking to go its own way though making a big impact on the stability of the East. I though this theory was plausible and had its merits as a way of looking at the period, but sometimes I felt it got in the way too!

Late Medieval France by Graeme Small is available from most good bookshops I expect, as well as Amazon. If you want to support this blog go ahead and buy a copy from the Amazon links below.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

 

 

 

Medieval Remains found under Abbey Toilets

Remains of at least 50 people, all believed to date from 11th and early 12th century, discovered during demolition work to make space for new tower.

They probably pre-date the construction of Westminster Abbey and were probably moved by the workmen in the 13th century building the new building.

Many of the bones, including skulls and leg bones stacked up into dense piles like firewood, were found under Victorian drainage pipes.

Very macabre!

Source: Westminster Abbey lavatory block gives way to medieval burial find | Science | Th5760e Guardian

Mystery of the Medieval Sword Inscription

This 13th-century sword with a gold inscription was likely made in Germany, but was found at the bottom of the River Witham in 1825. Credit: The British Museum
This 13th-century sword with a gold inscription was likely made in Germany, but was found at the bottom of the River Witham in 1825.
Credit: The British Museum

To be honest I thought that the inscription of swords was just something that happened in fantasy books and role-playing games – but it seems not! Most inscriptions were invocations to God to help out the person bearing the sword.

But a certain sword that is currently part of a 1215 Magna Carta exhibit at the British Library has got all the experts stumped, as no-one knows what the following means:

+NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI+

I must say that I certainly don’t – the signs of the cross that top and tail the inscription are standard for medieval spells as well, so maybe its a magical inscription – and perhaps that’s why it is so hard to decipher?

You can read the full story at livescience.

 

Medieval Hospitals had funding crises as well!

imgID33026727Just when you might think that the funding crisis in the NHS was a thoroughly modern problem, it seems that hospitals in the Middle Ages struggled too! A dig at a medieval lepers hospital near Winchester shows that funding could run dry and mean the withdrawal of services too, just like services in the NHS are being cut back at the moment due to budgets not keeping step with demand.

In the case of the hospital of St Mary Magdalen near Winchester though it seems that the problem of leprosy was going away so the money dried up:

But by 1334 bailouts were being paid to keep the hospital going, perhaps because leprosy was declining as a problem. By the 16th century it was operating more as an almshouse and looks to have avoided closure in the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by Henry VIII that saw the end of establishments such as Hyde Abbey in Winchester and Netley Abbey near Southampton.

If you didn’t have leprosy then the options were limited – and of course most lepers hospitals were really intended to keep those afflicted away from the rest of the population rather than treat them.

You can read the full story at the Daily Echo’s website.

John of Gaunt – Probably the Best Image Available

John of Gaunt

Description
English: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster
Date c.1593.
Source Originally commissioned by Sir Edward Hoby for Queenborough Castle, Kent. Often erroneously ascribed to Luca Cornelli. In the possession of Duke of Beaufort at Badminton House, Gloucestershire.

 

 

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Top Blog Posts of 2013

It’s traditional at this time of the year to take a look back – a review of the best bits if you like of 2013!

Highlights for me were getting 2 1/2 novels published – although Hell has its Demons still needs some work doing to it, plus getting a number of short stories sent off to professional magazines.

With regards to blogging, some of the most popular posts have been old ones – the one on Dante below has had over 1,000 hits and I wrote it a few years ago now. An oldie but a goodie!

So here are my top 5 blog posts of 2013:

“Midway along the journey of our life” – Great Medieval Verses (this is from Dante’s Inferno)

What did people believe in the Middle Ages, Part 1

Why George RR Martin is NOT an American Tolkien

So You Want to Draw a Dragon?

Favourite Fantasy Fiction Characters: Logen Ninefingers (aka the Bloody Nine)

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TV Review: White Queen episode 1

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White Queen started last night on the BBC and it was Much better than I expected it to be. I have always been put off by the covers of the Philippa Gregory books into thinking the content is basically period romance. There is that in the TV series, but there is a bit more too. Political wheeler-dealing going on in the background. A nice bit of venom between some of the main characters and some good intrigue – did Edward really intend to marry her or was he leading her along. I guess that is all part and parcel of a good romance, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but there was enough interest for a male viewer apart from the good looks of Elizabeth Woodville.

You can tell though that the main demographic for White Queen is female romance-reader – the lingering shots as Edward takes off his helmet. The love scene which is so tender and gentle and again lingering shots of Ed’s torso. But that doesn’t take away from the rest of it too much.

