Book Review – ‘The Peasants’ Revolting Crimes’ by Terry Deary


Popular history writer Terry Deary takes us on a light-hearted and often humorous romp through the centuries with Mr & Mrs Peasant, recounting foul and dastardly deeds committed by the underclasses, as well as the punishments meted out by those on the right side’ of the law. Discover tales of arsonists and axe-wielders, grave robbers and garroters, poisoners and prostitutes. Delve into the dark histories of beggars, swindlers, forgers, sheep rustlers and a whole host of other felons from the lower ranks of society who have veered off the straight and narrow. There are stories of highwaymen and hooligans, violent gangs, clashing clans and the witch trials that shocked a nation. Learn too about the impoverished workers who raised a riot opposing crippling taxes and draconian laws, as well as the strikers and machine-smashers who thumped out their grievances against new technologies that threatened their livelihoods. Britain has never been short of those who have been prepared to flout the law of the land for the common good, or for their own despicable purposes. The upper classes have lorded and hoarded their wealth for centuries of British history, often to the disadvantage of the impoverished. Frustration in the face of this has resulted in revolt. [Description from Waterstones]

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the chance to read and review this book.

I think this was one of the most enjoyable history books I’ve read in a while. I thoroughly enjoyed the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary when I was younger, and I think it was those books that made me want to study history. This book on the crimes of peasants throughout history doesn’t disappoint when compared – the only thing I miss in comparison to the Horrible Histories are the cartoons, which I suppose have been removed to make this book better for adults.

Deary brings in primary sources throughout, and quotes from various famous people from history, both fictional and real. The book is split down into easily digestible chunks chronologically from the Normans, through the Medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods and on to the Georgians and Victorians, discussing all kinds of crimes from football hooliganism, rioting, grave robbing, poisoning and murder. The whole spectrum is covered, along with different punishments.

I’m not normally a big fan of footnotes – I actually prefer endnotes as it means that you can read without getting distracted by them, and just look at the endnotes that are interesting to you. Some books have really long footnotes, which also really annoys me, but this book doesn’t have that problem. The footnotes in this book are actually really enjoyable, as they seem to add some comic relief and jokes, which are very much like what I remember of Terry Deary.

The chapters are all broken down into sub-sections, making this easy to dip in and out of, or if you are interested in a particular type of crime or a particular period. He goes deeply into some cases where there is a lot of evidence or a moral tale. Deary has a great writing style which makes his work easy to read and engage with, and makes you want to keep reading, which is great in a non-fiction history book, as some of them can be a bit dry. This definitely isn’t a problem with Terry Deary’s books and writing!

This book is definitely worth a read and apparently there will be more in the series with the next one entitled ‘The Peasants’ Revolting Lives’. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to the next one, it’s already on my wish list!

Chapters:

  1. Norman Nastiness
  2. Mediaeval Misery
  3. Wild Women
  4. Tudor Twisters
  5. Sinful Stuarts
  6. Quaint Crimes
  7. Georgian Jokers and Victorian Villains

Book Review – ‘Anne Boleyn in London’ by Lissa Chapman


Romantic victim? Ruthless other woman? Innocent pawn? Religious reformer? Fool, flirt and adulteress? Politician? Witch? During her life, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s ill-fated second queen, was internationally famous – or notorious; today, she still attracts passionate adherents and furious detractors. It was in London that most of the drama of Anne Boleyn’s life and death was played out – most famously, in the Tower of London, the scene of her coronation celebrations, of her trial and execution, and where her body lies buried. Londoners, like everyone else, clearly had strong feelings about her, and in her few years as a public figure Anne Boleyn was influential as a patron of the arts and of French taste, as the centre of a religious and intellectual circle, and for her purchasing power, both directly and as a leader of fashion. It was primarily to London, beyond the immediate circle of the court, that her carefully ‘spun’ image as queen was directed during the public celebrations surrounding her coronation. [Description from Waterstones]

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the chance to read and review this book.

I did enjoy this book, and I thought that it was quite well-written and engaging. Chapman has a clear and concise tone and way of writing, which makes it easy to read and understand. Anne Boleyn was a divisive figure and this book looks at the positive and negative sides of her, without really choosing a side to fall on. It purports to examine Anne’s rise, queenship and fall through the eyes of the places she stayed in London. There are also sections on Anne’s coronation in 1533, London in general, and court in London.

