Saturday, December 29, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

The world has gone into shock with the news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan.

Ms Bhutto was seen by many, both inside Pakistan and without, as a "beacon for democracy". Her death has sent Pakistan into turmoil. It remains to be seen whether or not Ms Bhutto will be viewed as a martyr for democracy by her supporters.

Further Links:
It is sad day for the world - we have lost a most remarkable women.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Review - The Greatest Knight

Elizabeth Chadwick's novel on the life of William Marshall, the pre-eminant knight of his time.

Okay, the book deals with the first "half" of Marshall's life, up until roughly 1194. This includes his early years on the tourney circuit, his time as mentor to Henry, the Young King, and the rule of Richard I, King of England.

I knocked this book over in the course of one day - which translates to I couldn't put it down.

I was already familiar with the story of William Marshal from Georges Duby's excellent biography - which I was slightly disappointed to find the Elizabeth did not mention in her list of books used as references.

The one part of the book in which I was disappointed was with the introduction of Isabella de Clare - this introduction broke the whole continuity of the novel. It just didn't flow - I felt that this was sort of added in ad hoc. What would have been better, in my own opinion, was to introduce Isabella when we first meet Heloise - at the Tower of London 1186.

However, overall, I was extremely happy with the novel and look forward to "The Scarlet Lion".

Visit the William Marshall website.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Question of Joan

This subject, Joan of Arc, has been nagging away inside my head for the past week, as a debate rages over whether this famous medieval woman was rather too overrated or not.

Just how did a supposedly illiterate and uneducated peasant girl who spent her days herding sheep, manage to lead the French army to its victory at Orleans?

Bearing in mind that Joan first appeared before the French Dauphin at Chinon c.6th March 1429 and then found herself at the siege of Orleans - April 1429. So, in barely one month, this mere slip of a girl managed to acquire such a font of military tactical knowledge and fighting experience which enabled her to embark on one of the most remarkable military careers of the medieval period.

Quite frankly it beggars belief. The phrase " ..... and here is one we prepared earlier" springs to mind.

Am I the only one who feels that Joan's whole "career", including her "military service" (April 1429 to her capture in May 1430), was cleverly carefully stage-managed from beginning to end??

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Review - Innocent Traitor

The story of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir.

Okay - I began this book with severe trepidation. Weir is not one of my favourite authors - especially her brand of historical "non-fiction" - so I was hesitant to say the least when I chose this book to read. Others who have read it have given good reviews. Well, now to mine.

I liked it!! Yes, strangely enough, I enjoyed this foray into fiction by Weir far greater than any of her "factual" based books. She manages to convincingly tell the story of Lady Jane Grey, the Nines Days' Queen of England.

Weir's book takes the form of a narrative told by the various characters of the book - the main ones being Jane, herself, and her mother, Lady Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, and Jane's nurse, Mrs Ellen. A number of other historical personages add their voices: Queen Mary I (The Lady Mary), Queen Katherine Parr, Queen Jane Seymour; and later John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and lastly, The Executioner.

Jane's character comes across as sympathetic though at times her stubborness does irk one - the character of her mother, Frances, is another story. Frances was renown for her cruelty to her daughter Jane - and at the end of the book, Frances is rebuking herself for being a 'strict" parent.

The story of Jane's life flows well, despite the number of voices being heard - this does not complicate things. The book is not encumbered with a lot of historical detail - and yet it maintains true to Jane's life as we know it. It is easy to read and the story is easy to follow regardless of which character has centre stage.

Of all Weir's books, this is one I would recommend.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Review - Boudica

I read this book by Vanessa Collingridge back in September 2007, and this will be an exceedingly short review (the less said the better).

Daily Mail "compelling"; Saga Magazine "deeply researched and powerfully explosive"; and Sunday Times "...writes with great verve".

Melisende "boring and poorly written, and a waste of trees. I am thankful that I did not buy this book!".

There were 21 chapters - and Chapters 9-15 dealt with Boudica, the Iceni and the rebellion. Everything before could have been condensed into one chapter (two if I am charitable) and the remaining 6 could have been condensed into one.

Sorry, although this was a non-fiction book, I was not impressed with the standard of presentation nor any of the "gound-breaking" research (which, by the way, was not so groundbreaking)! The author completely failed to keep my attention on a topic that, though familiar with, held great interest for me.

Review - The Tigress and the Rose

Subtitled as: "Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Fair Rosamond" by Richard Cameron Low.

Okay - I didn't finish it, so how then can I give a review. Quite easily, actually.

The premise for this novel is the relationship between Eleanor and Rosamond. The problem is that, in my opinion, despite this being a work of fiction, I really could not respond to the work.