The historical realism I thought was a major strength – this did look like late 15th century England – the country house, the hunting lodge and the court all looked how they should. The gowns and the hair might have been a bit too flowing perhaps, but otherwise the appearance of the actors looked right as well. The only thing I did notice was that there were quite a few drainpipes, drain-covers and what looked like iron railings when Elizabeth is brought to court – difficult to cover some of these items up I guess – but surely they could have been draped with something – bit of a shame, because otherwise it all looked spot on.

Looking forward to episode 2.

Book Review of Divided Houses by Jonathan Sumption

Divided Houses Jonathan SumptionThe Hundred Years War, Volume 3: Divided Houses (The Middle Ages Series) by Jonathan Sumption

  • Paperback ISBN:9780571240128
  • Published:01.03.2012
  • No of pages:700

Order from: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

Divided Houses is the third volume in Jonathan Sumption’s epic history of the Hundred Years War – the war that everyone knows didn’t really last a hundred years – more like 117. However, one could argue that with the various truces and peace efforts that’s not quite the case. Divided Houses at first glance looks like it might cover one of the less glamorous periods of the war – there’s no headline English victory to write about – no Crecy, Poitiers, or Agincourt. Despite this, or perhaps because of this lack of a landmark battle distracting from the rest of the narrative, what is recounted is completely compelling. The period from 1369 to 1399 was a period of conflict and strife not just between the main two participants – France and England, but also internally in both countries as well. This was the period of the decline of Edward III, the Peasant’s revolt, and the deposition of Richard II in England. While in France power politics amongst the King’s relatives and generals and a bout of madness that lasted most of Charles VI’s reign add to the intrigue.

The narrative is also compelling because it really shows how unrealistic the war with France was for England – they just couldn’t afford it. But even France, who at last got their taxation together and built up some massive armies and fleets to invade England, saw those plans crumble to dust in the face of political uncertainty and bad weather.

There are also the sideshows of the war in Spain and Portugal, where the feudal ambitions of John of Gaunt failed and the Portuguese won their landmark battle of nationhood – Aljubarrota. But for me one of the most interesting sections is on the situation in Gascony, where because of the war a state of chaos reigned. Knights and nobles indulged in what can only be described as gangster-like activities – forcing towns to pay them protection money – or patis – or suffer the consequences. Local counts and dukes used the very same robber barons to form armies to fight various causes – whether in the national wars between France and England, or to supposedly put an end to the problem of outlawry.

Sumption tells his story of these years with an admirable combination of narrative skill while never skimping on interesting detail and exhaustive research. Divided Houses is an essential history of one of the more overlooked periods of the Hundred Years War.

Some of my fiction related to the Hundred Years War

This is one of my favourite periods of history. In fact I have several stories written during the the 1370s. These are:

Stand and Fight

By the Sword’s Edge

Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure

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By The Sword’s Edge published – first part of serialized novel Stonehearted

By The Sword's Edge CoverI am currently writing a new novel set in the Hundred Years War called Stonehearted. As the novel is progressing quite well I thought it would be fun to release it in serial format every month or two. There should be four or five parts in total, each ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 words. I will then release the full novel once the last part has been finished.

By The Sword’s Edge is the first part and I have made it free for the moment to introduce new readers to the series. You can currently download it for free from Smashwords.

Here’s a bit more about the book:

By The Sword’s Edge is the first volume of Stonehearted, a serialized novel.

After a decade of peace England is again at war with France. But England’s warrior king, Edward III, is not the man he was. Ageing and turned to a life of pleasure, he will not lead an army into France again. And his eldest son, the famous Black Prince, suffers from a chronic illness while he tries to hold onto his principality of Aquitaine.

Many men in England have grown rich from war and some, like Sir Robert Knolles, have risen from the lowest ranks to lead great armies, and he will now lead a force into northern France to challenge the French to battle. But first he has a visit to make to a Norfolk manor to visit an old friend.

In By The Sword’s Edge two young people are thrust into the harsh realities of war. Richard Stone is a knight in training and son of a rich Norfolk merchant. Their neighbours are the d’Aubrays, who hold Sarbrook castle, but have sold or rent much of their land since falling into poverty. The lord of Sarbrook is missing in France, captured many years ago and not returned despite the payment of ransom. His daughter, Eolande d’Aubray is desperate for her father to return. Only he, it seems, can save her from the prospect of an unwanted marriage.

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Black Death pit unearthed by Crossrail project

 

BBC News - Black Death pit unearthed by Crossrail project

BBC News – Black Death pit unearthed by Crossrail project.

Excavations for London’s Crossrail project have unearthed bodies believed to date from the time of the Black Death.

A burial ground was known to be in an area outside the City of London, but its exact location remained a mystery.

Thirteen bodies have been found so far in the 5.5m-wide shaft at the edge of Charterhouse Square, alongside pottery dated to the mid-14th Century.

Analysis will shed light on the plague and the Londoners of the day.