I wouldn’t call this book so much a look at Anne Boleyn in London, but more a historical biography of Anne Boleyn, focused on her time in London from 1522 and her first court appearance to her death in 1536. I was expecting more about Anne’s involvement in different London locations like Whitehall, Durham House, Westminster, Hampton Court, Hatfield, Eltham, Greenwich and Richmond, but this part I felt was a little lacking. Perhaps the title of the book is a little misleading.

It has obviously been well-researched and there is plenty of reference to the primary sources, as well as to how reliable they may be, and cross-referencing different sources. There is discussion of bias and a look at different points of view about the same events, for example, ambassadors from Italy, the Papal courts, France and Spain. There is a short look at Anne’s earlier life, but it more focused on what we know about her later life.

There is a great selection of images in the centre of the book, varying from photos of places, to sketches, portraits of important people, and artefacts. The captions are all detailed and dated as far as they can be. It is a good selection from across Anne’s life and relates to what is talked about in the text itself. The cover image is also of great interest – it’s a photo of a recreation of a medal from 1534 by Lucy Churchill, one of the only definite images of Anne Boleyn.

This book is worth a read for the historical scholarship, but if you’re expecting a traipse through the London locations that Anne knew, then you might be a little disappointed. Nevertheless, an interesting and well-written biography of Anne Boleyn.

Chapters:

  1. A Walk Through London 1522
  2. ‘Your very humble obedient daughter’ 1501-22
  3. Queen in Waiting 1522-33
  4. The White Falcon Crowned 1533
  5. Earthly Powers: London
  6. Earthly Powers: Court
  7. Anne the Queen 1533-6
  8. Fall 1536
  9. Ever After

Book Review – ‘Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower’ by Andrew Beattie


Andrew Beattie 'Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower'

Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this.

The story of the Princes in the Tower is well known: the grim but dramatic events of 1483, when the twelve-year-old Edward Plantagenet was taken into custody by his uncle, Richard of Gloucester, and imprisoned in the Tower of London along with his younger brother, have been told and re-told hundreds of times. The ways in which the events of that year unfolded remain shrouded in mystery, and the fate of the young princes forms an infamous backdrop to Richard III’s reign and the end of the Wars of the Roses. Although little about the princes’ lives is commonly known, Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower tells the story in a way that is wholly new: through the places they lived in and visited. From Westminster Abbey to the Tower of London, and from the remote castle of Ludlow in the Welsh borders to the quiet Midlands town of Stony Stratford – via major medieval centres such as Northampton and Shrewsbury – the trail through some of England’s most historic places throws a whole new light on this most compelling of historical dramas. [Description from Pen & Sword Books]

I really enjoyed this trip through the lives of the Princes in the Tower. I’d been eyeing this book up for a while so was thrilled when Pen and Sword offered me the chance to read it. The book doesn’t look so much at the disappearance of the Princes, although that is covered in the section on the Tower of London, but at where they spent their lives. The Princes in the Tower is one of my absolute favourite historical mysteries, along with Jack the Ripper, and I don’t think I will ever tire of reading about it because it is so fascinating and there are so many different tendrils to research and discover. The places where they lived and where the great events of their lives took place is just one part of it.

There are excellent sections on the aforementioned Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Palace, Stony Stratford, and Ludlow. It’s a really interesting way of looking at something that has been examined over and over for the past 500 years. There is also a section at the end looking at the possibility that one or both of the princes could have survived the Tower, and what could have happened to them afterwards, including the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions, and some lesser known myths and legends.

There were plenty of images of the different places discussed which helped to place the events in the locations, and portraits from the time. It helps to link everything together when you have visual aids as well as descriptions and analysis.

However, I didn’t think that the constant references to fictional works like those by Philippa Gregory, Emma Darwin, Terence Morgan and Vanora Bennett really added anything. I skipped past a lot of them. In my opinion, it would have been better to discuss some of the historiography of the places – what other people have thought about these places and how views have changed over time. That is what I felt was missing from this book.

Nevertheless, an enjoyable and interesting read, and I am looking forward to reading another in the series which I have on my shelf – ‘Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor’, about Henry VII and places he visited before the Battle of Bosworth.

Chapters:

  1. Westminster: Sanctuary, Palace and Abbey
  2. Ludlow, Shrewsbury and the Marches
  3. A Coup on Watling Street – Northampton and Stony Stratford
  4. Palace and Prison: The Tower of London
  5. The Aftermath – Ghosts and Tombs, Imposters and Battlefields

Book Review – ‘Richard III: Fact and Fiction’ by Matthew Lewis


Matthew Lewis 'Richard III Fact and Fiction'

Matthew Lewis, Richard III: Fact and Fiction (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2019) ISBN 9781526727978

Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I really enjoyed this book. I liked the way that it was set out in sections so you could easily dip in and out of it, perfect for those who want to know more but don’t have the background. If you’ve watched ‘The White Queen’ and want to know more about Richard, I’d recommend this book as it clearly separates fact from fiction without assuming the reader is a complete ninny. Some books, in trying to set things out clearly, simplify the facts too much, but Lewis doesn’t make this error.