  • The meetings of Henry II and Rosamund when both were children - just didn't work for me. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I don't believe they ever met prior to Henry becoming King of England, and certainly not in the early stages of his marriage to Eleanor. Henry met Rosamund c.1166 and their relationship lasted ten years, during which time Eleanor was held a prisoner (1173 - 1189).
  • The tedious background information contained in the first chapter - too long.
  • The naming of the members of Eleanor's Amazon women during her Second Crusade - well as two were non-existant, poor scholarship.
  • The "relationship" between Eleanor and a Kurd called Ayub at Antioch, the resultant offspring being Saladin himself - unbelieveable - as was the supposition that Eleanor was a virgin at the time. I believe that Eleanor already had one daughter (c.1145) prior to the Second Crusade, and gave birth to another shortly after her return (c.1151). Louis may have been pious but he and Eleanor were married for at least seven years - and if she were a virgin, it would surely have been cause for comment.
  • The sister of Ayub, one Rohesia, was the mother of St.Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury through her liaison with an Englishman named Gilbert.

In addition, this work of fiction was interspersed with factual notes, which should have been appendixed at the end of the book as part of an Author's Note.

I am not sure what the author's intent was - a work of fiction or a factual biography - but it reads as neither.

I was really looking forward to this interplay between the formidable Eleanor and the Fair Rosamund, but was bitterly disappointed by the time I reached Page 86 (Year 1148).

I welcome feedback and comments from anyone who has read the book - I, I am sad to say, just could not finish it.


The story of Esther is set in Susa, the royal residence of the Persian Empire, to the west of the capital Persepolis, during the years when many Jews were returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon (Reference: Esther 1-10).

A Jewish orphan among the exiles in Persia, Esther was brought up by her relative Mordecai.

When the Persian King Xerxes (r. 485 - 464BC) divorced his first wife Vastiti for her refusal to be used as a "sex-toy", Esther became the new Persian Queen.

However, Esther concealed her Jewish heritage from both the King and the royal court. And when a plan to exterminate all Jews was announced, Esther became a potential victim. The plot against the Jews was instigated by Haman, the King's leading politician.

By a mixture of charm and cunning, Esther managed to turn the tables - the emenies of the Jewish people were eliminated (Haman was executed) whilst the Jews themselves survived, improving their social standing in the process - Esther's relative Mordecai was promoted to high office, replacing Haman.


The Story of Ruth is set in the time of Judges (Reference: Ruth 1-4).

Elimelech, a native of Bethlehem, migrated to Moab at a time of famine. He was accompanied by his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, both of whom married Moabite women.

Elimelech and his two sons died in Moab. Naomi decided to return to her own people in Bethlehem. Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law insisted on going with her.

On their return, the two women found themselves living in poverty; and Ruth, as a foreigner, had additional pressures to cope with (See Note).

In due course, Ruth met Boaz. Not only was Boaz a rich and generous farmer living in Bethlehem, he was a distant relative of her husband's family. Moved by her loyalty to Naomi, Boaz fulfilled his family duty and married Ruth, even though Ruth was not an Israelite.

Ultimately, Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David.

At the time that the story of Ruth was written, ethnic purity was being enforced among the returning exiles. Many existing mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews were being deliberately broken up, and there was increasing hostility againgst people of all other races.

Review - The Winter Mantle

"The Winter Mantle" by Elizabeth Chadwick concerns the events immediately after the Norman Conquest of England.

The main characters are:
  • Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria.
  • Judith, his Countess and niece of William the Conqueror.
  • Matilda, their daughter.
  • Simon de Senlis, Earl of Huntingdon and Northumbria.

The story picks up a year after the Conquest (1067), William is back in Normandy with his hostages - and it is here that Waltheof and Judith are said to have first met. Although it is "love at first sight", a sense of duty and social position prevents things from going further.

As it turns out, Waltheof has a predisposition for rebelling against the Norman yoke, after after being granted the earldom of Northumbria by William but not the hand of the formidable Judith, Waltheof rebels again. To cut a long story short, Waltheof gains Judith as a bride - but is the marriage to stuff of legends.

Unfortunately, Waltheof, who seems to be a man easily influenced by those around him - though not his wife - rebels again. This time, he forfeits his life (1076). So ends the first half of the book.

Intertwined in Waltheof's story is that of Simon de Senlis, who is a court official under William the Conqueror.

The second half of the book picks up ten year after the death of Waltheof - Dowager Countess Judith has been managing the Earldom of Northumbria, until the re-appearance of Simon de Senlis, who has been given the earldom by the new King of England, William II (Rufus).

Judith, quite naturally, refuses to go gracefully, so Simon take matters into his own hands - he marries her daughter Matilda.

Thereafter "The Winter Mantle" continues with the story of Matilda and Simon, his adventures on the First Crusade, the death of Judith, and Simon's participation in William II's wars. The book end roughly around the year 1097.

So, to the verdict.

Chadwick's portrayal of Waltheof as a weak-willed man and Judith as, well, a hard-nose bitch perturbed me - at first. However, as the story develops you get a sense that this man was indeed, rather weak of character to be so easily misguided - from a Norman point of view. He was an Englishman at the time of the Norman Invasion, and doubtless loyalties were tested quite often. It really was a matter of choosing sides and hoping yours was the winning one. As to Judith, she comes across as a woman of her times - she knows her position and considers duty to her family upper most. Women were not free to make marriages of their own choosing, ultimately it came down to the politics of alliances.

Overall, I enjoyed the book - I was already familiar with the characters and the events, and Chadwick provides an "Author's Note" at the end to help fill in the blanks.