November Reviews: Part 1

Good evening, ladies and gents; the new job is taking up a fair bit of my time but I’ve managed to get some reading done.

Today I will mainly be reviewing history books. I had hoped to get more books read but the new job got in the way.

England, Arise
The People, the King and the Great Revolt of 1381


Juliet Barker
Little, Brown Book Group UK


The dramatic and shocking events of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 are to be the backdrop to Juliet Barker’s latest book: a snapshot of what everyday life was like for ordinary people living in middle ages. The same highly successful techniques she deployed in Agincourt and Conquest will this time be brought to bear on civilian society, from the humblest serf forced to provide slave-labour for his master in the fields, to the prosperous country goodwife brewing, cooking and spinning her distaff and the ambitious burgess expanding his business and his mental horizons in the town.

The book will explore how and why such a diverse and unlikely group of ordinary men and women from every corner of England united in armed rebellion against church and state to demand a radical political agenda which, had it been implemented, would have fundamentally transformed English society and anticipated the French Revolution by four hundred years. The book will not only provide an important reassessment of the revolt itself but will also be an illuminating and original study of English medieval life at the time.

My Review

I found this book informative; the background information regarding the social condition in urban and rural communities, and the way it contributed to the origins of the revolt. It’s certainly worth reading if you want to learn more about the revolt or fourteenth century England. I found the exploration of individuals and their specific causes for revolution to be the most fascinating aspect and will certainly try to obtain a copy for my personal collection. It is a book that I read with ease and read quickly despite its 400+ pages.


The Pity of War
England and Germany, Bitter Friends, Beloved Foes


Miranda Seymour
Rowman & Littlefield

In 1613, a beautiful Stuart princess married a handsome young German prince. This was a love match, but it was also an alliance that aimed to meld Europe’s two great Protestant powers. Before Elizabeth and Frederick left London for the court in Heidelberg, they watched a performance of The Winter’s Tale. In 1943, a group of British POWs gave a performance of that same play to a group of enthusiastic Nazi guards in Bavaria. Nothing about the story of England and Germany, as this remarkable book demonstrates, is as simple as we might expect.

Miranda Seymour tells the forgotten story of England’s centuries of profound connection and increasingly rivalrous friendship with Germany, linked by a shared faith, a shared hunger for power, a shared culture (Germany never doubted that Shakespeare belonged to them, as much as to England), and a shared leadership. German monarchs ruled over England for three hundred years—and only ceased to do so through a change of name.

This vibrant and heart-breaking history—told through the lives of princes and painters, soldiers and sailors, bakers and bankers, charlatans and saints—traces two countries so entwined that one German living in England in 1915 refused to choose where his allegiance lay. It was, he said, as if his parents had quarreled. Germany’s connection to the island it loved, patronized, influenced, and fought was unique. Indeed, British soldiers went to war in 1914 against a country to which many of them—as one freely confessed the week before his death on the battlefront—felt more closely connected than to their own. Drawing on a wealth of unpublished papers and personal interviews, the author has recovered vibrant stories that remind us—poignantly, wittily, and tragically—of the powerful bonds many have chosen to forget.

My Review

I’d known for a long time that the relationship between England and Germany was more complicated than the memories we keep of the last century would suggest, but this book tells us about that relationship with the voices of those who lived it. For many people, whether landed aristocrat or Quaker merchant, the reality of life, in the alternating love/hostility between the two nations, was both one of freedom and conflict. The relationship, of benefit to both nations is explored in detail, using family records and personal diaries.

I found this book very easy to read and extensively footnoted, with a comprehensive bibliography. I recommend it highly, especially if your knowledge of Anglo-German history is limited to two world wars and one world cup. With the centenary of the First World War being marked this year it might do us all good to remember the time before rivalry turned to bloodshed.



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