Each chapter is split into sections and each section asks a different question that is contentious over Richard III – did he kill the Princes in the Tower? Did he and the Woodvilles have a running feud? Was he betrayed at Bosworth? These and many others are explored in this book. It is written chronologically, starting with Richard’s birth and child, his time as Duke of Gloucester, his reign as King of England, and then his tragic end at the Battle of Bosworth. It also looks at how accurate or otherwise Shakespeare’s portrayal was, and what we’ve learned from the discovery of Richard III’s bones in Leicester.

Some of the things that Lewis brings up are really interesting and I hadn’t really thought about them before, but most of the conclusions he draws make sense. Lewis examines the evidence that exists, and puts forward his own opinions. I like that he doesn’t force his conclusions on you either, but gives you the evidence and allows you to make up your own mind. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Richard III: Fact and Fiction’ by Matthew Lewis”

Book Review – ‘Tudor Victims of the Reformation’ by Lynda Telford


Lynda Telford 'Tudor Victims of the Reformation'

This book describes a selection of people caught up in the turmoil that presaged the reformation – a period of change instigated by a king whose desire for a legitimate son was to brutally sweep aside an entire way of life. The most famous and influential of the victims were the two people closest to Henry VIII. His mentor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a great churchman and a diplomat of consummate skill. The other was to be the King’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. These two adversaries, equally determined to succeed, had risen above the usual expectations of their time. Wolsey, of humble birth, became a price of the church, enjoying his position to the full, before coming into conflict with a woman who had no intention of being another passing fancy for the king. She would become the mother of one of the greatest and most famous of England’s monarchs. They were brought down by the factions surrounding them and the selfish indifference of the man they thought they could trust. Though they succumbed to the forces aligned against them, their courage and achievements are remembered, and their places in history assured. [Description from Pen & Sword]

Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this in exchange for an honest review.

This book doesn’t really cover the victims of the Reformation, so much as it focuses on the lives of two of them: Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, so it only really covers up to 1536, which is really when the Reformation picked up pace. This means that there is nothing really about Katherine Parr, Anne Askew or the Pilgrimage of Grace, two key figure and one key event in the history of the Reformation, and it doesn’t go into the reign of Edward IV or Elizabeth I, or the counter-Reformation under Mary I, so the title is a little misleading.

There were also a few errors. For example, the Duke of Buckingham executed in 1521 was at a few points referred to as George Stafford, when he was actually called Edward. At one point it was also claimed that Henry VIII acceded to the throne in 1501 when he actually came to the throne in 1509. A good proof-reader would have caught and resolved these problems. They don’t, however, detract from the good tone and writing of the book in general.

I didn’t like that there were no chapter titles, as if you are looking for a particular year, especially when the book is written chronologically as this one is, it should be easy to find a particular period of time. The chapters also don’t always seem to finish where it feels natural that they should. The index is incomplete – for example the pages listed about Anne Boleyn don’t include when she was elevated to the peerage, or about her imprisonment and trial. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Tudor Victims of the Reformation’ by Lynda Telford”

Book Review – ‘Bloody Mary: Tudor Terror 1553-1558’ by Phil Carradice


Phil Carradice - Bloody Mary Tudor Terror

Phil Carradice, Bloody Mary: Tudor Terror 1553-1558 (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2018) ISBN 9781526728654

Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I was pleasantly surprised when I saw how short this book was, that it managed to cram in so much detail. There are so many little details throughout the book that I didn’t expect. It’s a great introduction to the reign of Mary I, and especially her role in the Catholic Counter-Reformation in England in the 1550s. There is lots of detail about the Protestant martyrs of her reign who I didn’t really know much about to be honest, but I do now!

I especially enjoyed the introductory section about Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and the section about Thomas Cranmer’s recantation and execution. John Foxe’s book lists many of the people who were killed under Mary I as Protestant martyrs, and their beliefs and executions are covered in a surprising amount of detail. I haven’t yet got around to reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, just dipping in and out for assignments and blog posts, but this makes me want to spend more time with it.

Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Bloody Mary: Tudor Terror 1553-1558’ by Phil Carradice”